Providence Sued for Discrimination against Deaf Patients at Seattle-Area Healthcare Facilities
July 26, 2022—Seattle, WA—Today, on the 32nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, nonprofit law firm Disability Rights Advocates (“DRA”) and co-counsel Moloy Good of the Good Law Clinic filed a class action lawsuit in the Western District of Washington against Providence St. Joseph Health (“Providence”) for its consistent failure to ensure effective communication for d/Deaf patients seeking medical care at Providence’s Seattle-area facilities. Read the complaint here.
Providence is the largest health care provider in Washington with hospitals, clinics, senior care centers, hospice, and home health services in communities—large and small—across the state. However, d/Deaf patients who seek healthcare services at Providence locations in the Puget Sound region have frequently not received the in-person American Sign Language (“ASL”) interpretation that they have requested. Instead, Providence facilities routinely rely on Video Remote Interpreting (“VRI”)—the use of video conferencing technology to access an off-site interpreter to provide real-time interpreting services for conversations between hearing people and people who are deaf or have hearing loss—without sufficient technical capacity or staff training to make this an effective means of communicating. In addition, Providence staff have demonstrated a lack of knowledge in the appropriate and effective use of interpretation services. As a result, people with hearing disabilities who seek medical care at Providence facilities are subjected to unequal and demeaning treatment.
DRA represents three individuals—Kate Spencer, Jason Viglianco, and Mandy Rodriguez—who are Deaf and use ASL as their primary method of communication. All three have experienced repeated discrimination at Providence facilities due to their hearing disabilities. Despite clear requests for in-person ASL interpreters well in advance of appointments at multiple Providence facilities, Providence consistently failed to secure ASL interpreters for their appointments. Where VRI was offered it was an insufficient substitute, marked by blurry and frozen screens and repeated disconnection.
Plaintiff Kate Spencer said, “Filing this lawsuit is a decision I did not take lightly. I advocated for my needs repeatedly over the years at different Providence locations, to no avail. It is discouraging & exhausting to see how no matter how much effort I have tried to put into improving things, discrimination continues to occur. We are not asking for much. We deserve to be able to go to appointments, have procedures, and visit the emergency room without worrying whether we will be able to communicate clearly or understand important medical information. We should never be forced to choose between our communication needs and our healthcare. Providence is failing to meet our needs & failing its mission of ‘health equity for all’ that is posted on their website.”
Providence’s failures to provide equal access to d/Deaf patients violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed into law 32 years ago today. DRA and the plaintiffs seek to correct this discrimination, and compel Providence to create effective policies and practices, including providing qualified sign language interpreters and other necessary accommodations to all d/Deaf patients who seek medical care at Providence facilities.
Meredith Weaver, senior staff attorney at DRA, said, “While VRI can be a useful tool, especially to increase access to healthcare services in rural locations where ASL interpreters are few and far between, its use requires a very high standard of technical capacity and staff capabilities. Our clients’ experiences demonstrate that Providence has not ensured either of those prerequisites yet relies heavily on VRI as the mode of interpretation. Furthermore, it does not appear that Providence is considering individual circumstances like a patient’s requests, the subject matter to be discussed, or the physical requirements of the situation when determining whether VRI will be effective.”
Moloy Good said, “Our d/Deaf community deserve better. We all know that medical appointments and surgeries are extremely stressful, so clear and secure communication is critical at those times.”
About Disability Rights Advocates
Founded in 1993, Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) is a leading national nonprofit disability rights legal center. Its mission is to advance equal rights and opportunity for people with all types of disabilities nationwide. DRA represents people with the full spectrum of disabilities in complex, system-change, class action cases. DRA is proud to have upheld the promise of the ADA since our inception. Thanks to DRA’s precedent-setting work, people with disabilities across the country have dramatically improved access to health care, employment, transportation, education, disaster preparedness planning, voting and housing. For more information, visit www.dralegal.org.
About Good Law Clinic
The Good Law Clinic is a civil rights firm committed to the ideal of equality in our society. These laws demand equal treatment for all persons regardless of membership in protected classes that may include disability, race, color, gender, religion, age, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity. We are dedicated to promoting these rights in housing, government services, business, transportation, and employment. For more information, visit www.goodlawclinic.com.