HARRISBURG, Pa. (CN) – The Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare discriminates against the mentally retarded and deaf, a class action claims in Federal Court. Lead plaintiff Harry M., 67, deaf and mentally retarded, was placed in a home with a staff that does not know sign language, according to his next friend, who brought the complaint.
Harry M. has been unable to maintain or develop his American Sign Language skills, and all deaf retarded people in assistance programs are suffering because the state fails to accommodate their needs and forces them to live “a life of virtual isolation,” according to the complaint.
Harry’s next friend James Fatter says the state violates the Americans with Disabilities Act by placing the “vast majority” of more than 1,600 deaf recipients of mental retardation services in homes with staffs who are not fluent in sign language.
This keeps deaf people from having conversations, sharing feelings, expressing complaints, reporting abuse, explaining emergencies or communicating virtually anything outside of a typical routine, according to the complaint.
Harry’s individual support plan states that “it is imperative he be monitored by someone he trusts who is familiar with his level of sign language at all times, to preserve his health and safety” and that “he could become anxious and thus exhibit negative behaviors in attempt to secure his own safety based upon misperceptions,” according to the complaint.
Fatter says that the daily frustration to which Harry is subjected caused him to suffer physical injuries when he threw furniture and hurt his hand because of his inability to communicate.
Fatter seeks declaratory judgment and an injunction. Lead counsel is Carol Horowitz with the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania, in Pittsburgh.