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Deaf inmate sues Oregon prison system for not providing sign-language interpreters

By Bryan Denson
summarized by Joelle Chasse, staff writer

A deaf prison inmate is accusing the Oregon Department of Corrections of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. Forty-eight-year-old David D. VanValkenburg states he was not provided with an ASL interpreter during his 13 years of imprisonment.

A federal lawsuit on VanValkenburg’s behalf is seeking $460,000 in damages. VanValkenburg describes the situation as “a systematic failure to effectively communicate with him” since his incarceration began in November 2000.

The issued complaint alleges that the Department of Corrections failed to adequately communicate with VanValkenburg during intake procedures, educational classes and training, and even in confidential situations such as “medical appointments, religious services and counseling meetings.” “Instead…[the Department of Corrections] required Mr. VanValkenburg to train inmates to act as interpreters for him, who were unqualified and failed to keep [his] information confidential,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit also states that VanValkenburg’s primary language is ASL, and that his written English is limited.

VanValkenburg served the bulk of his sentence as Snake River Correctional Institution in Ontario, where he says he was never provided with an ASL interpreter. He had to use “non-confidential, untrained and primarily unqualified inmates as interpreters, including known gang members,” according to the lawsuit.

For the full article here.

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