Indiana is ranked worst in the country for providing access to people with disabilities in legal proceedings, that’s according to a study released last week from the National Center for Access to Justice.
Compared with other states, Indiana has few regulations to ensure deaf people are provided with competent sign language interpreters in court and as some say it means they don’t get access to fair trials.
In Indiana, it is not unheard of for a deaf person to find themselves, almost completely unaware of what is going on in a court hearing, because of an incompetent sign language interpreter.
Indiana doesn’t require sign language interpreters to be certified or trained to interpret in legal settings, and Indianapolis Interpreters spokesperson Rebecca Buchan says that means rulings are sometimes handed down based on incorrect sign language interpretations.
“A deaf person could be prosecuted and be innocent,” Buchan said.
The Americans With Disabilities Act requires deaf people be provided with quality sign language interpreters, but what is considered quality is left to a court to decide.
Indiana Protection and Advocacy Commission Director Gary Ritchter says it’s a question of awareness. He says courtrooms don’t see deaf people every day, and when they do they often underestimate the level of skill and experience an interpreter needs to effectively translate a case.
“Generally when we’ve become involved and made a like a judge or local government aware of their obligations,” Ritchter said. “There generally hasn’t been a lot of resistance and a lot resistance or obstruction in them doing what they have been required to do.”
He maintains that deaf people in Indiana can access competent interpretation services in the courtroom but usually only after pushing for it