State ordered to provide equal access to the deaf

A federal judge has ordered Georgia to begin taking steps to provide equal access to public services to people who are deaf and developmentally disabled.

In a 26-page order, U.S. District Judge Richard Story gave the state five years to fully comply with his mandate, which includes maintaining an Office of Deaf Services with a full-time director and staffing six regional offices to assist the deaf in locations near their homes.

A year ago, Story found the state had been discriminating against developmentally disabled individuals who are deaf. He then ordered the state and lawyers for the plaintiffs — a Gwinnett County woman and a Harris County man who had been unable to find therapeutic group homes with properly trained staff to care for them — into mediation.

When both sides failed to agree to appropriate remedies, Story appointed a monitor and independent expert to develop a comprehensive plan. Story said he based his June 18 order on his monitor’s recommendations.

“Judge Story’s order begins a bright new day for Georgia’s deaf citizens,” said Atlanta lawyer Lee Parks, who represents the plaintiffs. “For too long, the deaf have not been provided equal access to publicly funded mental health care.”

The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities “is reviewing the order and all aspects of the remedial process,” spokesman Matt Carrothers said. “The agency remains committed to the provision of high quality health care for individuals with developmental disabilities and behavioral health needs.”

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