Supreme Court: Deaf Texans Claim Agencies Can’t Deny Interpreters for Driver’s Ed.

Five individuals who are Deaf from four Texas cities allege they were denied sign language interpreters for driver’s education courses required by the Texas Education Agency and later by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.

Person driving a car from a side angle
The Supreme Court prepares to hear a Texas case alleging that the Texas Education Agency is responsible for providing interpreters for driver’s education courses required by the state. photo credit: Late night drive (CA to TX road trip) via photopin (license)

The case has been in court twice.

Once, a U.S. District Judge ruled in favor of the individuals who were Deaf.

The case was appealed in the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, and the case was dismissed, “saying that driver education is not a service, program, or activity of the TEA,” according to the report.

The U.S. Supreme Court will now determine what is a service, program, or activity” as far as Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Title II doesn’t allow individuals with disabilities to be excluded from “services, programs, or activities of a public entity.” Public entities serve the public and includes government agencies, according to the report.

According to the report, “Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act includes similar language, prohibiting discrimination of the disabled in any ‘program or activity’ receiving federal funding.

Said the second court that dropped the case: “We hold that the mere fact that the driver education schools are heavily regulated and supervised by the TEA does not make these schools a ‘service, program, or activity’ of the TEA,’ the court’s opinion said,” according to the report.

Cars stopped at an intersection.
Are Texas drivers who are Deaf given the same opportunity to get the education required to drive as others? It all depends on how the court determine a few words from the ADA. photo credit: Cars via photopin (license)

According to a report from The Texas Tribune, “This has the potential to be a landmark decision for deaf rights and indeed for all disability rights,” said Wayne Krause Yang, legal director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, which represents the five plaintiffs who are Deaf.

A settlement case between the U.S. government and the Orange County Clerk of Courts in Florida had a similar situation. A man who was blind was denied screen reader- accessible documents he requested from court.

This was found to violate Title II of the ADA and though the Clerk of Courts didn’t agree that the discriminated, they agreed to a settlement with the U.S. government to avoid similar situations.

According to the settlement, even if the public entity contracted the services, they are responsible for not excluding people from activities because of their disability: “a public entity may not, directly or through contractual or other arrangements, utilize methods of administration that deny individuals with disabilities access to the public entity’s services, programs, and activities or that perpetuate the discrimination of another public entity, if both public entities are subject to common administrative control or are agencies of the same state.  28 C.F.R. § 35.130(b)(3).”

The original Texas case regarding denial of interpreters for driver’s education, Ivy v. Morath, took place in 2011 and continued a process through other courts.

This week, the Supreme Court decided to hear it.

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