ON HAND: Equal access for immigrants and deaf people

This originally appeared in The Tactile Mind Weekly in Trudy’s ON HAND column.

Last February, I met with a state representative from my town to ask her to sponsor a proposed amendment to an existing bill. Although the majority of people in Minnesota are white, we also have a large population of Hmong, Somalian, and Hispanic immigrants. So this bill requires doctors’ offices here to provide them with spoken language interpreters, regardless of how many employees the doctor’s office has.

This bill, however, doesn’t cover ASL interpreters if the doctor’s office has less than 15 employees.

This representative, Rep. Bourdreau–a staunch Republican who has a deer’s head mounted in her St. Paul office–agreed to meet with the director of the Minnesota Commission Serving Deaf and Hard of Hearing People and me for fifteen minutes.

Almost immediately, Bourdreau told us the amendment wouldn’t be possible for a number of reasons, mainly money. I pointed out that the bill already existed; that it’d only be an addition of the words “and sign language” to the bill. She repeated that it wouldn’t be possible. “Besides,” she said (and I’m paraphrasing), “Deaf people can always write back and forth with doctors, while these immigrants can’t. We have to give immigrants access, too.”

I told her about how a CODA once told me about her deaf mother’s visit to the doctor’s for headaches and other ailments. The doctor told the mother, “It’s all in your head.” The mother came home and told her daughter, “See? I told you! He said it was all in my head!” She had taken the doctor’s comments literally instead of realizing that he was saying her ailments were not real.

I also threw the third/fourth grade reading level statistic at Bourdreau, explaining that even perfectly intelligent deaf people in my own family had difficulties with written English. I added that it’d be unrealistic for me to take time out from my medical situation–especially if it was an urgent or emergency situation–to see if a doctor’s office had 15 employees or more. “How come I have less rights as a tax-paying, working US-born citizen than an immigrant who can hear?” I asked.

She nodded, but still insisted that deaf people could write back and forth with doctors instead of using interpreters, and again refused to sponsor the bill.

I still am astonished by her comment about writing back and forth. She lives in Faribault, which has a large population of deaf people, and of course has the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf. And she still had this much ignorance?

We know who I’ll be voting for in the next election. And it *won’t* be for Bourdreau.

UPDATE: Bourdreau did lose the election.

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