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After eight years of litigation, all USDA deaf and hard of hearing employees in the Washington, D.C. region will now be able to access sign language interpreting services through a centralized system. Under the settlement, the USDA has agreed to re-centralize how sign language services are provided, and to fund sign language interpreting contracts through a centralized shared cost program. 

Read more: www.nad.org/2022/08/30/usda-returns-to-centralized-interpreting-services

[Video desc and transcript: Howard A. Rosenblum is standing in the front of the black backdrop.

HOWARD: The U.S. Government has many different departments and agencies, and one of them is the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). I bring this up because in the past, USDA had an amazing centralized accommodations system which provided any kinds of reasonable accommodations. This meant any employee that worked in the National Capitol Region (DC, MD, VA), whether that person was deaf, DeafBlind, hard of hearing, or had other disabilities, could submit accommodations requests to this centralized system within the USDA. This centralized department had people who were experienced in handling such requests. Employees with disabilities could submit requests easily and they would handle it without a problem. This was very convenient. However, in 2014, USDA decided to stop their centralized accommodations system. Keep in mind, the USDA has 17 sub-agencies. When the USDA stopped their centralized accommodation systems, each sub-agency was on its own in figuring out how to handle such requests, how to provide interpreters, and monitor all accommodation needs. This became a huge problem. Employees who worked in these sub-agencies never received training on how to appropriately provide accommodations. It was a mess. Many deaf and hard of hearing USDA employees in the National Capitol Region didn’t receive any accommodations or were assigned inadequate interpreters. They struggled to request their accommodation needs from their agency. They were faced with stress and confusion. Again, this was a terrible situation. Once that happened in 2014, deaf and hard of hearing USDA employees in the National Capitol Region filed a complaint. The NAD represented them in filing this lawsuit against the USDA representing the deaf and hard of hearing employees. Two other law firms joined the lawsuit to help, Latham & Watkins and Zelle. We are grateful to these firms as we’ve been involved with this lawsuit for the past eight years. We represented seven USDA employees who worked in the National Capitol Region who in turn represented all deaf and hard of hearing USDA employees in the National Capitol Region, as a class action. Originally, Brianne Burger was our lead class agent for all deaf and hard of hearing USDA employees in the capitol region. During the lawsuit, Brianne left the USDA for another job in a different Government agency. Taking Brianne’s place as lead class agent was James Campbell. After eight years, USDA finally realized they should’ve kept their centralized accommodations system. They agreed that leaving it up to the 17 sub-agencies was not a good approach. So USDA has reverted back to their centralized system with a central coordinator and central funding. We’ve successfully settled with the USDA. USDA has paid attorney fees and paid each member of the class action — deaf and hard of hearing USDA employees who worked in the National Capitol Region. This settlement is important because it shows employers, whether you’re a federal or state agency, or a private sub-contractor, that having a centralized accommodations system is necessary for coordinating and providing interpreters. We hope this legal win will become a trend for all employers to consider centralizing their accommodations. Thank you!

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