Several Gallaudet University students are working to improve the American justice system for the deaf by interning with Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf (HEARD), a D.C.-based nonprofit organization.
HEARD recently was featured in two episodes of Al Jazeera America series "America Tonight." "Deaf In Prison" focused on the plight of deaf and hard of hearing inmates in prisons throughout the United States, and HEARD kicked off a #DeafinPrison social media campaign during which it promoted the Al Jazeera episodes on YouTube.
Corinna Hill, '14, is one of the Gallaudet students who helped HEARD with its outreach efforts. "I grew up thinking that the prison system was fair, and now I realize it has flaws," said Hill, a Boonsboro, Md., native who majored in history. "Innocent deaf Americans are sitting in prison."
HEARD is a volunteer-run organization founded by American University law student Talila Lewis. After a semester-long externship with the D.C. Public Defense Service, Lewis set a mission: to improve communication accessibility for deaf prisoners and fight for those who have been wrongfully convicted.
"Only five prisons in the U.S. have videophones - Virginia, Vermont, Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Maine," Lewis said.
There also are numerous cases of allegedly innocent deaf Americans who have been imprisoned for years, unable to tell their story and without access to interpreters or even a TTY.