A group of deaf Texans fighting what they claim is discriminatory treatment is hoping the U.S. Supreme Court will step in and force the state to provide sign-language interpreters at classes young drivers must take to get licenses.
The high court on Tuesday agreed to hear the case, Ivy v. Morath, involving a group of deaf Texans who sued the state in 2011. The state requires first-time driver's license applicants under age 25 to take classes that are typically conducted by private companies. The suit argues that since Texas requires the classes, it should make sure there are interpreters for deaf students.
It’s odd to walk into the Supreme Court and see lawyers in the bar section holding iPhones, iPads, and other electronic devices during a court session. But that was the case on Tuesday as twelve members of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Bar Association were being sworn in to the Supreme Court Bar.
The group was founded in 2013, and the Supreme Court agreed to make accommodations for the group to participate in the ritual of its in-courtroom swearing-in ceremony. That included the provision of sign-language interpreters as well as a limited wi-fi signal allowing the lawyers to receive real-time translation on their electronic devices.
When a dozen lawyers rose together to be sworn into the Supreme Court bar Tuesday morning, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. made a sweeping motion with his hands.
It translated in American Sign Language to: “Your motion is granted.”
Roberts learned to sign the phrase just for that occasion, Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said.
That moving gesture alone made the admittance of 12 deaf lawyers to the highest court in the land historic. All were members of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Bar Association and were from various parts of the country.
WASHINGTON, DC—Following ancient custom, the United States Supreme Court will begin its next term on the first Monday in October. However, when the nine justices hear their first case on October 6, there will be something new in the courtroom that will assist hearing aid wearers present in following the proceedings: a hearing loop system, installed this summer.
The new induction listening system, which is in addition to the High Court’s existing FM and infra-red listening devices, transmits sound through an electromagnetic signal that can be picked up by the telecoil of a hearing aid or cochlear implant.
Who will take advantage of the hearing loop? According to Kathy Arberg, the Supreme Court’s public information officer, the new system is intended for use by court visitors. But, she added, it will also be available to attorneys appearing before the court.
Will any of the justices be availing themselves of the hearing loop. Arberg did not say, a reticence in keeping with the tradition of the justices to keep their personal lives private. However, given that the average age of the nine current justices is 68.4 years and that four are over 75, it’s a good bet that some of them are—or, at least, should be—wearing hearing aids. So, they too will take advantage of the new system.
IT TOOK PERSUASION
The looping installation at the Supreme Court didn’t just happen; it was the product of active advocacy. Last December, Richard Williams, a retired attorney who serves on the board of theSarasota, Florida, chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), contacted the management of the Supreme Court, urging that a hearing loop be installed.