Letter: For-profit funeral homes should provide sign language interpreters

Hearing in a deaf world affords me a front-row seat to witness the injustices imposed on the Deaf community. Although I consider myself fortunate to not be directly impacted by these acts of disservice, there is something infuriating about watching friends and loved ones face unnecessary obstacles in the name of convenience and bottom line for the hearing world. One such atrocity is the hearing world’s disregard for equal access to language, especially in the for-profit funeral service industry.

Before I elaborate, I would like to express my belief that providing interpreters for any language is important. Our country is a melting pot of diversity and, along with it, comes the responsibility to nurture a variety of languages and dialects. The reason I feel it’s important to prioritize interpreter access for the deaf population is this: A deaf person can never learn to hear the English language and it’s inhumane to withhold the opportunity to understand what is being said around them.

The federal government agrees with this inherent right of language access. Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires all public businesses to provide accommodations for deaf individuals, including interpretation. This regulation goes into much greater depth, but let’s focus on the person’s right to an interpreter.

Statewide, the deaf community has been battling for their right to interpreters for decades. Many businesses are either unfamiliar with ADA law or fight tooth-and-nail to try to get around it. Let me be clear, a deaf person should never be asked to pay for an interpreter. The infrequency of interpreter requests a business faces paired with their profit margins and tax incentives for providing the service makes their unwillingness to comply with this federally-mandated law ridiculous. Ironically, the cost of hiring an interpreter is far less than the time and resources needed to defend an ADA lawsuit.

Now, let’s go back to the funeral service industry. Most funeral homes won’t provide an interpreter for a deaf person wanting to attend a funeral. The real outrage is when the funeral is for an immediate family member. In cases where the deceased had no life insurance policy, the family is already faced with undue hardship to cover the cost of the nearly $10,000 funeral. On top of that, the funeral home, who is collecting their profits, has the audacity to ask the family to arrange and pay for an interpreter while they are mourning the death of a family member.

Funeral homes capitalize on the fact that the amount of time between a loved-one’s passing and the day of the funeral is short and overwhelming. For the sake of time and sanity, most family members don’t argue when told the funeral home will not provide an interpreter. They swallow the cost, scramble to find an interpreter on their own, and move on with their grieving. Hearing in a deaf world awards me the position to witness these injustices; however, unlike those that are weary from decades of this battle, I will not just accept them and move on.

This column was submitted for consideration in The Forum's search for "the next great columnist.