Prison Abuse and Assistive Techonology – Two Stories from Public and Private Prisons

In Fresno County Jail, in California, a for-profit prison doctor is accused of taking away an inmate’s wheelchair as retaliation for complaints. The details are not proven, but here’s the story (via TPM):

Daniel Trebas hasn’t had an easy time in the Fresno County jail. The convicted sex offender has served his punishment, plus about 15 extra years after he was deemed mentally disordered. And after seven years in a wheelchair, he says a doctor ordered it taken away as retaliation for his previous complaints against her.
Jail staff overrode the doctor’s order and gave it back after 37 days, and then a detective started digging into whether his rights were violated. What he found, according to a search warrant Action News uncovered, was a man who was a victim of dependent care abuse whose medical records had been falsified and altered.
“Was there fraud in covering up the fact that a wheelchair was taken away?” said ABC30 legal analyst Tony Capozzi. “And if it was taken away, was it for medical reasons or was it for some kind of punishment or retribution?”

It may or may not have happened, of course, but it would fit a larger pattern of wheelchairs and other assistive tech devices being seen as optional, as benefits, that one can strip away (for example – the blind child whose cane was removed by the school).

Then there’s the recent story of the homeless deaf immigrant who was not provided an interpreter when arrested and jailed for weeks. He can’t write in English (not that this matters – interpretation is a right, not a choice), so Abreham Zemedagegehu didn’t even know why he was arrested:

He knew he was in jail, but he didn’t know why.
Eventually, Abreham Zemedagegehu learned that he’d been accused of stealing an iPad — an iPad whose owner later found it. He spent the next six weeks in jail, unable to communicate with his jailers because he is deaf. He described a frightening, isolated experience in which medical procedures were performed without his consent and he feared for his safety.
Zemedagegehu sued the Arlington County sheriff last month in federal court, saying his treatment failed to meet the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“I felt like I was losing my mind,” Zemedagegehu said through an interpreter in an interview at his lawyer’s office. “I thought Virginia would give me an interpreter and they said no. That’s why I felt lost.”
Zemedagegehu, who is homeless, is a U.S. citizen who was born in Ethiopia. He grew up using Ethiopian Sign Language. He has learned American Sign Language, but he has never learned more than rudimentary written English.

Note: In jail for a stolen iPad that wasn’t actually stolen.

Assistive technology must be treated by authorities, whether for-profit prisons or state agencies, or companies that don’t do business with the state (see this piece), as integral parts of the body. They cannot be removed or withheld for punishment,  or because it’s inconvenient, or even (in the context of state services like arrest and imprisonment) because it costs money. This is the power of the ADA.

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