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Missouri Sued over Mental Health Services for the Deaf

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By Jason Beahm on April 29, 2010 10:00 AM

Sheri Cerame has a chilling story about problems in Missouri with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Her deaf son was reportedly assaulted and suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and became a danger to himself and others. Following a psychiatrist's advice, she took him to a state mental health facility. 

As reported Tuesday in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Within an hour...a nurse tried to strap on a straitjacket because of the "flailing hands" of the then-preteen boy, who is deaf and cannot speak.

That flailing - Cerame's son's attempt to communicate by using sign language - is emblematic of a systemic statewide problem in Missouri, advocates for the deaf said Monday after filing a lawsuit aimed at fixing it.

The Missouri Association of the Deaf  filed suit in U.S. District Court against the Missouri Department of Mental Health. The suit was filed on behalf of approximately 1,100 deaf residents of Missouri, alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. Specifically, the deaf are entitled to equal mental health services, but their attorneys argue that the state is failing them. Deaf mental health is an issue that has recently drawn the attention of journalists, attorneys and lawmakers. In the introduction, attorney  Kenneth M. Chackes lays out the basis of the Plaintiff's arguments:


The 13 individual plaintiffs...challenge, as violative of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act...and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 interrelated policies, practices, procedures, customs and usages... of the defendants concerning the delivery of mental health services to deaf persons in Missouri. Deafness is a disability under the ADA and the RA. The challenged policies and practices are ones defendants apply to the individual plaintiffs and other deaf persons in Missouri who suffer from mental illness and who require mental health treatment.... The challenged policies and practices are ones that have subjected... the individual plaintiffs and persons... to substantial and continuing injury. Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief against defendants.

No word yet on the response from the Missouri Department of Mental Health. This is a case that we will continue to follow as it has significant implications for the future of mental health care.

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