Deaf people deprived of ASL interpreters in Tennessee-funded programs, lawsuit claims

Two Tennessee departments are being sued for not providing access to American Sign Language interpreters. / Getty Images

Dontay Battle is deaf and lives in a state-funded Shelby County group home for adults with intellectual disabilities where neither the staff nor his roommate communicate in the only language he knows: American Sign Language.

After aging out of Tennessee's child welfare system, Battle - now 20 - lives under the oversight of the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, which provides no staff or interpreters fluent in ASL in his group home, at his medical appointments or during regular "person-centered" meetings whose purpose is to understand Battle's wishes for day-to-day living and his goals for the future.

In February 2020, Battle was admitted to a psychiatric hospital where he was diagnosed with depression, aggression, psychosis and suicidal ideations. His doctors attributed his condition, in part, to feelings of isolation. Their discharge plan advised Battle to talk to staff in his group home if he felt depressed.