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ALEXANDRIA, Va. – United States Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger today announced a settlement agreement under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with Good Neighbor Homes, Inc. (GNHI), which operates more than 50 group homes for individuals with intellectual and development disabilities (I/DD) in Virginia, and is the largest group home operator in Virginia.

The settlement agreement resolves allegations that GNHI failed to furnish sign language interpreting services during multiple complex and high stakes interactions with one of its residents who is deaf, including interactions in which the resident was supposed to be able to have an opportunity to provide meaningful input regarding her care plan, medical appointments, and incident investigations regarding serious injuries to the resident. As a result, the aggrieved individual alleged that she often did not understand what was happening with regard to significant aspects of her life. The U.S. Attorney’s Office further investigated allegations that GNHI sometimes relied on the complainant’s sister to facilitate communication in the absence of a sign language interpreter.

“This resolution demonstrates this office’s unwavering commitment to protecting the rights of those who are deaf or hard of hearing and ensuring that they are able to communicate with service providers who are responsible for providing person-centered care,” said Terwilliger. “GNHI provides essential services to a particularly vulnerable population, individuals who often have multiple disabilities and complex medical needs. We are pleased that GNHI has agreed to take steps to ensure that all of its group homes will furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services, such as qualified sign language interpreters, to its consumers who need them in order to communicate effectively.”

In addition to making significant changes to its policies and practices, GNHI agreed to resolve these matters by paying $225,000 to the resident for whom it failed to furnish sign language interpreting services, $40,000 to her sister, and a civil penalty of $50,000.

To resolve these matters, GNHI agreed to adopt policies that will make its services accessible to individuals with communication disabilities; designate an ADA Administrator, who will be responsible for ensuring GNHI’s compliance with the ADA; enter into agreements with sign language interpreting service providers to provide services to its consumers who need them; and to provide training for its personnel on the ADA’s effective communication requirements.  GNHI also agreed to pay damages to the complainant and her sister, and a civil penalty to the United States. This resolution is particularly significant because group homes are essential to ensuring that individuals with I/DD are able to receive community-based services and be integrated into their communities, and individuals who are deaf are entitled to have access to these services.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Gordon, Civil Rights Enforcement Coordinator, investigated the matter. The civil claims settled by this ADA agreement are allegations only; there has been no determination of civil liability.

The Department of Justice has a number of publications available to assist entities in complying with the ADA including a Technical Assistance Publication entitled: ADA Requirements:  Effective Communication and a Business Brief on Communicating with People Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing in Hospital Settings.  For more information on the ADA and to access these publications, visit http://www.ada.gov or call the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA information Line at 800-514-0301 or 800-514-0383 (TDD). ADA complaints may be filed by email to ada.complaint@usdoj.gov.

A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.

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