Archive for August, 2008

Are employers required to assure that televisions in private residences where they employ staff to care for clients are closed captioned for any deaf or hard of hearing staff to be able to enjoy watching television the same as the hearing staff do? Would this fall under the category of “reasonable accommodations”, even if the televisions are the property of the clients, and not the employer? Who is responsible for assuring that the televisions are closed captioned? What should be done for a deaf employee who is assigned to a residence where the television is not closed captioned?

I work as a Supported Living Assistant for a Community Living Services program, providing care for developmentally disabled adults in their homes. The specific program that I work with cares for individuals under the Medicaid Waiver Program – clients whom without this program would be living in institutions, nursing homes, or other types of residential facilities. These clients require 24/7 round-the-clock care to assure their safety and welfare.

I work the third shift overnight, from 10:00 pm until the clients leave for their day programs in the morning, which can be any time between 7:00 am and 9:00 am. In another words, I am working anywhere from 9 hours to 11 hours during my shift.

However, during most of this time the clients are actually sleeping and there is not all that much to do… maybe some cleaning, laundry, cooking meals that can be made in advance, etc. but for most of this time the staff basically sits around and watches television (we are not allowed to sleep while on the job).

Here’s the problem… one of the houses where I work two or three nights a week has a television that does NOT have captioning available. Thus, my ability to enjoy TV while I’m working at that residence is rather limited.

I need to clarify that the residences are the clients own homes… they do not belong to the agency where I work. Some of the clients own their homes (or they are owned by their families/legal guardians); others rent their homes from landlords or apartment management companies. The clients are responsible for paying their own living expenses, which mainly comes out of their Social Security checks, and sometimes also out of their paychecks if they are working and earning a (limited) salary.

In addition, the furniture in the residences belongs to the clients… and this includes the televisions. While most of the clients do have televisions with closed captioning, this one home is the exception to the rule. It’s an old television that has been fixed up and put in the home… actually it is there mainly for the staff to use, because the clients in the home don’t really watch television all that much. Staff are permitted to watch the TV, and they often do so, especially after the clients have gone to bed, which they usually do around 8:30 at night (the clients have to be up early in the morning to take their medications and get ready for their day program).

My question is this… if the hearing staff have access to the television and can enjoy it, does this mean that the Deaf staff (meaning myself) must have equal access to the television? And if this is the case, does that mean the television needs to be closed captioned in order for me to have “Equal Communication Access?”

My employer is saying that “it’s not our problem, you just have to find something else to do, like read a book or bring some knitting or whatever.” Their argument is that since they don’t own the television, they are not responsible to assure that it’s captioned.

My argument in response is that if the other employees working in this home have the right to watch and enjoy the television, where is my right to be able to do the same? My point is that whether or not I do watch the television or choose to do something else, should the television still be captioned so I have that same equal access, or am I simply “shit out of luck” and have to find something else to occupy my time while I’m working at that residence?

So I would like to ask my readership…

What do you think?

How do you think this problem should be solved?

If in fact the television should be closed captioned, who is responsible for providing such access? Is it the employer’s responsibility to find an old captioning machine or whatever, the client’s responsibility, or the deaf employee’s responsibility?

Should a deaf employee be required to work in a residence where “reasonable accommodations” such as closed captioned television is not available? Can the employer still demand that I work in this residence and “find an alternative” to watching television? Should the employer remove me from working in this residence and only schedule me to work in residences where closed captioned television is available?

I’m really curious to get your feedback, because this has been bothering me for the past week and I’m struggling to determine the best way to handle this issue.


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