Day in Washington #Disability #Policy Podcast. #GirlScouts Refuses to Provide #Interpreter Services for #Deaf Member. Have they forgotten their own history?! They were founded by a woman with a significant hearing impairment!
(Note from Day: The post is up a little late. It’s dated for December but still important!)
Hello and welcome to Day in Washington, your disability policy podcast. Together, we will explore and analyze issues of interest to the disability community. I’m your host Day Al-Mohamed working to make sure you stay informed. Today, I want to talk about a lawsuit currently in the 7th Circuit. It involves a young girl, a deaf girl, who uses sign language and it involves the Girl Scouts of America.
First, let me start with Juliette Gordon Low. Juliette Gordon Low was the founder of the Girl Scouts of America. Because of chronic ear infections she became deaf in one ear in early adulthood, losing hearing in her other ear in 1886. She was 26 years old. In 1912, she created the Girl Scouts to “build girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place” and to create programs for “girls of all age levels, races, ethnicities, beliefs, economies, geographies and physical abilities.”
I bring up Juliette Gordon Low, the deaf founder of the Girl Scouts of America because on December 10th, 2014 the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals heard the oral argument in a case brought on behalf of Megan Runion, a 15 year-old deaf girl who was denied American Sign Language interpreters at Girl Scout meetings.
Let me read from the Complaint filed with the US District Court Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division:
Megan Runnion is a 12-year-old girl who joined the Girl Scouts when she was in kindergarten. Megan is deaf and communicates using American Sign Language or ASL. For six years, Megan was provided with a sign language interpreter by Girl Scouts for troop meetings and outings, giving her an opportunity equal to her peers to participate in Girl Scout activities.
Megan loved being a Girl Scout. Near the start of 2011 to 2012 school year as Megan began sixth-grade, Girl Scouts stopped providing sign language interpreters. Despite requests by Megan’s mother to reinstate the interpreter services, Girl Scouts refused. Then, in January of 2012 without warning to Megan or her family, the troop leaders announced that Megan’s troop was disbanding.
Megan’s mother was informed that the troop was being disbanded because of her insistence that the Girl Scouts provide interpreter services for Girl Scout programs and activities. Megan has not been offered placement in a new troop with interpreter services despite her mother requesting such placement. Thus, for the very first time since kindergarten, Megan is not a Girl Scout.
You’ll notice this case is at the Appellate level. That’s because Megan lost at the local district court level. The court said that as a matter of law, Girl Scouts is not “principally engaged in the business of providing education, healthcare, housing, social services, or parks and recreation.” All items that they would receive federal financial assistance for and therefore which fall under the purview of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Thereby making it mandatory that they provide interpreter services.
Just for a bit of background the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It stablishes a federal program that basically is supposed to improve the lot of individuals with disabilities and among its purposes are, let me quote here: “…to empower individuals with disabilities to maximize employment, economic self-sufficiency, independence, and inclusion and integration into society.” So the idea being that if there’s an entity who receives federal funding then that entity should do everything in their power to be inclusive and not discriminate against anyone with a disability.
So at the district court level, the court said (and I vehemently disagree with them): Girl Scouts doesn’t do that!
Rubbish, says I. When you look at the mission statement, at what Girl Scouts does, I find it hard to believe that education or recreation are not parts of their mission or a large enough part that which could be said that they are “principally engaged” in it – that being the key phrasing.
And this is such a contentious issue that at the appellate level, the US Department of Justice has actually stepped in and supports Megan’s definition and how she’s looking at it, basically saying: Yes, the Girl Scouts should fall under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 AND because they received funding from both Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the US Department of Justice for those years then they should have provided sign language interpretation for Megan.
They give her equal access to the crucial educational, social, and leadership development programs that are offered to her peers and she should allowed full communication among her peers and her troop leaders. Pretty good to see the Department of Justice weighing in like that.
As for what’s going to happen in the future, that’s for the appellate court to decide. All I know is that Juliette Gordon Low, the deaf founder of Girl Scouts would probably be very disappointed in them.
As always, I encourage you to read and come to your own opinion. Links are available in the comments. This is Day Al-Mohamed, hoping you continue to be well, and be informed.
Day in Washington is a product of the Lead On Network. Comments and opinions expressed in this podcast should in no way be considered representative of opinions, statements or policies of any organizations, affiliations, employers or agencies connected with the host. Audio production provided by Chris Wright. Music is “If by Force” courtesy of the Podsafe Music Network and Twenty Twelve Records.
- 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to Hear Appeal in EFE Case to Determine Whether Girl Scouts Are Covered by Federal Disability Discrimination Laws – http://www.equipforequality.org/news-item/7th-circuit-court-appeals-hear-appeal-efe-case-determine-whether-girl-scouts-covered-federal-disability-discrimination-laws/
- Megan Runnion’s Original Complaint – http://www.equipforequality.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Runnion-Complaint-Filed.pdf
- US Department of Justice Brief in Support of Megan – http://www.equipforequality.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Runnion-7th-Circuit-DOJ-Brief.pdf