Deaf Left Behind During Emergencies, Lawsuit Says

The building is burning down -- but no one told Arthur
If the fire alarm goes off and nobody tells the deaf guy, he's just going to sit at his desk. It's a disturbing image, but according to a lawsuit filed today in San Francisco superior court, that's exactly what's happening in four state agencies.

The Department of Rehabilitation, Department of Justice, California Public Employees Retirement System and Department of Social Services, have failed to accommodate the state's 1,500 deaf employees, according to the suit, which also names Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as a defendant. You can read the suit here.

In some cases, deaf people have been left behind at these agencies during evacuation drills -- but they've also been overlooked in real emergencies. At meetings they are sometimes denied interpreters and videophones, according to the lawsuit. The allegations suggest the agencies have violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

"California is supposed to be a model employer, but deaf employees are not getting the accommodations they need," Kevin Knestrick, an attorney with Disability Rights Advocates in Berkeley, told KTVU.

Filed by seven state employees and Deaf and Hard of Hearing State Workers United, the lawsuit may become a class action.

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