Deaf Woman Claims Rights Agency Couldn't Take Her Calls

ELYRIA, Ohio (AP) - A deaf woman who tried repeatedly to contact the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says the agency isn't equipped to handle complaints from the deaf.

An Oberlin-based advocacy group agrees, saying the EEOC itself has discriminated against deaf people by not giving them the same access to services as people who can hear.

The Deaf and Deaf-Blind Committee on Human Rights said it ran its own test by calling the agency 21 times between Jan. 10 and Feb. 21 on two toll-free TTY lines.

One of the numbers yielded only a recorded message that deaf people cannot hear. No one answered at another number in the 216 area code.

A TTY device for deaf people allows callers to type information and transmit it through a phone line.

Michael Fetzer, EEOC district director, told members of the advocacy group last week that he was embarrassed to learn the TTY lines didn't work. But he also expressed disbelief that someone would try for five years to contact the agency without success.

"These aren't resource issues, but service issues that should be and will be addressed," Fetzer said. "More should be done and more will be done."

EEOC is one of many agencies and companies that do not have working TTY numbers, which frustrates deaf people trying to obtain needed services, the group said.

The group wants a toll-free, direct TTY number answered by a person, a TTY answering machine for that line and training for all Cleveland EEOC staff members on how to use a TTY, how to use sign language interpreters and on deaf culture and language.

"These are basic services that the deaf are entitled to," Fetzer said. Fetzer said the agency works hard to end discrimination, including acts against deaf people.

The Deaf and Deaf-Blind Committee on Human Rights is a 3-year-old organization with about 70 members from Lorain and Cuyahoga counties.

Group spokeswoman Heather West said the woman who originally complained of the telephone problem just recently learned that the group existed and asked for its help.

The woman had been trying to lodge a complaint with the EEOC against her employer, because she believed she had been discriminated against because of her disability.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)