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Tens of thousands of people incarcerated in jails and prisons throughout the United States have one or more communication disabilities, a term that describes persons who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, low vision, deafblind, speech disabled, or otherwise disabled in ways that affect communication. Incarceration is not easy for anyone, but the isolation and inflexibility of incarceration can be especially challenging, dangerous, and further disabling for persons with disabilities. Correctional entities must confront these challenges; the number of incarcerated persons with communication disabilities—already overrepresented in jails and prisons—continues to grow as a proportion. Federal antidiscrimination law obligates jails and prisons to avoid discrimination, promote integration, and ensure effective communication. This requires adequate resources and preparation, joined by a shift in policy, practice, and values: to meet their antidiscrimination obligations, jails and prisons must offer choice and individuation well beyond what is typical in carceral environments. This Article offers a starting point for such efforts, summarizing the law and offering detailed policy recommendations for meeting its requirements and improving practices. The recommendations derive from litigation documents—including court opinions and settlement agreements—as well as workshops and interviews with advocates and experts. They are intended to fill the gap between the overarching requirements of federal antidiscrimination law and the granular policies and protocols—currently absent from most jails and prisons— needed to meaningfully implement these requirements.


Copyright © 2022 Tessa Bialek & Margo Schlanger. This Article may be copied and distributed for free or at cost, with the authors’ names and publication citation remaining, by nonprofit institutions for educational purposes including distribution to students, or for distribution to incarcerated people or their advocates. In addition any advocate, government official, or policy maker dealing with jails or prisons may freely copy or use Part III of the work (in whole or in part, as is or with edits), free of copyright or source notice.