First was a push for elevators in a Montessori school, now it's a push for ASL interpreters
In 2003, she stood before a local school board and insisted on them installing an elevator per ADA regulation, now Antionette Harrell is winning in her push for sign language interpreters.
In her role as a council member of the Statewide Independent Living Council, Antoinette Harrell contacted Tangipahoa Parish Councilman Louis Joseph, of District 3, and asked to be included on the parish council's monthly agenda in August 2023.
It was of particular urgency for Harrell to ask the council one question: “Where are the sign language interpreters?” According to Harrell, the parish does not have interpreters present during monthly or special meetings as required by federal law.
Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires businesses and services providers to provide an “equal opportunity to persons with disabilities so they can participate in and benefit from their services.” Likewise, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act requires public and private entities “that are recipients of federal financial assistance to ensure effective communication and access for people who are deaf, deaf-blind, and hard of hearing.”
“The ADA places responsibility for providing effective communication including the use of interpreters, directly on covered entities. They cannot require a person to bring someone to interpret for them. A covered entity can rely on a companion to interpret in only two situations. The access provided must meet the person's needs and how they communicate,” said Harrell.
Providing interpreters is one way the city can comply with both the ADA and Section 504, said Harrell. In response to her request, Joseph said the council works to ensure that all parish communication complied with federal laws. The council decided to form a committee to determine the process of contracting sign language interpreters.
“I want to bridge the communication gap between the local government and the hard-of-hearing and deaf individuals in Tangipahoa Parish,” she said. “ I believe this committee would be instrumental in the effort to ensure that the voices of these residents are heard and that their concerns are addressed parish-wide. The SILC has committed to working to ensure that all individuals, regardless of their hearing ability, have access to the services they need. I am looking forward to working with this committee to make Tangipahoa Parish a more accessible and inclusive place for everyone.”
Harrell has a history of advocating for disability rights and working to make Tangipahoa Parish a more equitable and inclusive place. Due to her physical challenges as an amputee, she advocated for an elevator to be installed at the Audubon Montessori School and, in 2003, the New Orleans’ School Board agreed. The elevator was installed and is still operating at the school. “I envisioned it as benefiting not just her, but also children with disabilities who are interested in attending the school,” she said.
Her advocacy once again appealed to the Town of Kentwood Council and Mayor Irma T. Gordon, August agenda. They agreed to identify sign language interpreters for public meetings and to add captioning to videos for residents to watch them online. Gordon said town officials are committed to ensuring that all Kentwood residents can access and participate in public meetings. They decided to take steps to contract a interpreter.
To Harrell's knowledge, the Town of Kentwood will be the third municipality in Tangipahoa Parish to include sign language interpreters. The City of Ponchatoula and the Town of Independence are following the federal law.