Hastings YMCA to provide interpreter for deaf couple

  • Article by: PAT PHEIFER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 25, 2014 - 9:26 PM

Concession follows lawsuit filed over swim classes at Hastings YMCA.

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Calena and Jacob Lingle of Hastings have both been deaf since birth. Their daughter, Aria, can hear, although her first language was American Sign Language.

The YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities has agreed to provide an American Sign Language interpreter for deaf parents Jacob and Calena Lingle so they can fully participate in their daughter Aria’s swim classes at the Hastings Y.

After trying to negotiate for a year, the Lingles and their daughter, now 2½, sued the YMCA earlier this month, alleging that its refusal to provide an adequate means for them to communicate violated state and federal laws.

A day after the lawsuit was filed June 12 in Hennepin County District Court, the Lingles received an e-mail from the Y saying an interpreter would be made available, but only for the first of the seven-session Seahorse classes.

The Lingles’ attorney, Rick Macpherson, of the Minnesota Disability Law Center, said Wednesday that he received an e-mail Monday from the Y’s attorney saying the organization had decided to provide an interpreter for all the classes.

While the lawsuit has not been settled, Macpherson said the Y proposed putting the litigation on hold while it develops a new policy and resolves the other issues in the case.

“The Lingles are fine with that arrangement,” Macpherson said. “The Y has said they plan to involve representatives from the deaf community in coming up with the policy.”

The Lingles will have a role in that and the policy must be acceptable to them before they decide to settle the lawsuit. Because the suit has been filed, a judge will have to approve a timetable for the negotiations, the attorney said. Those details have not been worked out yet.

“The clients are happy they will be able to participate in the rest of the classes,” Macpherson said. “They’re committed to doing whatever they can so that the policy is a good one and works for everybody. There are lots of ways to work out cost-effective ways of doing it.”

Jacob and Calena Lingle, 27 and 25 respectively, have been deaf since birth. Their daughter can hear; her first language was ASL.

The family vacations each year on Cass Lake in northern Minnesota and wanted Aria to be comfortable in the water so she could play with her 20 cousins.

They first contacted the YMCA in June 2013 to enroll in the Sea Lion parent-child swim classes and learn about flotation devices, signs of drowning and other facets of water safety. They repeatedly requested an interpreter. The Y refused, saying it was too hard to find a qualified interpreter and too expensive to provide one for every class.

The Y did say it would provide a second instructor and written materials for the Sea Lion classes. But the second instructor was there only for the first class and the written instructions weren’t practical to use in the water, Jacob Lingle said.

“I learned nothing,” Lingle said through an interpreter about his experiences in the classes last summer. “I didn’t understand what was going on. I felt like I was the slowest one there. I found that very embarrassing.”

In contrast, after the first Seahorse class this summer — with an interpreter — Lingle said, “I felt like I was in a completely different world with the interpreter present. I could see what the other parents were asking, I could stay focused on my daughter rather than being on a swivel where I have to constantly look around to follow the other parents. I could keep up with the pace of the class rather than being behind.”

Bob Halagan, an attorney representing the YMCA, said that because the case involves pending litigation, he cannot comment.

Pat Pheifer • 952-746-3284

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