Minneapolis will provide live closed captioning of most public meetings and boost its interpretation services after a deaf man filed a discrimination complaint because he couldn't take part in hearings about the future of the Police Department.
North Minneapolis resident Jon Shanahan wanted to participate when the Charter Commission was taking comments on a City Council proposal to replace the Minneapolis Police Department in the wake of George Floyd's death.
Shanahan, who was born deaf, often relies on an American Sign Language interpreter to follow public hearings. He said he contacted the city asking for accommodations but, when the crucial moment arrived, help wasn't there.
The city told him he could submit a comment, but he felt he was at a disadvantage because he didn't know what the other speakers had said. "How am I going to put a comment, if I don't understand the meeting?" he said.
As public meetings continued, Shanahan said he felt "growing frustration, because I felt that my rights were taken away. I felt like a second-class citizen." Shanahan and his attorney, Heather Gilbert, filed a discrimination charge with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and eventually entered mediation with the city.
Once the city attorney working the case understood the problem, he "was great to work with, but then the next problem we had was how do we solve this, how do we work this out," Gilbert said.
Gilbert said they tried new closed captioning systems, aside from the automated one the city adopted in early 2020.
Eventually, they arrived at a settlement that calls for the city to provide live, human-generated closed captioning for most public meetings.
"That's a really big accomplishment," Gilbert said.
The settlement also requires the city to provide sign language interpretation for public hearings if residents request it at least seven days in advance. It includes a $20,000 payment as well, $8,000 of which reimburses a portion of the attorney's fees and $12,000 of which is compensatory damages for Shanahan.
The City Council approved the settlement Friday, and it now heads to Mayor Jacob Frey for approval.
Liz Navratil • 612-673-4994