Complaint: UAB doctor used CODA child to interpret serious diagnosis



The Daily Moth: In December, a Deaf woman from Alabama named Margie “Roxannie” Hutto posted a vlog on Facebook to share her experience of seeing a doctor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham use her CODA daughter as an interpreter to explain a very serious brain tumor diagnosis to her father, Steven.

(From Dec 14, 2020 vlog) Credit: Facebook/Roxannie Hutto


Roxannie Hutto: My daughter was standing there in front of Steven’s bed. The doctor was sitting down. My daughter was interpreting and explaining that he had tumors in his brain and that the cancer has spread. I was watching it and of course, as a mother, I felt anger. But I remained calm as I didn’t want to cause a scene.

The Daily Moth: Roxannie said after that meeting, she confronted the doctor outside of the hospital room and told her that what she did is a violation of the ADA and that she put her daughter in a very difficult and emotional situation.

Roxannie is now working with an attorney, Edward Zwilling, to file a complaint with the hospital. Here is an interview.

Edward Zwilling, via interpreter: My name is Edward Zwilling. I’m a civil rights attorney here in Birmingham.

Alex: Can you explain what legal actions you are taking now?

Zwilling: I’ve done previous litigation against UAB and I’m knowledgeable about their legal department. So we have decided to go ahead and file an administrative complaint with the Office of Civil Rights with the Department of Justice. We have already sent that in. We sent a courtesy copy to the attorneys at UAB to ask them if they were interested in starting a dialogue. We may try to find a way to resolve it, so the situation will never happen again with their daughter, Margie’s claim. We are now in talks. The hospital’s initial response was positive.

My preferred outcome is to have better policies in place with UAB for effective communication. Most importantly, for there to be better training for their doctors and nurses and staff in their interactions with the public, for the patients, to be aware of how to get an interpreter.

Both the DOJ and the NAD have stated very clearly that a child, a CODA, should never be asked to be an interpreter, and specifically not in medical settings. So I want to make sure that it never happens again.

Alex: What are you hoping for? What do you want to see? Changes? Or do you hope for a financial award for emotional distress?

Roxannie: The most important thing is to make sure this never happens again to any CODA child. That’s the most critical thing. It shouldn’t happen. I hope that this message will spread to other hospitals so they can be aware that if a policy is set, everyone must comply with it. They need to know that this is serious. That’s the most important thing.


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Edward: Roxannie was shocked at what happened at UAB. When she called me, I was also shocked that it happened at UAB. I have represented other deaf clients in similar situations at other hospitals. And they have used UAB as a model example of best practices. Typically what happens elsewhere doesn’t happen at UAB. So there are high expectations for UAB to have interpreters when they are needed. They typically provide interpreting services.

The Daily Moth: So, we see that Roxannie and her attorney have taken the first step of filing a complaint with the state’s office of civil rights with the Department of Justice.

I reached out to the UAB but did not get an immediate response. If they do respond, I will add the statement in the comments section.

This situation is unfortunately not new to the Deaf community. We have seen instances of hospitals or law enforcement using CODA children as interpreters and this is not only unprofessional but is a violation of federal disability laws.

****Statement from UAB:

UAB is committed to providing the highest standards of patient care with compassion. You can read our policy re: communication here. We are aware of this concern but adhere to patient privacy laws and do not comment publicly on active legal matters.