Group files complaint over water crisis
An advocacy group for the disabled yesterday filed a federal civil rights complaint with the US Department of Justice over the state’s handling of a drinking water crisis earlier this month.
The complaint made by the Disability Policy Consortium says the state wasn’t prepared to respond adequately to the needs of disabled and elderly people when a water main break left nearly 2 million Eastern Massachusetts residents under an order to boil their water for several days. The complaint also alleges the state did not provide sign language interpreters at news conferences or captioning for video clips posted on the state website.
A member of the Disability Policy Consortium’s board of directors, Carol Hilbinger, said the reliance on announcements made in English but not translated into American Sign Language disadvantaged many deaf people, including herself.
“We found time and again we had to explain what was going on to our consumers,’’ she said through an interpreter during an interview at the State House. “Some thought it was OK to drink filtered water; we have to tell them no. Also, they saw lines at the store [for bottled water] and asked, ‘What’s going on?’ ’’
Ria Convery, communications director for the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority, said the agency hadn’t seen the complaint.
“However, in response to the water emergency and with the help of our member communities, sister agencies, and the governor, we were able to quickly mobilize a massive communications effort getting important information out using a number of outlets including multiple websites, billboards along the highways, and the media,’’ Convery said.
Terrel Harris, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, said the state had a “comprehensive response’’ to the water crisis and used a variety of means of public outreach, including federally compliant website postings.
Patrick repeatedly urged state residents to check in on the elderly and other vulnerable populations, though he did not single out disabled people.
Hilbinger said police also drove through neighborhoods and made announcements over bullhorns, which were useless to those who cannot hear. Similarly, she said, television stations tried to help with constant scrolling information across the bottoms of their screens, but it, too, was in English.