For years, inmates with disabilities in Florida have doubly struggled to navigate its prison system. Inmates with hearing problems were denied interpreters or hearing aids that would help them understand orders or announcements in their facilities. Inmates who are blind alleged that their canes were not replaced when broken, making it impossible to navigate the halls. Some with mobility problems reported that they were not allowed to have wheelchairs inside their cells or that their prosthetic limbs were confiscated, meaning they had to drag themselves around in their cells or wait in long lines for the few wheelchair-accessible showers or tables in their prisons, reports the Miami Herald.
The state has agreed to a major settlement with a statewide disability advocacy group to address those complaints, setting a timeline to bring its facilities into compliance with federal laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Eighth Amendment. The settlement in a lawsuit filed by Disability Rights Florida gives the agency four years to add resources for inmates and make its facilities more accessible to those with disabilities. The changes include making qualified interpreters available for disciplinary hearings and doctor’s appointments, providing functioning canes to inmates with visual disabilities and removing architectural barriers in prisons for wheelchair users and others with mobility issues. “It’s going to be game-changing,” said Randall Berg of the Florida Justice Institute.