Q. What does the New York Center for Law and Justice do?
The New York Center for Law and Justice provides direct legal services to the Deaf community and hard of hearing New Yorkers. The law center is one of the only public interest law centers within the country that is dedicated exclusively to serving these two communities. We provide individual representation; and we create systemic change in policies that effect deaf and hard of hearing Americans.
Q. Who established the law center and why?
Liz Gitlin and Bruce Gitlin, who are lawyers, established the law center over a decade ago. The Gitlins established the law center because they recognized a profound need for a public interest law practice where staff understands how to effectively represent the Deaf community, particularly in the context of language and Deaf culture. It was a natural extension of the law center’s practice to expand its mission to include the hard of hearing community.
The impetus behind the establishment of the law center, in addition to the obvious need within the Deaf and hard of hearing communities, is the Gitlins’ commitment to social justice, inspired by their Jewish faith tradition. Liz and Bruce lived in Israel during calendar years 2000-2001 and when they returned they were determined to create a meaningful public interest practice that manifested the Biblical commandment, “Justice, justice you shall pursue.” This directive informs the law center. The board of directors and staff of the center understand the injunction as a universal commitment to create access to justice, independent of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.
Q. How is the Center funded?
We are supported by individual donations, grants from foundations, corporate support and we recently received our first grant from New York’s Office of Court Administration.
Q. What are the types of cases that the Center handles?
The Center handles a wide range of matters. We represent individuals who seek asylum; we defend tenants who face eviction; we seek to restore public benefits that have been suspended; we handle matters involving domestic violence and family law; we defend individuals in cases involving consumer debt; and we litigate claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act where individuals have been denied access to effective communication in government and other public settings.
Q. Who does the Center help?
The Center helps indigent Deaf clients and individuals of modest means, but we provide advice and support, on occasion, to Deaf individuals who are not indigent where our services are requested. We provide advice, similarly, to the hard of hearing community and we advocate for closed captioning and other technology that assists the hard of hearing community in gaining language access.
Additionally, we serve on a task force that seeks to improve access to American Sign Language interpreters in law enforcement settings and we work toward improving the delivery of American Sign Language interpreters in the court system.
Q. How many deaf or hard of hearing individuals are in the United States?
There are no precise numbers that reflect the population of people who are deaf or hard of hearing. The conclusion appears to be that between 2-3.5% of Americans suffers from hearing difficulties. There may be approximately 6-10 million individuals who suffer some degree of hearing loss. We emphasize that this is only an estimate.
Q. Does the Center work with pro bono counsel?
We work with pro bono partners at private law firms. In those instances where we work with pro bono counsel, we remain involved in matters as a guide to outside counsel regarding how to effectively represent Deaf clients.
Q. How can I help the Center?
The law center welcomes your help. You can help the law center by volunteering to share your skills, whether you are a lawyer, social worker, someone with a development background, or simply interested in providing your time. If you are reflecting upon charitable giving, we ask respectfully for your financial support. If you are a law school professor or student, we invite you to contact us to discuss how we may partner with each other. If you have a new idea for the law center, we welcome your thoughts.