of the Deaf and Deaf-Blind Committee on Human Rights attempt
to force their way into the Westlake office of Dr. Kornelia
Solymos Thursday. Westlake Police officers, including Capt.
Guy Turner, center, block the protesters from entering. (Photo
by Kevin Kelley)
activists protest Westlake doctor
Physician refuses to guarantee interpreters, group says
By Kevin Kelley
Published March 22, 2006
30 deaf persons and their advocates held a three-and-a-half hour
sit-in Thursday at the office of Dr. Kornelia Solymos to demand
that she and other physicians provide and pay for sign language
interpreters at office visits.
No arrests were made. However, when the doctor refused
to meet with representatives of the North-Olmsted-based Deaf and
Deaf-Blind Committee on Human Rights, the demonstrators attempted
to force their way toward the examining rooms to confront Solymos.
Westlake Police officers physically blocked their entry into the
inner office. That tense standoff ended after about 25 minutes with
the demonstrators pledging to return with more numbers in two weeks.
The well organized protest began at 11:30 a.m. when
members of the organization marched unannounced in the lobby of
Solymos, located at 29325 Health Campus Drive on the property of
St. John West Shore Hospital.
Protesters wanted Solymos to sign a statement promising
to provide and pay for sign language interpreters for those patients
who require them. About an hour into the protest, members of the
Deaf and Deaf-Blind Committee sat down in the middle of the lobby
and began passing out lunch bags they had brought with them.
“We are here to protest for the human right of communication,”
committee president Ray Seal said through an interpreter.
“Our choice of communication is being oppressed,”
Many deaf persons do not have a good command of English
because it is not their first language; American Sign Language is,
Seal and other protesters said. Therefore lipreading and written
communications between doctor and patient are not sufficient, they
argued. Family members who know sign language should not be expected
to interpret because of privacy concerns, they said.
The demonstrators also said the Americans with Disabilities
Act requires physicians to provide and pay for sign language interpreters
for deaf patients.
“In order to communicate on such important issues
such as health care,” Seal said, “most deaf people would prefer
to use an interpreter that can do ASL so that there is clear understanding,
especially with a doctor’s communication. If they’re forced to lipread,
the statistics are that they’re only going to understand maybe 15
percent of what’s being said.”
Several demonstrators told stories of medical problems
they said they encountered, such as being given the incorrect dosage
of drugs, due to miscommunication with health care personnel.
Protesters then marched in a circle while chanting
slogans such as “No interpreters, no peace,” “Doctors should do
no harm,” and “What do we want? Interpreters. When do we want them?
The chanting, which was repeated periodically throughout
the afternoon, appeared designed to disrupt the normal procedures
of the doctor’s office.
Solymos shares her practice, Community Family Medicine,
with three other physicians. A
separate practice, West Shore Women’s Health Associates, shares
the lobby with Solymos’ practice.
Why was Solymos the target of the demonstrators?
The Deaf and Deaf-Blind Committee sent the statements
to over 100 area doctors, and about 80 percent ignored them, according
to Heather West, a executive director of the group. Solymos’s office
requested that the organization fax the information to her office
again, West said. When the committee called her office again through
a deaf relay calling service, the operator reported Solymos’ office
staff sounded irritated that the group was calling again, according
“Another reason is her stature in the medical community,”
West said, referring to recognition Solymos has received as one
of the top family physicians in the country. “We believe that as
a top family doctor, you should be willing to follow the law and
be willing to provide interpreting services for deaf and deaf-blind
None of the protesters were patients of Solymos, West
“We want to raise awareness about the issue of deaf
and deaf-blind people being refused sign language interpreting services,”
West said. “We believe that deaf and deaf-blind should be able to
go to any doctor of their choosing, not just a doctor that is willing
to provide and pay for sign language interpreting services.”
The scene of the protest, a one-story medical office
building off Crocker Road across from Church on the Rise, is owned
by St. John West Shore Hospital. Solymos’ office is leased to Premiere
About an hour into the protest, the president of St.
John West Shore Hospital, Kirby O. Smith, arrived at the office.
He quietly listened to the protesters’ speeches for over 20 minutes.
After speaking privately with one of the protest leaders, he addressed
Noting that one of his family members belongs to the
disabled community, Smith tried to calm the situation.
“We within the health system certainly support and
are sensitive to your needs,” Smith told the demonstrators. “We
have folks that can help within a larger institution. When you move
out into smaller offices, it gets a little harder. And I think there
are opportunities for us to do better in this area.”
Smith, who thanked the demonstrators for coming, said
he would speak with the executive leadership of Premiere Physicians
on behalf of the protesters. After telling the protesters they got
their message across and encouraging them to approach the matter
in a different way, Smith left for a scheduled meeting.
Westlake Police said it was the hospital’s decision
whether or not to arrest the demonstrators. About 16 officers, including
some who were off duty Thursday, were called to the medical office
because of the confrontation.