Deaf Montesano councilwoman: city hasn't hired interpreter

MONTESANO, Wash. -- A city councilwoman in Montesano says the city has failed to meet her needs for a sign language interpreter during council meetings.

Councilwoman Marisa Salzer said it took a complaint to the state Human Rights Commission to finally get the city's attention.

Salzer is deaf, so attending meetings means much more than simply listening and reading lips.

"Being able to hear isn't enough for me," she said. "Having an interpreter helps me get that info right away."

After Salzer was elected last fall, she requested an interpreter for all city meetings. But she grew concerned after attending a meeting and realizing there was no interpreter.

"So it really tied my hands, so to speak, at that meeting. I wasn't able to take a vote on anything," she said.

After that December meeting, Salzer reached out to city leaders several times over the next months about getting proper accommodations for her disability, but she said she heard little back.

"At that point I knew I wasn't really going to get anywhere, so I felt the next step to take was with the Human Rights Commission," she said.

She said filing the complaint got the city's attention.

"I reached out to her and asked what else could we do and even apologized for any perceived or real things that we've done," said Montesano Mayor Ken Estes.

Estes said the city will now have two interpreters during city meetings, no matter the cost.

"We have never deliberately tried to deprive her and we don't intend to in the future," Estes said.

Salzer never intended for this to be her cause as a member of the city council, but she thinks it's important nonetheless.

"While this is not my main for focus for being on the council, it is something I would do to make sure it gets done right -- not just for me but for everyone else involved in the position," she said.