For More Effective Communication:
The ADA Paves the Way
If you're like me, you're wondering how the world out there will accommodate for your child's different communication needs. From the soccer field to the library, the grocery store to the doctor's office and the movie theatre, what does anyone have to do to ensure that my son has access to communication that he can't hear or discriminate? Here's what I've learned from the Americans With Disabilities Technical Assistance Center. Stated briefly, this article outlines some of the services commonly used by those who are deaf or hard of hearing that are guaranteed to them by the Americans with Disabilities Act, a federal law passed in 1990. For more information, contact the ADA Tech Assistance Center yourself at 1 (800) 949-4232, or email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Q: What does the ADA say about services for the deaf or hard of hearing?
A: The ADA does not categorize services by disability type (like deafness), but instead states that the rights of the disabled include the right to receive effective communication. In order to receive effective communication, "auxiliary aids" must be utilized to accommodate for the communication need. Auxiliary aids can include interpreters, close captioning devices, note-taking services, pen & paper communication, use of computers, TTY's, etc... The number and type of auxiliary aids depend upon the complexity of the situation.
Q: So who provides and pays for "auxiliary aids?"
A: Not the user! The ADA is pided into five sections or "titles." These sections set forth mandates (requirements) that are specific to each title. All public or private enterprises offering public accommodation and/or services fall under Title II or Title III of the ADA. Title II refers to state and local agencies. This would include public schools, government agencies, public libraries, etc... Title III refers to all private companies, businesses, and non-profit organizations. Title II & III organizations are required to provide auxiliary aids for the disabled free of charge. The stringency of this requirement is spelled out in greater detail for Title II than for Title III. However, no Title II or III business or organization is exempt from the requirements of this law.
Q: So can we just show up at the doctor's office with an interpreter and leave a bill with the receptionist?
A: I wouldn't try it. The ADA specifically doesn't allow for this because it negates any mechanism the organization may already have in place to fulfill its legal obligations to provide for effective communication. What is recommended is that the user (or the parent of the user) call ahead and request an interpreter at least a week in advance. There is no specific language in the law that sets forth what "advance notice" means, except that it be reasonable. In some areas, reasonable notice may be more than a week, if there is a lack of available interpreters in a rural area, for example. Further, Title II & III organizations are not required to use your interpreter of choice, but are often open to your suggestions if they don't already have a resource for this service.
Q: Can I be charged, or my rates raised by the Title II or III organization, to cover their costs for hiring an interpreter for my child?
A: No charges can be directly applied back to the user/parent under the ADA. If the agency or business chooses to increase its fees to fund auxiliary aids, it must do so across the board, the same as it would do to cover any general expense. There are attractive tax benefits and deductions for Title III organizations to off-set the expense of auxiliary aids.
Q: So if you ask for an interpreter for your child's at the local rec. center (ex: YMCA) and the guy at the counter says they don't have to provide that service, and can't afford to start, what can a parent do?
A: As a Title III type organization, the YMCA is subject to the ADA and must provide auxiliary aids that create effective communication. The YMCA may propose other, less expensive aids than an interpreter (handouts, pen &
paper communication), but if the user isn't satisfied with their proposal (be specific about your reason, i.e., equipment isn't available, the idea isn't appropriate, or you tried it and it didn't work), then it's time for the YMCA to get creative and find some funding. If the financial problem isn't resolved on their end, the user can file a complaint with the
Department of Justice, who will begin an investigation of the organization. In that case, the YMCA will bear the burden of proof of their financial hardship. But before things get that far, make sure you're talking to the right person. Every Title II and many Title III organizations have an ADA coordinator. Often, this responsibility belongs to the same person who is the EEO (equal employment opportunity) representative, and that could be the Director of Personnel or Human Resources. Rather than plead your case to a student intern, ask for the manager or Personnel Director to request an interpreter or another type of auxiliary aid.
Q: Can I call my local movie theater with advance notice and request an interpreter?
A: While this has not been tested in a court of law at this point, it's not likely that a theater would be required to provide an interpreter because it would "alter the primary function" of the movie theater. (For example, extra lighting would be needed for the interpreter to be seen.) Plus, theaters are not required to provide captioning for their movies because 1) when the law was written, the technology wasn't there to provide it, and 2) it disturbs the non-users watching the movie. As a result, movie-going is very frustrating to many who are deaf or hard of hearing. On the upside, most theater chains, performing arts centers and public event functions have auxiliary aids in place to accommodate for the deaf and hard of hearing audience including amplification headsets, scheduled performances with sign language interpreters, and even special showings of open captioned movies. Call and ask what services are in place and if there are none, or if theirs are not appropriate, request your own. The more requests made, the more services will result.
Q: Does the ADA specify the type of interpreter one can request? For example, can a user request an ASL interpreter specifically?
A: The ADA is not specific about communication modes or methodologies for interpreters. If effective communication is in the form of American Sign Language, then by all means request your interpreter be fluent in ASL. If
effective communication requires an interpreter that knows legal or medical terminology, then request that. If the user doesn't need sign language but oral interpreting, request that. "Auxiliary aids" (not "sign language interpreter") is the ADA's legal term that encompasses the variety of services that comprise effective communication. Good planning is the key to getting what you request. If you need a specialized kind of interpreting service, ask well in advance so an appropriately trained resource can be identified and scheduled. Or better yet, come prepared with your own list of appropriate sources, as you may know better than the organization or business where to find qualified interpreters.
Q: If I've had a problem with an agency or business that I believe is out of compliance with the ADA, who can I call?
A: There is no ADA police, but its implementation is monitored by the U.S. Department of Justice. Users are encouraged to take on a role of advocacy themselves in dealing with organizations. First, go directly to the source
with your problem, either in writing or in person, or both. State exactly what your dissatisfaction issue is and ask for a formal response. If no satisfactory resolution is forthcoming, then file a complaint in writing with the DOJ. This process isn't as intimidating as it sounds, and is actually pretty user friendly. Just state the facts including as many specifics as you can such as the date of occurrences, phone calls, any actions taken or not taken, etc... You can request a form on which to record your complaint from the ADA Technical Assistance Center (their number appears at the beginning of this article). Or you can write to them directly (they won't take complaints over the phone) at:
United States Department of Justice