ADA requires communication in government entities


Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Titles I and III require effective communication. ADA Title II refers to the same obligation as equally effective communication. This short article focuses on Title II, which applies to state and loca government programs, activities and services, also referred to as public entities.

Public entities must ensure that people with disabilities and their companions completely understand whatever is written or spoken.

The ADA also requires that people who do not have disabilities fully comprehend communication by people with disabilities and their companions. Public entities are required to provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services to ensure equally effective communication.

Public entities must also provide individuals the opportunity to express their desired auxiliary aid or service and give primary  consideration to the choice expressed.

A person with a disability is most familiar with their disability and is therefore in the best position to determine which aids or services would be effective.

Auxiliary aids and services include, but are not limited to accessible electronic and information technology, assistive listening systems, audio description, Braille, captioned telephones, communication boards, computer-aided transcription services (CART), headsets, large print, magnifi cation soft ware, optical readers, qualifi ed readers and sign language interpreters, screen reader soft ware, speech synthesizers, telecommunications devices (TDD or TTY), telephone handset amplifi ers, Video Relay Services (VRS), and Video Remote Interpreting (VRI).

Public entity requirements

A public entity has the right to provide an equally effective auxiliary aid or service, if available, when the individual’s primary choice would pose a significant financial and administrative burden on the public entity.

A public entity is also not required to provide the individual’s primary choice if they can demonstrate a fundamental alteration in the nature of its services, programs, or activities.

Public entities may not place surcharges on individuals with disabilities for the cost of providing auxiliary aids or services.

Public entities may also not require individuals to provide their own sign language interpreters. It is the public entity’s responsibility to provide qualified interpreters.

Permitting friends or family members to interpret is inappropriate because their presence could violate the individual’s right to confidentiality. Also, friends or family members might have personal interest in the situations.

The obligation to provide “impartial” interpreting requires that public entities provide interpreters who do not have a personal relationship with the individuals with disabilities.

Public entities cannot use staff members who sign “pretty well” as interpreters for individuals who use sign language to communicate. Being able to sign does not mean that a person can process spoken communication into the proper signs, or change someone’s signed or fingerspelled communication into spoken words.

Courtroom spectators entitled to services

The obligation of public entities to provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services is not limited to individuals directly interested in the proceedings or outcomes.

Courtroom spectators with disabilities are also entitled to aids or services, granting them equal opportunities to follow court proceedings.

Computer-assisted simultaneous transcription is likely required in courtroom proceedings. For these individuals, word processors with videotext displays could  provide effective communication in transactions that are long or complex.

Individuals who are hard of hearing might be able to communicate most effectively with voice amplification provided by assistive listening devices.

Audio portions of television and videotaped programming produced by public entities are also required to provide equally effective communication for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. Captioning of such programs is considered sufficient to meet this requirement.

Equally effective telecommunication

Public entities that communicate by telephone must provide equally effective telecommunications to individuals with disabilities.

Telephone relay services may be used to meet this requirement.

It is imperative that public employees are trained to accept and handle relay calls.

Cindy Powell is the executive director for community based private nonprofit ACESO Foundation, a resource in providing public customized disability and sign language training. She provides customized training on the Americans with Disabilities Act, tax incentives and other helpful topics, such as disability etiquette and service animals.


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