By Lydia Callis
In many cases, I believe the rights of deaf individuals are not overlooked out of overt oppression, but because neither deaf nor hearing people are familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Here, I will endeavor to explain, in the most simple terms, the major provisions of the ADA. This information is beneficial for all United States citizens– deaf and hearing alike. If we wish to make discrimination a thing of the past, we must first understand what equality looks like!
Here is an explanation of four sections of the ADA as they relate to the Deaf. Please note that this information is to be used for informational purposes only and is not to be considered legal advice. If you have any further questions about the ADA please contact a licensed lawyer in your state!
Title I: Employment
An employer may not use ones’ deafness as a basis for not hiring, not advancing, or terminating employment status. Truly qualified applicants must be considered for career opportunities– regardless of disability– so long as they meet the skill, experience, education, and other job-related requirements of a position with or without reasonable accommodation. An employer may not ask a job applicant about the existence, nature, or severity of a disability; and may not make any medical inquiries related to the position until after a job offer has already been made.
If the employee could perform essential job duties with or without reasonable accommodations, it is the employer’s obligation is to provide the accommodations which enable this person to work effectively. The ADA requires employers make “reasonable accommodations” for qualifying candidates with disabilities. For deaf/HoH employees, this means interpreters, video relay phone equipment, and other deaf-specific additions to the workplace may not be denied by an employer.
It is the responsibility of the applicant or employee with a disability to inform an employer that an accommodation is needed. Employers may not deny reasonable accommodations unless they can prove that such provisions would substantially disrupt or place a financial hardship on the business. Financial hardship is usually a very high standard which most businesses cannot claim. Reasonable accommodation often comes in the form of minor adjustments to the workplace, and can be worked out on a case-by-case basis. If a company employs more than 15 individuals who work more than 20 weeks per year, they fall under these ADA guidelines. Specific Federal tax credits and tax deductions are available to employers for making accommodations required by the ADA, and you will find there are also other sources of funding available for equal accommodations.
Title II: Public Entities
This is a very important element to the ADA because it covers medical and legal situations. Agencies which operate at a local or state level are required to provide equal access to all services offered by the organization. This includes public hospitals, municipal government buildings, public schools, police stations, and public transportation. A public entity must ensure that its communications with deaf citizens are as effective as communications with others. The best way to ensure your rights are protected is to put any requests for accommodations in writing.
Required accommodations include “qualified interpreters, notetakers, computer-aided transcription services, written materials, telephone handset amplifiers, assistive listening systems, telephones compatible with hearing aids, closed caption decoders, open and closed captioning, telecommunications devices for deaf persons (TDD’s), videotext displays, and exchange of written notes.” According to the ADA, “the type of auxiliary aid or service necessary to ensure effective communication will vary in accordance with the length and complexity of the communication involved.”
The obligation to provide qualified interpreting services requires that, upon request, public entities provide an interpreter who is able to interpret effectively, accurately and impartially both receptively and expressively, using any necessary specialized vocabulary.
Even if a person is skilled interpreter they may not be able to be impartial. A family member or close friend and would not be considered a qualified interpreter in such circumstances. This becomes very important when we enter hospital and police settings where a person may not feel comfortable providing confidential information to a non-qualified interpreter. Just because a person knows sign language does not mean they are qualified to interpret. Furthermore, just because a person can interpret does not mean they are qualified to perform as an interpreter in any scenario.
Proper communication is a priority, and it is within your rights to receive appropriate services. Medical, legal, technical, and performance interpreting all require very different skill sets. Make your needs very clear, put them in writing, and make sure you alert anyone you interact with. If you feel you are not being provided equal access, contact your local Deaf advocacy organization and let them know about the situation, perhaps they will make a phone call on your behalf. In situations where your life, liberty, and happiness are in jeopardy, do not be afraid to advocate for yourself!
Title III: Public Accommodations and Commercial Facilities
Similar to Title II, this section of the ADA guarantees equal access to privately owned places of public accommodation. This includes private hospitals, private schools, doctors offices, lawyers offices, shows, lodging, dining, service and retail establishments; places like movie theaters, stadiums, auditoriums, airports, zoos, parks, gyms, or social service centers. With the exception of private clubs and religious organizations, almost any place open to the public is required to provide some form of auxiliary aid for deaf/HoH patrons upon request. Deaf individuals are absolutely entitled to enjoy the same goods, services, events, and amenities as hearing citizens.
If you require an interpreter, it is best to contact an organization in writing, with as much advance notice as possible. A place of public accommodation may not ask you to pay for equal access to their facilities. Provide them with the name of a trusted agency if they do not know where find a qualified interpreter. If you feel the accommodation provisions are inadequate, stand up for your rights!
Title IV: Telecommunications
Communication is an American right, so telephone and modern communications technology companies are not allowed to discriminate against deaf people who wish to employ their utilities. Title IV of the ADA led to the widespread use of Telecommunications Relay Services, which enable a person with a hearing or speech disability to access the telephone system and communicate with persons without such a disability. This could mean traditional TTY devices, Speech-to-Speech Services, Voice Carry-Over Relay, Hearing Carry-Over Relay, Video Relay Service, Internet Protocol Relay, or captioned telephones.
Through active advocacy, Deaf groups have done their best to keep equal access mandates compatible with current technology. As texting became a preferred method of communication, the push for text-911 gained momentum. According to the FCC, “AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon have voluntarily committed to provide text-to-911 service by May 15, 2014 in all areas served by their networks where a 911 call center is prepared to receive texts.” This is great news for the many deaf individuals who do not have ready access to a TTY.
All in all, the laws are there to protect the Deaf and/HOH community so stand up for your rights and ask for the accommodations you are entitled to receive under the ADA! If you are still blocked from receiving the accommodations you are entitled to, contact your local Deaf advocacy organization or a licensed civil rights lawyer in your state.