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Sign language interpreting helps deaf and hearing-impaired people communicate, and in the United States, it is often legally required.  Title II and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates that governmental services (local, state, federal) and a variety of public and private services, must be accessible to all people, regardless of disability. When dealing with people who are Deaf, Deaf-blind, or hard of hearing, this means that communication must be accessible.  Public accommodations (Title III) such as restaurants, hotels, theaters, doctors’ offices, healthcare providers, accountants, lawyers, pharmacies, retail stores, museums, libraries, parks, private schools, and day care centers, may not discriminate on the basis of disability. Bona fide private clubs (except to the extent that the facilities of the private club are made available to customers or patrons of a place of public accommodation) and religious organizations are exempt from Title III.  Public accommodations providers may not discourage or discriminate against individuals with disabilities seeking their services. Since 2006, the Department of Justice has settled with 14 medical and law offices over ADA violations related to effective communication with the deaf and hard of hearing.

Some simple communications (for example, between a Deaf customer and a clerk in a store) can be done through written notes or gestures, but any time important content is being communicated, having an interpreter present safeguards the participants by ensuring that information is accessible to both parties.  Deaf individuals should not be asked to bring a relative to translate. It is a common misconception that individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing and communicate using American Sign Language (ASL) have ASL-fluent family members. While service providers often use relatives to translate with non-English speakers, where accommodation is not legally required, using a family member to interpret ASL is not advised, except in an emergency.  There are a number of different auxiliary aids and services that may be used to provide effective communication for people with hearing disabilities. But, remember, not all ways work for all people with disabilities or even for people with one type of disability. You must consult with the individual to determine what is effective for him or her.  Next week’s Freedom Friday will address the auxiliary aids and services.

Government and public and private service sectors listed above have an affirmative duty to “make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures” and provide reasonable “auxiliary aids and services” necessary to serve individuals with disabilities.  According to ADA standards, it is usually up to the institution in question to provide — and pay for — any necessary sign language interpreting. If an institution does not comply by providing ASL (American Sign Language) interpreting to meet the needs of a hearing-impaired individual, it may suffer serious penalties.

Title II Checklist for General Effective Communication

ADA Business Brief: Communicating with People Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing in Hospital Settings

ADA Business Brief:  Communicating with Guests who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing in Hotels, Motels, and Other Places of Transient Lodging

Filing a complaint

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