The ADA and the Right to Effective Communication

As a Deaf or hard-of-hearing American, do you know your rights for access to communication services in public accommodation spaces? These spaces include not only government offices and agencies but businesses and organizations as well. You have the right to barrier-free access to health care, education, public transportation, police services, and mental health services, among other areas.

Often, government agencies, offices and businesses ask deaf individuals to ‘bring their own interpreter.’ These entities do not consult with the deaf consumer to identify specific communication needs, therefore offering communication services that are far from adequate.

The right to effective communication is established in the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

The National Association for the Deaf’s information about ADA in ASL 

Here are the rules for Title II – state and local government agencies – and Title III – businesses and non-profit agencies that serve the public – the covered entities (effective March 15, 2011).

  • The purpose of the effective communication rules is to ensure that the person with a vision, hearing, or speech disability can communicate with, receive information from, and convey information to, the covered entity.
  • Covered entities must provide auxiliary aids and services when needed to communicate effectively with people who have communication disabilities.
  • The key to communicating effectively is to consider the nature, length, complexity, and context of the communication and the person’s normal method(s) of communication.
  • The rules apply to communicating with the person who is receiving the covered entity’s goods or services as well as with that person’s parent, spouse, or companion in appropriate circumstances.
  • State and local governments (Title II) are required to give primary consideration to the choice of aid or service requested, while businesses and organizations are encouraged to do so.
  • Businesses and organizations with less than 15 employees are exempt from complying with the ADA.
  • Accommodations must be provided unless to do so would cause an “undue burden” (click on the link for the full bulletin to read how this is defined).

Read the full US Dept of Justice information bulletin

Tips for success in receiving the accommodation you need

The National Association for the Deaf has a advocacy tip sheet available here, as well as advocacy letters to present if the government, business or non-profit agency you are working with needs more information about its responsibilities under the ADA. Some of their tips include making your request as early as possible so that the interpreter or other accommodation can be arranged in time for your appointment, getting the contact’s name and checking in with them closer to your appointment, and having your request and the agency’s response in writing. 

NAD Advocacy Letter (find under Healthcare section): Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) in Healthcare Settings
VRI Letter in ASL here:

If your request is not met and you have no success in obtaining the rights you are entitled to, you can file a complaint. To help you, the NAD Law and Advocacy Center has compiled information specific to the various situations in which Deaf and hard of hearing people often experience discrimination.

For example, if the issue is with your healthcare provider, the options are filing an ADA complaint with the US Department of Justice, submitting a complaint to the US Department of Health and Human Services, and/or filing a lawsuit in state or federal court.  

Filing a complaint will hopefully resolve the issue, and in addition, it will raise awareness of the discrimination Deaf and hard-of-hearing people face in many everyday situations. If you decide to file a complaint, inform the NAD Law and Advocacy Center so that they can assist you if at all possible.

How to File a Complaint Information compiled by NAD, in ASL, English and Spanish

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *