As a deaf or hard of hearing person, it is likely that you will find yourself faced with a situation where it is necessary for you to advocate on your own behalf. Individuals with disabilities, including deaf or hard of hearing individuals, are frequently subject to injustice. Therefore, deaf and hard of hearing people must learn to be effective self-advocates. Why is self-advocacy important when laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 were passed precisely to safeguard the rights of people with disabilities? Not everyone obeys the law! A deaf or hard of hearing person may be turned down when requesting a qualified sign language interpreter, CART services, or an assistive listening system from a college, a doctor’s office, or an employer. It is important to be familiar with your rights under disability laws so you can explain the law, get help when necessary, and get the services you need.
Request Specific Accommodations
Be specific about the type of accommodation you need. Don’t just ask for “communication.” Explain that you need a qualified interpreter, specify the type of interpreter, and provide information on where to find interpreter services. If you need to use a telephone on the job, be prepared to explain whether you need an amplified phone, a TTY, a pager, or some other telecommunication device. The ADA does not give you the right to choose any interpreter or equipment you prefer, but, if you are specific about the type of service you need, you are more likely to get it.
Make your request for reasonable accommodation as early as possible. It often takes time to find a qualified interpreter, or other auxiliary aids or services.
If you have problems obtaining an accommodation, get as much information as you can in writing. This documentation or proof can be very helpful if you have to file a complaint later. Keep a simple record of the people you talked to, what occurred, and when it happened.
Know Your Rights
A successful self-advocate is informed – take the time to learn your rights. The Internet is a valuable source of information. The Web sites of government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Justice, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the U.S. Department of Education provide a wealth of information on the legal rights of individuals with disabilities. Many states have one or more disability law centers that may be able to provide you with information. The NAD website at www.nad.org has information on civil rights laws, such as the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and more. You may also contact the NAD Law and Advocacy Center to inquire about particular legal rights.
Be aware that different laws apply to similar situations. For example, if you have an employment problem, the law may be different if you work for a company with less than 15 employees, if you work for the federal government, or if you work for a state or local government.
Do not assume that the place you are dealing with is familiar with its legal obligations or with people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Sometimes discrimination is a result of sheer ignorance. Provide the place with information about its legal obligations. The NAD Law and Advocacy Center has many educational and informative legal documents that can help you explain why you need an accommodation.
Know Who You Are Dealing With
Know the nature of the place you are dealing with. For instance, is the place a successful business, a business near bankruptcy, a federally funded agency, or a religious organization? The obligation to provide reasonable accommodation varies based on the nature of the place. Sometimes a place designates a particular person or office to consider requests for reasonable accommodations. Identify this office, so you do not waste time arguing with someone who does not have the authority to provide an accommodation. The person in authority will likely be familiar with the legal requirements, potential accommodations, and available resources for you. If reasonable accommodations are denied, advance to the next level of authority.
Follow Proper Procedures
Follow any established procedures for requesting reasonable accommodation or disputing the denial of reasonable accommodation.
The best self-advocates are courteous and tactful. Tact involves choosing your battles wisely, educating, and persuading. Be consistent and confident when self-advocating.
Compromise requires flexibility. Be willing to consider other forms of accommodations if your particular request cannot be granted.
Compromise does not mean you should settle for less than you deserve. You should not accept accommodations that do not work for you. When you have done everything that is within your power, and there is nothing more you can do to obtain your rights to reasonable accommodation, it may be time to file a complaint or see a lawyer!