Deaf and hard of hearing people are entitled to effective communication with state and local government agencies. Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131-12134, forbids discrimination by any public entity. This federal law applies to all types of state and local government agencies, including courts, schools, social service agencies, hospitals, legislatures, commissions and councils, recreational facilities, libraries, and state/county/city departments and agencies of all kinds. It applies to activities that are administered directly by government agencies, and to activities that are carried out by private subcontractors.
Under the ADA, local and state agencies are required to give equal access and equally effective services to people with disabilities. 28 C.F.R. § 35.130. They may not deny people an opportunity to participate in their programs, or give them an opportunity that is less effective than the opportunity given to others. Often, the public entity must provide qualified interpreters, computer-aided transcription (also called CART), assistive listening devices, or other auxiliary aids or services to ensure effective communication with deaf and hard of hearing people.
The U.S. Department of Justice regulations state that the public entity must “take appropriate steps to ensure that communications with applicants, participants, and members of the public with disabilities are as effective as communications with others.” 28 C.F.R. § 35.160(a). Accordingly, the public entity must “furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to afford an individual with a disability an equal opportunity to participate in, and enjoy the benefits of, a service, program, or activity conducted by a public entity.” 28 C.F.R. § 35.160(b). The public entity must also give “primary consideration” to the individual’s preference with respect to choosing the type of auxiliary aid or service to provide to ensure effective communication. 28 C.F.R. § 35.160(c). The agency may not charge the individual for providing auxiliary aids and services.
There are many types of auxiliary aids and services that may be necessary for effective communication. Furthermore, an auxiliary aid or service that is effective for one person might not be effective for another person. The U.S. Department of Justice regulations define the term “auxiliary aids and services” comprehensively:
[q]ualified interpreters, notetakers, computer-aided transcription services, written materials, telephone handset amplifiers, assistive listening devices, assistive listening systems, telephones compatible with hearing aids, closed caption decoders, open and closed captioning, telecommunication devices for deaf persons, videotext displays, or other effective methods of making aurally delivered materials available to individuals with hearing impairments.
28 C.F.R. § 35.104.
The appropriate auxiliary aid or service depends on many factors, such the type of communication used by the individual and the situation in which communication occurs. An auxiliary aid or service that is appropriate for one person, or in one context, may be useless in another setting or for a different person.
In addition to providing auxiliary aids and services, public entities must modify their policies and practices when necessary to prevent discrimination. For example, a facility with a “no pets” requirement must modify that requirement to permit a deaf or hard of hearing person to use a service animal. Public entities must also modify their policies to make and receive telephone calls made through relay services.