Going to the hospital can be a frightening experience – especially when you are unable to communicate effectively with your health care providers.
Access to information and communication is essential for your health and the health of your family and loved ones. Effective communication is critical to ensure that you have the information you need to make health care decisions. Critical medical information is communicated at many points, such as at admission, when explaining medical procedures, obtaining an informed consent for treatment, and at discharge. Doctors, nurses, specialists, therapists, and other health care providers must communicate effectively with you to provide appropriate, effective, quality health care services.
Federal disability discrimination laws secure your right to equal access, an equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from health care services provided by in-patient, out-patient, and emergency health care facilities, and effective communication with health care providers. These laws include Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Each of these laws require hospitals and other health care facilities to make their services accessible to deaf and hard of hearing people. This obligation applies to anyone the health care provider would communicate with – including patients, parents, guardians, companions, and members of the public. Hospitals must provide accommodations, such as qualified interpreters, real-time captioning (also called CART), assistive listening devices, or other auxiliary aids or services, when necessary to communicate effectively with people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Hospitals and other health care facilities do not have to provide a specific type of accommodation if they can demonstrate that doing so would be an undue burden (a significant difficulty or expense). Requests for accommodations should be made in advance, when possible, so the hospital has enough time to obtain the necessary accommodations. To demonstrate an undue burden, the hospital must show that the cost to provide the accommodation would significantly impact their practice and financial resources. Such a showing may be difficult for most hospitals. When an undue burden can be shown, the hospital must provide alternative communication access services that would, to the maximum extent possible, ensure effective communication.
Hospitals and other health care facilities, such as clinics, urgent care centers, rehabilitation therapy centers, long-term health care centers and nursing homes, should take action in advance to be prepared to communicate effectively with individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.
If your hospital or other health care facility is unable to communicate effectively with you, or has questions about providing services to people who are deaf or hard of hearing, ask your hospital to contact the NAD Law and Advocacy Center.
You may also use the following Consent Decrees (settlement agreements) to inform your hospital or other health care facility about your rights:
Consent Decree: DeVinney v. Maine Medical Center (1998)
Consent Decree: Gillespie v. Dimensions Health Corporation (Laurel Regional Hospital) (2006)
In addition, you may also use the NAD Memo Questions and Answers for Health Care Providers to inform your health care provider about your rights.
When you believe a hospital or other health care facility has discriminated against you because you are deaf or hard of hearing, you have the right to file a complaint.