How to File a Complaint

Have you ever experienced discrimination because you are a deaf or hard of hearing person? The NAD strongly encourages you to file a complaint so that you may be able to resolve the problem as well as raise awareness. The first step is to identify who discriminated against you and where the discrimination happened. This information will determine where you should file a complaint.

See the list of links below and select which one applies to your situation for information on what law applies and how to file a complaint. This section does not cover all possible situations. You may have additional rights under federal and state law.

Filing a complaint requires you to tell a story about what happened. Most times, a complaint is your writing a letter that explains the story. Some agencies have complaint forms. Your complaint may include a copy of any documents that show what happened, such as e-mail communications, letters, notes, pictures faxes, and video recordings. If you need help writing or filing your complaint, you can contact the agency that handles your kind of complaint.

The NAD has put together some information about various kinds of discrimination that deaf and hard of hearing people may experience. This information is also available in video. Please click on one of the links to see the information in both ASL and English. In addition, please let NAD know when you file a complaint and if you want to pursue further legal action, contact the NAD’s Law and Advocacy Center by this contact page.

Air Travel Discrimination

YouTube Description: NAD provides information on how deaf and hard of hearing passengers can file complaints against airlines when they are not accommodated.

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) sets out requirements for disability access at airports and on airlines. Generally the ACAA rules:

  • prohibit U.S. and foreign airlines from discriminating against passengers on the basis of disability;
  • require airlines to make aircraft, other facilities, and services accessible; and require airlines to take steps to accommodate passengers with a disability.

This means airlines are responsible to make information and reservation services accessible (for example, providing a TTY at where you can call hotels/motels). Also if you let the airline know you are a deaf person, they are responsible to provide information directly to you in case of flight changes or announcements. Televisions in the airport also should have captioning turned on. For deaf-blind travelers, it is important to know that airlines require you to be able to establish a means of communication with airline personnel for safety purposes. If not, the airline may require you to travel with a safety assistant.

If you believe that an airline has discriminated against you in violation of the Air Carrier Access Act, you can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

When you file a complaint, please let the NAD know, so we can see if we can provide assistance with your case.

Additional information:

Discrimination by Businesses

The U.S. Department of Justice is responsible for enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with respect to businesses (any size; for-profit and non-profit).

When you encounter discrimination by businesses or service providers, such as a concert venue refusing to provide accommodations or a law office refusing to pay for an interpreter, you can file a complaint under ADA Title III with the Department of Justice by mail or email. A complaint includes your full name, address, telephone, and the name of business/organization that you believe did the discrimination. Also include a description of what happened including the day and time that the discrimination happened and the names of people who caused the discrimination. You are also encouraged to include other information that is important to explain what happened like copies of emails, notes or forms, but keep the originals. You can find more information about filing an ADA Title III complaint.

Another option is to use the Title II form at http://www.ada.gov/t2cmpfrm.htm and mail to the address on the form or email to [email protected] with any other relevant documents or proof. There is no time limit for filing an ADA Title III complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice, but you should file as soon as possible.

You may also file a complaint (lawsuit) in state or federal court. There are deadlines for filing complaints in court. These deadlines differ in each state. To locate your state civil court, go here. To locate your federal court, go here.

When you file a complaint, please let the NAD know, so we can see if we can provide assistance with your case.

For more information:

Closed Captioning Device at Movie Theater

YouTube Description: The NAD shares information on what deaf or hard of hearing people can do if they experience CC problems at a movie theater.

This form is to help you share feedback with a movie theater about any problems you had with their closed captioning device while watching a movie at their theater. Once submitted, the information you put on this form will be sent to the movie theater where you experienced an issue. The NAD is providing this service only to pass on your complaint to the movie theater and is not responsible for your complaint or for the movie theater’s response. Any response from the movie theater will be sent to you at the email or phone number you provide in the form. This service does not mean that the NAD is your lawyer in this matter. This service does not create any attorney-client relationship between you and the NAD, and is not a promise of legal representation from the NAD. If you have questions about the form, please contact us.

Submit a Complaint to a Movie Theater about your CC Experience

Discrimination by State and Local Government Programs or Services

YouTube Description: NAD shares information on what deaf or hard of hearing people can do if they experience discrimination by state/local government programs or services.

The U.S. Department of Justice is responsible for enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with respect to state and local governments.

When you encounter discrimination by state and local governments, such as a public school refusing to provide an interpreter for your child’s IEP meeting or graduation, or a city hall turning down your request for an interpreter at a town hall meeting, you may file an ADA Title II complaint. This must be done within 180 days of the discrimination. A form for filing ADA Title II complaints is available online. You can type your information into the form then email it as an attachment to: [email protected] along with any relevant documents. You will receive an automatic reply e-mail confirming that your complaint has been received. Please keep a copy of your complaint and the reply e-mail for your records.

You may also file a complaint (lawsuit) in state or federal court. There are deadlines for filing complaints in court. These deadlines differ in each state. To locate your state civil court, go to: http://www.ncsc.org/Information-and-Resources/Browse-by-State.aspx. To locate your federal court, go to: http://www.uscourts.gov/court_locator.aspx.

When you file a complaint, please let the NAD know, so we can see if we can provide assistance with your case.

A helpful FAQ site is http://www.ada.gov/fact_on_complaint.htm#1.

Discrimination in Health Care and Mental Health Services

YouTube Description: NAD shares information on how deaf or hard of hearing patients can file a complaint against health care providers when they do not receive effective communication.

Health care providers and mental care providers are required to provide effective communication for deaf and hard of hearing individuals such as providing interpreters for patients that are deaf or hard of hearing or hearing patients’ deaf and hard of hearing companions. There are three ways to file complaints against health care providers, depending on the hospital or doctor’s public/private status and funding. You may file these complaints at the same time.

  1. You may file an ADA complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice.
    • If the health care provider is a state or local government program or service, such as a public hospital or public health clinic, you can file an ADA Title II complaint. A form for filing ADA Title II complaints is available online at http://www.ada.gov/t2cmpfrm.htm. You do not need to use the form, but the form will help you know the kind of information you should include in your complaint. You must file an ADA Title II complaint within 180 days of the discrimination.
    • If the health care provider is a business or is privately operated, such as a doctor’s office, you can file an ADA Title III complaint. You can find more information about filing an ADA Title III complaint at http://www.ada.gov/t3compfm.htm. There is no time limit for filing an ADA Title III complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice, but you should file as soon as possible.
  2. You may file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services if the health care provider accepts federal financial assistance (such as Medicare). Health care providers that receive federal financial assistance are covered under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. You can find more information about filing a Section 504 complaint at http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/civilrights/complaints/discrimhowtofile.pdf. You must file a Section 504 complaint within 180 days of the discrimination.
  3. You may also file a complaint (lawsuit) in state or federal court. There are deadlines for filing complaints in court. These deadlines differ in each state. To locate your state civil court, go to: http://www.ncsc.org/Information-and-Resources/Browse-by-State.aspx. To locate your federal court, go to: http://www.uscourts.gov/court_locator.aspx.

In addition, some states have passed a Mental Health for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Individuals Bill of Rights. https://www.nad.org/issues/health-care/mental-health-services/model-mental-health-deaf-and-hard-hearing-individuals-bil-0 If this Bill of Rights is violated, file with your state civil court.

When you file a complaint, please let the NAD know, so we can see if we can provide assistance with your case.

For more information:

Discrimination in Higher Education

YouTube Description: NAD shares information on how deaf or hard of hearing college students can file a complaint regards discrimination by a college/university.

If you have experienced discrimination by a college/university, such as not receiving CART or interpreter services for classes, there are three ways to file a complaint, depending on the college/university’s public/private status and funding. You may file these complaints at the same time.

  1. You may file an ADA complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice.
    • If the college or university is a state university or a community college, you can file an ADA Title II complaint. A form for filing ADA Title II complaints is available online at http://www.ada.gov/t2cmpfrm.htm. You do not need to use the form, but the form will help you know the kind of information you should include in your complaint. You must file an ADA Title II complaint within 180 days of the discrimination.
    • If the college or university is private, you can file an ADA Title III complaint. You can find more information about filing an ADA Title III complaint at http://www.ada.gov/t3compfm.htm. There is no time limit for filing an ADA Title III complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice, but you should file as soon as possible.
  2. You may file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights when the college or university accepts federal financial assistance (such as student loans guaranteed by the federal government) at http://wdcrobcolp01.ed.gov/CFAPPS/OCR/complaintform.cfm. Colleges and universities that receive federal financial assistance are covered under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. You can find more information about filing a Section 504 complaint at http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/howto.html?src=rt. You must file a Section 504 complaint within 180 days of the discrimination.
  3. You may also file a complaint (lawsuit) in state or federal court. There are deadlines for filing complaints in court. These deadlines differ in each state.To locate your state civil court, go to: http://www.ncsc.org/Information-and-Resources/Browse-by-State.aspx. To locate your federal court, go to: http://www.uscourts.gov/court_locator.aspx.

When you file a complaint, please let the NAD know, so we can see if we can provide assistance with your case.

For more information: https://www.nad.org/issues/education/higher-education.

Discrimination in Public Transportation (Buses, metro, & trains)

YouTube Description: NAD explains how deaf and hard of hearing travelers can file a complaint when they experience lack of access on public transportation.

Federal and state agencies along with private businesses are required by the Americans with Disabilities Act to provide accessible information to deaf and hard of hearing travelers. For instance, captioning should be provided for all information that is communicated via spoken language, such as public service announcements and announcements of bus/train/ferry stops or delays. There should also be visual warnings for sirens or emergency alarms.

If you have experienced lack of access on buses, metro or trains, file a complaint with the appropriate agency under the Department of Transportation (DOT). Check out agency contact information here: http://www.dot.gov/citizen_services/disability/complaints.html or fill out and mail this form: http://www.fta.dot.gov/civilrights/ada/civil_rights_3889.html.

A brief summary from relevant NAD webpages:https://www.nad.org/news/2010/12/nad-meets-us-dept-transportation and https://www.nad.org/issues/transportation-and-travel.

When you file a complaint, please let the NAD know, so we can see if we can provide assistance with your case.

Emergency Information on Television

YouTube Description: NAD shares information on how a deaf or hard of hearing person can file a complaint when televised emergency information is not accessible.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires broadcasters and cable operators to make local emergency information accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. This rule means that televised audio emergency information must be provided in a visual format. For more information, see Access to Televised Emergency Information.

When you have a complaint about a failure to provide televised emergency information in an accessible format, you can – but are not required to – try to resolve the problem with the video programming distributor.

You can file your complaint with FCC online. You can also file your complaint with the FCC’s Consumer Center by emailing [email protected]; by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC(1-888-225-5322) voice or 844-4-FCC-ASL;(844-432-2275).

When you file a complaint, please let the NAD know, so we can see if we can provide assistance with your case.

For more information about filing a complaint about televised emergency information, see the FCC’s Consumer Fact Sheet or here.

Employment Discrimination – by State and Local Government and Business Employers

YouTube Description: NAD explains how a deaf or hard of hearing employee can file a complaint regards workplace discrimination by a state/local government or a business employer.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for investigating charges of workplace discrimination by businesses (for-profit; non-profit; with 15 or more employees) and state and local government agencies. An example of discrimination is the employer’s informing you that they refuse to hire or keep you as an employee because you are deaf even though you are otherwise qualified for the position.

The EEOC has offices throughout the country. In some states, you must file a charge within 180 days of the discrimination. In other states, you may have more time. In all cases, you must file your charge within the time limit. You should contact your local EEOC office to learn more information about how to file a complaint. You may find your local EEOC office online at http://www.eeoc.gov/field/index.cfm.

After you file a complaint, the EEOC can investigate your case. The EEOC may try to resolve your case informally through mediation. If the EEOC cannot resolve the case through mediation, the EEOC will decide whether to bring a lawsuit on your behalf. If the EEOC decides not to bring a lawsuit or finds that there was no discrimination, you will get letter that permits you to file a lawsuit in court. This is called a “right to sue” letter. After you receive this letter, you have 90 days to file a lawsuit in court.

When you file a complaint, please let the NAD know, so we can see if we can provide assistance with your case.

For more information:

Employment Discrimination – by Federal Government Employers

YouTube Description: NAD explains how a deaf or hard of hearing employee can file a complaint regards workplace discrimination by a federal government employer.

The EEOC does not investigate charges of workplace discrimination on basis of disability by the federal government or discrimination against job applicants.The first thing to do is to contact the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) office at your agency or where you applied within 45 days.The EEO counselor then will talk to you about your rights and responsibilities and ask you for basic information about your situation.

In most cases, the EEO Counselor will give you the choice of participating either in EEO counseling or in an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) program, such as a mediation program. Not all problems are covered by an agency’s ADR program, and the EEO Counselor should be able to tell you whether yours is the type of situation that is covered.If it is not covered, then the Counselor will try to settle the matter informally. An example of discrimination is an employer’s refusal to provide an interpreter for staff meetings or attempts to exclude you by telling you that meeting minutes will be provided to you afterwards to avoid interpreting costs.

If you do not settle the dispute during counseling or through ADR, you can file a formal discrimination complaint against the agency with the agency’s EEO Office.The Counselor will hold a final interview with you and then give you a notice with instructions about how to file a formal complaint.This interview will take place within 30 days from the day you first contacted the EEO Office to request counseling (unless you participated in ADR or agreed to an extension of up to an additional 60 days). If you participate in ADR, the pre-complaint process is extended to 90 days.

When you file a complaint, please let the NAD know, so we can see if we can provide assistance with your case.

For more information, contact your agency’s EEO office or go to http://www.eeoc.gov/federal/fed_employees/complaint_overview.cfm or https://www.nad.org/issues/employment/discrimination-and-reasonable-accommodations.

Federally Funded Programs

This list is of federal government agencies that investigate disability-related discrimination complaints against programs receiving federal funds that provide education, health care, housing, transportation, and other services.

Housing Discrimination

YouTube Description: Learn what you can do when you experience discrimination by housing.

Landlords and condominium managers have two main responsibilities under the Fair Housing Act. They are: to allow tenants to do reasonable modifications to their premises and to provide reasonable accommodations in policies and services when necessary to accommodate an individual’s disability. For example: deaf tenants are allowed to install visible doorbells and apartments/condominium buildings with “no pets” policies are required to make an exception for trained service animals. Complaints about housing discrimination under the Fair Housing Act can be filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). To contact HUD or to find the name of the closest regional HUD office, go to http://www.hud.gov/complaints/housediscrim.cfm or call 1-800-669-9777.

You may also file a complaint (lawsuit) in state or federal court. There are deadlines for filing complaints in court. These deadlines differ in each state. To locate your state civil court, go to: http://www.ncsc.org/Information-and-Resources/Browse-by-State.aspx. To locate your federal court, go to: http://www.uscourts.gov/court_locator.aspx.

When you file a complaint, please let the NAD know, so we can see if we can provide assistance with your case.

US Department of Housing and Urban Development created 12 videos in American Sign Language (with english captioning).  These videos provide critical legal and practical information in a format accessible to persons who are Deaf and/or Hard of Hearing.  These videos feature Deaf and/or Hard of Hearing Actors who provide important information related to fair housing and fair lending rights under the federal Fair Housing Act.

For more information: https://www.nad.org/issues/civil-rights/fair-housing-act/housing-discrimination.

Interpreter Quality

If you have a complaint about the quality of the interpreter, there are two ways to file a complaint:

When you file a complaint, please let the NAD know, so we can see if we can provide assistance with your case.

Issues in K-12 Education

You Tube Description: NAD provides information on how parents can file complaints for issues in K-12 education with their deaf or hard of hearing child.

Are you a parent of a deaf or hard of hearing child? Do you believe that your child’s school has failed to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) or appropriate services under your child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP)? This may be a violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) if it seriously impacts your child. First, learn how your school resolves disability conflicts and go through that process, such as meeting with the principal or requesting further evaluations. If you have done this and feel the problem can’t be resolved without a state investigator’s help, then file a formal complaint. Be sure to include as much evidence as possible, for example; progress reports showing your child’s increased frustration or regression (decline) of language skills when the teacher is unable to communicate with your child or a qualified interpreter is not available. This evidence needs to be shared with the state or local district along with your complaint.

To file a complaint:

1. Write a letter or fill out a complaint form if available (ask your school).

2. Mail it to your state’s department of education’s office of special education. The IDEA also requires that you send a copy of the complaint to your school district superintendent. You can get the name and address of the superintendent from the central office for your area schools or your child’s state school.

3. Mail your complaint and wait for a few days then call to make sure it was received. Keep a record of names of people you contact. If they ask for additional information, send it to them as quickly as possible.

4. Your state’s office of special education will contact you to explain the complaint process. In most cases, states will attempt to help you and the district resolve the matter amicably if possible. Most likely, mediation services will be offered to you.

5. The IDEA requires that special education complaints be resolved within 60 days. Most states allow local school districts the opportunity to conduct their own internal investigations of your complaint. In those cases, the school district must include you in the investigation process and allow you to present evidence to support your allegations. Districts must submit their findings to the state department for review. Further, if the district investigates, and you disagree with the findings or feel you were not included in the process, you may report this to your state’s department of education.

6. If your local school district chooses not to conduct a self-investigation, your state’s department of education will conduct the investigation and issue a final report. Regardless of who conducts the investigation, if violations are found, the district must correct them within the timelines stated in the report. If either party disagrees with the findings, they may file an appeal. Your state’s department of education can provide you with further details on the appeals process.

When you file a complaint, please let the NAD know, so we can see if we can provide assistance with your case.

For more information:

Police Discrimination

There are two federal disability discrimination laws that apply to state and local law enforcement agencies: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Many police departments in the U.S. receive financial assistance from federal agencies and must follow Section 504, which prohibits discrimination based on disability. All state and local police departments, regardless of receipt of federal funds, must follow Title II of the ADA, which also prohibits discrimination based on disability. Both Section 504 and the ADA make clear that law enforcement agencies are obligated to take action to ensure effective communication with people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Under the ADA, state and local law enforcement agencies are required to provide accommodations, such as qualified interpreters, CART, assistive listening devices, or other services, to ensure effective communication with deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Law enforcement agencies must ask the deaf or hard of hearing person about their choice of auxiliary aid or service for effective communication.

In every situation, there are several factors to consider in determining which accommodation is appropriate. For example, pen and paper may be used for short and simple interactions such as receiving a ticket for a speeding violation or requesting a TTY or videophone to place a call when in jail. On the other hand, complex interactions such as questioning deaf or hard of hearing individuals must only occur with a qualified interpreter present or another auxiliary aid or service necessary to achieve effective communication. For more information, see https://www.nad.org/issues/justice/police-and-law-enforcement/communication-access.

If you encountered communication discrimination by police enforcement officers, you can file a complaint with the Department of Justice (DOJ) under ADA Title II. This must be done within 180 days of the discrimination. You can type your information into the form then email it as an attachment to [email protected] with any relevant documents. You will receive an automatic reply e-mail confirming that your complaint has been received. Please keep a copy of your complaint and the reply e-mail for your records. If the police agency receives federal funds, you may choose to file a written Section 504 complaint. For more information, see: http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/civilrights/resources/factsheets/504ada.pdf

You may also file a complaint in state or federal court. There are deadlines for filing complaints in court. These deadlines differ in each state. To locate your state civil court, go to: http://www.ncsc.org/Information-and-Resources/Browse-by-State.aspx. To locate your federal court, go to: http://www.uscourts.gov/court_locator.aspx.

When you file a complaint, please let the NAD know, so we can see if we can provide assistance with your case.

Refusal of Relay Service

YouTube Description: NAD explains how to file a complaint when a business rejects a relay call by a deaf or hard of hearing person.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is aware of the level of fraud occurring in relay service calls but makes it clear that businesses are obligated to accept relay calls from deaf and hard of hearing consumers as set out by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Businesses need to instruct employees to accept any and all calls placed through a relay service when the same type of calls would be accepted from a hearing person. Policies and practices must be established to ensure and provide equal access for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

If a business has hung up on you repeatedly or treated you unfairly due to your use of relay services, please file a Title III complaint with the Department of Justice (DOJ) online.

When you file a complaint, please let the NAD know, so we can see if we can provide assistance with your case.

For more information: https://www.nad.org/issues/telephone-and-relay-services/relay-services/message-businesses-dont-hang.

TV Closed Captioning Complaints

YouTube Description: NAD explains how to file a complaint re: captioning on televison.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is responsible for enforcing closed captioning requirements for television programs. When you see a television program that has no captions, missing captions, delayed captions, captions that are garbled, displayed too fast, or unreadable, you can file a complaint. You can file a complaint with your local television television station, cable television provider, or satellite television service. You can also file a complaint with the FCC online.

To get contact information for your local television station, cable television provider or satellite television provider, go here. Enter your zip code and click on the box to choose who you want to direct your complaint to — broadcaster, cable, telephone company, satellite or other. Then click the blue “Search” button and you’ll get a list. Choose your provider and with one more click on the green button “View details”, you’ll have the information you need. Bookmark this link so you can easily locate your provider next time you see problems with captioning on your favorite TV program!

ASL Consumer Support Line
The FCC allows direct video access for consumers to contact the FCC.

When you file a complaint, please let the NAD know, so we can see if we can provide assistance with your case.

For more information about filing closed captioning complaints, see the FCC’s Tips on Filing Closed Captioning Complaints.