Effective Communications With Disabled People

New U.S. Department Of Justice Americans With Disabilities Act Guidelines

On January 31, 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice published new guidelines on compliance with the “Effective Communications” requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
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… communicate effectively with people who have communication disabilities. The goal is to ensure that communication with people with these disabilities is equally effective as communication with people without disabilities.”

U.S. Department of Justice, January 31, 2014 Guidelines.

On January 31, 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice published new guidelines on compliance with the “Effective Communications” requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These guidelines provide important information about the 2010 federal ADA regulations and outline the legal obligations and responsibilities of state and local governments, businesses, and nonprofits to “… communicate effectively with people who have communication disabilities. The goal is to ensure that communication with people with these disabilities is equally effective as communication with people without disabilities.” Source: U.S. Department of Justice January 31, 2014 Guidelines.

The ADA refers to “covered entities,” those places like hospitals, businesses, and state/county/city/local agencies, that must comply with the ADA. Covered entities may use Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) as an option for communicating with deaf and hard of hearing people. “The new regulations give covered entities the choice of using VRI or on-site interpreters in situations where either would be effective.” Source: U.S. Department of Justice January 31, 2014 Guidelines.

In deciding on the type of communications to use, covered entities must be guided by what is “effective.” For example:

Effectiveness can be determined by situation and by individual

“In a doctor’s office, an interpreter [in-person or by VRI] generally will be needed for taking the medical history of a patient who uses sign language or for discussing a serious diagnosis and its treatment options.” Source: U.S. Department of Justice January 31, 2014 Guidelines.

There may also be situations where a deaf or hard of hearing patient is unable to understand what is being communicated through VRI. Discussing communication options with patients and customers is highly recommended and encouraged. Bottom line – one size does not fit all concerning how to communicate effectively and legally with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing.

If VRI is chosen as the effective communication method, federal law requires that all of the four following specific performance standards are satisfied:

  • Real-time, full-motion video and audio over a dedicated high-speed, widebandwidth video connection or wireless connection that delivers high-quality video images that do not produce lags, choppy, blurry, or grainy images, or irregular pauses in communication;
  • A sharply delineated image that is large enough to display the interpreter’s face, arms, hands, and fingers, and the face, arms, hands, and fingers of the person using sign language, regardless of his or her body position;
  • A clear, audible transmission of voices; and
  • Adequate staff training to ensure quick set-up and proper operation.

In the new Guidelines, the Department of Justice emphasizes the vital importance of training, training staff in ADA requirements, appropriate methods for interacting with disabled patients and their companions, and organizations’ ADA policies, plans, and procedures. The Department of Justice has also included in many recent agreements and court orders with hospitals and other organizations the requirement that training be conducted by recognized outside experts to ensure the accuracy and thoroughness of the information provided.

According to the Department of Justice:

It is well-recognized legally that effective communications for deaf and hard of hearing people can be achieved through various methods and auxiliary aids, including various types of interpreters, written materials, and family members in non-emergency situations. The new 2014 Guidance is a good place to start for understanding the complexities of the ADA’s effective communication requirements.

Source: U.S. Department of Justice January 31, 2014 Guidelines.

About the Author

Bruce L. Adelson, Esq., CEO of Federal Compliance Consulting LLC is nationally recognized for his compliance expertise concerning many federal laws, such as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Americans with Disabilities Act, Affordable Care Act, and federal voting laws. Mr. Adelson is a former U.S Department of Justice Senior Trial Attorney. During his Justice career, Mr. Adelson had national federal law enforcement and policy responsibility. At DOJ, he shared responsibility for enacting federal language assistance policy. For example, Mr. Adelson approved for Federal Register publication the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Policy Guidance Concerning Recipients’ Responsibilities to Limited English Proficient (LEP) Persons.

Mr. Adelson has been the testifying expert in several state and federal ADA and Title VI lawsuits, including two cases where deaf patients allege ADA discrimination by hospitals. In 2014, Mr. Adelson was qualified as an expert in civil rights and allegations of discrimination by The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana.

Federal Compliance Consulting LLC provides consultation, risk management assessment, and training services across the United States and throughout the world.

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