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Section 35.160 Communications. (Section-by-Section Analysis)

Section 35.160 of the 1991 title II regulation requires a public entity to 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 CFR 35.160(a). In addition, a 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 CFR 35.160(b)(1). Moreover, the public entity must give ‘‘primary consideration to the requests of the individual with disabilities'' in determining what type of auxiliary aid and service is necessary. 28 CFR 35.160(b)(2).

Since promulgation of the 1991 title II regulation, the Department has investigated hundreds of complaints alleging failures by public entities to provide effective communication, and many of these investigations resulted in settlement agreements and consent decrees. From these investigations, the Department has concluded that public entities sometimes misunderstand the scope of their obligations under the statute and the regulation. Section 35.160 in the final rule codifies the Department's longstanding policies in this area and includes provisions that reflect technological advances in the area of auxiliary aids and services.

In the NPRM, the Department proposed adding ‘‘companion'' to the scope of coverage under § 35.160 to codify the Department's longstanding position that a public entity's obligation to ensure effective communication extends not just to applicants, participants, and members of the public with disabilities, but to companions as well, if any of them are individuals with disabilities. The NPRM defined companion as a person who is a family member, friend, or associate of a program participant, who, along with the program participant, is ‘‘an appropriate person with whom the public entity should communicate.'' 73 FR 34466, 34507 (June 17, 2008).

Many commenters supported inclusion of ‘‘companions'' in the rule, and urged even more specific language about public entities' obligations. Some commenters asked the Department to clarify that a companion with a disability may be entitled to effective communication from a public entity even though the applicants, participants, or members of the general public seeking access to, or participating in, the public entity's services, programs, or activities are not individuals with disabilities. Others requested that the Department explain the circumstances under which auxiliary aids and services should be provided to companions. Still others requested explicit clarification that where the individual seeking access to or participating in the public entity's program, services, or activities requires auxiliary aids and services, but the companion does not, the public entity may not seek out, or limit its communications to, the companion instead of communicating directly with the individual with a disability when it would be appropriate to do so.

Some in the medical community objected to the inclusion of any regulatory language regarding companions, asserting that such language is overbroad, seeks services for individuals whose presence is not required by the public entity, is not necessary for the delivery of the services or participation in the program, and places additional burdens on the medical community. These commenters asked that the Department limit the public entity's obligation to communicate effectively with a companion to situations where such communications are necessary to serve the interests of the person who is receiving the public entity's services.

After consideration of the many comments on this issue, the Department believes that explicit inclusion of ‘‘companions'' in the final rule is appropriate to ensure that public entities understand the scope of their effective communication obligations. There are many situations in which the interests of program participants without disabilities require that their companions with disabilities be provided effective communication. In addition, the program participant need not be physically present to trigger the public entity's obligations to a companion. The controlling principle is that auxiliary aids and services must be provided if the companion is an appropriate person with whom the public entity should or would communicate.

Examples of such situations include back-to-school nights or parent-teacher conferences at a public school. If the faculty writes on the board or otherwise displays information in a visual context during a back-to-school night, this information must be communicated effectively to parents or guardians who are blind or have low vision. At a parent-teacher conference, deaf parents or guardians must be provided with appropriate auxiliary aids and services to communicate effectively with the teacher and administrators. It makes no difference that the child who attends the school does not have a disability. Likewise, when a deaf spouse attempts to communicate with public social service agencies about the services necessary for the hearing spouse, appropriate auxiliary aids and services to the deaf spouse must be provided by the public entity to ensure effective communication. Parents or guardians, including foster parents, who are individuals with disabilities, may need to interact with child services agencies on behalf of their children; in such a circumstance, the child services agencies would need to provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services to those parents or guardians.

Effective communication with companions is particularly critical in health care settings where miscommunication may lead to misdiagnosis and improper or delayed medical treatment. The Department has encountered confusion and reluctance by medical care providers regarding the scope of their obligation with respect to such companions. Effective communication with a companion is necessary in a variety of circumstances. For example, a companion may be legally authorized to make health care decisions on behalf of the patient or may need to help the patient with information or instructions given by hospital personnel. A companion may be the patient's next-of-kin or health care surrogate with whom hospital personnel must communicate about the patient's medical condition. A companion could be designated by the patient to communicate with hospital personnel about the patient's symptoms, needs, condition, or medical history. Or the companion could be a family member with whom hospital personnel normally would communicate.

Accordingly, § 35.160(a)(1) in the final rule now reads, ‘‘[a] public entity shall take appropriate steps to ensure that communications with applicants, participants, members of the public, and companions with disabilities are as effective as communications with others.'' Section 35.160(a)(2) further defines ‘‘companion'' as ‘‘a family member, friend, or associate of an individual seeking access to a service, program, or activity of a public entity, who, along with the individual, is an appropriate person with whom the public entity should communicate.'' Section 35.160(b)(1) clarifies that the obligation to furnish auxiliary aids and services extends to companions who are individuals with disabilities, whether or not the individual accompanied also is an individual with a disability. The provision now states that ‘‘[a] public entity shall furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to afford individuals with disabilities, including applicants, participants, companions, and members of the public, an equal opportunity to participate in, and enjoy the benefits of, a service, program, or activity of a public entity.''

These provisions make clear that if the companion is someone with whom the public entity normally would or should communicate, then the public entity must provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services to that companion to ensure effective communication with the companion. This common-sense rule provides the guidance necessary to enable public entities to properly implement the nondiscrimination requirements of the ADA.

As set out in the final rule, § 35.160(b)(2) states, in pertinent part, that ‘‘[t]he type of auxiliary aid or service necessary to ensure effective communication will vary in accordance with the method of communication used by the individual, the nature, length, and complexity of the communication involved, and the context in which the communication is taking place. In determining what types of auxiliary aids and services are necessary, a public entity shall give primary consideration to the requests of individuals with disabilities.''

The second sentence of § 35.160(b)(2) of the final rule restores the ‘‘primary consideration'' obligation set out at § 35.160(b)(2) in the 1991 title II regulation. This provision was inadvertently omitted from the NPRM, and the Department agrees with the many commenters on this issue that this provision should be retained. As noted in the preamble to the 1991 title II regulation, and reaffirmed here: ‘‘The public entity shall honor the choice [of the individual with a disability] unless it can demonstrate that another effective means of communication exists or that use of the means chosen would not be required under § 35.164. Deference to the request of the individual with a disability is desirable because of the range of disabilities, the variety of auxiliary aids and services, and different circumstances requiring effective communication.'' 28 CFR part 35, app. A at 580 (2009).

The first sentence in § 35.160(b)(2) codifies the axiom that the type of auxiliary aid or service necessary to ensure effective communication will vary with the situation, and provides factors for consideration in making the determination, including the method of communication used by the individual; the nature, length, and complexity of the communication involved; and the context in which the communication is taking place. Inclusion of this language under title II is consistent with longstanding policy in this area. See , e.g., The Americans with Disabilities Act Title II Technical Assistance Manual Covering State and Local Government Programs and Services, section II–7.1000, available at www.ada.gov/taman2.html (‘‘The type of auxiliary aid or service necessary to ensure effective communication will vary in accordance with the length and complexity of the communication involved. * * * Sign language or oral interpreters, for example, may be required when the information being communicated in a transaction with a deaf individual is complex, or is exchanged for a lengthy period of time. Factors to be considered in determining whether an interpreter is required include the context in which the communication is taking place, the number of people involved, and the importance of the communication.''); See also 28 CFR part 35, app. A at 580 (2009). As explained in the NPRM, an individual who is deaf or hard of hearing may need a qualified interpreter to communicate with municipal hospital personnel about diagnoses, procedures, tests, treatment options, surgery, or prescribed medication (e.g., dosage, side effects, drug interactions, etc.), or to explain follow-up treatments, therapies, test results, or recovery. In comparison, in a simpler, shorter interaction, the method to achieve effective communication can be more basic. An individual who is seeking local tax forms may only need an exchange of written notes to achieve effective communication.

Section 35.160(c)(1) has been added to the final rule to make clear that a public entity shall not require an individual with a disability to bring another individual to interpret for him or her. The Department receives many complaints from individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing alleging that public entities expect them to provide their own sign language interpreters. Proposed § 35.160(c)(1) was intended to clarify that when a public entity is interacting with a person with a disability, it is the public entity's responsibility to provide an interpreter to ensure effective communication. It is not appropriate to require the person with a disability to bring another individual to provide such services.

Section 35.160(c)(2) of the NPRM proposed codifying the Department's position that there are certain limited instances when a public entity may rely on an accompanying individual to interpret or facilitate communication: (1) In an emergency involving a threat to the public safety or welfare; or (2) if the individual with a disability specifically requests it, the accompanying individual agrees to provide the assistance, and reliance on that individual for this assistance is appropriate under the circumstances.

Many commenters supported this provision, but sought more specific language to address what they See as a particularly entrenched problem. Some commenters requested that the Department explicitly require the public entity first to notify the individual with a disability that the individual has a right to request and receive appropriate auxiliary aids and services without charge from the public entity before using that person's accompanying individual as a communication facilitator. Advocates stated that an individual who is unaware of his or her rights may decide to use a third party simply because he or she believes that is the only way to communicate with the public entity.

The Department has determined that inclusion of specific language requiring notification is unnecessary. Section 35.160(b)(1) already states that is the responsibility of the public entity to provide auxiliary aids and services. Moreover, § 35.130(f) already prohibits the public entity from imposing a surcharge on a particular individual with a disability or on any group of individuals with disabilities to cover the costs of auxiliary aids. However, the Department strongly advises public entities that they should first inform the individual with a disability that the public entity can and will provide auxiliary aids and services, and that there would be no cost for such aids or services.

Many commenters requested that the Department make clear that the public entity cannot request, rely upon, or coerce an adult accompanying an individual with a disability to provide effective communication for that individual with a disability—that only a voluntary offer is acceptable. The Department states unequivocally that consent of, and for, the adult accompanying the individual with a disability to facilitate communication must be provided freely and voluntarily both by the individual with a disability and the accompanying third party—absent an emergency involving an imminent threat to the safety or welfare of an individual or the public where there is no interpreter available. The public entity may not coerce or attempt to persuade another adult to provide effective communication for the individual with a disability. Some commenters expressed concern that the regulation could be read by public entities, including medical providers, to prevent parents, guardians, or caregivers from providing effective communication for children or that a child, regardless of age, would have to specifically request that his or her caregiver act as interpreter. The Department does not intend § 35.160(c)(2) to prohibit parents, guardians, or caregivers from providing effective communication for children where so doing would be appropriate. Rather, the rule prohibits public entities, including medical providers, from requiring, relying on, or forcing adults accompanying individuals with disabilities, including parents, guardians, or caregivers, to facilitate communication.

Several commenters asked that the Department make absolutely clear that children are not to be used to provide effective communication for family members and friends, and that it is the public entity's responsibility to provide effective communication, stating that often interpreters are needed in settings where it would not be appropriate for children to be interpreting, such as those involving medical issues, domestic violence, or other situations involving the exchange of confidential or adult-related material. Commenters observed that children are often hesitant to turn down requests to provide communication services, and that such requests put them in a very difficult position vis-a-vis family members and friends. The Department agrees. It is the Department's position that a public entity shall not rely on a minor child to facilitate communication with a family member, friend, or other individual, except in an emergency involving imminent threat to the safety or welfare of an individual or the public where there is no interpreter available. Accordingly, the Department has revised the rule to state: ‘‘A public entity shall not rely on a minor child to interpret or facilitate communication, except in an emergency involving imminent threat to the safety or welfare of an individual or the public where there is no interpreter available.'' § 35.160(c)(3). Sections 35.160(c)(2) and (3) have no application in circumstances where an interpreter would not otherwise be required in order to provide effective communication (e.g., in simple transactions such as purchasing movie tickets at a theater). The Department stresses that privacy and confidentiality must be maintained but notes that covered entities, such as hospitals, that are subject to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), Public Law 104–191, Privacy Rules are permitted to disclose to a patient's relative, close friend, or any other person identified by the patient (such as an interpreter) relevant patient information if the patient agrees to such disclosures. See 45 CFR parts 160 and 164. The agreement need not be in writing. Covered entities should consult the HIPAA Privacy Rules regarding other ways disclosures might be able to be made to such persons.

With regard to emergency situations, the NPRM proposed permitting reliance on an individual accompanying an individual with a disability to interpret or facilitate communication in an emergency involving a threat to the public safety or welfare. Commenters requested that the Department make clear that often a public entity can obtain appropriate auxiliary aids and services in advance of an emergency by making necessary advance arrangements, particularly in anticipated emergencies such as predicted dangerous weather or certain medical situations such as childbirth. These commenters did not want public entities to be relieved of their responsibilities to provide effective communication in emergency situations, noting that the obligation to provide effective communication may be more critical in such situations. Several commenters requested a separate rule that requires public entities to provide timely and effective communication in the event of an emergency, noting that the need for effective communication escalates in an emergency.

Commenters also expressed concern that public entities, particularly law enforcement authorities and medical personnel, would apply the ‘‘emergency situation'' provision in inappropriate circumstances and would rely on accompanying individuals without making any effort to seek appropriate auxiliary aids and services. Other commenters asked that the Department narrow this provision so that it would not be available to entities that are responsible for emergency preparedness and response. Some commenters noted that certain exigent circumstances, such as those that exist during and perhaps immediately after, a major hurricane, temporarily may excuse public entities of their responsibilities to provide effective communication. However, they asked that the Department clarify that these obligations are ongoing and that, as soon as such situations begin to abate or stabilize, the public entity must provide effective communication.

The Department recognizes that the need for effective communication is critical in emergency situations. After due consideration of all of these concerns raised by commenters, the Department has revised § 35.160(c) to narrow the exception permitting reliance on individuals accompanying the individual with a disability during an emergency to make it clear that it only applies to emergencies involving an ‘‘imminent threat to the safety or welfare of an individual or the public.'' See § 35.160(c)(2)–(3). Arguably, all visits to an emergency room or situations to which emergency workers respond are by definition emergencies. Likewise, an argument can be made that most situations that law enforcement personnel respond to involve, in one way or another, a threat to the safety or welfare of an individual or the public. The imminent threat exception in § 35.160(c)(2)– (3) is not intended to apply to the typical and foreseeable emergency situations that are part of the normal operations of these institutions. As such, a public entity may rely on an accompanying individual to interpret or facilitate communication under the § 35.160(c)(2)–(3) imminent threat exception only where in truly exigent circumstances, i.e., where any delay in providing immediate services to the individual could have life-altering or life-ending consequences.

Many commenters urged the Department to stress the obligation of State and local courts to provide effective communication. The Department has received many complaints that State and local courts often do not provide needed qualified sign language interpreters to witnesses, litigants, jurors, potential jurors, and companions and associates of persons participating in the legal process. The Department cautions public entities that without appropriate auxiliary aids and services, such individuals are denied an opportunity to participate fully in the judicial process, and denied benefits of the judicial system that are available to others.

Another common complaint about access to State and local court systems is the failure to provide effective communication in deferral programs that are intended as an alternative to incarceration, or for other court-ordered treatment programs. These programs must provide effective communication, and courts referring individuals with disabilities to such programs should only refer individuals with disabilities to programs or treatment centers that provide effective communication. No person with a disability should be denied access to the benefits conferred through participation in a court-ordered referral program on the ground that the program purports to be unable to provide effective communication.

The general nondiscrimination provision in § 35.130(a) provides that no individual with a disability shall, on the basis of disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity. The Department consistently interprets this provision and § 35.160 to require effective communication in courts, jails, prisons, and with law enforcement officers. Persons with disabilities who are participating in the judicial process as witnesses, jurors, prospective jurors, parties before the court, or companions of persons with business in the court, should be provided auxiliary aids and services as needed for effective communication. The Department has developed a variety of technical assistance and guidance documents on the requirements for title II entities to provide effective communication; those materials are available on the Department Web site at: http://www.ada.gov.

Many advocacy groups urged the Department to add language in the final rule that would require public entities to provide accessible material in a manner that is timely, accurate, and private. The Department has included language in § 35.160(b)(2) stating that ‘‘[i]n order to be effective, auxiliary aids and services must be provided in accessible formats, in a timely manner, and in such a way so as to protect the privacy and independence of the individual with a disability.''

Because the appropriateness of particular auxiliary aids and services may vary as a situation changes, the Department strongly encourages public entities to do a communication assessment of the individual with a disability when the need for auxiliary aids and services is first identified, and to reassess communication effectiveness regularly throughout the communication. For example, a deaf individual may go to an emergency department of a public community health center with what is at first believed to be a minor medical emergency, such as a sore knee, and the individual with a disability and the public community health center both believe that exchanging written notes will be effective. However, during that individual's visit, it is determined that the individual is, in fact, suffering from an anterior cruciate ligament tear and must have surgery to repair the torn ligament. As the situation develops and the diagnosis and recommended course of action evolve into surgery, an interpreter most likely will be necessary. A public entity has a continuing obligation to assess the auxiliary aids and services it is providing, and should consult with individuals with disabilities on a continuing basis to assess what measures are required to ensure effective communication. Public entities are further advised to keep individuals with disabilities apprised of the status of the expected arrival of an interpreter or the delivery of other requested or anticipated auxiliary aids and services.

Video remote interpreting (VRI) services. In § 35.160(d) of the NPRM, the Department proposed the inclusion of four performance standards for VRI (which the NPRM termed video interpreting services (VIS)), for effective communication: (1) High-quality, clear, real-time, full-motion video and audio over a dedicated high-speed Internet connection; (2) a clear, sufficiently large, and sharply delineated picture of the participating individual's head, arms, hands, and fingers, regardless of his body position; (3) clear transmission of voices; and (4) persons who are trained to set up and operate the VRI quickly. Commenters generally approved of those performance standards, but recommended that some additional standards be included in the final rule. Some State agencies and advocates for persons with disabilities requested that the Department add more detail in the description of the first standard, including modifying the term ‘‘dedicated high-speed Internet connection'' to read ‘‘dedicated high-speed, wide-bandwidth video connection.'' These commenters argued that this change was necessary to ensure a high-quality video image that will not produce lags, choppy images, or irregular pauses in communication. The Department agrees with those comments and has amended the provision in the final rule accordingly.

For persons who are deaf with limited vision, commenters requested that the Department include an explicit requirement that interpreters wear high-contrast clothing with no patterns that might distract from their hands as they are interpreting, so that a person with limited vision can see the signs made by the interpreter. While the Department reiterates the importance of such practices in the delivery of effective VRI, as well as in-person interpreting, the Department declines to adopt such performance standards as part of this rule. In general, professional interpreters already follow such practices—the Code of Professional Conduct for interpreters developed by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc. and the National Association of the Deaf incorporates attire considerations into their standards of professionalism and conduct. (This code is available at http://www.vid.org/userfiles/file/pdfs/codeofethics.pdf (Last visited July 18, 2010). Moreover, as a result of this code, many VRI agencies have adopted detailed dress standards that interpreters hired by the agency must follow. In addition, commenters urged that a clear image of the face and eyes of the interpreter and others be explicitly required. Because the face includes the eyes, the Department has amended § 35.160(d)(2) of the final rule to include a requirement that the interpreter's face be displayed.

In response to comments seeking more training for users and non-technicians responsible for VRI in title II facilities, the Department is extending the requirement in § 35.160(d)(4) to require training for ‘‘users of the technology'' so that staff who would have reason to use the equipment in an emergency room, State or local court, or elsewhere are properly trained. Providing for such training will enhance the success of VRI as means of providing effective communication.

Captioning at sporting venues. In the NPRM at § 35.160(e), the Department proposed that sports stadiums that have a capacity of 25,000 or more shall provide captioning for safety and emergency information on scoreboards and video monitors. In addition, the Department posed four questions about captioning of information, especially safety and emergency information announcements, provided over public address (PA) systems. The Department received many extremely detailed and divergent responses to each of the four questions and the proposed regulatory text. Because comments submitted on the Department's title II and title III proposals were intertwined, because of the similarity of issues involved for title II entities and title III entities, and in recognition of the fact that many large sports stadiums are covered by both title II and title III as joint operations of State or local governments and one or more public accommodations, the Department presents here a single consolidated review and summary of the issues raised in comments.

The Department asked whether requiring captioning of safety and emergency information made over the public address system in stadiums seating fewer than 25,000 would create an undue burden for smaller entities, whether it would be feasible for small stadiums, or whether a larger threshold, such as sports stadiums with a capacity of 50,000 or more, would be appropriate.

There was a consensus among the commenters, including disability advocates as well as venue owners and stadium designers and operators, that using the stadium size or seating capacity as the exclusive deciding factor for any obligation to provide captioning for safety and emergency information broadcast over the PA system is not preferred. Most disability advocacy organizations and individuals with disabilities complained that using size or seating capacity as a threshold for captioning safety and emergency information would undermine the ‘‘undue burden'' defense found in both titles II and III. Many commenters provided examples of facilities like professional hockey arenas that seat less than 25,000 fans but which, commenters argued, should be able to provide real-time captioning. Other commenters suggested that some high school or college stadiums, for example, may hold 25,000 fans or more and yet lack the resources to provide real-time captioning. Many commenters noted that real-time captioning would require trained stenographers and that most high school and college sports facilities rely upon volunteers to operate scoreboards and PA systems, and they would not be qualified stenographers, especially in case of an emergency. One national association noted that the typical stenographer expense for a professional football game in Washington, DC is about $550 per game. Similarly, one trade association representing venues estimated that the cost for a professional stenographer at a sporting event runs between $500 and $1,000 per game or event, the cost of which, they argued, would be unduly burdensome in many cases. Some commenters posited that schools that do not sell tickets to athletic events would find it difficult to meet such expenses, in contrast to major college athletic programs and professional sports teams, which would be less likely to prevail using an ‘‘undue burden'' defense.

Some venue owners and operators and other covered entities argued that stadium size should not be the key consideration when requiring scoreboard captioning. Instead, these entities suggested that equipment already installed in the stadium, including necessary electrical equipment and backup power supply, should be the determining factor for whether captioning is mandated. Many commenters argued that the requirement to provide captioning should only apply to stadiums with scoreboards that meet the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) National Fire Alarm Code (NFPA 72). Commenters reported that NFPA 72 requires at least two independent and reliable power supplies for emergency information systems, including one source that is a generator or battery sufficient to run the system in the event the primary power fails. Alternatively, some stadium designers and title II entities commented that the requirement should apply when the facility has at least one elevator providing firefighter emergency operation, along with approval of authorities with responsibility for fire safety. Other commenters argued for flexibility in the requirements for providing captioning and that any requirement should only apply to stadiums constructed after the effective date of the regulation.

In the NPRM, the Department also asked whether the rule should address the specific means of captioning equipment, whether it should be provided through any effective means (scoreboards, line boards, handheld devices, or other means), or whether some means, such as handheld devices, should be eliminated as options. This question elicited many comments from advocates for persons with disabilities as well as from covered entities. Advocacy organizations and individuals with experience using handheld devices argue that such devices do not provide effective communication. These commenters noted that information is often delayed in the transmission to such devices, making them hard to use when following action on the playing field or in the event of an emergency when the crowd is already reacting to aural information provided over the PA system well before it is received on the handheld device.

Several venue owners and operators and others commented that handheld technology offers advantages of flexibility and portability so that it may be used successfully regardless of where in the facility the user is located, even when not in the line of sight of a scoreboard or other captioning system. Still other commenters urged the Department not to regulate in such a way as to limit innovation and use of such technology now and in the future. Cost considerations were included in some comments from some stadium designers and venue owners and operators, who reported that the cost of providing handheld systems is far less than the cost of real-time captioning on scoreboards, especially in facilities that do not currently have the capacity to provide real-time captions on existing equipment. Others noted that handheld technology is not covered by fire and safety model codes, including the NFPA, and thus would be more easily adapted into existing facilities if captioning were required by the Department.

The Department also asked about providing open captioning of all public address announcements, and not limiting captioning to safety and emergency information. A variety of advocates and persons with disabilities argued that all information broadcast over a PA system should be captioned in real time at all facilities in order to provide effective communication and that a requirement only to provide emergency and safety information would not be sufficient. A few organizations for persons with disabilities commented that installation of new systems should not be required, but that all systems within existing facilities that are capable of providing captioning must be utilized to the maximum extent possible to provide captioning of as much information as possible. Several organizations representing persons with disabilities commented that all facilities must include in safety planning the requirement to caption all aurally-provided information for patrons with communication disabilities. Some advocates suggested that demand for captions will only increase as the number of deaf and hard of hearing persons grows with the aging of the general population and with increasing numbers of veterans returning from war with disabilities. Multiple comments noted that the captioning would benefit others as well as those with communication disabilities.

By contrast, venue owners and operators and others commented that the action on the sports field is self-explanatory and does not require captioning and they objected to an explicit requirement to provide real-time captioning for all information broadcast on the PA system at a sporting event. Other commenters objected to requiring captioning even for emergency and safety information over the scoreboard rather than through some other means. By contrast, venue operators, State government agencies, and some model code groups, including NFPA, commented that emergency and safety information must be provided in an accessible format and that public safety is a paramount concern. Other commenters argued that the best method to deliver safety and emergency information would be television monitors showing local TV broadcasts with captions already mandated by the FCC. Some commenters posited that the most reliable information about a major emergency would be provided on the television news broadcasts. Several commenters argued that television monitors may be located throughout the facility, improving line of sight for patrons, some of whom might not be able to See the scoreboard from their seats or elsewhere in the facility. Some stadium designers, venue operators, and model code groups pointed out that video monitors are not regulated by the NFPA or other agencies, so that such monitors could be more easily provided. Video monitors may receive transmissions from within the facility and could provide real-time captions if there is the necessary software and equipment to feed the captioning signal to a closed video network within the facility. Several comments suggested that using monitors would be preferable to requiring captions on the scoreboard if the regulation mandates realtime captioning. Some venue owners and operators argued that retrofitting existing stadiums with new systems could easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per scoreboard or system. Some stadium designers and others argued that captioning should only be required in stadiums built after the effective date of the regulation. For stadiums with existing systems that allow for real-time captioning, one commenter posited that dedicating the system exclusively to real-time captioning would lead to an annual loss of between $2 and $3 million per stadium in revenue from advertising currently running in that space.

After carefully considering the wide range of public comments on this issue, the Department has concluded that the final rule will not provide additional requirements for effective communication or emergency information provided at sports stadiums at this time. The 1991 title II and title III regulations and statutory requirements are not in any way affected by this decision. The decision to postpone rulemaking on this complex issue is based on a number of factors, including the multiple layers of existing regulation by various agencies and levels of government, and the wide array of information, requests, and recommendations related to developing technology offered by the public. In addition, there is a huge variety of covered entities, information and communication systems, and differing characteristics among sports stadiums. The Department has concluded that further consideration and review would be prudent before it issues specific regulatory requirements.

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