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Title II Technical Assistance Manual

II−7.1000 Equally effective communication. A public entity must ensure that its communications with individuals with disabilities are as effective as communications with others. This obligation, however, does not require a public entity to take any action that it can demonstrate would result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of its services, programs, or activities, or in undue financial and administrative burdens.

In order to provide equal access, a public accommodation is required to make available appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to ensure effective communication. What are auxiliary aids and services? Auxiliary aids and services include a wide range of services and devices that promote effective communication.

Examples of auxiliary aids and services for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing include qualified interpreters, notetakers, computer-aided transcription services, written materials, telephone handset amplifiers, assistive listening systems, telephones compatible with hearing aids, closed caption decoders, open and closed captioning, telecommunications devices for deaf persons (TDD's), videotext displays, and exchange of written notes.

Examples for individuals with vision impairments include qualified readers, taped texts, audio recordings, Brailled materials, large print materials, and assistance in locating items.

Examples for individuals with speech impairments include TDD's, computer terminals, speech synthesizers, and communication boards.

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.

ILLUSTRATION 1: Some individuals who have difficulty communicating because of a speech impairment can be understood if individuals dealing with them merely listen carefully and take the extra time that is necessary.

ILLUSTRATION 2: For individuals with vision impairments, employees can provide oral directions or read written instructions. In many simple transactions, such as paying bills or filing applications, communications provided through such simple methods will be as effective as the communications provided to other individuals in similar transactions. Many transactions with public entities, however, involve more complex or extensive communications than can be provided through such simple methods. 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.

ILLUSTRATION 1: A municipal hospital emergency room must be able to communicate with patients about symptoms and patients must be able to understand information provided about their conditions and treatment. In this situation, an interpreter is likely to be necessary for communications with individuals who are deaf.

ILLUSTRATION 2: Because of the importance of effective communication in State and local court proceedings, special attention must be given to the communications needs of individuals with disabilities involved in such proceedings. Qualified interpreters will usually be necessary to ensure effective communication with parties, jurors, and witnesses who have hearing impairments and use sign language. For individuals with hearing impairments who do not use sign language, other types of auxiliary aids or services, such as assistive listening devices or computer-assisted transcription services, which allow virtually instantaneous transcripts of courtroom argument and testimony to appear on displays, may be required.

Must public service announcements or other television programming produced by public entities be captioned? Audio portions of television and videotape programming produced by public entities are subject to the requirement to provide equally effective communication for individuals with hearing impairments. Closed captioning of such programs is sufficient to meet this requirement.

Must tax bills from public entities be available in Braille and/or large print? What about other documents? Tax bills and other written communications provided by public entities are subject to the requirement for effective communication. Thus, where a public entity provides information in written form, it must, when requested, make that information available to individuals with vision impairments in a form that is usable by them. "Large print" versions of written documents may be produced on a copier with enlargement capacities. Brailled versions of documents produced by computers may be produced with a Braille printer, or audio tapes may be provided for individuals who are unable to read large print or do not use Braille.

II−7.1100 Primary consideration. When an auxiliary aid or service is required, the public entity must provide an opportunity for individuals with disabilities to request the auxiliary aids and services of their choice and must give primary consideration to the choice expressed by the individual. "Primary consideration" means that the public entity must honor the choice, unless it can demonstrate that another equally effective means of communication is available, or that use of the means chosen would result in a fundamental alteration in the service, program, or activity or in undue financial and administrative burdens.

It is important to consult with the individual to determine the most appropriate auxiliary aid or service, because the individual with a disability is most familiar with his or her disability and is in the best position to determine what type of aid or service will be effective. Some individuals who were deaf at birth or who lost their hearing before acquiring language, for example, use sign language as their primary form of communication and may be uncomfortable or not proficient with written English, making use of a notepad an ineffective means of communication.

Individuals who lose their hearing later in life, on the other hand, may not be familiar with sign language and can communicate effectively through writing. For these individuals, use of a word processor with a video text display may provide effective communication in transactions that are long or complex, and computer-assisted simultaneous transcription may be necessary in courtroom proceedings. Individuals with less severe hearing impairments are often able to communicate most effectively with voice amplification provided by an assistive listening device.

For individuals with vision impairments, appropriate auxiliary aids include readers, audio recordings, Brailled materials, and large print materials. Brailled materials, however, are ineffective for many individuals with vision impairments who do not read Braille, just as large print materials would be ineffective for individuals with severely impaired vision who rely on Braille or on audio communications. Thus, the requirement for consultation and primary consideration to the individual's expressed choice applies to information provided in visual formats as well as to aurally communicated information.

II−7.1200 Qualified interpreter. There are a number of sign language systems in use by individuals who use sign language. (The most common systems of sign language are American Sign Language and signed English.) Individuals who use a particular system may not communicate effectively through an interpreter who uses a different system. When an interpreter is required, therefore, the public entity should provide a qualified interpreter, that is, an interpreter who is able to sign to the individual who is deaf what is being said by the hearing person and who can voice to the hearing person what is being signed by the individual who is deaf. This communication must be conveyed effectively, accurately, and impartially, through the use of any necessary specialized vocabulary.

May friends or relatives be asked to interpret? Often, friends or relatives of the individual can provide interpreting services, but the public entity may not require the individual to provide his or her own interpreter, because it is the responsibility of the public entity to provide a qualified interpreter. Also, in many situations, requiring a friend or family member to interpret may not be appropriate, because his or her presence at the transaction may violate the individual's right to confidentiality, or because the friend or family member may have an interest in the transaction that is different from that of the individual involved. The obligation to provide "impartial" interpreting services requires that, upon request, the public entity provide an interpreter who does not have a personal relationship to the individual with a disability.

Are certified interpreters considered to be more qualified than interpreters without certification? Certification is not required in order for an interpreter to be considered to have the skills necessary to facilitate communication. Regardless of the professionalism or skills that a certified interpreter may possess, that particular individual may not feel comfortable or possess the proper vocabulary necessary for interpreting for a computer class, for example. Another equally skilled, but noncertified interpreter might have the necessary vocabulary, thus making the noncertified person the qualified interpreter for that particular situation.

Can a public entity use a staff member who signs "pretty well" as an interpreter for meetings with individuals who use sign language to communicate? Signing and interpreting are not the same thing. Being able to sign does not mean that a person can process spoken communication into the proper signs, nor does it mean that he or she possesses the proper skills to observe someone signing and change their signed or fingerspelled communication into spoken words. The interpreter must be able to interpret both receptively and expressively.

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