Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Is a hospital required to provide an interpreter for someone who is not the patient?

The requirement to provide effective communication includes the obligation to provide effective communication to companions who are Deaf. So the hospital is required to find a way to communicate with someone who has a communication disability “as effectively” as they would communicate with that person if he/she did not have the disability.

Can you give an example of when an interpreter may not be objective?

For example, suppose a school system employs an interpreter to work with a Deaf child in a classroom.  Now suppose that she is asked by her Principal to interpret for a Deaf parent during an appointment where the parent is very upset about an issue.  Imagine that the parent proceeds to cuss out the Principal. How difficult that scenario might be for the interpreter. She doesn’t want to jeopardize her job by saying all those things to the Principal. But if she doesn’t – if she “sugar coats it” – that is unfair to both sides.

Are the effective communication requirements different for a state or local government than for a private business? 

State and local governments must give primary consideration to what the person with a disability requests.  So if this same person who is Deaf plans to attend a City Council meeting and requests an interpreter, the city must provide it unless doing that would somehow be impossible - maybe because the request was just made the morning of the meeting and no interpreter could be found on such short notice.  However, the city must make a good faith effort to secure the services of an interpreter.

What if the person who is Deaf wants to use a family member to interpret?

The ADA regulations also say that a public entity or private business shall not rely on an accompanying adult except: "where the individual with a disability specifically requests that the accompanying adult interpret or facilitate communication, the accompanying adult agrees…and reliance on that adult is appropriate under the circumstances."

Are there any circumstances when a public or a private entity is not required to provide effective communication?

Yes, public and private entities do not have to provide an auxiliary aid or service if doing so would create “a fundamental alteration” in the goods or services being offered or would result in an “undue burden” which means “significant difficulty or expense.” However, they still must do their best to provide a different auxiliary aid that would ensure effective communication if at all possible. And state and local government agencies have to do a bit more explaining why not than private businesses do.

What are auxiliary aids and services?

Auxiliary aids and services are items, equipment or services that assist in effective communication between a person who has a hearing, vision or speech disability and a person who does not. There is a list of examples in the ADA, but the ADA was written in 1990. There are so many new technologies and services that have been invented and discovered since then, that the items listed in the ADA are not the only options available.

What are some examples of effective communication?

Effective communication can include:

  • Hospitals that provide televisions for use by patients and hotels, motels and places of lodging that provide televisions in five or more guest rooms must provide a closed caption decoder upon request.
  • Tax bills and other print communication by a state or local government must be made available to individuals with vision impairments in a form that is usable by them.
  • PowerPoint presentations at city council meetings must be described to someone who can not see.

Who is covered under the requirement for effective communication?

People who have communication disabilities – disabilities that affect hearing, vision, or speech — are covered.  A person with a communication disability has the right to enjoy equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from all programs, services, and activities, whether they are provided by a state or local government, or they are provided by a public accommodation.

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