The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and the CVAA (Communications and Video Accessibility Act) give a legal and regulatory basis for obtaining many accommodations for people who are hard-of-hearing and deaf. And, while there is at times voluntary compliance with them, often you as a hard-of-hearing or deaf person must ask for those services or devices. For example, hotels/motels must provide visual smoke alarms, door knock alerting devices and visual telephone alerting devices, but even if you request them when you make a reservation often the person who checks you in may not get the message or know where those devices are. It is up to the hard-of-hearing guest to know the requirements and advocate strongly for compliance and, if warranted, file the necessary complaint.
Self-advocacy is also a part of day-to-day life. Asking someone to speak slowly and to enunciate is a form of self-advocacy as is requesting that a restaurant turn down or turn off music that interferes with your understanding of your companion. For some asking for an accommodation is embarrassing, perhaps because advocacy makes your hearing disability obvious to others. Reluctance is a barrier worth surmounting: getting needed accommodations allows you to enjoy your life more fully and helps insure your safety.
Remember, you are not alone in advocating for your interests. HLAA works at the national level and in Oregon HLAA-OR advocates on behalf of hard-of-hearing individuals as do local HLAA chapters. In Oregon a sister organization, Oregon Communication Access Project (OR-CAP, www.or-cap.org/), works with organizations to make their events accessible to hearing impaired individuals, primarily through captions. The National Association of the Deaf (in Oregon, Oregon Association of the Deaf) is also an active advocacy group.
The Ada (Americans With Disability Act) and You
The ADA is a Federal civil rights law for persons with disabilities. The basic purpose of the ADA is to prohibit discrimination in employment (Title I), ensure equal access to services of state and local governments (Title II), and ensure equal access to places of public accommodation (Title III). One of the major areas of equal access is “effective communication” for persons who are hard-of-hearing, late deafened, or deaf.
In general, the concept of “effective communication” for persons who are hard-of-hearing, late deafened or deaf, refers to the assurance of equal access to any aurally delivered communication that is part of a service, activity, or event of a covered organization. This is usually accomplished with auxiliary aids and services. In general, the ADA requires that covered organizations provide the auxiliary aids or services, at their own expense, that are necessary to ensure effective communication, unless doing so creates an undue burden.
Usually, the auxiliary aid or service that the client, customer or participant is requesting is likely the one that is required for effective communication under the ADA. There are many kinds of auxiliary aids and services. The most common ones, which ensure effective communication in many interactive settings, are assistive listening devices, real-time captioning and qualified interpreters including sign language, oral, cued speech and tactile communications.
If you have questions about the ADA and how it can impact your situation, see:http://www.ada.gov/ or contact the Oregon Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services (ODHHS), 500 Summer St. NE E-16, Salem, OR 97301, 503-947-5183 voice; 800-521-9615 (TTY), 503-947-5184 (fax). A very good detailed summary of ADA requirements by the National Association of the Deaf can be found atwww.nad.org/issues/civil-rights/ADA.
Responsibility for enforcement of the ADA lies with the US Department of Justice. If the DOJ takes on a particular case there is an initial attempt to negotiate and mediate compliance and, if that fails, they may bring suit in federal court. Courts may order compensatory damages and back pay to remedy discrimination if the Department prevails. Under title III, the Department of Justice may also obtain civil penalties of up to $55,000 for the first violation and $110,000 for any subsequent violation.
To report possible violations of the ADA contact U.S. Department of Justice: 950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section – NYA, Washington, D.C. 20530. Phone: (202) 307-0663, Fax: (202) 307-1197.
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