People who have vision, hearing, or speech disabilities use different ways to communicate. For example, people who are blind may give and receive information audibly rather than in writing, and people who are deaf may give and receive information through writing or sign language rather than through speech.
The ADA requires that state and local government organizations 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.
The ADA uses the term “auxiliary aids and services” to refer to the ways to communicate with people who have communication disabilities. This encompasses a wide variety of technologies including:
- Assistive listening systems and devices
- Open captioning, closed captioning, real-time captioning, and closed caption decoders and devices
- Telephone handset amplifiers, hearing-aid compatible telephones, text telephones (TTYs), videophones, captioned telephones, and other voice, text, and video-based telecommunications products
- Videotext displays
- Screen reader software, magnification software, and optical readers
- Video description and secondary auditory programming (SAP) devices that pick up video-described audio feeds for television programs
- Accessibility features in electronic documents
In many situations, covered entities communicate with someone other than the person who is receiving their goods or services. For example, school staff usually talk to a parent about a child’s progress; hospital staff often talk to a patient’s spouse, other relative, or friend about the patient’s condition or prognosis. The rules refer to such people as “companions” and require covered entities to provide effective communication for companions who have communication disabilities.
The term “companion” includes any family member, friend, or associate of a person seeking or receiving an entity’s goods or services who is an appropriate person with whom the entity should communicate.
A critical and often overlooked component of ensuring success is comprehensive and ongoing staff training. Covered entities may have established good policies, but if front line staff are not aware of them or do not know how to implement them, problems can arise. Covered entities should teach staff about the ADA’s requirements for communicating effectively with people who have communication disabilities.