Effective communication with people who have vision, hearing, or speech disabilities

People who have vision, hearing, or speech disabilities (“communication 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 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that title II entities (State and local governments) and title III entities (businesses and nonprofit organizations that serve the public) 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 purpose of the effective communication rules is to ensure that the person with a vision, hearing, or speech disability can communicate with, receive information from, and convey information to, the covered entity.

Covered entities must provide auxiliary aids and services when needed to communicate effectively with people who have communication disabilities.

The key to communicating effectively is to consider the nature, length, complexity, and context of the communication and the person’s normal method(s) of communication.

The rules apply to communicating with the person who is receiving the covered entity’s goods or services as well as with that person’s parent, spouse, or companion in appropriate circumstances.

Auxiliary Aids and Services

The ADA uses the term “auxiliary aids and services” (“aids and services”) to refer to the ways to communicate with people who have communication disabilities.

For people who are blind, have vision loss, or are deaf-blind, this includes providing a qualified reader; information in large print, Braille, or electronically for use with a computer screen-reading program; or an audio recording of printed information. A “qualified” reader means someone who is able to read effectively, accurately, and impartially, using any necessary specialized vocabulary.

For people who are deaf, have hearing loss, or are deaf-blind, this includes providing a qualified notetaker; a qualified sign language interpreter, oral interpreter, cued-speech interpreter, or tactile interpreter; real-time captioning; written materials; or a printed script of a stock speech (such as given on a museum or historic house tour). A “qualified” interpreter means someone who is able to interpret effectively, accurately, and impartially, both receptively (i.e., understanding what the person with the disability is saying) and expressively (i.e., having the skill needed to convey information back to that person) using any necessary specialized vocabulary.

For people who have speech disabilities, this may include providing a qualified speech-to-speech transliterator (a person trained to recognize unclear speech and repeat it clearly) , especially if the person will be speaking at length, such as giving testimony in court, or just taking more time to communicate with someone who uses a communication board. In some situations, keeping paper and pencil on hand so the person can write out words that staff cannot understand or simply allowing more time to communicate with someone who uses a communication board or device may provide effective communication. Always listen attentively and not be afraid or embarrassed to ask the person to repeat a word or phrase they do not understand.

In addition, aids and services include a wide variety of technologies including:

1) assistive listening systems and devices;

2) open captioning, closed captioning, real-time captioning, and closed caption decoders and devices;

3) telephone handset amplifiers, hearing-aid compatible telephones, text telephones (TTYs) , videophones, captioned telephones, and other voice, text, and video-based telecommunications products;

4) videotext displays;

5) screen reader software, magnification software, and optical readers;

6) video description and secondary auditory programming (SAP) devices that pick up video-described audio feeds for television programs;

7) accessibility features in electronic documents and other electronic and information technology that is accessible (either independently or through assistive technology such as screen readers) .

The free nationwide telecommunications relay service (TRS), reached by calling 7-1-1, uses communications assistants (also called CAs or relay operators) who serve as intermediaries between people who have hearing or speech disabilities who use a text telephone (TTY) or text messaging and people who use standard voice telephones. The communications assistant tells the telephone user what the other party is typing and types to tell the other party what the telephone user is saying. TRS also provides speech-to-speech transliteration for callers who have speech disabilities.

Video relay service (VRS) is a free, subscriber-based service for people who use sign language and have videophones, smart phones, or computers with video communication capabilities. For outgoing calls, the subscriber contacts the VRS interpreter, who places the call and serves as an intermediary between the subscriber and a person who uses a standard voice telephone. The interpreter tells the telephone user what the subscriber is signing and signs to the subscriber what the telephone user is saying.

Video remote interpreting (VRI) is a fee-based service that uses video conferencing technology to access an off-site interpreter to provide real-time sign language or oral interpreting services for conversations between hearing people and people who are deaf or have hearing loss.

Source: U.S. Department of Justice: www.ada.gov