Sam Diehl, J.D. - Attorney, Gray Plant Mooty, Minneapolis, MN
Public Services, Public Accommodations and Transportation
The ADA also has important protections relating to state and local government, public accommodations and transportation. The law requires state and local governments to give people with disabilities equal access to programs, services, and activities. This encompasses such areas as public education, transportation, recreation, health care, social services, courts, voting, and town meetings.
The ADA also prohibits exclusion, segregation, and unequal treatment by "public accommodations" and transportation providers, such as buses, trains, restaurants, retail stores, hotels, movie theaters, private schools, doctors' offices, day care centers, recreation facilities, and other places open to the public. Reports of violations can be filed with the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division and related state agencies. As with employment, state and local laws may differ from the ADA about public accommodations and transportation. Private schools, recreational organizations, daycare centers, museums and institutions are public accommodations covered by the ADA and, as such, must provide auxiliary aids and services when necessary to provide equal access to people with disabilities. The costs for such aids may not be imposed upon the individual with disabilities.
Public schools, colleges, and universities that receive federal assistance (which includes virtually all such institutions) are required to provide interpreters or other auxiliary aids to people with disabilities when necessary. The ADA also requires access for people with disabilities in all state and local government programs, including public schools, colleges, and universities, regardless of whether or not the programs get federal assistance.
In addition, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires public school systems to provide a "free, appropriate public education" to children who need specialized services because of a disability. It establishes a procedure for developing an individual education program (IEP) and identifying needed support services for individual children.
The ADA requires telephone and television access for people with hearing and speech disabilities. It requires telephone companies to establish interstate and intrastate telecommunications relay services (TRS) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The law also requires closed captioning of federally funded public service announcements. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) enforces these provisions and also works with broadcast providers to encourage additional captioning.
The FCC has additional captioning requirements as well. As of January 1, 2006, all new English-language programming must be captioned and 75% of previously uncaptioned materials must be captioned by the first quarter of 2008. Spanish-language programming must also be captioned as of 2010 and 2012.
Perhaps most importantly, the FCC mandated that emergency situations be captioned. Should you become aware that your local broadcasters are not in compliance, you can file a complaint by contacting the relevant station and also the FCC. You can contact the FCC by any reasonable means, including its on-line complaint form, e-mail, fax, or U.S. mail. You can also submit your complaint in an alternate format audio-cassette recording, or by phone at: 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322) voice or 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322) TTY. Your complaint should include as much information as possible such as the name of the video programming distributor, the TV channel name and number, the date and time of the omission of captioning of emergency information, the type of emergency, and your contact information.
Another federal law, the Telecommunications Act, requires manufacturers of telecommunications equipment and providers of telecommunications services to ensure that such equipment and services are accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities. This law helps ensure that people with disabilities have access to telecommunications devices, including telephones, cell phones, pagers, call-waiting, and operator services. All electronic and information technology developed, maintained, procured, or used by the federal government must be accessible to people with disabilities, including both federal employees and members of the public.
Other areas are covered by disability laws. For example, the Fair Housing Act and similar state and local laws prohibit landlords, real estate sellers, management companies and homeowners' associations from discrimination based on disability. The Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act of 1984 requires polling places across the United States to be physically accessible to people with disabilities for federal elections.
It is important that you familiarize yourself with these laws and assert your rights when necessary. There is no reason that your hearing loss should be counted against you or hold you back from life's opportunities. Fortunately, the law is usually on your side in this effort.
*Sam Diehl is an attorney with the law firm of Gray Plant Mooty in Minneapolis, MN. He represents and advises employers in all areas of employment law and litigation.