Americans with Disabilities Act
“The ADA defines a person with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity. This includes people who have a record of such an impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability.” -adata.org
While being Deaf is far from, and so much more than, having a “disability”, perhaps it can be agreed upon that, in a hearing dominated world, surrounded by hearing privilege, being Deaf can certainly be considered as something that “substantially limits one or more major life [activities]”. With that said, this article will delve into just what the Americans with Disabilities Act is and how it can help those in the Deaf community ensure that they are being treated right by their employers and other public services.
The Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, was passed into law on July 26th of 1990. The law was signed by President George H. W. Bush and was then later amended by George W. Bush in 2008, becoming effective once more in January of 2009.
The ADA is a law meant to provide equal opportunities to and prevent discrimination against, as one might guess, Americans with disabilities. The law contains four particular “titles”, which are sections that describe certain areas in the public sphere that the ADA is meant to help bar discrimination against Americans with disabilities. These titles or sections include Employment, State and Local Government Activities, Public Transportation, Telecommunications, and the General Public.
Employment is under ADA Title I. Here, the ADA prohibits the discrimination of those with disabilities in “recruitment, hiring, promotions, training, pay, social activities, and other privileges of employment”. This means that as someone with a “disability” (This is simply a legal term to be used throughout), i.e. being deaf or hearing impaired, you are fully entitled to the same opportunities and activities as your fellow employees in the workplace. However, the ADA does state that this pertains only to those businesses with 15 or more employees. Employees of small businesses beware.
STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT ACTIVITIES
This is Title II of the ADA and is similar to Title I, differing in that it applies to “Government Activities”. This means that, as a Deaf individual, you are also fully entitled to the accommodations necessary in order to allow you to participate in local and state government affairs “(e.g. public education, employment, transportation, recreation, health care, social services, courts, voting, and town meetings)”. Once again it is important to note that these accommodations are not to “result in undue financial and administrative burdens”. So, one must be careful in making demands that are entirely reasonable and are appropriate to the service being provided. But also remember that you, yourself, should never be seen as a “financial and administrative burden”. You are equally entitled to all of the above just as someone with hearing is.
Title II also includes public transportation as an area in which the ADA is meant to prevent discrimination. As such, “Public transportation authorities may not discriminate against people with disabilities in the provision of their services.” Here the ADA also speaks of a “Paratransit” service. This would be a sort of fixed transportation service meant to help those with disabilities who are dependent on others to get to where they need to go. In short, no service ought to be legally allowed to deny a Deaf individual service, simply because they are Deaf.
Under Title III of the ADA and as a Deaf individual, you are also equally entitled to the services and necessary accommodations to use the services of businesses, nonprofit services, as well as privately owned or operated entities that provide certain services. This would include “entities who own, lease, lease to, or operate facilities such as restaurants, retail stores, hotels, movie theaters, private schools, convention centers, doctors' offices, homeless shelters, transportation depots, zoos, funeral homes, daycare centers, and recreation facilities including sports stadiums and fitness clubs”. As someone who is Deaf and/or disabled, you are, again fully permitted and qualified to use these services. Anyone who denies you these services and fails to provide any sort of legal explanation is in the wrong.
TELECOMMUNICATIONS RELAY SERVICES
Title IV of the ADA simply states that disabled individuals who cannot hear or speak or have hearing or speech impairments are entitled to be provided the necessary services that will allow them to communicate. Even telephone companies are required to “establish interstate and intrastate telecommunications relay services (TRS) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week”. This Title also requires that Federally funded public service announcements have fully closed captions.
There it is, a Deaf and/or disabled individual's rights as an American under the ADA in a nutshell. For more information about the ADA and your rights, go to ada.gov. From there, you can also see how to file complaints, what else qualifies as a disability, and more. The specific guide that this article quotes can be found here. For even more information, you can also check out Iowa’s very own former state senator, Tom Harkin’s book, Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.