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Use of Telephone by Government, Businesses, and Others Instead of Auxiliary Aids or Services

Author: Wendy Taormina-Weiss

Published: 2012-04-19

Synopsis and Key Points:

Effective communication means anything that is spoken or written must be as clear and understandable to a person with a disability as it is for a non-disabled person.

Main Digest

Under Title II of the ADA, state and local governments are required to take steps to ensure that their communications with people with disabilities are as effective as communications with non-disabled persons.

Auxiliary Aids - Used by individuals with a range of disabilities, auxiliary aids may include interpreters, screen readers, Braille and augmentative communication techniques. Auxiliary aids useful for persons with impaired hearing include telephone handset amplifiers, telephones compatible with hearing aids, telecommunication devices for deaf persons (TDD's), interpreters, notetakers, written materials, and other similar services and devices.

Since the time of its creation and adoption by the public at large, the telephone has been a standard of communication by persons who do not experience a hearing impairment. Non-disabled persons do not even think twice about picking up a telephone to conduct personal or business communications. For people who do experience a form of hearing loss, or who are deaf, the use of telephones by people who don't think twice about using them can be rather annoying.

Take for instance the doctors who, despite awareness of my husband's hearing loss, insist on using a telephone call to remind him of appointments when they have been asked to send him an email or a letter instead. When the telephone rings around our home, Tom cannot hear it most of the time; what good is calling him if he cannot hear them on the phone? A simple email or a letter would be far better.

Yesterday, a person from an office in Washington, D.C. called our home to inform Tom about the ongoing construction related to The Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial. The person who used the telephone to update him was so soft-spoken that even I had trouble understanding her. A simple email, which the person had access to, would have been much better.

People call our home to offer everything from services to ask for our political opinions, but Tom doesn't catch the majority of them and the answering machine is well...rather finicky. The lack of any kind of consideration on the parts of non-disabled persons making phone calls, to include members of the business community is astounding. There are currently more than 54 million People with Disabilities in America, and the Senior population in America is huge due to the Baby-Boom generation.

One of the interesting facts surrounding communications today is that a vast number of people have email addresses. Another fact is that any person who is not homeless has a home address where letters may be sent. Considering the fact that there are millions of People with Disabilities and Seniors who experience difficulties with communications through telephones, use of email or letters to inform us might be considered not only a reasonable accommodation, but simply polite.

The economy in America is fighting to recover; it only makes sense for businesses to pursue avenues of communication people can use, instead of assuming the telephone is a, 'one size fits all,' means of communicating with everyone. The same is true for organizations, doctors, politicians, and others attempting to interact with persons who experience a form of hearing impairment or who are deaf.

It also occurs to me that instant messaging might be somehow coupled to telephones, making communications between non-disabled persons and those who experience hearing impairment or who are deaf far easier. If this cannot be achieved, a person's local doctor might simply use instant messaging to remind a person of an appointment, for example. As a family member, I use instant messaging with Tom all the time when I am away; he also has friends who use instant messaging with him.

The Americans with Disabilities Act and Forms of Communication

What does the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) have to say about communicationsWell...under Title II of the ADA, state and local governments are required to take steps to ensure that their communications with people with disabilities are as effective as communications with non-disabled persons. What is, 'effective communication' Effective communication means that anything that is either spoken or written must be as clear and understandable to a person with a disability as it is for a non-disabled person.

A number of ways for state and local governments, as well as public entities, to provide equal access to communications for people with disabilities exist. The ways to provide equal access to communications for people with disabilities are referred to as, 'auxiliary aids and services.' The aids and services include:

Government entities are required, under Title II of the ADA, to make appropriate auxiliary aids and services available to people with disabilities to ensure effective communication. The Veterans Administration; for example, always sends Tom a letter to remind him of appointments - something he greatly appreciates.

When a person with a disability requests an auxiliary aid or service, government and public entities have to provide the opportunity for the person to request the aid or service of their choosing. Government and public entities have to give primary consideration to the person's choice, and honor the person's choice. A person with a disability is in the best position to determine what type of aid or service they need.

Telephone Communications Specifically

Public entities that use telephones have to provide means of communications that are equally effective to people with disabilities. The simple use of email, a letter, TTY or Video services can meet the communication needs of many people who experience a hearing impairment or who are deaf. Public employees must be trained to accept and handle relayed calls in their normal course of business.

Unfortunately, many public entities assume that people who experience a hearing impairment or who are deaf have to come into a government office in order to handle a matter in person - even though non-disabled persons are permitted to handle the same matter over the phone. This assumption on the part of government representatives comprises disability discrimination. Many public entities do no less, or simply drop matters entirely.

As a person who experiences a hearing impairment, Tom's perspective is one of, 'If a business can't take the time to send an email or a letter, they must not want my business that badly.' I can't say I blame him. He feels the same way about campaigning politicians, and organizations that assume the only way to communicate is through a telephone. In the meantime, our finicky little answering machine can weed out those who are willing to send an email, a letter, or other form of communication that is accessible, from those who really don't care about People with Disabilities.

ADA Effective Communications Regulations

"The Department of Justice is proposing changes in its ADA regulations adding new definitions changing other definitions and clarifying the obligations of state and local governments (ADA Title II) and public accommodations (ADA Title III) to provide effective communications with people with disabilities."

Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010

"On October 8, 2010, President Obama signed the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) into law. The CVAA updates federal communications law to increase the access of persons with disabilities to modern communications. The CVAA makes sure that accessibility laws enacted in the 1980s and 1990s are brought up to date with 21st century technologies, including new digital, broadband, and mobile innovations."

Communicating with People Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing in Hospital Settings

"Effective communication is particularly critical in health care settings where miscommunication may lead to misdiagnosis and improper or delayed medical treatment."

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