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Accommodations for the Deaf:


Jon Hopkins
Director, General Services Administration
Amador County, California

October 28, 2007



     All my life I have worked for governments; for the last 24 years I have been employed with a small local California county.  My position as an Administrator allows me the opportunity to be involved in many things.  One in particular is the oversight of complying with Americans with Disabilities Act.  This Act provides protection against discrimination to those individuals with disabilities.  Although I could write a whole paper on what the term "disability" means, for this paper I will focus on regulations and use terms most widely recognized for simplicity of communication and not debate the political or cultural verbiage.  My direct focus is on the accommodations public entities are required to provide people who are deaf.  My knowledge on this issue is virtually zero considering our community is small and there has never been a request to accommodate a person who is deaf to the best of my knowledge.  However, individuals with disabilities affecting hearing, seeing, speaking, reading, writing, or understanding differ from those with physical barrier challenges because the barrier is focused around communication.  Communication is critical in our world in order to improve our development, and especially, to prevent conflict.  Many people whom are deaf may use a variety of different methods to communicate than those who hear, therefore, the subject is worth exploring so I may serve the community better and bridge any communication challenges we may experience in the future.   

 I.         Regulations

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was historical in that it required state and local governments to ensure equal access to any programs, services, or activities receiving Federal financial assistance to persons with disabilities (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2007).  The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 took this concept further, not only apply the law to entities receiving Federal financial assistance, but to all state and local governments, including those that receive no Federal financial assistance.  ADA also applies to private businesses.  ADA has five separate Federal titles; Title II is the section that applies to public entities.  Title II regulations for state and local governments are found specifically in Title 28, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 35  (Federal Government, 7/26/91).


II.         Accommodations for the Deaf


            Buried in the volumes of regulations are definitions that lead you to parts of the law that affect the deaf, however, searching for an outline of those accommodations is mixed throughout the law and subject to interpretation making definite rules impossible.  However there are definitions, for example, "a qualified interpreter means an interpreter who is able to interpret effectively, accurately, and impartially both receptively and expressively, using any necessary specialized vocabulary" (Federal Government, 7/26/91).    In addition, a public entity must ensure that its communications with individuals with disabilities are as effective as communications with others.  A public entity is required to make available appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to ensure effective communication.  However, does every local government have to provide or arrange for a sign language interpreter every time staff members deal with people who are deaf?  Sign language interpreters are not required for all dealings with people who are deaf or hard of hearing. A public entity is required to make available appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to ensure effective communication (Federal Government, 7/26/91).


Examples of auxiliary aids and services that benefit individuals with hearing impairments include qualified interpreters, note takers, computer-aided transcription services, written materials, telephone handset amplifiers, assistive listening systems, telephones compatible with hearing aids, closed caption decoders, open and closed captioning, telecommunications devices for deaf persons (TDD's), videotext displays, and exchange of written notes Cornell University Law School, (10/19/07).  The type of auxiliary aid or service necessary to ensure effective communication will vary in accordance with the length and complexity of the communication involved. 


For example, employees can often communicate with individuals who are deaf through written materials and exchange of written notes. In many simple transactions, such as paying bills or filing applications, communications provided through such simple methods will be as effective as the communications provided to other individuals in similar transactions.   Many transactions, however, involve more complex or extensive communications than can be provided through such simple methods and may require the use of qualified interpreters, assistive listening systems, videotext displays, or other aids or services.  One notable service deserving special recognition is interpreters.  Signing is exhaustive in public meeting environments and many times interpreters are arranged in teams to switch off due to the physical and mental demands of signing.  Interpreters also provide conference call bridge services and video remote interpreting (VRI), (Andrew Metz, personal contact, 2007).


Although a public entity's deaf programs, services, and activities are required by law to be readily accessible to and usable by individuals; it is equally important that practices and policies are applied to ensure communications with the deaf are both receptively and expressively just as effective as communications with others.



1.                  Federal Government, (7/26/91). Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in State and Local Government Services. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE 28 CFR PART 35, Retrieved 10/20/07, from

2.                  Federal Government, (1/13/98). Final Rule. ADA Accessibility Guidelines for State & Local Government Facilities, Retrieved 10/22/07, from

3.                  Cornell University Law School, (10/19/07). Code of Federal Regulations. Legal Information Institute, Retrieved 10/19/07, from

4.                  U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, (2/17/2007). SECTION 504 FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS. People with Disabilities, Retrieved 10/23/07, from

5.                  Sign Language Interpreting Services, Personnel Contact, Andrew Metz, desk advocate and marketing, email - 1-877-467-4877 ext. 10022. 


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