The importance of the Americans with Disabilities Act for sign language interpreters

William Woods ASL

American Sign Language interpreters and others who work with Deaf and hard of hearing people need to know the legal protections and rights of the people with whom they are working. That way they know when there is a violation of not only the law, but also an individuals’ understanding of important information.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) contains five titles regarding accessibility and the rights of Deaf and hard of hearing people. In brief:

  • Title I prohibits employers (with 15 or more employees), employment agencies, labor unions and joint labor-management committees from discriminating against persons with disabilities.
  • Title II requires state and local governments to make their programs, services, and activities accessible to individuals with disabilities, including individuals who are Deaf or hard of hearing.
  • Title III requires businesses open to the public to ensure that individuals with a disability have equal access to all that the businesses have to offer. This includes a range of places of public accommodation, such as retail stores and the wide range of service businesses such as hotels, theaters, restaurants, doctors’ and lawyers’ offices, banks, museums, parks, libraries, and more.
  • Title IV mandates a nationwide system of telecommunications relay services to make the telephone network accessible to people who are Deaf or hard of hearing or who have speech impairments.
  • Title V includes various other provisions, such as the protection of people who have asserted their rights under the ADA.
  • For more information visit the Americans with Disabilities Act section of the National Association of the Deaf website.

ASL interpreting students at William Woods University study these titles and how becoming a certified interpreter can help both government and private organizations achieve proper accommodations, as well as help Deaf and hard of hearing people communicate effectively.

The Law and Advocacy Center at the National Association of the Deaf is a resource for general legal information about Deaf-related issues, as well as an advocacy group for various rights of Deaf people. The Center also provides legal representation “in disability discrimination civil rights cases that are carefully selected to establish powerful legal principles of equality and equal access (also known as impact cases).”

One example of their ongoing work is their meeting with the Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy and others in the Obama administration to address concerns of the Deaf and hard of hearing community.

Many do not know they are required by law to provide reasonable accommodations to ensure effective communication, and some Deaf people do not know they have the right, if this is violated, to do something about it.

In an article for The Huffington Post, Deaf discrimination attorney Andrew Rozynski sums it up saying, “these discrimination laws were created so Deaf people could equally participate in society. It is our obligation, as a whole society, to ensure Deaf people have equal participation and that they can access the same kind of information that hearing people do in any type of setting.”

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