“Deaf”initions of Reasonable Accommodations and Effective Communication
by Teresa Porter
The marketing department is working overtime to paint Waco as a wonderful place to visit and spend money, but “word-of-hand” carries more weight than a slick advertising campaign. Every day, the Deaf citizens of Waco are openly excluded from equal access to the fun activities. If Waco is truly the “heart” of Texas, where is the love?
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires government entities (local, state, and federal), businesses, and non-profit organizations to provide reasonable accommodations for equally effective communication to persons with communication disabilities.
Communication disabilities are defined as visual, hearing, or speech; covering the broad spectrum from people who wear glasses to people who can’t speak, hear, or see. Each person has different abilities and will require different accommodations. The person will tell you what they need, and it is the legal responsibility of the business to furnish the necessary aides or services.
“Reasonable accommodations” seems to be the biggest problem. I recently visited the websites of several of the popular attractions of Waco and searched for information about requesting interpreters or auxiliary aides. Nothing. I contacted a few, and days later the replies slowly trickled in.
Some places said “no” and did not respond to further communication, others did not reply at all. One reply was “six weeks advance notice.” According the ADA, “no” is the wrong answer; and “Covered entities may require reasonable advance notice from people requesting aids or services, based on the length of time needed to acquire the aid or service, but may not impose excessive advance notice requirements.” “Walk-in” requests for aids and services must also be honored to the extent possible.” Six weeks seems incredibly excessive, like obvious discrimination, especially if the event wasn’t heavily advertised more than six weeks in advance. (There is an interpreter shortage in Waco, but normally 24-48 hours in advance is plenty of time.) Reasonable accommodations are negotiable, and many factors should be considered including the complexity of the material to be presented and the linguistic abilities of the participant. Depending on the circumstances, written notes, captioning devices or qualified interpreters may be necessary to provide equally effective communication.
What is equally effective communication? It is the clear, effective, meaningful, and inclusive conveyance of words and ideas. It means Deaf and hearing people receive the same information and opportunities to participate in the conversation. It means captioning devices that work or video relay that isn’t laggy or blurry, and staff that is trained to set up or troubleshoot the devices when they don’t work. Sometimes, it means enlisting the services of a qualified interpreter familiar with specialized vocabulary.
Effective communication begins with staff training and ends with happy customers. Happy customers post positive reviews on social media, and more importantly, they tell their out-of-town friends.
Teresa Porter is a native Texan, automotive enthusiast, and novice gardener. In her spare time, she is a freelance writer, researcher, and community activist.
The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.