Imagine Zach sitting in a college classroom unable to hear what the professor is saying.
Or Marci carefully selecting a spot in the front row at a conference, trying to follow along to the slides because the conference’s organizers only hired an American Sign Language interpreter and she doesn’t know sign language.
Providing appropriate accommodations for people with hearing loss is required under the law for government agencies, public institutions, businesses, and nonprofits that serve the public. Most often American Sign Language interpreters are hired for meetings and events, but that doesn’t always enhance accessibility or fulfill their duty under the American with Disabilities Act.
“The world of accessibility is not forefront in a lot of people’s minds,” says Caption Pros owner Jennifer Schuck. “We live in a world that is so diverse, and you hope it is also inclusive, but we still have a long way to go.”
Many people, especially older adults who experience hearing loss later in life, never learned sign language. Today’s tech-savvy teens are tuned into digital devices wearing headphones which may impact their hearing. CART captioning and other technology allow individuals to watch videos or follow lectures in real-time without drawing attention to their hearing loss. Captions complement spoken words, making them easier to understand, for people with hearing loss. Like vision, hearing is influenced by our expectations, experiences, other senses, and stimuli.
Schuck is a vocal proponent for accessibility, including going above and beyond what is required under the law. Schuck recognizes it can involve additional costs, technology, and personnel. That’s where Schuck and her team come in.
“We’re the subject matter experts on captioning,” she says. “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel and try to figure it out. All you have to do is call, and we work with you to find the best way to make something accessible. People think it is going to require all this extra effort, but all they need to do is contact us.”
Understanding the ADA and the law
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that title II entities, including state and local governments, and title III entities, encompassing businesses and nonprofit organizations that serve the public, communicate effectively with people who have communication disabilities. The law includes vision, hearing, or speech disabilities.
Under the law:
- The person seeking accommodation must be able to communicate with, receive information from, and convey information to the covered entity.
- Covered entities must provide auxiliary aids and services when requested or needed to communicate effectively with people who have communication disabilities.
- The rules apply to communicating with the recipient of goods or services or that person’s parent, spouse, or companion in appropriate circumstances.
- A person’s preferred method(s) of communication should be requested, recognized, and met within reason.
- Aids and services include a wide variety of technologies including, but not limited to: assistive listening systems and devices, captioning, hearing-aid compatible telephones or text telephones, video-based telecommunications devices and displays, and more
The law states:
“For people who are deaf, have hearing loss, or are deaf-blind, this includes providing a qualified notetaker; a qualified sign language interpreter, oral interpreter, cued-speech interpreter, or tactile interpreter; real-time captioning; written materials; or a printed script of a stock speech (such as given on a museum or historic house tour).
A “qualified” interpreter means someone who is able to interpret effectively, accurately, and impartially, both receptively (i.e., understanding what the person with the disability is saying) and expressively (i.e., having the skill needed to convey information back to that person) using any necessary specialized vocabulary.”
Captioning is considered one type of auxiliary aid and appropriate for:
- Students in public schools and colleges
- Public meetings, speeches, and ceremonies
- News conferences
- Conference attendees
- Museums and public tours
How to seek captioning services and who pays
For students attending a public school or college, the best place to inquire about getting the appropriate accommodations is the disability resources office. A public school district is required to provide specified accommodations for students with an individualized education plan (IEP).
“In a K-12 setting, it’s a little bit different because there are different federal laws,” Schuck says. “There is a team within the school district, including the student, parents, teachers, support staff. That team comes together to develop a plan that will best support the student.”
At the college level, it falls on the student to request services. Any institution that receives federal funding is required to provide accommodations to the student. But various factors, including budgetary, staffing, and timing, play a role in fulfilling the request – say, for captioning.
In a corporate setting, employees should go to human resources to request specific aids, technology, adaptive devices, and services such as captioning. For corporate events and conferences, attendees should notify the conference organizer of their preferred accommodation well in advance.
Captions or American Sign Language?
“In the world of inclusivity, it’s fabulous when they have both captioning and American Sign Language, but they typically don’t unless there has been a request,” Schuck says.
Venues that are open to the public also are required to provide ADA accommodations, Schuck notes. But where it gets tricky is they’re not necessarily required to provide a particular accommodation, especially if it is not requested ahead of time.
“They are required to make it accessible,” she says. “People in need of services do need to request accommodations in advance. The more time, the better, because whoever you are approaching, often they don’t know how to fulfill the request.”
Many senior citizens progressively lose their hearing as they get older, while others may have served in the military or sustained an accident or injury. Those groups don’t know American Sign Language and aren’t likely to learn it. “That is a large population of people,” Schuck says. “But there is this inherent connection, as soon as someone says hearing loss, that equals American Sign Language. For those individuals, captioning is the right accommodation.”
If captioning services are requested, it falls to businesses, conference organizers, school districts, and public agencies to pay for it. There are many benefits for businesses and public institutions to do their best to accommodate constituents, consumers, and employees.
“From a business perspective, when you give your employees all of the resources and tools they need to be the most productive, for them to be able to operate at their highest level and be part of the team or the company or part of the class, that is when they will achieve the most success,” Schuck says.
Visit Caption Pros to learn more about our award-winning captioners and services. We can make your next event accessible to all participants by adding real-time captioning.