ADA Title II Liability For Not Providing Sign Language Interpreters

Written exclusively for My Community Workplace for Government

A Florida couple, both of whom are deaf, sued their county's district court and the court's clerk for failing to accommodate their hearing disability.

Last year, the couple went to the circuit court's office to obtain a marriage license, but the clerk informed them that they would need to bring in a sign language interpreter in order to complete the process. The couple were surprised at the request. They thought the court would provide an interpreter for them, as has been done in other areas of the courthouse.

And, the couple's families are primarily Spanish speakers, and they do not have sign language interpreters at hand, particularly those that are familiar with the legal terms required for the licensing process.

After nearly a year of trying to resolve the issue without success, the couple decided to file a lawsuit, hoping to finally obtain their license. Their attorney says the couple will dismiss the lawsuit when the situation is rectified. However, they will seek damages if it is not. Aleesia Hatcher "Lawsuit filed against Duval County Circuit court, clerk after deaf couple say they were unlawfully denied marriage license" (Oct. 04, 2022).

Commentary and Checklist

Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires state and local government to make sure all individuals with disabilities have an equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from its programs, services, and activities. Effective communication, particularly for those who experience hearing and vision impairment, is specifically noted in Title II as key to accessibility.

Title II regulations state that “a public entity shall not require an individual with a disability to bring another individual to interpret for him or her.” In addition, “a public entity shall not rely on an adult accompanying an individual with a disability to interpret or facilitate communication,” unless it is an emergency or the individual with a disability specifically requests it. (Title II Regulations 28 § 35.160)

Simply put, public entities cannot deny programs or services to individuals with disabilities because of communication difficulties.

If your agency does not have the resources to provide sign language interpreters, there are several technologies today that fulfill this requirement. However, understand that under Title II, public entities must give primary consideration to the requests and desires of the individual with disabilities when determining what method and type of auxiliary aids and services are to be provided.

For individuals with complete or partial hearing loss, the following auxiliary aids and services can help with communication needs:

  • Video remote interpreting services
  • Real-time computer-aided transcription services
  • Written materials
  • Exchange of written notes
  • Typing on a tablet or computer
  • Assistive listening devices
  • Open and closed captioning, including real-time captioning
  • Videophones, and
  • Videotext displays.
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