It may seem obvious that you will need a handicap parking space, and an accessible path of travel, office, and bathroom to accommodate clients who use wheelchairs or scooters. But when a prospective deaf client needs a sign language interpreter who arranges this and who pays? Hint: you.
Beyond the removal of architectural barriers, title III of the ADA also requires public accommodations to provide auxiliary aids and services when needed to communicate effectively with people who have communication disabilities. The effective communication standard gives people with disabilities limiting their ability to communicate an equal opportunity to participate in the mainstream of American society, including legal representation.
In a store, effective communication could be as simple as pointing out a product and having the customer signal yes or no. In a restaurant, it could mean that the waiter reads the menu to someone with a visual impairment. But in a law, mediation, or even a medical practice, where effective back and forth communication is key, providing effective communication with someone with a severe hearing loss will likely require more.
The key to communicating effectively is to consider the nature, length, complexity, and context of the communication and the person’s normal method(s) of communication.
Sometimes texting back and forth is all you will need to accomplish simple communications like scheduling an appointment.
The availability of Video Relay Services (VRS) means that in many situations, where the parties don't need to be together, they can still converse without hiring an outside interpreter. VRS is a free service for people who use sign language and have videophones, smart phones, or computers. The client contacts the VRS interpreter, who places the call and serves as an intermediary between the client and a person who uses a standard voice telephone. The interpreter tells the telephone user what the client is signing and signs to the client what the telephone user is saying. It’s very efficient and feels like a normal telephone call.
In other situations - e.g., initial consultations, interviews, depositions, mediations, and trials - hiring an ASL interpreter will be necessary for effective communication. The cost of providing a sign language interpreter may not be charged to the client. Public accommodations (i.e., your business) must provide effective communication unless they can show that to do so would be an “undue burden”, that is, taking into consideration the nature and cost of the aid or service relative to their size, overall financial resources, and overall expenses. Most professionals won’t qualify for this defense.
Turning away a potential client because it would cost money to provide the service is not an option - in most circumstances an attorney, mediator, doctor, or accountant is legally required to pay for the cost of the interpreter (about $60 - $100 an hour) as a cost of doing business.
But don’t sweat it too much - after all there’s not that much demand, and there is a "Disabled Access Credit" for the reasonable and necessary costs of ADA compliance. The credit is an amount equal to 50 percent of the eligible access expenditures for the taxable year that exceed $250, but not more than $10,250. (26 U.S.C. 42)
By David Geffen, Esq. (1/14/16)
Colorado Bar Association > April 2004 Publication > Sign Language Interpreters: Who Pays? http://www.cobar.org/tcl/tcl_articles.cfm?articleid=3130