Discrimination against the Deaf
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Are Deaf People Protected against Discrimination?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that prevents discrimination against deaf people in employment, housing, at places of public accommodation (such as movie theaters), public services (such as transportation) and telecommunications.
Therefore, deaf people are entitled by federal and state law to certain services and protections against discrimination. A lawsuit may be brought if the services are not provided or a deaf person is discriminated against.
Employment Protections for Deaf People
Almost every state (and the federal government) has laws which prohibit employment discrimination based on disability, as long as the disability does not impair the employee’s ability to do the job. As long as a deaf person can perform the functions of the job for which they were hired, the employer cannot take his or her disability into account when making employment decisions, such as:
- Hiring and firing
- Fringe and retirement benefits
- Investigations into hostile work environment and harassment
In order to qualify for protection though, the deaf person must apply for or hold an existing position and meet the minimum qualifications for the job.
Finally, the ADA requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for an employee’s disability. For a deaf person, this might include installing a speech-to-text service for phone calls, keeping written records of meetings, and hiring a sign language translator, if doing so would not place too large of a burden on the company.
The accommodation is reasonable if the costs do not outweigh the benefits to the company. In some states, the accommodation can be an undue hardship in relation to the benefits to the accommodated worker.
Housing Protections for Deaf People
The ADA and the Fair Housing Act prohibit housing discrimination against deaf people who are seeking to rent or purchase a home. As long as the deaf person can pay rent, follow the terms of the lease, and in general be a good tenant, it is illegal to deny housing or engage in any acts which would dissuade them from purchasing or renting housing.
The exception to the reasonable accommodation rule, in the context of housing, is if such accommodations would create an undue hardship on the landlord or seller. The accommodations are considered an undue hardship in relation to the landlord or seller’s financial situation.
What Services and Accommodations Are Deaf People Entitled to by Law?
Any business that offers goods or services to the public cannot discriminate against people who are deaf and must apply accommodations. This includes stores, theaters, restaurants, amusement parks, public transportation, housing, hotels, motels and government. However, it is important to note that many private clubs and religious businesses do not need to abide by these regulations. The following accommodations are required in most states:
- Assistive Listening Systems (ALS) – computer-aided transcription must be provided in any assembly area with a public address system and court hearings if a deaf person is a participant. Similarly, hotels must provide a caption-decoding device for the television.
- Hearing Aids – states are often required to provide a hearing aid if one is necessary for a person who is deaf to communicate in the workplace.
- Insurance – a person who is deaf cannot be denied insurance on that basis.
- Interpreters – must be provided in police interrogations, administrative hearings and court hearings, if the deaf person is a participant. Must also be provided by businesses, hospitals and universities if the deaf person is a customer, patient or student.
- Signal Dogs – can bring a signal dog to any commercial flight, business public transportation vehicle or rented housing and cannot require an extra charge, even if there is a no-pet policy.
- Teletypewriter (TTY) & Amplifiers – assists with telecommunications and must be provided to a person who is deaf, free of charge, by the local phone company. Must also be provided at major airports and railroad, bus and transit stations.
What Types of Discrimination Claims Can Be Brought?
The law protects persons who suffered discrimination from the government or a business, or whose employers or landlords did not provide reasonable accommodations. The person who is deaf can bring up to two types of disability discrimination cases:
- Disparate treatment (intentional discrimination)
- disparate impact (unintentional discrimination)
Do I Need a Lawyer?
If you think you have been discriminated against because you are deaf, you should contact a lawyer as soon as possible. Your attorney will help you understand the complexity of law and determine where the boundaries of discrimination law are in your state.
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Last Modified: 10-14-2014 12:42 PM PDT
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