Written by Joseph J. Lynett.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), as part of its Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative, announced it has reached multiple settlements with health care providers concerning access to services for persons who are deaf. These include a hospital, rehabilitation centers, an ear, nose and throat practice, and a sports medicine center. The settlements, reached in past few months, refer to the auxiliary aids or services that the DOJ considers necessary to comply with Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ( prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability by public accommodations and in commercial facilities).
The individuals who complained to the DOJ are deaf and use American Sign Language (“ASL”) as their primary method of communication. They filed complaints after health care providers denied their requests for ASL interpreters during treatment, at the providers’ expense.
The settlement agreements require each provider to:
- provide “appropriate auxiliary aids and services, including qualified interpreters, where necessary to ensure effective communication” unless an undue burden or a fundamental alteration would result;
- make documented determinations of what auxiliary aids or services are appropriate in consultation with any person with a disability using established factors and a defined timeline;
- perform a communications assessment, using a form attached to the settlement, as soon as practical and document the results in the patient’s chart;
- post and maintain signs in the waiting area stating that the facility will provide qualified interpreters free of charge for patients, family members, and companions;
- maintain a list of qualified interpreters or interpreter agencies or arrange for the services of qualified interpreters, and submit that list to the DOJ;
- log each request for an auxiliary aid or service, including the time, date, requesting individual, the specific service requested, and the type of auxiliary aid or service provided;
- hire an advocacy group to provide mandatory training approved by the DOJ on an annual basis to all staff and affiliated individuals on the medical facilities’ obligations under Title III, including training in the degrees of hearing impairment and the use of auxiliary aids and services;
- submit written compliance reports to the DOJ; and
- provide the DOJ with oversight to assess compliance with the settlement agreement for 3-years.
The settlement agreements also contain monetary terms requiring that each provider pay the complaining parties damages ranging from $0 – $15,000, and the DOJ civil penalties ranging from $0 – $1,000.
The settlement agreements and press releases can be accessed through the following link: http://www.ada.gov/usao-agreements.htm.