The ADA is a civil rights law that requires communities to provide equal access to programs and services to all of their community members. The implementation of this civil rights requirement varies with each community, depending upon the level of accessibility already in place, the programs and services provided by the community and the overall financial resources available.
Title II of the ADA requires that state and local governments do not discriminate against people with disabilities. State and local governments refers to all activities, services and programs offered by a public entity including employment, town meetings, police and fire departments, motor vehicle licensing and activities of the courts. Services contracted to private businesses are also covered by Title II guidelines.
To provide services that are nondiscriminatory, local governments must evaluate all programs and activities by two main criteria: 1) equal access and 2) integration of settings. Title II essentially defines nondiscrimination as equal access to services and programs in the most integrated settings possible. Therefore, communities need to evaluate all programs and services based upon their accessibility and integration of settings; then identify and remove the barriers that limit access or segregate people with disabilities.
A person with a disability must have equal access to the program and/or activity as other members of the community. For example, a city council meeting should be accessible to someone who uses a wheelchair as well as another individual who may be deaf or hearing impaired.
Programs and services must be offered in an integrated setting. A city holds an information meeting concerning new recreation services in an inaccessible location, the following week the city offers a summary of the meeting at an accessible location for citizens with disabilities. Although the city provided information to its citizens with disabilities, the opportunity to interact with other members of the community and give input was not provided. A single meeting in an accessible location would have provided both equal access and integration with the rest of the community.
Note: Sometimes separate or different measures are necessary to ensure equal access. A city may offer swimming classes and choose to provide a special assisted class so that certain individuals with disabilities can participate. In order to provide equal access to the program (swimming), the city chose to offer a special class to people with disabilities. However, people with disabilities may not be restricted to attending only the special class.
No Additional Costs or Surcharges
Any service that is provided to citizens of the community should not be provided to people with disabilities at a different cost. Example: If a sign language interpreter is provided at the town meeting, a "special fee" may not be charged to the individual who is deaf or hearing impaired who attended the meeting.
Removing Barriers to Accessibility
Once a local entity has evaluated its programs and services, there are a number of steps that can be taken to create equal access in integrated settings.
Eliminate any requirements that do not allow a person with a disability to participate in a service, program or activity simply because he or she has a disability.
Disability alone is not an adequate reason for denying someone access to a program. For example, a rule barring people with epilepsy from public swimming pools would be discriminatory. A rule stating a person had to satisfactorily complete an advanced swimming course before participating in a master swim program would not be discriminatory.
Eliminate unnecessary eligibility standards or rules
Some requirements do not mention disability but still result in the unnecessary exclusion of people with disabilities from programs and activities. Example: Requiring a driver's license as the only means of identification allowed to qualify for a volunteer position at the humane society would eliminate anyone who could not drive due to a disability--but who could otherwise provide a service to the community.
Requirements should be based on necessary safety and health standards or be needed to maintain the fundamental nature of the program being provided.
Modify programs, policies, practice and procedures when necessary.
Sometimes a standard procedure or policy can result in excluding people with disabilities unnecessarily, and often, unintentionally. Usually only a minor exception or alteration is needed to allow someone with a disability to participate fully in local programs and services.
Examples of Non-Discriminatory Policies
Anytown U.S.A. created a teen community service program with an eligibility standard of "must be 13-17 years old to participate". This requirement is non-discriminatory and necessary to maintain the fundamental nature of the program. An eligibility standard of "must be at least 48 inches tall" would have no relationship to the fundamental nature of the program and would be discriminatory.
Anytown had a "no dogs allowed" policy for the City Hall;however, an exception was made to this rule for service animals so people with disabilities that used service animals could conduct business in City Hall of people with disabilities would not be allowed to enter City Hall because of this rule.
Anytown has a policy that employees always stay behind a counter when taking utility payments from customers. However, employees are trained to use "common sense" in identifying situations that call for coming out from the work station and offering assistance, such as helping an individual with limited hand function who cannot pass the payment through the teller window.
Provide appropriate signage and structural communication.
Signage, although necessary for effective communication, is not considered an auxiliary aid. Signage is part of a building's structure and should be provided on a permanent basis. There are three areas to consider when planning signage: visual disabilities, mobility impairments and hearing disabilities. Tactile signs are required for fixed rooms such as restrooms and conference rooms. Signs indicating accessibility should be provided at entrances, restrooms and exits. The structure of the building also includes alarm systems and public address systems that must be provided in an alternative means to alert people with hearing disabilities.
Structural communication features include:
Signs clearly indicating accessible entrances and restrooms.
Flashing emergency signals to alert people with hearing disabilities of a fire.
Tactile signs with raised letters to enable people with visual disabilities to use an elevator panel or identify restrooms, room locations and exits.
Furnish auxiliary aids when necessary to ensure effective communication.
Auxiliary aids must be provided when they are necessary to ensure that people with hearing, vision or speech impairments are as effective as communication to everyone else. Auxiliary aids include, but are not limited to, qualified interpreters, assistive listening devices, Telecommunication Devices for the Deaf (TDD), Braille and large print materials.
The type of auxiliary aid or service a public entity is required to provide depends upon the length and complexity of the communication. Note: There cannot be a surcharge or fee for providing an auxiliary aid.
Effective Communication: A Tale of Two Communities
Citizen A, who is deaf, calls the Parks and Recreation Department using her TDD to get information about the upcoming Youth Field Day for her son.
Anytown: Informs Citizen A that a brochure will be mailed to her immediately that describes the cost, time and general description of the activity. She is given a TDD number to call should she have further questions or wish to register by phone.
Midville: A TDD machine is available but no one has been trained to use it. Citizen A, in frustration at getting no response on the telephone, goes to the Department with her young son. Her son is given the information verbally and told to "tell his mother about the event since he knows sign language".
Citizen B, who is legally blind, receives a notice of property easement. He calls City Hall to request a large print copy of the notice.
Any town: Citizen B is told he will receive a large print copy in 2 or 3 days since the process will simply involve making an enlarged photocopy.
Midville: No one is sure if such a request is possible. Citizen B is finally told to ask his neighbor to read his copy to him.
Note: Any printed document provided by a public entity must be available in a format that is usable by the person requesting it. Brailled documents are not required if effective communication can be provided by other means. Interpreters are also not always required if effective communication can be achieved by other means and the communication is not lengthy and/or complex.
Eliminate physical barriers to programs and services
Renovating or constructing new facilities is often the most "efficient method of providing program accessibility" however; cities and counties may use alternatives to structural changes in order to achieve program accessibility.
Example: The second floor office of a public agency may be entered only by climbing a flight of stairs. Changes are made to allow individuals with mobility impairments to get the same services on the ground floor level or in another accessible building.
Example: A meeting traditionally held in an inaccessible building is moved to a new, accessible location.
Note: When choosing how your community will provide program accessibility, priority should always be given to the method that offers services, programs and activities in the most integrated setting.
New Construction and Alterations
Newly constructed buildings and facilities must be free of physical and communication barriers that restrict accessibility of people with disabilities. These features should be part of the initial planning of any new structure. New construction should adhere to the standards set forth in the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design.
Note: The elevator exemption for small buildings under the ADA Accessibility Guidelines does not apply to public entities covered under Title II. Newly constructed multi-story governmental buildings are required to be equipped with an elevator.
Limitations to Requirements for Program Accessibility
A public entity does not have to take actions that it can demonstrate would result in:
- A fundamental alteration in the nature of its programs or activities.
- An undue financial or administrative burden.
The determination that an accommodation would be an undue burden must be based on all financial and administrative resources available. In other words, a local entity must examine its entire budget, not just the resources already allocated to the program in question.
The determination also must come from the head of the government entity or someone designated to make budgetary decisions. The reason that an accommodation such as a building alteration or a policy modification, etc. cannot be provided must be given in writing.
Note: Local governments with less than fifty employees are not required to appoint an ADA Coordinator. However, because all local governments regardless of the number of employees must follow Title II guidelines, it is recommended that all public entities designate an individual to serve the function of ADA Coordinator.
Examples of Undue Burden and Alteration of the Fundamental Nature of a Program
A resident of Anytown, who is deaf, requested an interpreter when he paid his property taxes at the City Building. There was no interpreter at the site and the clerk offered to assist him through notes. The resident contacted the ADA Coordinator with a complaint. The ADA Coordinator determines:
Finding an interpreter without advance notice is an administrative burden and unfeasible since interpreters in the area only schedule appointments in advance.
For a simple transaction such as paying taxes, effective communication can be provided by passing notes back and forth.
Alteration of the Fundamental Nature of a Program
Example: A woman who uses a wheelchair has requested that Anytown alter the incline on one of the trails that is part of the City's Park and Recreation Program. The trail is designed for use by mountain bikes.
The Director of the Parks and Recreation Program and ADA Coordinator conclude:
Paving the trail would alter the fundamental nature of the program, which is to provide a rugged inclined terrain for mountain biking.
Note: If a wheelchair user takes part in this type of recreation through the use of an adapted bike or wheelchair, then he or she should be allowed to use the trail.