Relevancy for Deaf, Late deafened, and Hard of Hearing Persons

Please note: This document is not intended to replace qualified legal advice or to serve as basis for any attempted or actual legal action. An attorney experienced with the Title II provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act should always be consulted if you think there is a possibility you may have been discriminated against by any official or institution of state or local government.

The Americans with Disabilities Act only applies to persons who fall under the definition of having a disability. This is defined as a person who:

  • Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities such as walking, seeing and hearing;

  • Has a record of such an impairment;

  • Is regarded as having such an impairment

ADA Title II is a federal law that covers public entities. This definition covers all programs, services, and activities of state and local government such as city and town meetings, court proceedings, state legislatures, police and fire departments, public schools and universities, and all other branches of state and local government services such as the Registry of Motor Vehicles or the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

These public entities must provide equal communication access in order to make themselves, their programs and services accessible to Deaf, late deafened and hard of hearing individuals. For example, a town meeting open to the general public must provide an ASL interpreter, FM system, CART service or other auxiliary aids and services if requested to do so by a person who is Deaf or has a hearing loss and who would not otherwise be able to participate equally in the meeting.

Reasonable accommodations must be paid for by the state or local government entity. The costs cannot be passed on to the individual with a disability.

The town may also not prohibit a Deaf person from bringing their certified Hearing Dog to this meeting or to any other appointment or activity in any public office, program or facility subject to Title II any more than a hard of hearing person could be prohibited from bringing their hearing aid.

A public entity cannot exclude Deaf/late deafened/hard of hearing people from participation in any programs or services and must provide reasonable accommodation to ensure accessibility. Offering specialized programs or services targeted for deaf/late deafened/hard of hearing people does not excuse the public entity from the obligation to make non-specialized programs or services accessible.

Similarly, a Deaf/late deafened/hard of hearing individual cannot be forced to accept accommodations that will not benefit them ( for example, asking a hard of hearing person with no sign language background to accept an ASL interpreter as an effective means of communication access, or providing a Deaf person with an FM system). As long as the request does not become unreasonable, that is, presents a significant undue hardship for the public entity, the accommodation provided should always be the one that has been requested by the Deaf/late deaf/hard of hearing individual.

If a program requires an oral test to gain eligibility, certification or participation in any activity engaged in or regulated by it, appropriate auxiliary aids or services - see above - must be provided to the Deaf/late deafened/hard of hearing individual or the test must be given in an alternate format. This would apply to oral examinations in public schools, or driving tests administered by RMV.

Telephone emergency response systems operated by public entities must provide direct access to people with hearing loss by using TDD's.

Title II complaints can be brought with both state and federal agencies. Please contact a qualified legal counselor or MCDHH for more information on how to file a Title II complaint. More information can also be found at the Department of Justice's ADA Home Page .

This information is provided by the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.