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Effective Communication

Disability Rights Arizona (DRAZ) works to ensure that people with disabilities have communication access at work, in school, when participating in public services or accommodations, and in communications with their housing provider. There are laws that require these entities to provide auxiliary aids or services to people who are Deaf, hard of hearing, blind, low vision or deaf/blind, but many still fail to do so. 

Three adults communicate with American sign language at a parent teacher meeting for school

Disability Rights Arizona (DRAZ) works to ensure that people with disabilities have communication access at work, in school, when participating in public services or accommodations, and in communications with their housing provider. There are laws that require these entities to provide auxiliary aids or services to people who are Deaf, hard of hearing, blind, low vision or deaf/blind, but many still fail to do so. 

Effective Communication Overview

People who have vision, hearing, or speech disabilities (“communication disabilities”) use different ways to communicate and have the right to communication that is as effective as communication with people without communication disabilities. This is called effective communication. There are federal and state laws that require employers, schools, state and local government, businesses open to the public, non-profit agencies serving the public and housing providers to provide effective communication, with some limitations. The goal of effective communication is for people with communication disabilities to be able to receive information from, and convey information to, covered entities.

Covered entities must provide auxiliary aids and services when needed to communicate effectively with people who have communication disabilities. Some examples of auxiliary aids and services include: 

  • Qualified readers;
  • Written information in large print, Braille, audio recording, or sent electronically for use with a computer screen-reading program; 
  • Qualified interpreters;
  • Oral interpreters, cued-speech interpreters, or tactile interpreters;
  • Captioning and Real time captioning;
  • Qualified speech-to-speech transliterators; 
  • Taking more time to communicate with someone who uses a communication board or other augmentative communication device. 

Sometimes, the person communicating with the covered entity is not the person receiving services, but a parent, spouse, friend or other person. When that happens, covered entities must provide auxiliary aids and services to the companion. For example, school staff when talking to a parent who is Deaf and uses American Sign Language (ASL) will need to use an interpreter. 

For years, covered entities have told people who use sign language interpreters to bring their own interpreter or rely upon a companion to sign for them. Federal and state law require covered entities to provide the sign language interpreter for effective communication and not to rely on the individual to bring their own interpreter, except in limited situations, such as an emergency or imminent threat.

DRAZ’s Effective Communication Work

DRAZ’s Civil Rights, Education, and Healthcare Teams advocates for people with communication disabilities to obtain effective communication in a variety of ways, such as providing legal information and advice, direct client services, outreach, and training in the community on rights related to equal communication access. Here are some examples of when DRAZ may provide direct services to people with disabilities on effective communication issues:

  • A healthcare office does not provide an ASL interpreter to a Deaf patient whose first and primary language is ASL for a visit to discuss whether to have knee surgery or other non-surgical treatments.
  • A homeowners association refuses to provide real-time captioning at annual and special HOA board meetings for residents who are hard of hearing.
  •  A restaurant does not have large print menus and the staff refuse to take the time to discuss the dinner menu items with a customer who has low vision.  
  • A daycare center refuses to accept a 4 year old because they do not want to provide a sign language interpreter to his parents during enrollment.
  • A stadium does not have open captioning of the game announcements and commentary.
  • A court does not allow a witness to testify because he uses a communication device due to a speech disability.
  • City Council meetings do not provide a sign language interpreter upon request in advance of the meeting. 
  • A social service agency that provides parenting classes charges a blind parent for the cost of printing Braille versions of the training materials.  
  • An employer refuses to provide real-time captioning during training and staff meetings for an employee who is hard of hearing,
  • A physical therapy office requires a parent to attend the PT sessions and provide instructions in sign language to their Deaf child.

DRAZ’s Systemic Work

Over the years, DRAZ has been involved in systemic efforts to improve effective communication for people who have communication disabilities. 

In 2010, DRAZ and the Arizona Attorney General’s Office successfully appealed a decision by the U.S. District Court that captioning and audio description are not required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. In a groundbreaking decision, the Ninth Circuit became the first circuit court of appeals to rule that closed captioning and descriptive narration may be a required auxiliary aid and service, absent a showing by the movie theater of undue burden or a fundamental alteration of its services. 

In 2016, DRAZ and Stein and Vargas, a Washington, D.C. based law firm, filed a lawsuit on behalf of the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) and several Maricopa County residents against the State and various public agencies in Maricopa County. The lawsuit alleged that the ADA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Arizonans with Disabilities Act require public entities to offer Text-to-9-1-1 services for citizens who are deaf or hard of hearing or have a speech disability so that they may effectively communicate with 9-1-1 operators. It was the first lawsuit in the United States alleging that a failure to deploy technology to permit text-to-9-1-1 violated the ADA. 

The lawsuit alleged that hearing individuals can reliably use their cellular phones to access emergency services to summon emergency medical help, or to report any number of emergency situations, such as fire, home invasion, assault, domestic violence, or even an Amber Alert tip, without wasting precious seconds looking for a public telephone or landline. Today, people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have a speech disability use texting, videophones, social media, smartphone apps, and other technologies for their telecommunications needs. Text messaging allows a degree of quality and speed in telecommunication access for those individuals that was previously unimaginable and has drastically increased the interactivity of communication.

Technological advances like text messaging now offer people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have a speech disability the ability to gain meaningful access to emergency telecommunications services (911). After the District Court of Arizona denied the government agencies’ joint motions to dismiss the lawsuit and ruled that the lawsuit could proceed, the parties entered into extensive settlement negotiations that led to resolution of the lawsuit and statewide implementation of Text-to-9-1-1 in Arizona.   

In 2019, The Footprint Center, in conjunction with DRAZ and Civil Rights Education & Enforcement Center (CREEC), worked collaboratively to ensure the provision of open captioning for all home Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury games at the newly named Footprint Center. With the $245 million arena transformation, the Suns and Mercury began the transition from handheld devices to provide captioning at Suns’ games to offering open captioning for fans at all Suns and Mercury home games throughout Footprint Center. To ensure that such efforts would appropriately and effectively satisfy the needs of the community, Suns and Mercury forged an alliance with DRAZ and CREEC.

Following the guidance of CREEC and DRAZ, along with the input provided by the parties’ liaison to the community, all spoken words over the public address system will be captioned for Suns and Mercury home games from the time the arena opens to the public until the time it stops broadcasting to the public, as well as all pre-programmed song lyrics.

Accessibility Rights at a Glance

People with disabilities have the right to:

  • Auxiliary aids and services that are necessary for effective communication for people with communication disabilities whether they are the person receiving services or a companion. 
  • Primary consideration of their opinion about what type of auxiliary aid or service they need when receiving government services.
  • Consideration of their opinion by businesses open to the public about what type of auxiliary aid or service.
  • Reasonable accommodations at work for effective communication during hiring, in performance of job duties, and to have an equal opportunity to enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment.
  • Reasonable accommodation of effective communication by a housing provider, such as a HOA or a management company. 
  • Open captioning and secondary audio programming in sports and other entertainment venues.
  • Closed captioning and audio descriptions in movie theaters for movies that have been captioned or described by the studios.
  • Compliance with ADAAG standards about assistive listening devices and systems. 

See our Get Help page if you need legal assistance because of lack of communication access in public accommodations, government services, at work, at school or by your housing provider.  



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We are committed in providing accurate disability-related legal information and advice to more individuals who need our services and assistance. In addition to limited legal representation, our goal is to provide efficient, streamlined services to educate people with disabilities and their family members on how to enforce their legal rights through self advocacy.