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Justice announces AwDA communication settlements

Washington—The Justice Department announced seven Americans with Disabilities Act settlements with eight health care providers "to ensure that they are providing effective communication to people who are deaf or have hearing disabilities."

The Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights also reached a settlement agreement with one of the nation's largest providers of senior care to provide sign language interpreters and other means of effective communication to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.

"All types of health care providers – from hospitals to nursing homes, from surgeons to general practitioners – need to provide equal access to people with disabilities, including people who are deaf," said Eve L. Hill, senior counselor to the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. "More than 20 years after passage of the [AwDA], the time for compliance is now."

Under each settlement agreement, the health care provider agreed to change policies to provide effective communication, including sign language interpreters, free of charge, and to train all staff on their new policies and procedures and the effective communication requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Justice Department said in an April 4 news release.

None of the April 2012-March 2013 settlements involve dental practices. The multiple settlements were reached under the Justice Department's AwDA Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative, a partnership of the department's Civil Rights Division and more than 40 U.S. Attorney's offices across the country. (See also March 18 ADA News)

The AwDA Title III requires that places of public accommodation, including health care facilities, ensure that their communications with people with hearing disabilities are as effective as their communications with people without disabilities. To meet this obligation, health care providers and other public accommodations must provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to ensure effective communication, unless doing so would cause an undue burden to the facility or fundamentally alter the service being provided.

The type of auxiliary aid or service necessary to ensure effective communication will vary in accordance with the length and complexity of the communication involved.