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ADA Effective Communication: What Employers Need to Know

As an employer, you may think you already know your obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (, which requires you to offer reasonable accommodations to employees with a qualifying disability. But there’s another component of the ADA that may also apply in your workplace: ADA effective communication requirements.

These rules require you to provide auxiliary aids and services, or other communication solutions, to employees and other individuals who interact with your business.

Here’s what employers need to know about ADA effective communication rules, when they apply, and who’s responsible for implementing them.

What Is ADA Effective Communication?

The ADA effective communication requirement refers to the obligation businesses have to ensure they communicate effectively with people who have disabilities. According to the most recent fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, the ADA effective communication requirements apply to:

  • Title II entities: State and local government agencies
  • Title III entities: Nonprofits and businesses that serve the public

These “covered entities” are required to provide alternative or assistive communication methods to individuals with communication disabilities. These solutions might take the form of interpersonal support or technical assistance, such as:

  • Braille or large print materials
  • Screen readers or magnification software
  • Closed captioning or assistive listening devices
  • A qualified reader or sign language interpreter

The effective communication requirements don’t apply just to employees; in fact, your business may also have an obligation to provide ADA effective communication options to clients or customers. However, for the purposes of this article, we’ll be focusing on your obligations as an employer to employees with communication disabilities.

ADA Requirements: Effective Communication Guidelines

Just like the ADA interactive process, in which you collaborate with an employee to find a suitable workplace accommodation, the ADA effective communication requirement is a two-way street. As an employer, you’re expected to consult with the individual to find an effective solution, and to give “primary consideration” to their choice.

The exception is if it would present an “undue burden” or “fundamental alteration” to your business, in which case you can propose an alternative format instead.

It’s also important to take the nature of the situation into account. For a brief meeting, providing a written recap to an employee with a hearing disability may be sufficient to communicate the message. For a longer or more complex meeting, they may require interpreting services or a listening system so they can actively participate.

Types of Auxiliary Aids and Services

ADA effective communication: man with Down syndrome talking to his co-worker

There are several different types of auxiliary aids and services, some of which will be a better fit for your situation than others. Here are just a few examples:

  • Real-time captioning: This service, which is suitable for both on-site and remote meetings, delivers a real-time transcript with the aid of computer software.
  • Telecommunications relay service (TRS): This service allows individuals with hearing disabilities to make telephone calls using a text telephone (TTY). They can reach a remote communications assistant by dialing 711.
  • Video relay service (VRS): Individuals who use sign language can place a call via an intermediary sign language interpreter using a videophone.
  • Video remote interpreting (VRI): This service is similar to VRS, but is used to facilitate in-person communication in the absence of a qualified interpreter.

It’s the employer’s obligation to pay for the cost of auxiliary aids and services, many of which operate on a subscription model.

The size of your organization will play a role in what’s considered a reasonable expense or an undue burden. For example, a larger company may have a qualified interpreter on staff or invest in an information technology (IT) solution for multiple employees.

Other potential auxiliary aids include:

  • Note takers
  • Videotext displays
  • Closed caption decoders
  • Transcription services
  • Audio recordings
  • Telephone handset amplifiers

If choosing a note taker or interpreter, it’s important that they’re able to communicate any “necessary specialized vocabulary,” including terms specific to your business or industry that a less qualified interpreter may not be familiar with.

ADA Effective Communication Best Practices

Even the most well-intentioned employers can struggle to understand and meet their ADA effective communication obligations. Follow these best practices to ensure you treat each qualifying individual fairly and with their best interests in mind.

Don’t assume communication preferences

Just because a person has a specific disability doesn’t mean that they have the same communication needs as everyone else with that disability. For example, not everyone who is deaf or hard of hearing uses sign language. Some people who are deaf or hard of hearing may prefer written notes rather than a qualified sign language interpreter.

Don’t rely on family members

Although it can be convenient to ask an employee’s family member or companion to serve as their interpreter, this is only allowed in limited circumstances, such as in an emergency or when an alternative isn’t available. The reason for this is because an individual’s close friend or family member may be unable to deliver information as accurately or impartially as a qualified interpreter.

Consider company-wide training

Understanding ADA effective communication requirements isn’t just a matter for your HR department. Managers, coworkers, and other staff members all need to know how best to communicate with colleagues who have communication disabilities. Consider training all of your staff members on ADA requirements and best practices.

ADA Effective Communication Examples

What situations call for alternative methods of communication, and what does effective communication look like in the real world? Not all scenarios require complex solutions. Here are a few examples of ADA effective communication in practice.

Low Vision Employee

An employee with low vision is having trouble reading the notes on a whiteboard. For now, a colleague offers to read the notes aloud to them so they can write them down, but this isn’t an effective long-term solution.

Next time, the meeting facilitator will provide them with a copy of the notes in advance via email so the employee can view them in large print on their phone or laptop.

Deaf Employee

A manager needs to contact an employee who is deaf while she’s on a personal leave of absence. At first, he considers asking her daughter to interpret, but remembers that family members should only be asked to interpret as a last resort.

Instead, he uses a video relay service (VRS) that his company subscribes to so he can communicate with the employee on a call using sign language.

Hard of Hearing Employee

An employee who is hard of hearing asks for a mobile handset that’s compatible with their hearing aid so they can make phone calls. Their manager believes this will be a hassle, and suggests that they use text messaging instead.

The HR department reminds the manager that they need to give primary consideration to the employee’s preference unless it poses an undue burden to the company.

Meet Your ADA Obligations With Pulpstream

Employee doing the sign language

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), individuals with a qualifying disability or impairment are entitled to effective methods of communication when interacting with covered entities. As an employer, it’s your responsibility to provide auxiliary aids and services, or other accommodations, to employees with communication disabilities.

Pulpstream is your all-in-one-platform for managing ADA accommodations and meeting effective communication requirements. Our cloud-based, no-code platform allows you to track ADA accommodations, navigate the ADA interactive process, and streamline the return-to-work process for employees on an ADA leave of absence.

Request a demo today to see it in action and learn more!