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The ADA's Title IV - Sensory Impairments

Did you know, that besides Title I, Title II and Title III, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has a few more titles? Well, let’s explore Title IV. Title IV of the ADA requires telephone companies to provide continued voice transmission relay services that allow people with hearing and speech impairments to communicate over the telephone through teletypewriter.

In addition, Title IV of the ADA requires that federally-funded television public service messages (PSA’s) be close captioned for viewers with hearing impairments. Telecommunications Relay Services, or TRS, enables telephone conversations between people with and without hearing or speech disabilities to take place more easily. TRS relies on communications assistants (CAs) to relay the content of calls between users of text telephones (TTYs) and users of traditional handsets (voice users).

For example, a TTY user may telephone a voice user by calling a TRS provider (or "relay center"), where a CA will place the call to the voice user and relay the conversation by transcribing spoken content for the TTY user and reading text aloud for the voice user. This service must be "functionally equivalent" to standard telephone services. Interstate and intrastate relay services are available in all 50 states and the District of Columbia 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

There are two additional federal laws which govern accessible communications – Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Section 508 requires federal agencies to follow the electronic access standards drafted by the U.S. Access Board to the purchase of accessible electronic and information technology, computers and other equipment, and to make sure Web sites are accessible.

Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act requires manufacturers of telecommunications equipment and providers of telecommunications services to ensure their equipment and services are accessible to persons with disabilities, if readily achievable. Section 305 of this Act requires video programming distributors, including multichannel video programming providers such as cable operators, to make video programming accessible for individuals with hearing impairments via closed captioning.

What about movie theaters and open captioning, you might ask? Well, this is actually covered under Title III as a public accommodation since movie theaters are businesses, but we’ll discuss it a bit here since the discussion surrounds sensory disabilities involving hearing and seeing. Open-captioned movies ensure that all people can enjoy films, including the Deaf and hearing-impaired. Captions include all the dialogue integrated into a movie, as well as significant sound effects and song lyrics. Unlike open captions that are seen on television broadcasts, closed captions are shown with less image, meaning it is like a black strip over the bottom of the image blocking the image quality

Blind and visually impaired moviegoers can hear descriptions of the movie on headsets as well. The descriptions provide narrated information about key visual elements such as actions, settings, and scene changes, making movies more meaningful to people with vision loss.

Department of Justice (Department), as of 2010 is considering revising its regulation implementing Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in order to establish requirements for making the goods, services, facilities, privileges, accommodations, or advantages offered by movie theater owners or operators at movie theaters accessible to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing or who are blind or have low vision by screening movies with closed captioning or video description. The Department is issuing this Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) in order to solicit public comment on various issues relating to the potential application of such requirements and to obtain background information for the regulatory assessment the Department may need to prepare in adopting any such requirements.

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