Office of Disability Rights

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Effective Communication

What is effective communication?

The District of Columbia must ensure that its communications with people with disabilities are as effective as its communications with others. The District is required to provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to ensure effective communication. Primary consideration must be given to the choice of auxiliary aid requested by the person with a disability. Whatever accommodation is requested, the DC government agency must seek to provide it unless it is determined to result in either a fundamental alteration in the program, or an undue financial or administrative burden. Examples of auxiliary aids and services include:

  • Deaf or hard of hearing: qualified interpreters, note takers, real-time captioning, written materials, assistive listening systems, open or closed captioning, TTYs, and exchange of written notes (if the communication is not complex).
  • Blind or low vision: qualified readers; audiotape, Braille, or large print materials, audio-descriptions of PowerPoint or video presentations; and assistance in locating items.
  • Speech disability: TTYs, computer terminals (take turns typing back and forth (if the communication is not complex).

Integrated setting (“mainstreaming”): DC residents with disabilities cannot be excluded from regular programs or required to accept accommodations. The District may offer separate or special programs when necessary to provide people with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from the programs. Examples:

  • A recreation department sponsors a separate basketball team for wheelchair users.
  • A museum offers a tour for blind people to permit them to touch and handle specific objects on a limited basis (but cannot exclude a blind person from the standard tour).

Eligibility criteria and medical inquiries: The District's eligibility criteria for participation in its programs, services, or activities must not screen out or tend to screen out people with disabilities, except in rare instances when such requirements are necessary. A program cannot request medical information unless it can demonstrate that each piece of information requested is needed to ensure safe participation in the program.

Safety: The District may impose legitimate safety requirements necessary for the safe operation of its services, programs, and activities. Safety requirements must be based on real risks, not on speculation, stereotypes, or generalizations about people with disabilities.

Surcharges: Although providing accommodations may result in some additional cost, the District may not place a surcharge only on particular individuals with disabilities to cover expenses. For example, there can be no extra program charge to a deaf person for interpreter services, or to groups of people with disabilities, but fees may be increased for all participants to cover the cost of those accommodations.

Personal services and devices: The District of Columbia is not required to provide people with disabilities with personal or individually prescribed devices (wheelchairs, hearing aids or communication devices) or to provide services of a personal nature (such as assistance in eating, toileting or dressing) unless providing such services are part of the services offered by the program.

Maintenance of accessible features: The District of Columbia must ensure that equipment and accessibility features of facilities are in good working order and accessible to individuals with disabilities. Isolated or temporary interruptions in access due to maintenance and repair of accessible features are acceptable.