State and Local Governments
State and local governments, also called “public entities,” are covered by Title II of the ADA. Title II prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities and requires public entities to take an active role in ensuring the accessibility of all of their programs, services, and activities.
Getting Ahead of the Curve
Failure to take positive steps to ensure access and integrated participation can result in unintentional discrimination. Some of the requirements in Title II help public entities establish a framework to implement positive changes and deal locally with problems that may arise.
Every public entity is required to provide “notice” to the public about the provisions of the ADA. No particular methods or language is specified, but to be effective in reaching the public, notice should be provided through a variety of means (e.g. signs located in public places, information posted on agency web sites, language included in television or radio broadcasts, or printed in publications promoting programs, meetings, or events).
Additionally, public entities that have 50 or more employees must:
- Designate at least one employee to be responsible for coordination of compliance efforts
- Establish a grievance procedure to provide an option for addressing complaints
The Title II regulations include a few specific requirements to train staff to help ensure effective implementation of ADA provisions. Notably, the Department of Transportation’s regulations require that certain transportation providers (both public and private) train personnel so that services to individuals with disabilities are provided and maintained in an accessible and appropriate manner.
Public entities may choose to provide training to other employees as well. Though not specifically required in many instances, a public entity is, in the end, responsible for the actions (or inactions) of its employees; staff training can go a long way toward achieving compliance while reducing confusion and frustration for both staff and individuals with disabilities.
Eligibility Criteria, Policies, and Practices
Naturally, intentional discrimination and pointless segregation of people with disabilities is prohibited. However, unwarranted exclusion can result from policies or practices that, while not blatantly discriminatory, ultimately have the same effect.
A public entity has the right to establish legitimate safety standards or eligibility criteria that are reasonable or necessary for the operation of its programs. For example, it makes sense that a county recreation department requires everyone who wants to go on a white-water rafting trip to pass a basic swimming test; individuals with disabilities can be required to pass the swimming test, too. However, the county can not simply deny an individual with an obvious disability the opportunity to even take the swimming test because of an assumption that the individual will not be able to pass it. Neither can the county require the individual to pass a more rigorous test than other participants, or place conditions or limitations on the individual’s participation that it does not place on others.
Additionally, public entities must make reasonable modifications to neutral policies, practices, and procedures when necessary to ensure equal opportunities for an individual with a disability. Making modifications is not the same as eliminating a rule for everyone; modifications are made on an individualized basis.
For example, if a state offers a health screening program and typically requires that individuals personally fill out and sign an information and consent form, the program staff may need to provide assistance to an individual with an intellectual disability, or allow a caregiver or companion to assist the individual, to complete the form. The program employees do not need to eliminate or alter their typical practice in general, only in specific instances where it may be appropriate and reasonable.
Public entities are free to offer separate programs designed to meet the specific needs of individuals with disabilities, as long as such programs are not used to unnecessarily segregate people. For example, a city may offer both a general exercise class and one designed specifically for people with arthritis. Individuals with arthritis can not be prohibited from taking the general class if they prefer it, assuming they meet the legitimate eligibility criteria that are applied to everyone.
Public entities must provide “auxiliary aids and services” when necessary to ensure that their communications are as effective with people who have hearing and vision disabilities as with others. A wide variety of auxiliary aids and services can be employed, ranging from simple to sophisticated.
People who are deaf or hard of hearing may need to use devices or methods such as the exchange of written notes, qualified interpreters, assistive listening devices, telecommunication devices that are hearing aid compatible or equipped with amplification capabilities, captioned media, or real-time captioning services.
Individuals who are blind or have low vision may need qualified readers, audio recordings, screen reading or magnification software for computers, materials in Braille or large print, or other devices or services.
The methods or devices needed will vary depending on the individual’s disability and preferred mode of communication, as well as the type, length, and complexity of communication involved in a particular situation.