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Access — are you aware?


Russ Holland and Mary Lester
Alliance for Technology Access
San Rafael, CA


The growth in the use of technology to help individuals in their everyday lives has been phenomenal. And for no group is this more dramatic than for people with disabilities. Today the possibilities are limitless. With the support of appropriate technology, people with all types of disabilities should be able to enter the mainstream — at school, on the job, and in the community.

This is a critical time in the evolution of technology and our society.It is an especially critical time for people with disabilities who have so much to gain by having access to emerging technologies — and so much to lose if access is denied.

While the incidence of disability in the general population is 20%, it is even higher in communities of color, poor and rural communities. 67% of all adults with disabilities are unemployed. Disability (seen or unseen) is a part of every community and it is critical that everyone move toward a more accessible environment.

Recent research conducted by the Alliance for Technology Access showed:

The primary barriers are lack of understanding and information about what is needed and how to begin. There are false assumptions made on a daily basis by organizations and individuals with disabilities that hinder progress toward greater access.Common false assumptions include the following:

Society’s attitudes are often the greatest barrier to the inclusion of people with disabilities in the life of the community. Separate is never equal.This guide is all about helping you end discrimination.

Access is everyone’s responsibility.

Community-based programs can make a very loud statement to the community about the importance of embracing diversity by thinking and planning for all members of the community. This is even truer for those organizations providing access to and training on technologies that can make a tremendous difference in participation and independence for people with disabilities.

You have an opportunity to take an important role in increasing access within your organization and community. Do it not just because it is the law, but because it is the right thing to do. Success will depend on the commitment you make to the process.


Access is not something that happens overnight — it is a process that takes a proactive effort. It begins with the understanding that access exists along a continuum and it applies to more than buildings, bathrooms and parking.

Access does not have to be complicated, expensive or accomplished all at once. Start with what is feasible and affordable.

Understand that there is a great deal of variability of abilities. Impairments that affect the ability to hear, see, speak, walk, learn or manipulate things, can be mild to severe and affect people’s lives in very different ways.


This manual was developed to increase disability access in community organizations.It provides an introduction to the issues of environment, disability and technology as a tool. The goal is to help you create an environment and community profile for your organization that acknowledges the presence of people with disability in the community and welcomes everyone to participate. This guide can help you provide people with disabilities the rights guaranteed by law to all.

It can be used as a map, providing guidelines, examples and ideas. It is intended to be easy to use. Perhaps most importantly, it refers to many other resources that will help you maximize the participation and success of all who use your services.

This guide is designed to be user friendly. It contains a sufficient level of detail to be useful, but not overwhelming. This guide will:


Sometimes making ADA-related changes is relatively inexpensive and easy, and sometimes they can be difficult and expensive. The majority of modifications cost less than $500. However organizations do not always have the necessary funds.

Methods which can be used to establish sources of funds include:

Because ADA is still not clearly understood by many people, this budget item may have to be explained to the Board of Directors and to funding sources. An example of language for the budget narrative is:

$ xxx.00 Reasonable accommodation and barrier removal: to improve access (grab bars in bathroom, railing for steps); to contract for sign language interpreters as needed; to caption the video used to teach computer skills; to modify a work station; to purchase assistive technology; or to reproduce print materials in large print and on audio cassette.

Some access-related changes can be made immediately, and some will be made over a period of several years so a permanent line item in the budget is important.


Conducting outreach is perhaps the most important part of the process. You have to make people feel welcome and let them know you want to serve them. For the most part, people with disabilities will assume that your organization is not equipped or set up to serve them unless you make it clear that you are. That is why outreach is so critical.

One way you can start is by putting a welcoming access statement in fliers, brochures and on your web site that describes your policy. This will go a very long way in getting the word out. Once you have done this, "word of mouth" can begin to help. Here are some examples of access statements:

"This organization welcomes people with disabilities. Our facility is accessible and within one block of the # 4 bus line. If you need any access accommodations such as an interpreter or materials in an alternate format please contact us four working days ahead of your visit."

"Our center is fully physically accessible and we are working on making all of our services and communications more accessible to people with disabilities. We welcome your calls with specific access questions."

The important thing is to let people know they are welcome. No one can anticipate everyone’s needs, but you can let them know that you are willing and prepared to work with people individually to accommodate them to the best of your ability.It will take time for you to adapt your program and facility and to learn about some of the adaptive technology tools available. But you need to get started somewhere. So let people know that your doors are open to everyone in the community.

You need to actively spread the word by contacting organizations and individuals throughout the community. A likely place to start is with disability-related organizations, such as your local Independent Living Center, Easter Seals or parent support groups. But don’t stop there! Contact your community health service centers and schools. Let health workers and teachers know of your programs. People with disabilities, seen or unseen, are using the same community services as everyone else, and so are their friends and family. Faith-based organizations are important links in a community’s communication system. Various types of community centers can also be very helpful in publicizing your organization. There are growing numbers of senior centers, for example, that could provide excellent opportunities to do group presentations and demonstrations. Public libraries, even though they tend to be an under-used community resource, should be thought of as an outreach strategy.

Outreach is one of those responsibilities that needs to be assigned to someone, or it won’t happen effectively. Make sure that someone is thinking about doing outreach as a regular and real part of his or her job.

Distribute brochures.  Post something to your web site.  Talk to people. Do group presentations. Think of this outreach as another marketing opportunity for your organization as a whole. For example, if you complete some building modifications or install an accessible computer station, do a press release. Take advantage of these kinds of things as new opportunities to alert the local media to your organization again.  Celebrate your efforts. Don’t hold back on reaching out to people with disabilities because you fear that you’ll be overwhelmed by the increased demand for services.  That’s not going to happen. Outreach, like access, is a process that will take time to yield results. And, it is critical to achieving your goal of serving the whole community.

Accessibility: Who, What and Why?

Introduction to Accessibility

This chapter is an introduction to accessibility for people with disabilities. It describes who people with disabilities are, what the barriers to access are in the environment, why increasing accessibility benefits all, and what the mandates are that require making programs accessible.  (The rest of the manual covers how and when.)


Scenarios illustrating issues addressed in this section:


Joey went to school back in the days when all Special Education classes were held in the basement at his local school. He has Cerebral Palsy.  Joey graduated with a local diploma at the age of 21. He then went on to college part time and finished his degree over the course of 10 years.

Joey is married and has two children. He has a job. He is a member of Rotary and a ToastMaster.

He also has a growing frustration with the townspeople who “pat him on the back and tell him how brave he is because he has overcome his disability.”


“Deaf Doctor Saves Lives” read the caption on the local newspaper when Sharon began to practice in town.

Sharon is a sensitive, caring doctor at a busy clinic in the town where she grew up. When she is not working, she spends time with her fiancé and her family. She mentors a younger girl in a Big Sister program.

She graduated from medical school at the top of her class. Sharon is also deaf. When she first began her practice, she had difficulty in attracting patients. They were afraid that she wouldn’t understand them, that they wouldn’t understand her, that she “might get mixed up, you know, not hearing and all.” Despite the fact that she grew up in the town and is familiar to many of the people there, she feels that people view her disability before they view her skills.


Maria is Student Success Coordinator at a community college. She is responsible for assisting students with disabilities in developing study skills, coordinating tutors and note-takers, and in setting up an accessible computer lab.  Maria has Cerebral Palsy.

She has developed a model program at work but is very dissatisfied with her life outside of work in this small, rural community. Most people who do not know her, and those who only have seen her walk to her apartment, assume that she rides the blue bus in the morning to the local sheltered workshop program for people with mental retardation. She has tried socializing within the college community with mixed success.

Who Are People with Disabilities?

Defining Disability

A disability is a condition caused by an accident, trauma, genetics or disease, which can affect or limit a person’s ability. A disability can affect or limit a person’s mobility, hearing, breathing, vision, speech or mental function.  A disability can be visible, such as a spinal cord injury necessitating wheelchair use, or invisible, such as diabetes, heart disease, epilepsy, hearing loss, mental retardation or a learning disability.2

Disability is a universally common occurrence and characteristic of the human condition. The US Census Bureau states that in the United States there are 54 million people with disabilities – or nearly one in five people – with a disability. That represents 20 percent of the population. People with disabilities are the nation’s largest minority.3

Nearly everyone has been affected by disability whether by contact with a family member or through personal experience. There is an 80 percent chance that most people will experience a significant temporary or permanent disability at some point in their lives. As “Baby Boomers” move into older adulthood they are experiencing an increase in age-related incidence of disability.

As America ages the prevalence of visual, hearing, and mobility disabilities greatly increases. Most people, if they live long enough, will age into disability.  Technology and rehabilitation advances in medicine enable many more people who experience accidents, illness or a disability to survive longer.

Barriers to Accessibility

Removing barriers is a key concept in the ADA.

Attitudinal Barriers

People with disabilities encounter many barriers in addition to the discrimination everyone faces from societies attitudes about age, gender, and ethnicity.

Less visible, often the greatest barriers are the perception of and attitudes towards people with disabilities.

Society’s attitudes are often the greatest barrier to the inclusion of people with disabilities. In spite of significant changes in the world of disability, negative stereotypes still exist. Our society still generally views disability as something to be ashamed of, or sees disability as something biologically unacceptable or unnatural.

Some in society view people with disabilities as fragile, sick, deficient, unfortunate cripples, or even as biologically inferior, burdens, asexual or subhuman individuals needing charity or welfare.

The challenge is to change perceptions and attitudes on many levels, through legislation, regulation, integration, education, personal relationships and language.  Words used to describe people with disabilities are very significant, and can perpetuate negative attitudes and false perceptions.  It is important to become aware of the images and attitudes conveyed by words.

Disability versus Handicap

A disability is a condition. A handicap is a barrier or obstacle that a person with a disability may encounter in the environment.4

People are not handicapped by their disability all the time.

A disability can mean that a person may do something differently than a person without a disability, but with equal participation and equal results.

A disability often becomes a handicap when problems related to the environment as well as negative attitudes are present. The environment and attitudes frequently cause the handicap that limits participation, productivity, integration, independence and equality, as illustrated by the profiles at the beginning of the chapter.

Much of the language that has been used by society in the past has developed negative and dehumanizing stereotypes toward people with disabilities. This is slowly changing.

The preferred expression, “people with disabilities” depicts people with disabilities as people, with multi-dimensional characteristics in addition to their disability. This is known as “people first” language.


"Disabled people" can represent "differentness" and separateness, reducing people’s identity to only their disability. We don't refer to people with broken legs as "broken-leg people," or people with AIDS as “AIDS people.”

Examples of Preferred Terms

(subject to change and continuing debate)


He had polio

He was afflicted with, victim of, stricken with or suffers from polio

He has arthritis

He is arthritic

A person who has had a disability since birth, a congenital disability

Birth defect

A person who uses a wheelchair, a wheelchair user

Confined to a wheelchair / wheelchair bound

She has a disability

She is crippled

She has cerebral palsy

She is cerebral palsied, spastic

A person who has a disability, people with disabilities

Disabled person, disabled people

A person who has a speech disability, or is hard of hearing, or is deaf

Dumb, deaf mute, dummy (Implies an intellectual impairment occurs with a hearing loss or a speech impairment)

A person who has a spinal curvature

A hunchback or a humpback

People with disabilities, Disability community

The Disabled



Older people with disabilities


He has a mental illness. He has an emotional disability. He has a psychiatric disability.

He is chronically mentally ill, a nut, crazy, idiot, imbecile, moron

People of short stature

Midget, dwarf

A person without speech or a person who has a speech impairment


A person without a disability as compared to a person with a disability

Normal person, whole person, healthy person, able-bodied person as compared to a disabled person

She lives with a disability

Overcame her disability

A person who has a developmental disability or has mental retardation

Retard, retardate, retarded, feebleminded

Removing the barriers of language and attitude may begin simply by changing language to “people first.”  Language plays an important role in shaping ideas and attitudes.5

Physical Barriers

The removal of barriers can often be achieved by making simple changes to procedures or to the physical environment.  Typical modifications include installing grab bars in a restroom, providing a ramp, lowering a telephone, installing a telecommunication device (TTY), adding Braille and raised lettering to elevator signage, putting computers on adjustable height tables, using large computer monitors, rearranging display racks or tables to widen aisles, adding directional signage, enforcing no smoking policies and choosing low-pollution cleaning and maintenance products.

The most recognizable barriers are those that are physical. These could include:

Physical barriers are discussed in more detail in Chapter 3 and 4 of this manual.

Why Accessibility needs to be Improved

A more accessible environment benefits a substantial portion of the general population.  All people benefit from an environment in which it is easier and safer to move and function. Access is another way of accommodating and accepting diversity in our society.

A more accessible environment increases the quality of life for people with disabilities.  It enables fuller and more independent participation in education, vocation and recreation.

Disability is a design flaw in the environment rather than a deficit in an individual. Human, communication and constructed environments fail to account for the variability of people’s abilities.

Legislation and Mandates

There are a number of laws and mandates that govern access for people with disabilities and impact the way community-based organizations conduct business.  All community-based organizations must follow these guidelines.

What follows is a review of the legislation pertinent to community access.  This summary will give you a sense of the rights and protections given individuals with disabilities.

The primary law is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Other federal laws affecting various community organizations containing similar language and philosophy include the Telecommunications Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Information on these laws may be found in the Appendix A.There are also various state laws which govern access and protect the civil rights of people with disabilities.

Americans with Disabilities Act

Why is the ADA important?

The ADA promotes equity, self-determination, independence, dignity and full community participation for people with disabilities.

Why is the ADA necessary?

Until the passage of ADA, there were no federal protections against discrimination in the private sector for people with disabilities.  Even the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not cover people with disabilities.

People with disabilities are discriminated against subtly as well as blatantly in housing, employment, transportation, education, access to services and more.

Discrimination affects all types of people with disabilities, including those with cognitive, mental, sensory, physical and mobility limitations. Discrimination affects those who

Who is protected?

The ADA's protection applies primarily, but not exclusively, to individuals with disabilities. People are "disabled" if they meet at least any one of the following tests:

People with physical or mental impairments that are serious enough to substantially limit one or more major life activity such as walking, talking, seeing, hearing, breathing or working are covered.

People who have recovered from a disability but who have a history of having had an impairment, such as cancer, and are discriminated against because of their past experience with that disability are also covered.

People who have burns or other disfigurements, physical or mental impairments or conditions such as high blood pressure or HIV, which do not limit their major life activities but who are discriminated against based on these conditions, are covered. These people are protected because they are regarded as having a disability.

Friends or family members of a person with a disability are protected from discrimination on the basis of their relationship with the person who has a disability.

It would be illegal for an employer to discriminate against a qualified employee who did volunteer work for people with AIDS.

It would be illegal to discriminate against a qualified employee because he or she has a spouse with a disability.

Content of the ADA

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) is a powerful and far-reaching civil rights law.

It prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, transportation, public services, public accommodations and telecommunications.  Public accommodations are facilities operated by an individual, business or other entity, including service establishments, places of education and recreational facilities.

A brief summary of the titles of the ADA and what they address is presented below.  It will be useful to know the scope of the ADA and what people can expect from government and the private sector.  The title that most specifically addresses community-based organizations is Title III. Title II applies if you receive government funding.

Title I: Employment

Under Title I of the ADA, employers must ensure that their employment practices do not discriminate against "qualified" people with disabilities in all aspects of employment, including application and recruitment processes, hiring, advancement, training, compensation or any other term, condition or privilege of employment.

Under the law, it would be discriminatory for an employer to refuse to hire a qualified individual with a disability based on that person's disability, who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the job. The employment provisions of the ADA apply to employers of fifteen employees or more.

The employee generates the request for reasonable accommodation, but the employer need not provide the accommodation if it creates an undue hardship to them. Compliance with Title I is regulated by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.6

Title II: Public Services & Transportation

Public services, which include state and local government instrumentalities, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, and other commuter authorities, cannot deny people with disabilities participation in programs or activities which are available to people without disabilities. In addition, public transportation systems, such as public transit buses, must be accessible to individuals with disabilities.

Public sector entities were required to complete a Transition Plan for barrier removal to guarantee program access by July 26, 1992, and a complete Self-Evaluation of all policies and practices by January 26, 1993. By January 26, 1995, all governmental entities were required to complete the necessary structural changes identified in their Transition Plans.  Regulation of all aspects of public sector compliance with Title II rests with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Regulation of the transportation provisions of Title II falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

When organizations have a contractual arrangement with a local, state or government entity, a condition of that contract is that they must follow the program access standard established by Title II of the ADA. For more information see Chapter 5: Program Access. This standard includes non-structural methods for removing barriers and achieving access, such as meeting at an accessible location, moving equipment to an accessible location, home visits, curbside delivery, and networking with other organizations.

Title III: Public accommodations

All new construction and modifications must be accessible to individuals with disabilities. For existing facilities, barriers to services must be removed if readily achievable.7 Public accommodations include facilities such as restaurants, hotels, grocery stores, retail stores, etc., as well as privately owned transportation systems.

Public accommodations provisions apply to all sizes of business, regardless of number of employees. State and local governments are covered regardless of size. Public accommodations include all of the following:

These provisions have been in effect since 1992 for larger businesses and since January 1993 for smaller businesses.Regulation of all aspects of Title III rests with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Title IV: Telecommunications

Telecommunications companies offering telephone service to the general public must have telephone relay service to individuals who use telecommunication devices for the deaf (TTYs) or similar devices.

See Chapter III, Communication Access for further information and resources.

Title V: Miscellaneous

Title V includes a provision prohibiting either (a) coercing or threatening or (b) retaliating against the disabled or those attempting to aid people with disabilities in asserting their rights under the ADA.

Other Legislation

Information on other federal laws affecting various community organizations is included in Appendix A: the Telecommunications Act; the Rehabilitation Act; and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.


Introduction to Communication Access

This chapter introduces the issues of Communication Access and strategies and obligations related to increasing that access. By Communication Access we refer to a person’s ability to become aware of your organization’s services and to communicate effectively with your organization at a distance and in person, prior to, during and following their interaction with you. This chapter contains guidelines for communication with people who are blind, have limited vision, learning, cognitive or other reading-related disabilities, and communication with people who have hearing loss, speech disabilities or who are deaf.  It also contains communications access resources, a checklist for self evaluation, and a planning guide with examples.


Scenarios illustrating issues addressed in this chapter:


Peter wants to attend a class on Microsoft Excel at his local Community Technology Center. He is Deaf. He communicates using American Sign Language.  Peter calls the local CTC center (using his telecommunication device (TTY) to type and read information translated to and from voice for him by the interpreter at his state’s Relay Service) to enroll in the class and to request an ASL interpreter for the duration of the class sessions.  The CTC contracts for interpreter service by selecting a contractor from a list they have developed and keep on file.


Carmen has heard that promotion in her job will be largely based on computer proficiency.  She contacts a community training program by phone to see what they offer and indicates that she is blind.  The receptionist offers to send her course descriptions on tape or in Braille. She registers for the word processing course and is referred to one of the instructors who is proficient in assistive technology and will work with her to determine the technology she needs and provide training on it with taped manuals. He also suggests that she contact her vocational rehabilitation office to request tuition assistance.


Arthur is a retired gentleman in his 70’s. He is soft-spoken and enjoys talking for hours with others. He has lost his hearing gradually over the last 30 years and is no longer able to hear voices on the telephone, even with hearing aids. He does not like using the relay system and the TTY that his daughter bought for him.  He does not like the relay operator “listening to his conversations” and does not use it if at all possible.

He has three grandchildren, ages 8, 10, and 13, who used to live in the same town but they recently moved several states away with their mother.

Arthur misses them greatly and wishes he could stay in touch with them in a more immediate way, other than by letters and postcards. They have a computer at home and want “Grandpa to get one too so they can email him.”Arthur cannot afford a computer.

He enrolls in a class on accessing the Internet at his community center. Arthur finds that he is successful and independent with this and regularly schedules sessions at a computer terminal, sending and receiving email on a free email address.  He even participates in family chat sessions online.

Guidelines for Communication Access

Before people can make use of your program facilities, they must become aware of those facilities and be able to effectively communicate with your staff to plan their interaction.  In order to be available to them, you need to communicate effectively with people who have speech, vision, hearing, learning or cognitive disabilities, by whatever means are appropriate.  This includes promotional materials, public service announcements and any other means you use to promote public awareness of services. It also includes all communication with individuals, from the initial inquiry through the planning, interaction and follow-up services.

Point of Law – ADA – auxiliary aides and services

In the ADA, the term "auxiliary aids and services" refers to the means for achieving effective communication. This term includes sign language interpreters; written materials; assistive listening devices; Telecommunication Devices for the deaf (TTYs); audio tape, Braille, or large print materials; readers; and other communication tools.

The goal is to find an effective means of communication that is appropriate for the particular circumstance.  For example, for communications that are simple and straightforward, such as when a person who is deaf is picking up a book from a library, using a pen and note pad may suffice.  This means of communication might not be appropriate, however, when complex concepts must be communicated clearly, such as when a person who is deaf is participating in a job-related computer training session.

An organization is not required to provide any particular auxiliary aid or service that it can demonstrate would fundamentally alter the nature of the goods or services being provided or would result in an undue burden. It must, however, provide those needed auxiliary aids and services that would not result in an undue burden."Undue burden" is defined as significant difficulty or expense when considered in the light of a variety of factors including the nature and cost of the auxiliary aid or service and the overall financial and other resources of the organization.


An individual with a hearing disability wants the organization to purchase an expensive conference room assistive listening loop system for monthly social meetings.  The organization offers the more economical alternative of a personal FM listening aid and/or the use of an interpreter if requested.

Effective communication - A continuing obligation

Achieving effective communication with people with disabilities is a continuing obligation.  Auxiliary aids that were not required initially because they posed an undue burden may be required later in light of changing resources or changing technologies.

How can organizations provide effective communication with people who are blind, have limited vision, learning, cognitive or other reading related disabilities?

Some people wishing to make use of your service or program will have difficulty with written communication.  This may be due to a loss of vision which prevents seeing typical print format, or a disability in processing and understanding written communication.  Many of the accommodations in this section are also very useful for people for whom English is a second language.


People with vision impairments may need orientation to locate various areas in your facility.  It is customary to offer to orient people with vision impairments to their surroundings.

Access to Printed or Visual Materials

Printed material and information used by your organization, such as applications, must be accessible to people with vision impairments. The best way to provide access to this information depends on the needs of the individual, the type of facility, your resources, and whether a particular option would pose an undue burden. For example, one organization may have a one page list of "assistance guidelines" which staff could easily read to an individual. Another organization may have a 20 page handbook that people are given to continually use and refer to as they participate in the program.  Such a handbook, because of its length and frequent use, should be made available in an accessible format for people who are blind or who have limited vision.

Methods to make material accessible may include providing audio cassette tapes of the material and a cassette player.  Offering large print materials is another inexpensive way to achieve effective communication with many people who have limited vision. An inexpensive magnifier is also useful for some people with limited vision. Brailed materials are an option for some people who are blind, but many people who are blind do not read Braille.  Many people who use computers prefer to receive material on disk. It is always best to ask individuals what works best for them.8

Maximizing accessibility of print materials

Large print formats for signs and documents are useful for people with limitied vision, including older people.  Print materials distributed and used by organizations that have not been converted to alternative formats, such as large print, tape or Braille, need to be either read aloud to the whole group or read to individuals who need it.

Print Materials
To maximize readability of printed materials, use:

Use of large print materials

Many people with visual disabilities have some sight and can read large print. Large print material can be produced by using a photocopier or a computer where an 18-point type size or larger can be selected.  Here are some tips for producing large print documents:

Large Print Materials

Use of Braille

To locate a local resource to transcribe print materials to Braille, call local organizations that serve people who are blind or visually impaired, centers for independent living, or state vocational rehabilitation agencies. There is a significant variation in price and quality for producing materials in Braille, depending upon turnaround time and the capacity of the providing organization. Most organizations work from a computer disk, and others from print material.

Several Braille production services are listed in the Communication Access Resources section at the end of this chapter.

Use of audio cassette tapes

Recording information on tape is another alternative to print material. Many people who are blind or visually impaired cannot or prefer not to read Braille and find tapes more useful. Some people with learning and cognitive disabilities or people who are learning English also find audio tapes to be a useful accommodation.  Tape format can often accommodate the needs of the greatest number of people who are unable to read.  Tape duplicators found on a variety of stereo cassette decks make adequate copies easily and inexpensively.

Audio cassette tape tips

Professional recording and duplicating services are also available from a variety of public and private sources. A list of some of these sources may be found in the Communication Access Resources section at the end of this chapter.

Use of computer-based ASCII files

A growing number of people who have a visual impairment or learning disability prefer to receive materials in electronic files on computer disk, CD (compact disk), or via email, which they can access using voice output hardware and software on their personal omputers. Some people read the documents by using print enlarging software. All text material distributed on disk should first be converted to ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) so that the text can be called up into any word processing program.

Use of readers

Sometimes, in spite of planning, there is material that does not get converted into alternative formats.  When this occurs, it is important to have designated people to serve as on-site readers. This is a stopgap measure which works when there is a small amount of material to be read.

Some who are intimidated by more technology-based solutions may also prefer readers. The key is to do whatever it takes to make your organization feel welcoming.

How can organizations provide effective communication for people who have speech disabilities or who are deaf or hard of hearing?

Some people wishing to use your services will have difficulty with oral and/or aural communication.9  They may have difficulty receiving such communication due to loss of hearing or deafness, or they may have difficulty originating such communication due to a speech disability.  Strategies to accommodate these disabilities include use of TTYs, assistive listening devices, interpreters and captioning.

Use of TTY’s

A TTY (Teletypewriter or Telecommunication Device) transmits communication over standard phone lines.  These devices are connected to the standard phone line on both ends of a conversation. Users can then type information which is printed on the receiving unit.  If a TTY is not available on both ends of the conversation, the TTY Relay system can be used.  This adds a third party translator to the conversation as a link between the TTY user and the voice user.  TTY relay services are now available nationwide. Relay service numbers are listed in the customer service section of most phone directories and resources are provided in the Communications Access Resources section at the end of this chapter.


Are organizations required to have TTY's?

It depends.  For making calls to or receiving calls from people with hearing or speech impairments who use TTY's, an organization can rely on the Relay Service. Operators employed by relay systems will relay communications between TTY users and people using conventional telephones.  Only those organizations that allow their customers or clients to make outgoing calls on "more than an incidental convenience" basis must provide TTY's.10

Organizations can ensure effective communication by teaching staff about the relay service.  Handling these incoming calls may take longer because an operator at the relay system will be receiving typed communications from the caller and will also be using the relay system equipment to type communications from your staff person to the caller. Staff should also be trained on how to use the relay service for outgoing calls

A TTY is relatively inexpensive and would provide greater access for people with hearing or speech impairments.  Organizations with TTYs should list their telephone number followed by "Voice/TTY" in any publications or advertisements to signify that people can communicate with them by voice or TTY.

Use of Speech-to-Speech relay system

Another phone-based system provides a translator to assist communication by and with individuals with speech disabilities. This service provides human voices for people who have difficulty being understood by the public on the telephone. Users can dial a toll-free number to reach a trained operator with acute hearing, familiar with many speech patterns. The operator makes the phone call for the user and repeats words exactly.

Use of assistive listening systems

Many individuals with hearing disabilities use hearing aids to augment hearing in daily living situations.  Most of these work better in one-to-one conversations than they do in large groups or meetings.  There are several strategies and technologies that can enhance participation in such situations.

Many people using hearing aids have trouble in settings that are noisy.  In group settings hearing aid users may have more difficulty hearing speakers because the hearing aid amplifies all noises in the room, including people moving, paper rustling, coughing, chairs moving, etc.  A carpeted room can reduce and absorb much of this background noise, but people who use amplification may need more assistance. Assistive listening devices (ALDs) can pick up sound at or close to its source and deliver it to the listener’s ear with less extraneous noise.  Some also amplify the sound frequencies of speech and filter others to cut down on environmental noise, better enabling the user to follow spoken information in larger, noisier environments.

Types of Assistive Listening Systems

There are several types of assistive listening systems available. They are hard-wired systems, induction loop systems, radio frequency systems and infrared systems.11

The choice of a system is dependent upon a number of items, which include the intended user, the location, and the need for portability. All devices should be charged and tested before the meeting begins. Extra batteries should also be readily available.There are a number of organizations, listed in the Communication Access Resources section of this chapter, available to help you decide which system would best meet the needs of your organization.

Use of interpreters

Many people with communication disabilities use interpreters. This includes individuals who are deaf, deaf and blind, and those with speech disabilities.

Some people mistakenly believe that interpreting for people who are deaf or hearing impaired can be done by volunteers. Interpreters are professionals and must be qualified.  They must be able to interpret effectively, accurately and impartially using any necessary specialized vocabulary.

Interpreters are usually preferred and requested by most people who are deaf and some who are hard of hearing.  Qualified interpreters usually have the equivalent of state certification.

Qualified sign language interpreters can use several different types of sign language.  Always ask users of interpreters what type of interpreting they need and prefer. The cost for a qualified interpreter, depending on geographic area, ranges from $50 - 100 per hour with a two-hour minimum. Interpreters can be found through public and private agencies, as well as private contractors.  Resources for finding qualified interpreters can be found in the Communication Access Resources section at the end of this chapter.

Types of Interpreters


How do organizations communicate with people who have hearing or speech impairments? Must they always provide sign language interpreters to communicate with individuals who are deaf?


For communications that are short and straightforward, such as giving directions, using a pen and note pad or taking turns at a computer terminal are adequate ways to communicate effectively with a person who is deaf or hard of hearing and can read.

Sign language interpreters are required in situations when they are necessary for staff to communicate effectively with a person when providing an interpreter would not pose an undue burden. For example, when staff needs to discuss with a person who is deaf a complex matter such as what software they should consider, the staff need to locate a qualified sign language interpreter. The organization is required to absorb the fee for this service.

Use of captioning

Open Captions

One method to ensure that soundtracks of slide shows, films and videos used in meetings are accessible to people with hearing disabilities is to make sure they are captioned. Captions are spoken words and/or audio effects displayed as text (similar to sub-titles on foreign films). Some instructional slide shows, films and videos are open captioned, with captions visible to all.

Closed Captions

Closed captions are captions, spoken words and/or audio effects displayed as text that is encoded or hidden on line 21 of the television signal. To see captions, one must have a decoder installed on or attached to a television.  The decoder opens the captions for viewing. A meeting facility should have televisions for meeting room use that have installed decoders. As of 1993, televisions with 13-inch or larger screens sold or manufactured in the United States are required to have an installed decoder chip.To view closed captions, turn them on through the second audio programming (SAP) channel.  This is usually done with the remote control according to instructions for the television.

Computer Assisted real-time Transcription or Captioning

Computer Assisted real-time Transcription also called Computer-assisted note taking (CAN), is a technique that can assist people who are deaf and hard of hearing to participate in meetings and lectures with hearing people. A notetaker uses a computer equipped with word processing software to transcribe the dialogue of a meeting or lecture. The text can be projected onto a screen or wall for large groups, or simply displayed on a computer monitor if fewer people are relying on the notes.  When using computer-assisted note taking in large meetings, it is important to ensure that people who are using the aid can see and read the text comfortably.

Equipment needed for computer-assisted note taking includes a computer (laptop or desktop), a projection device (or monitor for small audiences), and word processing and software with large-print fonts.

The most sophisticated and efficient real-time captioning uses court stenography equipment and can only be operated by individuals trained in this specialized keyboard and transcription method.  This service is available in some areas on a contract basis.

Use of emergency warning systems and notification devices

People who have hearing disabilities need alarms they can see, and people who have visual disabilities need alarms they can hear. Alarm systems, therefore, should be both visual and audible and should operate simultaneously.

[1] Material for this session is from Access Aware: Extending your reach to People with Disabilities by the Alliance for Technology Access, available on the ATA web site at www.ATAccess.org

[2] Kailes, J.I. & Jones, D, Guide to Planning Accessible Meetings, Independent Living Research Utilization (ILRU) Research and Training Center on Independent Living at TIRR, Houston, 1993.

[3] National Organization on Disability. Closing the Gap – Expanding the Participation of Americans with Disabilities (N.O.D./Harris Survey of Americans with Disabilities – A Summary), National Organization on Disability, 910 Sixteenth St., NW, Washington, D.C. 20006, October 1994.

[4] One of the many origins of the word “handicapped” comes from individuals begging “cap in hand.”

[5] Excerpted from: Language is More than a Trivial Concern! By June Isaacson Kailes, Disability Policy Consultant, (1999), Self-published by Kailes, 6201 Ocean Front Walk, Suite 2, Playa del Rey, CA  90293. For more information regarding this article, visit www.jik.com/resource.html and select “Disability Awareness”

[6] This guide does not provide compliance specifics for Title I of the ADA, which deals with non-discrimination in employment and applies to organizations with 15 or more employees. If this applies to your organization, check http://www.adata.org/text-dbtac.html

[7] “Readily achievable” is defined as easily accomplished, without much difficulty or expense.

[8] Council of Better Business Bureaus' Foundation, Access Equals Opportunity: Medical Offices – Your Guide to the Americans with Disabilities Act, 1992. p.25-26.

[9] Oral refers to spoken information, while aural refers to information that is heard.

[10] Many states and telecommunications providers have programs to make TTYs available free of charge. Check with your provider for further information.

[11] For descriptions of the basic types of listening systems, see http://www.shhh.org/

[12] Cutler, W.B. “Set-Ups for Speeches: A Guide to Optimum Use of ALS and interpreters” in SHHH Technical Series.Bethesda, MD, Self Help for Hard of Hearing People, Inc.  1991, p.5.

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