by Toni Dunne, Chair
AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT (ADA)
The Americans with Disabilities Act is federal legislation that every PSAP manager should be familiar with. It was enacted by the United States Congress on July 26, 1990. It’s purpose is “to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities; to provide clear, strong, consistent, enforceable standards addressing discrimination against individuals with disabilities; to ensure that the Federal Government plays a central role in enforcing the standards established in the Act on behalf of individuals with disabilities; and to invoke the sweep of congressional authority, including the power to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment to regulate commerce, in order to address the major areas of discrimination faced day-by-day by people with disabilities.”
It is estimated that approximately 43 million Americans have one or more physical or mental disability. Approximately 23 million – or 8.6% of the U.S. Population – are individuals who have hearing impairment.
The ADA contains five Titles addressing Employment, Public Services, Public Accommodations, Telecommunications and Miscellaneous Provisions. Two titles are of particular interest to the PSAP Manager. Title I deals with employment of qualified individuals with a disability, while Title II mandates access to public services such as telephone emergency services.
In order to qualify, an individual must meet one of the following criteria:
have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;
have a record of such an impairment, or
be regarded as having an impairment.
Employment of Qualified Individuals
The individual must be able to, with or without reasonable accommodation, perform the essential functions of the position. Employers must determine what functions of a job are essential, and if an employer has prepared a written description before advertising or interviewing, the description shall be considered evidence of the essential functions of the job.
The ADA states that it is discriminatory to use selection criteria that screens out individuals with disabilities, unless the criteria can be proven to be job-related and that the same criteria is used consistently across the board. Pre-employment tests must not act as barriers to the employment of persons with disabilities unless the individual is unable to do the job with reasonable accommodations.
PSAP managers must make sure that tests or examinations measure the actual ability of an applicant to perform job functions rather than reflect limitations due to the disability. Tests should be given in a format that does not require the use of the impaired skill (unless it is to measure job related skills). The manager should notify applicants in advance of the types of tests that will be administered. Generally, it is the responsibility of an applicant to inform the potential employer of any accommodations that may be required in a testing process.
Pre-employment inquiries regarding the disability of an applicant is not permitted under the ADA. However, the one exception to this is if the person has a “hidden” disability. Verification can be requested, but not other inquiries can be made regarding the seriousness or cause of the disability.
Direct Access for Telephone Emergency Services
“Telephone Emergency Services, including 911 services, shall provide direct access to people who use TDDs and computer modems.”
A TDD (Telecommunication Device for the Deaf), also known as TTY or Text Telephone, is a device that is used by people with hearing or speech impairment to access the telephone network. It typically utilizes a five level Baudot code with one start bit and two stop bits at 45.5 baud which, when connected with another similar device, allows typed conversation to occur between two individuals.
The term “telephone emergency services”, provided by public entities, applies to services such as police, fire and ambulance where access is provided through 9-1-1 and seven digit phone numbers. ‘Direct access’ means the ability to receive calls on a TDD and computer modem without relying on outside relay services or third party services. As of this writing, Baudot is the only format required. Until it can be proven that communications in another format is reliable and compatible in an emergency telephone environment, only Baudot is required.
In addition to the regulations, the Department of Justice provides a Technical Assistance Manual in which specific issues are addressed, of which some are enumerated below:
Additional Dialing – Additional dialing or space bar requirements are not permitted. Operators should be trained to recognize incoming TDD signals and respond appropriately. In addition, they also must be trained to recognize that “silent” calls may be TDD or computer modem calls and to respond appropriately to such calls as well.
The Department of Justice followed up with a Supplement to the Technical Assistance Manual with further clarification on this issue: “A caller, however, is not prohibited from announcing to the answerer that the call is being made on a TDD by pressing the space bar or keys. A caller may transmit tones if he or she chooses to do so. However, a public entity may not require such a transmission.”
911 Lines – Where a 911 telephone line is available, a separate seven-digit telephone must not be substituted as the sole means for non voice users to access 911 services. A public entity may, however, provide a separate seven-digit line for use exclusively by non voice calls in addition to providing direct access for such calls to the 911 line. Where such a separate line Is provided, callers using TDDs or computer modems would have the option of calling either 911 or the seven-digit.
Seven-digit Lines – Where a 911 line is not available and the public entity provides emergency services through a seven-digit number, it may provide two separate lines – one for voice calls, and another for non voice calls – rather than providing direct access for non voice calls to the line used for voice calls, provided that the services for non voice calls are as effective as those offered for voice calls in terms of time response and availability in hours. Also, the public entity must ensure that the non voice number is publicized as effectively as the voice number, and is displayed as prominently as the voice number wherever the emergency numbers are listed.
Maintenance of Accessible Features
Title II, Section 35.133 requires maintenance of equipment used to provide accessibility. It states “a public accommodation shall maintain in operable working condition those features of facilities and equipment that are required to be readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities by the Act or this part.” Although the regulation does not prohibit isolated or temporary interruptions in service or access due to maintenance or repairs, this is applicable to the non-emergency telecommunications environment.
Public Entities are also required to conduct self evaluations of all programs and policies to ensure non-discriminatory practices. Questions should be asked with regards to equipment and operations. Comprehensive TDD training programs should b provided for incumbents as well as new hires and will include general information about the ADA and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, communication variables of individuals who are Deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impairments, basic information on American Sign Language (ASL), practical instruction on the equipment, identification and processing of TDD calls, and handling of TRS (telecommunication relay service) calls. Testing and refresher courses should be frequent.
Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for TDD/TTYs
The purpose of your policy should be to establish guidelines for the operation of the equipment used and call handling procedures used to provide access for persons with speech or hearing impairment. A comprehensive SOP will include the following:
Identification of incoming call: Baudot tones, silent open-line, recorded voice announcement, or detection equipment
Call Handling Process