Places of Public Accommodation, the ADA & Your Law Firm

posted by Michele Quattlebaum on Thursday, May 05, 2016

Americans with Disabilities Act

Auxiliary services are often crucial to those with disabilities, and turning away individuals to “someone with more resources” is no longer an adequate solution. Is your law firm equipped and ready to provide auxiliary services in order to remain in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

Chapter 42 U.S. Code § 12182 prohibits discrimination of individuals by places of public accommodation. The rule specifically states:

  • No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation. 42 USCS § 12182.

A place of public accommodation is defined as:

  • The following private entities are considered public accommodations for purposes of this title [42 USCS §§ 12181 et seq.], if the operations of such entities affect commerce, including: a laundromat, dry-cleaner, bank, barber shop, beauty shop, travel service, shoe repair service, funeral parlor, gas station, office of an accountant or lawyer, pharmacy, insurance office, professional office of a health care provider, hospital, or other service establishment. 42 USCS § 12181.        

It is important to note this is only 1 of the 12 categories of private entities that are considered places of public accommodation under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act [Codified in Chapter 42 of USCS].

What does this mean for you?

First, in your everyday practice as an attorney you are financially and legally responsible for providing qualified auxiliary services to clients seeking your skill set 28 CFR 36.303(c).

Additionally, if you have clients who are health care providers, you should inform them that under the law it is their responsibility to provide these types of auxiliary services. If they do not comply with this they can be, as other providers have been, sued for providing inadequate communication due to a patient’s disability and the providers refusal to secure an interpreter or other adequate auxiliary services.

Examples of auxiliary aids include: qualified interpreters [on-site or through video-remote interpreting], qualified readers, acquisition or modification of equipment or devices, or other similar services. 28 CFR 36.303(b)(1-4).

The policy reason behind this regulation is to “…ensure that no individual with a disability is excluded, denied services, segregated or otherwise treated differently than other individuals because of the absence of auxiliary aids,” 28 CFR 36.303(a).

These changes to the ADA strive to improve the quality of care and services patients with disabilities receive, especially in the health care and legal fields. Passing notes, semi-fluent translators, assumption of lip reading and requiring an individual with disabilities to provide their own medium for communication will not suffice.

While current case law is mainly focused on effective communication in healthcare, the law demands this in more areas – including your law firm. Imagine yourself in a situation where you can’t understand your attorney and you know they don’t have all the facts or possible defenses because they can’t communicate with you? Would you still confidently take their advice?

*This blog was authored by Michele Quattlebaum with contributions made by Cathleen McCaffrey

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Michele Quattlebaum

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