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Is my business violating the Americans With Disabilities Act?

Is anyone out there familiar with the American with Disabilities Act? I have a potential deaf student telling me that because I am a business I must comply with the American with Disabilities Act and provide her with a sign language interpreter. She offered to give me a list of female interpreters to call to find one.

I explained to her that my website clearly promises the women that take this class that no one will be observing them and everyone in the class room must participate. This is because we are exploring techniques to wake up women's sensuality including sensual movement and learning to touch their own bodies without judgment. You simply can't go through this process with any level of safety or comfort when a total stranger is standing there watching you. So I told the deaf girl she would have to reserve private lessons for herself and her friends (she has a small group) if she would like an interpreter present.

The girl responded that as a business, I must comply with the American with Disabilities Act. I told her that the ADA website says their policies apply to "Places of public accommodation include a wide range of entities, such as restaurants, hotels, theaters, doctors' offices, pharmacies, retail stores, museums, libraries, parks, private schools, and day care centers." Our business is not open to the public, if it were, men would come in and watch every class. Our services are limited to a specific group based on gender and age (we don't allow anyone under 18) and physical ability (for safety reason we cannot allow anyone to take classes that has recent injuries, recent surgery or anything limiting a full range of motion in their body such as fused vertebra or arthritis). So we definitely are not a place of public accommodation.

I told her we would be happy to have an interpreter present if she would like to book private lessons for herself and her friends and that we would provide those private lessons at a cost comparable to our group classes. Does this still put me in violation of the ADA?


From time to time I have a need to understand how the ADA applies to members of Norwescon. This site is usually very helpful.
there is a FAQ that may apply: "Q. Will a bookstore be required to maintain a sign language interpreter on its staff in order to communicate with deaf customers?
A. No, not if employees communicate by pen and notepad when necessary."
and other: "Q. What does the term "readily achievable" mean? A. It means "easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense."

I have also contacted the Department of Justice and they are usually very helpful.

I would think that if a gym or other fitness provider is required to keep one on staff, you would be as well. But I don't really think you are what qualifies as a true "public business".

And it's not like you are refusing to provide her with one, because you are -- in a private lesson arrangement. I think if you had to have an interpreter around for a full 6 week class, you'd basically have to hire her as an instructor, because she has to be able to understand your methods and explain them to the student.
I'm not a lawyer, of course. You should check with your lawyer, or call the ADA info line.

That said, after reading the ADA and based upon my experience managing a variety of retail shops that were more or less ADA-compliant, it seems to me that you occupy a grey area shared by places like gyms and dance studios. You are a place of education, which compels you under the ADA to accommodate, but you are not a place of professional or work-related education, which means you don't have to accommodate. I have no idea if there has ever been a court decision that clarifies this grey area.

I think that your logic about an interpreter being disruptive to other students in an open class is sound, and I also think that your offer to set up a private class at comparable group rates for this woman and her friends (who presumably have some experience with her need for an interpreter and would be less disrupted) is an excellent compromise to both provide accommodation and protect all students from disruption - this also means that the woman with the interpreter will be able to focus on getting the most out of her class without enduring disruption from other students about her interpreter.

However, I do not think that you have a legal right to charge a class fee for the interpreter, unless she will be actively participating in the class rather than simply shadowing the student and interpreting for her. And I think you do have a legal right to specify that only a female interpreter will be accepted. I have no idea if you are legally obligated to pay the cost of the interpreter - that's definitely something I would check with either your lawyer or the ADA helpline.

More info, including the ADA helpline number, found here: http://www.ada.gov/publicat.htm#Anchor-ADA-44867

Thank you!
I would contact that ADA helpline number and see what they say.

Whatever you decide, my advice is to try to find some sort of reasonable accomodation with her, even if you *think* you aren't compelled to do so.

Why? Because she sounds like the type who might be willing to sue you for an alleged ADA violation and, even if you win in the end, the cost of fighting the lawsuit will be more then you want to pay and definitely more then any smaller incidental costs you might incur by workign with her.

Remember, you could be right in the end, but she could still sue, and just the cost of figthing the suit is a loss for you.
I took a look at the FAQ that Jeanineers linked to, and it's very informative. Based on that, I think your offer of a private class is perfectly in compliance, and I don't think you would be required to pay the interpreter yourself unless you were unwilling to spend extra time with the one student to demonstrate moves sufficiently for her to understand them. That falls under the standard of not requiring an interpreter onsite if employees are available to communicate using paper and pen.
You have assistants, right? If nothing else, could you offer for them to provide written instruction so that "oh, but I'd rather have someone sign" becomes a preference rather than a need?
Honestly she sounds like a pain in the ass who is used to using her disability to make people do what she wants. I'd contact someone and get the real story. Do you know anyone who runs a "typical" dance studio?
You might drop who_is_she a note - she's an interpreter, and also still studying being an interpreter, and probably has a pretty good idea what the situation is.
I really wish I was ready to interpret. I know sign language, and can get by and then some, but in a fast paced situation like lessons, I don't know if I could keep up.

If I could, I would offer you my services free of charge in a heartbeat.
exactly! That's what i was saying. ug. Sounds like she is just being a pain, and using her disability to get her way. as gail_s stated.
Except that the business is required to hire the interpreter which isn't cheap. The customer is required to request the accommodation.

K, I have pretty extensive experience with ADA, and specifically deaf culture. Let me know if you want to chat.

why does she not already have one of her own? A little strange to me. I understand she wants to be able to understand your instructions, but why does she not already have one?
I asked Melody about this, and here's the skinny:

There is an organized movement out there right now by radical members of the disabled community who are trying to prove a point by making severe demands on small businesses. This is probably one of those instances. If this is happening in your case, she will continue to make unreasonable demands on you, and will quite possibly sue you if you don't comply, primarily for the publicity.

If you go to court, you will win. However, due to the cost to you in attorney's fees and court costs, it will be very expensive for you, not to mention the blowback in possible negative publicity. Because of this, most businesses end up settling out of court, either by complying with their demands, however unreasonable, or paying them off. That is what these people are counting on.

To sum up, you can fight this; the question is, are you willing to spend the time and money in doing so?

Hope this helps.

Hope this helps.
Thank you! I hope she is not one of those.
Or maybe, she needs accommodation in order to participate in something she is excited about and interested in. Not everyone who requests accommodation is "out to get you." I have requested accommodation numerous times, as have my deaf friends, and it has nothing to do with a "gotcha!"

Seriously, *I* am required to pay for the interpreter!?

I'm waiting to see if she responds to my last e-mail.
Well, here's the catch, K: You have to provide REASONABLE accommodation. Now, the law doesn't state exactly what "reasonable" is. For instance, someone in a wheelchair cannot sue an employer for not hiring them as a trapeze artist. The job is not a reasonable position for the person in the wheelchair. I think THAT is what you should focus on--that the accommodation for an interpreter is not reasonable for this type of class, just as pole dancing would not be appropriate for a paraplegic. Technically, YES, YOU have to provide and pay for the accommodation (which is why she "didn't just show up with one"), but I would tell her that should she choose to attend with an interpreter, ONLY private lessons/parties are acceptable due to your confidentiality, security, and privacy laws for the other students.