In the United States, there are 3 federal laws that relate to transcription services: the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). ADA and Section 504 apply to individuals of all ages. IDEA relates to pre-college education programs.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The ADA is a federal law passed in 1990. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. Under 28 C.F.R. § 35.160(a), a public entity, such as a city or state-supported school, must take appropriate steps to ensure that communication with participants with disabilities is as effective as communication with others.
According to 28 C.F.R. § 35.160 (b), a public entity must furnish an individual with a disability an equal opportunity to participate in, and enjoy the benefits of, a service, program, or activity conducted by a public entity. Under 28 C.F.R. § 35.160 (c), in determining what type of auxiliary aid and service is necessary, a public entity shall give primary consideration to the request of the individual with disabilities.
The ADA covers all public entities regardless of whether they receive federal funding; Title II of the ADA applies to state-operated schools and local colleges, while Title III of the ADA applies to private colleges and universities.
The Department of Justice's interpretive guidance accompanying this Title II Regulation explicitly adds "notetakers" and "computer-aided transcription services" to the list of auxiliary aids and services for individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.
Failure to provide a deaf or hard-of-hearing individual with transcription services during classes or meetings has been interpreted by students, families, and schools as discrimination against the student, on the basis of hearing disability. This lack of adequate communication access can reduce a deaf or hard-of-hearing student's understanding of spoken English to approximately 30-35% of its substantive content. This reduction is due to the inherent difficulty of speech-reading the great majority of phonemes, and the limitations of hearing aids and FM systems in making all aurally-produced information available to a deaf or hard-of-hearing student.
Read more about ADA at the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division's ADA website. The ADA Technical Assistance materials are also very informative.
Section 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act
Section 504 states that "no qualified individual with a disability in the United States shall be excluded from, denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under "any program or activity that . . . receives Federal financial assistance . . ."
The Section 504 regulations apply to all employers, schools and educational programs, nursing homes, mental health centers, and human service programs that receive or benefit from Federal financial assistance. Under Section 504, any qualified individual with a disability has the right to a reasonable accommodation, such as services or aids, to help that individual participate in the programs or jobs offered by the federally-funded employer, school, or other organization.
When considering what type of accommodation to provide, schools, organizations, and employers should give primary consideration to the request of the individual with the disability. However, Federal Interpretive Guidance directs that schools do not need to provide the student with the exact accommodation requested. What is required is that the accommodation provided is effective. Objective measurement of service effectiveness should be a regular part of any support service program.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (and its predecessor, Public Law 94-142)
The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates that children with disabilities must be educated in the least restrictive environment. That is, they must have the opportunity to remain in the same academic, physical, and social settings as their peers to obtain education. To accomplish this goal, schools must provide necessary support and needed related services. Examples of related services include assistive technology, audiology, speech-language pathology, transportation, etc.
Here is a Brief History: In 1975, Congress passed the Education For All Handicapped Children Act, Public Law 94-142. This law mandated that children with disabilities must be provided with a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment. To ensure that this happened, the Law mandated that an Individualized Education Program (IEP) be developed annually for each student with a documented disability.
Congress amended the Act in 1990 and renamed it the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), or Public Law 101-476. Among other changes, definitions of assistive technology and assistive technology services were included. Further, it was stated that assistive technology, if needed for a child to receive a FAPE, must be provided by the local school district. Under IDEA Part B, a local school district must provide a FAPE for all children with disabilities between the ages of 3 and 21 years residing within its boundaries/jurisdiction. Some of the disabilities specifically listed in the Law are "mental retardation, hearing impairments (including deafness), speech or language impairments, visual impairments . . . , or specific learning disabilities."
In 1997 Congress added amendments to IDEA. Among other things, these amendments strengthened the assistive technology component by requiring IEP teams to consider whether the student requires assistive technology (AT) devices and services [Section 615(d)(3)(B)(5)]. An AT device, as defined in section 300.5, means any item, piece of equipment, or product system that is used to increase, maintain or improve the functional capabilities of a child with a disability.
In the IDEA 2004 revision, Congress specifically named TypeWell as a transcription service that meets the definition of interpreting services, and should be considered as an effective tool to meet the communication access needs of students with disabilities [Section 300.34(c)(4)].
Congress also clarified that supplementary aids and services can be considered for assistive technology in extracurricular and nonacademic settings, such as clubs and sports. IDEA provides federal funds under Parts B and H to assist state and local education agencies in meeting IDEA requirements. School districts are required to contract for services they are unable to provide themselves, once again at no cost to the parents or guardians of the child.
There are many sources of information about IDEA on the internet. For both general and specific information, visit the U.S. Department of Education's IDEA website.
Federal Guidance on Effective Communication for Students with Hearing Loss
In 2010, the Department of Justice published revised regulations implementing ADA for Title II and Title III entities. These include the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. These rules went into effect on March 15, 2011. Read more about the Department of Justice’s 2010 regulations relating to effective communication.
In November 2014, the U.S. Department of Education—together with the U.S. Department of Justice—issued further guidance on the rights of public elementary and secondary students with hearing, vision, or speech disabilities to effective communication, including:
Fact Sheet: A document for parents called "Meeting the Communication Needs of Students with Hearing, Vision, or Speech Disabilities" (PDF)
FAQs: Frequently Asked Questions on Effective Communication for Students with Hearing, Vision, or Speech Disabilities in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools (PDF)
Letter to Educators: Also called the "Dear Colleague" letter