RAQs: Recently Asked Questions

Topic: ADA Compliance When Screening Movies - 1/7/2019
This question has 2 parts:  1. Public Libraries often show movies/films under the auspices...
Posted: Monday, January 7, 2019 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

This question has 2 parts: 

1. Public Libraries often show movies/films under the auspices of a public viewing license. A question arose regarding ADA compliance: Does the film have to be shown with closed captioning? What if closed captioning is not an option.

2. When a program is given in a public library does a deaf interpreter have to be provided for every public program? OR is there a time-frame of notification - that is to say, if the library is notified an individual expecting to attend a program requires a deaf interpreter, one must be provide. What is considered an acceptable time-frame of notification? Should this be posted - if so where is it required: Website? 

Thank you for your assistance in this matter.

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

This is an important submission, because access is the mission of every library, and access is the purpose of the ADA.  When it comes to ADA accommodations, an institution’s commitment should always be: plan for access.  

Under that principle, the answers to the member’s questions are:

  • When showing a movie, always use some type of assistive technology to ensure accessibility.
  • When having a large-scale event, always budget and plan for an ASL interpreter.
  • To ensure people can advise the library of the need for specific accommodations, have a well-developed and publicized accessibility policy.

By planning for access, an institution can never go wrong under the ADA.

But the member wants to know: when planning for access, what does the law specifically require?

As always, what the law requires can depend on a lot of different factors.

The ADA and its enabling regulations do expressly require certain entities to use captioning technology.  For example, all commercial movie theaters (except drive-ins), and all televisions built after 1993, must include captioning tech. 

But while a specific requirement for captioning has been an important asset for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing communities for decades, libraries are not on the list of legislated adopters.  Rather, just like any other place of “public accommodation,” libraries have a broader mandate; they must ensure “…no individual with a disability is excluded, denied services, segregated or otherwise treated differently than other individuals because of the absence of auxiliary aids and services….”  

In other words, while captioning is not expressly required at a library, accommodations are.

The ADA doesn’t always mandate the precise means of accommodation; captioning can be but one of the many ways a library ensures a Deaf patron can access a movie.   What’s important is not the precise accommodation, but the removal of a barrier to service.  

That is why a big part of ADA compliance is not just following narrow rules (although there are plenty of those, especially when it comes to design of new buildings or the mass purchase of technology), but keeping up with and considering all available options for access. 

How can a library easily assess all those options?   A great resource for learning about the latest ADA accommodations—organized alphabetically by disability—is AskJAN.org.[1]  Although created primarily for employers (the “JAN” stands for “Job Accommodation Network”), JAN is an invaluable jumping-off place for learning the specific barriers a person with a disability may face when trying to access a service, and how a provider can remove those barriers…within that provider’s budget. 

For example, a search of “deafness” on AskJAN shows—among many other things—an array of “real-time captioning” services, together with providers and a description of how they work; this allows for comparative shopping and a more nuanced use of services.  To use the member’s movie example: if the only version of a movie a library wants to show doesn’t come with captioning, a resource like AskJAN can help find an alternative—which is what the library is required to do.

Which brings us to the heart of the member’s question: what are a library’s specific obligations?  At the start of this answer, I have used the lawyer’s go-to response: “it depends.”  But what does it depend on?

Precise obligations under the ADA vary based on institution type, size and budget.  For example, a very large municipal library with a relatively large budget and older facility should address accessibility questions through their ADA Title II-mandated self-evaluation, compliance policy, and complaint procedure; such an institution should also have to have a “responsible employee” overseeing that procedure.  This is because ADA Title II, which applies to government bodies and agencies, expressly requires a government agency to have those resources in place.[2]

On the other hand, a small association library with a small budget and a new building will fall under different sections of the law, and have somewhat different obligations.

But no matter what section of the ADA applies, the goal remains the same: to not deny service if there is an aid or adjustment that can help…unless that aid or adjustment would fundamentally alter the service, or be an “undue burden” (i.e. too expensive or difficult[3]). 

This is why every library should have a custom-tailored[4] accessibility policy guiding the library’s planning for ADA-related operations (which, at a library, are practically all operations).  While such a policy can take time to implement, and must be updated from year-to-year, in the end it is both a respecter of people and a time-saver, taking the painful guess-work and last-minute planning out of ADA compliance, and helping a library plan for access for all. 

For instance, as suggested by the member, such a policy can set a threshold for when events will automatically have an ASL interpreter, and when/how a patron can notify a library about an accommodation needed at a smaller event.  Further, it can ensure there is a budget line to pay for such accommodations, and that staff are trained and ready to answer accommodations-related questions gracefully. 

A thorough, custom policy will not only pinpoint a library’s specific ADA compliance obligations, it will make sure:

  • the library is not making ADA decisions ad hoc (a recipe for a law suit);
  • that its documentation shows compliance if a violation is claimed;
  • that ADA accessibility is built into budgeting, staffing, training, purchasing, and event planning;
  • that the institution is placing the needs of all patrons at the forefront of planning.

If a library doesn’t have such a policy, forming an ad hoc “accessibility committee” comprised of both staff and board members[5], and an attorney, should be a top priority.

How can that play out?  Let’s return to the member’s scenarios. 

With a policy guiding the way, the answers to the member’s questions would unfold in a methodical way.  The library would check the latest alternate assistive technology in the early planning stages of the event.  Consulting AskJAN, they might determine that perhaps remote CART[6] technology can help, and their planned budget line would pay for it.  If the projected attendance is under the threshold set by the policy (determined by considering the library’s area of service), there is no automatic ASL interpreter; however, the publicity and posted policy will include the ways attendees can notify the library of any necessary accommodations.

If, after the movie, there is a complaint about ADA compliance, the policy and documentation showing it has been followed will help resolve the complaint in its early stages.   But more critically, the details of the event will reduce the risk of such a complaint,  since any person who needed accommodation had access that was both well-planned and easy to arrange. 

Thank you for these important questions.

 


[1] https://askjan.org/a-to-z.cfm

[2] An example of the consequences of non-compliance can be found here: https://www.ada.gov/sacramento_ca_settle.htm.

[3] This legal language “undue burden,” causes some of the most painful moments under the ADA.  When a small, budget-challenged institution is forced to call a necessary accommodation a “burden,” no one feels good.  Sometimes the law picks the wrong work; I would have gone with “unduly disproportionate.”

[4] Although seeking inspiration from similar institutions can be a great place to start, an ADA policy is not a document to cut-and paste from another institution. 

[5] Page 62 of the 2018 “Library Trustees Handbook,” is a great resource for a library directors who need to give trustees an summary of the magnitude and importance of this issue.

[6] Communication Access Real-time Translation.

Tags: Accessibility, Laws, ADA

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The WNYLRC's "Ask the Lawyer" service is available to members of the Western New York Library Resources Council. It is not legal representation of individual members.