One of your company’s employees, Willie, is deaf and has requested a sign language interpreter for regular staff meetings. His supervisor suggested that a coworker take notes and share them with Willie or that a written summary of the meeting be prepared. Are these suggestions reasonable alternatives to Willie’s request?
Probably not. These alternatives are not effective because they do not allow Willie to ask questions and participate in discussions during the regular staff meetings as other employees do. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide adjustments or modifications (reasonable accommodations) that enable applicants and employees with disabilities to enjoy equal employment opportunities unless doing so would be an undue hardship – that is, a significant difficulty or expense. If more than one accommodation would be effective, the employee’s preference should be given primary consideration, although the employer is not required to provide the employee’s first choice of reasonable accommodation. If the requested accommodation is too difficult or too expensive, an employer may choose to provide an easier or less costly accommodation as long as it is effective in meeting the employee’s needs. In this situation, absent undue hardship, the employer must provide a sign language interpreter for the staff meetings.
Source: EEOC Guidance: “Questions and Answers about Deafness and Hearing Impairments in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act,” reported in Employment Practices Guide, ¶5212; https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/qa_deafness.cfm.