ADA 30 Reflections


ADA 30 Reflections – Filling the Gaps with Disability-Led Solutions

Communication Service for the Deaf is excited to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This important Civil rights law prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. The purpose of the law has been to ensure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.

Ben Soukup
Ten years before the ADA passed, CSD established the first 24-hour telecommunication service for South Dakota.

#ThanksToTheADA, CSD’s earliest services were able to grow and have a national impact that lasts to this day. From our oldest partnership with Sprint in 1999 to our contact centers, the ADA’s telecommunications provision has ensured that our organization, and the deaf community we serve, has access to every communication option available.



While technology has revolutionized communication access for the Deaf community, it has also exposed the limitations of the ADA.  

The world has changed dramatically over the past 30 years. The communication needs of deaf people today have been transformed by advancements in technology. This, in turn, has impacted the education and employability of deaf people as well. As the world becomes increasingly digitized, society – and the laws that govern them – must adapt accordingly. 

For example, video relay services (VRS) have been an invaluable resource towards removing communication barriers between deaf and hearing people. Under the ADA, the FCC is responsible for providing deaf people with a video telephone tool that allows callers to communicate in sign language, for free! Although VRS remains an essential accessibility tool, interpreter quality is not always guaranteed and serious miscommunication issues are common. 

In these instances, the limitations of laws like the ADA become more apparent. While access to services is guaranteed under the law, the caliber of service is not. “Reasonable accommodations” language is another aspect of the ADA that doesn’t live up to the spirit of the law. Under this provision, the type of access a disabled person is entitled too is often determined by a non-disabled person. 

Disability-led organizations are leading the way, providing updated solutions to modern problems yet to be addressed in policy.

The inability to determine one’s own needs becomes problematic in instances where a deaf person requests their preferred accommodation but is either denied, or given what the non-disabled person considers to be “reasonable” instead. For example, a deaf person may ask for an ASL interpreter but is given CART services instead. Or they may request a Certified Deaf Interpreter, but is provided with a hearing interpreter instead. The non-disabled provider may not understand that the Certified Deaf Interpreter was requested because they reduce the amount of confusion and misinformation for the deaf client.  

As a result of not heeding accommodation requests, deaf people miss out on opportunities or be forced to settle for less. Situations like these are familiar to everyone on the disability spectrum, especially regarding access in the workforce and academic settings. Currently, over 60% of the 40 million Americans with disabilities remain unemployed in 2020. They are also twice as likely not to obtain an H.S. or college degree than non-disabled Americans. 

This begs the question: how are the gaps between policy and practice being addressed?  

In some instances, organizations led by people with disabilities can create culturally compatible solutions to these problems. Disability advocates understand that meaningful change is not possible unless their voices are included in the conversation. In the case of CSD and other deaf-led organizations, we know that Deaf people are best positioned to communicate their value in the workforce and society.

CSD Logo
By looking at the ongoing issues with access and communication in the Deaf Community through social and cultural lenses, CSD develops solutions that can be a model for what the ADA could become.

Our programs and services aim to reduce the mental and legal stress that results from “reasonable” accommodation solutions that don’t work for deaf clients. We aim to bridge the cultural divide in employment, education, and communication accessibility by creating advanced digital, technical, and social tools and resources for hearing and deaf consumers.

Here are some of the ways CSD is pushing the ADA further by reframing how access is perceived and crafting solutions that are culturally compatible with the deaf community we serve.

TITLE I: Employment: 60% of people with disabilities are unemployed. Of the non-institutionalized people with hearing disabilities, over 50% remain jobless. Deaf people still face barriers to sign language access in interviews and oppressive workplace environments.

CSD Works Addresses Employment Barriers By:

  • Connecting deaf job seekers to deaf-friendly employers
  • Free skills training for deaf jobseekers
  • Developing training and resources for employers

TITLE II: Public Services (State and Local Government): Deaf people still face accessibility barriers in public services because non-disabled people have the discretion to decide “reasonable accommodations.” Most of the time these determinations do not meet the needs of the full spectrum of people with hearing loss. There is a need to strengthen the education of and advocacy for deaf people on their civil rights so that their accessibility needs are met.

    CSD Unites Offers the Following Solutions

    • Providing community organizations with capital resources to better serve their constituents.
    • Advocating for representation at the highest levels
    • Creating spaces for the community to lead in social justice and policy
    • Educating nonprofits and public enterprises on community accessibility


    SignVote addresses voter accessibility by:

    • Informing and engaging deaf voters on election issues
    • Developing sharing news and resources in ASL
    • Advocating for ASL Interpretation/CART/Video descriptions for public/political broadcasts.

    TITLE III: Public Accommodations and Services: The Disability Compendium reports that out of approximately six million 6-21-year-old’s with disabilities, only 9% receive specialized education. Deaf schools are closing at an alarmingly high rate, and deaf students need educators they can understand.

     CSD Learns Offers the Following Educational Solutions:

    • Deaf-led, deaf-made digital instructional material for teachers
    • Directory of deaf professional role models
    • Online learning tools for deaf students
    • Advocates for increased deaf representation in STEM and Finance sectors

    TITLE IV: Telecommunications: Video Relay Services have allowed deaf people to connect with hearing people through an interpreter. However, the quality of these calls is not guaranteed, and miscommunication is common. Especially on customer service calls. Being able to telephone banking reps or real estate agents and communicate directly in ASL could alleviate this issue.   

      Connect Direct Offers Updated Communications Solutions By:

      • Providing one-to-one customer service support in ASL for businesses and organizations
      • Connecting deaf consumers directly with customer support with online ASL Now tool

      As we gear up to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the ADA’s passage, be sure to reflect on how far we’ve come and our potential to go further. How can the ADA become inclusive of disabled voices and perspectives? How are the organizations you are connecting with addressing the gaps between policy and practice? Let us know by tagging @ThisIsCSD on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. 


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