Requirements for Assistive Listening Systems in Conference Facilities

Requirements for Assistive Listening Systems in Conference Facilities

Does the ADA require that conferences and meetings have assistive listening systems? Here’s the reply from the ADA Center, as received by the folks at NVRC. Please be sure to credit NVRC if you share this information.

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Have you ever wondered whether an assistive listening system must be available at conferences and meetings because of legal requirements? A while back, NVRC asked this question of our regional Americans with Disabilities Act technical assistance center.

Q: Are conference facilities required to provide assistive listening systems?

A: From the ADA Center:

There are several factors which may be relevant to your question.

Many entities who own and/or operate these types of facilities, as well as many entities which rent space in them to hold meetings, will be covered by the ADA. In some cases one or the other may be covered, in some cases both will be covered (and could therefore be equally liable under the law), and in some cases neither will be covered and will have no obligations under the ADA, although they may be covered by other laws or requirements that may be relevant to an issue like this, also depending on various factors.

Many convention centers and HOTELS that offer conference or meeting facilities will fall within the category of the type of places that will be required to either install a permanent ALS or wiring to support portable ALS when they do new construction and alterations. Whether permanently installed systems are required in new construction depends on specific factors outlined in the ADA Accessibility Guidelines in paragraph 19(b) at http://www.access-board.gov/adaag/html/adaag.htm#4.1.3).

NVRC followed the link, and here’s what it says:

(b) This paragraph applies to assembly areas where audible communications are integral to the use of the space (e.g., concert and lecture halls, playhouses and movie theaters, meeting rooms, etc.). Such assembly areas, if (1) they accommodate at least 50 persons, or if they have audio-amplification systems, and (2) they have fixed seating, shall have a permanently installed assistive listening system complying with 4.33. For other assembly areas, a permanently installed assistive listening system, or an adequate number of electrical outlets or other supplementary wiring necessary to support a portable assistive listening system shall be provided. The minimum number of receivers to be provided shall be equal to 4 percent of the total number of seats, but in no case less than two. Signage complying with applicable provisions of 4.30 shall be installed to notify patrons of the availability of a listening system.

In the case of older facilities, there are other factors to consider. Private business must remove barriers (which could include things like installing ALS) when it is “readily achievable”. State or local governments, many of which own and operate convention facilities, must ensure “program access”.

Both types of entities are also required to ensure “effective communication”, which is an obligation which extends to measures beyond “structural” requirements. “Auxiliary aids and services” must be provided to ensure effective communication, when the aids and services do not pose an “undue burden” or a “fundamental alteration” of the program. Because ALS can fall within the “structural” realm, as well as the “aids and services” realm (just like interpreters, notetakers, etc.), people can sometimes get confused about just what they are supposed to do and who is supposed to do it!

There could be many scenarios that might result in the obligation to provide ALS falling on an organization holding a meeting in a conference facility rather than on the owners/operators of the facility. For example, a meeting facility might be owned, operated, and controlled by a religious entity which allows other organizations to use it or rent space in it. A religious entity is entirely exempt from title III of the ADA, so if there is no ALS available and the religious organization does not want to make it available, they have no obligation whatsoever under the ADA to do so. If the meeting host organization is covered by the ADA, they would have an obligation to ensure effective communication (absent undue burdens and fundamental alterations to their program). Even if the owner/operator of the facility is covered by the ADA, whether the facility is new or old, and factors of “readily achievable”, “undue burden”, etc. may come into play.

So, the answer to your question would be very situation-specific, and could vary depending on many factors.

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(c)2008 by Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons (NVRC), 3951 Pender Drive, Suite 130, Fairfax, VA 22030; www.nvrc.org; 703-352-9055 V, 703-352-9056 TTY, 703-352-9058 Fax. You do not need permission to share this information, but please be sure to credit NVRC.