July 5, 2001
The Honorable Eleanor Holmes Norton
Member, U.S. House of Representatives
815 15th Street, NW, Suite 100
Washington, D.C. 20005-2201
Dear Congresswoman Norton:
This is in response to your letter on behalf of your constituent, xxx xxxxxxx xxxxx xxxxxx, regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the requirements for public accommodations. We apologize for the delay in responding.
Title III of the ADA, which applies to public accommodations and commercial facilities, went into effect on January 26, 1992. Pursuant to title III, public accommodations, like movie theaters, must provide effective communication for individuals with hearing, vision, and speech disabilities via the use of auxiliary aids. Examples include sign language interpreters, assistive listening devices, TDDs, audiotaped materials, large print, Braille, and readers. The type of auxiliary aid needed to provide effective communication will depend on the nature and content of the conversation or discussion. Covered entities are not required to take steps that would result in undue financial or administrative burdens.
Your constituent, xxx xxxxxx, who is a person with a hearing impairment, complains specifically about assistive listening systems at movie theaters in the Baltimore County area. In his earlier complaint filed with the Justice Department about a General Cinemas movie theater, he stated that the assistive listening system then available at the theater was ineffective and that the system was not maintained, including a failure to replace batteries or repair damaged equipment. He noted that he had heard about a different auxiliary aid, the loop system, that might perform better than the assistive listening system currently in use at General Cinemas. By letter dated March 12, 2001, the Department declined to investigate that complaint citing a lack of resources, and advising him of his right to file a private lawsuit. In that letter, the Department also provided technical assistance materials and the toll-free telephone number at which he could reach trained Department staff who would be able to answer questions or provide additional assistance.
The primary enforcement mechanisms under title III are private lawsuits brought by individuals and suits by the Department of Justice whenever it has reasonable cause to believe that there is a pattern or practice of discrimination, or that the discrimination raises an issue of general public importance. Unfortunately, the Civil Rights Division is unable to pursue many complaints received pursuant to title III due to the huge volume of complaints and limited staff and resources.
In this situation, as described by xxx xxxxxx, the movie theater has a responsibility under the federal title III regulation currently in effect to "maintain in operable condition those features of facilities and equipment that are required to be readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities..." 28 C.F.R. ï½§ 36.211. If the assistive listening system in use at the theater is not maintained properly, or if fresh batteries are not available to operate the assistive listening system, the theater would be in violation of that provision of the federal ADA title III regulation. However, the theater would not be required to replace the current assistive listening system with an alternative listening system if the current system provides effective communication when properly maintained.
The Department actively pursues investigations involving movie theaters and effective communication. For example, a nationwide settlement agreement with Loews Cineplex Odeon theaters required that chain to provide and maintain assistive listening systems at all of their theaters nationwide. Another movie theater chain in Arizona entered a similar agreement to provide assistive listening systems throughout their properties in that state.
I hope this information is helpful in responding to your constituent. Please do not hesitate to contact the Department if we can be of assistance in other matters.
William R. Yeomans
Acting Assistant Attorney General
Civil Rights Division