Justice Department and H&R Block Franchisee Reach ADA
Editor: You have a right under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to appropriate communications aids and services provided by your income tax preparation firm (unless an exemption applies). That’s the bottom line on this statement from the Justice Department. The statement focuses on providing sign language interpreters, but the clear meaning is that the firm must provide accommodations appropriate to the client!
The Justice Department today announced a comprehensive settlement agreement under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with HRB Businesses of Florida Inc., to ensure effective communication with individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing in the provision of tax preparation services and courses. HRB is an H&R Block Inc. franchisee with multiple offices.
The settlement agreement, which resolves a complaint filed under title III of the ADA by an individual who is deaf, requires, among other things, that HRB furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services, including sign language interpreter services, when necessary to afford a person who is deaf or hard of hearing equal access to the goods, services and accommodations made available to others.
“Access to tax preparation services enables people with and without disabilities to prepare and pay taxes as contributing members of our society on an equal basis,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “We are glad that, at the height of tax season, HRB has affirmed its commitment to provide effective communication of its tax preparation services and classes for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing,”
The agreement requires that HRB:
* Provide auxiliary aids and services, including qualified sign language interpreters, to persons who are deaf or hard of hearing when necessary to ensure effective communication of its accounting services, tax preparation services, and programs and courses;
* Adopt and enforce a policy on effective communication with individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, and post the policy on its Web site, in the each reception area and in its employee manuals and other print materials;
* Distribute the policy to current and new staff;
* Compile and maintain a list of sign language interpreter providers;
* Provide staff training on the ADA and HRB’s obligations to provide effective communication to individuals with disabilities;
* Establish, implement, publicize and monitor a grievance procedure for ADA-related complaints from customers; and
* Pay $2,500 damages to an individual who filed an ADA complaint and a $5,000 civil penalty.
The ADA prohibits discrimination against customers with disabilities by businesses that serve the public. Among other things, the ADA requires tax preparation services, accountants, lawyers, doctors and other businesses to provide equal access to customers who are deaf or hard of hearing. When services such as tax preparation involve important, lengthy, or complex oral communications with customers, businesses are generally required to provide qualified sign language interpreters and other auxiliary aids, free of charge, to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. Other auxiliary aids may include the use of relay services for telephone communication, exchanging notes for brief and uncomplicated communications, and providing assistive listening systems and receivers in classes for attendees who are hard of hearing. The appropriate auxiliary aid to be provided depends on a variety of factors including the nature, length and importance of the communication; the communication skills and knowledge of the individual who is deaf or hard of hearing; and the individual’s stated need for a particular type of auxiliary aid.
Those interested in finding out more about this agreement or businesses’ effective communication obligations under the ADA can call the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA Information Line at (800) 514-0301 or (800) 514-0383 (TDD), or access its ADA Web site at http://www.ada.gov.