BY Shulamit Shvartsman for Lawyers.comsm
Vincent Sabino is 32 years old and an avid Ohio State University (OSU) sports fan. He is also deaf. He loves attending the games but complains that, "When I go to a game, I'm never able to follow the game. It takes away from being a fan. It's a game experience thing."
Sabino recently sued OSU for violating Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act. He wants the University to provide captions for announcements made over public address systems during OSU basketball and football games.
The lawsuit asks the court to order OSU to display captions for all announcements made over the public address system at its venues, including the Ohio Stadium, the Schottenstein Center and St. John's Arena.
The complaint alleges that since Sabino, "is unable to hear any of the aural information projected into the stadium bowl and concourse areas, [he] does not have equal opportunity to enjoy, benefit from or participate in the home games or athletic events, equal to that of individuals without disabilities."
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The ADA is a law passed by Congress in 1990 that prohibits discrimination against people with physical or mental disabilities in the areas of employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, transportation and telecommunication.
The ADA defines disability as a condition that "substantially limits" such activities as walking, seeing, caring for oneself, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning and working. It also applies to persons with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), diabetes, and cancer, as well as to alcoholics and substance abusers undergoing treatment.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act provides that no qualified individual with a disability, solely by reason of his or her disability, may "be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."
Captioning for Deaf Attendees Required?
The ADA requires that venues make "reasonable" accommodations for fans. Michael Stein is attorney for the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), the association representing Sabino. He claims that "Nearly 20 years after the ADA was enacted, many sports stadiums are still not fully accessible to deaf and hard of hearing fans." Also, he stated that "accommodations such as captioning are required by law to ensure equal access for deaf and hard of hearing individuals."
This isn't NAD's first lawsuit in this issue. In 2006, NAD filed a lawsuit against the Washington Redskins for not providing captioning at their football games at FedEx Field.
In September 2008, the court ruled that "the ADA required the Redskins to provide deaf and hard of hearing fans equal access to the information broadcast over the stadium public address system, which includes music with lyrics, play information, advertisements, referee calls, safety/emergency information and other announcements." That case is pending appeal.
Response by the University
Ohio State spokesman Jim Lynch said the university is working with Sabino's attorney and understands its legal obligations under the ADA. Nonetheless, the lawsuit was filed before the University had a chance to resolve this issue outside the courtroom.
Questions and Damages
The University is attempting to accommodate Sabino's requests. However, this raises several questions: Where do institutions draw the line? Would university and high school graduation ceremonies also require captioning in case there are deaf participants? Also, when does the responsibility shift from the individual bringing along their own interpreter to the event to provide captions? This decision will surely raise more questions than it answers. It's also sure to result in many changes in fields nationwide.
Questions for Your Attorney
- If an institution or facility should be providing accommodation under the ADA to people with disabilities, what remedies are available under the law - fixing the problem or are money damages possible, too?
- What kinds of accommodations must cities and park districts make under the ADA? Do all facilities have to comply with the ADA, or is it enough if one type of facility, such as a pool or recreation center, does meet the needs of those with disabilities?
- Are there exceptions to compliance with the ADA in accommodating people with disabilities?