# 67 II-7.

3000 May 17, 1993

202-PL-00057

Ms. Nancy Husted-Jensen Chairperson & State ADA Coordinator Governor's Commission on the Handicapped Building 51, 3rd Floor 555 Valley Street Providence, Rhode Island 02908-5686 Dear Ms. Husted-Jensen: This letter responds to your inquiry regarding the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Specifically, you asked for guidance regarding the State of Rhode Island's proposed system for providing emergency and non-emergency telephone services. We regret the delay in responding. The ADA authorizes the Department of Justice to provide technical assistance to individuals and entities having rights or obligations under the Act. This letter provides informal guidance to assist you in understanding the ADA's requirements. However, it does not constitute a legal interpretation and it is not binding on the Department. In your letter, you asked several questions on behalf of the Governor's Commission on the Handicapped about the State of Rhode Island's duty to provide accessible emergency and non-emergency telephone services to persons with hearing and speech impairments. The responses below are based on information provided in your letters of March 4 and July 30, 1992, and on discussions with Mr. Bob Cooper, Executive Secretary of the Rhode

Island Governor's Commission on the Handicapped. Emergency Telephone Services: Question 1 "Is it permissible under 28 C.F.R. 35.162 to have all TDD emergency calls be directed through the E 911 [Enhanced 911] system?" Short Answer The short answer is generally yes -- under the following conditions. The E 911 system must receive and process nonvoice calls as promptly and effectively as voice calls. Nonvoice callers whose calls are directed through E 911 must receive emergency attention as quickly as voice callers who dial local seven-digit numbers for emergency assistance instead of E 911. Any emergency services provided by the State or local government entity not connected to the E 911 system must provide direct access to nonvoice callers (i.e., have their own TDD's and be compatible with computer modems).

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Discussion The applicable regulation states: Telephone emergency services, including 911 services, shall provide direct access to individuals who use TDD's and computer modems. 28 C.F.R. 35.162. "Direct access" means that emergency telephone services can directly receive calls from TDD and computer modem users without relying on outside relay services or third party services. Where 911 service is available, direct access must be provided to individuals who use TDD's and computer modems. The requirement for direct access disallows the use of a separate seven-digit number for persons with hearing impairments where 911 service is available. See preamble to title II regulation at 35713.

According to your letter, 911 service is available in the State of Rhode Island, and -- consistent with the above-discussed requirement -- the State proposes using an Enhanced 911 (E 911) system that provides direct access to nonvoice callers. As we understand the facts, Rhode Island proposes to direct all nonvoice callers through this E 911 service. In contrast, voice callers in Rhode Island have the option of dialing 911 or a variety of other seven-digit numbers to reach emergency services. Your question is whether channeling all nonvoice emergency calls through this E 911 system -- and not providing nonvoice callers with the additional option of dialing a local seven-digit emergency number -- is consistent with the ADA. As noted above, this arrangement is permitted under the ADA, but only under certain conditions. First, any emergency service provided by the State or local government entity which is not tied into the E 911 system would have to provide direct access to nonvoice callers. If, for example, the State of Rhode Island offered emergency poison control information which could not be accessed through E 911, that telephone emergency service would have to be equipped with a TDD to provide direct access to nonvoice callers. The State could provide two separate lines to reach this service -- one for voice calls, and another for nonvoice calls -- but it would have to ensure that the service for nonvoice calls was as effective as that offered for voice calls in terms of response time and availability in hours. Also, the nonvoice number would have to be publicized as effectively as the voice number, and displayed as prominently as the voice number wherever such emergency numbers are listed. See Title II Technical Assistance Manual at pages 38 and 39. Second, Rhode Island's proposed system would have to operate fairly. The system would be acceptable only if the State's emergency telephone services received and processed nonvoice calls promptly and effectively. The State would also have to ensure that nonvoice callers whose calls were directed through E 911 received emergency attention as quickly as voice callers who could dial local emergency seven-digit numbers for assistance. If the voice caller who dials a local seven-digit number for an emergency service receives more immediate attention than a person who is deaf or has a speech or hearing impairment dialing E 911, the system would be operating in violation of the ADA. See preamble to title II regulation at 35713. Rhode Island also proposes to use the Rhode Island State

Police as the backup system for emergency TDD calls if the E 911 system is ever disrupted. Although it is not clear how often or in what circumstances such a disruption would occur, we assume that you have proposed this backup system for nonvoice callers because voice callers would have the option of dialing a sevendigit local emergency number should the E 911 system fail. The same principles discussed above are applicable here: The State would have to ensure that nonvoice callers whose calls were directed through the State Police as the backup to E 911 received emergency attention as quickly as voice callers who could dial local emergency seven-digit numbers for assistance if E 911 service was disrupted. Your letter indicates that part of the impetus for centralizing nonvoice emergency calls stems from practical difficulties in retaining trained, experienced personnel to handle TDD calls. Public entities are required to take steps that are necessary to promptly receive and respond to a call from users of TDD's and computer modems. No matter which system Rhode Island ultimately implements, and despite any difficulties the State may encounter with high staff turnover, it is the State's responsibility to ensure that emergency desk or dispatch personnel are trained to receive and respond to TDD calls effectively. Non-Emergency Telephone Services: Questions 2 and 3 "If it is permissible to centralize emergency calls, then for non-emergency calls would it be permissible under 28 CFR 35.162: 2. for several public safety agencies of the same muncipality to 'share' a TDD even if they do not have a central dispatch? 3. for small volunteer fire companies to 'share' a TDD even if they do not have a central dispatch?" Short Answer The answer is yes, so long as the "messenger-type" system proposed works at least as effectively for persons using the TDDsystem as for those using seven-digit non-emergency calls. Discussion

Where a public entity communicates with applicants and beneficiaries by telephone in non-emergency situations, the public entity does not have to provide "direct access." Instead, public entities have the option of using TDD's or "equally effective telecommunication systems" to communicate with individuals with impaired speech or hearing. See 28 C.F.R. 35.161. Under the regulation, relay services such as those required by title IV (involving a relay operator who uses both a standard telephone and a TDD to type the voice messages to the TDD user and read the TDD messages to the standard telephone user) constitute equally effective telecommunication systems. Title IV of the ADA requires all common carriers (i.e., the telephone companies) to provide telephone relay services by July 26, 1993. Thus, after that date, most State and local government entities in Rhode Island could choose to rely on relay services provided by the phone companies for non-emergency communications with individuals with impaired speech or hearing. Even after that date, however, the entities which have extensive telephone contact with the public such as city halls, public libraries and public aid offices, are strongly encouraged to have TDD's to ensure more immediate access. See preamble to title II regulation at 35712 ("The Department encourages those entities that have extensive telephone contact with the public. . . to have TDD's to insure more immediate access. Where the provision of telephone service is a major function of the entity, TDD's should be available.") As we understand it, your question is whether in the interim period before the relay system is operational (July 26, 1993), public service agencies providing non-emergency services in a given locality can meet their obligation under the ADA to provide equally effective telecommunication service by "sharing" a TDD. The system works as follows: the TDD operator transcribes a TDD user's request, contacts the relevant agency, and upon receiving an answer, returns the person's TDD call. Or, the individual agency official would go to where the TDD is housed and answer the deaf person's inquiry directly. Rhode Island's interim system for most non-emergency communications provided by public entities would be satisfactory only if it provides "equally effective telecommunication service." TDD operators must be properly trained, and public employees must be instructed to accept and handle relayed calls

in the normal course of business. See Title II Technical Assistance Manual at 38. Of course, once the relay system is operational in Rhode Island, you should use it instead of the shared TDD system described in your letter. Also, as stated above, we still strongly encourage those entities that have extensive telephone contact with the public to have their own TDD's to insure more immediate access. Finally, you asked for information regarding computer modem/ E 911 compatibility. Under the title II regulation, at present, telephone emergency services must only be compatible with the Baudot format. Until it can be technically proven that communications in another format can operate in a reliable and compatible manner in a given telephone emergency environment, a public entity would not be required to provide direct access to computer modems using formats other than Baudot. See Title II Technical Assistance Manual at 38. We do not have further information available regarding computer modem/ E 911 compatibility. However, your E 911 system should, at a minimum, be compatible with computer modems that use the Baudot format to be in compliance with the Department's title II regulation. I hope that this information has been helpful to you. If you have any questions, please contact Sheila M. Foran at (202) 616-2314. Sincerely,

John L. Wodatch Chief Public Access Section Enclosures (2) Title II regulation Title II Technical Assistance Manual