Provided Courtesy of: The Americans With Disabilities Act-Communication Accomodations Project; 
National Center for Law and Deafness; 
Gallaudet University; 
800 Florida Avenue, N.E.; 
Washington, DC  20002; 


You have asked for information about the obligations of a theater or lecture hall under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12101-12213.

Title III of the ADA applies to all "places of public accommodation," including a "motion picture house, theater, concert hall, stadium, or other place of exhibition or entertainment." 28 C.F.R. 36.104. In addition to the duty to remove structural barriers to communication pursuant to 28 C.F.R. Section 36.304, places of public accommodation are required to provide "effective communication" to persons with disabilities:

(c) Effective communication. A public accommodation shall furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to ensure effective communication with individuals with disabilities.

28 C.F.R. 36.303. Places of public accommodation must provide assistive listening systems, interpreters and other auxiliary aids unless it would constitute an "undue burden" or "fundamental alteration" of their services. 28 C.F.R. Section 36.303(a).

Auxiliary aids and services are defined to include:

Qualified interpreters, notetakers, computer-aided transcription services, written materials, assistive listening devices, assistive listening systems, telephones compatible with hearing aids, closed caption decoders, open and closed captioning, telecommunications devices for deaf persons (TDD's) videotext displays, or other effective methods of making aurally delivered materials available to individuals with hearing impairments.

28. C.F.R. 36.303(b)(1).

The appropriate auxiliary aid or service will vary, depending on the context and the need of the individual with disabilities. It would not be unusual to find that a theater or other place of public accommodation must provide several different types of auxiliary services. For example, a qualified interpreter might be needed to provide access for deaf individuals, while an assistive listening system (such as a loop or FM transmitter or other device) might also be needed to give effective access to the amplification system for a hearing aid user who does not use sign language. The auxiliary aid requirement is flexible, and the place of public accommodation can choose among various alternatives as long as the result is effective communication for the hearing impaired customer. The U.S. Department of Justice strongly encourages consultation with persons of disabilities, to ascertain the services that will meet their needs. 56 Fed. Reg. 35566 (July 26, 199l).

The regulation expressly defines a "qualified interpreter" as follows:

'Qualified interpreter' means an interpreter who is able to interpret effectively, accurately and impartially both receptively and expressively, using any necessary specialized vocabulary.

28 C.F.R. 36.104. The definition recognizes that the skill level needed for certain types of communication may be higher than for other types of communication. An interpreter who can provide "effective" and "accurate" interpretation in a one-on-one conversation may not be qualified to provide the highly skilled interpreting needed for a theater production or other stage event.

Please note that the regulation expressly prohibits charging an additional fee or "surcharge" for the provision of an interpreter or any auxiliary aid or service.

A public accommodation may not impose a surcharge on a particular individual with a disability or any group of individuals with disabilities to cover the costs of measures, such as the provision of auxiliary aids, barrier removal . . . and reasonable modifications . . . that are required to provide that individual or group with the nondiscriminatory treatment required by the Act or this part.

28 C.F.R. 36.301(c). However, "reasonable, completely refundable" deposits are permissible for the loan of assistive listening equipment. 56 Fed. Reg. 35564 (July 26, 1991).

Guidance about the scope of the requirement to provide assistive listening systems is available from the ADA guidelines for new construction. When a theater is newly constructed or added on to or renovated, it must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act Architectural Guidelines (ADAAG), which are published as Appendix B to the Justice Department regulation for Title III. Existing facilities must also remove architectural barriers, if doing so would be readily achievable.

Assembly areas with fixed seating where audible communications are integral to the use of the space must have a permanently installed assistive listening system if they accommodate at least 50 persons, or if they have audio amplification systems. ADAAG 4.1.3(19)(b). The regulation states:

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.

A listening system serving individual fixed seats must be located within a 50 foot (15 m) viewing distance of the stage or playing area and shall have a complete view of the stage.

There are several types of listening systems that may be appropriate. ADAAG A4.33.7 provides a table and some guidance in summarizing the three principal systems: induction loop transmitter; FM transmitter; infrared transmitted. I have enclosed some additional information about the different types of systems that may be helpful. Please contact us if you need more specific information about types and placement of assistive listening systems.

Funded by a Grant from the U.S. Department of Justice