QUESTION: One of our homeowners is deaf and wants the board to pay for a sign language interpreter so she can attend board and membership meetings. Does the board have a legal duty to provide an interpreter?
ANSWER: Under current disability discrimination laws, associations do not have a duty to pay for an interpreter. However, if a deaf member wants to bring an interpreter at their own expense, the association must reasonably accommodate the request.
Recommendation: Even though there is no clear legal authority for requiring a private organization to provide a sign-language interpreter, some disability rights organizations argue that the Federal Fair Housing Act and California's Unruh Act could still take into account the size of the association's budget as a factor in whether an HOA should provide an interpreter so as to "reasonably accommodate" the disability. If the disabled person is on the board of directors, the analysis of the situation could change. Accordingly, boards should consult legal counsel when faced with issues of reasonable accommodation for the disabled.
"Hearing impaired" describes people with any degree of hearing loss, from mild to severe.
"Hard of hearing" refers to a hearing loss where there may be hearing that can be improved with the assistance of a hearing aid.
"Deaf" refers to someone with a hearing loss so severe that they are unable to hear and are dependent on visusal communication such as sign language and lipreading.
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