Reaching Out to Customers With Disabilities: Lesson 2 Communicating With Customers Who Have DisabilitiesAt a check-out counter, a man who is deaf and his niece are buying some sports gear.
Lesson 10: Information SourcesLesson 9: ADA EnforcementLesson 8: Cost IssuesLesson 7: Transporting CustomersLesson 6: Maintaining AccessibilityLesson 5: Alternate AccessLesson 4: Removing BarriersLesson 3: Accessible Design Lesson 1: Policies & ProceduresIntroduction: Welcome to the CourseLesson 2: Customer Communications

Obtaining visual and oral communication services

You can ask customers to notify you in advance if they need any of the services described in this lesson. It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with agencies that provide these services in your area, so that you will be prepared when the need arises. Local disability organizations or ADA Information Line staff can help you identify the local service providers.

Some services, such as an audio recording of a menu or a large print version of a flyer, can be prepared in-house with a business’s own equipment.

You may not charge the customer extra to cover the cost of any services needed to communicate effectively. You should consider them as part of your overall cost of doing business. (See the discussion of “undue burden,” below.) The tax credit described in lesson 8 can be used by small businesses to help offset these costs.

You cannot require customers to bring their own interpreters. However, if a customer prefers to bring his or her own interpreter, the ADA permits you to accept this arrangement, if agreed upon in advance. In a case like this, you are responsible for paying the interpreter’s fees. If a customer shows up with an interpreter unarranged, you are not obliged to use or pay for the interpreter’s services, unless you agree to do so.

Telephone communications using the relay service

You answer the telephone and the caller says, “This is relay CA #___. Have you received a relay call before?” What do you do? [The relay operator is called a "CA" for "communication assistant." The operator will provide his or her state identification number.]

Don’t hang up! The telecommunications relay service (TRS) is a free nationwide service that enables people who have hearing or speech disabilities who use TTYs (teletypewriters, also known as text telephones or TDDs) to communicate with people who use telephones and vice versa.

A person with a TTY is using the relay service
to place an order for pizza delivery.
A person with a TTY is using the relay service
to place an order for pizza delivery.

How it works. When a TTY-user types his or her words on a TTY, the words appear on a display in front of the relay operator, and the operator reads those words to the telephone-user. The telephone-user speaks his or her words to the operator, and the operator types those words to send them to the TTY-user.

The relay service is also used to communicate with people who can speak to the telephone-user but cannot hear the response, and by people who can hear the telephone-user but cannot speak clearly enough to respond.

If businesses accept calls from the public, they must accept relay calls. To place a call to a customer who uses a TTY, dial 7-1-1 to access the relay service.


The ADA has limits on how far a business must go in providing effective communication. Businesses are not expected to provide any services that would “fundamentally alter” the business’s goods and services or that would cause an “undue burden.” What does this mean?

“Fundamental alteration”

A fundamental alteration is a change that is so significant that it alters the essential nature of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations offered by a business.

“Undue burden”

The ADA does not require businesses to furnish any communication aids or services that place an undue burden on the business. An undue burden is defined as "significant difficulty or expense." It is evaluated on a case-by-case basis, relative to the business’s overall resources.

When a particular communication aid or service would cause an undue burden, a business must provide another communication aid or service that still is effective but is less difficult or costly, if one is available.


It may be an undue burden for a small private historic house museum on a shoestring budget to provide a sign language interpreter for a deaf individual wishing to participate in a tour. Providing a written script of the tour, however, would be unlikely to result in an undue burden.

It probably would be an undue burden for a car dealer to have a sign language interpreter available all the time to assist walk-in customers. However, when requested by a customer in advance, the dealer can arrange for an interpreter to be available at a specified time.

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