Planning Accessible Public Meetings
One of the fundamental rights of citizens in this country is the opportunity to participate in government, including participation in public meetings. Both state and federal laws guarantee this right. California Government Code Section 11135 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) require that an individual with a disability not be denied the opportunity to participate in any government program, service or activity because a public entity's facilities are inaccessible. The Bagley Keene Open Meeting Act and the Brown Act, as amended by AB 3035, specifically require that a public entity ensure that individuals with disabilities are not denied physical or communication access to public meetings. Furthermore, a public entity must ensure that its communication with members of the public with disabilities is as effective as its communication with others.
When planning public meetings, state agencies must assure that the meetings are accessible to members of the public who have a disability. Accessible public meetings require not only physical access to the meeting facility, but access to the information communicated through the meeting. This information bulletin is designed to identify the primary areas of concern related to public meetings, responsibilities of the meeting planner, and alternatives for providing solutions. Since all state and local governments are required by the ADA to appoint an ADA Coordinator, it is recommended that this person be the main resource and point of contact to assure equal access to public meetings.
Selecting An Accessible Meeting Location - All public meetings must take place in locations that are accessible to persons with disabilities. All parts of the building do not need to be accessible but the parking (if provided), the path of travel into and through the facility, the meeting area, and the restrooms must be. If overnight stays are involved, conveniently located accessible accommodations should also be a consideration.
Public Meeting Notices - Use a simple, uncluttered page design for written meeting announcements. It is recommended that the font be clear and simple such as Arial or Courier and be in a contrasting color to the paper to increase its legibility for readers with low vision. Be aware that some software programs may not allow people using assistive devices such as screen readers to read a document. Be prepared to design forms that can be made accessible or post or have available a word version of the agenda, if needed for an accommodation. Include the name and telephone number of the contact person and timelines for requesting accommodations needed as well as a TDD number that can be used by individuals with hearing impairments. The following is a sample notice:
If any accommodations are needed, please contact (individuals name) at (telephone number and TTY). Requests should be made as soon as possible but at least (time frame) prior to the scheduled meeting.
Designate an individual to be responsible for ensuring the meeting notice and other written materials contain the proper information for requesting accommodations and for processing the requests when they are received.
Alternative Formats - Written materials that are distributed to members of the public, such as the agenda and other materials distributed at a public meeting are subject to the requirement of that communication be equally effective for persons with disabilities. (U.S. Department of Justice, ADA, Title II Technical Assistance Manual (TAM) §7.1000). Thus, upon receipt of a specific request, a public entity that provides information in written form must make that information available to individuals in a form that is usable by them. (TAM) §7.1000). Such alternative formats may include computer diskette, audiotape, large print, or Braille. The type of format necessary to ensure effective communication will vary with the individual's needs and the length and complexity of the communication involved.
The public entity should provide an opportunity for individuals with disabilities to request the alternative format of their choice. An interactive discussion with that individual is encouraged when clarification regarding the type of alternative format to be provided is needed. This discussion may result in identifying practical options for the public entity that are also suited to meet the requestor's needs. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the expressed choice of the individual with a disability must be given primary consideration unless the public entity can demonstrate that another effective means of communication exists (U.S. Department of Justice, ADA, Title II Technical Assistance Manual (TAM) §7.1100).
Although providing documents in alternative formats may result in some additional cost, a public entity may not place a surcharge on individuals with disabilities to cover these expenses (TAM §3.5400, CA Govt. Code §11125.1 (e)). If a document is available to the public free of charge, it must also be available in an alternative format free of charge. If a fee is charged for documents provided to the general public, this fee must be the same for those documents when provided in alternative format.
Auxiliary Aids And Services - Upon receipt of a specific request, it may be necessary to provide auxiliary aids and services to individuals with disabilities to allow full participation in the public meeting. These include, but are not limited to:
Sign language interpreters - A qualified interpreter is an individual who is able to interpret effectively, accurately and impartially, both receptively and expressively, using any specialized vocabulary that may be necessary.
Audio tapes - Providing materials in a recorded audio format is a method of making information accessible to persons who have visual, learning, and physical disabilities. Audio material is commonly recorded on cassette tapes, but it may also be stored on CD-ROM.
Real-time transcription - A method to make information available to hearing impaired persons by which the verbal input from the meeting is directed to a computer which displays a running transcript, with the actual words, much like closed-captioning on a television.
Assistive listening devices (ALD) - A communication system that enables hard-of-hearing people to better comprehend speech or music. The four main types of ALDs are: Acoustic, Frequency Modulated, Induction (Loop) and Infrared.
Open or closed captioning and caption decoders for videos - Open captions are captions that have been decoded, so they are part of the television picture, like subtitles in a movie. Open captions cannot be turned off. Closed captions are captions that are hidden in the video signal, invisible without a special decoder to decipher them.
Parking - If parking is provided, ensure that the parking area has the correct number of accessible spaces and that both van and auto access aisles are provided. In addition, verify that there is a safe, accessible path of travel provided between the parking area and the entrance to the facility (Title 24, CCR §1129B.1).
Public Transportation - There must be a safe and accessible path of travel leading from the transportation stop to the facility entrance (Title 24, CCR §1114B.1.2).
Restrooms - Ensure that at least one set of restrooms within the facility is accessible. If there is more than one set of restrooms, but not all are accessible, make sure there is directional signage that indicates where the accessible restrooms are located (Title 24, CCR §1117B.5).
Phones and Drinking Fountains - Whenever possible, select locations that have at least one accessible public phone and drinking fountain. At least one telephone per floor should have amplification capabilities and be accessible to persons using wheelchairs. Where drinking fountains are provided, at least one per floor must be accessible to persons using wheelchairs and must be enclosed in an alcove or not encroach into the accessible route (Title 24, CCR §1117B.2; §1117B.1.2).
Speaker Platform - If there is a raised platform, make sure that an accessible ramp is provided as well as an accessible path of travel leading to it (Title 24, CCR §1133B.5). Microphones should be adjustable in order to adapt the height to the speaker.
Emergency Evacuation - Establish an emergency evacuation plan for individuals with disabilities. Never assume that all individuals with disabilities need special help in an evacuation. Always ask before providing assistance.
Meeting Rooms - Arrange all meeting rooms with consideration for persons with disabilities. All public meeting space should be wheelchair accessible. This area should include integrated wheelchair seating, turning room, and aisle space (Title 24,CCR §1118B).