This is a Title III question, so I contacted the Department of Justice. I had a lovely chat with an ADA consultant after staying on hold for 30 minutes.
First I want to clarify a misconception about ADA
According to DOJ we are required to follow Title III public accommodation regulations. We are private group putting on a public event. Our event is open to anyone able to purchase a membership. So we must make accommodations for any disabled person who attends our event.
Also, DOJ prefers to mediate instead of going straight to court. We would have to fail on many levels before opening ourself up to a DOJ law suit. Lets not do that DOJ, lawyers make the IRS check under the bed for monsters.
When a person registers for the convention there should be a section of the form asking if they need accommodations. I tried to look at the Readercon web site to see the current registration form, but the site was no loading in the time frame where the consultant could look at it. The form should simple ask “Do you need accommodations and if so what?” If we receive a registration from someone who requires accommodation it is within our rights to contact the person and ask them what accommodations they need. We can NOT ask about their disability, nor can we request proof of their disability. We are only allowed to ask what accommodations they need.
DOJ recommended that a member of the Registration staff working with our disability coordinator contact the registrant regarding accommodations. There are three levels of accommodation for deaf or hard of hearing individuals. Assisted listening devices, Captioning and interpretor.
Captioning is most likely well out of our price range, and not effective for a live event.
Assisted listening devices are not as expensive, according to DOJ. I have been given some companies to contact regarding renting or purchasing a device. The information is provided at the end of this report.
Our third option would be providing the services of an interpreter. We could in our accommodation conversation ask if the individual knows someone they regularly use as an interpretor. We can go a couple of different ways here. If this person brings their own interpretor we must make the environment accessible to them. Reserving lines of sight for the interpretor. Request panelists speak slower and are in the line of sight of the interpretor. I'm not quite sure, and neither is DOJ how we would handle people asking questions from the floor. They would have to stand so the interpretor could see them, or use a mike so the interpreter could hear them. We would not have to allow this interpretor a free membership or a reduced membership. Although that might be a very good option if only to provide a positive experience for the attendie.
If the deaf person requests we provide the interpretor. In that case we might want to look to the fannish community (Or as DOJ put it, contact other events like yours) to see if any of them could recommend a person we could use. We would then have to work out a contract with them to attend. My suggestion would be to look to the fannish community if we have an sign language interpretors and offer them a free membership in exchange for being with our deaf attendee
We could go in a different direction and place sign language interpreters in each panel. That way the deaf person is not attached to one person for the entire convention. Again this could be in our best interest. If we find a few sign language interpretors who are willing to station them selves in a room for an entire day we might be able to connect them with programing and give them the additional duty of being the room monitor.
I hope this has answered everyones questions regarding accommodation of disabled persons. Our responsibility is limited to our events. The hotel is responsible for general access and most likely has a person on sight or someone at the corporation level who deals with accessibility issues as they relate to the physical building. The only way we would have responsibility for physical accessibility would be if we set up a special event that required mobility. Say a maze that was not wide enough for or passable to a wheelchair or motorized scooter.
Resources used for this report.
Department of Justice ADA Home Page hhttp://www.ada.gov/index.html
Job Accommodation Network www.askjan.org
Searchable Online Accommodation Resources www.askjan.org/soar/