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February 01, 2009

February 2009: Faye Kuo, Esq.

Young deaf attorney makes most out of tough economic climate to advocate for deaf and hard of hearing people.

As economic conditions in the United States continue to deteriorate, it is important that businesses and services do not forget to provide accommodations for individuals with disabilities, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act and other relevant laws. Faye Kuo, Esq. reminds businesses of these requirements as a deaf services attorney for Advocacy, Incorporated in Austin, Texas, the state’s protection and advocacy organization.

Faye was born with bilateral, severe-profound deafness. She graduated from the John Marshall Law School in Chicago, IL. After law school, she joined Advocacy, Inc. and has been there for almost three years. She works exclusively on issues affecting deaf and hard of hearing individuals and their ability to communicate.

Ms. Kuo says businesses frequently offer the same reason for inaccessibility: lack of financial resources. “Unfortunately, the auxiliary aid or service that deaf people need the most, for example interpreters or communication access real-time translation (or CART), are not always free or inexpensive,” she noted, “and that’s where I see most of the problems—getting the business or entity to understand why it’s important to invest in a sign language interpreter or CART service to ensure that the person has equal access to the services, benefits, and privileges that the entity provides.”

The best way for businesses to adhere to the ADA is to budget properly and have funds set aside for providing accommodations. “The cost of being ADA-compliant is part of the cost of running a business,” Faye said, “it should be a budgeted item just like a rent payment, or the purchase of copier toner.”

Yet the country is in an economic recession with business already slashing their budgets. Especially now, businesses may not be able to afford the required and often-costly accommodations for deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Faye first explains that the law exempts businesses from an expensive accommodation if it is an undue burden on them. A more beneficial solution, however, can be found in her day-to-day work: “We try to negotiate with businesses to find a way to ensure communication access. Additionally, we provide them with information such as the ability to qualify for the Disabled Access Tax Credit under IRS code or, under a Texas state provision, Medicare providers may be eligible for reimbursement.” Sometimes businesses are not aware of these money-saving alternatives, yet are willing to take advantage of them once informed.

Moreover, as a young attorney, Faye has discovered additional inexpensive methods to accommodate her own disability that may not adversely affect a business’ bottom line. She frequently uses text messaging on her mobile phone or online instant messaging services, options becoming popular as more people take advantage of technology to communicate in new ways. Although these options may not be viable for the entire deaf and hard of hearing population, they are creative and readily available.