As we consider online counseling for persons who are blind or visually impaired, we must first ask: Shall we consider online mental health counseling a business service or a medical service? Since mental health counseling coverage typically falls under the individual’s health policy, I maintain that mental health counseling can be considered a medical service and will most likely be governed by future policies that pertain to health and medical practices.
Here, I examine the current status of the law as it pertains to communication with persons with disabilities and medical services. The ADA requires that Title II entities (State and local governments) and Title III entities (businesses and nonprofit organizations that serve the public) communicate effectively with people who have communication disabilities. The goal is to ensure that communication with people with these disabilities is equally as effective as communication with people without disabilities.
In implementing communication solutions, the business or public accommodation should first consider the person’s preferred method of communication. Such as speech electronic text or large print.
• For people who are blind, have vision loss, or are deaf-blind, this includes providing a qualified reader; information in large print, Braille, or electronically for use with a computer screen-reading program.
• The key provision of the communication rules is that the person with the disability should be able to fully communicate to the covered entity and to fully understand the information conveyed by the covered entity resulting in a free exchange of information with both parties.
What do the courts require with regard to access to medical care? Under the Barrier Free Healthcare Initiative, the courts have recently targeted the enforcement of the law for communication with persons who are deaf or have hearing loss, physical barriers for persons with mobility impairments and discrimination towards persons with HIV/AIDS. The most recent rulings on these matters can be found at https://www.ada.gov/usao-agreements.htm
Here we see the courts repeatedly find in favor of the plaintiffs who were denied communication and physical access to medical care. Examples include Brookside Rehabilitation and Nursing Center Settlement agreement which is a case where the medical facility was required to provide an interpreter for the person who was deaf or hearing impaired. The North Ft. Mitchell Settlement agreement required the defendant to provide proper auxiliary aids and services to the person with a sensory disability. Additionally, there are many legal cases that found that physical barriers must be eliminated for persons with physical disabilities. Thus, the courts currently are focusing on accessibility for these populations. Accessibility for the blind and visually impaired, such as online mental health and virtual medical treatments, has not yet been addressed. However, one can assume that the courts will eventually find that accessibility online is equally important to make certain persons who are blind and visually impaired have equal access to online mental health and medical care especially considering the difficulty that exists for these individuals getting out of the house and accessing medical offices .
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