WASHINGTON - The Justice Department today announced a comprehensive settlement agreement under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with HRB Tax Group Inc., H&R Block Tax Services LLC and HRB Advance LLC (H&R Block) to ensure effective communication with individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing in the provision of income tax preparation services and courses at more than 11,000 owned and franchised offices nationwide.
The settlement agreement, which resolves an ADA complaint filed by an individual who is deaf, requires, among other things, that H&R Block furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services, including sign language interpreter services, when necessary to afford a person who is deaf or hard of hearing equal access to the goods, services and accommodations made available to others.
“By signing this agreement, H&R Block has affirmed its commitment to providing effective communication with people who are deaf and hard of hearing not only at their tax preparation offices in San Antonio, where the complaint originated, but at their locations across the country,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The agreement will ensure that individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing have equal access to tax preparation services at more than 11,000 offices nationwide.”
The agreement requires that H&R Block:
- Provide auxiliary aids and services, including qualified sign language interpreters, to persons who are deaf or hard of hearing when necessary to ensure effective communication of its tax preparation services, programs and courses;
- Adopt and enforce a policy on effective communication with individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing for all H&R Block offices nationwide, post the policy on its websites and in its employee manuals, and distribute the policy to current and new employees and contractors;
- Establish and maintain a list of sign language interpreter providers;
- Post and maintain in a conspicuous location in all reception areas of H&R Block offices a notice stating that individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing have a right under the ADA to request a sign language or oral interpreter or other form of auxiliary aid or service if needed;
- Provide staff training on the ADA and H&R Block’s obligations to provide effective communication to individuals with disabilities;
- Monitor franchisees' compliance with this requirement consistent with monitoring of compliance with the franchise agreements and other requirements of federal, state or local laws; and
- Pay $5,000 damages to the individual who filed an ADA complaint and a $20,000 civil penalty.
The ADA prohibits discrimination against customers with disabilities by businesses that serve the public. Among other things, the ADA requires tax preparation services, accountants, lawyers, doctors and other businesses to provide equal access to customers who are deaf or hard of hearing. When services such as tax preparation involve important, lengthy or complex oral communications with customers, businesses are generally required to provide qualified sign language interpreters and other auxiliary aids, free of charge, to individuals who are deaf, are hard of hearing or have speech disabilities. Other auxiliary aids may include the use of relay services for telephone communication, exchanging notes for brief and uncomplicated communications, providing assistive listening systems and receivers in classes for attendees who are hard of hearing, and providing captioned videos. The appropriate auxiliary aid to be provided depends on a variety of factors including the nature, length and importance of the communication; the communication skills and knowledge of the individual who is deaf or hard of hearing; and the individual’s stated need for a particular type of auxiliary aid.
Auxiliary aids must also be provided for individuals who are blind or have low vision, such as materials in Braille, large print or accessible electronic formats such as email or HTML, qualified readers and assistance in filling out forms.
Those interested in finding out more about this agreement or businesses’ effective communication obligations under the ADA may call the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 or 800-514-0383 (TDD), or access its ADA website. ADA complaints may be filed by email to firstname.lastname@example.org .