DRP obtains Third Circuit ruling that American Sign Language tactile interpreting is an auxiliary aid and service for individuals who are deafblind under the ADA
Disability Rights Pennsylvania (“DRP”) successfully obtained a ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in McGann v. Cinemark, No. 16-2160 (3d Cir. 2017), in which the Third Circuit rules that American Sign Language tactile interpreting is an auxiliary aid and service for individuals who are deafblind under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The plaintiff, Paul Richard McGann, has Usher’s Syndrome and is deafblind.
In November of 2014, Mr. McGann, a longtime patron of the movies, learned about the movie Gone Girl from friends. He became interested in the story line and wanted to be able to discuss the movie with friends and family. After realizing that it was no longer showing at his regular movie theater, Mr. McGann contacted a Pittsburgh Cinemark theater to request tactile interpretation as an accommodation for a showing of the movie. Cinemark denied his request.
Mr. McGann generally uses American Sign Language (“ASL”) to communicate with others by signing in ASL himself expressively and by using ASL tactile interpreters receptively. Mr. McGann generally uses a hand-over-hand method of tactile interpretation, in which he places his hands lightly on the hands of an interpreter to read ASL through touch.
Undeterred by Cinemark’s denial, Mr. McGann contacted DRP to discuss his rights and determine what remedies were available to him under the law. DRP filed a lawsuit on his behalf to challenge the denial of this auxiliary aid and service under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
After losing his case in the District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania last year, McGann appealed. On October 6, 2017, the Third Circuit issued its panel decision agreeing with Mr. McGann.
“The Third Circuit could not have written stronger language making clear that American Sign Language tactile interpreting is an auxiliary aid and service within the meaning of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said Carol Horowitz, Managing Attorney at DRP. “The Court emphasized the Congressional intent behind the ADA to address the social isolation and segregation of people with disabilities and to ensure their equal participation in all aspects of the social mainstream of American life, including at the movies.”
The Court noted that movies are an important medium for social communication that influence public opinion, attitudes, and behavior. The Court concluded that Cinemark failed to make its services available to Mr. McGann by denying him the auxiliary service needed for him to experience the movie.
The Court of Appeals vacated the judgment entered by the trial court in favor of Cinemark, and remanded the case for consideration of whether the provision of tactile interpreters constitutes an undue burden to Cinemark.