Effective Communication Policy
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Effective Communication Policy


Harris County Election Administrator’s Office continues to ensure every voter with a disability can vote in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As we develop more opportunities across Harris County to foster an inclusive community, we have increased effective communication accessibility to people who have vision, hearing, or speech disabilities (communication disabilities). Effective communication simply means that whatever is written or spoken must be as clear and understandable to people with disabilities as it is for people who do not have disabilities. To meet this obligation, Harris County Elections Administrator’s Office, whenever necessary, provides, free of charge, appropriate auxiliary aids and services to individuals with disabilities, including to a voter's parent, spouse, or companion.
The goal is to ensure that communication with people with communication disabilities is equally effective as communication with people without disabilities.

Definitions

Disability is defined under the ADA as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Alternatively, an individual could have a record of such an impairment, or be regarded as having such an impairment.
Communication disabilities are hearing, vision and/or speech disabilities that affect an individual’s ability to receive, understand or convey information.
Effective communication means that whatever is written or spoken is as clear and understandable to people with disabilities as it is for people who do not have disabilities. Information can be shared in a spoken, written or tactile manner, so long as it is communicated as clearly and understandably with people who have communication disabilities as it is with people who do not have these disabilities.
Auxiliary aids and services are tools that facilitate effective communication. 

Purpose

This policy is designed to ensure that individuals with communication disabilities have equal access to and participation in all Harris County Election Administrator’s Office programs, activities and services. This policy details how individuals with communication disabilities make requests for auxiliary aids and services, as well as how the Office will respond to such requests. This policy also details the process by which an individual with a communication disability can appeal the Office’s denial of such a request. Ultimately, the goal of this policy is to provide effective communication for individuals with communication disabilities, which will result in fostering an inclusive voting program under the ADA.

Scope

This policy applies to all communications from the Harris County Election Administrator’s Office, including oral, written and electronic information. This policy applies to members of the general public who have communication disabilities and want to access information from and/or communicate with the Harris County Election Administrator’s Office. Voters with communication disabilities, as well as those who provide assistance to voters with these disabilities are covered under this policy. This policy also applies to Harris County election workers who request auxiliary aids and services.

Effective Communication Tools

Harris County Election Administrator’s Office is committed to communicating as effectively with those who have communication disabilities as it is with those who do not have disabilities. The Office will provide auxiliary aids and services free of charge when necessary to facilitate effective communication, including when requested by an individual with a communication disability. When choosing an aid or service, Harris County Election Administrator’s Office is required to give primary consideration to the choice of aid or service requested by the person who has a communication disability. Harris County Election Administrator’s Office must honor the person’s choice, unless it can demonstrate that another equally effective means of communication is available, or that the use of the means chosen would result in a fundamental alteration or in an undue burden. If the choice expressed by the person with a disability would result in an undue burden or a fundamental alteration, Harris County Election Administrator’s Office still has an obligation to provide an alternative aid or service that provides effective communication.

Examples of Auxiliary Aids and Services Provided by HCEAO

Harris County Election Administrator’s Office will provide auxiliary aids and services, including the following: 
  • Individuals who are blind may use screen reading software to access electronic materials. They may also use Braille as an alternate to printed materials. Individuals who have low vision may use screen reading or magnification software to access electronic information. They may also use magnification devices or large print to read printed materials. Individuals with low vision may also ask that information be read aloud to them, or they may use headphones on an accessible voting machine to have their ballot read to them electronically. 
  • During Early Voting and on Election Day, each Harris County voting center has at least one accessible voting machine to assist individuals who are blind or who have low vision.  Each accessible voting machine is equipped with built-in screen magnification, contrast modification features, and the Audio Tactile Interface (ATI) to facilitate reading the electronic ballot with headphones. The ATI of the accessible voting machine also has buttons with Braille. Individuals who are blind or who have low vision may use a combination of these features on the accessible voting machines. 
  • Individuals who are blind or low vision may also access information in alternate formats.  This may include electronic versions of printed documents like a sample ballot. 
  • Individuals who are blind or who have low vision may also, upon their own choosing, have someone who is not an election worker read aloud their ballot. Election workers must permit individuals with disabilities to be assisted by the person of their choice as long as they follow state and federal law. A third-party assistant must be given the Oath of Assistance before providing such assistance. 
  • Individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing may communicate effectively in one or more ways. Individuals who are deaf may use American Sign Language (ASL), Signed English, or other language interpretation to communicate in-person and virtually. They may also read lips or live captions during in-person or virtual communications. Individuals who are hard of hearing may use similar methods of communication as those who are deaf, or they may use a combination of these methods.  
  • Harris County Election Administrator’s Office provides Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) at all Early Voting locations for voters who use ASL. On Election Day, Harris County will provide VRI, in-person translators, or other methods of effective communication upon the request of a voter, a voter’s companion and/or an election worker. Interpreters who facilitate communication in-person at voting locations must be given the Oath of Assistance if they are not election workers. Individuals with disabilities may also use communication boards or pass written notes in some in-person contexts, and election workers must work with these individuals to provide effective communication. 
  • Individuals with speech disabilities may prefer to handwrite or type to communicate in-person or virtually. They may also communicate orally by using a transliterator to speak aloud what the individual wants to say. Individuals who are deaf and blind may use tactile signing to communicate in-person. Election workers must work with these individuals with disabilities to provide effective communication. 
Note that an individual can have multiple disabilities, one or more of which can be a communication disability. Individuals can have mobility or intellectual disabilities that accompany the communication disability. For example, Harris County will provide a sip-and-puff that plugs into the accessible voting machine so that an individual who has a speech disability, as well as a mobility impairment, may vote independently.

How to Request Auxiliary Aids and services

As explained above, Harris County Election Administrator’s Office provides multiple auxiliary aids and services to individuals with disabilities at each voting center, but individuals with disabilities can also submit a request. 
Individuals should complete the Accommodations Request Form to request auxiliary aids and services from Harris County Election Administrator’s Office. Individuals may complete the form online or they may download a fillable PDF by clicking here and email the completed form to the ADA Coordinator Sashi Nisankarao at [email protected] Individuals may also call the ADA Coordinator Sashi Nisankarao at 713-755-6965 to ask for assistance in completing the request form. Paper copies will also be available at all Harris County voting centers during Early Voting and Election Day. Individuals may complete the request form themselves, or they may ask election workers to assist them in completing the form. Election workers must assist individuals with disabilities who request assistance in completing the form. 
Individuals who vote in-person during Early Voting and who use VRI may ask election workers at the Early Voting location for a Translation iPad since all Early Voting locations have a designated Translation iPad onsite at all times. Individuals who vote in-person on Election Day and who use VRI may ask election workers at their voting center for a Translation iPad. 
Note that individuals who wish to request auxiliary aids and services are not required to complete and submit the request form. Individuals may send an email with a written request to the ADA Coordinator Sashi Nisankarao at [email protected] or they may call in their request to the ADA Coordinator Sashi Nisankarao at 713-755-6965. They may also speak to election workers at a polling place to request assistance.

Responses to Requests

Harris County Election Administrator’s Office will contact individuals who make requests via phone and/or email within 24 hours of receipt, unless the request was submitted on a weekend or holiday, in which case the Office will contact the individual on the next business day. Individuals will be contacted in order to update them on the status of their request within this time period. One of three status updates may be given: 1) the request is approved; 2) the request is pending; or 3) the request is denied. If a request is pending, then further information may be needed from the Office. 
Harris County Election Administrator’s Office may take no more than 72 hours to issue a decision on a request, unless the request is received over a weekend or holiday, in which case a decision may be issued no later than 72 hours once the Office resumes operations. 
Harris County Election Administrator’s Office must give primary consideration to the requested accommodation of the individual with the communication disability. This is because individuals with disabilities are the most knowledgeable about their own needs. The Office may deny a request only under these circumstances: 1) the Office provides an equally effective alternative to the requested accommodation; 2) providing the requested accommodation would pose a fundamental alteration to the County’s programs, activities and services; or 3) providing the requested accommodation poses a significant financial hardship to the County. If the choice expressed by the person with a disability would result in an undue burden or a fundamental alteration, the Office must still provide an alternative aid or service that ensures that individuals with disabilities receive the benefits or services provided by the Harris County Election Administrator’s Office. The Office will retain documentation relating to the denial of requests based on these circumstances. 

Appeals after Denial of Request

Individuals should submit appeals within 10 days of receiving a denial of a request for accommodation or modification from the Harris County Election Administrator’s Office. Individuals may submit denials in writing via email at [email protected] or via telephone by calling 713-755-6965. Once the Office receives the appeal, the ADA Coordinator will record the appeal in the database. The Office will notify the individual via email or phone of a final decision within 72 hours of receiving the appeal.

Confidentiality of Disability-Related Information

Harris County Election Administrator’s Office will maintain the confidentiality of any and all information regarding disability-related requests for accommodations. Requests will be entered and tracked through a database, and only those personnel within the Office who have a need to know will have access to the database. This level of confidentiality applies to all individuals covered under this policy. If you have any questions about Harris County Election Administrator’s Office’s Effective Communication Policy, or if you need any assistance in making a request for accommodation, please contact us at 713-755-6965 or at [email protected]
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