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As the General Counsel of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Coordinating agency of state government, I often use examples of enforcement activities to educate and advise on legal obligations, but also on best practices and strategies to help meet these obligations.

Recently, The United States Attorney’s Office, Civil Rights Unit (MA) entered into a Voluntary Compliance Agreement with Hudson Public School District (MA) on the topic of “telepresence” through robotic assistive technology. The U.S. Attorney’s Office cites the duty to ensure effective communication for the District’s students under the ADA. Specifically, the Agreement addresses the use of services and auxiliary aids that can assist a student to benefit from school, and allow the District to meet its effective communication obligation.

A report was filed alleging that the District discriminated against a student on the basis of disability in violation of the ADA, Title II (which creates obligations for state and local government entities). A student in the school system had an immunodeficiency disorder and related issues and in order to attend requisite treatment, was unable to physically attend a large portion of school days. At first, to allow the student equal access to education, the District provided (at no charge) the student with a robot capable of moving about the classroom and effectively allowing the student to hear, see and participate as if he was physically present in the classroom. The following school year, however, the District failed to properly take steps to provide the robotic aid again, or take a position on whether it would be to unduly burdensome to do so. That summer, the District hired a new superintendent who ultimately made the proper assessment and offered the robotic telepresence device once again along with other accommodations to the student this past year.

Although the school district denies violating Title II of the ADA during the time that the robot was not being offered, it did voluntarily agree to again provide the technology to accommodate the student. Also, the District agreed to draft, implement, and train its staff on a disability equal opportunity policy to ensure that the District conducts the appropriate individual inquiry and communicates with its students and other individuals with disabilities as effectively as when communicating with others.

MOD supports the creative thinking and stance of the U.S. Attorney on the option of telepresence technologies. In line with this Agreement, we hope that employers, educators and other ADA covered entities use available technology to accommodate qualified individuals.

The Voluntary Compliance Agreement can be found here: https://www.ada.gov/hudson_school_district_sa.html

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General Counsel

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