Q. Why is it my responsibility to provide a sign language interpreter?
A. In 1990 the United States congress passed a federal law called the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
President George Bush signed this bill into effect and it became the responsibility of a variety of
businesses to make their services available to the general public. This is called making an
accommodation. For Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing individuals a sign language interpreter is an appropriate
There have been numerous lawsuits filed against hospitals, businesses, doctors, etc. for failing to comply
with the ADA. Lawyers are eager to take on these cases because the cases are easily won. A lack of
information could cause your business to have to pay a large settlement for failure to provide an
appropriate accommodation to your Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing consumer.
Title III of the ADA requires hotels, restaurants, movies and theaters, auditoriums, doctors’ offices,
lawyers’ offices, offices of other professionals, hospitals, nursing homes, drug stores, insurance
agencies, retail stores, museums, banks, libraries, parks, private schools and colleges, amusement and
recreation facilities, exercise spas, and day care centers to make their services accessible to individuals
who are disabled.
Q. What is the ADA?
A. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law to stop discrimination against people with
disabilities. It applies to:
· Many private and public employers (Title I)
· State and local government agencies (Title II)
· Places of public accommodation (Title III)
· Transportation facilities (Titles II and III)
· Telephone companies (Title IV)
· U.S. Congress (Title V)
Q. What kinds of "auxiliary aids and services (accommodations)" must be provided to people with
A. The Department of Justice lists the following examples of auxiliary aids and services:
Qualified interpreters, note takers, computer-aided transcriptions services, written materials, telephone
handset amplifiers, assistive listening systems, assistive listening devices, telephones compatible with
hearing aids, closed caption decoders, open and closed captioning, telecommunications devices for deaf
persons (TDDs) and videotext displays, or other effective methods of making aurally delivered materials
available to individuals with hearing impairments.
28 C.F.R. 35.104; 28 C.F.R. 36.303 (b)(1). This list is not intended to included every possible auxiliary aid
or service. People with hearing impairments use a wide variety of techniques to communicate. New
methods or equipment might become available as technology advances. The most important thing to
consider is what the person needs in order to communicate effectively in a particular situation. See
generally DOJ Analysis at 56 Fed. Reg. At 35567, 35711-12.
Q. When is a deaf person entitled to an interpreter?
A. An interpreter should be used when the deaf person needs this service to communicate effectively
and to get equal access to services. Whether or not an interpreter is needed depends on:
· The deaf person's communication skills;
· The context of the communication;
· The number of people involved;
· The importance of the communication; and
· Whether the information is complex or lengthy.
For example, the Justice Department explains that an interpreter may be necessary in situations
involving communications regarding health, legal matters, and finances. See DOJ Analysis at 56 Fed. Reg.
At 35567, 35712.
Q. Who is a "qualified" interpreter?
A. A qualified interpreter is defined to mean "an interpreter who is able to interpret effectively,
accurately, and impartially both receptively and expressively, using any necessary specialized
vocabulary."; 228 C.F.R. 35.104 (See also Fed. Reg. At 35701); 28 C.F.R. 36.104. (See also 56 Fed. Reg. At
35553.) The definition recognized that the interpreting skill needed for some types of communication
may be higher than for other types of communication. For example, an interpreter in a doctor's office
must be able to interpret complex medical terminology. Similarly, a highly skilled interpreter may be
needed for a court proceeding or a theater production.
The Department of Justice regulations to implement Title III provide a comprehensive list of auxiliary
aids and services required by the ADA. Qualified interpreters are included in this list of auxiliary aids. The
regulation defines "qualified interpreter" to mean "an interpreter who is able to interpret effectively,
accurately, and impartially both receptively and expressively, using any necessary specialized
vocabulary." This definition focuses on the interpreter's actual ability to make communication effective
in a particular interpreting situation.
Q. Can asking family members or friends of the deaf person to interpret satisfy the obligation to
provide effective communication?
A. Generally, no. Family members often do not have sufficient sign language skills to interpret
accurately. Even if they are skilled in sign language, a family member or friend may not be "qualified" in
certain situations, because of emotional or personal involvement or the deaf individual's need for
privacy and confidentiality. 56 Fed. Reg. at 35553.
Professional interpreters are highly skilled and nationally/state certified in sign language. They are
trained in the interpreting process with focus on non-manual and specialized vocabulary. They are
required to maintain their certification with continuous training and mandatory CEU's. Certified
interpreters are bound by a "Code of Ethics" for confidentiality, impartiality, and professionalism to
ensure a true and accurate interpretation.
Problems with using a friend or family member could be one or more of the following: objectivity, skill
level, confidentiality, liability.
Benefits of using a professional interpreter are adhering to the professional code of conduct which
includes confidentiality, skill level, training and specialized vocabulary, impartiality, liability insurance,
experience, ADA compliance and professionalism.
Q. I have a staff member who can sign fairly well. May I use this person?
No. The law requires the individual providing the interpreting service must be a qualified interpreter.
There is a major difference between “signing” and “interpreting”. ASL has many idioms and
idiosyncrasies, as all languages do. Along with manual signs, ASL relies heavily upon non-manual
communication. Within the term of "Sign Language", there are four major signing modes that range
from true ASL (American Sign Language) to PSE (Contact Signing), to SEE II (Signing Exact English) and
CUED Speech. The deaf community is extremely diverse. The interpreter must be skilled in each of these
areas to be able to match the signing style of the deaf consumer for effective communication to take
place. A qualified interpreter is able to impartially interpret spoken language into the equivalent of
signed language. A “signer,” or an individual who has a low certification can seldom achieve this task.
Several years of interactive training are required to achieve a level of proficiency to accurately interpret
most situations. There are also different levels of state certification for interpreters which determine the
types of assignments/situations they are professionally and legally capable of interpreting. For
most interpreting situations the National Interpreting Certificate (NIC) from the Registry of Interpreters
for the Deaf (RID) is considered the most qualified interpreter.
Q. Who pays for the interpreter or other accommodations?
A. Businesses, agencies and other public facilities are required to provide accessibility for specified
disabilities and for Deaf clients. This means they are being provided access to communication. Thus, the
cost falls upon those who are providing the accommodations. The use of qualified sign language
interpreters is a convenient, cost-effective way to provide such access. A deaf person may not be held
responsible, directly or indirectly, for the costs of an auxiliary aid. For example, the cost of an interpreter
for a doctor's appointment may not be passed on to a deaf patient through an insurance company. 28
C.F.R. 35.130(f); 28 C.F.R. 36.301(b)(c).
In some situations, the cost of providing an auxiliary aid or service (e.g., an interpreter) may exceed the
charge to the deaf person for that very same service. A business is expected to treat the costs of
providing auxiliary aids and services as part of the annual overhead costs of operating a business.
Accordingly, so long as the provision of the auxiliary aid or service does not impose an undue burden on
the business and does not fundamentally alter the business’s services, the business is obligated to pay
for the auxiliary aid or service in this situation.
Q: Can I raise the deaf person's fees, or charge the deaf person for this service?
A: No, this is forbidden by the ADA. It’s the business, or organization's responsibility to provide and pay
for the service, and they cannot pass the cost back onto the deaf customer. However, you can raise ALL
your customer’s fees to create some revenue for interpreting services. In addition, there are tax breaks
and rebates available for small businesses that provide accommodations under the ADA. 28 C.F.R.
35.130(f); 28 C.F.R. 36.301(b)(c). IRS Form 8826
One instance when you would not be required to provide an accommodation is if you can prove it’s a
financial hardship. This is not measured appointment by appointment, but rather by the entity’s annual
revenue minus any federal assistance in which the business might qualify. Claims of “financial hardship”
rarely win in court.
Q. What places of public accommodation must comply with Title III of the ADA?
(1) A. Places of public accommodation are facilities that are "operated by a private entity, whose
operations affect commerce." 28 C.F.R. 36.104. The law applies to more than five million private
businesses and establishments in 12 different categories. For example, it covers hotels, restaurants,
movies and theaters, auditoriums, doctors' offices, lawyers' offices, offices of other professionals,
hospitals, nursing homes, drug stores, insurance agencies, retail stores, museums, banks, libraries,
parks, private schools and colleges, amusement and recreation facilities, exercise spas, and day care
(2) Public Accommodation - The following privately operated entities are considered public
accommodations for purposes of this title, if the operations of such entities affect commerce.
A. An inn, hotel, motel, or other similar place of lodging, except for an establishment located within a
building that contains not more than five rooms for rent or hire and that is actually occupied by the
proprietor of such establishment as the residence of such proprietor;
B. A restaurant, bar, or other establishment serving food or drink;
C. A motion picture house, theater, concert hall, stadium, or other place of exhibition or entertainment;
D. An auditorium, convention center, or lecture hall or other place of public accommodation;
E. A bakery, grocery store, clothing store, hard-ware store, shopping center, or other similar retail sales
F. A Laundromat, dry-cleaners, bank, barber shop, beauty shop, travel service, shoe repair service,
funeral parlor, gas station, office of an accountant or lawyer, pharmacy, insurance office, professional
office of a health care provider, hospital, or other similar service establishment;
G. A terminal, depot, or other station used for public transportation;
H. A museum, library, gallery, and other similar place of public display or collection.
Q. Does the ADA apply only to larger businesses?
A. No. Title III of the ADA applies to all places of public accommodation, regardless of the size of the
business or number of employees.
Q. May I pass the cost for the interpreter back to the individual requiring the accommodation?
A. Paragraph (c) of 36.301 provides that public accommodations may not place a surcharge on a
particular individual with a disability or any group of individuals with disabilities to cover the cost of
measures, such as the provision of auxiliary aids and services, barrier removal, alternatives to barrier
removal, and reasonable modifications in policies, practices, and procedures, that are required to
provide that individual or group with the nondiscriminatory treatment required by the Act or this part.
A number of commentators inquired as to whether deposits required for the use of auxiliary aids, such
as assistive listening devices, are prohibited surcharges. It is the Department's view that reasonable,
completely refundable, deposits are not to be considered surcharges prohibited by this section.
Requiring deposits is an important means of ensuring the availability of equipment necessary to ensure
compliance with the ADA.
Other commentators sought clarification as to whether 36.301(c) prohibits professionals from charging
for the additional time that it may take in certain cases to provide services to an individual with
disabilities. The Department does not intend 36.301(c) to prohibit professionals who bill on the basis of
time from charging individuals with disabilities on that basis. However, fees may not be charged for the
provision of auxiliary aids and services, barrier removal, alternatives to barrier removal, reasonable
modifications in policies, practices, and procedures, or any other measures necessary to ensure
compliance with the ADA.
In addition, 36.301 prohibits the imposition of criteria that "tend to" screen out an individual with a
disability. This concept, which is derived from current regulations under Section 504 (see e.g., 45 CFR
84.13), makes it discriminatory to impose policies or criteria that, while not creating a direct bar to
individuals with disabilities, indirectly prevent or limit their ability to participate. For example, requiring
presentation of a driver's license as the sole means of identification for purposes of paying by check
would violate this section in situations where, for example, individuals with severe vision impairments or
developmental disabilities or epilepsy are ineligible to receive a driver's license and the use of an
alternate means of identification, such as another photo I.D. or credit card, is feasible.
A public accommodation may, however, impose neutral rules and criteria that screen out, individuals
with disabilities, if the criteria are necessary for the safe operation of the public accommodation.
Examples of safety qualifications that would be justifiable in appropriate circumstances would include
height-requirements for certain amusement park rides or a requirement that all participants in a
recreational rafting expedition be able to meet a necessary level of swimming proficiency. Safety
requirements must be based on actual risks and not on speculation, stereotypes, or generalizations
about individuals with disabilities.