The Americans with Disabilities Act
Communication Accommodations Project
A Resource for Voluntary Compliance with the ADA
A JOINT PROGRAM OF
The American Foundation for the Blind
Governmental Relations Department
1615 M. Street N.W., Suite 250
Washington, D.C. 20036
National Center for Law and Deafness
800 Florida Avenue, N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20002
MEMORANDUM ON THE OBLIGATIONS OF LAWYERS TO PROVIDE SIGN LANGUAGE INTERPRETERS TO DEAF CLIENTS UNDER THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT
Thank you for your inquiry regarding your obligation, pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act, to provide sign language interpreting services to deaf clients in your law office.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) went into effect on January 26, 1991. Title III of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. ¤¤12181 – 12183, provides people with disabilities the right to equal access to public accommodations. Both Title III of the ADA, and the U.S. Department of Justice regulation pursuant to Title III, 28 C.F.R. Part 36, specifically include the offices of lawyers in the definition of public accommodations. 42 U.S.C. ¤12181; 28 C.F.R. ¤36.104.
Under Title III, public accommodations are required to provide auxiliary aids and services, at no charge to the deaf or hard-of-hearing client, to ensure effective communication with deaf and hard-of-hearing people:
A public accommodation shall furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to ensure effective communication with individuals with disabilities.
28 C.F.R. V36.303 (c).
A comprehensive list of auxiliary aids and services required by the ADA is set forth in this regulation, and includes for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals:
…qualified interpreters, note takers, computer-aided transcription services, written materials, telephone handset amplifiers, assistive listening devices, assistive listening systems, telephones compatible with hearing aids, closed caption decoders, open and closed captioning,telecommunication devices for deaf persons (TDDs), videotext displays, or other effective methods of making aurally delivered materials available to individuals with hearing impairments.
28 C.F.R. 36.303 (b) (1).
The term qualified interpreter is defined in the regulation to mean:
…an interpreter who is able to interpret effectively, accurately, and impartially, both receptively and expressively, using any necessary specialized vocabulary.
28 C.F.R. 36.104.
The Analysis to this regulation makes it clear that Congress, as well as the Department of Justice, “expects that public accommodation(s) will consult with the individual with a disability before providing a particular auxiliary aid or service.” 56 Fed. Reg. at 35567, quoting H.R. Rep. No. 485, 101st Cong., 2d Sess., pt. 2, at 107 (1990). The Department of Justice further states in its Analysis:
It is not difficult to imagine a wide range of communications involving areas such as health, legal matters, and finances that would be sufficiently lengthy or complex to require an interpreter for effective communication.
56 Fed. Reg. at 35567 (emphasis added).
The Department of justice has also noted in its Analysis:
The Department wishes to emphasize that public accommodations must take steps necessary to ensure that an individual with a disability will not be excluded, denied services, segregated or otherwise treated differently from other individuals because of the use of inappropriate or ineffective auxiliary aids. In those situations requiring an interpreter, the public accommodations must secure the services of a qualified interpreter, unless an undue burden would result.
56 Fed. Reg. at 35567 (emphasis added).
It is clear from the Act, the Regulation and is Analysis, that important communications, such as those with an attorney, will require the provision of a qualified sign language interpreter to ensure effective communication with the deaf client. We hope that this information will be of assistance. Please let us know if there are any questions.