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  • Sandra Olmedo

When is Sign Language Interpreting Required by Law?

Sign language interpreting facilitates communication for deaf and hard of hearing individuals, and in the United States, it is often mandated by law. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 established measures to prevent discrimination based on disability, including requirements to meet the communication needs of hard of hearing and deaf persons, often necessitating an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter.

### Sign Language Interpreting & Discrimination Law

The ADA clearly mandates proper communication with hard of hearing and deaf individuals. Specifically, the ADA states:

> "No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation."

Moreover, discrimination includes:

 "...a failure to take such steps as may be necessary to ensure that no individual with a disability is excluded, denied services, segregated or otherwise treated differently than other individuals because of the absence of auxiliary aids and services..."

The ADA defines "auxiliary aids and services" to include "qualified interpreters or other effective methods of making aurally delivered materials available to individuals with hearing impairments." Consequently, any place of public accommodation must provide sign language interpreters or other effective communication methods for hard of hearing individuals. These methods might also include assistive listening devices, depending on the situation.

### Where Sign Language Interpreting Is Required

One critical area covered by the ADA is the medical field, where sign language interpreting services are frequently required. Hospitals must provide appropriate communication means to any patients, family members, or visitors who are hard of hearing, applicable in all hospital areas, from the emergency room to the gift shop. While sometimes a written note suffices, more complex conversations, such as explaining symptoms or medical procedures, When Is Sign Language Interpreting Required By Law?

The ADA's scope extends beyond medical settings to legal, educational, law enforcement, and employment sectors. For example, companies must provide sign language interpreting for deaf individuals during job interviews. Similarly, hard of hearing defendants in legal proceedings must be provided with an interpreter. In the hospitality industry, hotels must supply a teletypewriter (TTY) for guest rooms upon request and have one available at the front desk.

### Penalties for Non-Compliance

According to ADA standards, institutions are usually responsible for providing and paying for necessary sign language interpreting. Failure to comply can result in significant penalties. For instance, in 2008, a deaf woman successfully sued a New Jersey doctor for not providing a sign language interpreter, resulting in a $400,000 award for discrimination. In 2000, Wal-Mart settled a case for $135,500, brought by two deaf job applicants in Tucson, Arizona, under the ADA. As part of the settlement, Wal-Mart agreed to provide sign language interpreting during training, orientation, meetings, and evaluations.

### It’s All About Effective Communication

The ADA emphasizes "effective communication" for deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Ensuring effective communication, often through sign language interpreting, is a legal obligation. While the specifics of "effective communication" can sometimes be unclear, sign language interpreting remains the most direct way for institutions to meet their ADA obligations.

### How Bilingual Resources Group Can Help? We have provided on-site and remote sign language interpreting services for over 15 years. If you need interpreting services or are uncertain about your legal obligations, contact us today.

Simply fill out our free quote form.

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