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IBA: Providing Services to the Deaf

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Twenty years ago the United States took a giant leap forward in providing access for all persons regardless of ability with passage of The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Even though the ADA has been in place for these many years questions still remain about what, if any, accommodations attorneys must make to provide services to disabled persons. This is particularly true when it comes to the deaf. In addition to prohibiting direct discrimination, the ADA requires that attorneys provide auxiliary aids or services necessary to ensure effective communication with clients who are deaf.

Sign language interpreters are considered an auxiliary aid or service. Generally, the ADA requires attorneys to provide and pay for qualified sign language interpreters for deaf clients when necessary to provide effective communication.

The Disability Law & Advocacy Center of Tennessee has assembled a helpful list of frequently asked questions to assist attorneys.

Question: Can an attorney refuse to serve an individual simply because that individual is deaf?

Answer: No. Under the ADA, attorneys cannot refuse to serve someone solely due to disability. So, for example, it would be unlawful discrimination for an attorney who practices personal injury law to refuse to meet with an individual who has been injured in an accident simply because that client is deaf.

Question: Does an attorney have to provide services to deaf individuals beyond the services provided to other individuals?

Answer: No. Attorneys are not required to fundamentally alter the services they provide in order to serve individuals with disabilities. So, an attorney who only practices bankruptcy law would not be required to meet with a deaf individual to discuss that individual’s housing discrimination issue.

Question: When is an attorney generally required to provide a sign language interpreter to a client or potential client who is deaf?

Answer: When the client or potential client asks for a sign language interpreter in order to participate in a meeting with the attorney.

Question: Is an attorney required to provide a sign language interpreter if the client does not ask for one?

Answer: Generally, no. However, it may be helpful for an attorney to offer to provide a sign language interpreter or other auxiliary aid/service if he or she is having difficulty communicating with a deaf client. Keep in mind that it is generally to the advantage of both the attorney and the client to ensure that communication is clear.

Question: Are there any situations in which an attorney can refuse to provide a sign language interpreter to a deaf client?

Answer: Yes. The ADA permits attorneys to offer alternate auxiliary aids/services IF those will meet the client’s need. For example, some individuals who are deaf might be able to communicate by computer assisted real time translation (CART). If so, it would be OK for an attorney to offer CART as an alternative to a sign language interpreter. As a practical matter, please keep in mind that because American sign language (ASL) or other manual communication is generally the first language of most people who are deaf, many deaf individuals are not proficient in reading written English and may only be able to effectively engage in complex communications through use of a sign language interpreter.

In addition, the ADA does not require attorneys to provide auxiliary aids or services if doing so would constitute an undue financial or administrative burden or fundamentally alter the nature of their services. However, these standards are very difficult to meet. Determining whether providing a particular auxiliary aid or service constitutes an undue financial or administrative burden should be evaluated by looking at the overall resources of the medical provider. The fact that the cost of providing an auxiliary aid or service to one client may be more than the fees paid by that client to the attorney is not a sufficient reason for an attorney to refuse to provide an auxiliary aid or service. Generally, sign language interpreters and other auxiliary aids/services needed by people with disabilities will not constitute an undue financial or administrative burden or fundamentally alter the nature of the attorney’s program.

Question: What is a qualified sign language interpreter?

Answer: A qualified sign language interpreter is an interpreter who can translate sign language into speech and speech into sign language in order to provide effective communication. It is generally not appropriate for family members or friends to interpret for a person who is deaf.

Question: What is effective communication?

Answer: Providing effective communication to someone who is deaf means providing communication that is just as effective as communication to others who are not deaf.

Question: Are there any tax incentives available to help attorneys provide sign language interpreters to deaf clients?

Answer: Yes. Depending on the specifics of their financial situations, attorneys who spend money in order to meet the needs of people with disabilities may be eligible for a tax credit or deduction. For more information that you can discuss with your financial advisor, please see “Tax Incentives Packet on the Americans with Disabilities Act” available from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on-line at www.ada.gov or by calling 1- 800-514-0301.

Question: Where can attorneys obtain sign language interpreters?

Answer: In Indianapolis, attorneys may contact Easter Seals Crossroads Rehabilitation Center at 317-479-3240.•

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  1. It really doesn't matter what the law IS, if law enforcement refuses to take reports (or take them seriously), if courts refuse to allow unrepresented parties to speak (especially in Small Claims, which is supposedly "informal"). It doesn't matter what the law IS, if constituents are unable to make effective contact or receive any meaningful response from their representatives. Two of our pets were unnecessarily killed; court records reflect that I "abandoned" them. Not so; when I was denied one of them (and my possessions, which by court order I was supposed to be able to remove), I went directly to the court. And earlier, when I tried to have the DV PO extended (it expired while the subject was on probation for violating it), the court denied any extension. The result? Same problems, less than eight hours after expiration. Ironic that the county sheriff was charged (and later pleaded to) with intimidation, but none of his officers seemed interested or capable of taking such a report from a private citizen. When I learned from one officer what I needed to do, I forwarded audio and transcript of one occurrence and my call to law enforcement (before the statute of limitations expired) to the prosecutor's office. I didn't even receive an acknowledgement. Earlier, I'd gone in to the prosecutor's office and been told that the officer's (written) report didn't match what I said occurred. Since I had the audio, I can only say that I have very little faith in Indiana government or law enforcement.

  2. One can only wonder whether Mr. Kimmel was paid for his work by Mr. Burgh ... or whether that bill fell to the citizens of Indiana, many of whom cannot afford attorneys for important matters. It really doesn't take a judge(s) to know that "pavement" can be considered a deadly weapon. It only takes a brain and some education or thought. I'm glad to see the conviction was upheld although sorry to see that the asphalt could even be considered "an issue".

  3. In response to bryanjbrown: thank you for your comment. I am familiar with Paul Ogden (and applaud his assistance to Shirley Justice) and have read of Gary Welsh's (strange) death (and have visited his blog on many occasions). I am not familiar with you (yet). I lived in Kosciusko county, where the sheriff was just removed after pleading in what seems a very "sweetheart" deal. Unfortunately, something NEEDS to change since the attorneys won't (en masse) stand up for ethics (rather making a show to please the "rules" and apparently the judges). I read that many attorneys are underemployed. Seems wisdom would be to cull the herd and get rid of the rotting apples in practice and on the bench, for everyone's sake as well as justice. I'd like to file an attorney complaint, but I have little faith in anything (other than the most flagrant and obvious) resulting in action. My own belief is that if this was medicine, there'd be maimed and injured all over and the carnage caused by "the profession" would be difficult to hide. One can dream ... meanwhile, back to figuring out to file a pro se "motion to dismiss" as well as another court required paper that Indiana is so fond of providing NO resources for (unlike many other states, who don't automatically assume that citizens involved in the court process are scumbags) so that maybe I can get the family law attorney - whose work left me with no settlement, no possessions and resulted in the death of two pets (etc ad nauseum) - to stop abusing the proceedings supplemental and small claims rules and using it as a vehicle for harassment and apparently, amusement.

  4. Been on social security sense sept 2011 2massive strokes open heart surgery and serious ovarian cancer and a blood clot in my lung all in 14 months. Got a letter in may saying that i didn't qualify and it was in form like i just applied ,called social security she said it don't make sense and you are still geting a check in june and i did ,now i get a check from my part D asking for payment for july because there will be no money for my membership, call my prescription coverage part D and confirmed no check will be there.went to social security they didn't want to answer whats going on just said i should of never been on it .no one knows where this letter came from was California im in virginia and been here sense my strokes and vcu filed for my disability i was in the hospital when they did it .It's like it was a error . My ,mothers social security was being handled in that office in California my sister was dealing with it and it had my social security number because she died last year and this letter came out of the same office and it came at the same time i got the letter for my mother benefits for death and they had the same date of being typed just one was on the mail Saturday and one on Monday. . I think it's a mistake and it should been fixed instead there just getting rid of me .i never got a formal letter saying when i was being tsken off.

  5. Employers should not have racially discriminating mind set. It has huge impact on the society what the big players do or don't do in the industry. Background check is conducted just to verify whether information provided by the prospective employee is correct or not. It doesn't have any direct combination with the rejection of the employees. If there is rejection, there should be something effective and full-proof things on the table that may keep the company or the people associated with it in jeopardy.

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