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American Sign Language Attorney

American Sign Language Attorney

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires attorneys to provide equal access to their services by providing accommodations necessary to ensure effective communication with individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. These accommodations include qualified interpreters, CART, and assistive listening devices. Public attorneys, such as public defenders (lawyers assigned to represent people charged with a crime) or other state or local government lawyers may be unfamiliar with their obligations under the ADA. Public attorneys must ensure that communication with deaf or hard of hearing clients and members of the public are as effective as communications with others.

A public attorney must provide appropriate accommodations when necessary to provide an equal opportunity to participate in and enjoy the benefits of the lawyer’s services. A public attorney must give primary consideration to the accommodation requested by the individual who is deaf or hard of hearing. Private attorneys may be unfamiliar with their obligations under the ADA. Some private attorneys may be unwilling to provide and pay for the necessary communication access services. As a result, many deaf and hard of hearing people are unable to retain private attorneys for important legal matters, such as criminal proceedings, family law issues, and employment law matters. The ADA recognizes that private lawyers do not have to provide a specific type of auxiliary aid or service if they can demonstrate that doing so would be an undue burden (a significant difficulty or expense). To demonstrate an undue burden, lawyers must show that the cost to provide accommodations would significantly impact their practice and financial resources, which may be difficult for most law offices. When an undue burden can be shown, the lawyer must provide alternative communication access services that would, to the maximum extent possible, ensure effective communication. The NAD advocates for improved access to legal services through the establishment of a communications access fund (CAF) in each state. The CAF would cover the cost of communication access services to ensure effective communication with private attorneys. The revenue source for each state’s CAF could be generated by assessing a small annual fee to be paid by each practicing attorney licensed in that state. Several states and local jurisdictions have established CAFs for legal services.

Why Study American Sign Language (ASL)?

• Career-wise (working with Deaf people): One of the most common jobs using ASL is as an interpreter. As facilitators of communication between Deaf people and people who don’t sign, interpreters are in high demand, especially after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Interpreters work in a wide variety of settings: educational, medical, community, theater, legal, and job-related. You can work as a teacher for Deaf children. Deaf children especially need teachers who know and understand their natural language. You can become an ASL teacher. ASL is accepted as a foreign language in high schools and colleges/universities in most of the states. These are just a few examples. There are many other possible jobs working directly with Deaf people.

• Career-wise (not working directly with Deaf people): Many of your clients will be Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing. It will be to your immense advantage to be able to communicate with them directly. As a Nurse, one will be able to communicate with your Deaf patients while doing routine tasks. Elementary school teachers will possibly have Deaf children mainstreamed in their classroom. Mental health workers, social workers, and counselors who know and understand Deaf people are in high demand. In fact, Deaf people have sought out service providers who use ASL and helped augment the number of clients utilizing a particular service provider. Advocates such as lawyers or lobbyists who work with legislators will be able to use their knowledge and skill in ASL when parts of legislation affect Deaf people. Even if you don’t plan to focus on serving Deaf people, you can probably expand your client base by offering expertise in ASL. Sales assistants in stores and shops will often encounter Deaf customers seeking to make purchases. In fact, a background in ASL will be useful in absolutely any field or employment.

• Academic/Intellectual: Many people undertake to study a foreign language for the insights it gives into a group of people different than themselves. Studying a different language helps you understand your own language better. Likewise, trying to see from the point of view of other people enables you to further delve into your own. This is the very reason many baccalaureate programs require a certain number of semesters of foreign language study. Students who study ASL receive the same benefits. Furthermore, because ASL is a signed language rather than spoken or written, students obtain an additional perspective into how human languages take shape in a medium of expression other than speech. This alone makes studying ASL a unique and fascinating opportunity.

When Is Sign Language Interpreting Required By Law?

Sign language interpreting helps deaf and hard of hearing people communicate, and in the United States, it is often legally required. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 established a series of measures to prohibit instances of discrimination because of a person’s disability. The ADA requires that the communication needs of hard of hearing and deaf persons are met, and this frequently demands the use of an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter.

Sign Language Interpreting & Discrimination Law

The ADA very clearly states the need for 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.”

Additionally, 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 definition of “auxiliary aids and services” includes “qualified interpreters or other effective methods of making aurally delivered materials available to individuals with hearing impairments.” Therefore, any place of public accommodation is required to provide sign language interpreters or other effective means of communication for hard of hearing individuals. Depending on the situation, other effective means of communication may include assistive listening devices.

Where Sign Language Interpreting Is Required

One extremely important area covered by the ADA is the medical field, where sign language interpreting services are often required. Hospitals, for instance, must provide an appropriate means of communication to any patients, family members, or hospital visitors who may be hearing impaired. This is applicable in all hospital areas, from the emergency room to the gift shop. In some cases, the ADA specifies that an effective form of communication may consist simply of a written note, but if a conversation is more complicated such as explaining a patient’s symptoms or a medical procedure a qualified ASL interpreter may be necessary. The ADA extends beyond medical settings and also covers areas like the legal, educational, law enforcement, and employment systems. If a company is interviewing a deaf individual, for instance, they are required to provide sign language interpreting. Similarly, hard of hearing defendants in a legal proceeding must be provided with an interpreter. The ADA even covers the hospitality industry. For example, hotels must meet hard of hearing communication needs by providing a teletypewriter the device hard of hearing persons need in order to use a telephone to guest rooms upon request, and they must also have a teletypewriter available at the front desk.

Penalties for Non-Compliance

According to ADA standards, it is usually up to the institution in question to provide and pay for any necessary sign language interpreting. If an institution does not comply by providing ASL interpreting to meet the needs of a hard of hearing individual, it may suffer serious penalties. The key phrase used by the ADA when it comes to deaf and hard of hearing individuals is “effective communication.” Whatever is necessary to ensure effective communication is required, by law, to be done. Although the details of what “effective communication” entails may be hazy in some cases, there’s no doubt that ultimately sign language interpreting is the most straightforward way for institutions to fulfill their obligations under the ADA.

How to Find a Sign Language Lawyer

First, call Ascent Law LLC. We want to help you. Many people prefer to find a lawyer who is deaf or hard of hearing, a lawyer who understands and is familiar with deaf and hard of hearing people, or a lawyer who knows American Sign Language. However, you need a lawyer who is experienced in your type of legal problem. Like doctors, most lawyers have expertise in specific areas of the law. For example, a lawyer who defends people accused of a crime might not be a good choice if you need a divorce. When you contact lawyers, ask them if they have experience with your kind of legal problem. If they do not, ask them if they can recommend a lawyer who can handle your kind of legal problem. Most people hearing, hard of hearing, or deaf are puzzled about how to find a lawyer to help them with their legal problem.

However, here are some tips to help you find an advocate or lawyer in your state who may be able to help you with discrimination or other legal problem:
• Ask your family, co-workers, and friends if they have used a lawyer and if they were satisfied with the lawyer’s work.
• Look in your telephone book yellow pages under “lawyers” or “attorneys.” There will probably be many listings, and some of them will identify the kind of legal problems they handle.
• Go to the public library, and ask for the reference librarian. The librarian can help you use a directory of lawyers to find a local lawyer who handles legal problems like yours.
• Contact your state’s office that serves people who are deaf or hard of hearing, or the office that serves people with disabilities, for advocacy support and information about advocacy and legal services in your state.
• The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) is the largest provider of legally-based disability discrimination advocacy services in the United States. There is at least one NDRN office in every state and territory. The nickname for these offices is “Protection and Advocacy” or “P&A. Your state’s P&A office may be able to help you – if you have a disability discrimination question or problem. If your state’s P&A office cannot help you, they may be able to give you names of lawyers in your state who may be able to help you.
• Search the Internet for your state’s name and the words “bar association” (the association for lawyers licensed in your state. Most state bar associations have a “lawyer referral” program. They may give you the names of several lawyers who handle your type of legal problem. Often, there will be a low cost for the first consultation. After you meet the lawyer, the lawyer will explain his or her usual fee arrangements and you can decide if you want to hire that lawyer.

• If you are unemployed or have a very low income, you may be eligible for free legal help from your local legal aid society, legal services office, or a nearby law school’s legal clinic program. Your state’s bar association may have information about these services, too.
• If you are charged with a crime, you may be eligible for a court-appointed lawyer or public defender.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires lawyers to provide equal access to their services by providing accommodations necessary to communicate effectively with you. These accommodations include qualified interpreters, CART, and assistive listening devices. Communication with a lawyer is very important. Explain your communication needs clearly. It is important to be able to understand each other so you can explain your situation and the lawyer can explain your legal options. You may have to explain how to use the relay system or how to use an interpreter. Call in advance to make appointments to see your lawyer. If you cannot make it to your appointment, let the lawyer know ahead of time, especially if the lawyer had to hire an interpreter or other services to communicate with you! If you do not understand legal words, ask the lawyer to explain what they mean! It may also be helpful and may save the lawyer time (and save you money) to use alternatives such as fax and email to ask and answer some questions. If your lawyer is unable to communicate effectively with you, needs information about the ADA, or has questions about representing and working with clients who are deaf or hard of hearing, ask your lawyer to contact the NAD Law and Advocacy Center.

Here Are Some Tips for Working with Your Lawyer

• Make sure you understand the lawyer’s rates and billing system. Ask questions if you are not sure about the lawyer’s fees or the expenses you will pay.

• Be prepared when you meet with a lawyer. Bring all paperwork connected with your legal problem. It may be helpful to write out your questions ahead of time.
• Be upfront with the lawyer. Tell the lawyer everything you can about the situation. Don’t hide information or facts or think that they are not important. Let the lawyer decide what is important!
• Don’t wait too long before you contact a lawyer. Investigating a legal problem and preparing legal papers take time. Give your lawyer enough time to do a good job.
Can An Attorney Refuse To Serve An Individual Simply Because That Individual Is Deaf?
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.

Does An Attorney Have To Provide Services To Deaf Individuals Beyond The Services Provided To Other Individuals?

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.
When Is An Attorney Generally Required To Provide A Sign Language

Interpreter To A Client Or Potential Client Who Is Deaf?

When the client or potential client asks for a sign language interpreter in order to participate in a meeting with the attorney. Throughout this document, client is used to refer to both client and potential client. The ADA does not distinguish between an attorney’s obligation to provide effective communication at an initial meeting to evaluate a potential case and a later meeting with a client who has signed a retainer agreement.
Is An Attorney Required To Provide A Sign Language Interpreter If The Client Does Not Ask For One? 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.

Are There Any Situations In Which An Attorney Can Refuse To Provide A Sign Language Interpreter To A Deaf Client?

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 okay 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 attorney’s practice. 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.

A Qualified Sign Language Interpreter

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.

ASL Attorney

When you need legal help from an ASL Lawyer, please call Ascent Law LLC for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.

Michael R. Anderson, JD

Ascent Law LLC
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States

Telephone: (801) 676-5506

Ascent Law LLC

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