The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law on July 26, 1990, by President George H.W. Bush. It is a comprehensive law that ensures equal opportunities and prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. When a Deaf person comes into a place of business and requests an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter, when is it the companies’ responsibility to make these accommodations? State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations must provide an “auxiliary aid” at their own expense for Deaf individuals unless doing so would cause an undue burden. This law applies to a wide range of “places of public accommodation”.
An auxiliary aid is defined as, “Qualified interpreters, notetakers, 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, telecommunications devices for deaf persons (TDD’s), videotext displays, or other effective methods of making aurally delivered materials available to individuals with hearing impairment.”
The term, “qualified interpreter” is defined as someone who has the specialized skill set to interpret effectively and impartially. Even if a Deaf individual brings a person with them who claims they can interpret, it is possible they don’t know the specialized terminology for the setting, and may lack impartiality. Furthermore, some businesses may be tempted to utilize a staff member who knows ASL for interpreting services; however, hiring an outside interpreter can protect the business or agency against potentially costly litigation. The ADA places full responsibility on covered entities to provide an interpreter.
In general, a business or nonprofit with greater resources is expected to do more to ensure equal access to communication. These rights for equal access to communication extend to the individual’s parent, spouse, and children. For example, if a person who can hear is admitted to the hospital and their spouse who is Deaf is present for a meeting with medical staff, the hospital is required to provide interpreting services for the family member. A 1996 survey of 165 doctors at a professional conference found that all of them were unaware of their legal obligation to provide access to Deaf people under the ADA.
Access to communication is crucial and ensures that both parties are conveying and receiving information in their preferred language. The ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities, and providing ASL interpreters for Deaf individuals complies with federal law and promotes equal accessibility.
-Stephanie Orcutt, ASL Interpreter