The America with Disabilities Act Federal Law (Q&A)
Q. When does a health care professional have to provide a sign language interpreter?
A. A health care professional must provide a qualified interpreter if: (1) an interpreter is necessary to ensure effective communication between the deaf and the health care professional, and (2) the deaf has asked the health care professional to provide an interpreter. However, there are two exceptions to this general rule mentioned later.
Q. When is an interpreter necessary to ensure effective communication?
A. The answer to this question depends upon the length and complexity of the conversation the deaf individual will be having with the health care professional. For example, if there will be a discussion whether to have major surgery, an interpreter would certainly be necessary to ensure effective communication. On the other hand, if the deaf will be visiting the doctor’s office solely for a simple blood test, an interpreter might not be necessary. Instead, you may be able to communicate effectively by, for example, writing notes or taking turns at a computer terminal if written English is clearly understood.
Q. Is an interpreter required only in the most extreme situations, such as when a doctor and patient will be discussing whether the patient should have surgery?
A. No. A wide range of other situations may also require an interpreter to ensure effective communication. For example, during a routine physical, the communication may be sufficiently lengthy and complex to require an interpreter. In a psychotherapy session, the communication is sufficiently lengthy and complex to require an interpreter. The U.S. Department of Justice gives the following example in its technical assistance manual to explain when an interpreter is required:
H goes to his doctor for a bi-weekly check-up, during which the nurse records H’s blood pressure and weight. Exchanging notes and using gestures are likely to provide an effective means of communication at this type of check-up.
BUT: Upon experiencing symptoms of a mild stroke, H returns to his doctor for a thorough examination and battery of tests and requests that an interpreter be provided. H’s doctor should arrange for the services of a qualified interpreter, as an interpreter is likely to be necessary for effective communication with H, given the length and complexity of the communication involved.
Q. If the patient is a minor child who can hear, does the health care professional have to provide an interpreter for a parent who is deaf?
A. Yes, if (1) an interpreter is necessary to ensure effective communication between the health care professional and parent, and (2) the parent has asked the health care professional to provide an interpreter. For example, an interpreter would be required if a parent who is deaf will be discussing with a doctor whether the parent’s child should have surgery, discussion of child