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ASL Interpreting:

Sandra Battis
April 20, 2007


  Much has been made of the lack of sign language interpreters but little has been noted in the media and general population of the consequences of same.  This paper will attempt to delineate the law that applies and the inadequate adherence to provide "equal treatment under the law" to which these principles should adhere.

"The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, State and local government, public accommodation, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunication. It also applies to the United States Congress".1  Title III refers to public accommodations.  An example of which is the settlement with regard to PONY Baseball headquarted in Washington, PA, the complaint was based on a rule that limited the number of coaches during a game. The result was that a deaf player's father could not interpret for his son using sign language.

Title III refers specifically to "nondiscrimination on the basis of accommodations and commercial facilities".  This encompasses many areas including, but not limited to, modifications for the deaf and hard of hearing.

     Title III Part 36 of the ADA ensures that hospitals do not discriminate against persons who are deaf or hard of hearing.2, 3  The UNITED STATES vs. McLeod Regional Medical Center Settlement (7/10/06) alleged that a deaf person who used sign language for communication was unable to communicate effectively with doctors without an interpreter on two occasions.  A similar situation occurred when another deaf person who also used sign language was admitted several times to the hospital and had to have a friend to serve as interpreter.  A hospital in Louisiana denied a patient the use of an American Sign Language interpreter until after she was admitted to a hospital, given numerous drugs and was even unaware of her diagnosis. The patient was ignored, despite the fact that the patient had requested an interpreter numerous times. No interpreter was provided until the patient had been hospitalized for five days.  A settlement was reached on October 5, 2006 which stated that an assessment of speech or hearing disabilities must be made upon arrival at the hospital or at the time of the patient's appointment.4 

  These few examples point out the excruciating fact that the population at large is more aware of the "visible" disabilities, while the need for communication with the deaf population appears to be less obvious to them. The necessity for sign language interpreters in everyday situations is still largely inadequate and at times, blatantly ignored.  The dire need for interpreters in the medical setting is paramount to the adequate delivery of medical care.  Correct diagnoses are based on accurate patient histories as well as physical examinations, and not infrequently, can save precious time and expensive procedures.  As such, a concerted effort must be made by both the deaf and hearing community to make certain that all medical facilities: medical offices, clinics, hospitals, laboratories and support staff do have interpreters available from the making of appointments through procedures and follow up care.


1.  A Guide to Disability Rights Laws , September 2005.

2.  United States Department of Justice, Americans with Disabilities Act 1990.

3.  Settlement Agreement Between The United States of America and McLeod Regional Medical Center, Florence, South Carolina.  7/10/06.

4.  United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights News, December 2006.


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