When is a Sign Language Interpreter Required by Law?

when is a sign language interpreter required by law

Providing equal access to individuals with disabilities is a requirement under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Chicago Human Rights Ordinance, and the Illinois Human Rights Act. One of the ways to provide access is by providing a sign language interpreter.

So, when exactly is a sign language interpreter required in a business setting? The answer is: it depends. The ADA requires businesses to provide a sign language interpreter if it is necessary to ensure effective communication with a client who is deaf or hard of hearing. This may be required during meetings, consultations, or other work-related activities.

In this article, we will discuss when a business needs to provide a sign language interpreter, how to know if you need one, and the consequences of not complying. If you need legal advice, contact 1818 today.

Understanding the Americans With Disabilities Act Effective Communication Requirements

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in various settings.

Under the ADA, businesses and nonprofits serving the public (Title III entities) must provide reasonable accommodations to individuals with disabilities, including providing effective communication for those who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Covered entities must consider various factors to determine the appropriate aid or service. Failure to comply can result in legal consequences, impacting the entity’s business license, accreditation, and substantial penalties.

Do I Have to Provide a Sign Language Interpreter?

Under the ADA, businesses considered public accommodations must provide reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures to provide equal access to individuals with disabilities. This can include providing a sign language interpreter; however, alternative communication methods may be more appropriate depending on the situation.

Some of these services include:

  • Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS) — This service allows individuals with hearing or speech disabilities to communicate with others via an operator. The operator relays the conversation back and forth between the two parties.
  • Video Relay Service (VRS) — Similar to TRS, VRS allows individuals with hearing or speech disabilities to communicate using a video connection and a sign language interpreter.
  • Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) — This service allows individuals to access a sign language interpreter through a video connection on a computer or mobile device.

While these decisions are ultimately left up to the business owner, flat-out refusal to provide accommodations or inadequate accommodations (especially in medical, educational, and professional offices) can be considered a violation of the law, resulting in serious penalties.

Determining When a Sign Language Interpreter is Necessary

Determining when a sign language interpreter is necessary can be challenging. The ADA does not provide specific guidance on when a sign language interpreter is required.

However, businesses can use several factors to determine when an interpreter is necessary, including the following:

  • The nature and length of the communication — The length and complexity of the communication can determine if an interpreter is necessary. For example, a short and straightforward question may be answered through hand-written notes, but a lengthy business meeting or presentation may require an interpreter.
  • The importance of communication — The importance of communication can also determine if an interpreter is necessary. An interpreter may be required if communication is critical, such as a medical appointment or a legal proceeding.
  • The individual’s communication needs — The individual’s communication needs should also be considered. Some deaf individuals prefer to communicate using sign language, while others prefer to communicate using written or spoken language.
  • The availability of other communication aids — Finally, businesses should consider the availability of other communication aids. For example, closed captioning or real-time captioning may be an alternative to providing a sign language interpreter.

Consequences of Non-Compliance With the ADA

Failure to comply with the ADA and provide sign language interpreters can have severe consequences for businesses. Apart from potential legal action, non-compliance can damage your business’s reputation and cause you to lose customers. In addition, there could be fines and penalties imposed on your business.

The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) is the state agency responsible for regulating businesses, including those in the service industry. If a business is found to be in violation of the ADA, the IDFPR can revoke or suspend your license, which can bring your business operations to a screeching halt.

How 1818 Can Help

At 1818, we are committed to assisting business owners and managers in navigating the legal requirements of the ADA. Our business license defense attorneys can provide guidance on compliance, develop policies and procedures, and represent you in the event of a complaint or lawsuit.

Contact us today to learn how we can help you protect your business’s reputation and keep your license intact.

Jordan Matyas

Jordan Matyas

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Jordan Matyas is a lawyer, lobbyist, and Founder of 1818 Legal, an Illinois professional licensing defense law firm he created in 2014. With more than 18 years of experience practicing law, he represents clients in a wide range of legal matters, including professional license defense, administrative law, land use and zoning, and state, local, and municipal law.

Jordan received his Juris Doctor from the University of Illinois — Chicago School of Law and is a member of the Illinois Bar Association.