One of the least understood provisions of The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the requirement that government agencies, places of public accommodation, and in some instances private employers, furnish auxiliary aids, including qualified sign language interpreters, to people with sensory deficits. ADA seeks to insure accessibility for deaf people by guaranteeing the right to an interpreter at no cost to them in a variety of settings. For example, hospitals in New York must provide an interpreter within 20 minutes of a request, or 10 minutes in an emergency situation.
Interpreters must also be provided upon request by other health care providers, including HMO's and private practitioners. It is a violation of the ADA for a physician to refuse to treat someone who is deaf simply because he or she requires an interpreter. Individuals are entitled to interpreters in Social Security Administration proceedings and activities, and both public and private schools must provide interpreters to parents who are deaf even if their children are hearing for school activities and meetings directly related to their child's education.
In 1999 the U.S. Department of Justice, which monitors compliance with ADA, reaffirmed its support of the "auxiliary aids" requirement by joining with the Connecticut Association for the Deaf (CAD) in a law suit against a group of hospitals in that state which, CAD alleged, had failed to provide sign language interpreters, assistive listening devices, and telecommunications devices for the deaf (TDD's) to patients who were deaf and/or their families.
The case was settled in CAD's favor, and a consent decree was developed by the Department of Justice (D.O.J.) outlining the steps the hospitals would have to take to properly accommodate people with hearing impairments. The remedies included provision of qualified sign language interpreters upon request, and the availability of assistive technology including TDD's, and closed captioned (cc) television for patients who need it.
While the consent decree applies only to the Connecticut hospitals named in the suit, the clear reaffirmation of the rights of hearing impaired people under ADA is national policy, applicable in all 50 states. Hospitals and other health care providers in New York are obligated to provide auxiliary aids, including sign language interpreters, to people whose disability prevents them from communicating effectively in any other way. Only by proving to the D.O.J. that provision of interpreters would constitute an undue hardship can a health care provider avoid that obligation.
Westchester County is committed to ensuring equal access to all persons with disabilities. All Westchester County offices will provide sign language interpreters to individuals who need and request them. The Westchester County Office for the Disabled currently contracts with over 25 sign language interpreters who serve as independent contractors and provide interpreting services to the deaf and hard of hearing populations.
For more information about scheduling sign language interpreters for a given event, please call (914) 995-2956. To read a copy of the Connecticut Consent Decree, go to the U.S. Department of Justice and navigate to "publications and documents" from their menu.
The Office for People with Disabilities coordinates for all county departments requests for sign language interpreters.
Sign language interpreters
If you are a sign language interpreter and would be interested in working with the Office for People with Disabilities through a county contract contact:
Evan Latainer, Director
Phone: (914) 995-2958