Healthcare Professionals and the Deaf Community
Federal disability discrimination laws mandate equal access to and an equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from health care services, and effective communication with individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. The National Association of the Deaf provides an excellent breakdown and discussion of these laws here.
For your convenience, we have provided some of the most frequently asked questions we have encountered. If you have additional questions or would like specialized training for yourself or your staff, please feel free to call us at (337)477-7194.
Who is responsible for scheduling an interpreter?
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, health care providers are responsible for providing “auxiliary aids and services under the Americans with Disabilities Act to ensure that communication with people who are deaf is as effective as communication with others. Federal regulations define “auxiliary aids” to include interpreters. For your convenience, we have added online scheduling functionality. Request an interpreter here.
I supply my Deaf patients with paper and pen and make time for all of their questions. Does this qualify as accessibility?
This largely depends on the Deaf patient. Some Deaf people are satisfied with this method of communication and that is their prerogative under the ADA. For others however, this does not equate to effective communication, especially with regard to complex health care discussions. For many Deaf and hard of hearing people, American Sign Language (ASL) is their first language. Because the grammar and syntax of ASL differs considerably from English, exchanging written notes may not provide effective communication between a deaf or hard of hearing patient and a health care provider. For some deaf or hard of hearing individuals, the services of a qualified sign language interpreter offer the only effective method of communication.
Who is responsible for paying the sign language interpreter?
Health care providers are responsible for the costs of providing auxiliary aids and services. 28 C.F.R. § 36.301(c). There is, however, an available tax break. Eligible small businesses may claim a tax credit of up to 50 percent of eligible access expenditures that are over $250, but less than $10,250. The amount credited may be up to $5,000 per tax year. Eligible access expenditures include the costs of qualified interpreters, CART services, and other auxiliary aids and services. Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990, P.L. 101-508, § 44. Please consult with your financial or tax advisor on this issue.
How can I be sure that a particular interpreter is qualified?
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990), a qualified sign language interpreter is “an interpreter who is able to interpret effectively, accurately and impartially both receptively and expressively, using any specialized vocabulary necessary for effective communication.” (http://www.ada.gov/pca-
toolkit/chap3toolkit.htm) An interpreter that is certified by RID or NAD can provide the best assurance of meeting this standard. Certified interpreters have met national professional standards of competency in the language, interpretation and practice of ethics and professionalism. Some interpreters have additional expertise interpreting in the health care setting and should be sought out initially. Some situations may require an interpreter with a particular area of specialization. Examples of this would be tactile interpreters (interpreters who work with Deaf-Blind individuals), trilingual interpreters and certified deaf interpreters (CDI).
Is it acceptable to communicate via my patient’s hearing family or friend?
Generally, no. Family members and friends often do not possess sufficient skills to interpret effectively in a medical setting. Family members and friends are also very often too emotionally or personally involved, may have interests that conflict with the patient’s, may cause role confusion, and are unable to interpret “effectively, accurately, and impartially.” Finally, using family members and friends as interpreters can cause problems in maintaining patient confidentiality. 56 Fed. Reg. at 35553.
How can I provide the best experience for my Deaf patient?
As you work with your Deaf patient and his/her interpreter, you can facilitate communication in several ways:
- Work with the interpreter and the deaf individual to determine the best possible placement for all parties in the situation.
- Speak directly to the individual who is deaf rather than saying to the interpreter, “Ask him….” or “Tell her…” Realize that the interpreter cannot provide any information or opinions about the patient.
- Expect that the interpreter may occasionally pause to ask you for an explanation or clarification of terms in order to provide an accurate interpretation.
- Understand that the interpreter is responsible to interpret everything that is said and will not edit out anything spoken as an aside or anything that is said to others in the room.