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Free Interpreter Service by Law in American Hospitals

The Deaf, Late Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing (HOH) require interpreters in different situations, most important of which are hospital related. Fortunately the ADA and the Department of Justice, Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, interpreter use during all hospital related visits is legally required and is not a cost to the patient.


  1. Deaf Communication Options
  2. Why do we need Interpreters
  3. Patients and Caregivers
  4. National Association for the Deaf (NAD)

For individual who have recently become deaf and individuals that know they will soon become deaf, often ask two questions:

  1. What are some options of help with Deaf Communication?
  2. Why do we need Interpreters, or Auxiliary Aids or other services?

1. What are some options of help with Deaf communication?

Since American Sign Language (ASL) has its own syntax, grammatical structure, and does not follow written or spoken English, ASL can be difficult to learn particularly for those who are Late-Deafened. What may be more useful is a form of ASL which follows the word order and structure of English. This is more of a transliteration rather than interpretation. Many late learners of sign language feel more comfortable with the combination of having an interpreter both sign and provide oral interpreting.

There are also other options that do not include sign language. Tablets for typing or in some cases, a hospital may have UbiDuo where two keyboards, these services are typically not done by an interpreter. The UbiDuo allows the provider to type on one keyboard and the message is displayed in front of the second keyboard. Unfortunately, not all providers are comfortable typing and clinicians may summarize or inadvertently edit their message to save time.

Interpreters provide access to ensure effective communication. They cannot edit, omit, or embellish the message and they cannot advise or attempt to explain or educate. This is the provider's responsibility and even if an interpreter is in disagreement.

2. Why do we need Interpreters, or Auxiliary Aids or other services?

It is important to understand everything that is said by your provider and to make sure that you have the opportunity for your provider to understand you.

Family or friends should not have the burden of communication. They should be there to participate, ask questions, listen carefully and offer emotional support. It is the interpreter's responsibility to ensure you and your healthcare providers can adequately communicate.

Under the ADA, Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing people are entitled to auxiliary aids and services that may include sign language interpreters, oral interpreters or tactile interpreters (for deaf-blind people). Making the case for the need for equipment or other services may not always be as clear.

3. Patients and Caregivers

If you are deaf and need medical care at an American hospital, an interpreter is required to be made accessible to you. If you are deaf and are the caregiver, partner, parent, or spouse of someone that needs medical attention, an interpreter is also required to be made accessible.

When an interpreter is not available in a hospital, hospitals are working with video conference for interpreters to help.

4. National Association for the Deaf (NAD)

For more information on the rights of Deaf and HOH people in healthcare settings, go to the National Association for the Deaf (NAD) website.

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