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Individuals Who are Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing Can Receive Help to Communicate in Court

The following provides information on what is required of courts in providing interpreters or other aids for effective communication with individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. This article is intended to provide information only, and is not intended as legal advice. You should consult a lawyer if you need legal advice.


If I am hard of hearing or deaf, do I have the right to services that will help me hear court proceedings?

Yes. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you have the right to "effective communication" so you can participate in court proceedings or access other court programs or services.

What laws apply to courts in Ohio that require effective communication?

The Americans with Disabilities Act, Title II, applies to all state and local public entities, including state and local courts. This law protects individuals with a disability, including people who are deaf or hard of hearing, who participate in court activities. This may include parties, witnesses, jurors, attorneys, spectators and victims. Federal courts are not covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, but federal court policy adopted by the Judicial Conference of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts requires federal courts to "provide reasonable accommodations to persons with communications disabilities." Federal court policy only requires such accommodations for parties, attorneys and witnesses, although federal courts may choose to provide auxiliary aids or services to spectators.

What is "effective communication"?

Effective communication refers to the ability of an individual to understand and be understood in any court proceeding or program. For someone who is deaf or hard of hearing, "effective communication" may require some kind of accommodation (such as the presence of an interpreter).

What must a court do to provide effective communication?

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, state and local courts must provide and pay for appropriate auxiliary aids and services to ensure effective communication with individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. Federal court policy similarly requires federal courts to provide interpreters or other services or auxiliary aids to court participants who are deaf or hard of hearing.

What is an auxiliary aid or service?

An auxiliary aid or service includes qualified interpreters, transcription services, captioning, written materials, assistive listening devices and systems, or any other effective method of making aurally heard materials accessible to an individual who is deaf or hard of hearing. An auxiliary aid or service does not include personal items such as a hearing aid or cochlear implant.

What is a qualified interpreter?

A qualified interpreter is one who is able to interpret effectively, accurately and impartially, and who is familiar with any specialized vocabulary. For example, in a court proceeding, the interpreter may need to have additional training as a legal interpreter in order to be qualified. A family member generally is not a qualified interpreter because the family member usually is not impartial and typically does not have training as a legal interpreter.

How do I ask for the auxiliary aid or service that I need in order to effectively communicate with the court?

Make your request known to the court as soon as you know that you will need a service or auxiliary aid in order to participate in a court proceeding. Each court may handle requests differently. Some courts have specific procedures or a specific person or office that handles requests for auxiliary aids or services. Generally, the clerk of court's office should be able to help you make your request or direct you to the appropriate person.

Does the court have to give me the specific auxiliary aid or service that I request?

The court must provide the type of auxiliary aid or service that is necessary to ensure effective communication with the court. What is “necessary” depends on many factors. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, state and local courts must give primary consideration to an individual's choice of the type of service or auxiliary aid the individual believes is needed to effectively communicate with the court, but the law does not require the court to provide the specifically requested auxiliary aid or service in all circumstances. Federal court policy requires the court to honor a participant's choice of auxiliary aid or service unless the court can show that another equally effective means of communication is available, or that the participant's choice of auxiliary aid or service would unduly burden the court.

Can the court charge me for an auxiliary aid or service?

No; a state or local court may not charge you for the use of an auxiliary aid or service that is required for effective communication. This also means that the court cannot assess as "court costs" the cost of such auxiliary aids or services. Federal court policy also prohibits the court from charging for sign language interpreters or other services or auxiliary aids needed for a participant's communication with the court.


Published February 2011