Language and the Law

Information to help answer questions such as:

  1. Am I required to hire an interpreter?
  2. Who has to pay for the interpreter?
  3. Why get a professional interpreter?
  1. Why not a family member?
  2. How can I become compliant?

To prevent discrimination & ensure effective communication, places of public accommodation are generally required by federal law, to provide auxiliary aids to Deaf people such as the provision of a qualified interpreter. This includes providing ‘meaningful access’ to services for Limited English Proficient persons. Partners Interpreting offers services including American Sign Language interpreters and captioners who will work with you to ensure there is effective communication as required by law.

If you are unsure of where to start or what you actually need, we can help. We will be happy to review the logistics of your event with you and give you some direction on what your next steps should be. Our interpreters and captioners are professional and qualified providers and we’ll work to ensure that our services provide compliance under law.

A Guide to Disability Rights ( This guide provides an overview of Federal civil rights laws that ensure equal opportunity for people with disabilities.

The following information provides a high level summary of the statues. For the latest and comprehensive language of these regulations please visit the state or federal official websites.


A. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000d et seq. (“Title VI”)

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    Title VI prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in any program or activity that receives Federal funds or other Federal financial assistance. Programs that receive Federal funds cannot distinguish among individuals on the basis of race, color or national origin, either directly or indirectly, in the types, quantity, quality or timeliness of program services, aids or benefits that they provide or the manner in which they provide them. This prohibition applies to intentional discrimination as well as to procedures, criteria or methods of administration that appear neutral but have a discriminatory effect on individuals because of their race, color, or national origin. Policies and practices that have such an effect must be eliminated unless a recipient can show that they were necessary to achieve a legitimate nondiscriminatory objective. Even if there is such a reason the practice cannot continue if there are alternatives that would achieve the same objectives but that would exclude fewer minorities. Persons with limited English proficiency must be afforded a meaningful opportunity to participate in programs that receive Federal funds. Policies and practices may not deny or have the effect of denying persons with limited English proficiency equal access to Federally-funded programs for which such persons qualify.

    Set forth below are examples of conduct that may violate Title VI:

  • A local welfare office makes assumptions regarding a person’s citizenship, immigration status and eligibility for benefits, based on the person’s surname, accent or ability to speak English, and asks only those persons who look or sound foreign about their citizenship and immigration status.
  • A local welfare office located in a neighborhood with a number of immigrant groups provides no language assistance to TANF applicants or participants who are limited English proficient (LEP), but advises them to bring friends or relatives, as interpreters, to their appointments.
  • A training program charges an LEP class member for interpreter services that are needed for the class member to benefit from the training program.
  • A local welfare office which regularly serves LEP persons only makes interpreters available for persons applying for benefits three hours a week.

The Rehab Act

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as Amended (Rehab Act) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by federal agencies, in programs receiving federal financial assistance, in federal employment and in the employment practices of federal contractors. The standards for determining employment discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act are the same as those used in title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Rehab Act has several sections.

  • Section 501 requires affirmative action and nondiscrimination in employment by Federal agencies of the executive branch.
  • Section 503 requires affirmative action and prohibits employment discrimination by Federal government contractors and subcontractors with contracts of more than $10,000.
  • Section 504 states that “no qualified individual with a disability in the United States shall be excluded from, denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under” any program or activity that either receives Federal financial assistance or is conducted by any Executive agency or the United States Postal Service. Each Federal agency has its own set of section 504 regulations that apply to its own programs. Agencies that provide Federal financial assistance also have section 504 regulations covering entities that receive Federal aid. Requirements common to these regulations include reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities; program accessibility; effective communication with people who have hearing or vision disabilities; and accessible new construction and alterations. Each agency is responsible for enforcing its own regulations. Section 504 may also be enforced through private lawsuits. It is not necessary to file a complaint with a Federal agency or to receive a “right-to-sue” letter before going to court.
  • Section 508 establishes requirements for electronic and information technology developed, maintained, procured, or used by the Federal government. Section 508 requires Federal electronic and information technology to be accessible to people with disabilities, including employees and members of the public. An accessible information technology system is one that can be operated in a variety of ways and does not rely on a single sense or ability of the user. For example, a system that provides output only in visual format may not be accessible to people with visual impairments and a system that provides output only in audio format may not be accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity on the basis of disability in employment, State and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications. It also applies to the United States Congress. The goal is to ensure that communication with people with these disabilities is equally effective as communication with people without disabilities.

To be protected by the ADA, one must have a disability or have a relationship or association with an individual with a disability. An individual with a disability is defined by the ADA as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment. The ADA does not specifically name all of the impairments that are covered.The ADA uses the term “auxiliary aids and services” (“aids and services”) to refer to the ways to communicate with people who have communication disabilities. For people who are deaf, have hearing loss, or are deaf-blind, this includes providing a qualified notetaker; a qualified sign language interpreter, oral interpreter, cued-speech interpreter, or tactile interpreter; real-time captioning; written materials; or a printed script of a stock speech (such as given on a museum or historic house tour). A “qualified” interpreter means someone who is able to interpret effectively, accurately, and impartially, both receptively (i.e., understanding what the person with the disability is saying) and expressively (i.e., having the skill needed to convey information back to that person) using any necessary specialized vocabulary

When focusing on communication, one must assess the needs of the Deaf/Hard of Hearing person they are working with and provide reasonable accommodations to ensure there is effective communication. Reasonable accommodations can vary depending on the person and nature of your interaction.

People who have vision, hearing, or speech disabilities (“communication disabilities”) use different ways to communicate. For example, people who are blind may give and receive information audibly rather than in writing and people who are deaf may give and receive information through writing or sign language rather than through speech.

  • The purpose of the effective communication rules is to ensure that the person with a vision, hearing, or speech disability can communicate with, receive information from, and convey information to, the covered entity.
  • Covered entities must provide auxiliary aids and services when needed to communicate effectively with people who have communication disabilities.
  • The key to communicating effectively is to consider the nature, length, complexity, and context of the communication and the person’s normal method(s) of communication.
  • The rules apply to communicating with the person who is receiving the covered entity’s goods or services as well as with that person’s parent, spouse, or companion in appropriate circumstances.
  • ADA Title I: Employment

Title I requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide qualified individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from the full range of employment-related opportunities available to others. For example, it prohibits discrimination in recruitment, hiring, promotions, training, pay, social activities, and other privileges of employment.

  • ADA Title II: State and Local Government Activities

Title II covers all activities of State and local governments regardless of the government entity’s size or receipt of Federal funding. Title II requires that State and local governments give people with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from all of their programs, services, and activities (e.g. public education, employment, transportation, recreation, health care, social services, courts, voting, and town meetings).

State and local governments are required to follow specific architectural standards in the new construction and alteration of their buildings. They also must relocate programs or otherwise provide access in inaccessible older buildings, and communicate effectively with people who have hearing, vision, or speech disabilities. Public entities are not required to take actions that would result in undue financial and administrative burdens. They are required to make reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures where necessary to avoid discrimination, unless they can demonstrate that doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of the service, program, or activity being provided.

  • ADA Title III: Public Accommodations

Title III covers businesses and nonprofit service providers that are public accommodations, privately operated entities offering certain types of courses and examinations, privately operated transportation, and commercial facilities. Public accommodations are private entities who own, lease, lease to, or operate facilities such as restaurants, retail stores, hotels, movie theaters, private schools, convention centers, doctors’ offices, homeless shelters, transportation depots, zoos, funeral homes, day care centers, and recreation facilities including sports stadiums and fitness clubs.Public accommodations must comply with basic nondiscrimination requirements that prohibit exclusion, segregation, and unequal treatment. They also must comply with specific requirements related to architectural standards for new and altered buildings; reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures; effective communication with people with hearing, vision, or speech disabilities; and other access requirements.

Affordable Care Act

Section 1557 is the nondiscrimination provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Under the new law of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), any healthcare provider or health insurance company receiving federal assistance must provide limited English proficiency (LEP) patients with a qualified interpreter. In the past, interpreters who identified themselves as “bilingual” were deemed competent. To become a qualified interpreter, an individual must complete a rigorous education and advanced training program to obtain advanced knowledge and fluency in English and at least one other language. Qualified interpreters adhere to the code of ethics, principles and confidentiality as practiced in the language services industry.

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  • 508-809-4894 (videophone) for ASL users