Accommodating Deaf Personal Injury Clients

Our personal injury lawyers represent deaf clients in serious injury and wrongful death claims.

I am representing a client now who has been deaf from birth. Unfortunately, he also suffers from a brain injury. The combination of the two makes communicating with him challenging under the best circumstances.

Most of us are familiar with the process of using an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter to communicate with deaf clients. However, I just became aware of another sort of interpreter that is invaluable for communicating with deaf clients who also have diminished or different communication skills. This is a Certified Deaf Interpreter or CDI.

ASL interpreters are hearing individuals who translate the spoken word into sign language. However, they cannot communicate with deaf people as effectively as another deaf person can. This is because every person signs differently, and because sign is often augmented by gestures and expressions. A CDI is another deaf person who is certified as an interpreter. They assist the deaf client in understanding and responding to the translation of the ASL interpreter. This is particularly helpful for people who have communication difficulties beyond deafness, like a diminished mental capacity.

Here’s how it works. A question is spoken. The ASL interpreter translates the question into sign. The CDI signs the question again to the deaf client and then takes the client’s signed answer and communicates it in sign to the ASL interpreter. The ASL interpreter then translates the answer into speech for the hearing participants.

It sounds cumbersome, and it is. It certainly adds to the time required for a deposition, for example. But having done depositions like this both with and without a CDI, I can say that for the right client, it makes a huge difference in the ability to communicate effectively.

Your Obligations to Deaf Clients

Attorneys should also know that these kinds of reasonable accommodations are required by the ADA.  Title III of the ADA requires attorneys to provide auxiliary aids and services to ensure effective communication with deaf and hard-of-hearing people.  Usually, this means a qualified sign language interpreter is needed to make sure there is effective communication.

Who pays for this?  You do.  The cost of these services cannot be passed along to the client as a case expense. My experience is that deaf people generally know their rights, so you should not be surprised when you receive these sorts of requests. Afterward, you will be glad you complied. It really makes a material difference in the quality of the representation.

The following are useful links to helping your clients with several disabilities: