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Communicating with Deaf Clients, Guide for TX Attys, Disability Rights TX, 2015

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Effectively Communicating with Deaf Clients
Guide for Texas Attorneys
Working with deaf or hard of hearing individuals, whether in court or in your office, requires advance preparation. Not all deaf and
hard of hearing individuals communicate in the same way. Deaf and hard of hearing people may communicate using different
“auxiliary aids and services” such as sign language interpreters, lip reading, real-time captioning, writing notes, or a combination.
Attorneys addressing the need for access to communication must take client preference into consideration. Ask the client for his or
her preferred method of communication. While there are many communication options, this document focuses on the use of sign
language interpreters.
Why use an interpreter?
Can I use a family member or
Can I write notes back and
Who is required to pay for the

The purpose of this sheet is
to provide information and
resources to raise
awareness, educate, and
guide Texas attorneys about
working with Deaf

Using a qualified interpreter makes your
job easier and minimizes the chance of your
case being negatively affected by ineffective
communication. The Americans with
Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), as amended,
requires that certain public entities (including
courts) and private businesses (including law
offices) be accessible to deaf and hard of
hearing individuals. Many deaf and hard of
hearing individuals have Limited English
Proficiency (LEP) and do not write or speak
English as fluently as necessary for you to
represent them effectively without the use of a
qualified interpreter. An interpreter may help to
bridge the cultural and communication gap,
reducing confusion, misunderstandings,
liability, and frustration.

Under Texas law, courtroom interpreters
are required to hold either the Court Interpreter
Certification (CIC) from the Texas Board for
Evaluation of Interpreters (BEI),1 or a legal
certificate (SC:L) from the National Registry of
Interpreters for the Deaf (RID).2The court
coordinator should be able to assist in locating
a qualified interpreter. If your court does not
have someone responsible for this service,
please visit the DARS registry of BEI-certified
interpreters at, or
RID’s certified list at The court
clerk or other court staff is responsible for
confirming an interpreter’s qualifications prior to
appearing in court, but the attorney may want
to verify that information.
Interpreting services outside of court must
be done by a “qualified” interpreter. The
attorney can help ensure that an interpreter is
“qualified” by following the State’s
recommended interpreter certification levels by
situation, online at (A
private attorney may need to use the

Category D certification level or higher for office
visits in situations that are not otherwise covered
by the recommendations.)
The use of family or friends to interpret is
not advised. Family and friends can be biased,
and may be unskilled as interpreters even if they
are fluent in sign language. Moreover, the law
prohibits using family or friends unless (a) the
deaf individuals requests it and it is appropriate,
or (b) it is an emergency involving an imminent
risk of harm.3 Finally, although attorney-client
confidentiality clearly extends to professional
interpreters, and although many courts hold that
it also applies despite disclosure to third-parties
who are assisting the lawyer, using a nonprofessional can introduce some complexity.
As a rule, the higher the risk, impact, or
importance of the case, the higher the standards
must be for interpreting. The use of a nonqualified interpreter may be subject to later
challenge in court.

In criminal cases, upon motion, the court
must appoint an interpreter, not just for court
proceedings but also for all in-court and out-ofcourt privileged communications between the
lawyer and the client.4 The costs of this cannot
be taxed against the defendant.5
In civil cases, upon motion, the court must
appoint interpreters for court proceedings and for
depositions,6 and the county pays for the cost.7
For other out-of-court communications between
lawyer and client in civil cases, the lawyer is
responsible for providing interpreters, and cannot
shift the cost of doing so to the client.8 On the
other hand, the Texas Bar may be able to offer
financial assistance to attorneys, especially those
working for organizations funded by the Texas
Access to Justice Foundation. Direct questions to
Briana Stone at or
(512)427-1857.Tax incentives may also be

available to certain entities to help defray the cost of providing
accessible services. This information can be found at
For lengthy and complex information exchanges with people
that rely upon American Sign Language (ASL) as their primary
language, writing back and forth may not be effective due to limited
English proficiency. ASL is a complex visual-spatial language that
relies heavily on physical and facial grammar, body movement and
the use of space. These cues or other factors are not present in
written English. In such situations the safest course is to use the
communication mechanism that the client requests or prefers.
There may be times when the communication mode of a deaf
client is so unique that a communication specialist is required.
Therefore, in order for communication with that individual to be
effective, the service of a certified deaf interpreter4 (CDI) may be
required. A CDI is a deaf or hard of hearing person who possesses
the necessary dialect, idiosyncratic awareness, education, training,
and specialized skills. This specialist ensures the effectiveness of
communication in cases that cannot be adequately achieved by the
hearing interpreter alone.9 For more information about CDIs contact or in Texas.
Technology may be effective for spoken languages but may
not be for ASL, a 3-D visual language. There are many forms of
technology available for translation or communication access
services. Current trends in technology that deaf and hard of hearing
people use are video remote interpreting (VRI) and video relay
services (VRS). VRS may not be used when the attorney and deaf
client are in the same location.
Unless the deaf individual requests them, VRS and VRI are not
recommended because of their limitations. An interpreter who is
physically present is often preferable because of the environmental
cues and the three-dimensional nature of ASL. Other limitations of
VRS and VRI include:
• VRS interpreters cannot be sworn in, or take the oath for
accuracy of the record;
• there is no way of knowing the skill or certification level of a
VRS interpreter;
• the software/technology may have connection issues; and
• VRI, unlike VRS, is not regulated by the FCC.

• Disability Rights Texas:

MARIE Center:


Midwest Center on Law & the Deaf:


National Association for the Deaf:


National Association of Judiciary Interpreters &


Recommended Guidelines for VRI Interpreting for ASLInterpreted Events:


Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf:


Texas Department of Assistive
and Rehabilitative Services:

1 The Texas Board for Evaluation of Interpreters (BEI) is under
the auspices of the Office for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services
(DHHS) at the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative
Services (DARS), which is the state agency authorized by statute
to certify interpreters in Texas and to regulate BEI-certified
interpreters and persons acting as court interpreters in court
proceedings. Tex. Hum. Res. Code § 81.007; Tex. Gov’t Code
Ch. 57.
240 Tex. Admin. Code § 109.323; Tex. Gov’t Code §57.026; Tex.
Code Crim. Proc. art. 38.31(g)(2).
3 28 C.F.R. § 35.160(c) (applicable to state and local courts); 28
C.F.R. § 36.303(c) (re private attorneys).
4 –Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Art 38.31.
5 Tex. Atty. Gen. Op. DM-411 (1996) (citing DOJ guidance).
6 Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 21.002.
7 Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 21.006(c).
8 28 C.F.R. §§ 36.303(c) and 36.301(c).
9 See

A special thanks goes to those who created this document, BEI court certified interpreters and affiliates; Jan Castleberry,
Amber Farrelly, Heather Hughes, Helene Gilbert, Cheryl Sloan, and Disability Rights Texas,