It is important for all Americans to have access to the legal services they may need. This includes many Americans who are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), particularly members of our Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community. There are many barriers to members of the Deaf Community from obtaining those services; but one of the largest barriers is the ability, or lack thereof, to form effective communication between the lawyer and his or her prospective client.
The ADA requires certain accommodations to ensure effective communication is delivered to the client. In the case of Deaf and hard of hearing individuals, this includes transcription services, real-time closed captioning, and qualified sign language interpreters. Due to the complex nature of legal services, effective communication likely requires the employment of a skilled sign language interpreter.
Part of the communication barrier lies in the complexity of the language of lawyers. The profession uses a separate dictionary – Black’s Law Dictionary – to help define certain terms that, without the ability to draw from context, may confuse attempts at delivering a message. Some already find it difficult to express legal concepts in layman’s terms, made that much more daunting by the fact that the client’s primary language is not English in an oral sense.
A Lawyer Providing Accommodations
To meet the legal services needs of the Deaf and hard of hearing community better, a lawyer needs to be willing to incorporate methods of effectively communicating with the client that would not otherwise be used in the firm. The lawyer should ascertain which auxiliary aids the client needs and which are appropriate for the situation. The method of communication preferred by one client may be out of the question for another client. Indeed, some clients may require only that you speak slower, remove distractions, or annunciate more with your lips (read more about Lip-Reading); while others may require a certified qualified sign language interpreter.
An exhaustive list of tips for successfully and effectively communicating with the client can go on for many pages, but I recommend that both prospective clients as well as other lawyers who are interested in serving the community review some of the guides that are available online.
The Law Offices of Brian Flieg
Sharon Caserta, Esquire: Deaf and Hard of Hearing Handbook
David Scott Barmak, Esquire: The Challenges of Delivering Legal Services to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
National Association of the Deaf: Communication Access – Funds for Legal Services
Americans with Disabilities Act, 28 CFR 36.303