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Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is sign language universal? No. American Sign Language (ASL) is used primarily in the United States. It is a unique language within a distinct culture. Just as spoken languages have evolved throughout the world, various signed languages have also. Most countries that share the same spoken language have different signed languages. For example, while the US and England both use English, American Sign Language and British Sign Language are vastly different.

2. Can deaf people read lips? Some Deaf people read lips; some do not. It depends on how the person was educated and their natural talent for lip reading. However, only about 30% of English sounds can be lip-read. For example, the words pail, bail, and mail all look the same on the lips. (Go try it in the mirror.)

3. Can’t I just write notes to communicate with my deaf client/patient? Written notes often work fine for short or uncomplicated interactions. American Sign Language has a different sentence structure and verb tense rules than English, sometimes causing confusion when writing notes. Any long, complicated, or important interaction will be most clear if an interpreter is used (if that is the method of communication requested by the Deaf/Hard of Hearing person).  Additionally, the entity providing the accommodation may have to show that the method of communication they chose was effective, in the event of a dispute by the person receiving the accommodation.

4. Why can’t the deaf person just bring a friend or family member to interpret?  There are a number of factors to consider in this situation. Ethical concerns, privacy, security, emotions, and liability are factors. Additionally, HIPAA and FERPA concerns may arise with use of friends or family members.  Especially in cases of emergency situations, it would be highly unethical to place a family member in the middle of interpreting critical information when he or she needs to be present as a family member.  In some cases, subjects will be discussed from which the customer or patient would normally exclude certain family members.  Also, liability may become a factor if a family member makes an interpreting mistake in the midst of stress. Incorrect medication can be given, financial decisions can be misdirected, and other communication complications could adversely affect the Deaf person's life. Just because a family member may be able to communicate in sign language does not mean that he or she can function as an effective interpreter.  Qualified interpreters should always be employed to avoid unfavorable results. Missouri and Illinois require certification and licensure to practice interpreting, and regulate the level of certification required for various interpreting situations. Missouri prohibits the use of friends and family members. Illinois allows it only in limited situations under particular circumstances.

5. Someone in my office knows sign language. Can that person interpret for us?  People with disabilities have the legal right to non-discrimination and effective communication according to U.S. Federal law. One auxiliary aid or service named in the law that ensures effective communication is qualified interpreters. The law defines what “qualified” means. If the person in your office is qualified according to the law, and holds the legally required certification and license in your state, then you may use that person to interpret.

6. Can I charge the interpreter’s fees to my Deaf patient/customer? The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits charging people with disabilities a surcharge for accommodations.

7. Where can I learn more about my legal responsibilities to provide interpreters? Visit ADA.gov or call 1-800-514-0301.

8. Why would I need to hire 2 interpreters for one event? Team interpreting is standard practice in this profession; when an assignment is longer than an hour-and-a-half, two interpreters are scheduled. The interpreters work as equal members of a team, rotating at prearranged intervals and providing support and feedback to each other. They relieve each other approximately every 20 minutes to ensure the message is as accurate as possible for the full length of your assignment. Research shows that the longer the period of time an interpreter works, the less accurate and effective the interpretation becomes. In addition, using this "20/20" approach ensures the interpreters do not incur repetitive motion injuries that could put an early end to their careers. Our Scheduling Coordinator can assist you in determining the appropriate number of interpreters for your job.

9. Why is there a minimum charge? A two-hour minimum is an industry standard.  Interpreters work several places in one day and much of their time is spent driving from one location to another.  The two-hour minimum charge helps to compensate for their travel to and from assignments. Depending on the distance your location is from the Metro St. Louis area, additional mileage and/or travel time may be charged.

10.What if I have to cancel my request? When you schedule an interpreter, you are purchasing his or her time. Cancellation of assignments without the required notice will be charged for the scheduled time. It is standard practice to bill for late cancellations and no-shows.  When cancellations are received with more than one full business day notice, no charges will be incurred.  Cancellations with notice allow us to reschedule that time with another customer

11. How much advance notice do I need to request an interpreter? Please contact us as soon as you become aware of the need for an interpreter. The sooner a request is received, the more likely the request will be filled with a qualified interpreter.  We understand there are times when advance notice cannot be given; we do our best to fill last minute assignments. Requests made with less than 24 hours notice may be subject to an additional fee.

12. Where can I learn sign language? Several local colleges offer sign language classes, including St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley, Concordia Seminary, and Southwestern Illinois College. Additionally, some local community centers offer classes. Online, try lifeprint.com or start-american-sign-language.com. Click here for a list of Resources

13. The law says I have a right to an interpreter, right? The ADA does not say you have a right to an interpreter.  It says you have the right to effective communication and non-discrimination.  The ADA says that if an interpreter is provided, he or she must be qualifed.  The law defines "qualified" as able to "interpret effectively, accurately and impartially both receptively, and expressively, using any necessary specialized vocabulary."  The business can decide what accomodation to use (writing notes, using an interpreter, etc.).  If you request an interpreter and they say "no," you may file a complaint. For more information visit: http://www.ADA.gov/t3compfm.htm

14. The doctor said that I am responsible for providing and paying for my own interpreter. Is that true? No. According to the ADA, a business or organization cannot charge you, a person with a disability, for the cost of the accommodation, such as a sign language interpreter. The business or organization (doctor’s office, lawyer, college, etc.) is responsible for providing “effective communication.” Also, keep in mind that the hearing consumers use the interpreting services just as much as you. Visit ada.gov or call 1-800-514-0301 for more information.

15.  I am in the emergency room. Can I call for an interpreter? No, you must ask the hospital to provide you with an interpreter to ensure effective communication. The hospital is responsible to get you an interpreter. The hospital should already have a business agreement with several interpreters or agencies that they prefer to use.

16. I have the right to choose who I want as an interpreter, right? No. The ADA says that Deaf/Hard of Hearing people have the right to “effective communication,” which can include “qualified” interpreters. The law defines “qualified” as an interpreter who “is able to interpret effectively, accurately, and impartially, both receptively and expressively, using any necessary specialized vocabulary.” Deaf Inter-Link will try to schedule the interpreter you request if he or she is available.