Do You Know the Law for Providing Translators and Interpreters?

Do you know the law when it comes to providing translators and interpreters for your business?
Unfortunately, many individuals, businesses, governments and non-profit agencies are unaware of the state and federal regulations dictating just when and where such language support services are required—for both hard of hearing customers as well as those with Limited English Proficiency (LEP).
And that can lead to big problems.Law Office Image
Take, for example, the Florida judicial system, which last year faced a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. The complaint alleged Florida courts violated the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 by failing to provide free, qualified interpretation services in court related functions. For any programs that receive federal financial assistance, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin. The complaint claimed that Florida courts were not properly providing interpreters for people with LEP, and that such negligence was a form of national origin discrimination.
Then there was the federal case against a Virginia school system that failed to provide interpretation services and written materials to the mother of a student being disciplined. As a result of the complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, the school system has now changed many of its policies and procedures to better serve non-English speaking students and their parents.
In the past, many businesses and organizations would request, or expect, that someone who speaks another language would bring their own interpreter along with them—usually an untrained friend or loved one. This approach has obvious drawbacks, such as the friend or family member not having full command of the language themselves, or not being impartial in certain situations. And too often children have been thrust into the delicate role of interpreting for their parents. Such practices are becoming less acceptable, and in some case are prohibited altogether.
As our country grows increasingly more diverse and multilingual, cases like the two above are occurring more frequently. But the outcomes are essentially the same. The United States Supreme Court ruled long ago that failure to offer access to LEP persons constitutes discrimination.
sign language interpreters imageBut discrimination complaints are not limited to foreign language situations; many discrimination cases are filed on behalf of clients who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) makes it illegal for any business, building or other place that is open to the public to discriminate against people with disabilities. These places of “public accommodations” include restaurants, hotels, theaters, hospitals, doctors’ offices, pharmacies, retail stores, law firms, museums, libraries, parks, private schools, voter polls, social service agencies and day care centers, among others. Even companies interviewing a deaf individual must provide sign language interpreting. Unless businesses and organizations can show that an undue burden would result from providing such services (i.e., extreme expense or difficulty), they are expected to follow the law. Failure to comply can result in financial penalties of $75,000 or $150,000 for either first or second time offenders, respectively.
ADA Law Book ImageSo whether it’s the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act or the myriad other federal and state guidelines prohibiting discriminatory practices, make sure you know your legal obligation when it comes to interacting with existing or potential customers. In many cases it’s not a choice—it’s the law.
For further details, visit the U.S. Department of Justice’s websites regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Civil Rights Act.