Court for Deaf People Need Not be Frightening, but Avoid the Cringe Factor

by Daniel B. Swartz, CI, CT, SC:L, ED:K-12, EIPA


I have been a court interpreter for many years now, I guess better than 20 of the 32 years I have been interpreting.  I love legal interpreting, but I don’t necessarily have a good feeling about the things I see in court.  I have interpreted all sorts of trials, and been in various courts, including family, criminal, and civil.  You can add administrative courts to that, as I have interpreted unemployment and workers compensations cases as well.

As an interpreter in a courtroom, I am an officer of the court.  This means I have an obligation to uphold justice and render the interpreted message faithfully.  It also means I must know my limits, most critical of which is not to provide opinion.  This means no insertion of my bias, and not providing legal counsel or advice.

picture of courtroom

Court is Not a Scary Place

This post will by no means be an exhaustive explanation of legal interpreting, or appropriate behavior in court by all parties.  When I thought about writing this short blog on court, what I wanted to touch on most is what I call the “cringe factor.”  Remember, I can’t express my opinion in court, nor alter the message.  But here, on this blog, I can give you, the deaf person, a few pointers.

Lessening the Cringe Factor

Oh, what is the cringe factor?  It is the things that litigants do that cause me to cringe.  Things that are said or done that make me roll my eyes (to myself, not visible), or cause my head to explode (not literally, I hope). Sadly, the cringe factor occurs more frequently, in my experience, with deaf litigants as opposed to hearing ones.  I attribute that to lack of exposure to the legal system, whether it be limited education on the subject, limited environmental bombardment, and inexperience (a good thing).  By the way, environmental bombardment is what I call the constant “education” that we get via what is happening in the foreground and background of our lives.  It could be something as simple as watching a court TV show (Perry Mason is my favorite), or as mundane and droning as the background chatter on a news channel, an overhead cocktail conversation, or your parents bemoaning the merits of a current legal trial over dinner (while the kids sit silently and take it all in – perhaps?).

What makes me cringe? What can you do to lessen the cringe factor should you have to appear in court?

  1. Speaking when not spoken to.  Silence!  Speaking out of turn really pisses off the judge.
  2. You have an attorney, but you insist on telling your story.  Why in the world did you hire an attorney?!
  3. Not having an attorney (pro se) when you really need one.  Abraham Lincoln was right – “He who represents himself has a fool as a client.”
  4. Not answering the question posed – going completely off message (if you don’t understand the interpreter, demand one that is qualified).  Pay close attention.  Then answer the question given and nothing more.
  5. When a yes-no question is asked, you give an exhaustive answer because YOU want to “tell your story.”  KISS – Keep it Short and Sweet (there are other less kind variations of this).
  6. Being stubborn and simply not listening to the advice of your attorney.  You paid good money for them, so trust their advice.
  7. Becoming emotional, yelling, talking to opposing litigant, making a scene.  If you want to make a lasting, negative impression on the judge/jury, this will do it.
  8. Dressing for court like you are going to work out at the gym.  They may say that justice is blind, but the judge isn’t.
  9. Forgetting that the judge is the ultimate authority.  One thing I always remember is that the judge is always right.  If he tells me to jump, I ask how high and in which direction.  The courtroom is the judge’s “house.” S/he is queen/king.  Always remember that.

Good luck. Remember to respect the legal system.  And I hope I don’t see you in court (nothing personal).

Doctors Should Not Skirt the Law When it Comes to Providing an Interpreter

Please read this article by clicking here; as it is extremely helpful. 
Doctors, more than ever, must make interpreters available for appointments. In rural areas this may be more difficult, but in urban areas the law is the default. Most medical practices today have been bought, and are under the auspices of, large medical institutions. The ADA exceptions of less than 15 employees and financial hardship for the practice are now moot. 

Deaf people must stand up for their rights to have a live interpreter, whenever possible. VRI is the option of last resort. To not provide an interpreter is not only foolish, in most instances it is illegal. 

Contact 360 Translations 24/7 at 856-356-2922 for all of your medical interpreting needs. 

VRI Is Not a Suitable Substitute for a Live Interpreter

If you are Deaf you have seen it. If you are are hearing, you may have heard of it. If you are cutting costs at a medical facility, you are probably trying to use it. What is it?

VRI, or Video Remote Interpreter. 

Coin counters and budget managers worship it. Deaf and hard-of-hearing folks cringe at its mention, and tend to run in the other direction. 

ASL, or American Sign Language is a visual language. It is 3-dimensional in the very least. VRI is not. VRI utilizes a 2-dimensional platform via telephony and video presentation on a simple TV screen. Maybe not a TV screen. Some facilities push VRI on iPads. 

VRI doesn’t work. It is not prosody, not offering equal access to communication. It leads to misunderstandings, and in medical settings, this is life or death stuff. It is a choice of last resort. 

See NAD’s (National Association of the Deaf) Position Paper – NAD Position Paper on VRI

People have been medically damaged due to the use of VRI. Some deaf folks are suing hospitals proactively – Pregnant Woman Sues Hospital Over VRI

Deaf and hard-of-hearing people, you have rights. 

You have the right to refuse VRI and demand a live, on-site interpreter!!

Do not let these medical institutions bully you. 

Exercise your rights. Refuse VRI. Demand a live, on-site interpreter. 


Dr. Daniel B. Swartz, CI, CT, SC:L, ED:K-12

President, 360 Translations

You have a legal right to an interpreter

Have you ever gone to a hospital emergency room and been told, in writing, that they do not provide sign language interpreters? Did you decide to leave and go to another hospital? Did you realize that this hospital was violating both federal, and in many cases, state law by not providing you a sign language interpreter, free of charge? If you didn’t know, now you do!

A number of hospitals in our home state of New Jersey have been sued for refusal to provide accommodations/equal access to communication. Litigation has been brought, in many instances, with the help of the Department of Justice’s ADA Enforcement Unit. You can find out how to file a complaint by visiting the ADA/DOJ website. Refusal to provide ASL interpreting services is a Title III violation, and you can find specific instructions for filing a complaint here.

For hospitals and medical facilities that are interested in the proper way to provide accessible services, they should visit this website: ADA Business Brief: Communicating with People Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing in Hospital Settings

For every hospital or medical facility that refuses to provide services, there are many more that are willing to provide these services. In our immediate area, Kennedy and Virtua hospitals are great medical facilities that are in full compliance with ADA, Title III. We encourage you to use of their hospitals if you are able.

This also extends to visiting your primary care physician, eye doctor, ENT, or other specialist. By and large, they must comply with ADA Title III and provide you with an interpreter. Not doing so can be VERY expensive for the facility. Case in point, one such case occurred in Hudson County, NJ, where a doctor was forced to pay $400,000 in damages for failure to provide an interpreter. And there are many more stories out there similar to this one. It proves that the old adage of “penny wise and pound foolish” is alive and well.

We provide a wealth of information on our website to assist you in obtaining an interpreter in any medical setting – visit our web page here. Explore our website further for information on obtaining interpreters in the ER, hospital and doctor office.

360 Translations stands read to meet all of your medical interpreting needs. We never sleep, and provide interpreters day or night, 365 days of the year.