The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires effective communication, which means that people with disabilities and their companions completely understand whatever is written or spoken. The ADA also requires that people who do not have disabilities fully understand communication by people with disabilities and their companions. Companions include family members, friends or associates of a person with a disability.

There are a wide range of auxiliary aids and services that promote effective communication.  A few examples of auxiliary aids and services for people who are deaf or hard of hearing include assistive listening devices and systems, captioned telephones, computer-aided transcription services (CART), telephones compatible with hearing aids, Video Relay Services (VRS) and Video Remote Interpreting (VRI).

A common auxiliary aid and service for individuals who are deaf is a qualified sign language interpreter.  A qualified interpreter effectively, accurately and impartially signs what is being said, and voices what is being signed. A qualified interpreter also uses specialized vocabulary (i.e.: legal, medical) and the sign language system (i.e.: American Sign Language, Pidgin Sign English, Signing Exact English) used by the person who requires a qualified interpreter.

The following tips might be helpful to those with limited knowledge of how to effectively utilize a qualified on-site sign language interpreter:

  • Permit a companion to interpret only when there is a dire emergency and no qualified interpreter is present. The companion should cease to interpret when a qualified interpreter arrives.
  • If a companion requests that he/she interpret, assure that reliance on that companion is appropriate under the circumstances and the person who is deaf agrees with the arrangement.  For example, in a domestic violence situation, it would be inappropriate for the partner to interpret if they were present when the alleged violence occurred. 
  • Speak directly to and look directly at the person who is deaf.
  • Use first person (i.e.:” I, me, you”). If the phrase "Tell him," is used, the interpreter will sign, “Tell him”.
  • Use regular tone, volume and pace when speaking.  If necessary, the interpreter will request that the speaker slow down.
  • Discuss only subjects that the person who is deaf should know.  The interpreter must interpret everything said.
  • It is extremely important that the person who is deaf observe the speaker’s and interpreter's facial expression and body language.
  • Adequate lighting is imperative.
  • Whenever possible, provide presentation materials to the interpreter prior to the event, so the interpreter may become familiar with the specialized terminology.
  • Show captioned versions of media.

Video remote interpreting (VRI) services must provide:


  • Real-time, full-motion video and audio over a high-speed, wide-bandwidth connection
  • High-quality (not choppy, blurry or grainy) images with no irregular lags or pauses
  • Large images that display the face, arms, hands and fingers of the interpreter and person who is deaf 
  • Clear, audible voice transmission

    Everyone who might be involved with using VRI services requires comprehensive training in quickly and efficiently setting up and operating the VRI technology.

Over the past four decades, Disability Educator and Sign Language Instructor Cindy Powell has advised businesses, employers, government agencies and nonprofits about best practices with people with disabilities.


Cindy provides customized training on the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), tax incentives and other helpful topics, such as disability etiquette and service animals. Ms. Powell also provides customized sign language training.


Cindy has served on local, state and national disability organization Boards of Directors. Ms. Powell was recipient of International Association of Workforce Professionals' 2006 Services to Specialized Populations award. Cindy’s disability articles appear in print and online.

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