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Can they ask me to bring my companion to interpret?

Q: I made a first-time appointment with an oncologist. When I let them know I was Deaf, they asked if my wife or other family member could provide sign language interpretation, as interpreters are very expensive. Can they ask me to bring my companion to interpret?

A: No, with minor exceptions. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) places responsibility for providing effective communication, including the use of interpreters, directly on covered entities. They cannot require a person to bring an interpreter. A covered entity can rely on a companion to interpret in only two situations. These situations are detailed in the US Department of Justice’s ADA Requirements: Effective Communication:

(1) In an emergency involving an imminent threat to the safety or welfare of an individual or the public, an adult or minor child accompanying a person who uses sign language may be relied upon to interpret or facilitate communication only when a qualified interpreter is not available.

(2) In situations not involving an imminent threat, an adult accompanying someone who uses sign language may be relied upon to interpret or facilitate communication when a) the individual requests this, b) the accompanying adult agrees, and c) reliance on the accompanying adult is appropriate under the circumstances. This exception does not apply to minor children.

If you have more questions about this or if you need to know more about something else under the ADA, please contact the Northeast ADA Center at 800-949-4232, by email at northeastada@cornell.edu, or by submitting a question through our website.

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