Communication Access in Federal Courts

When you expect to be in a federal court for any reason, you or your lawyer must contact the court in advance to request the accommodations that are necessary for you to understand the court proceedings.  The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not apply to the federal courts.  However, the Judicial Conference of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts has adopted a policy that all federal courts will “provide reasonable accommodations to persons with communications disabilities.”  Federal court policy requires federal courts to provide sign language interpreters or other appropriate auxiliary aids and services, at no charge to deaf or hard of hearing court participants.  Federal court policy allows federal courts to decide whether to provide accommodations for court spectators who are deaf or hard of hearing.  These guidelines are published in Vol. I, Administrative Manual, Chapter III, General Management and Administration, Guide to Judiciary Policies and Procedures.  These guidelines are reprinted below.  You may also print this page to inform your lawyer or a federal court about your rights.

The NAD advocates for federal courts to provide accommodations for deaf and hard of hearing people in federal court, for any reason.

Guidelines for Providing Services to the Hearing-Impaired and
Other Persons with Communications Disabilities

1.  General Policy.

As adopted in September 1995, it is the policy of the Judicial Conference that all Federal courts provide reasonable accommodations to persons with communications disabilities.

2.  Sign Language Interpreters and Other Auxiliary Aids and Services.

Each federal court is required to provide, at judiciary expense, sign language interpreters or other appropriate auxiliary aids or services to participants in federal court proceedings who are deaf, hearing-impaired, or have other communications disabilities.  The court shall give primary consideration to a participant’s choice of auxiliary aid or service.

“Auxiliary aids and services” include qualified interpreters, assistive listening devices or systems, or other effective methods of making aurally delivered materials available to individuals with hearing impairments.(i)  “Participants” in court proceedings include parties, attorneys, and witnesses.  The services called for under these guidelines are not required to be provided to spectators, although courts may elect to do so in situations where they determine such to be appropriate, for example, providing an interpreter to the deaf spouse of a criminal defendant so that the spouse may follow the course of the trial.   “Court Proceedings” include trials, hearings, ceremonies and other public programs or activities conducted by a court.  “Primary consideration” means that the court is to honor a participant’s choice of auxiliary aid or service, unless it can show that another equally effective means of communication is available, or that the use of the means chosen would result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of the court proceeding or in undue financial or administrative burden.

3.  Jurors.

The determination of whether a prospective juror with a communications disability is legally qualified to serve as a juror is one for the judgment of the trial court under the Jury Selection and Service Act, and that determination is not governed or effected by these guidelines.  However, where an individual with a communications disability is found so qualified, a sign language interpreter or other appropriate auxiliary aid or service should be provided under these guidelines.

4.  Procedures.

Each court is required to identify a specific office or individual(s) to serve as access coordinator from whom participants in court proceedings may request auxiliary aids or services.  The access coordinator must be familiar with the judiciary’s policy of providing reasonable accommodations to persons with communications disabilities, to ensure that the policy is properly implemented.  The access coordinator must have a ready working knowledge of the types of auxiliary aids and services available to serve the needs of disabled persons and of the local sources from which auxiliary aids and services may be procured.  Personnel in each court are to be instructed as to the judiciary’s policy and the identity and location of the access coordinators in their particular court.   Each court shall appropriately publicize the identity and location of its access coordinator through courthouse signs, bulletin board announcements, pamphlets, announcements in the local press, etc.

Courts may, but are not required to, establish specific procedures through which requests for auxiliary aids and services are to be submitted, such as requiring that they be submitted to the access coordinator in writing or that they be submitted in advance of the court proceeding involved.  Courts may also establish procedures through which persons dissatisfied with the court’s proposed provision of auxiliary aids and services may seek review or reconsideration.   Any such procedures must be appropriately publicized.  These guidelines are not intended to, nor should they be construed to extend or modify existing law.

5.  Reporting.

In all situations in which services are provided under these guidelines, regardless of whether any direct new costs are incurred, courts are to file reports with the Administrative Office on forms provided for this purpose.

6.  Effective date.

These guidelines are now in effect.

(i) Where a court determines such to be appropriate, computer-assisted real-time [also called CART] reporting is one of the services that may be provided under these guidelines, but solely in furtherance of the limited purposes for which the guidelines have been adopted.  Thus, real-time reporting should be provided for only as long as and for the specific purposes required by a participant: for example, only for the duration of the deaf witness’s testimony.  Real-time reporting is to be used solely to assist in communication and is not to be used in lieu of conventional means of producing the official record.   Real-time service provided under these guidelines shall be limited to a video display of spoken words, and shall not include enhancements such as key word searching or the provision of unedited daily transcripts.  Courts may not use this policy as an authorization to purchase and install real-time court reporting equipment in the courtroom.  Such purchase is controlled by Judicial Conference policy relating to the methods of court reporting.