Interpreters for the Deaf

October 1, 2004

Are small group practices exempt from the requirement to provide interpreters for the deaf?

Question: Are small group practices exempt from the requirement to provide interpreters for the deaf?

Answer: Case law may vary in different parts of the country, but generally, small medical practices are not exempt from Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) rules requiring interpretation services for patients if those services are needed to communicate medical information. You may want to check with an attorney about your specific circumstances.

The ADA regulations say that businesses can be exempted from making accommodations that pose an undue burden or a fundamental alteration to the business. However, the Department of Justice (DOJ) describes "fundamental alteration" as "a modification that is so significant that it alters the essential nature of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations offered." It defines "undue burden" as "significant difficulty or expense."

It does not appear from recent case settlements that the DOJ considers losing money on an office visit as an undue burden for a small medical practice. In one instance, a surgeon was required to reimburse an assisted living facility $200 for interpreter services, and in another, an oral surgeon agreed to provide an interpreter for a patient who is deaf and blind after she complained to the government. In both cases, these appear to be small practices.

You can read more detail in the "ADA Title III Technical Assistance Manual" at www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/taman3.html.

For more information about possible tax deductions or tax credits for ADA accommodations that small businesses, including small medical practices, might qualify for, go to www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/taxpack.pdf.