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Ensuring Equal Access to Justice for Individuals

Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

Guidelines for Understanding and Fulfilling the Court’s

Legal Obligation

By Brian East and Lia Davis



very day, judges interact with diverse individuals whose

lives are being directly impacted by our justice system.

Some of these individuals are deaf or hard of hearing.

Judges and their court staff play a key role in ensuring

equal access to justice for these individuals.

Who needs a qualified sign language interpreter?

Usually the court discovers the need for an interpreter because

the individual who is deaf or hard of hearing (or his/her attorney)

requests one.

However, courts should also consider interpreters if a person

who is deaf or hard of hearing has difficulty communicating or

understanding spoken or written language. The court should not

assume that written communication or lip reading will work, as

some who are deaf or hard of hearing may have difficulty with this

form of communication.

Does the court have to provide a qualified interpreter? Who


All Texas civil and criminal courts are required to appoint

a certified or licensed interpreter for civil or criminal court



The court is also required to appoint an interpreter for witnesses, jurors, and counsel.

The court is responsible for scheduling, arranging, and paying for the interpreter.

The individual who is deaf or hard of hearing is not responsible for making these arrangements

and may not be charged for the cost of a qualified interpreter. The interpreter’s fee and expenses

are paid from the general fund of the county in which the case was brought.


What is a qualified interpreter? How do I find one?

In Texas state courts, a “qualified interpreter” is an interpreter who holds a Court Interpreter

Certification from BEI/DARS


or a legal certificate from the National Registry of Interpreters for

the Deaf.


Family members, friends, or court personnel should never be asked to serve as an

interpreter. Court staff are responsible for verifying an interpreter’s qualifications before scheduling