Committee Report

Courthouse managers must be prepared to provide a variety of types of access for individuals with hearing loss.

Communication access for people who are hard of hearing is best accomplished with technology. Technological preferences depend on the type and severity of a person’s hearing loss and his/her ability to discriminate sound. For most hard of hearing people, assistive listening systems provide sufficient understanding of speech to be the accommodation of choice. For others, Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART, also known as real-time captioning) is needed for the individual to accurately be able to comprehend speech. For others, interpreters or transliterators are needed.

Communication access for people with hearing loss should be provided on the basis of the preferred communication mode of the individual. The choice is dependent on the individual’s ability to understand speech with or without technology (e.g., hearing aid, cochlear implant). Title II of the ADA, Subpart E – Communications 35.160 General clearly makes three important points:

  1. A public entity shall ensure that communications with applicants, participants, and members of the public with disabilities are as effective as communications with others;
  2. A public entity shall furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to afford an individual with a disability equal opportunity to participate;
  3. The public entity shall give primary consideration to the requests of the individual with disabilities.

This Appendix is intended to provide background information about providing communication access outside the courtroom. For requirements in the courtroom, see Assistive Listening Systems in Courtrooms, above.

At the main entrance of the courthouse, there should be a sign with the international symbol of access for hearing loss, indicating that assistive listening systems are available and interpretation services can be obtained.

It is recommended that most assistive listening systems be infrared systems since many locations in courthouses require confidentiality, but at least one (1) FM system and one (1) loop system should also be available. The size of the courthouse (occupancy load) determines the quantity needed. Signage stating their availability and where to get them should be placed inside each room where they may be needed, and inside and outside of each courtroom.

Where there are counters with security glazing separating the court employee from the customer, an audio induction loop should be permanently installed to facilitate communication for people with hearing loss.

A portable assistive listening system should be available for any tours of courthouse. An FM system is preferred as it is very portable. An infrared system would not work as well as the tour guide would always have to face the people who are hard of hearing in order to transmit from the infrared diode to the diode on the person’s receiver.

All orientation films (like those for jury assembly) must be captioned and include audio description for people who are visually impaired. Assistive listening systems must be available if there is an oral presentation. CART – Communication Access Realtime Translation - and interpreters must be available upon request. Assistive listening systems need to be periodically tested to be sure they are functioning correctly and have working batteries.

Acoustics play a large roll in anyone’s understanding of speech, but they are particularly vital to a person with a hearing loss. Courthouses often have large open spaces such as lobbies, atria, corridors and other areas finished with granite, marble, tile, glass and other hard surfaces. These materials may create a harsh acoustical environment.

Good acoustics require the use of more absorbent surfaces, carpeting and heavier wall and door construction in courthouse rooms. Background noise from HVAC systems can be minimized by using large ducts and low air volume.

Options for Providing Communication Access

Assistive Listening Systems
See Assistive Listening Systems in Courtrooms (above).

Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART)
A skilled “real time” reporter uses a steno machine, a laptop computer and realtime software to provide instant word-for-word speech-to-text translation on a computer or TV screen or on a large projection screen. The person with a hearing loss then reads the text. A court stenographer who has had additional training in CART generally provides this service. CART is also referred to as “realtime captioning”. CART provides not only the words, but also the spirit of the proceedings by including text describing environmental sounds, such as laughter. More information on CART can be found on the National Court Reporter’s Association website at www.cartinfo.org.

Interpreters and Transliterators
The majority of Deaf people communicate by American Sign Language (ASL) or Pidgin Signed English, a combination of English and ASL. In addition to not being able to hear speech, English is not their first language and, therefore, a qualified sign language interpreter is needed for communication access. It is recommended that in life-altering situations such as court proceedings, that a Deaf-Hearing interpreter team (ASL and Deaf Interpreters) be used to allow for the most accurate communication possible. Qualified interpreters, with experience and extra training in courtrooms are preferred. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) defines the term "qualified interpreter" in its Title III regulations to mean: “an interpreter who is able to interpret effectively, accurately and impartially both receptively and expressively, using any necessary specialized vocabulary."

Interpreter certification varies by state but most states require some experience in court room interpreting. The National Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) provides testing for national certification. Assessments by the National Association for the Deaf (NAD) and other state agencies may also be accepted.

Interpreters require ample space to allow them to gesture while facing those who require their services.  Adequate frontal lighting must be provided so both their facial expressions and gestures can be seen. There are several kinds of interpreters who serve people who are deaf and occasionally those who are hard of hearing. The following definitions are taken from the University of Illinois at Chicago website, www.disabilityresource.uic.edu.

American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreter
The ASL interpreter is the most common interpreter used in court. States and localities usually have their own specific qualifications for ASL interpreters. ASL interpreters are usually hired in pairs so they can alternate duties. ASL is a visual sign language with its own structure and grammatical rules. ASL uses gesture, space and facial expression to convey spoken words.

Deaf Interpreter
A Deaf interpreter is someone who is Deaf or hard of hearing and is also certified by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc. The Deaf interpreter is used together with an ASL interpreter as a team and acts as an intermediary between the ASL interpreter and the deaf person. Deaf interpreters are typically needed for deaf individuals who have minimal language skills and/or for those who have a specific method of signing that is not easily understood by interpreters.

DeafBlind Interpreter
A DeafBlind Interpreter works either in close proximity with an individual who is both deaf and blind or else the individual touches the interpreter to follow the signs made by the interpreter.

Pidgin Signed English Interpreter
Pidgin Sign(ed) English is a not a separate language, rather it is a combination of American Sign Language (ASL) and English. Most often, it is ASL signs used with English word order.

Signed English Interpreter
Signed English is a form of sign language that represents English in a visual form. In a sense, it is English on the hands. Signed English has many different forms within itself and can be called, among other things, Manually Coded English (MCE), Sign Supported English (SSE), Sign Supported Speech (SSS), or Signed Exact English (SEE).

Foreign Language Interpreter
Since each spoken language has its own sign language, a foreign deaf person needs an interpreter who is fluent in his native sign language.

Oral Interpreter or Oral Transliterator
Oral Interpreters mouth a speaker’s words silently and frequently substitute words for those which are hard to speech read.

Cued Speech Transliterator
Cued Speech is not a language in itself, but shows the spoken word through hand gestures and their placement which enable the person with a hearing loss to speechread those sounds which are not visible while speaking.