I Need a Lawyer: Establishing Statewide New York Communication Access Fund to Secure Legal Accessibility to Deaf and Hard of Hearing Clients Through Video Remote Interpreting Services in Compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act

By: YooNa Lim

Discrimination by lawyers against individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing is not a rare occurrence. Many lawyers decline to represent deaf and hard of hearing individuals as clients, despite the protection of federal and state laws to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability.

Hearing impairments cover a significant range – from those who may not even be aware they have difficulty hearing to those who are deaf and use sign language. Statistics suggest that approximately more than 37 million people, or 16 percent of the population of age above 18, of the United States, report having some degree of difficulty hearing. Despite the large population of the deaf and hard of hearing community, many attorneys fail to recognize their legal obligation to accommodate individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Many private attorneys are unfamiliar with their obligations under the ADA or others are unwilling to incur the costs to provide the necessary communication access services. Consequently, it has become difficult for many deaf and hard of hearing individuals to retain attorneys for common legal counseling that are widely provided, such as criminal law proceedings, family law issues, probate, and employment law matters. Even when a deaf or hard of hearing individual successfully meets an attorney, without effective communication, the attorney cannot provide proper representation, unfulfilling their professional responsibilities. Because of the communication barrier, the client may not understand the nature of their legal issue.

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