Navigating the Legal System When You're Deaf or Hard of Hearing
Guidance for Minnesotans seeking to overcome barriers to legal accessBy Ross Pfund | Last updated on January 24, 2023
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- Expect the Initial Screening With an Attorney To Happen Via Telephone
- Be Upfront About Your Communication Access Needs
- Remind Attorneys of Your Access Needs Before Upcoming Court Dates and Mediations
- Give as Much Advance Notice as Possible When Requesting an ASL Interpreter or CART(Communication Access Realtime Translation)
- Don’t Expect Your Case to Process Quickly
Expect the Initial Screening With an Attorney To Happen Via Telephone“The reason for this,” says Gilbert, “is that in-person meetings usually take up more of an attorney’s time. Therefore, they usually do an initial screening over the phone to determine if an in-person meeting makes sense, or if they should refer you a different attorney that is a better fit for your legal issue.” Using video relay or a captioning phone is an ideal option for the this first screening.
Don’t be discouraged if you have to call a few attorneys to find the right fit. If an attorney declines to represent you, it may be because they don’t focus on that particular area of law, or they may have a heavy caseload at that particular moment. If that happens, you can ask them to refer you to a different lawyer. The Minnesota Disability Law Center may also be able to help.
Be Upfront About Your Communication Access Needs
“It is OK to say you need an ASL interpreter or real-time captioning,” Gilbert says. An attorney may not know how to access these services, so it can be helpful to tell them where they can find service providers—and to know that there are tax credits for attorneys who hire sign language interpreters. “The Internal Revenue Code Section 49 allows for us to have a 50% tax credit for any accommodation that we provide to a person with a disability over $250,” Gilbert adds. “A lot of people don’t know that, and it’s a real benefit.”
Remind Attorneys of Your Access Needs Before Upcoming Court Dates and Mediations
Even if you’ve previously discussed communication access needs, don’t assume that your attorney knows exactly what you need for depositions, court hearings or mediations. “Be sure to let the attorney know what you need and where to find the resources,” says Gilbert. “As the date gets closer to the hearing, check in with the attorney to ensure the court has secured the access services you need for a successful hearing.”
Give as Much Advance Notice as Possible When Requesting an ASL Interpreter or CART(Communication Access Realtime Translation)
In Minnesota, there are very few court certified legal interpreters. Qualified interpreters’ schedules fill up quickly, and it can be difficult to secure one with less than two weeks’ notice. “Don’t be alarmed if the court has to reschedule your hearing date to ensure you have communication access,” says Gilbert.
Don’t Expect Your Case to Process Quickly
With the exception of some criminal matters, many cases in the legal setting can take several months or even years to be resolved. “Sometimes there are long waiting periods where you may not hear anything about your case,” Gilbert says. “It is appropriate to check in once a week with the attorney, but don’t be surprised if there isn’t any news.”
For information on related areas of law, read our overview articles on civil rights and disability rights under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).
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