Social Security Administration Section 504 settlementon sign language interpreters

Settlement Agreement Between the Social Security administration and Deaf Claimants Under Section 504 on Sign Language Interpreters

In March 2011, the Social Security Administration (SSA) entered into a settlement agreement with six deaf and hard of hearing individuals to settle administrative complaints filed with SSA under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act regarding SSA’s failure to provide qualified sign language interpreters in a timely manner. The complaints were filed with the SSA Office of General Counsel, as SSA does not have an Office for Civil Rights. Under the terms of the agreement, SSA will:

• Provide qualified sign language interpreters at Social Security offices if the customer states that he or she needs an interpreter or the worker identifies the need.. “Customer” includes anyone seeing or receiving SSA programs, services or activities; authorized representatives; representative payees; legal guardians; and family members and friends of the individual seeking programs, services or
activities; if the individual is an appropriate person with whom SSA should communicate.

• SSA will provide customers with an in-person qualified interpreter who is certified for scheduled appointments if requested in advance. If the interpreter fails to show up, the agreement requires SSA to take steps to arrange for an alternative.

• Within 90 days, SSA will create a document with illustrations listing auxiliary aids and services (including sign language interpreters) and explaining that deaf and hard of hearing customers can choose to communicate with SSA through any of the listed aids and services.

• SSA will give the document to walk-ins (i.e., individuals without scheduled appointments) who indicate that the need for an interpreter or other auxiliary aid or service, and to those that SSA believes need an auxiliary aid or service.

• Customers can choose to communicate with an SSA employee who knows American Sign language in-person or through video-conferencing, if the employee is available.

• Within 240 days, SSA will contract with a video remote interpreting service (VRI) for scheduled and walk-in appointments for customers who agree to user VRI. Individuals will not be required to use VRI if they say that VRI is not an effective method of communication for them, and can agree to use VRI at one appointment without waving their right to an in-person interpreter at future appointments.

• Within 90 days of installation, train appropriate staff on using VRI and VRI procedures. Equipment will be maintained in working order and staff must initiate work orders within five business days after the office manager is made aware of the problem.

• VRI equipment will be located to provide customers using it with the same privacy provided to other customers.

• Within 60 days, publish and distribute to staff at SSA offices an administrative message about the obligation to provide qualified sign language interpreters and distribute to new hires and include it in training materials for new staff.

• Within 120 days, include on its website homepage a link on how deaf and hard of hearing individuals can request reasonable accommodations.

• Within ten business days, provide an alerting system in office reception areas to advise customers that their number is called for service and will initiate a repair order for this system five business days after the office manager becomes aware of a problem. In addition, kiosks in waiting areas will allow customers to self-identify as deaf or hard or hearing.

• Within 90 says, complete staff training that focuses on working with deaf and hard of hearing customers, and will develop the training in consultation with individuals knowledgeable about communicating with deaf and hard of hearing individuals. The agreement details the topics that must be included in the training.

• Investigate the failure of the State agency responsibility for making medical eligibility determinations in SSI and SSD applications determinations for Medicaid eligibility to provide sign language interpreters or other reasonable accommodations to deaf and hard of hearing customers. In addition, within 90 days, the state agency must appoint someone to handle complaints of deaf and hard of hearing SSI/SSD claimants.

• Provide reports and data to counsel for the complainants. The settlement agreement is posted on the National Center for Law and Economic Justice website at www.nclej.org. For further information about the settlement contact Sharon Caserta, attorney for the complainants, at Jacksonville Area Legal Aid: sharon.casert@JAXLEGAILAID.ORG.