I-2-1-70.Foreign Language Interpreters

Last Update: 11/14/14 (Transmittal I-2-124)

A. Determining Whether a Claimant Needs an Interpreter

When a claimant has limited proficiency in English, an administrative law judge (ALJ) will request that hearing office (HO) staff arrange for a qualified interpreter to assist the claimant and the ALJ at the hearing. See Hearings, Appeals and Litigation Law (HALLEX) manual I-2-6-10. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will provide interpreters free of charge if a claimant requests an interpreter or a claimant needs an interpreter to ensure that he or she is not disadvantaged.

While not exhaustive, any of the following may indicate that a claimant needs an interpreter at the hearing:

  • The claimant notes on the request for hearing that a foreign language interpreter is needed;

  • The field office indicates that a foreign language interpreter is needed (noted in either eView or the Case Processing and Management System);

  • The claimant indicates on form SSA-3368, Disability Report-Adult, that his or her ability to speak and understand English is limited; or

  • The record includes reports of contact or other statements that suggest the claimant may need a foreign language interpreter.

B. Criteria for a Qualified Foreign Language Interpreter

A qualified foreign language interpreter is an individual or vendor who:

  • Reads, writes, and demonstrates fluency in the English language;

  • Reads, writes, and demonstrates fluency in a specified foreign language;

  • Demonstrates familiarity with basic SSA terminology;

  • Agrees to comply with SSA's disclosure and confidentiality of information requirements;

  • Has no personal stake in the outcome of the case or other association with the case that would create a conflict of interest; and

  • Agrees to provide an accurate interpretation of both the questions and the claimant's responses, and agrees not to assume or infer facts or dates not actually provided by the claimant.


A person under age 18 may not serve as an interpreter.

C. Obtaining an Interpreter

1. Contracted Interpreter Services Under the Blanket Purchase Agreement

HO staff must utilize the language interpreter services provided under the blanket purchase agreement (BPA) for in-person interpreters to assist the claimant and the ALJ at the hearing.

Under the BPA, only certified and accredited linguists and personnel are provided. Therefore, additional certification of the BPA contract interpreter by the ALJ on the record at the hearing is not needed. See HALLEX I-2-6-10.

HO staff procures, schedules, and documents the BPA services using a Delivery Ticket Form, and the assigned ALJ certifies that the services were rendered.

2. Telephone Interpreter Services (TIS)

TIS is a telephone service that provides immediate interpreter services and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. TIS has over 3,000 interpreters who can interpret over 150 languages and dialects.

HO staff may schedule TIS interpreters by contacting Language Select at 1-800-200-7236. TIS is usually able to connect the HO with a qualified interpreter within a few minutes.

The HO staff does not need any authorization to use TIS and additional certification of the interpreter by the ALJ on the record at the hearing is not necessary. See HALLEX I-2-6-10. For specific instructions on using TIS, see the Multi-language Resources Page.