I-2-1-72.Interpreters — Claimant who is Deaf or Hard of Hearing

Last Update: 10/18/19 (Transmittal I-2-227)

A. General

When the claimant is deaf or hard of hearing, and therefore unable to understand speech at a normal conversational level, even with a hearing aid, the administrative law judge (ALJ) must provide the claimant with the means to participate fully at the hearing. The ALJ will do so by providing an effective communication option for the duration of a hearing, such as using a qualified sign language interpreter (if the claimant can communicate using sign language) or real-time reporting. When the ALJ or claimant finds that the provided method(s) does not permit full participation, the ALJ may permit other methods of communication, including lip-reading or written notes.

During the administrative process, a claimant may imply or specifically request a method of communication, noted in the claim(s) file or in iAccommodate. See generally Hearings, Appeals and Litigation Law (HALLEX) manual I-2-0-8. If neither the claim(s) file nor iAccommodate include such a request, but the record suggests the claimant is deaf or hard of hearing, hearing office (HO) staff should contact the claimant or their representative before the hearing is scheduled to determine the best method of communication with the claimant. If HO is unable to provide the method of communication requested by the claimant, the HO will follow the procedures in HALLEX I-2-0-8 to request a locally available or non-standard accommodation. If no resolution is available, HO staff will follow the procedures set forth in HALLEX I-2-1-90.


If any person other than the claimant requests real-time reporting or a qualified sign language interpreter during the hearing, refer to HALLEX I-2-0-8.


The accommodations discussed in this section are available only to claimants who appear at the hearing at an agency hearing site. HO staff should not schedule a claimant who is deaf or hard or hearing and requires accommodation to appear at a hearing by telephone or at the representative's office by video under the Representative Video Project.


The HO holding the hearing bears the cost of any accommodation. Cost is not a relevant factor in determining whether to provide an accommodation. The cost or difficulty in obtaining or scheduling an accommodation in a particular HO is generally not an appropriate basis to transfer a case to a different HO.

B. Sign Language Interpreter

Using a sign language interpreter is only appropriate when the claimant is able to communicate in this manner. Therefore, when the record indicates the claimant is deaf or hard of hearing, HO staff will contact the claimant or appointed representative to ensure the claimant is able to effectively communicate using American Sign Language.

When scheduling a sign language interpreter, an ALJ must use an individual who is qualified to provide such services. Generally, an individual is qualified to act as a sign language interpreter if:

  • They are certified by the National Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf;

  • They are certified by a state registry of interpreters; or

  • Their name appears on a list of qualified interpreters compiled by the National Association of the Deaf or any state association of the Deaf.


ALJs will generally avoid using an interpreter with a personal connection to the claimant, such as a family member who comes to the hearing with the claimant, even if that person otherwise meets the qualifications above. However, employees of the Social Security Administration or another Federal agency are considered qualified interpreters if the person is able to simultaneously and accurately express and receive in sign language, and the person is available to interpret at a hearing. For additional information on qualified interpreters, see Program Operations Manual System GN 00203.012.

To find a qualified American Sign Language interpreter, HO staff can use the Multi-Language Gateway at http://eis.ba.ssa.gov/nes/ or the micro-purchasing (Ad Hoc) procedures.

C. Real-time Reporting

Real-time reporting is a type of speech-to-text transcription using a reporter or stenographer, a stenography machine, a computer, and real-time software. With minimal delay, real-time reporting transcribes oral communications in written form. Real-time reporting includes both real-time court reporting and Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART).


HO staff will use the micro-purchasing (Ad Hoc) procedures for obtaining court reporters and CART services.


When available and effective for the claimant, it is recommended that other options discussed in sections A and B be pursued before real time reporting is used as the communication option.

When used, the ALJ will ensure real-time reporting is available for the entirety of the hearing. If real-time reporting does not provide an accurate transcription or is otherwise ineffective, the ALJ must seek another way to communicate with the claimant.