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O&P Facilities’ Obligation to Provide Interpreters

“In a response to the message sent on the listserve regarding an O&P facility’s obligations to provide interpreters to deaf or hard of hearing patients, the following describes an O&P facility’s rights and responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”).

O&P facilities are considered “public accommodations” under Title III of the ADA, regardless of the size of the business or number of employees. As a public accommodation, an O&P facility has a responsibility to provide “effective communication” through its policies and procedures with the public, including patients. “Effective communication” does not require the provision of an interpreter for every patient who requests it or who is deaf or hard of hearing. In many instances, note taking and the use of other auxiliary aids and services to achieve effective communication are perfectly acceptable. However the complexity of the communication is largely what determines what form of communication would be considered “effective.” For a routine patient encounter, an interpreter is not required absent extenuating circumstances. However, if the patient encounter involves a more complex set of communications and consideration of more complicated issues, an interpreter may well be required by the ADA.

If the patient requests an interpreter, the practitioner should engage in a dialogue with the patient and/or his/her representative or family members to arrive at the method of communication that suits the particular needs of the patient and the circumstances of the patient visit.

If an interpreter is determined to be required, the O&P facility is obligated to pay for the interpreter entirely and may not impose a surcharge on the patient, even if the reimbursement for the patient service is less than the cost of the interpreter needed for that patient visit. The cost of interpreter services are measured against the revenues of the entire operation, not against the individual requiring the interpreter. In other words, the provision of interpreters or other auxiliary aids and services to deaf and hard of hearing patients is a cost of doing business with the public.

This response is provided to the O&P community as a service of the National Association for the Advancement of Orthotics and Prosthetics (NAAOP). Although drafted by NAAOP’s General Counsel, Peter W. Thomas, it does not constitute legal advice.”

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