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March 24, 2005

Fund to help pay interpreters

From: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle - Rochester,NY,USA - Mar 24, 2005

Bar Association aids lawyers with hearing-impaired clients

Greg Livadas
Staff writer

(March 24, 2005) — In what may be the first program of its kind in the nation, the Monroe County Bar Association on Wednesday announced the formation of a fund that will help lawyers pay for sign language interpreters for clients.

The Deaf Equal Access Fund (DEAFund) resulted from a task force established after a Penfield lawyer last year admitted violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by not providing an interpreter for a deaf client.

"When we became aware of that situation, we at the bar association decided we didn't want to see that happen again," said Michael Wolford, president of the Monroe County Bar Association.

Using $7,000 from funds from the association and its foundation, local lawyers will be able to pay for an interpreter for an initial visit and be reimbursed 50 percent for future interpreter needs, Wolford said. The association has a contract that will pay interpreters $45 an hour.

A workshop, "Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Clients: How to Expand Your Practice & Stay Out of Trouble," is scheduled for April 6. It will discuss when an interpreter is appropriate and how lawyers can avoid violating the ADA.

The new fund will be used when lawyers meet with clients in their offices. Courts already supply interpreters in court proceedings and for jurors.

"We think this will make this the most deaf-friendly legal community in the country," said Bryan Hetherington, who chaired the task force that developed the DEAFund.

Rochester has one of the largest deaf populations in the country, with thousands of people who use sign language. It is home to Rochester Institute of Technology's National Technical Institute for the Deaf, the world's largest technical college for the deaf.

Matt Starr, director of DePaul Interpreting Services, said writing notes back and forth is not only time consuming but may not be a good way to communicate for someone whose first language is American Sign Language, rather than English.

"A professional interpreter is the most effective way to bridge the barrier between deaf and hearing persons," he said.

Spencer Phillips, a lawyer primarily working with deaf clients for the Public Interest Law Office of Rochester, saw 140 clients his first year. Although lawyers are required to be accessible to deaf clients without passing along the expense of an interpreter, he said the fund will be an incentive to help minimize that financial burden.

NTID Dean Alan Hurwitz applauded the efforts and noted the interpreter is as important for the lawyer as for the client.

"People can feel comfortable approaching an attorney for the services they need," he said.

More information
The Monroe County Bar Association's Center for Education is sponsoring a workshop intended for lawyers and others concerning the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The workshop, "Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Clients: How to Expand Your Practice & Stay Out of Trouble," is from noon to 2 p.m. April 6 at the bar association, 1 Exchange Blvd.

For fee scales and more information, call (585) 546-1817 or visit

Copyright 2005 Rochester Democrat and Chronicle