Virginia's Judicial System

Interpreters for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

This section provides information on interpreting for the deaf and hard of hearing. For assistance, questions, information, or to request forms, contact VDDHH at 804/662-9502 or 800/552-7917 or Forms are also available at the VDDHH website.


Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) mandates that state and local governments ensure that persons with disabilities are not precluded from services, programs, or activities. Deaf and hard of hearing persons have a right to equal access to the courts. This includes ensuring effective communication.

At some time in life, most people experience the sensation of being unable to hear – no sound from the television, or loud background noise that interferes with hearing a person speaking. Imagining deafness based on these types of experiences facilitates the understanding of a hearing person of what it is like for persons who lose their hearing after spending some part of their lives in the hearing world. However, this type of imagining may also contribute to a misunderstanding of the communication barriers related to deafness experienced by people born deaf or who become deaf very early in life. Absence of the sense of hearing interferes with communication in ways more profound than simply not being able to hear. Equally significant are cultural barriers erected between hearing and non-hearing persons by the culturally dominant society of hearing individuals.

Courts routinely contend with cultural differences and are better prepared to ensure the fairness and integrity of proceedings when there is a clear understanding of the impact of cultural factors on how people communicate. In particular, judges will recognize the importance of securing the services of properly trained, qualified interpreters and relying on them for advice regarding how communication with deaf and hard of hearing persons can best be effected.

Certification of Interpreters for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Department of Justice has defined the term qualified interpreter as an interpreter who is able to interpret effectively, accurately, and impartially both receptively and expressively, using any necessary specialized vocabulary. The main organization for certifying interpreters for deaf persons is the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc. (RID). The RID is a national voluntary association (with state chapters) of professionals who provide sign language interpreting and transliterating services for people who are deaf or heard of hearing. A variety of certificates are offered by the RID. Holders of these certificates have proven their expertise and are required to undertake continuing education. The RID also offers a number of advanced certificates specifically directed toward interpreting or transliterating in the legal environment. The RID promulgates and enforces a code of ethics as part of its mission. All organization members agree to adhere to its eight basic tenets.

Appointment of Interpreters for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

The Code of Virginia requires courts to procure interpreters through the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (VDDHH) in criminal and civil cases (§§ 19.2-164.1, 8.01-384.1). On behalf of state courts, the Office of the Executive Secretary and VDDHH enacted a Memorandum of Understanding to provide clear guidance and instructions to courts on the provision of qualified interpreters for the deaf and hard of hearing (see Appendix I). Among other provisions, the Memorandum of Understanding stipulates that VDDHH will secure and the Office of the Executive Secretary will compensate only interpreters who have earned a full certification from the RID.

The mission of the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing is to operate with the full understanding that communication is the most critical issue facing persons who are deaf or hard of hearing. The foundation of all programs at VDDHH is communication – both as a service (through interpreters, technology, and other modes) and as a means of sharing information for public awareness (through training and education). VDDHH works to reduce and, ultimately, to eliminate the communication barriers between persons who are deaf or hard of hearing and those who are hearing. The Office of the Executive Secretary occasionally collaborates with VDDHH and the Virginia Affiliate Chapter of the National Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (VRID) to offer voluntary orientation training for interpreters serving Virginia courts.