The Right to Aids and Services for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People in Washington’s Legal System

Updated December 2012
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This memo gives information about what help and services you can get as a Deaf or hard of hearing person in a court in Washington. 

The laws that support the statements in this memo include Part A of Title II of the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 USC 12131-12134 (United States Code), Federal regulations which help enforce the ADA, 28 CFR Part 35 (Code of Federal Regulations), and RCW 2.42 (Revised Code of Washington, the laws of the State). Keep in mind that these references are up-to-date as of December 2012, when the memo was last updated. The law sometimes changes before the packet can be updated. See the Resources section at the end for how to look up the specific laws mentioned here.

Washington State Courts

What Services Must a Washington State Court Give to Me as a Deaf or Hard of Hearing Person?

Deaf and hard of hearing persons can rely on either Federal or State law to ask for help in State court and court-related proceedings – or on both. Federal and state laws require a Washington State court or a state agency that is involved in the legal system to give appropriate “auxiliary aids and services” to Deaf and hard of hearing people involved in any type of court process or case. You have a right to these services if you are involved in any way, whether you are a party in the case (you are the person who filed or is named in the case), a witness, a victim, a juror, or if you are there representing a State Court or other agency involved.

“Auxiliary aids and services” include, among other things:

  • Qualified interpreters

  • Note takers

  • Transcription devices (something that turns spoken words into writing)

  • Written materials

  • Assistive listening systems

  • Videotext displays (video with closed-captioning)

In choosing which service is most appropriate to use, the court or agency must take into account what you ask for.

Do I Have to Pay for These Services?

No. The court may not charge you for the aids and services they provide to help you participate in the process.

What Is a “Qualified Interpreter?”

A “Qualified Interpreter” is an interpreter who is able to use Sign Language to interpret and share information correctly and well. They should be able to take in and give out information and be able to use any special legal or other terms that are needed. They also must be “impartial,” meaning that they do not share their own opinions and cannot themselves be involved, like if they were a family member or working for one of the agencies involved.

Under Washington State law, a “qualified interpreter” must have certifications from the state or the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, or must be able to easily translate statements made by speech-impaired people.

Under State law, you also have the right to a “qualified interpreter” as well as an “intermediary interpreter,” who helps the qualified interpreter communicate with you or interpret different versions of Sign Language.

What Kinds of Court Processes Can I Receive Services For?

You have the right to services in any kind of court case or process, including:

  • Criminal court cases

  • Any process where you might end up being jailed or committed or where you might face a criminal penalty

  • Any criminal interview or arrest

  • Civil court cases (like a divorce, housing, or child custody case)

  • Appearances in front of a jury, grand jury, or any kind of judge

  • Juvenile proceedings (like if you are the parent of a child who is involved in a court case)

  • Adoption cases

  • Any court-ordered program like drug treatment, probation, or a mediation

Federal Courts

What Services Must a Federal Court Give to Deaf and Hard of Hearing People?

Federal law says that a federal court must provide an interpreter who is certified by the Director of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts or an otherwise qualified interpreter, if someone involved in a court case has a hearing impairment that makes it hard for that person to understand what is happening or to be able to communicate or answer questions. This applies to parties in a case or to a witness who is testifying. Federal courts are also required to provide they types of assistance and services listed above, including:

  • Note takers

  • Transcription devices (something that turns spoken words into writing)

  • Written materials

  • Assistive listening systems

  • Videotext displays (video with closed-captioning)


What Services Must a Lawyer Provide to Deaf and Hard of Hearing People?

Federal law says that a Washington State lawyer also has to provide appropriate “auxiliary aids and services” to Deaf and hard of hearing people who are clients or who may become clients. The “auxiliary aids and services” a lawyer must provide include the same services a court must provide:

  • Qualified interpreters

  • Note takers

  • Transcription devices (something that turns words that are spoken into writing)

  • Written materials

  • Assistive listening systems

  • Videotext displays (video with closed-captioning)

Do I Have to Pay for These Services?

No. A lawyer may not charge you for these services. However, if the lawyer can prove they cannot afford these services, they may be able to provide a different type of service or none at all. If your lawyer was appointed by the court (a public defender), the court has to pay for any interpreters needed for meetings that happen outside of court.

Asking for Services In Court

How Do I Ask for an Interpreter or Other Services for My Court Case?

To ask for an interpreter in court, call the following contacts:

King County Superior Court, Office of Interpreter Services 

Downtown Seattle
TTY: 206-205-5048
Voice: 206-296-9358

Kent Regional Justice Center
TTY: 206-205-2655
Voice: 206-205-2519

More information is available on the King County Superior Court website. Be sure to contact the Office at least one week in advance.

All King County District Courts

Call the District Court Main Phone Line at 206-205-9200. After listening to the message, stay on the line to speak to a staff person, who will connect you with the right clerk to order an interpreter for you.

Seattle Municipal Court

Contact 206-733-9075 (interpreters for in-court only). You must place your order for an interpreter at least three days before your hearing. You will need to give the clerk the following information: your name and telephone number; date and time of hearing; case name and number; and language needed (ASL, PSE, SEE, tactile, close vision, and/or Oral). Interpreters for criminal cases are provided free of charge. For civil cases, you may be charged a fee per hour. If you are low-income, speak with your court clerk about how to get help paying for this service.

Other Counties

Call your court clerk to find out how to arrange for an interpreter. 

To ask for an interpreter in a State court, you may need to fill out a Request for Accommodation form, which will explain the kinds of services you are asking for.

Federal Court

To ask for an interpreter in a Federal Court, ask for the Interpreter Coordinator at the court:

Seattle: 206-370-8427
Tacoma: 253-882-3817
Richland: 509- 943-8170
Spokane: 509-458-3400
Yakima: 509-573-6600

Asking for Services Outside of Court

Where Can I Find an Interpreter for Outside of the Courtroom and Other Services?

The Office of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (ODHH) is a part of the State’s Department of Social and Health Services.
ODHH works through regional service centers to give help to Deaf and hard of hearing communities. To contact ODHH:

360- 902-8000 (TTY/Voice)
800-422-7930 (TTY/Voice)

Videophone: 360-339-7382, IP Address:

Regional Service Centers

  • Hearing Loss Center, Spokane
    TTY/Voice: 509-328-3728
    After Hours: 509-990-9674

  • Hearing, Speech & Deafness Center, Seattle
    King, Snohomish, Jefferson, Clallum, & North Kitsap counties
    TTY: 206-388-1275
    Voice: 206-323-5770 or 1-888-222-5036
    Videophone: 206-452-7953

  • Hearing, Speech & Deafness Center South Sound, Tacoma
    Pierce, Grays Harbor, Thurston, Mason, & South Kitsap counties
    TTY: 253-474-1748 or 1-866-698-1748
    Voice: 253-475-0782 or 1-866-421-5560
    Videophone: 253-292-2209

  • Hearing, Speech & Deafness Center North Sound, Bellingham
    Whatcom, Skagit, San Juan & Island counties

    TTY: 360-647-8508 or 1-877-647-8508
    Phone: 360-647-0910 or 1-866-647-0910 

    Videophone: 360-255-7166

  • South Eastern Washington Service Center of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Pasco
    Adams, Asotin, Benton, Columbia, Franklin, Garfield, Kittitas, Klickitat, Walla Wall, and Yakima counties

    TTY/Voice: 509-543-9644
    Emergency Line: 509-205-2284

  • Southwest Washington Center of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Vancouver
    Clark, Cowlitz, Lewis, Pacific, Skamania and Wahkiakum counties

    TTY/Voice Toll-Free: 1-866-695-6777
    TTY: 360-695-9720

    Voice: 360-695-3364
    Videophone: 360-334-5740


To Find Federal Statutes (Laws) and Regulations Online:

  • State Laws (RCWs)

    • Chapter 2.42 RCW: Interpreters in Legal Proceedings

    • To Find Laws in Person: You may visit your county law library in your superior courthouse. 

For More Information about Interpreters:

Contact the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, a national professional association:

TTY: 703-838-0459 
Voice: 703-838-0030 

For More Information about Your Rights: 
Contact Northwest Disability and Business Technical Assistance:

TTY/Voice: 1-800-949-4232

This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities. It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice.
This information is current as of December 2012. Updated by Jennifer Werdell, 12/13/12.

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(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and to individuals for non-commercial purposes only.)