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New Rules Now in Effect for Hiring Sign Language Interpreters in Medical and Legal Settings in Michigan

Changes will Affect all Medical and Legal Service Providers throughout the State

July 20, 2016

Lansing — New rules defining required qualifications for Michigan Certified sign language interpreters are now in effect and they apply to every lawyer, doctor, business or other entity that may be legally required to provide interpreters. The rules will help ensure individuals who are deaf and deafblind have equal access to communication, especially when accessing important medical and legal information and services.

“Improving access to our justice system is a top priority of the Supreme Court,” said Justice Bridget M. McCormack.  “Whether it is tearing down the barrier of language access for those with limited English proficiency or providing qualified sign language interpreters for individuals who are deaf or deafblind, the ability to communicate effectively in court must be afforded to everyone.”

The new requirements establish the skill level and training required for professional sign language interpreters, dividing them into three minimum certification levels based on the complexity, difficulty, and risk of harm inherent in the interpreting situation.  

These rules will affect any entity that is required to provide an interpreter, but they will have their greatest impact on the operation of every courtroom, hospital, doctor’s office, legal proceeding, mental health care provider and more in the state of Michigan. Every attorney, doctor, business or organization in Michigan should be alert to these new requirements, know where to find them if they are ever asked for an accommodation, and seek guidance if needed to make sure they are in compliance with state law. 

“In Michigan, providers have always been required to secure a qualified interpreter, but until now, there was no definition to help a provider know what that meant,” said Agustin Arbulu, Director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, the state department that houses the Division on Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing (DODDBHH).  “Now, medical and legal offices, courts, hospitals and doctors’ offices will be able to identify an interpreter with the specific training and credential required to effectively and accurately handle the situation at hand.”

DODDBHH Director Annie Urasky explained that the credentialing of interpreters is a recognition that not all interpreting assignments are the same, and for legal and medical matters in particular, interpreters need additional training and competence in the subject matter in order to effectively communicate.

“When hiring an interpreter,” said DODDBHH Director Annie Urasky, “the first step after discussing the individual needs of the person requesting the accommodation, will be to consider the type of information you need to share with that individual, and then determining which standard level applies.”

The new standard levels, detailed below, provide clear guidance and ensure that medical and legal practitioners and organizations can provide interpreters that meet the appropriate minimum requirements necessary to interpret in a given setting. Providers can also access a description of the certification levels on the DODDBHH webpage

Also on the DODDBHH website are FAQs related to the rules and instructions for their application. Most importantly, those who need to hire an interpreter can access MOIS, the Michigan Online Interpreter System. MOIS is an interactive system which can be used to identify the minimum standard practice level required of the interpreter that is hired.  Interpreters who are certified at the appropriate standard level can then be identified using MOIS.  Also on MOIS, is information explaining and defining terms and processes, all within one click.

“My best advice, particularly to anyone working in the medical or legal field is don’t wait to explore what’s required until somebody says ‘I need an interpreter’”, said Urasky. “Check out the DODDBHH website now, and save the location so that you know where to go to get the answers you need when the request comes in.”

For the DODDBHH website, go to

For the Michigan Online Interpreter System (MOIS), go to

Standard Levels for Michigan Certified ASL Interpreters

STANDARD LEVEL 1 settings involve non-complex situations with low risk.  Qualified interpreters cannot interpret when topics relate to health, mental health, legal, employment, finance, or government.  Examples include:

  • Workshops, Meetings, Trainings, and Presentations

  • Post-secondary Education, Vocational Training, and GED test

  • DeafBlind (interpreting for an individual who is DeafBlind requires a DeafBlind Endorsement)

STANDARD LEVEL 2 settings involve moderately complex situations with medium-high risk.  Qualified interpreters may interpret when topics relate to government, employment, or finance.  Examples include:

  • All Level 1 settings

  • IEP (Individualized Education Program) Meetings

  • Meetings, Interviews, Job Training

  • Employment Grievances, Discipline, and Staff Meetings

  • Political Events, Government Meetings

  • Plays, Concerts, TV News

  • Tax Assessment Meetings/Appeals

  • Applications for State/Federal Services

  • DeafBlind (also requires a DeafBlind Endorsement)

  • Medical/Mental Health settings, for which the interpreter must also have a medical endorsement. This includes:

  • Health Care beyond First Aid

  • Physician Office Visits

  • Hospital/Emergency Rooms

  • Psychiatric Evaluations, and Inpatient Mental Health Facilities

STANDARD LEVEL 3 settings involve legal proceedings and high risk situations, for which the interpreter must also have a Legal Endorsement. Examples include:

  • All Level 1 and Level 2 settings
  • Forensic Psychiatric Evaluations

  • Evaluations of a Legal Nature

  • Emergency Broadcasts

  • Legal Workshops or Training

  • Police, Prison, Probation, and Parole

  • Attorneys/Courts

  • Children’s Protective Services (CPS)