ASL In California’s Courts: A Study’s Recent Findings

American Sign Language is currently the third most requested language in courts with concentrations in Inland Empire and Los Angeles County. Currently fifty-five interpreters and three Certified Deaf Interpreters are registered for legal service in California.

A Unique Case For California

With over 200 languages in California alone, the courts depend on interpreters for equal access; the Judicial Department is keenly aware of this need and conducts a research review every five years for evaluation.

The five-year review’s purpose is to determine new policies to be added, removed, or modified to improve the judicial processes and keep it up to date.

The most recent publication was on May 18, 2020.

One result from the research is the formation of the Language Access Plan Implementation Task Force in 2015; a committee formed by Supreme Court Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuellar and Ventura County Judge Manuel Covarrubias.

The Language Access Plan Implementation Task Force’s goal is to meet the language needs within the courtrooms. They are the ones responsible for the policies and process of hiring and scheduling interpreters.

Finally, we thank California Supreme Court Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar and Judge Manuel Covarrubias, Superior Court of Ventura County, who led the Language Access Plan Implementation Task Force from 2015 through 2019. Justice Cuéllar encouraged and inspired staff of the Judicial Council of California to improve and maintain language access data collection efforts on an ongoing basis to support the development of sound policy and maintain language access as a core service of the court”

-2019 Research Review (courts.ca.gov)

One of the findings in 2015 showed the demand for Japanese interpreters dropped and spiked for American Sign Language interpreters. That year the court system removed Japanese and added ASL to the list of interpreting services.

California’s courts depend on the five year reviews to ensure that funds are allocated efficiently.

The top ten most commonly interpreted languages for this study period were (in order of prevalence) Spanish, Vietnamese, American Sign Language, Mandarin, Cantonese,Korean, Punjabi, Russian, Arabic, and Farsi.”

-2019 Research Review (courts.ca.gov)

Technology and the Courts

With the prioritization of ASL, the year 2018 saw the beginning of VRI in courts and the addition of language complaint forms.

VRI (video remote interpreting) utilizes interpreters remotely depending on the cases. It eases the burden of schedule conflicts and guarantees language access.

The courts decide if the case qualifies for VRI services or physical presence, not the clients.

In 2018, Merced, Ventura, and Sacramento were the first cities to utilize VRI in their courts. More cities followed suit and incorporated the service, increasing access for the Deaf community statewide.

VRI proved to be successful and popular that the courts are now offering VRI online.

Quality of language access is a priority with its stringent codes of conduct. Should there be any breach of code or lackluster interpretation, California courts has online language complaint forms.

For the 2020 report, it recommended focus on reevaluating current ASL certification criterias as part of ongoing efforts to improve quality of ASL access in the courts.

Sources:

The full report: https://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/2020-Language-Need-and-Interpreter-Use-Study-Report-to-the-Legislature.pdf

California Courts: https://www.courts.ca.gov/

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