TN 1 (10-03)

DI 23040.001 DDS: Interpreters for Individuals with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) or Individuals Requiring Language Assistance

A. Policy

SSA is committed to providing fair and equitable service to the American public, regardless of an individual’s inability to communicate effectively in English.

SSA recognizes that using qualified interpreters efficiently facilitates our processes, deters fraud, and assures that individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP) are not disadvantaged.

Therefore, the disability determination service (DDS) will provide an interpreter free of charge, to any individual requesting language assistance, or when it is evident that such assistance is necessary to ensure that the individual is not disadvantaged. The DDS will not require individuals needing language assistance to provide their own interpreters.

Individuals have the option of using their own interpreter, such as a family member, friend, or third party, providing the interpreter meets SSA criteria for interpreters. Though, the DDS should first review the modular disability folder (MDF) for documentation (see DI 23040.001C.1.) of a qualified interpreter approved by the FO prior to obtaining information about the individual’s interpreter.

Generally, the DDS will not permit a child under age 18 (see DI 23040.001E.5.) to serve as an interpreter due to the nature and complexities of the disability determination process. Therefore, the DDS is required to use a qualified interpreter in this situation and all other sensitive and critical matters.

B. Definitions

1. Interpreter

An interpreter is an individual who speaks English and another language fluently, including sign language, and/or acts as an intermediary between the individual needing language assistance and the DDS staff members who are not proficient in the individual’s preferred language.

2. Qualified Interpreter

A qualified interpreter is an individual or vendor who is able to read, write, and speak fluently in English and the language or dialect of the individual needing language assistance, and who meets the following criteria:

  • Provides an accurate interpretation of questions and responses by both the individual being interviewed and the DDS staff member (usually a Disability Examiner (DE)); i.e. does not self-initiate follow-up questions or infer facts or dates not provided by the individual or the DDS interviewer;

  • Demonstrates familiarity with basic terminology used in the disability determination process, including medical and social welfare terminology when necessary;

  • Agrees to comply with SSA's disclosure and confidentiality of information requirements; and

  • Has no personal stake in the outcome of the case that would create a conflict of interest. An individual who is a potential or actual claimant or beneficiary on the same record as the individual needing language assistance can act as an interpreter, providing that there is no other conflict of interest.

3. Translator

A translator is an individual who can read and write English and another language to accurately translate written material from one language to another.

NOTE: See GN 00301.330 ff. for document translation standards and DI 43515.001 for translation of foreign language documents for the DDS. Non-SSA translation standards may differ.

4. Authorized Translator

An authorized translator is a translator whom SSA certifies through an official authorization process to accurately translate written foreign language documents and evidence into English. See GN 00301.340.

NOTE: This definition is not applicable to non-SSA translation services.

5. Telephone Interpreter Service (TIS)

Effective September 28, 2012, SSA has a nation-wide Blanket Purchase Agreement with a private company, Language Select, for telephone interpreter services (TIS) in more than 120 languages and dialects. The TIS is accessible to all SSA and if authorized to DDS public contact employees. Interpreters are available immediately, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. The instructions on using this service are accessible on the Intranet, through the Serving Multilanguage Audiences at: http://eis.ba.ssa.gov/nes/

The DDSs are welcome to use the service provided that they are not charged for the same service through a State contracted interpreter service or Indirect Cost Agreement. The DDS would need to adjust those agreements prior to participating in the SSA contract (to ensure SSA does not pay both providers for the same service). Ensure that you have authorization from your State prior to using the SSA service. To obtain a Language Select telephone interpreter see instructions in GN 00203.011. Third-party vendors and CE providers are not authorized to use the SSA provided TIS.

NOTE: Upon contacting the TIS, the 3-digit State Agency or Doors code is necessary.

6. Individual with Limited English Proficiency (LEP)

An individual with LEP is someone who has limited or no ability to read, write, speak or understand English.

7. Good Cause for Late Filing Based on English Ability

Grounds for granting good cause (see GN 03101.020A.3.d.) for late filing are applicable to a LEP individual, which:

  • prevented him/her from filing a timely request; or

  • prevented him/her from understanding our notice/request; or

  • prevented him/her from understanding the need to file a timely request for an appeal.

NOTE: Full documentation is needed on all actions taken to ensure the individual’s understanding of the disability determination process and of his or her reporting responsibilities in order to support or deny any future ‘good cause’ determinations.

C. Procedure – Identifying the Need for an Interpreter

The DE or Other DDS Staff Member should:

  1. Determine if a foreign language or sign language interpreter is needed by reviewing information in the claims folder (e.g., the Disability Transmittal Sheet (DI02 or DI16), the SSA-3368-BK, Report of Contact (SSA-5002), SSA-795, etc.), which states that an interpreter is needed.

    NOTE: If a sign language interpreter is needed, also follow the instructions in GN 00203.012

  2. Be alert to the language needs of any individual having difficulty understanding, hearing or speaking English, and be sensitive to the cultural differences that could negatively affect the disability determination interview.

  3. Determine whether the individual wants the disability interview conducted in English, another language, or sign language. If the individual does not want the hearing conducted in English, determine which language is preferred.

    • Obtain the services of a State-contracted interpreter service, if not authorized to use TIS, prior to scheduling the disability interview or consultative exam (CE).

    • Obtain an interpreter through the nation-wide SSA TIS (if authorized) or a state-contracted Tele-interpreter service if the disability interview will be conducted by telephone. See DI 33010.030H.5. and DI 33010.030H.6.

      NOTE: The SSA provided TIS is only accessible if approved by your DDS.

    • Explain that the individual may bring their own interpreters to disability interviews or CEs, providing they have been approved as a qualified interpreter by SSA and/or DDS. If the claimant’s interpreter has not been approved, he or she may participate in the interview or CE, but the official interpretation will be that of an SSA or DDS provided interpreter.

  4. Provide an interpreter whenever it is difficult to understand the individual, or when it is evident that language assistance is required to ensure that the individual is not disadvantaged, even if the individual does not request an interpreter.

  5. Use the following options when you do not know the language for which assistance is required:

    • The interpreter poster and/or language card, which is available by accessing the Multi-language Gateway Internet address at: http://eis.ba.ssa.gov/nes/. Although the interpreter poster and language card explains the SSA interpreter policy in many languages, it is also helpful in identifying the individual’s preferred language and providing information regarding SSA policy and instructions (i.e., pamphlets, fact sheets, and other SSA materials).

      NOTE: This site is updated frequently and provides useful information about SSA interpreter services and materials available in languages other than English.

    • The TIS, which employs trained operators who can identify key words in foreign languages and effectively determine the language for which assistance is required, is accessible only if approved by your DDS.

      Reminder: Third-party vendors and CE providers are not authorized to use the SSA TIS.

  6. Explain to the individual that SSA may have materials (i.e., pamphlets, publications, etc.) in his or her language by accessing the Multi-language Gateway on the Internet at: http://www.ssa.gov/multilanguage/.

  7. Assure the individual that the DDS staff will provide him/her with service equal to that provided to individuals who speak English well.

  8. Inform the individual that the DDS will provide interpreter services free of charge.

  9. Follow instructions in DI 23040.001E.4. for situations involving the use of the individual’s own interpreter.

D. Qualified Interpreter Sources

In priority order, the DDS will accept the following list of qualified interpreters satisfying the requirements outlined in DI 23040.001B.2.:

  1. DDS bilingual employees including bilingual CE providers;

  2. Other bilingual State employees;

  3. SSA bilingual Field Office (FO) employees (see DI 23040.001E.2., 4th bullet);

  4. Non-DDS interpreters in the community who have an agreement with the DDS to provide interpretations and who do not charge a fee for interpreter services: e.g., members of church groups, university employees or students, employees of other Federal, State or local agencies, ethnic social service agencies, or members of advocacy groups;

  5. Employees of vendors contracted by the DDS to provide interpreter services. This category also includes all interpreters working for the nation-wide SSA TIS;

  6. Non-DDS interpreters in the community who charge a fee for interpreter services: e.g., members of church groups, university employees or students, employees of other Federal, State or local agencies, ethnic social service agencies, or members of advocacy groups; and

  7. Also included as qualified interpreters, with the same priority as DDS bilingual employees, are:

    • Employees of the Veterans Administration Regional Office in Manila,

    • U.S. Military Consular Officers,

    • Officials of foreign government liaison agencies, or

    • Designated employees of the Federal Benefits Unit of a U.S. Foreign Service Post, who are fluent in the language being interpreted.

E. Procedure – Special Situations Involving Interpreters

1. Notices

Whenever there is a foreign language indicator on a claim or the DDS has reason to believe an individual has LEP, any notice which requires the individual to participate in any substantive interview or discussion of his/her claim (e.g., a disability interview or CE) must include the following statement:

“We provide free interpreter services to conduct your Social Security business. However, if you prefer to have your own interpreter, you may do so, but with the understanding that our own interpreter may be present at the time of the interview.”

NOTE: Under no circumstances should any notice to individuals contain language requiring them to provide their own interpreter.

2. Providing an Interpreter

When an interpreter is needed, one should be provided from the list of qualified interpreters (see DI 23040.001D.), with bilingual DDS employees or CE providers being the preferred choice. The DE or other DDS staff should also:

  • Determine—based on experience and judgment—whether an interpreter is qualified and, when there is a choice, which interpreter to use.

  • Specify the interpreter source used at the disability interview or CE if different from the FO interpreter.

  • Know that the FO is not responsible for providing an interpreter to the DDS.

Know that bilingual FO employees should be used as interpreters only with prior agreement of FO management. However, the FO may be able to provide the DDS with a list of qualified interpreters and interpreter services in their areas. (See GN 00203.011 for FO instructions regarding interpreters.)

  • Review the file for a prior interpreter contact(s) used by the FO or the DDS.

3. Need for Interpreter Discovered During the Disability Interview or CE—

  • Continue the disability interview or CE at another time if a qualified interpreter (including TIS if authorized or a State-contracted interpreter service) is not readily available.

  • Inform the claimant that he/she will be notified as to when the disability interview will be continued;

  • Take action to have the disability interview rescheduled; and

  • Make arrangements to have a qualified interpreter (see DI 23040.001D.) present.

4. Use of Individual’s Own Interpreter

Though the individual is aware that the DDS will provide an interpreter, he or she has the option of bringing his/her own interpreter (usually a family member) to the time of the disability interview or CE. However, the DE or other DDS staff member should defer to the interpreter signed SSA-795, if included in the MDF by the FO, prior to determining whether the individual’s own interpreter is qualified per DI 23040.001B.2. The DDS staff must adhere to the guidelines provided in DI 23040.001H. and DI 23040.001I.

5. Use of a Minor Child Interpreter

Minor children will rarely meet this qualification (e.g., they will not be familiar with SSA or medical terminology) and therefore should not be used for substantive interpretation.

When an individual insists on having a minor child interpret for him/her during the disability interview, he/she may do so, but the DDS must also provide a qualified interpreter. In this situation, the qualified interpreter's rendition of what is said is the determining factor.

In the individual’s preferred language and with the assistance of a qualified interpreter, the DDS staff must take the following actions:

  • Explain that the disability process may involve complex and sensitive matters relating to medical and other issues discussed during the disability application process.

  • Explain that the child (under age 18) will be used to identify the language the individual speaks, interpret the general purpose of the disability interview, and assist in rescheduling a future interview date if the business cannot be completed that day with the assistance of a qualified interpreter.

  • Advise the individual that the DDS cannot use a child under age 18 as a qualified interpreter unless special circumstances apply, such as there is no other interpreter available, either in the community or through the TIS, that speaks a rarely used language or dialect.

  • Explain that the DDS will allow the child under age 18 to participate in the disability interview along with the DDS provided interpreter at the individual’s request.

  • Use the child under 18 and follow the guidelines listed in DI 33010.030G. if no other interpreters sources are available.

  • Direct all questions to the individual requiring language assistance.

F. Authorization for Paid Interpreters

  1. Third party interpreters for disability interviews are hired with authorization or prior approval of the DDS. The State DDS should follow State reimbursement procedures. The Federal DDS should make payment from the imprest fund or by completing an OF-347. (See AIMS: Financial Management Manual SSA.g:03.05; Material Resources Manual SSA.g:06.17; and Small Purchase Procedure for Contracting Officers Handbook.)

  2. After the initial authorization of an individual qualified interpreter(s), no subsequent SSA-795 or verification is necessary.

    NOTE: The cost of translation or interpreter services may differ from State to State.

  3. Telephone interpreters are provided through a variety of State-contracted professional multi-language interpreter services.

  4. Reminder: The TIS is only accessible by the DDSs authorized to use this service.

    NOTE: Follow the instruction in DI 23025.015 or other local instructions if fraud is suspected.

G. Procedure – Conducting the Disability Interview or CE with the Assistance of an Interpreter

The DDS staff should:

  1. Direct all questions and comments to the individual being interviewed or examined, not the interpreter. For example, ask, “What is your disability?” rather than “Is it true that he/she is depressed?”

  2. Ask one question at a time and listen to the translated response(s) before asking the next question.

  3. Use short sentences to help the interpreter provide exact interpretations.

  4. Avoid jargon or words that have two or more meanings. Provide examples if they are needed to explain a question.

  5. Document the file with the individual’s language preference using the Report of Contact (SSA-5002) and an SSA-795, if required. Annotate the file with the following: “LEP [specify language] Interpreter Required.”

  6. In situations requiring an SSA-795, over the signature of the individual requiring language assistance, include the following statement:

    “The disability interview or CE was conducted in (state language) which is my preferred language. This statement was read to me in (state language). I understand it.”

    The statement should also include any additional actions taken to ensure his/her understanding of material covered during the disability interview or CE. Also, for a disability interview conducted using a minor as the interpreter, the DDS staff must specify the reason.

  7. Make appropriate annotation(s) on the SSA-5002 to identify the preferred spoken and written language of the individual and to issue foreign language notices, if available. Currently, only English and Spanish notices are systems generated for Title II and Title XVI claims.

  8. Remind interpreters that they are prohibited from disclosing any Social Security Number or other personal information they have obtained during the interview or other agency proceedings without SSA's permission. Annotate the SSA-5002 to show that the interpreter received this reminder. See GN 03301.004 and GN 03325.000 for additional information about disclosure.

H. Additional Actions to Take When the Individual Prefers to Use His/Her Own Interpreter

The DE or Other DDS staff member should:

  1. Explain to the individual that the DDS will provide a qualified interpreter at no cost to assist him/her in conducting business with the DDS, so he/she is not disadvantaged.

  2. Determine the qualifications and verify the identity of the interpreter before beginning the disability interview or CE providing that an interpreter signed SSA-795 was not previously obtained by the FO.

  3. Explain that the DDS only pays for interpreter services it provides.

  4. Determine if a previous SSA-795 (specifying use of the individual’s own interpreter) was obtained at the FO. Otherwise, obtain an SSA-795 from the individual's own interpreter with the following statements and information, before the interview or CE begins:

    • “I am acting as an interpreter for (individual's name) to provide accurate communication between (individual's name) and DDS”;

    • “I can read, write, speak and understand English and (language), which is the language or dialect of (individual's name)”;

    • Interpreter's name, address and telephone number;

    • Relationship, if any, of the interpreter to the individual (e.g. son, mother, friend, minister);

    • Any relevant comments that the interpreter wishes to include; and

    • Any relevant comments the DDS staff deems necessary to document over the interpreter's signature.

      NOTE: Interpreters provided by the DDS do not have to sign the SSA-795. Also, a second SSA-795 is only necessary if the individual’s own interpreter is different from the interpreter previously used at the FO.

  5. Take the following actions when the DDS conducts a disability interview by telephone with a qualified interpreter.

    • Conduct the telephone interview with the TIS acting as the interpreter; or

    • If the DDS does not subscribe to the TIS, obtain a qualified interpreter before calling the individual.

  6. Take the following actions when the DDS conducts a disability interview by telephone with the individual’s own interpreter and a qualified interpreter source is not readily available:

    • Explain the LEP policy and procedures as outlined in this subsection, including the need for a signed SSA-795;

    • Terminate the disability interview if the interpreter states that he/she will not sign the SSA-795 and follow the procedures in DI 23040.001I.3.; or

    • Continue the disability interview and proceed without the signed SSA-795 if the interpreter agrees to sign the SSA-795;

    • Mail the SSA-795 to the interpreter's address and the applicable disability forms/materials to the individual’s address; or

    • Mail the SSA-795 with any applicable disability forms/materials if the interpreter and the individual have the same address.

    • Do not make a final determination to allow, deny, continue, or terminate the disability until the interpreter’s signed SSA-795 is returned.

  7. Take the following actions when attempts to obtain the interpreter's signed SSA-795 fail:

    • Locate a second interpreter using the qualified interpreter listing found in DI 23040.001D.;

    • Notify the FO, if appropriate, that the individual is being re-interviewed or examined with a second interpreter; and

    • Re-interview or examine the individual with a second interpreter to verify the information obtained at the prior disability interview or CE.

I. Action to Take if the DE or Other DDS Staff Member is Not Satisfied with the Individual’s Own Interpreter

  1. The DE or other DDS staff member should take the following actions when it appears the interpreter:

    • Is not acting in the individual’s best interest; or

    • Is not providing accurate information to the DDS staff; or

    • Does not agree to sign the SSA-795; or

    • Is engaging in fraudulent activity or possible interpreter fraud.

  2. Repeat to the individual needing language assistance that the DDS will provide free interpreter service to ensure the individual is not disadvantaged.

  3. Offer to continue the disability interview, but only with the additional assistance of an interpreter the DDS provides.

  4. After determining that the services of a qualified interpreter are necessary:

    • Terminate the disability interview or CE if the (if authorized) appropriate interpreter service is not available;

    • Inform the individual that the DDS will provide a qualified interpreter at the time of his/her rescheduled disability interview date/time; and

    • Document the file giving the reason the disability interview was terminated.

  5. Before conducting the disability interview or CE, explain that the (if authorized) appropriate interpreter service must be called before the disability interview can continue. Though the individual and his/her own interpreter can remain during the disability interview or exam (upon request), all questions should be directed to the individual being interviewed and all responses must be received from that individual and his or her own language preference.

  6. Follow the procedures in GN 04101.005 - GN 04101.010 if fraud is suspected at any time during the disability interview/CE or development of the disability determination.

J. References - Good Cause, Language Preference and Other Interpreter Policy

  • GN 00203.011, Special Interviewing Situations: Limited English Proficiency (LEP) or Language Assistance Required

  • GN 00203.012, Special Interviewing Situations (Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing Individual)

  • GN 03101.020, Good Cause for Extending Time Limit

  • GN 03301.004, Development of Policy on Confidentiality and Disclosure

  • GN 03325.000, Social Security Number

  • GN 04010.001, Reopening—Good Cause

  • GN 04120.005, Promise of Confidentiality to an Informant - Policy

  • DI 33010.030, Interpreters for Individuals with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) or Individuals Requiring Language Assistance - DHU

  • DI 23025.010, Identifying Cases that are High Risk for FSF

  • HALLEX I-2-1-70 , Foreign Language Interpreters

  • HALLEX I-2-6-10 , Hearing Procedures - Foreign Language Interpreters


To Link to this section - Use this URL:
http://policy.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/0423040001
DI 23040.001 - DDS: Interpreters for Individuals with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) or Individuals Requiring Language Assistance - 09/27/2012
Batch run: 09/27/2012
Rev:09/27/2012