My dad doesn’t speak English and was asked to go for a consultative medical exam as part of his Social Security disability application. Does he have the right to an interpreter?

Yes. Your parent should not go to any kind of medical appointment—including a consultative medical exam ordered by his Social Security disability examiner—without having an interpreter available. In order to benefit from the exam, your parent needs to understand what is happening and what the doctor recommends.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes three reasons why interpreters are important in the consultative medical exam process. Those reasons include:

  • Making the SSA’s process more efficient
  • Deterring fraud
  • Making sure that applicants with limited English proficiency are treated fairly

Accordingly, it is important to know how to get the interpreter your loved one needs.

Who Is a Qualified Interpreter?

The SSA has specific requirements about the qualifications of a person who is serving as an interpreter for a Social Security disability applicant. Those qualifications include being able to:

  • Read, write and speak fluently in English
  • Read, write and speak fluently in the language of the applicant
  • Provide an accurate interpretation of questions and responses by the applicant and the person performing the consultative exam. This includes not making inferences or asking independent follow up questions.
  • Demonstrate basic familiarity with terms used in the disability determination process
  • Comply with all Social Security confidentiality and disclosure requirements
  • Demonstrate that there is no conflict of interest. Thus, an interpreter should not have a personal stake in the outcome of the case and may not be a beneficiary of the applicant.

An applicant may use his own interpreter, such as relative or friend, as long as that person is considered qualified by the SSA. Alternatively, an applicant may have an interpreter appointed for him. Either way, it is important to make sure that your parent has someone he trusts serving in this important role.

Carl M. Weisbrod
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Managing Partner of Morgan & Weisbrod, Board Certified in Social Security Disability Law