TN 7 (08-23)

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

A. Policy for LEP individuals

Social Security Administration (SSA) is committed to providing fair and equitable service to the American public, regardless of an individual’s ability to communicate effectively in English.

We recognize that using qualified interpreters, including bilingual staff who can communicate directly with claimants in their primary language, efficiently facilitates our processes, deters fraud, and assures that we do not disadvantage individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP).

Disability determination services (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.

NOTE: 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, if the interpreter meets SSA criteria as a qualified interpreter. For more information regarding qualified interpreter, see DI 23040.001B.3.

The DDS must first review the claims folder for documentation of a qualified interpreter approved by the field office (FO) prior to obtaining information about the individual’s interpreter, see DI 23040.001C.1. For information on documentation requirements when using an interpreter, see DI 23040.001G and DI 23040.001H.

A minor child (under age 18) cannot serve as a qualified interpreter due to the nature and complexities of the disability determination process. For more information regarding when a minor child may assist with interpretation, see DI 23040.001E.5.

Special handling procedures apply to claims for LEP individuals, see DI 23007.005C, DI 22510.016A and DI 28075.005C.6.

B. Definitions of terms related to LEP

1. Individual with LEP

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

2. Interpreter

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

3. Qualified Interpreter

A qualified interpreter is an individual or vendor who is able to read 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 LEP individual 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 employee;

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

  • Has knowledge of and experience in applying the protocols and procedures for delivering interpreter services;

  • Agrees to comply with SSA's disclosure and confidentiality of information requirements, see GN 03301.004; 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 a qualified interpreter, providing that there is no other conflict of interest.

4. Translator

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

NOTE: For translation of foreign language documents, see DI 23045.001.

5. Authorized Translator

An authorized translator is a translator who SSA certifies through an official authorization process and accurately translates written documents and evidence from a non-English language into English. For additional information, see GN 00301.340.

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

6. Telephone Interpreter Service (TIS)

SSA has a nationwide Blanket Purchase Agreement with a private company, Language Select, for TIS in more than 120 languages and dialects. TIS is accessible to all SSA and if authorized, DDS public contact employees. Interpreters are available immediately, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. The instructions for this service are accessible on the intranet through the Multilanguage Resources page.

The DDSs may use the service provided 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. DDS staff must ensure that they have authorization from their State prior to using SSA’s TIS. To obtain a Language Select telephone interpreter see instructions in GN 00203.011. Third-party vendors and Consultative Examination (CE) providers cannot request service from the SSA provided TIS.

NOTE: Upon contacting TIS, you must provide your three-digit State Agency or Detailed Office/Organization Resource System (DOORS) code.

C. Procedure – Identifying the need for an interpreter

  1. 1. 

    Review the claims folder for a foreign language indicator. If a foreign language indicator does not exist, determine if an interpreter or sign language interpreter is needed by reviewing the following documents in the claims folder:

    • Disability Report-Adult (SSA-3368-BK);

    • Report of Contact (SSA-5002);

    • Statement of Claimant or Other Person (SSA-795);

    • Remarks in eView for electronic cases or on the Disability Transmittal Sheet for paper folders; or

    • Any forms or documents that may indicate an interpreter is required.

    NOTE: If a sign language interpreter is necessary, follow the instructions in GN 00203.012.

  2. 2. 

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

  3. 3. 

    Assure the individual that the DDS will provide him or her with service equal to that provided to individuals who are fluent in English.

  4. 4. 

    Explain to the individual that SSA may have materials (i.e., pamphlets, publications, or other materials) in his or her language by accessing the Multilanguage Gateway on the internet.

  5. 5. 

    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 adversely affect communication with the individual.

  6. 6. 

    Determine whether the individual wants further communication in English, or another language, including sign language. If the individual does not want additional communication conducted in English, determine and document which language he or she prefers.

    Prior to scheduling additional communication, CE, or contacting the claimant by telephone, do the following:

    • Obtain interpreter services through the State-contracted interpreter service, or SSA TIS if authorized.

    • Explain that the individual may bring his or her own interpreter during contact with the DDS, or during CEs, provided SSA or DDS has approved him or her as a qualified interpreter. For more information on qualified interpreters and the approval process, see DI 23040.001B.3 and DI 23040.001H in this section. If SSA or DDS has not approved the claimant’s interpreter, he or she may participate during the claimant contact or CE, but the official interpretation will be that of an SSA or DDS provided interpreter.

  7. 7. 

    Document all LEP actions, except for actions requiring the use of a SSA Form 795, using the electronic claims analysis tool (eCAT) in the section titled “Claim communication.” For non-eCAT claims, use a SSA Form 5002 to document all LEP actions, except when a SSA-795 is required.

  8. 8. 

    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.

  9. 9. 

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

    • 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, or

    • The State-contracted interpreter service, if not authorized to use TIS, for assistance in identifying the language for which interpreter services is required.

  10. 10. 

    For situations involving the use of an individual’s own interpreter, follow instructions in DI 23040.001E.4.

D. Qualified Interpreter Sources

In priority order, the DDS will accept the following list of qualified interpreters if they satisfy the requirements outlined in DI 23040.001B.3:

  1. 1. 

    DDS bilingual employees including bilingual CE providers, and

    • Employees of the Veterans Administration Regional Office in Manila,

    • U.S. Military Consular Officers,

    • Officials of foreign government liaison agencies, and

    • Designated employees of the Federal Benefits Unit of a U.S. Foreign Service Post, who are fluent in the language that needs interpretation;

  2. 2. 

    Other bilingual State employees;

  3. 3. 

    SSA bilingual field office (FO) employees, see DI 23040.001E.2;

  4. 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, for example:

    • 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. 5. 

    Employees of vendors contracted by the DDS to provide interpreter services. This category also includes all interpreters working for the nationwide SSA TIS; and

  6. 6. 

    Non-DDS interpreters in the community who charge a fee for interpreter services; for example:

    • 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

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 that requires the individual to contact the DDS regarding his or her claim (for example, additional claimant contact or a 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.”

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, DDS must provide one from the list of qualified interpreters, with bilingual DDS employees or CE providers being the preferred choice; for instructions see DI 23040.001D. The DE or other DDS staff must:

  • Review the file for prior interpreter contact(s) that the FO used.

  • Determine whether an interpreter is qualified, and when there is a choice, which interpreter to use. For information on qualified interpreters, see DI 23040.001B.3. For documentation instructions, see DI 23040.001C.7.

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

  • Know that the DDS should only use bilingual FO employees as interpreters that have prior FO management agreement. However, the FO may be able to provide the DDS with a list of qualified interpreters and interpreter services in their areas. For FO instructions regarding interpreters see GN 00203.011.

  • Document the interpreter source provided by the DDS, see DI 23040.001C.7.

3. Need for interpreter discovered during claimant contact or CE

The DDS will perform the following actions:

  • Contact the TIS or State-contracted interpreter service immediately to continue the claimant contact or CE with the LEP individual.

  • Reschedule the claimant contact or CE if a qualified interpreter is not readily available.

  • Inform the claimant that we will notify him or her as to when we will continue the claimant contact or CE

  • Take action to have the claimant contact or CE rescheduled;

  • Arrange to have a qualified interpreter present at the rescheduled appointment, see DI 23040.001D;

  • Add a LEP flag to the claims folder.

4. Use of individual’s own interpreter

Though the individual is aware that the DDS will provide a qualified interpreter, he or she has the option of providing his or her own interpreter during additional contact with DDS or during a CE. However, the DE or other DDS staff member should defer to the interpreter signed SSA-795, if included in the disability claims folder, prior to determining whether the individual’s own interpreter is qualified per DI 23040.001B.3. The DDS staff must adhere to the SSA guidelines provided in DI 23040.001H and DI 23040.001I.

5. Use of a minor child interpreter

A minor child can never serve as a qualified interpreter. When an individual insists on having a minor child interpret for him or her during contact with DDS or during a CE, he or she may do so, but the DDS must also provide a qualified interpreter. In this situation, the qualified interpreter's rendition is the official interpretation of the contact or examination.

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.

  • Advise the individual that the DDS cannot use a minor child (under age 18) as a qualified interpreter and that we must obtain the services of either a State-contracted interpreter service or TIS.

  • Explain that we will use a minor child only to:

    1. a. 

      identify the language the individual speaks;

    2. b. 

      interpret the general purpose of the telephone call or examination; and

    3. c. 

      assist in rescheduling a future appointment if the business cannot be completed that day without the assistance of a qualified interpreter.

  • Direct all questions to the individual requiring language assistance.

  • Document all actions in the file, see DI 23040.001C.7. for documentation instructions.

F. Authorization for Paid Interpreters

  1. 1. 

    With prior approval or authorization, DDS hires third party interpreters for additional communication with the claimant. The State DDS should follow State reimbursement procedures. The Federal DDS should make payment from the imprest fund or complete an Order for Supplies or Services (OF-347). (See Administrative Instructions Manual System (AIMS): Financial Management Manual SSA. g: 03.05; and Small Purchase Procedure for Contracting Officers Handbook.)

  2. 2. 

    After the initial authorization of a qualified interpreter(s), no subsequent verification is necessary.

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

  3. 3. 

    If you suspect fraud, follow the instructions in DI 23025.015 or other local instructions.

G. Procedure - conducting claimant contact or CE with the assistance of an interpreter

When using an interpreter, the DDS staff must:

  1. 1. 

    Direct all questions and comments to the claimant, not the interpreter. For example, ask, “What is your disability?” rather than “What is his or her disability?”

  2. 2. 

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

  3. 3. 

    Use short sentences to help the interpreter provide exact interpretations.

  4. 4. 

    Avoid jargon or words that have two or more meanings. If necessary, provide examples to clarify a question

  5. 5. 

    Document the file with the individual’s language preference, see DI 23040.001C.7 for documentation instructions. Annotate the file with the following: “LEP [specify language] Interpreter required.”

H. Additional actions to take when the individual prefers to use his or her own interpreter

The DE or Other DDS staff member must:

  1. 1. 

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

  2. 2. 

    Identify the interpreter and determine his or her qualifications before conducting claimant contact or scheduling the CE.

  3. 3. 

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

  4. 4. 

    When the claimant provides his or her own interpreter, the DDS must have the claimant sign a SSA-795 with the following statement included:

    “Social Security Administration has offered an interpreter free of charge to me. However, I have chosen to provide my own interpreter. I understand that the interpreter I provide must be a qualified interpreter as defined by SSA. However, if SSA does not deem my interpreter as qualified, SSA will provide an interpreter free of charge to me.”

    “The claimant contact 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 or her understanding of material covered during the claimant contact or CE.

  5. 5. 

    Make appropriate annotation(s) on the SSA-795 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.

  6. 6. 

    Determine if the FO obtained a previous SSA-795 specifying use of the individual’s own interpreter. If an SSA-795 was not obtained at the FO, or if the interpreter is a different individual than was used previously, before conducting claimant contact or scheduling the CE, obtain an SSA-795 from the individual's own interpreter with the following statements and information:

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

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

    • “Although Social Security Administration has offered (individual’s name) an interpreter free of charge to him or her, (individual’s name) chooses me to serve as his or her interpreter.”

    • Interpreter's name, address and telephone number;

    • Relationship, if any, of the interpreter to the individual (For example, 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 that SSA or DDS provides do not have to sign a SSA-795. In addition, a second SSA-795 is only necessary if the individual’s own interpreter is different from the interpreter previously used at the FO.

  7. 7. 

    Remind interpreters that SSA policy prohibits them from disclosing any Social Security Number or other personal information they have obtained during the agency proceedings without SSA's permission. Annotate the SSA-795 to show that the interpreter received this reminder. For additional information about disclosure, see GN 03301.004 and GN 03325.000.

  8. 8. 

    Take the following actions when the DDS conducts claimant contact by telephone with a qualified interpreter.

    • Conduct the claimant contact with the TIS acting as the interpreter; or

    • If the DDS is not authorized to use the TIS, obtain a qualified interpreter before calling the individual.

  9. 9. 

    Take the following actions when the DDS conducts claimant contact 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 claimant contact if the interpreter states that he or she will not sign the SSA-795 and follow the procedures in DI 23040.001I.3; or

    • Continue the claimant contact 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 or materials to the individual’s address; or

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

    • Do not make a final determination until the interpreter returns the signed SSA-795.

  10. 10. 

    Take the following actions when attempts to obtain the interpreter's signed SSA-795 are unsuccessful:

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

    • Notify the FO, if appropriate, that the claimant contact or CE is being repeated with a second interpreter; and

    • Reschedule the individual with a second interpreter to verify the information obtained at the prior contact or CE.

I. Actions to take when DDS is not satisfied with the claimant-provided interpreter

  1. 1. 

    The DE or other DDS staff member must 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

    • Is engaging in fraudulent activity.

  2. 2. 

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

  3. 3. 

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

    • Terminate the claimant contact or CE if the appropriate interpreter service is not available;

    • Inform the individual that the DDS will provide a qualified interpreter at the time of his or her rescheduled appointment; and

    • Document the file stating the reason DDS terminated the communication or examination. See DI 23040.001C.7 for documentation instructions.

  4. 4. 

    Before conducting the claimant contact or CE, explain that the appropriate interpreter service must be obtained before the contact or examination can continue. The individual and his or her own interpreter can remain (upon request) during the claimant contact or exam; however, DDS will direct all questions to the individual and he or she must provide all responses in his or her own preferred language.

  5. 5. 

    If DDS suspects fraud at any time during the contact, CE or development of the disability determination, follow the procedures in GN 04111.035.

J. Procedures to submit a complaint on a TIS interpreter

To submit a complaint about a TIS interpreter not performing completely or appropriately, follow local procedures and provide the following information:

  • Date of incident,

  • Time of incident,

  • DDS Office code – DDS office that has the complaint against Language Select (TIS),

  • Interpreter identification number,

  • Language requested,

  • Details regarding nature of the complaint, and

  • DE or other DDS staff should call Language Select at 1-877-526-8438 or email to report the complaint and provide Language Select with detailed information.

K. Procedures to submit a complaint on a State-contracted provided interpreter

To submit a complaint about a State-contracted interpreter not performing completely or appropriately, follow local procedures. Be sure to include the following information in all complaints:

  • Date of incident,

  • Time of incident,

  • Interpreter identifying information,

  • Language requested, and

  • Details regarding the nature of the complaint.

L. References for Good Cause, Language Preference and Other Interpreter Policy

  • DI 22510.016 - Consultative Examination (CE) Appointment Special Scheduling Procedures

  • DI 23007.005 - Failure to Cooperate With Requests to the Claimant for Evidence or Action

  • DI 23025.015 - Disability Determination Services (DDS) - Referring Potential Fraud or Similar Fault (FSF)

  • DI 23045.001 - Translation of Foreign-Language Documents

  • DI 28075.005 - Failure to Cooperate (FTC) and Whereabouts Unknown (WU) Cases

  • 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 00301.340 - Authorized Translators

  • GN 03301.004 - Development of Policy on Confidentiality and Disclosure

  • GN 03325.000 - Social Security Number-Disclosure and Verification

  • GN 04111.035 - How the Disability Determination Services (DDS) Report Program Violations

To Link to this section - Use this URL:
DI 23040.001 - DDS: Interpreters for Individuals with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) or Individuals Requiring Language Assistance - 08/21/2023
Batch run: 08/21/2023