2020 Student Ethics Essay Award—Second Place Essay

The Ethics of Providing Interpretation and Translation Services for IEP Meetings 

2020 SEEA - Audrey McMillionby Audrey McMillion, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Amy has worked as a school speech language pathologist in a small, rural district for four years. She has gotten to know the students, families, and wider community well, and she feels very comfortable providing services, testing, and holding successful IEP meetings. At the start of the new school year, a family moves into her district from another state in the US. They have lived in the US for about three years, and while they speak some English, the language that the parents feel most comfortable with is Hindi. Their daughter, who is in second grade, receives speech and language services, and Amy sees her for sessions two days a week. Her annual IEP meeting is scheduled for March of that school year, and the parents request the services of an interpreter at the meeting.

Amy is this student’s case manager. Having worked with families who have requested Spanish interpreters and copies of their child’s IEP in Spanish, Amy knows the process for requesting interpretation and translation services for IEPs and meetings. However, there are no Hindi translators or interpreters that she knows of in her district. She talks with the school’s other SLP, Jackie, about how to properly prepare for the IEP meeting. Jackie suggests that she ask Amy’s student’s older brother, who is in 5th grade at the school, to act as an interpreter in the IEP meeting. She further indicates that she doesn’t think Amy will have time to prepare the student’s new IEP to be translated for the meeting.

With a little over a month to prepare for the meeting, Amy is initially stumped about how to proceed. She feels that it would be unfair and unprofessional to ask her student’s older brother to act as an interpreter for the meeting. She also knows that, according to Principle I of ASHA’s Code of Ethics (2016), it is her “responsibility to hold paramount the welfare of persons [she] serve[s] professionally…” More specifically, she knows that, per Rule B of Principle I, she should “use every resource, including referral and/or professional collaboration when appropriate, to ensure that quality service is provided.” This indicates that there is more that she should do—indeed, she must do everything she can-- to provide appropriate services to this student and their family. Principle I, Rule C also emphasizes that “Individuals shall not discriminate in the delivery of professional services…on the basis of race, ethnicity, sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, age, religion, national origin, disability, culture, language of dialect.” Therefore, Amy knows it is her job to seek out services to provide an interpreter for the meeting and a translated copy of the IEP document so that this student’s family receives the same level of service that Amy can provide to an English or Spanish speaking family.

According to the US Census Bureau (2009), “19.6% of US residents speak a language other than English at home.” Thus, Amy’s student and her family are just some of many who would benefit from having an interpreter at all IEP meetings. There is a serious risk that this student and others are being underserved in Amy’s district and other districts across the United States. Amy has the chance to start to improving these families’ experiences within her school and district. While it might be easiest for Amy to say it’s not possible for her to find a Hindi interpreter for the meeting, she knows this is not right.

Amy searches for resources that will allow her to provide the same level of service and education to this student’s family as all of her other students. According to a letter issued by Ruth Ryder, the acting director of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), in 2016, “vital written materials” should be provided to all parents, including those with limited English proficiency. This letter indicated that, while an oral interpretation or a translated summary of the IEP or other document might be appropriate in some circumstances, each district must “be prepared to provide timely and complete translated IEPs to provide meaningful access.” To ensure that parents receive a copy of the translated IEP, Amy completes the student’s new IEP over the weekend and, on Monday, she contacts her district’s recommended translation service with a copy of the complete IEP to be translated. They give an estimate of being able to return it to her in four weeks, which fits within her time window and will allow the parents to look over the draft IEP before the meeting and come prepared to participate as a part of the team.

Next, Amy looks into finding an interpreter to come to the IEP meeting that is five weeks away. After doing her research, Amy decides to contact districts across her state to see if there are any interpreters available to attend the meeting. She is able to find someone about an hour away who would be willing to attend (and their district will provide compensation for travel). She feels relieved.

Amy then contacts the family before the meeting to ask if the interpreter and a translated draft of the IEP will be sufficient for their agreed meeting date, and she guarantees that a completely translated version of the draft can be available for them before the meeting, with a similar timeline for receiving a copy of the IEP with changes made during the meeting. The parents agree to this plan, and they thank Amy for taking the time to make sure they can fully participate in their child’s IEP meeting

After the IEP meeting is over, Amy writes up the process for providing interpretation and translation services to families who do not speak a language provided by the district so that other district service providers will have an easier time ensuring that they are best serving all of their students. In this way, Amy tries to secure equal delivery of professional services for all and to limit any future violation of the ASHA Code of Ethics. Though it is Amy’s responsibility to make sure what she does is culturally relevant and inclusive, “it is the legal and ethical responsibility of the facility and its providers to offer reasonable and appropriate accommodations to facilitate access to clinical services” (ASHA, 2020). Thus, Amy should make sure her district, as “the facility,” is aware of this lack of Hindi interpreters because it is partially their responsibility to ensure this service is provided at all times

The situation that Amy responds to occurs across the United States. Amy knew that not providing interpretation and translation services for her student’s family would be discrimination against them for their language and ethnicity, thus violating Principle I, Rules B and C. Thus, she made it a priority to ensure to them the same quality of support she would provide to any other student. When speech language pathologists make their clients’ and students’ needs a priority, they behave in a morally and ethically upright way. Amy has acted as a role model for other speech language pathologists providing services in school districts across the United States.


American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (2016). Code of Ethics [Ethics]. Retrieved from /Code-of-Ethics/.

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2017). Issues in Ethics: Cultural and Linguistic Competence. Retrieved from www.asha.org/Practice/ethics/Cultural-and-Linguistic-Competence/.

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2020). Overview: Collaborating with Interpreters. Retrieved from www.asha.org/Practice-Portal/Professional-Issues/Collaborating-With-Interpreters/.

Ryder, R.E. (2016). “IEP Translation: Communication from OSEP Regarding the Government’s…” Office of Special Education Programs. Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/memosdcltrs/iep-translation-06-14-2016.pdf [PDF].

U.S. Census Bureau (2009). S1601 language spoken at home: 2005-2009, American community survey 5-year estimates. Retrieved from https://factfinder-census-gov.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml.

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