Blind, Illiterate, and Disabled Signers

While it may be inconvenient to notarize documents for signers who are blind or illiterate, it is discriminatory to refuse to do so based solely on the disability of a signer. Notaries might not encounter these situations frequently, but it is important to know how to handle them. As state law often dictates specific procedures for interacting with illiterate or blind signers, you should consult your own state's laws to ensure compliance. This article will provide a general overview of how to handle these and other situations.

Unless state law specifically states otherwise, notaries are not generally required to read a document word-for-word to a blind or illiterate signer. Rather, the notary must simply be satisfied that the signer understands the document's nature and effect. You may want to ask the signer some general questions to ensure he or she understands what he or she is signing. You should still identify the person and administer the oath, if required, as you would with any other notarization. You should note, however, that some states do require notaries to read the entire document aloud to the signer.

There are some situations where it may be necessary to refuse to notarize for a blind or illiterate signer. If a signer does not appear to understand the document, the notary should respectfully decline to notarize and advise the signer to obtain legal counsel. A notary can generally refuse to notarize a document if he or she doesn't have time or if doing so would be an inconvenience. As a public officer, however, a notary should never refuse to notarize solely on the basis that notarizing for a blind or illiterate signer is inconvenient. In fact, such an act may violate the Americans with Disabilities Act or your state's code of ethics for public officers.

There are additional procedures for a signer who is unable to sign due to a disability or who signs only with a mark. Some states provide specific procedures for these types of notarizations. In general, however, a signature by mark is acceptable if the signer's first name is written before the mark, the last name is written after the mark, the words his (or her) mark are written below the mark, and the signing is witnessed by two persons other than a notary. You should be aware, however, that this is only a recommended best practice, and your state may have additional requirements. Some states also allow a notary to sign on behalf of a person who is physically unable to do so. Others allow a disabled person to sign with a facsimile signature stamp. When state law is silent, you should generally proceed with utmost caution and use your best judgment.

Regardless of whether the signer is blind, illiterate, or has no physical limitation, the notary must always scan the document to ensure it is completed before notarizing. The notary is not required to read the document, unless the law specifically requires the notary to read it aloud to a blind or illiterate signer. In fact, notaries are generally discouraged from thoroughly reading a document, as signers can perceive this as an invasion of their privacy. Instead, visually scan the document to make sure there are no apparent blank spaces that could be filled in later. The signer should strike through or fill in such blank spaces before the notarization is performed. If the signer is unable to complete the blank spaces, you should decline to notarize and refer the signer to legal counsel.

The situations described in this article are rare, but you should be prepared for any situation during the course of your duties as a notary public. Use your best judgment and keep in mind that as a public officer you cannot discriminate in the services you provide. Always keep abreast of current state law and refer to your state's commissioning authority for any specific requirements your state may have for dealing with signers who are blind, illiterate, or disabled.

By Robert T. Koehler, a Contributing Writer with the American Association of Notaries, Inc.

Legal Disclaimer: The American Association of Notaries is committed to providing accurate and up-to-date information. However, it is important to note that the information provided on this page is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. We do not claim to be attorneys and do not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, or reliability of the information provided. It is your responsibility to know the appropriate notary laws governing your state. You should always seek the advice of a licensed attorney for any legal matters. In no event shall the American Association of Notaries, its employees, or contractors be liable to you for any claims, penalties, losses, damages, or expenses, howsoever arising, including, and without limitation, direct or indirect loss, or consequential loss, out of or in connection with the use of the information contained on any of the American Association of Notaries website pages. Notaries are advised to seek the advice of their state’s notary authorities or attorneys if they have legal questions. 

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