with an ASL Interpreter
What is an Interpreter?
An interpreter is a professional who provides the communication link
between hearing and deaf or hard of hearing (DHH) as well as
For DHH people who use American Sign Language (ASL), the interpreter
translates or interprets spoken language into ASL. They also
translate or interpret the ASL into spoken language to assist the
hearing person to understand the individual.
There are other types of interpreting available. Oral interpreters silently form words on the lips
to provide communication to DHH individuals who utilize lipreading as
their main mode of communication. Deafblind individuals also
need interpreters who are highly skilled and specialized in deafblind
forms of communication.
As with any language, years of training and practical use are needed to develop fluency in
ASL. Most interpreters have several years of interpreter
training and should pass an assessment of skill level before
practicing as an interpreter.
An interpreter is not merely an individual with signing
skills. A "signer" is not an interpreter and should
not be used in interpreting situations.
Why are Interpreters Needed?
Like all individuals, DHH individuals deserve the opportunity to fully comprehend
conversations, lectures, interviews, legal proceedings and any other situations in which
When an individual's hearing loss makes it difficult or impossible to understand another
person's speech, an interpreter can bridge the gap. For DHH
individuals who use ASL or use additional forms of communication other
than spoken language, interpreters can bridge the gap.
Additionally, in any given communication situation between hearing
individuals and DHH individuals, the communication barrier goes both
directions. Interpreters can bridge the gap for hearing people
who have little or no sign language training or have difficulty
understanding a DHH person's speech.
The Interpreter's Role
Interpreters translate messages, including intonation and emphasis,
into a form of sign such as ASL that would be best understood by the
After passing a rigorous written and performance examinations, interpreters can become
nationally certified through Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf
(RID). Wisconsin offers the Wisconsin Interpreting and Transliterating Assessment
(WITA) for interpreters who are not ready for the national certification process to
assess their skills.
Interpreters, whether RID certified or state verified, have agreed to follow
the RID Code of Professional Conduct which includes seven tenets.
- Adhering to standards of confidential communication.
- Possessing the professional skills and knowledge required for the
specific interpreting situation.
- Conducting themselves in a manner appropriate to the specific
- Demonstrating respect for consumers.
- Demonstrating respect for colleagues, interns, and students of the
- Maintaining ethical business practices.
- Engaging in professional development.
Interpreters should not act or be expected to act as social
workers, psychologists or counselors. If these services are
needed, ODHH can assist you in locating the appropriate one.
Interpreters are expected to be confidential with all information related to
private communications. Wisconsin's statutes specify that when an interpreter for a
DHH person is used to aid a legally privileged communication, the interpreter is also
covered by the privilege and may be prevented from disclosing the communication.
Conversations between lawyer and client or doctor and patient are examples of privileged
How to use an Interpreter
- Relax. Talk at your normal speed; the interpreter will be
several words behind you.
- Avoid positioning the interpreter in front of a bright light or window. Glare and
shadows make lip movements and sign language difficult to see.
- Speak directly to the DHH person. There is no need to instruct the interpreter to tell
something to the DHH person. In other words, speak as you would to
any individual and leave the rest to the interpreter.
- Use all the facial expressions and gestures you normally use-they show your interest and
improve understanding. The DHH person sees both you and the interpreter.
- Remember that hearing loss does not affect intelligence, and that deaf and hard of
hearing people have the same feelings and needs as you. Interpreters are trained to
bridge the gap between different languages regardless of the education or sophistication
of the communicators.
How to Arrange for an Interpreter
The scheduling agencies schedule and coordinate interpreting services at least 48
hours in advance. When requesting an interpreter, please provide the agency with the
DHH person's name, time and location of appointment, and general purpose of the
appointment (medical, legal, personal, etc). Try to schedule as accurately as
possible. Cancellations should be reported promptly to the agency.
If a DHH consumer requests a specific interpreter, the scheduling agency will try to
accommodate the request. In all cases, the scheduling agency attempts to secure an
interpreter having the general or specialized skills necessary to best serve each DHH
It is possible to schedule a freelance interpreter independently.
The Wisconsinís Freelance List
for American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreters
(PDF, 60 KB) is provided
to allow the public/private sector to contact the individuals
themselves. The cost of interpreting by a freelance interpreter is set by