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Working 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 deafblind individuals.

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 they participate.

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 consumer(s).

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 interpreting situation.
  • Demonstrating respect for consumers.
  • Demonstrating respect for colleagues, interns, and students of the profession.
  • 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.

Confidentiality
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 communications.

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 individual's needs.

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 that individual.

Last Updated:  April 21, 2014