ODHH: Sign Language Interpreters

As of December 1, 2010, all sign language interpreters in Wisconsin are required to be licensed by the Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS).

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) gives deaf, deaf-blind or hard of hearing individuals the right to a qualified interpreter. The ADA defines “qualified interpreter” as one who is able to interpret effectively, accurately and impartially both receptively and expressively, using any necessary specialized vocabulary. It may also help to become familiar with Wisconsin state laws and federal laws regarding sign language interpreters.

Sign language interpreters facilitate communication between an individual that uses sign language and a hearing individual.

Various interpreter specialties

Certified Deaf Interpreters (CDI)
Deaf-Blind Interpreters
Legal Interpreters (SC: L)
Mental Health Interpreters (MHI)
Oral Transliterators/ Interpreters

Oral interpreters are trained at pronouncing words clearly. They silently mouth the spoken message for deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Individuals that use oral interpreters must have the ability to speech read. Because of this, oral interpreters are typically used by those who were raised orally with speech reading and do not know sign language.

Religious Interpreters
Video Remote Interpreters (VRI)
Video Relay Service Interpreters (VRS)

Educational interpreters

There are two groups of educational Interpreters:

  • Those who work in pre-school through 12th grade settings,
  • Those who work at the colleges and universities.

Guidelines or best practice are somewhat different for these two professional groups. This section is about educational interpreters who work with children in K-12 schools.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has the legal responsibility to assure that people working in public schools meet at least minimal license requirements. Educational Interpreters, along with teachers and all other school personnel, must have a license from DPI. The DPI license for educational interpreters was first established in 1992 requiring two years of interpreter preparation at the college level. These classes include child psychology, American Sign Language (ASL) and interpreting.

In the 1990’s, Wisconsin was one of few states that required a license for K-12 educational interpreters. This license requires that classes be taken to continue professional development. In 1997, DPI added the requirement that educational interpreters must also take and pass the Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment or EIPA.

States vary in the minimum score required to obtain a license to work in a K-12 school. In Wisconsin, minimum score for the the EIPA is 3.0. In Illinois and Iowa, the minimum score for the EIPA is 3.5 and in Minnesota it is a 4.0.

The EIPA test schedule for Wisconsin is made public each fall. Tests are given in six areas of the state throughout the school year. Please see the DPI Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment (EIPA) for Wisconsin Licenses website for more information.


The EIPA is a national test for interpreters working in K-12 schools. It is owned and managed by staff at the Boys Town National Research Hospital: EIPA Diagnostic Center, in Omaha, Nebraska. All scoring for the EIPA is done by staff at the EIPA Diagnostic Center. This means that scores are valid and reliable throughout the country. Three trained and qualified people rate each test. There is at least one Deaf person on the team. Scores range from 1-5 points. Four areas that are assessed are: Prosody (use of ASL grammatical features), Sign-to-Voice, Vocabulary and Fingerspelling, and Overall Interpreting Process. Find more information about the EIPA.   

The EIPA is a diagnostic test that provides feedback to the individual interpreter. Each report outlines areas of interpreting skill and areas where they need to improve. These reports can be used to design a plan for skill development.

In recent years the EIPA has added a written test which some states require for licensure. DPI does not require the EIPA written test but some interpreter preparation programs are adding this as a requirement of completing their program.

The DPI license honors RID certification as one of the five credits required for license renewal. However, the DPI license does not allow RID instead of the EIPA. RID oversees an assessment of interpreting skills for adult services. Since the process of interpreting for children in (learning) academic settings is different than the process of interpreting for adults, an advisory committee decided that ALL those who work as an educational interpreter in a K-12 school with a DPI license must take the EIPA every five years to demonstrate competency.

Role of the educational interpreter

Many questions come up about the role of the educational interpreter. All those who work in public schools must follow the rules of the school. Educational interpreters are part of the educational team. They are responsible for communicating with teachers about the needs of the students. 

Professional development

The professional development need of educational interpreters in K-12 settings is broad. Courses that increase knowledge of academic content are valued. Courses in Spanish, advanced math and science, reading instruction, computers, and health are all beneficial. Other courses in child development and those that increase the interpreter’s skills when working with a child with an additional disability are encouraged. These may include courses on Autism, cognitive development, behavior patterns, visual impairments, etc.

Each year workshops supporting the skill development of educational interpreters are made available through the Outreach Program. For more information, please check the Wisconsin Education Services Program for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Last Revised: July 14, 2021