The Basics of Working with an Interpreter

What does an interpreter do?

An interpreter facilitates communication between people who use different languages. An interpreter must be skilled in both languages, as well as skilled in the process of interpreting.

What does an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter do?

An ASL interpreter facilitates communication between hearing people who don’t sign and deaf people who use American Sign Language.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires the provision of qualified interpreters for services provided by state and local governments, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and private entities related to educational and occupational certification.

How do I know if an interpreter is “qualified”?

The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf provides testing for national certification. The National Association of the Deaf has also provided such testing in the past; currently the RID and NAD systems have been combined into the National Interpreter Certification (NIC), administered by RID. Some states have their own licensure or separate testing systems. Interpreters may also hold degrees from various interpreter training programs throughout the country. Though some states require state licensure or certification, in many other states no certifications are currently required to work as an interpreter.  When hiring an interpreter directly, certification is your assurance that the interpreter has been screened by a knowledgeable panel and deemed skilled.  When hiring an interpreter through an agency, be sure to ask about the agency’s screening process. 

When scheduling an interpreter, be prepared to provide this important information:

  • date and time
  • setting (job interview, staff meeting, awards ceremony, etc.)
  • the length of the assignment
  • the number of deaf and hearing people who will attend
  • the deaf person’s name (if known)
  • contact person’s name and phone number
  • directions and parking instructions
  • as much information as possible about the setting and content, including speaker outlines, agendas, programs, whether there will be a visual presentation such as a video, etc.

The more information the interpreter has ahead of time, the more effective the communication experience can be for everyone!

When working with an interpreter:

  • Allow time beforehand for the interpreter to preconference with the presenter or meeting leader.
  • Work with the interpreter in advance to decide how such issues as turn-taking and interrupting for clarification will be handled.
  • Remember that the interpreter will interpret everything she sees and hears. If you don’t want it interpreted, don’t say it!
  • Look at and speak to the deaf person, not the interpreter.
  • Remember that the interpreter will be using processing time and so will be at least a few words behind the speaker. Allow time for deaf participants to receive the message and respond to any questions asked.
  • If the participants will have visual information to study, make sure to allow time for the deaf participants to watch these things and then the interpreter sequentially.
  • Remember that the interpreter will need breaks – don’t expect a single interpreter to work for two hours straight.

Additional resources:

Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf: http://www.rid.org

The official website of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf includes information on how to become an interpreter, information for consumers on hiring and working with interpreters, and a variety of useful “Standard Practice Papers” on topic such as business practices for interpreters, coordinating interpreters for conferences, and working with interpreters in specialized settings such as legal and medical sites.

Northeast Technical Assistance Center: How to Hire a Qualified Interpreter http://www.netac.rit.edu/downloads/TPSHT_Hire_Qual_Interp.pdf

Gives specific advice on how to find a qualified interpreter.

Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center: http://clerccenter.gallaudet.edu/

The premiere source of information about deafness online, with fact sheets, teacher guides, information about assistive devices, and more.

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