I have found throughout my career that many people I meet – most people, actually – are fascinated with sign language. I understand completely – I fell in love with American Sign Language – the language, the grammar, the culture, the Deaf Community, years ago. This fascination, however, often leads to somewhat inappropriate behavior and questions among the “hearing” community. Questions such as… “Do you know Braille?” (ummm, no?) or “Can Deaf people drive???” are at the top of the “most common questions asked of the interpreter” list. I try my best to educate and advocate, as I understand not everyone has had the opportunity to work with a sign language interpreter. Fortunately, American Sign Language interpreters are being utilized more commonly in the workplace, government settings, and entertainment venues. The Deaf Community has and I have compiled a short list of top “Do’s and Don’ts” of using a sign language interpreter. Feel free to continue your research on this subject – there is a lot of great information out there! And the best idea of all – ask a Deaf person!
- Look at and speak directly to the Deaf individual – this is the person with whom you are conversing! Face the person, maintaining eye contact. Try to act as if the interpreter is not there – it’s easier than you think!
- Speak in your normal tone of voice and at your regular pace. The interpreter may ask if they need you to slow down, repeat, spell something for clarification. Be yourself!
- Speak in the first person, just like you are having a normal voice-to-voice conversation with a person. (Same goes for relay calls over the phone!)
- Allow the interpreter to position him/herself next to you, so that the person who is Deaf can see you both clearly.
- Give the interpreter a copy of presentations and any other materials ahead of time. When distributing written materials, such as agendas or Power Point handouts, give one to the interpreter as well. If you are using written notes or speaking from a written presentation, it is helpful to offer a copy to the Deaf individual as well as to the interpreter.
- Chill out! Although it may be a new experience to use an ASL interpreter, it should not be scary or overwhelming. If you are unsure of the appropriate way to proceed in a particular situation, do not be afraid to ask the Deaf individual directly. They won’t bite!
- Understand it may be your legal responsibility to cover the costs of an interpreter, as outlined by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- Learn for which types of situations ASL interpreters are required, and how to hire a qualified interpreter.
- Don’t talk to the Deaf individual using third person statements such as “Tell him…” or “Explain to her…”
- Be aware that the interpreter must interpret everything that is being said. Don’t ask the interpreter to refrain from interpreting some of what you say.
- Try to avoid personal conversations with the interpreter during the professional situation.
- DO not turn the lights off or so low that the Deaf individual cannot see the interpreter. It is important to maintain enough light for the interpreter to be seen clearly and effectively. If necessary, use a small spotlight if you can obtain one.
- Don’t expect or ask a Deaf individual to bring a family member or friend to “interpret” instead of hiring a qualified ASL interpreter.
- Don’t ever expect or ask a Deaf individual to pay for an interpreter out of their own pocket.
- Don’t assume that most Deaf people lipread and an interpreter is not necessary. (FYI, only about 30 – 40% of the English language can be understood through lipreading alone!)
Using a sign language interpreter need not be uncomfortable for anyone – it should be a natural experience for all involved. Just be yourself and let the Deaf individual take the lead – the best advice is to allow the Deaf individual to decide the best means of communication for THEM in any given specific situation. When in doubt, just ASK!
Alliance Business Solutions provides RID Nationally Certified ASL Interpreters 24/7 – please contact us at 877-512-1195 or through our website.