Why do I need an interpreter?

Sign Language Interpreters are professionals that provide communication access between signing and non-signing members of the community. Businesses, schools, medical facilities and organizations hire interpreters to ensure accurate and clear communication for appointments, events, and meetings. Interpreters are also familiar with Deaf culture and can minimize cultural misunderstandings, and they can provide guidance to improve communication access.

Why isn’t writing back and forth good enough?

It is a common belief that American Sign Language (ASL) has the same grammatical structure and words as English. It is not “English on the hands”, but rather its own language with syntax and grammar drastically different from English. When you write notes with a Deaf person, you are still communicating in a language that may be their second language and thus one they may not be skilled at using.

Why isn’t reading lips appropriate?

Reading lips is an extremely challenging skill to master. Only 30% of speech is understandable on the lips, leaving 70% of speech needing to be guessed or filled in by the reader. Reading lips is also a skill that must be actively practiced by both members of the conversation. The speaker needs to have knowledge of how to communicate to be effectively lip read.

I had another Deaf client that could read lips and write well. Why isn’t that working for my other Deaf client?

Just as no two people are the same; no two deaf people are the same. We all have different life experiences, levels of education, upbringings, and natural skills. Communication access must be considered on an individual basis, instead of as a ‘one-size-fits-all’.

Why can’t I use a family member?

The use of a family member as an interpreter is a common request. There are several reasons why using family is inappropriate. The main reason as it would effect a medical facility or place of business is the question of the family member’s skill. It is unknown the proficiency of the family member’s signing skills. The family member may not be familiar with the terminology of the setting, or maybe of an age that it simply isn’t appropriate for them to be in that setting. Professional sign language interpreters have experience in a wide range of settings, have passed tests asserting their skill, and can be held accountable for errors and omissions in their work. Using a family member puts the medical facility or business at risk for miscommunications, issues of safety, and medical errors.

Professional interpreters also operate under a strict code of ethics. Members of the deaf person’s family may feel uncomfortable or unwilling to communicate sensitive information, such as job performance problems or life-altering test results at the doctor’s office. In turn, the deaf person may not feel comfortable disclosing complete information about an incident or medical records because they do not want the family member to be privy to that information. The Registry of Interpreter’s for the Deaf (RID) the national organization for professional sign language interpreters, has in place a strict code of conduct that requires confidentiality and also complete and accurate interpretation of the message to and from both parties. 

Am I legally required to hire an interpreter?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that any place of business (regardless of profit or non-profit status) cannot discriminate against any individual by denying them unequal access to the services or events. In many instances for Deaf and Hard of Hearing community members, this means the business must hire a sign language interpreter at their own expense to provide equal access to communication. There are some exemptions. I recommend you consult a legal professional for additional information.

Are interpreting services tax deductible?

Yes. There are some tax benefits for businesses that hire interpreters. Please consult your tax professional for details.

Is providing Protected Health Information to an interpreter a HIPAA violation?

No. HIPAA has a provision for interpreters to receive Protected Health Information as a business associate. Sharing information with an interpreter is not a violation of HIPAA.

What is a Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI) and why do I need one?

A CDI is a member of the Deaf community who has training as an interpreter, but also has specialized training to work with other members of the community that do not communicate using standard American Sign Language. The reasons for this vary, but can include: use of a foreign sign language, deaf-blind, or individuals that communicate using mostly gestures, home signs, and mimes (sometimes referred to as “highly visual”.) CDIs work with a hearing interpreter and use their special training to facilitate communication more effectively than could be done with a hearing interpreter alone. We hire CDI's to interpret your content to ensure high quality service. 

Why do I need a team of two interpreters for live service?

Assignments lasting 2 hours or longer in length require 2 interpreters to be hired and work as a team. There are other instances in which 2 interpreters are needed, but the general industry standard is anything 2 hours or longer. Both interpreters are actively engaged in the process of interpreting. One will work providing communication, and the other will be monitoring the setting for communication issues, providing cues and support for the working interpreter, and monitoring time for a smooth transition. You will see the interpreters switching roles on regular intervals.

The reason for the industry standard of hiring a team of interpreters is to minimize interpreter fatigue. Research shows us the work of understanding one language, analyzing the overt and covert meaning of the language and also the necessary cultural mediation, and then applying the same process to produce an equivalent meaning in a second language, is a very mentally taxing task. After 1 hour of continuous work, the brain becomes fatigued and the quality of the interpretation suffers; errors and omissions rise. For this reason, a team of interpreters are used. A secondary reason for hiring a second interpreter is to reduce the occurrence of Repetitive Motion Injuries in interpreters.

Are there any grants available to pay for interpreting services?

Currently, I am unaware of any grants to cover interpreting services for private businesses.

How do I use a sign language interpreter?

The interpreter’s job is to facilitate communication between users of ASL and users of English. The interpreter will not give opinions, advice, or support to either party; however sometimes she may ask for clarification to understand what is being said. The interpreter will sit or stand opposite the deaf person and near the main speaker. When you are speaking, talk directly to the deaf person and not to the interpreter. The interpreter will watch the deaf person’s signs, and they response will generally be in first person tense. You may see the interpreter using available graphics or handouts to support their interpretation. If you have any questions or concerns, relay them to the interpreter. We are willing to work with everyone involved to meet any needs that arise.


“The ADA: Questions and Answers.” U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, Jan. 1997. Web. Aug. 2011.

“Questions and Answers for Health Care Providers.” National Association for the Deaf. Web. July 2011.

“Speechreading – E-Michigan Deaf and Hard of Hearing.” E-Michigan Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Ed. Julie Eckhardt. Michigan Coalition for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People, 2002. Web. 31 Dec. 2014.

“Standard Practice Papers.” RID Standard Practice Papers. Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, 1997-2010. Web. 30 Dec. 2014.