Deaf Interpreter

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WHAT IS A Deaf Interpreter?

A Deaf linguist specialist who provides interpreting, translation, and transliteration services in American Sign Language and other visual and tactual communication forms used by individuals who are Deaf, hard of hearing, and DeafBlind. 

A Deaf Interpreter often works together with a Hearing Interpreter to facilitate communication between a Deaf person and a hearing person. 

deaf interpreter, hearing interpreter

what's the difference?

A Deaf person, trained in the art of interpretation, who facilitates communication between a Deaf individual and Hearing Interpreter using:

  • Non-standard ASL

  • A regional dialect

  • Other forms of visual communication

A Hearing person interprets information the Deaf Interpreter interprets from the Deaf consumer to the Hearing consumer and signs what the Hearing consumer is saying to the Deaf Interpreter for transmittal to the Deaf consumer. 

deaf interpreter

Hearing interpreter

* A Deaf Interpreter does NOT mean

an "Interpreter FOR the Deaf". 

Who needs a Deaf Interpreter?

  • Deaf people who use signs particular to a given region, ethnic, or age group

  • Deaf people who use idiosyncratic non-standard signs or gestures such as those commonly referred to as "Home signs" which are unique to a family

  • Deaf people who have been socially isolated (i.e. people from rural areas; patients in mental health facilities; inmates in correctional facilities)

  • A Deaf person who is seriously ill, injured or dying (the inability to produce signs clearly or use both arms when signing may be affected)

  • A Deaf person with learning and language challenge(s) or is a-lingual

  • Deaf children who have had little or no exposure to English and/or ASL

  • DeafBlind Individuals or Deaf with limited vision

  • Deaf Immigrants or Expats using International and/or Foreign Signs

What situations would a Deaf Interpreter be needed?

  • ProTactile Interpreting or Close Vision interpreting for DeafBlind or Deaf with limited vision

  • Communication issues caused by illness or injury

  • Characteristics reflective of Deaf culture not familiar to hearing interpreters

  • In court, where a person could be wrongly convicted

  • Working with law enforcement or emergency medical professionals when interviewing victims, witnesses, or suspects who are Deaf

  • In medical or mental health settings, where clear and accurate communication assists professionals in determining diagnosis, medication, or other interventions

What are the benefits of using a Deaf interpreter?

  • Optimal understanding by all parties

  • Efficient use of time and resources

  • Clarification of linguistic and/or cultural confusion and misunderstanding(s)

  • Arrival at a clear conclusion in the interpreting situation

How does The Interpreting Process work?

The Hearing Interpreter interprets what the hearing person says (in English) to the Deaf Interpreter, who then reformulates the message and interprets the message in a way the Deaf person understands.

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tips when communicating with a Deaf person:

Why support Deaf/Hearing Team Interpreters?

  • Deaf consumers are better able to express themselves freely and not be concerned with their English 

  • Double-checking system: each party has a chance to double-check their message

  • If there is confusion, the team can work together to better understand the message and provide the best interpretation

  • If you are a hearing person involved in a conversation being interpreted by a Deaf and a hearing interpreter, simply communicate as you would with a hearing person.

  • Maintain eye contact with the deaf person, not with the interpreters

  • You don’t need to address the interpreters at all

  • Allow more time for the interpreting process

  • Moderate the pace of your speech

  • Change seating or standing arrangements as demonstrated below:

seating/standing arrangement map

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X Model

If necessary, the interpreters will advise all participants on how best to work with the team.

frequently asked questions

What specialized training and/or experience does a Deaf Interpreter possess?


  • Excellent general communication skills
  • General interpreter training
  • Specialized training and/or experience in use of gesture, mime, props, drawings and other tools to enhance communication
  • Extensive knowledge and understanding of deafness, the Deaf community and/or Deaf culture
  • Expertise in routine and uniquely difficult interpreting situations




How does a Deaf Interpreter work with DeafBlind individuals?


  • The Deaf Interpreter works with DeafBlind individuals who "undertake specialized training to effectively accomodate low vision and blindness."
  • The interpreter receives a speaker's message visually, then "modifies the signing space and distance from the DeafBlind consumer, and may incorporate subtle grammatical markers ordinarily visible on the face into signing received tactically."
  • The Deaf Interpreter relays the message to the DeafBlind individual through the sense of touch - Protactile or tactile, or at close visual range.
Also known as DeafBlind or ProTactile Interpreters. *DeafBlind Interpreting National Training & Resource Center




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


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




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, hard of hearing and Deaf-Blind 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.




Why do I need a team of two interpreters?


General industry standard on assignments lasting 2 hours or longer in length require 2 interpreters to be hired and work as a team. 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. The reason for the industry standard 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 (RMI) in interpreters.




What's the difference between interpretation, translation or transliteration?


Interpretation: the process of changing a message from one language to another, conveying all essential elements of meaning and maintaining dynamic equivalence Translation: changing a message from the frozen form of one language into the frozen for of another language (ex. videotaped translations of textbooks, plays, and poems) Transliteration: the result of taking a source language message, refers to conveying information between a spoken and signed form of English. Source: "So You Want To Be An Interpreter?" Humphrey & Alcorn. 4th Edition.




Does a Deaf Interpreter mean an Interpreter for the Deaf?


No, this is a common confusion. There are two different interpreters: Deaf and Hearing.