How to become an interpreter for the deaf and hard of hearing

Have you ever wondered what your job might be like if you were a professional interpreter?

Many people in the interpretation field have varying experiences and different aspects of the job that they love. We gathered some insight from seven language interpreters from all over the world, and they had a few unique experiences to share about their interpretation career.

They shared a few lessons that they got from interpreting. Here are a few things you might learn if you decide to become an interpreter yourself!

You learn to adapt quickly

When you are working as an interpreter, you have to be quick on your feet. It is one thing to speak two languages, but quite another to be an expert in cultural context. If someone who you’re interpreting for uses an idiom, you have to be able to shift that phrase over to another language that may not have an equivalent saying.

Furthermore, if a speaker’s voice fluctuates or if they are mumbling, you have to be able to interpret effectively. There’s no interrupting someone to ask them to repeat themselves!

You learn the lingo

With technical settings like the hospital or the courtroom, you have to go through specialized training to learn the lingo. For example, if you are a medical interpreter, on top of all the regular language learning, you also have to know a dearth of healthcare terms, and be able to interpret very accurately.

Sign language interpreters may also have to learn additional signing terms if a client uses a slightly different dialect of signing. (Did you know? From Louisiana to New York, ASL signers can have different ‘accents’.)

You learn to work in pairs

Interpreting is hard work. You often work with at least one other fellow interpreter and switch off every half-hour or so, because it takes so much mental energy to keep up with two languages simultaneously.

You and your partner will need to make sure you are comfortable with each other’s speaking styles and preferred terminology. This is to lessen confusion on the speakers’ end. How confusing would it be if two interpreters used slightly different terms for a medical ailment?

You learn to be impartial

Perhaps the most important thing about your job as an interpreter is the impartiality. Interpreters act as ‘invisibles’, or someone that both speaking parties should essentially pretend is not even in the room! Impartiality is often one of the hardest parts of the job, many interpreters-in-training say.

If you work in the legal or medical field, you will often come across emotional situations. Keeping your body language and tone consistent is hard work, but impartiality is what makes you a successful interpreter.

Interpreting is definitely hard work, but all of the interpreters above agreed that it was a fulfilling profession. If you are looking for a job that keeps you on your feet and presents you with fresh challenges each day, then interpreting may be the right path for you. Of course, it comes with a lot of training, learning and control, but with the right skills and practice, you can become a great interpreter!

James Lacy, MLS, is a fact checker and researcher. James received a Master of Library Science degree from Dominican University.

Good communication at the doctor (or dentist or hospital) is essential. Recognizing this, the authors of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) included specific language regarding communications access for deaf and hard of hearing people. Even so, there have been numerous cases of failure (or outright refusal) of medical establishments to provide sign language interpreters.

How to become an interpreter for the deaf and hard of hearing

Title III of the ADA

Title III of the ADA covers access to places of public accommodation. Subchapter III – Public Accommodations And Services Operated By Private Entities, Section 12181, Definitions, says that the following examples of private entities are considered public accommodations:  

(6) a laundromat, dry-cleaner, bank, barbershop, beauty shop, travel service, shoe repair service, funeral parlor, gas station, office of an accountant or lawyer, pharmacy, insurance office, professional office of a health care provider, hospital, or other service establishment;

Furthermore, the Department of Justice's interpretation of Title III states that:

Places of public accommodation include. doctors' offices, hospitals.

The same interpretation says that public accommodations must "Furnish auxiliary aids when necessary to ensure effective communication unless an undue burden or fundamental alteration would result." (Fundamental alteration means that it would have a substantial impact on the business. For instance, a doctor would no longer be able to provide medical care).  

When Is An Interpreter Necessary?

An “auxiliary aid” as defined by the ADA means “qualified interpreters or other effective methods of making aurally delivered information available to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.”   Alternative methods mean techniques such as writing back and forth on paper or using computerized means of communication. So when is an interpreter necessary? This question is best answered by the Department of Justice ADA Technical Assistance Manual.

The ADA Technical Assistance Manual, answers the question "Who decides what type of auxiliary aid should be provided?" by stating that the place of public accommodation, e.g. the doctor's office, gets to make the "ultimate decision" as to what methodology to use, as long as the method chosen results in effective communication. There can be disagreement over what constitutes effective communication. The Technical Assistance Manual states:

The physician must be given an opportunity to consult with the patient and make an independent assessment of what type of auxiliary aid, if any, is necessary to ensure effective communication. If the patient believes that the physician's decision will not lead to effective communication, then the patient may challenge that decision under Title III by initiating litigation or filing a complaint with the Department of Justice.  

The Technical Assistance Manual has specific examples of when an interpreter is necessary versus when an interpreter is not necessary. The 1994 supplement to the Technical Assistance Manual cites two examples. In the first example, a deaf person goes to the doctor for a routine checkup; notes and gestures are considered acceptable. In the second example, the same deaf person has just had a stroke and needs a more thorough examination; an interpreter is considered necessary because the communication is more in depth.

Getting Doctors, Dentists, Hospitals to Comply

One barrier to obtaining interpreters is the “undue burden” provision. To combat this, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) has a fact sheet online that tells deaf people to notify healthcare providers in advance of appointments that they need an interpreter. In addition, it states that the healthcare provider must pay for the interpreter even if the cost of the interpreter is higher than the cost of the visit. At the bottom of the fact sheet, there is a link to contact the NAD Law and Advocacy Center if further assistance is needed. A related, longer NAD fact sheet, Questions and Answers for Health Care Providers, has other important information such as the fact that the cost of an interpreter to the doctor can be covered by a tax credit.

Mediated Interpreter Cases

The Department of Justice has an ADA Mediation program, where the parties negotiate a mutually acceptable solution. These summarized examples of mediated cases involving interpreters at medical facilities were given on the ADA Mediation Program page:  

  • A doctor who refused to pay for an interpreter agreed to hire interpreters.
  • Another doctor agreed to pay for interpreters and maintain a list of qualified interpreters to call.

ADA Cases Involving Interpreters

The Department of Justice publishes news updates on disability rights cases in their Disability Rights Section News page, that contains examples of cases involving doctors, dentists, and hospitals. Below are summarized examples found.

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Connecticut State Department of Aging and Disability Services

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Interpreter Registry

CT Interpreter Registry

On June 8, 1998, Governor John G. Rowland signed Public Act No. 98-251 concerning the registration of interpreters for the deaf and hard of hearing into law. This registration of all Sign Language, Oral and Cued Speech Interpreters became effective October 1, 1998. If you are currently interpreting in the state of Connecticut, please print and complete the Registration Form and mail along with appropriate documentation to Department of Rehabilitation Services: Interpreting Registry, 55 Farmington Avenue, 12th floor, Hartford, CT 06105 or via email to: [email protected] (email preferred). Interpreter Registration must be completed annually.

Connecticut General Statute Mandating Interpreter Registration

Follow this link for the Registration Form

NAD-RID National Interpreter Certification

For details on types of certifications for Interpreter Services, please visit the national Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf overview .

Cued Speech Certification
Connecticut Registered Interpreters

If you are in need of interpreting services, please call 2-1-1, or visit www.211ct.org and search for “Sign Language Interpretation.” TTY: 800-671-0737.

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There is more than meets the eye when it comes to being a teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing. For example, did you know that they make an average of $25.31 an hour? That’s $52,649 a year!

Between 2018 and 2028, the career is expected to grow 3% and produce 13,600 job opportunities across the U.S.

What Does a Teacher Of The Deaf/Hard Of Hearing Do

There are certain skills that many teachers of the deaf/hard of hearing have in order to accomplish their responsibilities. By taking a look through resumes, we were able to narrow down the most common skills for a person in this position. We discovered that a lot of resumes listed physical stamina, communication skills and patience.

How To Become a Teacher Of The Deaf/Hard Of Hearing

If you’re interested in becoming a teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing, one of the first things to consider is how much education you need. We’ve determined that 61.5% of teachers of the deaf/hard of hearing have a bachelor’s degree. In terms of higher education levels, we found that 33.1% of teachers of the deaf/hard of hearing have master’s degrees. Even though most teachers of the deaf/hard of hearing have a college degree, it’s impossible to become one with only a high school degree or GED.

Choosing the right major is always an important step when researching how to become a teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing. When we researched the most common majors for a teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing, we found that they most commonly earn bachelor’s degree degrees or master’s degree degrees. Other degrees that we often see on teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing resumes include associate degree degrees or doctoral degree degrees.

You may find that experience in other jobs will help you become a teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing. In fact, many teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing jobs require experience in a role such as teacher. Meanwhile, many teachers of the deaf/hard of hearing also have previous career experience in roles such as sign language interpreter or hearing impaired teacher.

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Becoming an interpreter for people with hearing loss is one of the most satisfying career choices that a person can make. That is especially true if the person has someone in their family who suffers from deafness or hearing loss. Those people may be wondering how they can become a deaf interpreter and the answer is not as simple as you may think. The reason is because it all depends what kind of interpreting you would be doing. Would you want to become an interpreter well trained on all aspects or would you be working at a care facility?

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College

If you want to become an official interpreter then you, as most people, would need a college education on it. Becoming an interpreter is not as easy as knowing the signs to get your point across, but rather about knowing how to explain everything. Think of it as a translator for any other language would need legal training to translate everything correctly. There are several colleges that list their programs online so finding the right one for you should not be a problem. There are some great listings of those programs and there will be more information here.

Where To Find College Programs

One of the best sources of information on the available educational programs is the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf otherwise known as RID. There are all types of programs out there for people looking to get into the field including bachelor’s degrees, associates, distance learning, certificate programs and for graduate students. The RID allows you to search by these types of programs as well as by city or state. The programs including in the registry are for colleges both in the United States and Canada. The listing is one of the easiest ones to navigate to find a program.

Your State’s Registry

There are other places online to find information on different programs. Another resource that you may want to look into is your own state. Several states already have a registry of interpreters which could also give you information on special requirements for your state and programs that may be close to you. The registry in your state may also be a source of scholarships which could help you get through a program. There are not that many scholarships available for ASL programs so any little help that you can get would help you finance your education.

Fluency

If you are going to be an interpreter then you have to be fluent. Although colleges are great to get you started it is a good idea to start signing as early as possible. High school students are encouraged to contact the National Association of the Deaf which has chapters in almost every state. This association can help guide you in finding classes in your area so that you can start learning American sign language. Community colleges are another great place to look for signing classes. Classes at community colleges are affordable and can get you started before you start the program at a 4 year college.

Your Job Description

As an interpreter you will have to be able to relay accurate information to people who are deaf or who suffer some degree of hearing loss. There can also be more requirements depending on your employer. One example would be an interpreter who works at a law firm will need to be proficient in the matter that he/she is explaining to a client. Interpreters re employed at private and public events, meetings, courts, schools, offices and in some cases will also need to be proficient in some technological aspects to correctly express the message they are interpreting.

Under CFDA 84.160C a national consortium will develop an experiential learning program that could be implemented through baccalaureate degree American Sign Language (ASL)-English programs or through partner organizations, pilot the experiential learning program in three baccalaureate degree ASL-English programs and evaluate the results, and disseminate practices that are promising or supported by evidence, examples, and lessons learned. The goals of this project are to: 1) increase the number of certified interpreters, 2) reduce the average length of time it takes for novice interpreters to become nationally certified after graduating from baccalaureate degree ASL-English interpretation programs and 3) increase the average number of hours that novice interpreters, through the experiential learning program, interact with and learn from the local deaf community.

Under CFDA 84.160D, projects will provide specialty training to working interpreters across the country who possess a baccalaureate degree in ASL-English and who have a minimum of three years of relevant experience as an interpreter (or equivalence, such as relevant professional experience and years of education (credit hours) not totaling a formal degree). The goals for these projects are to 1) increase in the number of interpreters who are trained to work with deaf consumers who require specialized interpreting and 2) increase the number of interpreters trained in specialty areas that obtain or advance in employment in the areas for which they were prepared.

CFDA 84.160C – Experiential Learning Model Demonstration Center

Who May Apply: Baccalaureate degree American Sign Language (ASL)-English interpretation programs that are recognized and accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Interpreter Education (CCIE) are eligible to apply as lead applicants in the consortium. States and public or nonprofit agencies and organizations, including institutions of higher education, such as baccalaureate degree ASL-English interpretation programs that are not CCIE accredited, are not eligible to be lead applicants but are eligible to be members of the consortium.

CFDA 84.160D – Interpreter Training in Specialty Areas

Who May Apply: States and public or nonprofit agencies and organizations, including American Indian tribes and Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs).

Become certified as an interpreter for the deaf and hard-of-hearing

Although it is difficult to determine how many individuals in the United States are hearing impaired, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) indicates that around 17%, or 36 million, of the adults living in the US report some degree of hearing loss. Add in the number of children affected by hearing impairments and the percent of Americans experiencing some level of hearing loss increases significantly. Clearly, there is a need for interpreters for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, but, understandably, there are certain necessary steps one must take to obtain certification.

There are two levels at which you can become certified or licensed to be an interpreter for the deaf and hard-of-hearing: the state level and the national level. Typically, states will recognize national certification, but it is always helpful to verify the assessments and necessary qualifications required where you live. For example, Pennsylvania requires interpreters to pass the NIC or CDI written tests and the RID performance exam (in addition to satisfying other criteria), whereas interpreters in Texas must be certified by the Board for Evaluation of Interpreters (BEI).

For national certification, prospective interpreters can be certified by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID). There are two types of RID certifications: generalist and spet. Four generalist certifications are offered by RID:

  • NIC (National Interpreter Certification). Upon completing and passing the exams for this test, an individual becomes a nationally-certified interpreter for the deaf.
  • CDI (Certified Deaf Interpreter). Individuals holding this certification are deaf or hard-of-hearing and typically have more experience or specialty in the use of mime, gesture, props, and other similar tools of non-verbal communication.
  • OTC (Oral Transliteration Certificate). Those who achieve this certification are able to transliterate a spoken message from a hearing person to a deaf or hard-of-hearing individual.
  • Ed: K-12 (Educational Certificate: K-12). Those who pass the Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment (EIPA) are recognized as educational interpreters trained in classroom interpreting, both voice-to-sign and sign-to-voice.

The two spet certifications offered by RID certify interpreters for legal settings. The CLIP-R (Conditional Legal Interpreting Permit-Relay) is offered to interpreters who are deaf or hard-of-hearing and already have a generalist certification (CDI or the now unavailable RSC). The SC:L (Spet Certificate: Legal) are certified to interpret in a wide range of legal settings and must also have a generalist certification (NIC).

Once certification has been achieved, it must be maintained for an individual to be considered a certified interpreter with RID. The requirements for the Certification Maintenance Program (CMP) can be found here.

For more information on certification for interpreters for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, please visit the websites of the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) and RID. Are you considering achieving certification as an interpreter? Have you already been certified? Share you experiences in the comments!

Interpreting Services are addressed under Related Services §300.34(c)(4) of the IDEA Part B Regulations.

This section is very specific in stating that these services are intended for children who are deaf or hard of hearing and not for limited English proficient (LEP) children. Note: In the Analysis of Comments and Changes discussion section of the regulations, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) clarified the requirements to provide interpreting services to students who are limited English proficient by citing other relevant references.

The regulations are written broadly by intention to encompass the many different types of services. The regulations specify oral transliteration (oral interpreting) and cued language (speech) transliteration, as well as sign language transliteration and interpreting services.
The critical components in this section are transcription services and services for children who are deaf-blind. Several examples of transcription services to include CART, C-Print, and Type Well were provided. ED referred only to “special interpreting services” for a child who is deaf and blind because of the many and varied methods.

ED, in the Analysis of Comments and Changes section of the regulations declined the opportunity to specifically list American Sign Language (ASL), indicating that the general term “interpreting services” is broad enough in scope to include it. There was a discussion regarding the qualifications of interpreters. ED declined to add anything to the section citing that §300.156 provides states the opportunity to establish personnel qualifications (refer to the IDEA Part B resource on Personnel Preparation).

Implications for ASHA Members

This section broadens the more typical thinking that interpreting is the provision of sign language only. It provides the child with options based on their specific communication needs. ASHA memberss will need to have the skills, abilities, and tools to adequately assess the child’s receptive communication skills and abilities in several modalities (e.g., speech reading, use of residual audition) to best advocate for the child based on their abilities. This should allow the child the most appropriate interpreting or transliteration services.

Transcription systems require the child to take advantage of the printed word in an almost real-time environment. Speech-language pathologists can assist access to this type of service as they work with children who are deaf, hard of hearing, or deaf-blind to improve their reading skills, vocabulary development, and language.

What ASHA Members Can Do

ASHA members need to expand their assessment protocols for children who are deaf or hard of hearing to determine their ability to use different modalities for receptive communication. Cued speech, speech reading, and the auditory recognition of running speech, as found in the classroom, become critical determinants in the provision of the optimal interpreting services. Typically, these decisions have been left to teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing. Now, the Part B regulations offer ASHA members a great opportunity for input.

Audiologists and speech-language pathologists should familiarize themselves with the different transcription systems to help determine if the child who is deaf, hard of hearing, or deaf-blind can access them. Each system has its own benefits, and limitations, which could impact the child’s success.