The role of the interpreter appears to be very straightforward—to effectively facilitate communication between deaf individuals and those who are hearing. However, the complexities of the task, the varieties or types of visual interpreting, and the enormous range of qualifications brought by the interpreter make it anything but simple.

Interpreting requires a high level of fluency in two or more languages, keen ability to focus on what is being said, broad-based world knowledge, and professional, ethical conduct.

Interpreters cannot interpret what they do not understand. Interpreters serve all parties in the communication exchange. Although we often think of the deaf person as the requestor of interpreter services, the reality is that all parties have an equal and mutual need for the interpreter.

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Interpreters are professionals who use a range of visual communication in a variety of settings to convey meaning between hearing and deaf people.

Communication needs will vary for different people. Talk to the deaf person about the type of interpreter to best fit their needs.

The most common types of interpreters include:

  • ASL Interpreter.

  • Deaf Interpreter (DI).

  • Pro-Tactile Interpreter.

  • Oral Transliterator.

  • Cued Speech Transliterator.

  • Trilingual Interpreter.

Interpreting for Effective Communication

Jason Altmann discusses interpreter qualifications. Read full video description

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Strategies for Coordinating Services

  • Ask the deaf person about their needs to ensure the right type of interpreter is provided.

  • Gather information on the setting and topic to secure an interpreter who is familiar with the content, has the right interpreting skills, and is a good fit for the deaf person. 

  • Honor the deaf person’s request, especially when highly technical information is being communicated. 

  • Check in regularly with the deaf person. Feedback from the deaf person can ensure the interpreter is supporting effective communication access. 

FERPA and HIPAA Concerns


Additional Resources

Sign Language Interpreters: An Introduction  ( English | Spanish )

Deaf interpreters (DIs) are deaf individuals who provide interpreting services, translation, translanguaging, and transliteration services in signed languages, including American Sign Language (ASL), other signed languages, and various forms of visual and tactile communication for deaf individuals. DIs are often used in medical, legal, and educational settings. DIs also provide access for deafblind people, translate from one signed language to another, and work as a language model for people learning sign language. DIs are also a good fit for stage or platform interpreting, as they are highly effective at relaying information during televised news broadcasts.

Best Practices in Access: Deaf Interpreters

Interpreter consistency is a key element in ensuring effective access and effective communication for deaf people who use interpreters. Consistency in interpreting has many positive outcomes, such as continuity, shared contextual knowledge, improved message accuracy, greater trust between the interpreter and the deaf person, and improved content knowledge that builds from each session to the next.
Video remote interpreting (VRI) is a fee-based service that delivers interpreting services, often on demand, through a web-based platform on a computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

VRI can be used effectively to:

  • fulfill last-minute, urgent requests for an interpreter;

  • offer interpreting in the absence of in-person interpreters, especially in rural areas;

  • provide interpreters with specific skill sets (e.g., deaf interpreters, trilingual interpreters); or

  • meet a deaf person’s communication preferences.

Although visual language interpreters have become more visible and prominent in the classroom since the Americans With Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, they have been a part of the educational landscape since the early 1970s.

Institutions frequently face a variety of challenges with providing accessible environments for deaf students. One common challenge is the semester-to-semester changes in the number of registered deaf students and service provider availability. In these circumstances, institutions often contract directly with service providers or through agencies to fulfill requests from deaf students, staff members, faculty members, and visitors. A formal agreement between the institution and service provider or agency that outlines clear expectations is recommended to ensure that quality services are arranged.
Interpreters as a Reasonable Accommodation for Testing  ( English | Spanish )
Regardless of one’s role in administering an assessment—as a professor in a college course or a psychological examiner conducting an evaluation—test providers recognize the importance of obtaining an accurate measurement of student learning, knowledge, abilities, attitudes, and skills.

It is well known that the language and structure of tests can present barriers to those who do not have a strong language base in English. In fact, extensive psychometric protocols are always employed when high-stakes tests (e.g., personality tests, college entrance exams) are developed because test outcomes are influenced by the test taker’s language proficiency and cultural experiences.

Although academic course exams usually do not undergo such psychometric scrutiny, the goal is still to accurately assess students’ learning rather than their language and test-taking abilities.

Policies and Procedures: Excessive Student Absences  ( English | Spanish )
Deaf students have the same rights as their hearing peers, including the right to be absent. However, when they are absent from class, disability service professionals become concerned that the funds being expended for interpreters or speech-to-text services are not being used prudently. By establishing policies and procedures for students and staff to follow, disability service professionals are able to balance the need for access with the need to demonstrate responsible budgetary management. 
Telecommunications: VRS, VRI, and TRS  ( English | Spanish )


With technology always seemingly one step ahead of us, it’s easy to confuse the various telecommunication services used to visually connect hearing and deaf individuals wishing to communicate with each other. Three primary telecommunication services are in use today: (1) video relay service (VRS), (2) telecommunications relay service (TRS), and (3) video remote interpreting (VRI). VRS and TRS are free programs regulated by the Federal Communications Commission, and VRI is a fee-based service that satisfies the communication-related mandates of the Americans With Disabilities Act. As their names suggest, VRS and VRI are video-based services, and TRS is text driven.

Faculty Handbook Template

Interpreter Handbook Template

Notetaker Handbook Template

Speech to Text Handbook Template

Student Handbook Template
PDF|WordThis collection of handbook templates is designed for a disability support service provider to download and personalize for his or her institution’s needs. These handbooks contain information for orientation to and standardization of procedures as well as general information about how these service providers can work effectively within a postsecondary education setting and with deaf students. Templates are included for faculty, interpreters, notetakers, speech-to-text providers, and students. (Revised: 2017)

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