Qualifications, Certification, and Confidentiality

The role of the interpreter is to provide both hearing and deaf people with equal access to information and interactions. 

Achieving this requires a wide range of skills and abilities. Interpreters must have a high level of fluency in two or more languages, a keen ability to focus on what is being said, broad-based world knowledge, and professional, ethical conduct. 

Interpreters serve all parties in the communication exchange. While we often think of the deaf person as the consumer of interpreter services, the reality is, all parties involved have an equal and mutual need for the interpreter.

Full video description:

Types of Interpreting

Many interpreters will identify their range and expertise with interpreting skills on their resumes and/or through their certifications. More information about interpreting types are listed below.

ASL Interpretation

The most prominent type of interpreting in the U.S. Interpreters interpret between two distinct languages—American Sign Language (ASL) and English. ASL interpreting occurs in two ways: simultaneously and consecutively. According to the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), interpreting is the act of conveying meaning between people who use signed and/or spoken languages (RID Motion C2019.14).

Oral Transliteration

Oral transliterators silently repeat the English being spoken so that a deaf person who prefers speechreading is able to get information from a single person who is easy to see. Oral transliterators often also use specialized techniques to supplement the mouthing such as gestures and pointing. 


When interpreters transliterate between spoken English and a signed representation of English or Contact sign. Sign transliteration usually includes more English grammar and more mouthing.

Protactile Interpretation

Interpreting for deafblind people who use Protactile, a fully tactile language that provides linguistic information, visual and environmental information, attention-getting, and backchanneling through touch.

Tactile ASL Interpretation

A method of interpreting used by some people who are deafblind. An interpreter provides a modified ASL that is signed into the deafblind person’s hand.

Cued Speech Transliteration

The transliterator uses a combination of handshapes and positioning near the mouth to represent English phonetic markers.

Trilingual Interpreting

When there are three or more languages at play and at least one of them is a signed language.

If Someone Knows ASL, Are They Qualified to Interpret?

Fluency in ASL is only one of several competencies needed to effectively interpret.

People who have taken sign language classes or who grew up using ASL but who have not received formal training in interpreting usually do not have the full array of competencies needed to provide a well-produced interpretation.

While recent graduates of interpreter education programs often have enough knowledge to set them on a good path, they are usually not ready to sit for professional certification. Completion of an interpreter education program is therefore usually not an indicator of adequate qualifications, by itself.

It is important to hire licensed and certified interpreters, or those who have qualifications and experience commensurate with national standards.

Achieving Certification

According to the National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers, on average, it takes those with a BA/BS degree 19 to 24 months after graduation to achieve national certification; whereas for AA/AAS program graduates, the average time to national certification is 25 to 36 months.

Confidentiality & Effective Communication

Interpreters must:

  • know how to assess the communication preferences or language level of the deaf person
  • adapt their interpretation to meet these needs
  • understand the meanings and intentions expressed in one language and then accurately express those meanings and intentions in the other language
  • be able to retain information and manage the flow of the communication, most often in real time (simultaneously)
  • understand and manage the cultural nuances of the environment
  • follow professional and ethical standards set by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID)

FERPA and HIPAA Concerns

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. 

Can Deaf People Be Interpreters?

The use of deaf interpreters is becoming more common, as a way to meet both the letter and the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act’s requirements that communication be “effective.” Deaf interpreters engage in the same tasks as hearing interpreters and most often work as part of a deaf/hearing team. They are trained specialists with a keen understanding of the complexities of the communication exchange.

Deaf interpreters should be considered alongside, if not before, hearing interpreters. They are often employed in high-risk situations, such as in the legal and healthcare fields. They are also often used in situations where the hearing interpreter does not possess adequate interpreting skills to meet the specific communication needs of the deaf person.

This often occurs when the deaf person uses a signed language that is not ASL, or has little or no proficiency in any language. Deaf interpreters are also used when the deaf interpreter possesses greater understanding of the complexities of the vocabulary or content to be conveyed in English and/or ASL than the hearing interpreter.

Although formal studies have not yet been conducted, anecdotal evidence suggests that because of the overall efficacy and efficiency of deaf/hearing interpreting teams, the expenses associated with hiring such a team are lower in the long term than the costs resulting from miscommunication and misunderstandings. Consider the use of a deaf interpreter whenever possible.

When Should There Be a Team of Interpreters?

There are many factors that influence how long one interpreter can interpret without experiencing mental and physical fatigue and risking repetitive stress injuries. Team interpreting is designed to mitigate overuse injuries and interpreter errors. To determine whether or not to use a team, consider the following factors:

Length and Complexity of the Assignment

As a general rule, a class that goes over one hour should be teamed. However, the content and structure of the class should be taken into consideration. An hour-long class with technical terminology and complex content may require a team, while a three-hour class that has a short lecture and is mostly made up of independent work may only require a single interpreter.

Unique Needs and Preferred Communication Mode of the Individual

Tactile interpreting, for example, is labor-intensive and often requires a team, regardless of the topic and length of time. Interpreting for individuals whose language use is idiosyncratic or who is a unique language user is another such example.

Sustainable Recruitment and Retention Strategies for Sign Language Interpreters & Captionists

Ensuring equitable and accessible experiences in education and training settings for deaf people includes having a qualified pool of providers. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges have been experiencing provider shortages, as well as, struggling to recruit and retain qualified providers. Knowing this, there are still many opportunities to grow and maintain provider pools. Whether you are proactively planning or responding to an unexpected need, you can employ strategies that will find the providers you need and establish long term relationships with them.

Introduction to Interpreting Services Self-Paced Online Module

This one-hour module provides an overview of interpreters and their role when working with adults in educational settings or career training environments. The information in this module will provide you with a foundation for hiring and securing qualified sign language interpreters while centering the communication preferences of the deaf person.

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