Hiring Qualified Interpreters

Interpreters can play an important role in facilitating effective communication for deaf and hearing people. Interpreters are frequently used in educational and workplace settings. In order to provide effective communication, an interpreter must have the right combination of qualifications, compatibility, and professional experience.

A logo featuring the text "DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE" and "QUI PRO DOMINA JUSTITIA SEQUITUR" along with an eagle emblem.

Federal Definition

The U.S. Department of Justice defines a qualified interpreter as, “someone who is able to interpret effectively, accurately, and impartially, both receptively (i.e., understanding what the person with the disability is saying) and expressively (i.e., having the skill needed to convey information back to that person) using any necessary specialized vocabulary.”

When hiring an interpreter, institutions must consider many different factors, starting with the deaf person’s needs and preferences. NDC’s interactive process tools provide sample questions and an interview checklist to ensure that the deaf person’s preferences are considered and understood. The deaf person should lead the discussion regarding interpreting accommodations, and their preferences should be honored wherever possible.

Considerations for Hiring Interpreters

Types of Hiring Approaches

Interpreters can be hired as independent contractors, through an agency, or in staff positions (part time, full time, or on a contract basis). Agencies that provide spoken language interpretation services but do not specialize in sign language interpreting services may not be able to support the nuanced communication needs of deaf people.

Scheduling Interpreters

When deciding whether to hire an interpreter as an employee or to contract with a provider, look at the institution’s and the deaf person’s needs. Be sure to include all expenses for the budget, not just salary. Additional expenses may include travel, overtime, work outside of normal business hours, remote services, and fringe benefits like parking. Hourly estimates should include travel and prep time in addition to the time interpreting.

Making Requests

Interpreter requests can be submitted in advance or with short notice. To secure the most qualified interpreters and ensure consistency over the course of an assignment, it is best to book interpreters well in advance (3-5 weeks is recommended).

Remote Options

Remote interpreting options can be useful when seeking an interpreter with specific skill sets, or when an on-site interpreter is unavailable. Remote interpreting can also be a good fit for online courses or meetings.

Remember to Follow-Up

Remember that the process does not end once an interpreter is hired. Follow up with the deaf person throughout the assignment to ensure that the interpreter is providing consistent and effective services.

Interpreter Qualifications and Credentials

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not mandate any specific credentials for working interpreters. However, some states and territories have minimum requirements for interpreters to work in specific settings (e.g., legal, medical, K–12 settings). To find out whether your state has specific regulations for interpreters check with the following:

Types of Interpreter Credentials

When evaluating or hiring interpreters, look at all of these elements with the deaf person to find the best fit for the situation. Interpreters who can adapt their language use and maintain sensitivity to changing situations, consumers, and content are often the most effective, regardless of other qualifications.

Education programs that prepare people to perform interpreting services are often called interpreter training programs. Effective interpreting requires more than just fluency in the languages being used. Interpreters may choose from many different types of training programs, including programs that result in academic degrees and professional training certificates. Continuing education and training may be required to obtain and maintain certification and/or licensure.​

Certification programs often have prerequisites that can include training, education, knowledge, and an interpretation skill exam. Interpreters holding certification are accountable to a Code of Professional Conduct and must complete ongoing continuing education to maintain their knowledge and skills. There are two commonly recognized certification bodies for sign language interpreters: Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) and Board for Evaluation of Interpreters (BEI). Each certification body has different prerequisites and levels of certification.​

Licensure is a legal requirement that outlines minimum competencies to perform interpreting services in a state. Licensure may require proof of education, certification, and/or an assessment. Many states offer a temporary or provisional license with restrictions on where an interpreter can work, based on their skill level. While licensing standards vary by state, hiring entities may go beyond licensure and employ interpreters who are licensed, certified, and have worked professionally for a number of years.​

Assessments are screening tools used to evaluate interpreting skills. Unlike certification or licensure, assessments do not require additional layers of accountability, such as training requirements. Some states may use interpreting assessments to minimally qualify a person to interpret. For example, many states require a minimum score on the Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment to interpret in K–12 settings for deaf children.​

Evaluating Qualifications

The ADA mandates the use of qualified interpreters. A qualified interpreter could be certified and/or have the right education, experience, and content knowledge for a particular job. Not all certified interpreters are qualified for every job, and there are substantial barriers to obtaining certification for historically marginalized groups. Hiring entities should use a variety of measures and factors when determining whether they are meeting the ADA’s definition of “qualified.” Measures may include education, experience, certification, assessments, licensure, and other regulatory mandates on a state-by-state basis.

Scheduling Interpreters

Whether you decide to hire an interpreter as an employee or to contract with a provider, be sure to include the following costs in the budget: salary/time interpreting, travel, prep time, overtime, work outside of normal business hours, remote services, and fringe benefits like parking. The following can guide your scheduling.

The Deaf Person’s Language and Communication Style Preferences

The deaf person’s language and communication style preferences. What kind of interpreting services did the deaf person request? Consult with the deaf person making the request and identify the type of communication access they need. Find out about the interpreter’s experience working with diverse deaf people, and their ability to work with different cultural backgrounds and a range of communication access needs. Consider using a deaf interpreter when possible to improve access. Additionally, “multi-cultural” or “multi-lingual” deaf students may benefit from the use of multilingual hearing interpreters and CDIs, as an interpreter who shares an additional culture/language with that deaf individual can provide cultural or linguistic insights.

Nature and Context of the Assignment

Can the interpreter expressively and receptively interpret the content? Interpreters must be able to match the differing language registers used across settings, ranging from professional interviews to medical appointments, from high-level faculty meetings to one-on-one tutoring sessions. In some situations, an interpreter who is familiar with the specific content (such as engineering or linguistics) may be the most appropriate choice for providing effective communication.

Interpreter Availability

Is the interpreter available during the scheduled days and times for the assignment to provide consistent interpreting services? Interpreting assignments’ start and end times vary and may include evenings and weekends. Assignments may be one time (like an appointment or a meeting) or ongoing (such as a semester-long class, or recurring faculty meetings). Some assignments require travel or are conducted remotely. Discuss the possibility of working outside of scheduled times for requests like meetings or study groups related to the assignment.

Some interpreting assignments, such as theatrical performances, require hours of preparation and interpreting for rehearsals and performances on various dates and times. To ensure consistent interpreting services, inquire about the interpreter’s availability and willingness to work during the specific timeframe, which may be outside of normal business hours.

Planning ahead and understanding how to measure the best fit for qualified interpreters will save time and resources, and will help ensure effective communication.

Interpreter Search Tools

The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) website has a searchable database of individual interpreters and interpreting agencies. Also check with RID affiliate chapters for local referrals. Contact your state agency or local community organization supporting deaf people for information and referrals to interpreters.

If your state requires interpreters to be licensed, the licensing entity may have a public search option to find licensed interpreters.  For more information on interpreter licensure, we recommend contacting your state’s deaf and hard of hearing services commission for more information.

Reach out to colleagues in your area, through professional listservs, and with disability advocacy agencies to request local contacts for interpreters.

Need Help?

Fill out this form to get help from the NDC team.  Can’t see the form below? Click here to contact the NDC team.