Q: I have never communicated with a Deaf person through a Sign Language Interpreter before. How does it work? What should I do?

A: Basically, you can communicate with the Deaf person in much the same way that you communicate with a hearing person. Make direct eye contact with the Deaf person, not the interpreter. Address him or her in first person, as you normally do when speaking with someone. Do not speak directly to the interpreter using statements such as “Tell him that…” or Ask her if…” Speak directly to the Deaf person in a normal tone, at a normal rate of speed. Allow the interpreter to stand or sit near you, so the Deaf person can easily see you and the interpreter. The interpreter will voice everything the Deaf person signs and sign everything you say, including that which you say on a telephone or to another person. Do not ask the interpreter to refrain from interpreting something, as this would be in conflict with the interpreter’s Code of Professional Conduct.

Q: Is there anything I should do differently?

A: Reading aloud is typically done at a much faster pace than normal conversational speech. Please read aloud at a slower rate of speed. Although it is not always necessary, it would be helpful if the interpreter has an opportunity to review the written material in advance.

Q: In a group setting, will the Deaf person be able to participate in the dialogue?

A: Yes. Please remember that an interpreter can only interpret one thing at a time, so turn-taking is essential. Please ask someone in your group to moderate turn-taking during the meeting. Also, please be aware of lag-time, as the interpreter will be slightly behind the speaker while interpreting. Be sure to allow time for the Deaf person to interject questions and comments.

Q: What is the role of the interpreter?

A: An interpreter’s primary function is to facilitate communication, which will include cross cultural mediation when necessary. Do not expect the interpreter to serve in any other capacity. Interpreters are not to express opinions or answer questions, so please do not try to include the interpreter in the conversation. If you would like to speak directly with the interpreter, you may address him or her during a break, or before or after the assignment, when the Deaf person is not present.

Q: Can’t we communicate effectively by writing notes back and forth?

A: It depends on the individual and only he or she can make that determination. American Sign Language and English are two different languages, with different vocabulary, syntax, and idioms. Since English is often a second language for many Deaf people, English language fluency will vary. In many instances, the use of written English will not suffice. Effective communication will not take place and gross misunderstandings will occur.

Q: Someone in our workplace knows how to sign. Can’t we just use her to interpret?

A: While this person may be able to converse in sign language, she may not have the education, knowledge, or skill set necessary to function as an interpreter. Interpreters are highly trained professionals who have passed written and performance exams and hold credentials. They render the message faithfully and accurately, remaining impartial. Professional interpreters adhere to a Code of Professional Conduct, which includes confidentiality.

Q: Can the Deaf person’s family member or friend interpret for us?

A: NOT a good idea. Even if the family member or friend was a professional interpreter and therefore qualified to interpret, there would be too much personal involvement and emotional attachment to remain impartial. A friend or family member may not render the message faithfully or accurately and may not keep it confidential. There is no guarantee that effective communication will take place.

Q: Why might we need two interpreters for this assignment?

A: Sign Language Interpreting is both mentally and physically demanding. In accordance with industry standards, certain legal, highly technical, lengthy, or fast-paced platform assignments require more than one interpreter. Team interpreting increases the level of accuracy and decreases the likelihood that either interpreter will suffer a Cumulative Motion Injury (CMI). The most common injuries are to the wrist (carpal tunnel syndrome), the arm (tendonitis), the shoulder (bursitis), and the back.

Q: Does the interpreter need any information in advance?

A: Yes. Whenever possible, in advance, please send any of the following: agenda, Power Point presentation, written text, transcription, lecture notes, web site address, script, song lyrics, etc. Otherwise, please be prepared to provide a hard copy and/or verbal summary, on site, just prior to the assignment.

Q: Are deaf people experts at lipreading?

A: Lipreading, or speech-reading, is way more difficult than one might think. 30% of spoken English is not visible on the lips, as many of the sounds are made in the back of the mouth or throat. 30% of words in English are homophenous and therefore look identical on the mouth (mop, bop, pop). 10% of the population move their lips in such a way that it is impossible to lipread. Facial hair, facial anomalies, foreign accepts, speech impediments, and rapid speech present additional obstacles. Only 23% of deaf or hard of hearing individuals are effective lip-readers.

Q: Do all deaf people use sign language?

A: No. Some people who are deaf (and many who are hard of hearing) are trained in lip reading (or speech reading). In certain settings, when the speaker cannot be observed, they rely on the use of an Oral Transliterator who is specially trained to articulate speech silently and clearly, as well as rephrase or choose words that give higher visibility on the lips. Natural gestures and body language can also be used. Oral Transliterators are also trained to voice what the deaf or hard of hearing person says when, and if, the hearing consumer does not understand their speech.

Q: How can I become an interpreter?

A: Many colleges and universities across the country offer Interpreter Training Programs. Those in our vicinity are Hillsborough Community College / Tampa Dale Mabry Campus, St. Petersburg College / Clearwater Campus, and University of South Florida / Tampa Campus.

Q: Can Deaf people drive?

A: Yes, of course.