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Student Disability Access Center

How to Use an Interpreter

What Is an Interpreter?
A qualified interpreter for the deaf or hard of hearing is a professional who facilitates communication between deaf and hearing individuals. A qualified interpreter has demonstrated proficient ethical and interpreting skills and has gained the knowledge and expertise required to function in a professional capacity.

Perhaps the biggest misconception concerning interpreting for people who are deaf or hard of hearing is the generally-held assumption that a beginning course in sign language or fingerspelling is a sufficient qualification to work as an interpreter.  A person who knows conversational sign language does not necessarily possess the expertise required to perform well in the role of interpreter.  Professional interpreting requires intense training and experience before proficient levels of skill are attained.

The role of an interpreter is to accurately convey all messages between the individuals involved in the communication setting.  Interviews, conversations and presentations can proceed at a normal pace, transitioning fluently from one communication modality to another, with the aid of a qualified interpreter.

How to Select an Interpreter
An individual or agency employing an interpreter should be aware that communication modes differ among deaf or hard of hearing persons. Residual hearing, age at onset of deafness, language background and family and educational history all impact the communication style used and preferred by the consumer requiring the services of an interpreter.

The primary consideration must be that communication is flowing smoothly between all parties in the interaction.  If any person does not understand the proceedings, an inappropriate interpreter may have been selected for the particular assignment and a more appropriately qualified interpreter may need to be contacted.  When contracting an interpreter, service providers and consumers should be aware of national certification and state screening levels and attempt to locate an interpreter with the most appropriate skill level for the situation.