Category Archives: ASL Interpreter FAQ’s

ASL Interpreters: How to Represent an Agency

asl-interpreting-job-tips-employment-01One of the more interesting aspects of being an ASL interpreter is having the opportunity to work in a wide variety of settings with a diverse array of individuals. As an independent contractor or employee, ASL interpreters are assigned the responsibility to faithfully represent both deaf and hearing consumers in communication. But, beyond that, when contracting assignments for an agency, an interpreter’s work and behavior in the field is also reflective of that organization. How are you representing the agencies that offer you assignments?

First off, it is important for interpreters to take pride in the fact that so many people have faith in their ability to provide the best quality services for all parties. In this way, interpreting is a very rewarding profession! But even in the most causal setting, bridging the communication and cultural gap is a responsibility that cannot be taken lightly or taken for granted.

If you are an aspiring interpreter, a new interpreter, or a practicing interpreter looking to improve on your professional persona, read below for tips on how to be the best representative you can be for the agencies  that offer you freelance work.

Attitude

asl-interpreting-job-tips-employment-02Of course this might go without saying, but customer service is our top priority in the interpreting profession. The consumers are the only reason we even have an job, and Its important that interpreters strive to ensure that everyone feels satisfied with the professional interaction.

Smile. Be friendly. Stay calm and reasonable. Say please and thank you. Mind your manners and communicate with kindness. Make decisions that are ethical. Take the time to explain things if people are confused. Try your best not to get frustrated with anyone. No matter what kind of day you are having, make sure to leave a great and lasting impression! This will help ensure future work, as customers might then request your services moving forward.

Punctuality

In this industry, its very important to remember clients are paying for your time and deaf consumers are counting on you to show up. There is no room for tardiness, as this makes everyone involved look unprofessional. It also impacts the consumer’s faith in you.

If you struggle with punctuality, find ways to give yourself the time you need each day and strive to be early. Don’t book appts too close together; be sure you leave yourself ample time for travel, and always assume the possibility of delays.

Attire

asl-interpreting-job-tips-attire-employment-03You do not need to be a wealthy fashionista to dress appropriately for work! Consider adding a couple business items to your wardrobe that you wear only when you are on assignments. Clothing should always be clean and you should look put-together and appropriate for the setting. If you are unclear what this means, you can always ask the agency for more information.

Even on casual assignments, you are still a professional representative of an organization. Avoid anything with holes, rips, stains, unraveling seams, or items that fit poorly or are fading from overuse. Some agencies will send guidelines for attire, if so it is a good idea to review these to understand expectations.

Professionalism

When interacting with people on site, be sure it is clear that you are interpreting for an agency and if anyone has questions, be sure to direct them to the agency for more information. Do not hand out your personal information or business cards. Most agencies, including LC Interpreting Services, will honor customer requests for interpreters, if the client or consumer wishes to work with a specific interpreter again.

Preparation

Take pride in the work you do and the excellence of the services you can offer. Preparing for an assignment in advance is one of the easiest and most straight forward ways to ensure you provide quality interpretation on site. Ask the agency to send any materials they have and don’t be afraid to ask questions if you have them. If you need to do research, do it. Fill the gaps in your own knowledge regarding the topic and setting so that you are ready to communicate any nuances between deaf and hearing parties. This is another quality that will make you stand out and can ultimately get you more work, as clients request your services again and again.

Team Work

asl-interpreting-job-tips-employment-04Working closely with people is one of the greatest, yet most challenging aspects of the interpreting profession. Interpreters cannot be lone-wolf types who have no flexibility in their approach. We are always working as part of a team to create open lines of communication. Sometimes we are just working with one person, sometimes we are working with a variety of deaf and hearing people and other interpreters. When agencies send an interpreter to the field, they are counting on them to be an eager member of the team, so check in with your team regularly to see how you can best support everyone.

Communication

This may not come as a surprise: communication is the most important aspect of the whole interpreting profession! If you are running late, sick, or having any other kind of emergency, contact the agency directly, and do it right away. If your appointment runs over the scheduled duration, or you get asked to come back for another appointment while on-site, let the agency know ASAP.

asl-interpreting-job-tips-employment-05If you encounter any ethical conflicts while on a job, or you have any questions regarding something that happened on assignment, communicate this to the agency! Direct communication and transparency will help create an excellent and productive relationship between yourself and the agencies you contract work through.

Interpreting is a job that we really become invested in. The more a freelance interpreter invests in developing their personality and skill set in the field, the more opportunity they will see coming their way! Through mentorship, experience, and ongoing professional development classes and workshops, interpreters can strive to constantly improve the quality of our services over the course of a lifetime.

LC Interpreting Services is always looking for new experienced and/or credentialed sign language interpreters to join our freelance team! If you are a practicing ASL interpreter in the NYC area, please click the following link to apply: Employment at LC Interpreting Services.

Frequently Asked Questions About Certified Deaf Interpreters

certified-deaf-interpreter-nyc-faq-01Since the beginning of time, in all civilizations, it has been necessary for people who are deaf to take an active role as self-advocates. For this historically marginalized group, fighting for their rights (and the rights of others) has always been a matter of survival. There are times when the only person who can really understand a deaf individual is another person who is deaf. This is true when it comes to language skills, since not everyone uses formal American Sign Language, and it is also true when it comes to recognizing and navigating instances of institutional oppression.

Over the past couple decades, as the sign language interpreting profession has evolved, the interpreting community has come to better understand and embrace the role of deaf individuals as linguistic and cultural gatekeepers. Certified Deaf Interpreters (CDIs) are extremely effective at bridging the sometimes vast and persistent gaps that exist between people who are deaf and those who can hear.

Deaf interpreters work alongside hearing ASL interpreters to ensure accurate communication between deaf individuals whose native language is visual. The deaf interpreter gathers and relays information to the deaf consumer(s) using specialized communication strategies, while partnering with a hearing interpreter to communicate information to and from any hearing parties.

What Types of Consumers Benefit From Working With CDIs?

certified-deaf-interpreter-nyc-faq-02Those who have been in traumatic situations, for example victims of assault or people who are deaf in the Emergency Room, might be best able to communicate through a deaf interpreter. In situations when a deaf individual is subject to police interrogation or asked to provide a statement, a deaf interpreter can offer the critical nuanced understanding that can mean the difference between conviction and acquittal. There are some people who are deaf whose needs will best be met by a deaf interpreter in any medical setting or legal situation, since the outcomes here can deeply impact a person’s life.

Immigrants and other individuals whose first language is not ASL, or people who only know informal “home signs” can all benefit from working with a CDI. Those with language difficulties or intellectual disabilities might also better be served by a deaf interpreter. This is because the deaf interpreter will have a more intuitive understanding of signed language as a native user.

“Consumers usually are relieved to know they are able to freely express themselves in their native language without code switching. They also feel assured when they see me repeat their messages to my hearing interpreter team for voice interpretation. They see their original statement being relayed and this makes them trust the interpreting process a little more.” ~ Jason Trzebny, CDI, CLIP-R

“If you go back to the generations in your family, you would have seen or known deaf people historically had been each others’ gatekeepers with information gathering/exchange. This time we’re now giving the formal name and respect to CDIs as paid positions for their decades of devotion to ensuring anyone who is deaf can make informed decisions involving their lives. Therefore, any deaf person can benefit from having a deaf interpreter in all settings – News on TV, music, educational, court, business meetings, hospitals, filling out applications for jobs, car loans, insurance, VRS, weddings, funerals, mental health, social services, AA groups and so on!” ~ Marla Berkowitz, CDI

Communication Strategies Used by Deaf Interpreters

certified-medical-deaf-interpreter-nyc-faq-03To connect with deaf consumers, especially those who may have a language deficit for one reason or another, deaf interpreters will first interact with the person to familiarize with their language level and communication preferences. Through these preliminary interactions, the interpreter can assess if the deaf consumer has any unique cultural mannerisms, which can vary depending on factors like age, region, and educational background.
Deaf interpreters, like all interpreters, come to the assignment as prepared as possible, having reviewed the content and decided on the most effective strategies for relaying the information. They must be flexible in their approach, prepared to synthesize each bit of information to it’s most basic concept, and ready to rearrange the grammatical structure of the message to make better sense to the recipient. When necessary, deaf interpreters will employ the use of notes or drawing pictograms to gather information and ensure clarity.

“I will elaborate on key concepts that are important to the situation I’m interpreting in. For example, while interpreting the right to counsel in the Miranda Warning I will emphasis on ‘Anytime you can stop, now or later. If you feel you need help or unsure, you must say “I WANT a lawyer.” If you want a lawyer it does not mean you are guilty or not. Right now you fine that you have no lawyer here and still want to talk to the police?’. Some would argue that this is too much, but I say it’s part of cultural and language mediation.” ~ J.Trzebny

“Deaf interpreters make linguistic decisions about how to convey the intended message by using the consumer’s sign preferences, breaking down concepts that match their present world view, and/or utilize a lot of visual gestures (this is not the same as a pantomime because the integrity of facial and body language expression comes from the grammar).” ~ Regan Thibodeau, CDI, CLIP-R

Working as a Team with Hearing Interpreters

certified-legal-deaf-interpreter-nyc-faq-04The most important thing for hearing interpreters to consider is that not all CDIs are the same, therefore they will not all employ the same strategies or have the same communication preferences. To work most effectively as a team, hearing and deaf interpreters should meet before any assignment (if possible) to establish a rapport and discuss the best ways to meet everyone’s needs.

Hearing interpreters can use strategies such as Pidgin Signed English (PSE), which is a combination of English and ASL, to relay the speaker’s affect; for example anger or sarcasm. Hearing interpreters should be able to break the message down to it’s most important points. By communicating openly with the deaf interpreter, the hearing interpreter can learn their preferred language style, the amount of information they are able to intake at one time, and how the deaf interpreter envisions the information being organized. Communication is the key to success!

  1. Use simultaneous interpreting strategies with emphasis on majority of the concepts in English, if DI prefers.
  2. During simultaneous and/or consecutive interpreting, provide a chunk of information at a time (to be determined between deaf and hearing interpreters.)
  3. Provide environmental information (someone made an announcement that is not visible), the intentions/goals/intonations of the speakers, etc. which all are not visible to the deaf interpreter.
  4. certified-conference-deaf-interpreter-nyc-faq-05“Monitor and subtly feed information (correct, add, or modify as needed) deaf interpreters’ work to ensure the content is being understood and relay accurately.“
    ~ M. Berkowitz

“I seek their strengths and preferences and then I work with them instead of forcing them to go against themselves and we’ll be doing disservice to the customer. I can understand everything… So I must remain fluid and my ream must correct me if I miss or mess up so that the end result is the customer doing well. It’s not easy, and some [hearing interpreters] are terrific and some [aren’t]. They make or break me. The team must have flexibility, respect, honor, and trust to make it work.” ~ Ellen Roth, CDI, CLIP-R

What CDIs Want You to Know About Their Job

There are many different situations that call for deaf interpreters, and all deaf interpreters have different strengths. Deaf interpreters can effectively fill the knowledge and information gaps in nuanced discussions while improving the accuracy of the message as it is understood by the deaf individual. They can help to identify consumer strengths and weaknesses, background, and experience and then, from that place, help to filter through information.

certified-deaf-interpreter-nyc-faq-06Deaf interpreters are sensitive to the injustices faced by deaf individuals and marginalized communities. They have a cultural awareness that cultivates trust. Deaf interpreting has been documented since the 18th century, and is finally being professionally recognized as highly valuable in the field.

“CDI is great for translations like paperwork, contracts, videos, etc. [When it comes to] teaming, it’s a feat. Need more respect for all interpreters and CDIs.” ~ E. Roth

“I wish that more people would understand two things about us. 1) Deaf Interpreters can be for everyone, especially for deaf youth in any situation and specifically in the schools. 2) It is better to spend the money on a hearing-deaf interpreting team to get best results in a shorter amount of time. Often I get called in appointments later as a last resort option and quickly the situation is rectified. The latter method incur more costs from repeated meetings.” ~ R. Thibodeau

The unique position of the Deaf interpreter within the interpreting community is finally gaining the widespread recognition it deserves. CDIs can be a critical piece when attempting to fill the language and culture gaps between deaf and hearing parties, and their skills should be utilized to ensure accurate and effective communication. As people come to understand this, we all move one step closer to equal access.

So You Want to be an ASL Interpreter

how-to-become-asl-interpreter-01There are many students heading into the fall semester at colleges and universities across the country who remain uncertain about their career path. Planning for the future can be overwhelming, but take it from me: entering a profession that you love is a truly rewarding experience. If you have ever thought about pursuing a job as a sign language interpreter, here are seven factors to consider.

1. Job Market

asl-interpreter-job-faq-info-02ASL interpreting is a growing profession with plenty of room for dedicated providers. Interpreters are increasingly being used in a variety of settings such as schools, medical offices, business meetings, social events, theaters, and call centers. Information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the demand for “Interpreters/ Translators” is expected to rise 46% from 2012 to 2022. The need for qualified ASL interpreters will continue to rise as people who are deaf keep breaking through barriers to participate in areas of life where they were previously excluded.

2. Passion for Communication

asl-interpreter-job-faq-info-03Motivated sign language interpreters love the way language can be used to form meaningful connections. Strong linguistic skills are necessary for facilitating nuanced (and sometimes critical) conversations between deaf and hearing parties. Sign language interpreters need to take the time to understand each side, their motives, and their communication style so that they can ensure the messages are being faithfully conveyed. People who wish to be ASL interpreters are those who enjoy meeting people from all walks of life and hearing about their experiences.

3. Love of Deaf culture

asl-interpreter-job-faq-info-04Deaf culture is made up of individuals who take great pride in their rich heritage and visual language. Those pursuing careers in the interpreting field will, of course, need to work toward conversational fluency in American Sign Language. They must also learn Deaf history, follow contemporary issues, and try to understand the everyday experience of deafness. This means active involvement in both the Deaf and interpreting communities! Interpreters cannot just sit on the sidelines, because the quality of our work lies in our passion for the communities we serve.

4. ASL Skills

Not everyone is fluent in ASL when they decide to become an interpreter, and that’s ok. For those individuals, the first step to becoming an interpreter is working on sign language skills in a formal environment— a workshop, classroom, or private lessons. If possible, look for instructors who are native sign language users (those who are Deaf or CODAs) to help develop your full understanding of ASL grammar, vocabulary, structure and Deaf culture. Once you gain confidence in your level of fluency, become engaged with the local deaf community. Practicing with native signers will hone your conversational skills.

5. Education

asl-interpreter-job-faq-info-05All deaf individuals deserve an ethical interpreter with the skills to get the job done right. Over the past 25 years, ASL interpreters have worked hard to create a high standard of quality within our field. This begins at the very foundation: education.

As of 2012, a bachelors degree is required for interpreters to become certified by Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), although the degree does not have to be in interpretation. If you are ready to pursue ASL interpreting as a career, it’s time to enroll in an Interpreter Training Program (ITP). You can enter an ITP with an associates degree or during a bachelors program. In these structured programs, students gain the knowledge and skills they need to become a top quality ASL interpreter. While an ITP might not be mandatory, those who do not complete a training program tend to lack a body of knowledge when it comes to being a well-rounded provider. A combination of classroom and supervised field experience prepares future interpreters bridge the Deaf-hearing communication gap in an ethical and reliable way.

6. Licensure and Certification

Every state has a different system as far as licensure and certification requirements, so be sure to check with your state commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. After your ITP has been completed, the next step is the National Interpreter Certification (NIC). The NIC is a two part examination given by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) and RID. The NIC exam includes a computer-based component which tests your knowledge of Deaf culture and the field, and a performance exam. This NIC measures your competency as an interpreter and helps clients and consumers to feel confident in your skill set.

7. Continuous Professional Development

asl-interpreter-job-faq-info-06In this field, education does not end with a degree! The best ASL interpreters are those who actively engage in mentorship programs, as well as professional development workshops, conferences and seminars. Interpreters must keep challenging themselves to provide better services and become stronger advocates. We need to pay close attention to the issues facing both the Deaf community and the interpreting community, discuss these topics collectively, and then work to resolve these issues in our own practice. If you are looking for a job that starts at 9am and ends at 5pm, you may want to consider another line of work. ASL interpreting is a career choice that requires dedication and humility.

It is inspiring to enter a field of motivated professionals who are genuinely passionate about the work that they do. Engaging with Deaf consumers and hearing clients on a daily basis opens your mind to new perspectives and provides constant opportunity for personal growth. If you are looking for a rewarding career where each day is different and you get the opportunity to help others, ASL interpreting might be right for you!

Deaf Interpreter Goes Viral

lamberton-deblasio-ebola-press-conference-aslLast week, Mayor Bill de Blasio addressed the citizens of New York to discuss the city’s first confirmed case of Ebola. During the press conference the mayor’s ASL interpreter, Jonathan Lamberton, gained a bit of attention on the Internet. Most of the commentary centered around Lamberton’s expressiveness, which is actually just part of sign language, but missed the most compelling aspect of this particular interpreter: he is Deaf.

For hearing people who do not have any experience with Deaf culture, it might be hard to understand how Certified Deaf Interpreters (CDI) are used, and why they are necessary. In this instance, the CDI was working as a team with a hearing interpreter who sat in the audience. The hearing interpreter was signing the message to Lamberton, who was interpreting it on camera. But why have two interpreters?

asl-interpreter-nycNew York City is truly a melting pot with people of all ethnic backgrounds, education levels, and ability. In times when peoples’ health or lives might be in danger, communication becomes absolutely critical. There is no room for miscommunication when state officials are addressing the public safety.

Utilizing an interpreter whose native language is ASL can be a good match when your audience is unknown. While a high quality hearing interpreter may be able to do a great job, a CDI has the ability to reach ASL users on every level. This ensures that the message is conveyed to a broad audience.

lydia-callis-asl-bloomberg-press-conferenceDeaf people who use sign language to communicate may read and write English quite well; or they may not know English at all. Many deaf people have excellent ASL skills, while others only know informal sign languages called “home signs.” Additionally, in a large city like New York there is a whole audience of foreign born deaf people for whom ASL is a second language.

Deaf interpreters come from a background of visual language, so they are able to “let go” of the English form more easily. Because sign language is their native language, deaf interpreters can communicate with deaf consumers on a level that other interpreters just may not be able to get to. CDIs tend to be more intuitive when it comes to foreign sign languages, informal signs, and translating cross cultural messages.

american-sign-language-interpreter-04Imagine you’re an older person who immigrated here from Cambodia at a time when that country did not have any official sign language. The language you’ve used your whole life is a combination of signs and gestures which does not correlate in any way to ASL. A hearing sign language interpreter might have a very challenging time interpreting your doctor’s appointment, finding it difficult to explain technical terms in a way you understand. Our ethical obligation as interpreters is to ensure the deaf consumer receives the service they deserve. This is one example where a CDI could be called in.

doctor-patient-asl-communicationDelivering health and safety information is an important role, not an entertainment event. It puts a lot of pressure on ASL interpreters when their performance is judged not only by deaf consumers, but by hearing audiences who have little understanding of the job at hand.

obama-with-asl-interpreterDuring the press conference, one Twitter user claimed that everyone around him thought the interpreter was “faking it” like the infamous Nelson Mandela memorial interpreter. Other hearing commenters critiqued the deaf interpreter’s signing style, as if he was putting on a show for them. When an interpreter’s signing does not match the speaker’s vocalizations, or the signing is very passionate, it does not mean the interpreter is making up a language or just acting. Sign language interpreters exist to serve the needs of deaf consumers in the best and most ethical way they are able.

american-sign-languageIt’s wonderful when sign language gets so much Internet attention, because it provides new opportunities for mainstream society to become educated about Deaf culture. I think it is important that when general audiences to see ASL interpreters in the media, they understand the true the function we serve.

Working with Sign Language Interpreters: The DOs and DON’Ts

deaf-interpreter-faq-nycIf you do not regularly work with sign language interpreters, you may not know that there are certain rules and expectations. To get the most out of having an ASL interpreter present, it’s a good idea to educate yourself about what exactly an interpreter does, and how they facilitate communication. To avoid complicating the conversation, making the interaction uncomfortable, or even offending the Deaf individual, here are some basic guidelines to follow:

1.) DO: Research how to interact with a Deaf person; with and without an interpreter.
DON’T: Come to the meeting without any knowledge about deafness or Deaf communication.

2.) DO: Provide the interpreter as much information as possible, as far in advance as possible. This helps the interpreter be prepared and alert you to any potential ethical conflicts.
DON’T: Leave out important details about the assignment.

deaf-interpreter-faq-nyc3.) DO: Use the interpreter to engage deaf individuals in conversation. Remember– interpreters are there to facilitate a deaf/hearing interaction.
DON’T: Talk to the interpreter like the deaf person isn’t there.

3.) DO: Address the deaf person directly, using singular phrases. This is the person you are having a conversation with.
DON’T: Talk to the deaf person in the third person. The interpreter is interpreting exactly what you say. Saying “tell him/her…” just confuses the message.

5.) DO: Ask the deaf person to explain how the interpreting process works.
DON’T: Ask the interpreter about their job.

deaf-interpreter-faq-nyc-36.) DO: Talk directly to the deaf person and make respectful eye contact.
DON’T: Stare at the interpreter while having a conversation with a deaf person.

7.) DO: Ask the deaf person how to sign something if you are curious.
DON’T: Say obscene things to watch how the interpreter signs it.

8.) DO: Make sure your message is clear so the interpreter can communicate it.
DON’T: Speak to the deaf person like they are uneducated.

9.) DO: Be friendly to the interpreter, and utilize his/her professional services to speak with the deaf individual.
DON’T: Try to befriend the interpreter.

10.) DO: Plan for the interpreter to sit or stand near the person who will be speaking the most.
DON’T: Try to sit the interpreter next to the deaf individual, or put the interpreter behind other people. Deaf people need to actually see everything the interpreter does.

lydia-callis-interpreting-2014-nyc11.) DO: Speak as clearly as possible.
DON’T: Mumble, shout, or over-enunciate words thinking this will help the interpreter.

12.) DO: Ask the deaf person to explain something if you do not understand it.
DON’T: Ask the interpreter to explain what the deaf person means, cutting the deaf person out of the conversation.

13.) DO: Use sign language if you know ASL and it is appropriate.
DON’T: Start signing the alphabet, finger spelling, or signing random words when the interpreter is right there to facilitate communication.

14.) DO: Feel confident using an interpreter for private conversations.
DON’T: Worry that the interpreter can not be trusted. RID Certified interpreters are held to a professional code of conduct, which emphasizes ethics and client confidentiality.

15.) DO: Understand that although ASL interpreters aim to provide objective interpretations, they are Deaf culture allies and will advocate for the deaf client as needed.
DON’T: Ask interpreters for their personal opinions, ask them not to interpret something you said, or expect the interpreter to overlook any acts they view as oppressive toward the deaf consumer.

16.) DO: Be present and pay attention to the deaf person with whom you are communicating.
DON’T: Look at other people, at your phone, or out the window during conversation.

deaf-interpreter-faq-nyc17.) DO: Hire a professional, competent interpreter who has the appropriate credentials and background to facilitate effective communication. Look for Deaf or sign language interpreter owned agencies that specialize in deaf communication.
DON’T: Hire any interpreter you can find without doing any research on the agency that they work for.

18.) DO: Take an interest in Deaf culture and deafness. There is a wealth of information available on this topic– read some of the many books or articles that are available.
DON’T: Simply expect deaf people or sign language interpreters will take time out of their busy day to provide basic cultural education.

19.) DO: Know it may be your legal responsibility to cover the costs, as outlined by the Americans with Disabilities Act
DON’T: Expect the Deaf person to pay for the interpreter out of pocket

20.) DO: Learn what types of situations ASL interpreters are required for, and how to hire a high quality interpreter.
DON’T: Deny deaf people equal access to communication in your business, organization, or establishment.

If you are seeking a professional sign language interpreter in the New York City area, contact LCIS for a consultation. Coming from three generations of Deaf family members, I understand the true value of a culturally competent interpreter. My services emphasize the satisfaction of deaf consumers, and bridging the communication gap between the deaf and hearing worlds.