Tips for working with The Deaf, ASL, and Sign Language Interpreters

doctor signing interpreter Isn’t it funny how we can become so immersed in our particular industry, that we overlook how foreign our unique industry lingo and protocol can be to those working outside our arena.  The airline industry talks about ETAs and Widgets while the medical industry has terms like STAT and CRASH CART which most of us learn from television. Of course there’s legal Lingo and language specific to educators. The list goes on and on.

In the land of ASL and sign language interpreters, it’s just as easy to forget that our world is completely unfamiliar to many. We can roll our eyes when we hear “can deaf people drive?”  or  “do deaf people watch TV?”.  But for those who have never dipped their toes into this fascinating land, the bends and twists surrounding the questions can be endless.  “Do deaf people dream?  And can they hear in their dreams?” One question inevitably leads to another.

If your profession is HealthcareEducation, or Government……Corporate, Legal, or Entertainment and you find yourself encountering a deaf person and an interpreter, do you sometimes wish you had a hand-book to guide you? If the interpreter will be interpreting for you and facilitating the communication between you and the deaf patient, student, client……what are some of the basics that you should know? How do you know what you don’t know?

The following suggestions may be helpful.

* Try to avoid the natural temptation to speak in a loud voice and/or exaggerate the enunciation of your words in an effort to help the deaf client understand you. Speak to the deaf person as you would to a hearing person. The interpreter will do the rest.

* Please speak to the deaf person directly and not as if they aren’t there. The interpreter is there to facilitate a 2-way conversation. They are not there to “participate” in the conversation or begin sentences with “he said”………

* As with most of us, preferences can vary. It’s wonderfully progressive to ask the deaf person to let you know if he/she has particular preferences. Some might and some may not. It’s not a ‘one size fits all’ expectation.

* The sign language interpreter is there solely to interpret. They are not there to assist in any other way. Many have been asked to fill out forms, pass out papers, help lift items or people, offer opinions, run errands and even babysit a classroom.  In education or in a medical setting, if the medical practitioner or teacher leave the room, the interpreter usually leaves the room as well.

* When booking an interpreter through an agency, alert the agency to any extenuating circumstance. Is the deaf individual in need of an English speaking Interpreter?  Spanish speaking?  Other language?  Sign language is not the same worldwide.  Is the deaf person also low visual? We do have interpreters who interpret for the deaf/blind.  Every detail helps us determine which interpreter would be the best fit for the job.

*Did you know that American Sign Language (ASL) and spoken English are different in their word order? ASL is a conceptual language and may be the deaf client’s native language. This is why the seemingly simple solution to write notes back and forth (instead of using an interpreter) can be confusing and frustrating for all involved.

* Feedback to the agency is priceless. Did the interpreter communicate easily with the deaf client?  Was the sign language interpreter professional and on time?  Did you have an ideal experience and prefer to always work with this interpreter if possible?

As we introduce you to our world, we also welcome any tips you might suggest when we visit yours.

And now we return to an earlier question. Do deaf people hear in their dreams?  For that matter, do blind people see in theirs?

What do YOU think?  Good questions for another day……..

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About Evelyn

Evelyn Hunter is a SODA with years of experiential study in Deaf Culture. She attended Gallaudet University to immerse herself in this unique deaf world while working for the University and studying sign language to hone her skills. Evelyn has served in training, relationship sales, and marketing -- always seeking to expand awareness of Deaf Culture and the unique challenges the deaf face on a daily basis. The Sign Language Company has recently established a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and a website with a blog, as Evelyn coordinates the marketing and outreach efforts for the agency. Her goal is to attract new clients seeking exceptional service, while maintaining optimal relationships with clients who have selected The Sign Language Company for over 20 years.

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