Working with ASL Interpreters: A Comprehensive Guide

Working with ASL Interpreters: A Comprehensive Guide

Wondering how many ASL interpreters you need or about the difference between ASL interpreters and Certified Deaf Interpreters? Read to learn more.

Interpretation is the art of communicating speech across language barriers. Usually we think of interpretation for oral languages, but what about for those who are hard of hearing or deaf?

Surprisingly, if you look up the number of hard of hearing or deaf individuals in the U.S., you’ll find a wide range of estimates.

A survey from 2005 provided the clearest numbers, reporting about 1 in 20 Americans as hard of hearing or deaf. The survey concluded that about 10 million people across the U.S. are hard of hearing.

More recently, the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), estimated roughly 28.8 million Americans could benefit from hearing aids

While population estimates need updating, what’s clear is the undeniable importance of high-quality ASL interpreters in communicating with these communities.

What is ASL?

ASL or American Sign Language is a system of communication used by deaf or hard of hearing communities. 

ASL utilizes a different grammatical structure than American English and relies mainly on hand gestures and facial expressions. As with some spoken languages, interpretation of signing gestures depends on the body language and facial expressions accompanying it.

It’s important to remember that although about 28 million people are considered hard of hearing or functionally deaf, only a fraction receive formal education in ASL. This means that sign language can vary from person to person and – similarly to spoken language – often contains community-based or regional dialects.

Is Sign Language the Same Around the World?

Put simply – No. Even just within the United States, sign language varies depending on the family, community, and region where it was learned.

Translation Agencies vs. Freelance translators - sign post with many language options

As of today, there exist over 300 unique sign languages around the world. The exact number of sign languages isn’t known, as sign languages evolve quickly through creolization aka language mixing over time.

Other well-known sign languages include: 

  1. Indo-Pakistani Sign Language:  est. 6,300,000 native speakers
  2. Indonesian Sign Language:  est. 900,000 native speakers
  3. Russian Sign Language: est. 715,000 native speakers
  4. Brazilian Sign Language: est. 600,000 native speakers
  5. Spanish Sign Language: est. 523,000 native speakers
  6. Egyptian Sign Language: est. 474,000 native speaker

How Does ASL Interpretation Work?

When it comes to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, interpretation works a bit differently. Interpreting between spoken languages usually only requires one interpreter. But with ASL interpretation, you might actually need two interpreters, if not more.

American Sign Language is a lot more physical than for other languages and can be much more tiring. For this reason, it’s standard practice to hire two ASL interpreters for sessions so they can give each other breaks. ASL interpreters usually switch every 30 minutes to 1 hour, so they can rest and regather their energy.

Here’s where it gets tricky. If your deponent, patient, or colleague knows ASL then you just need to hire two ASL interpreters. 

But if your deponent, patient, or colleague doesn’t know ASL, then you may also need to bring in two additional interpreters, called Certified Deaf Interpreters (CDI).

What’s the Difference between Certified Deaf Interpreters and ASL Interpreters?

ASL Interpreters interpret between hearing clients and ASL-fluent clients. But if the person you’re seeking interpretation for doesn’t know ASL, then you may also require Certified Deaf Interpreters.

ASL Interpreters: Female professional sign language interpreter

Certified Deaf Interpreters are deaf or hard of hearing, and typically work in tandem with ASL interpreters. CDI’s undergo rigorous training that prepares them for deciphering informal sign language based on an individual’s psychology, body language, and cultural background. 

As the hard of hearing or deaf individual signs, the CDI will interpret their signing into American Sign Language, which the ASL interpreter will communicate into spoken word. Again, it’s common practice to hire two CDIs at a time, as interpreting for sign language can be mentally and physically exhausting.

So if you’re working with an individual who’s deaf or hard of hearing and doesn’t know ASL, you’ll likely need to hire four interpreters at a minimum.

What Certifications for ASL Interpreters and Certified Deaf Interpreters Should You Look For?

When it comes to ASL interpreting and Certified Deaf Interpreting certification, there are a number of different paths interpreters can take.

It’s important to note that CDI’s receive different training than ASL interpreters. 

Because they’re working with deaf or hard of hearing individuals who don’t know ASL, Certified Deaf Interpreters must gather meaning and critical information without exact word-for-word sign language systems from which to translate. 

On the other hand, the ASL interpreter works by interpreting from one formalized system of sign language to spoken word.

ASL Interpreter Certification

ASL interpreters can receive accreditation from the same industry-specific interpretation schools as spoken language interpreters.

Medical ASL interpreters might choose from:

  • National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters (NBCMI), where they receive the title of Certified Medical Interpreter (CMI)
  • Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI), where they receive the title of Certified Healthcare Interpreter

When it comes to Legal ASL interpreters, regulations vary from state to state. You can learn more about your state’s individual requirements here.

Certified Deaf Interpreter Certification

To become a CDI, interpreters must receive accredited training from the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID).

In this program, CDIs-in-training learn an expansive arsenal of communication tools, including: mime, props, drawing, gestures, and more. You can learn more about RID’s curriculum and certification process here.

Finding top-of-the-line teams of ASL interpreters and Certified Deaf Interpreters to fit your project needs can be challenging.

Save yourself some time and give us a call.

With over 5,000 translators and interpreters in our network qualified in 200+ unique languages and dialects, we at Arriva Translations pride ourselves in offering bespoke, top-of-the-line, white-glove translation and interpretation services to clients in the legal, financial, and medical industries.