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About Deaf Interpreting

When to use a Deaf interpreter

Deaf interpreters are deaf individuals who are fluent in American Sign Language (ASL) and have interpreting experience. They work together with a hearing interpreter to facilitate communication between a deaf person and a hearing person.

A Deaf interpreter may be needed if a deaf person:

  • uses signs that are particular to a region or age group
  • has minimal or limited communication skills
  • has communication issues caused by illness or injury
  • uses non-standard ASL or gestures
  • can more successfully communicate through someone who has a shared culture and life experience

When is a Deaf interpreter recommended?

A Deaf interpreter is highly recommended in situations where misunderstandings could result in serious outcomes. For instance:

  • in court, where a person could be wrongly convicted
  • by the police when interviewing victims, witnesses or suspects who are deaf
  • in mental health settings, where clear and accurate communication assists professionals in determining correct medication or other interventions
  • by Children’s Aid Society workers to ensure children are thoroughly protected

Who needs a Deaf interpreter?

  • deaf immigrants
  • deaf people who have been socially isolated (i.e. people from rural areas; patients in mental health facilities; inmates in correctional facilities)
  • deaf people with learning and language challenges
  • a deaf person who is not comfortable with hearing people
  • a deaf person who is seriously ill, injured or dying (the deaf person’s ability to produce signs clearly or use both arms when signing may be affected)
  • Deaf children who have had little or no exposure to English and/or ASL

How deaf interpreting works

A Deaf interpreter and a hearing interpreter work as a team. The hearing interpreter interprets from spoken English to ASL. The Deaf interpreter then translates what the hearing interpreter says using an appropriate level of ASL, sign, gesture or other communication strategies to convey the message to the deaf consumer. The Deaf interpreter will interpret the deaf consumer’s remarks into ASL. The hearing interpreter then interprets from ASL into spoken English.

It looks like this:

Hearing PersonInterpreterDeaf InterpreterDeaf Person

Hearing PersonInterpreterDeaf InterpreterDeaf Person

The Deaf and hearing interpreters may consult each other in order to arrive at the best interpretation.

A hearing person’s role in the interpreting process

If you are a hearing person involved in a conversation being interpreted by a Deaf and a hearing interpreter, simply communicate as you would with a hearing person.

  • maintain eye contact with the deaf person, not with the interpreters
  • you don’t need to address the interpreters at all

If necessary, the interpreters will advise all participants on how best to work with the team. This may include:

  • allowing more time for the interpreting process
  • asking the speaker to moderate the pace of his/her speech
  • changing seating arrangements

The role of a Deaf interpreter

Deaf interpreters follow the guidelines and code of ethics of the Association of Visual Language Interpreters of Canada (AVLIC). The role of the Deaf interpreter is to ensure the interpretation provided is accurate and faithful to the intent of the participants in the conversation. They do not provide counselling or advocacy.

A Deaf/hearing interpreter team is often more effective than a hearing interpreter alone, a team of two hearing interpreters, or a Deaf interpreter working alone.

When there are two hearing interpreters, two Deaf interpreters are required.

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