Tips for Communicating with D/deaf People

Using an Interpreter

A qualified Sign Language Interpreter is a professional who facilitates communication between individuals who do not share a common communication mode. A qualified interpreter has demonstrated proficient ethical and interpreting skills and has gained knowledge and expertise required to function in a professional capacity.

The role of an interpreter is to accurately convey all messages between individuals involved in the communication setting; interviews, conversations, and presentations.

Speak directly with the D/deaf person, not the interpreter when using an interpreter to communicate. The interpreter is not part of the conversation and is not permitted to voice personal opinions or enter into the conversation. Face the D/deaf individual and speak to them in a normal manner. Avoid phrases like "tell her" or "ask him."  When the interpreter says, "I" or "me," those are the direct words of the D/deaf or hard of hearing consumer, not the interpreter.

Keep in mind that American Sign Language (ASL) and English are two different languages. Allow pauses for the message to be interpreted so that the D/deaf person can ask questions or join in the discussion.

Treat the interpreter as a professional. It is advantageous to meet with the interpreter a few minutes before the meeting/class to prepare.  Providing lecture information and/or handouts beforehand is effective.

If a meeting will last more than one hour, it is preferable to have two interpreters. It is physically and cognitively difficult to interpret for more than an hour. If the meeting, class, or lectures will take longer, two interpreters may team up on a rotating basis (for example, switching every 20 minutes).

Permit only one person to speak at a time during group discussions. It is difficult to interpret for several people at once. Ask for a brief pause between speakers to allow before the next speaker starts.

Provide good lighting for the interpreter. If the interpreting situation requires darkening the room to view slides, video tapes, or films, auxiliary lighting is necessary so that the D/deaf person can see the interpreter. If a small lamp or spotlight cannot be obtained, check to see if room lights can be dimmed but still provide enough light so that the interpreter can be seen.

Speak clearly, in a normal tone and at a natural pace when using an interpreter. Do not rush though a speech or exaggerate lip movements. The interpreter or the D/deaf person may ask the speaker to slow down or repeat a word or sentence for clarification.

Positioning Considerations

  • The interpreter will position themselves in a well-lit area with clear visibility by consumers who are D/deaf or hard of hearing. The interpreter should not be requested to stand in front of a window or other lighting source as that may cause distracting shadows and eye fatigue.
  • When using the services of an interpreter in a one-on-one situation such as a small meeting or private appointment, the interpreter will sit slightly behind and to the side of the speaker, allowing the consumers to see both the speaker and the interpreter.
  • For a large group presentation, the interpreter will position themselves near the speaker. If it is a very large group, more than one interpreter may be needed to ensure visibility.
  • If the presenter is D/deaf or hard of hearing and speaking before a large group and requires an interpreter for voicing, the interpreter may be seated facing the speaker and provided a microphone.