What does a Deaf Interpreter do?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

A deaf interpreter, also called a sign language interpreter, is a person who interprets between deaf and hearing impaired people and speaking people. Some deaf interpreters are certified through the National Interpreter Certification (NIC) test and some hold certification through the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) or the National Association of the Deaf (NAD). There are two types of certification offered: Generalist Certification and Specialist Certification. To a certain extent, what a deaf interpreter does will depend on whether or not he or she is certified, and if so, as a generalist or a specialist. There are also twelve different roles for interpreters defined by RID.

Some people prefer to be referred to as "deaf," rather than as "hearing impaired."
Some people prefer to be referred to as "deaf," rather than as "hearing impaired."

Generalist certification as a deaf interpreter signals that the certificate holder is skilled in a wide range of interpreting and transliterating situations. But the type of certification can still make clear what the holder is qualified to do. For example, the OTC (Oral Transliteration Certificate offered by RID are certified solely in the use of silent oral techniques along with natural gestures to transliterate a spoken message from a hearing individual to a person who is deaf or hard of hearing. An NAD Certificate, on the other hand is only awarded to individuals who meet the standard in both voice-to-sign skills and sign-to-voice skills.

A deaf interpreter may work in a medical setting, such as an emergency room.
A deaf interpreter may work in a medical setting, such as an emergency room.

A separate certificate, listed under generalist, but still serving a discrete segment of the population, is the Ed: K-12 (Education Certificate). The Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment (EIPA) is administered by the Boys Town National Research Hospital. This certificate is for interpreters who work within classrooms, but it is not limited to a single sign system. The certificate is for interpreters who work with students who us ASL (American Sign Language), MCE (Manually-Coded English), and PSE (Pidgin Sign English) and who demonstrate proficiency in both voice-to-sign and sign-to-voice. The specialist certificates that are currently available are both for interpreting in legal settings.

The other way to look at what interpreters do is to look at the roles that RID designates for interpreters in its Standard Practice Papers (SPPs). So, for example, as mentioned above, a deaf interpreter may work in an educational setting, both in the instructional settings and accompanying the student on field trips, to athletic competitions, and in other situations outside the classroom. Also as mentioned above, a deaf interpreter may work in a legal setting, such as a courtroom.

Additionally, a deaf interpreter may work in a health care setting, for example during appointments, providing patient education and counseling, and helping admit a patient to an emergency room. A mental health care setting is an even more specialized example of a locale where a deaf interpreter may work. This could involve assisting in a psychiatric evaluation, in a self-help group, in an emergency room, or in a residential facility, for example.

Another setting in which an interpreter may work is a religious setting, such as at a worship service, at weddings or funerals, or at retreats or religious education classes. Conferences or performances at which the speaker’s, presenter’s or actor’s words are signed or transliterated is another facet of interpreting. Video Relay Service (VRS) interpreting allows phone calls for people who communicate with ASL, and it is staffed by many deaf interpreters to give constant access.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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Discussion Comments


There are such things as Deaf Interpreters. CDI, certified deaf interpreters. Deaf people who can interpret for deaf people.


RID is registry of interpreters for the deaf. Not RDI(registry of deaf interpreters). The term Deaf Interpreter would lead one to believe that the interpreter was deaf. When in fact they interpret for the deaf and hearing individuals that don't know sign language.

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