Printer Friendly

Hiring interpreters for individuals who are deaf-blind.

Emily, who is deaf-blind, went for an interview to rent an apartment. She contacted the landlord before the meeting to request an interpreter, but none was provided. A friend who accompanied her interpreted and, because the friend inappropriately added her own opinions and asked her own questions, Emily was rejected for the apartment. It took legal action for her to finally get approval.

Sara was in the hospital for 5 days and had major surgery It was not until the recovery period that a qualified interpreter was provided to her. Because of her vision and hearing impairments, and because her friends could not adequately interpret for her, she had no idea why the doctor had "cut" her, why she was in pain, or what she could do to help herself get well.

As rehabilitation professionals, we must be sensitive to the communication needs of our consumers and espescially to the needs of those persons with the most difficult communication problem - those who are deaf-blind. For the rehabilitation process to be most effective, the professional and the consumer must communicate directly. Under both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act, as amended, rehabilitation professionals are responsible for ensuring effective communication for consumers with disabilities. Since few professionals have the skills to communicate directly with people who are deaf-blind, interpreters provide the link to enable real communication to occur. Qualified interpreters - those who have not only interpreting skills but also skills in working with people who are deaf-blind - are a workable solution. The use of qualified interpreters gives some assurance that we are providing the most appropriate services.

Why use an interpreter? There are two main issues pertaining to obtaining interpreters for consumers. The first is the communication itself; the second is confidentiality.


ADA requires agencies to provide reasonable accommodations so that n person with a disability is treated differently than others because of the absence of "auxiliary aids and services." Auxiliary aids and services would include qualified interpreters for people who are deaf-blind.

It is not unusual for a consumer to come to the office accompanied by a friend or family member, and it is most tempting for the service provider to use that person as an interpreter. After all, the friend may already know how to communicate with the consumer. The service provider may think, "Why not use that skill rather than go through the trouble of finding and paying for an interpreter?"

As responsible service providers, we must offer to the consumer the option of a qualified professional interpreter. It may, indeed, be the consumer's choice to use the friend as an interpreter. However, it is the consumer's right and the agency's responsibility to provide an appropriate accommodation. Unless the friend is a certified interpreter, there is no assurance that the friend has the necessary basic skills, much less the specialized skills needed. According to the regulations for ADA, the interpreter must be able to "interpret effectively, accurately and impartially both receptively and expressively, using any necessary specialized vocabulary."(1) The best way to assure this is to use a qualified professional interpreter.


When working with consumers in rehabilitation, confidentiality is of major importance. As it is for people who are deaf, using friends or unqualified interpreters for persons who are deaf-blind is not guaranteed confidentiality. Too often, nonprofessional interpreters have shared with others private information disclosed in an interpreting situation against the wishes of the consumer. The consumer has the right to confidentiality, and using nonprofessional interpreters cannot guarantee confidentiality.

A professional interpreter is bound by a code of ethics to maintain strict confidentiality. As a safeguard, it is advisable for the rehabilitation professional to discuss confidentiality with the interpreter before hiring; this will further ensure that all information or events happening in the interpreting situation will be kept confidential.

What to Look for in an


Interpreters translate speech to the consumer's language or mode of communication, which could be American Sign Language, tactile fingerspelling, or any combination of modes. They also change the consumer's language or mode of communication into spoken language.

The National Registry of Interpreters of the Deaf, Inc. (RID) provides an interpreter certification program. RID certification entails a testing procedure which assures a high level of interpreting skill with people who are deaf, as well as knowledge of interpreting and interpreter ethics. However, there is no specific certification for interpreters for people who are deaf-blind. Hiring someone certified by RID does not guarantee that the interpreter has the specific skills needed to interpret for those who are deaf-blind.

A qualified interpreter for persons who are deaf-blind must have additional skills, which may be acquired by attending special workshops and training or learning from experience the specific modes of communication used by people who are deaf-blind. The interpreter must be able to convey the visual information as wen as the auditory to the consumer and to tactually express emotions as well as the message. Knowledge about the use of lighting and distance is important to enable the consumer to use any residual vision to the utmost. The interpreter must also know sighted guide techniques and procedures to use in case of an emergency

Using the Consumer's Mode of Communication. Because of the variance of the vision or hearing loss itself, the age of onset of the disability, and the primary language of the person, there are many modes of communication a person who is deaf-blind may use. Communication may involve using a black felt tip pen to write on white paper or it may require more complex skills, such as tactile fingerspelling or sign language. Assistive devices, such as the Teletouch or TeleBraille, which convert print into renewable Braille, may also be used. The interpreter must be able to communicate using the mode of the consumer's choice.

Conveying Both Auditory and Visual Information. Most interpreters are used to conveying the auditory information, both the spoken word and environmental sounds which are necessary for communication. But when working with a person with both vision and hearing impairments, it is necessary to convey visual information as well. Visual information could be what is on a written handout or on a form to be filled out; or it can be a description of the environment (e.g., who is in the room, how is the meeting room or classroom set up). Such information can be critical for the consumer.

Expressing the Emotional Tone of the Message Tactually. Sometimes the content of the message is shown on the speaker's face or in the tone rather than in just the words. If the interpreter is communicating tactually, merely repeating the words will not always interpret the message accurately For example, repeating only the words "I love shopping" when it is said in a sarcastic manner would completely miscommunicate the content. The interpreter must be aware that the expression of the emotional tone is part of the message and must be communicated on the hands.

Using Lighting and/or Distance to Best Advantage. Some people who are legally blind have some useful vision. They may not be able to drive a car, but if the light is right, they may be able to see an interpreter. Interpreters must know how to use the lighting in a room to the consumer's benefit.

One of the most demanding situations is when there is glare, which can greatly hamper the ability of many people with deaf-blindness to make the most of their residual vision. Unshuttered windows or bright florescent lights may hamper their ability to perceive communication. In setting up the interpreting situation the interpreter must be able to perceive possible problems with glare and to minimize them if possible.

Other people with visual impairments need the interpreter to be at a certain distance, to compensate for their restricted visual field. The interpreter must be aware of this; and, in preparing for the interpreting situation, the interpreter must ensure that the consumer is at a comfortable distance and able to see as much as possible.

Using the Sighted Guide Technique and Emergency Procedures. At times, the interpreter may be responsible for helping the consumer get from one place to another. If the consumer is unable to travel independently, the interpreter must be proficient in the use of the sighted guide technique, which enables him/her to lead the consumer safely from place to place.

In an emergency, such as a fire alarm or tornado alert, there may not be time for the interpreter to explain the situation before leading the consumer to safety. The interpreter should be familiar with the signal which is used to notify deaf-blind persons of emergencies. By drawing an X" with a finger on the consumer's back near the shoulder blade, the interpreter indicates an emergency and instructs the consumer to follow. All will be explained when they are in a safe place.

How to Hire a Qualified


Finding an Interpreter. If possible, the first contact should be the consumer, who may work with one interpreter regularly and can provide all the information necessary to contact and hire him/her.

Most states have an interpreter referral agency. Often, centers for independent living help find interpreters. Also, the local vocational rehabilitation office or educational program may be able to provide a list of interpreters. The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf prints a membership directory which includes interpreters in the United States and Canada and is available through the local RID chapter.

What if you can't find an interpreter? In some areas of the country, there are very few interpreters, and even fewer interpreters trained in working with people who are deaf-blind thus making the interpreter search very difficult. More extreme measures may be necessary, such as expanding the search beyond the immediate area. Some of the resources mentkioned above can help in locating interpreters from surrounding cities who are willing to travel. However, it may be necessary to provide travel reimbursement and lodging.

Long-term planning may be required. In some communities it may be necessary to provide grants for interested persons to attend interpreter training programs.

Interpreters in the area who have not been trained in interpreting for persons who are deaf-blind should request such training from their regional Interpreting Training Project. These federally funded projects provide training in most aspects of interpreting, and interpreting for consumers who are deaf-blind should be available.

When is the best time to start looking? Because ADA has increased the demand for more interpreters, it is becoming much more difficult to locate qualified interpreters quickly Thus, it is important to begin looking for an interpreter as soon as it is decided that an interpreter will be needed. Two weeks to a month ahead is usually enough time. Many hospitals and agencies have contracted with interpreters or hired them full time to fill their interpreting needs.

Who pays for interpreters? In sync with ADA's intent to make programs and services accessible, the service provider is generally the party responsible for paying the interpreter costs, the amount of which should be agreed upon in advance. What the interpreter charges depends on his/her certification and experience and the going rate. Fees can range from $20 to $50 per hour.

Some interpreters have specialized training, such as in interpreting for persons who are deaf-blind and in interpreting in legal and medical situations, and may thus require higher fees. Interpreters may also have a have a 2-or 3-hour service minimum.

In addition, some interpreters charge for mileage to and from the job and most will charge for cancellations within a day or two of the appointment.

In order to get to know the consumer, to be comfortable with the mode of communication used, and to adjust to light and proximity, it is necessary for the interpreter to arrive at the assignment at least 30 minutes early (as should the consumer). The professional will need to arrange and pay for this time.

How many interpreters are needed? Interpreting for persons who are deaf-blind, especially if it involves tactile sign language or fingerspelling, is especially fatiguing. If the interpreting will require more than 45 minutes, it may be necessary to hire two interpreters. If the situation demands continuous interpreting for an extended period of time, interpreters need to change every 20 minutes to lessen fatigue. The method of communication used with the individual also determines when interpreters need to change. There should be at least two interpreters if the assignment will take more than a half hour for tactile interpreting or one hour for less strenuous interpreting.

What the interpreter Needs to

Know in Advance

In hiring an interpreter, the rehabilitation professional needs to provide him/her as much information as possible. The following are some of the items which would help the interpreter prepare for the assignment:

Mode of communication. The interpreter must be informed, in as much detail as possible, about the language or type of communication the consumer uses. If an assistive device is to be used, arrangements should be made for the interpreter to arrive early to ensure it is in working order.

Interpreting situation. It makes a great difference to an interpreter if the situation is a classroom, a board meeting, or an appointment with a medical specialist. The interpreter must be informed if the assignment will require the use of technical or medical vocabulary, or if it necessitates straight interpreting for long periods of time.

Length of assignment. Because some interpreting assignments last only an hour or two, while others may go for several days, it is important that the rehabilitation professional inform the interpreter how long the assignment is expected to last. If an assignment is particularly long, the interpreter may be available only for a portion.

The assignment itself. The professional should provide complete information concerning the address, date and time of the assignment and inform the interpreter if the consumer will be there early so they may work together before the meeting. The telephone number and the name of a contact person can be vital if there is a problem.

In short, the interpreter must know as much as possible of the situation to prepare for the assignment.

How to Work with an


When working with an interpreter, it is important to remember that the interpreter is a communication facilitator, not a participant. He/she is the voice, ears, and eyes of the consumer. When communicating with the consumer, it is important to look directly at the consumer, not at the interpreter. Ideally, one should talk as though the interpreter were not present. Comments like "Tell her. . . " or "What does he think?" must be avoided in favor of speaking directly to the consumer (e.g., "What do you think?").

The interpreter is there to interpret a that is said and should not be expected to honor a request to not interpret par of the conversation. A qualified interpreter will interpret all that is said, including that request.

The speaker need not speak slower unless the interpreter informs the speaker of difficulty or asks for repetition of information. It is possible how ever, since some modes of communication take more time - such as tactile fingerspelling or print on palm - that the communication may be slow.

If the consumer is involved in group setting, members of the group should take turns when speaking s that all information is conveyed. It is impossible for an interpreter to interpreter for more than one person at a time


A qualified interpreter is essential for effective communication and to as sure confidentiality involving a person who is deaf-blind. The professional must search for the interpreter as earl as possible and arrange payment be forehand; he/she must be prepared to provide the interpreter with complete information regarding the assignment and he/she should arrange for the interpreter to arrive early to assure lighting and communication are as easy an effective as possible.

The two ladies mentioned at the star of this article - Sara and Emily - any many more like them, could have bee red much anxiety, fear, and perhaps pain, had a qualified interpreter bee present; and the professionals in those situations could have done their job far more effectively knowing that both consumers were thus empowered to advocate for themselves. Providing skilled qualified interpreters is more than a ethical obligation; under the American with Disabilities Act it is the law.


(1.) Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability by Public Accommodation and in Commercial Facilities, 28 C.F.R. 36.104.

Ms. Raistrick is the Coordinator of Deaf-Blind Services for the Illinois Department of Rehabilitation Services.
COPYRIGHT 1995 U.S. Rehabilitation Services Administration
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Deaf-Blindness
Author:Raistrick, Kathryn L.
Publication:American Rehabilitation
Date:Jun 22, 1995
Previous Article:Increasing independence and freedom with high tech aids and devices.
Next Article:The LIFE program.

Related Articles
An alternative approach to employment for people with deaf-blindness.
Research and technological aids for people who are deaf-blind.
The Helen Keller National Center affiliate program.
Increasing independence and freedom with high tech aids and devices.
A specialized approach to job readiness training.
Deep in the heart of Texas.
Communication issues and strategies for deaf-blind individuals: case studies basic on etiology and language level.
The challenge to independence: severe vision and hearing loss among older adults.
New HKNC Awareness Campaign: In the Dark About People Who are Deaf-Blind?
Orientation and mobility for deaf-blind people.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters