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What is American Sign Language?

Interpreting Hands picture

American Sign Language is a natural language that serves as the predominant sign language of Deaf communities in the United States

and most of Anglophone Canada.


ASL is a complete and organized visual language that is expressed

by facial expressions as well as movements and motions with the hands.


ASL has its own grammatical rules, sentence structure and cultural nuances. 

Who is a Sign Language Interpreter?

A sign language interpreter is a professional who is fluent in two or more (sign) languages and interprets between a source language and a target language, and mediates across cultures.


The interpreter's task is to facilitate communication in a neutral manner, ensuring equal access to information and participation.

What does a Sign Language Interpreter do?

A Sign Language Interpreter must become familiar with the subject matter that the speaker will discuss; a task that may involve research on topic-related words and phrases.  Sign language interpreting, like spoken language interpreting, involves more than simply replacing a word of spoken English with a signed representation of that English word. 


Interpreting is a complex process that requires a high degree of linguistic, cognitive and technical skills in both English and American Sign Language. Because of the need for intense concentration, and the physical demands of the work, interpreters work in pairs, if the duration exceeds 2 hours, with each interpreting in 20 to 30 minute segments. 

What information is needed?

It is the interpreter’s sole responsibility to enable deaf individuals the opportunity to communicate freely with hearing individuals. In order to do this, they must be given enough information about a particular assignment to allow them to determine if it is a situation where they can perform professionally. Content may be shared so the interpreter can determine if she or he has sufficient knowledge, or skill, to adequately convey the information in both languages.

Why hire an Interpreter?

When a deaf individual expresses the need for a sign language interpreter, it is the sole responsibility of the entity providing services to accommodate that request.

Quality of interpreting service is determined by all parties involved.


Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, payment for interpreting services falls to the host business or organization rather than the deaf individual.


Links for more information on Interpreting and the law: ADAHIPPA & Rehabilitation Act

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