ASL Sign Language Interpreters Wait Outside the Room

Medical ASL sign language interpreters have many responsibilities while on the job besides the sign language interpretation. As mentioned in a previous blog:

“The role of a sign language interpreter is to provide equal access to communication between D/deaf and Hard of Hearing (HOH) patients and medical staff.  It is also to support D/deaf-HOH medical staff to communicate with patients who can hear.”

ASL sign language interpreter waiting room

Sign language interpreters should not be in D/deaf-Hard of hearing (HOH) patients’ rooms unless communication is occurring between medical staff and patients. There are many reasons why this protocol is followed.

Possible Liability

  • It protects the sign language interpreter from liability if something would occur while being alone with a D/deaf patient. If something would occur with the sign language interpreter present it would also occur without them present and this is equal access.

NOT Medical Staff

  • The sign language interpreter cannot “watch” the D/deaf patient.  They are experts in ASL and D/deaf culture.  They are not able to provide their opinions regarding patients.  Therefore, watching them without medical personnel in the room is unnecessary.

Mental Exhaustion

  • ASL/sign language interpreting is very complex.  Sign language interpreters need a break, and should be used when necessary. They should not be worn out when actual sign language interpretation on vital medical discussions or therapy occurs. When a sign language interpreter is in a patient’s room, even when not providing a voice or sign interpretation, their brain is busy collecting information for processing. ASL/sign language interpreters must always be aware of their surroundings.  This way they can interpret “anything they hear” to a D/deaf patient. For example, the sign language interpreter will interpret an argument between the neighboring patient and their spouse. This is equal access to the information that the hearing people are also experiencing. Depending on the extent of the assignment an interpreting team may be required.

Equal Access

  • Sign language interpreters usually get into the field because they love working with people.  They do not avoid comforting D/deaf patients because they are “lazy.” Sign language interpreters, though very savvy in ASL, are not experts in comforting D/deaf patients. In fact, if comforting patients was part of the role of an interpreter, technically they would need to comfort each patient in the facility to provide “equal” access to all patients. Comforting should be the role of the social worker or chaplain as the experts.

ASL/sign language interpreters should be available and not exhausted for specialist experts to do their work and interact with the D/deaf patient. Social workers, chaplains, and other personnel are trained on how to handle patient concerns. ASL/sign language interpreters, though can seem very qualified, are NOT a substitute. The goal of the sign language interpretation is to provide equal access to communication to build and enhance the relationship between the medical staff and the D/deaf or HOH patient.  Its role is not to develop a relationship with the ASL/sign language interpreter.

Additional Resources:

Managing Waiting Time

Photo Credit:

MT & Associates | Sign Language Interpreting Practice BBB Business Review