Professional Ethics (Code of Conduct) for Sign Language Interpreters

Sign language interpreting goes beyond facilitating access to communication.  The service is also a conglomeration of decision making.  Interpreters are bound to a Professional Code of Conduct, formerly known as a Code of Ethics.  As you will find, professional ethics are intentionally “gray” and will always be up for debate depending on each situation.professional ethics

Decoding Ethics

The Professional Code of Conduct, because of its vagueness, can be confusing for many interpreters.  This does get easier with experience, however, when sign language interpreters have learned to approach professional ethics appropriately.  Each interpreting experience and client is different.  An ambiguous code of ethics assists interpreters in making the most appropriate decision based on each job to which they are assigned.  For example, in most instances, waiting outside a medical room when no interpreting is required is standard.  Waiting outside, however, may not always be feasible in an emergency room setting due to several medical staff coming in and out of the room at unknown times.

Remaining Neutral

It may also be a challenge for sign language interpreters to adhere to professional ethics if they know a D/deaf client personally.  The D/deaf client may be a close peer or friend blurring the lines of professionalism.  It is vital that interpreters be neutral and not judge any person based on their language needs.  Sign language interpreters must carefully select jobs based on their ability to stay neutral as well as their relationship to the client.  For example, interpreters need to be able to interpret an abortion, funeral, or the birth of a baby.  If they cannot remain neutral (i.e. faint at the sight of blood), they should not accept the job regardless of their situation.

Sufficient Information to Assign an Interpreter

When working with a reputable sign language interpreting firm, an agency will evaluate each job on a case by case basis in order to adhere to appropriate ethics.  Sign language interpreters know themselves best and must also evaluate each interpreting request.  For example, an interpreter may be requested to interpret an abortion for a D/deaf client.  The interpreter would need to be informed about the nature of the appointment so they can accept or decline based on their ability to remain neutral.  If the D/deaf patient specially requested the interpreter by name, this must be considered as well.  The patient may want someone familiar to interpret an assignment of such a sensitive nature.

At the end of the day, as interpreters, it is not about you or the money you will get paid.  It is about the quality and professionalism of service to the D/deaf and hearing clients that is priority.  For more on Professional Ethics, see our blog sign language interpreter self-care and personal life changes of a sign language interpreter.

Additional resources:

RID Code of Ethics


Photo Credit:

MT & Associates | Sign Language Interpreting Practice BBB Business Review