ASL Interpretation Choices

It is often reported that a sign language interpreter’s role is more about on-the-job decision making rather than their ASL interpretation choices. As we blogged in sign language interpreter roles, interpreters are human; therefore, they make human decisions.

Decision Making

Sign language interpreters are inundated with information. For example, in a simple business meeting with several people talking, interpreters must make a choice for whom they will interpret. They cannot follow more than one conversation at a time, so generally the loudest or closest person’s information is interpreted. In this environment, an interpreter cannot interpret everything. This may mean an interpreting team should be used.


Sign language interpreters are always on the go.  When downtime occurs, they need to choose how they spend it. Other than interpreting, a sign language interpreter’s day may include finding their next work location through GPS, arriving at an unfamiliar location, and/or finding the appropriate room.  Eventually, when they finally sit down for a few minutes, they may need to catch up on work and/or life. For example, interpreters waiting in a lobby or waiting room may need to check in with work, use Google to search interpreted terminology, respond to a family member or babysitter, or simply to take a few minutes of downtime before an interpretation begins. Interpreting can be very fast paced.  This does not mean they are lazy or avoiding work. When work begins, a sign language interpreter’s hands could be moving for 2 hours or for a longer undetermined amount of time. Even when interpreters are sitting conversing with a Deaf consumer, or catching up on work, they should always be on the alert to communicate information.

Lack of Proper Support

Interpreters sometimes work in teams. In a situation where two interpreters are needed, but only one is provided, the interpreter may need to take breaks or make decisions on what to interpret and what not to interpret. To ensure equal access to ALL information, be sure to provide any reputable sign language company all pertinent information at scheduling. Not doing due diligence does not release you from liability under ADA laws. Also, if you are paying for interpreting services already, it makes sense to get it right the first time, verses paying for an interpreter to come back at a later time to interpret any deficiencies.

asl interpretation choicesIn a legal setting, such as a courtroom, the same is true. In court, if an interpreter is working alone, they may not be able to interpret everything.  Sometimes summarizing the proceeding is one of the better ASL interpretation choices. The interpreter should not be worn out when it is time for the Deaf client to appear before a judge.  They should instead provide the Deaf consumer important information on how to interact with the judge. For example, if the judge corrects everyone referring to him as “sir” to “Judge Smith,” then the Deaf client needs to know this preference before appearing.

Though it is impossible to learn everything, interpreters need to make quick decisions to meet various work environment cultures. Courtrooms are accurate examples of these quick decisions. Sign language interpreters may need to interact with courtroom staff or the judge in order to get permission to stand in certain areas. If, for any reason, a judge orders the interpreter not to do something, such as interpret, then the interpreter should abide by a judge’s orders.  They must avoid being in contempt of court. Though this is a tough decision, since this violates an interpreter’s code of professional conduct, it is likely unavoidable.  This eliminates the Deaf consumer’s ability to have equal access to communication.  It would be up to the Deaf consumer to file a complaint regarding the court’s decision to restrict access to interpreting services.


Sign language interpretations are filled with multiple quick decisions. All reputable sign language interpreters do their best in the moment to serve Deaf clients with the highest quality ASL interpretation choices. If you have any concerns, reach out to the reputable sign language interpreting firm for guidance.


Additional Resources:

Application of Demand-Control Theory to Sign Language Interpreting


Photo Credit:


MT & Associates | Sign Language Interpreting Practice BBB Business Review