Sign Language Interpreters in Work Environments

You may be uncertain or uncomfortable when a sign language interpreter is transplanted into your work environment.  Whether it be a medical office, patient facility, or business it is not uncommon for hearing staff feel unsure of what to do when a sign language interpreter is present.  Sign language interpreters in work environments are simply there to provide equal access to communication. Let’s look at some specifics:work environments with sign language interpreter

  1. Sign language interpreters in work environments adapt easily in various types of work spaces, generally learning quickly about an environment to provide immediate equal access to communication for hearing and Deaf employees.When using a reputable sign language interpreting firm, rest assured that interpreters do not have interest in business proprietary information except to provide the most accurate interpretation. See number 5 regarding proprietary business information.
    • Sign language interpreters may ask questions about your business so that they can provide the most accurate interpretation. For example, the Deaf staff member may know the basics of what will be discussed in a meeting.  Interpreters should be up to speed in order to ensure an accurate interpretation.
  2. Sign language interpreters in a work environment should get to know the Deaf client.
    • Would you want to walk into a medical office and share your personal health history with someone you have never met? At work, would you want someone to speak or interpret on your behalf during an important business meeting if they do not know what your job role is?  The interpreter and employee may engage in small talk to learn more about each other’s styles and logistics prior to an interpretation beginning.
  3. Sign language interpreters must interpret everything.
    • If you say something that you do not want interpreted, it must be interpreted anyway.  This is equal access to communication. Any fluent interpreter likely already interpreted what you said before you asked them not to interpret it, so you may not be able to take it back.  Learn how to talk to a Deaf coworker.
  4. Learn how to talk with a Deaf coworker using a sign language interpreter.
    • Eye contact is vital in Deaf culture, so keep your eyes on the Deaf person. If you are talking to a Deaf person, look at them and not at the interpreter
    • No need to add “tell him” or “tell her” about the Deaf person.  You may speak normally as you would with any person who can hear. When you say “tell him” or “tell her,” this information must be interpreted to the Deaf person.  This can cause confusion.
    • Speak at a normal pace.  You do not need to stop or slow down for an interpreter. Fluent interpreters can keep up and are savvy on when to stop and ask for clarification, if they are unsure about what you are referring.
    • Interpreters are “invisible” per se, and their purpose is to provide communication among hearing and Deaf staff members. Feel free to say hello, but they will likely halt or interrupt your conversation if they need to interpret for a Deaf employee.
  5. Proprietary business information:
    • Just like HIPAA information is protected, proprietary business information is protected via the interpreters’ code of ethics. This should not be a concern if you hire a reputable local sign language interpreting firm because they manage this carefully.  This allows for you to be able to seek justice in the event something is disclosed.

Working with sign language interpreters in work environments becomes easier and more comfortable over time.  You may want to know more about sign language interpreter role and expectations, or to learn how to communicate with Deaf coworkers.


Additional Resources:

Business Interpreting

Etiquette for Coworkers of Deaf/HOH


Photo Credit:

MT & Associates | Sign Language Interpreting Practice BBB Business Review