Sign Language Interpreter Behavior Impacts Customers

Putting the “Human” back in Human Services
~ By Shelly Tisius


Working in a human services industry has a lot of responsibilities.  Not only must sign language interpreters ensure an accurate message but they must also balance the power they have over the outcome of the situation.  This is done through moment by moment choices they make before, during, and after their work.  Sign language interpreter behavior impacts customers far more than either party may even realize.

A Trip to ChicagoSign Language Interpreter Behavior Impacts Customers

A few weeks ago my husband, two year old daughter, and I went to Chicago.  We stayed downtown so that we could enjoy city life.  We wanted to walk everywhere, appreciate the diversity the city has to offer, and avoid driving in Chicago at all costs.

Having a toddler in a big city made me much more aware of my surroundings and increased my parental sense on safety.  This meant I watched each person as we passed and stayed engaged with my toddler.  Passing strangers on the sidewalks, my husband and I often make eye contact and say good day.

What Happened

Sometimes as busy adults we tend to lose the awareness of people other than ourselves, but toddlers see the world through new eyes.  In downtown Chicago it is not uncommon to see people holding signs saying “homeless” or that they would take anything we could provide them.

One afternoon I noticed a man walking towards us.  He was unclean, his clothes were not mended, and he walked with pure sadness on his face.  I kept my eyes on him as he got closer, and I grew sad wondering what he must be experiencing.  His demeanor affected me.  Then he suddenly stopped, his face lit up, his eyes got big, he looked down.  He started to wave with the excitement of a child approaching their favorite super hero.  What could have changed this man’s demeanor so quickly?  My toddler did not notice the man’s lack of cleanliness or type of clothing, but she did notice his sadness and began to wave.  She showed him her biggest smile.  This literally took my breath away, and “word on the street” is that I may have teared up a bit.

The Take-Away

Originally, I took on the burdens of this man as he passed.  He affected me, and this likely affected how I acted around my family.  When I relive the light in that man’s eyes I cannot help but tear up all over again.   My toddler literally took away this man’s sadness for a couple of minutes on the sidewalk, and changed the dynamic of our interactions.

All sign language interpreters should leave each job, not beating themselves up, but considering ways in which their behavior impacted the outcome positive or negative. This way they improve each future interaction.  We did not interact with the gentleman in downtown Chicago, we did not talk to him, we did not provide him food, we did not provide him money, and we did not provide him interpreting services.  We simply provided him a stop, smile, and a wave.

Disclaimer: Any religious views and opinions expressed in the following video are those of the authors and do not
necessarily reflect the official policy or position of MT&A. Information contained here is only used as an example for teaching purposes.

Eating Twinkies With God

Brighten the world for one individual and you brighten the world! Like Meir Kay on FacebookJoin Me On Instagram: @MeirKayThanks Joris Reynaud for filming.

Posted by Meir Kay on Thursday, March 16, 2017


How are you interacting with customers and clients?  Sign language interpreter behavior impacts customers both Hearing and Deaf more than we may ever know.  Our socializing and etiquette also impact interactions.


Photo Credit:

MT & Associates | Sign Language Interpreting Practice BBB Business Review