A Shortage of Qualified Sign Language Interpreters in St. Louis

In the state of Missouri there have been recent discussions over the past few years regarding a shortage of qualified sign language interpreters in St. Louis.  Just as weight gain is often only associated with not exercising, people attempt to blame this shortage on one culprit; however, until we fully understand the community we cannot understand it’s solution.

A Community Reaction

Potentially having a shortage of qualified sign language interpreters in St. Louis or any market causes an initial feeling of fear, and rightfully so.  Not having qualified sign language interpreters in any setting can have severe consequences. Consider just a few of the potential situations the Deaf community will have to navigate without equal access to communication:

  1. Illness, such as the flu, that requires immediate physician intervention
  2. Job interviews
  3. Parent teacher conferences
  4. Legal representation
  5. Education at any level
  6. Serious medical emergency

No matter the setting, there is no doubt that having a shortage of qualified sign language interpreters is a problem.

What is the real problem?Shortage of Qualified Sign Language Interpreters in St. Louis

I suggest the problem of the shortage of qualified sign language interpreters in St. Louis is an accumulation of many things that have changed in our community over recent years.  Let’s review a few potential culprits in relation to the St. Louis, Missouri Market:

  1. The state of Missouri has modified its laws to eliminate fewer qualified interpreters (referred to as Level 1 and Level 2 interpreters). This didn’t decrease qualified interpreters it eliminated unqualified interpreters from working, so this shouldn’t affect the shortage. (See Skill Level Standards)
  2. Sign language interpreters are graduating from interpreter training programs and can pass their certification tests, but they lack the time to experience the various contexts in which we interpret. They can interpret under the restrictions of the law; however, they are not always “qualified.”
  3. Increase in competition from out of state, local, and markets of various expertise (foreign language). This have various impacts to the local St. Louis, MO market.  Consider,
    • several BBQ restaurants open on the same corner. Not only will the competition for the customers be a concern, but it would also be harder to acquire qualified employees to fill the demand.
    • if there are enough qualified employees, but each of them work for each of the several BBQ restaurants and work various schedules in which the other has no control. One night just one of the BBQ restaurants has an employee call in sick.  They attempt to contact several of the other employees but they are working for the competitor and you’re unable to move shift around to meet your demand.


The topic of the St. Louis and Missouri market having a shortage of qualified sign language interpreters stems from many ideas.  The current quickest and most impactful solution is reduction in competition.  This concept enables:

  1. local sign language interpreting firms and interpreters to stabilize rates and standards,
  2. streamlined scheduling,
  3. reduction in admin tasks for sign language interpreters (ie: invoicing 10 agencies verses 3) and frees up their time to interpret,
  4. experts to develop in our field with streamlined standards and practices, and
  5. resources to combined to create a larger community impact.
  1. Purchase from local St. Louis sign language interpreting firms.
  2. When purchasing sign language interpreting services choose sign language interpreting experts and not out of market providers (ie: foreign language providers).
  3. Sign language interpreters should work for just a few local interpreting companies and resist the desire to spread themselves thin.
  4. Consider modifying current interpreter training programs or prepare advanced coursework for their continuing education. (Note: This is easier done when more resources can be combined to create a greater community impact).
  5. Working as a community to resolve concerns


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MT & Associates | Sign Language Interpreting Practice BBB Business Review