Deaf Interpreters | Deaf Awareness Month

Hello, I’m Rogan and welcome. Today I’ll be talking about Deaf interpreters and why they’re a thing, what we do, and situations you’ll find us in. I am a Deaf Interpreter personally, and I specialize in DeafBlind interpreting. Today’s video will be a broad overview of deaf interpreting, I might make a separate video for specializations in this field.

First, what are Deaf interpreters and why do we exist? This term is *not* for interpreters who work with deaf people. It literally means interpreters who are also deaf. If you want to talk about interpreters who work with deaf people, call them ASL interpreters, or if you want to be even more specific, ASL-English interpreters. Deaf interpreters are deaf people who often work in a team with a hearing interpreter. DIs should already have done the required interpreter training, and there is certification that’s not currently available, so many are stuck working without it. They should be fluent in ASL, have in-depth knowledge of the Deaf community and culture. Deaf interpreters work in situations where the hearing interpreter may not have the necessary skills or extralinguistic knowledge to effectively interpret for the deaf consumer. Deaf interpreters tend to have more specialized training and experience in using other methods of communication that are not ASL. We exist because we have lived experience that hearing interpreters will never have, and we already have the skill of adjusting and matching wildly varying communication needs. Hearing interpreters do go through rigorous training, going to college, multiple tests, and so on, but all of that is done in a structured environment where the ASL is standardized and somewhat more formal. This is not a bad thing! You have to learn all of the rules and structure of a language before you can know what rules you can break and when. In a way, Deaf interpreters help bridge that gap between structured/formal ASL and everyday use. As hearing interpreters gain experience, they are more able to handle that gap, but there are some things that they just won’t be able to do without Deaf interpreters. And Deaf interpreters would not be able to do our jobs without hearing interpreters.

Here’s some situations that can go more smoothly with Deaf interpreters. A person who had delay in learning language, so they have unconventional language that a hearing interpreter might struggle to understand. This is a situation that happens very often in the deaf community, and Deaf interpreters often have experience chatting with people like this. Working in K-12 with deaf children who may or may not have language. You know how children sometimes are just impossible to understand or they are saying words, but it’s not “normal” English? That happens with deaf kids, so it can be very difficult to understand, even for Deaf interpreters! Like I said earlier, hearing interpreters learn in a very structured environment. So they’re often not prepared to work with deaf consumers who have additional disabilities, which might be physical, such as cerebral palsy, wheelchair users, having one hand or a different number of fingers, and many more. That might be mental, such as Downs Syndrome (which is also physical), autism, or others that would affect how they communicate. Another situation that Deaf interpreters would be used in is if the deaf consumer is from another country or uses a different language that is not ASL. We often can figure out a way of communicating if they don’t know ASL.

One more thing that I didn’t mention is DeafBlind consumers. They fall into many of the categories I’ve already mentioned. DeafBlind people are just as varied as Deaf people are in communication preferences, access to language, and so on. Some might use only a speaking interpreter, some use tactile ASL which means ASL as usual but with their hands on yours, and some use protactile language. Notice I didn’t say ASL for the last one. That’s because it’s a distinct language of its own, all touch-based. I’m not going to go in-depth about that here, but I just wanted to emphasize that.

There are *so* many different situations where the deaf consumer will benefit from having a deaf-hearing interpreter team. Every time I’ve worked with hearing interpreters, without fail, they say they appreciate having me there because of certain situations that came up that they wouldn’t have known what to do. I appreciate having them there as well, because I wouldn’t be able to do my job! I just wanted to give you a broad look at Deaf interpreters today, so I’m sure there are some things I’ve missed. I’ll either add it in a pinned comment or put it in a future video. If there’s anything that I said in this video that isn’t right, please let me know! I hope you learned something new today!

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Published by Rogan Shannon

Hello there! I'm Rogan, a queer deaf guy who has a passion for leadership and advocacy. I create YouTube videos about a lot of different topics - being deaf, queer, reading, language, and whatever else interests me!

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