What is a “qualified” interpreter?

The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a qualified interpreter as “an interpreter who is able to interpret effectively, accurately, and impartially both receptively and expressively, using any necessary specialized vocabulary.” A sign language interpreter is a skilled professional who facilitates communication between individuals who do not share the same language.


The interpreter must be able to receptively understand the Deaf consumer in order to properly articulate the message into a spoken language, additionally, the Interpreter must be able to interpret expressively in a manner most readily understood by the Deaf consumer so as to keep the content/intent of the spoken message.

Who is responsible to contact, provide and pay for the interpreter?

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates that all public and private entities who provide services to the general public, must also be accessible to individuals with disabilities. Consequently, it is the place of business that provides those services that is responsible for contacting, providing & paying for interpreter services. Providing an interpreter for a Deaf or Hard of Hearing client/patient is no different than having to install a ramp for individuals in wheelchairs so they able to access your facility.


Title II – State and Local Governments


Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires state and local governments to make their programs, services, and activities accessible to individuals with disabilities, including individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.


Title III – Public Accommodations (Businesses)


Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires businesses open to the public to ensure that individuals with a disability have equal access to all that the businesses have to offer. ADA Title III covers a wide range of places of public accommodation, including retail stores and the wide range of service businesses such as hotels, theaters, restaurants, doctors’ and lawyers’ offices, optometrists, dentists, banks, insurance agencies, museums, parks, libraries, day care centers, recreational programs, social service agencies, and private schools. It covers both profit and non-profit organizations. Unlike the employment section of the ADA, which only applies to employers with 15 or more employees, ADA Title III applies to all businesses, regardless of size.

What if a deaf or hard of hearing person requests a specific interpreter?

Often times, Deaf or Hard of Hearing individuals will feel most comfortable with, and prefer one or maybe two interpreters.  They generally request that interpreter for most or all of their appointments. Understanding and being understood is vital to effective communication and request should be respected.  We at GFIS understand this connection and will make every effort, if requested, to provide the interpreter of choice.

Why can’t the Deaf person just bring a family member or friend to interpret?

Using a Deaf individual’s family member or friend to interpret may seem reasonable and convenient, but it is not advisable for several reasons:


  • Relatives and friends have an emotional connection with the individual which can affect objectivity and impartiality, ultimately preventing accurate communication from taking place.
  • The Deaf patient/consumer may not feel comfortable to express feelings freely with a relative or friend present.
  • That friend or relative will be put in a position of performing two roles.
  • Using a relative or friend could very well compromise the patient’s right to privacy and confidentiality.


There is no guarantee that a family member or friend has the adequate language skills for communicating effectively in a variety of settings outside of the home.


It is essential that the agency hire a certified and/or qualified interpreter. This way you and the Deaf consumer know that communication will be interpreted both accurately and impartially abiding by the interpreter’s Code of Professional Conduct.

Someone in our office knows Sign Language, is it alright to have them interpret?

Interpreting is a very complex undertaking that requires more than just knowing “some sign language”. The process of interpreting a message from one language to another requires a high level of proficiency in both languages. A coworker, or someone who is responsible for other duties in your workplace, should not be put in the position of interpreting for a Deaf colleague or customer, as it takes away from their ability to perform their own assigned duties. Furthermore, you will have no guarantee of quality, accuracy, or confidentiality of information when using a person who works in your office. In many cases, more damage has been done by a “signer” who is just trying to help out, which then requires more extensive interpreting time to repair the misunderstandings caused by not calling a professional interpreter in the first place.

Why do I need to hire two interpreters?

Depending upon the length and complexity of the assignment, a second interpreter may be necessary if the assignment lasts more than 90 minutes. Interpreting can be both physically and mentally exhausting, requiring a great deal of endurance.  Research shows that an interpreters “production” begins to decline after approximately 20 minutes of interpreting. Moreover, repetitive motion injuries among sign language interpreters is extremely high.  When interpreters are working in a team setting, they tend to interpret in increments of 15 to 20 minutes. Interpreter teams are set up as a “primary interpreter” and a “supportive interpreter”. The role of the primary interpreter is to interpret the message while the role of the supporting interpreter is to monitor the overall setting and to support the primary interpreter when necessary.

What is the difference between a “signer” and an “interpreter”?

A person who has taken a few basic sign language classes or who has been taught some sign language by a Deaf friend or relative is considered to be a “signer”. That person is able communicate with people who are deaf on a basic or possibly even on a fluent level but have not received adequate interpreter training.  Most professional interpreters have been through some type of formal training such as an Interpreter Training Program, advanced interpreting classes, and/or interpreting workshops. Professional interpreters have also been evaluated with skill and knowledge assessments and/or evaluations.

Why do I need to provide an interpreter, can’t we just write back and forth?

Written communication is not always an effective auxiliary aide for every deaf or hard of hearing individual. The “native language” of most deaf individuals is, typically, American Sign Language. The linguistic structure of ASL is very different from that of the English language. If a Deaf or Hard of Hearing person has used written communication in the past with you, it may have been because they were unaware of their rights to have an interpreter present, or because they may have felt comfortable with the subject matter and situation at that time. In most situations it is best to utilize a sign language interpreter to ensure effective communication and reduce the chance of misunderstandings for all involved.

For more information about the Americans with Disabilities Act, please visit