What is a Deaf Interpreter? 

Deaf Interpreters (DI) are highly skilled and trained Deaf professionals who are recognized by and affiliated with provincial agencies such as Ontario Interpreting Services (OIS). A Deaf Interpreter (DI) facilitates communication between a Deaf person, a hearing person and an ASL-English interpreter using their native language, American Sign Language (ASL). A Deaf Interpreter may also facilitate communication between two signed languages. 

The Ontario Association of the Deaf (OAD) Position Paper on Deaf Interpreters (2015)

A Deaf interpreter (DI) uses their native sign language, along with gestures and other communication strategies, to foster culturally and linguistically appropriate interpretation for consumers. In Canada, American Sign Language (ASL) and la Langue des Signes Québécois (LSQ) are the national signed languages used. In addition, Canada also has two regional varieties of signed language – Inuit Sign Language (ISL) and Maritime Sign Language (MSL). 

Deaf Interpreters provide service in a wide variety of settings and situations. These are often settings where the outcomes can have serious and long lasting impacts such as

  • Medical
  • Legal
  • Employment
  • Mental health

Consumers who benefit from the services of a Deaf Interpreter include, but are not limited to

  • Deaf children
  • Individuals with a cognitive challenge
  • Individuals with a physical disability that affects their ability to produce a signed message
  • Deaf and hard of hearing people who have idiosyncratic language use (sometimes referred to as “home signs”)
  • Non-native signers (i.e., newcomers and/or visitors to Canada) who use another signed language

In addition, Deaf consumers with fluent language use may also benefit from the services of a Deaf Interpreter. A Deaf Interpreter possesses a native comprehension of Deaf life experiences, which are unfamiliar to the hearing interpreter. Deaf Interpreters may work as part of a team with a hearing interpreter.

As a team, the interpreters will

  • Ensure that the spoken language message reaches the Deaf consumer in a form that is understandable
  • Ensure that the Deaf consumer’s signed message is conveyed accurately into the spoken language

A Deaf Interpreter may also work without a hearing interpreter. A Deaf Interpreter may work alone or in a group of Deaf Interpreters when

  • Interpreting from one signed language directly into another (this often occurs at national and international conferences and gatherings)
  • Translating between written language and signed language

The Association of Visual Language Interpreters of Canada (AVLIC) is the national professional association for sign language interpreters. Deaf Interpreters who are members of AVLIC are required to follow the Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Professional Conduct which focuses on

  • Professional accountability
  • Professional competence
  • Non-discrimination
  • Integrity in professional relationships
  • Integrity in business practices

(Ontario Association of the Deaf (OAD) Position Paper on Deaf Interpreters, 2015.)

If you are interested in working as a professional Deaf Interpreter, visit AVLIC as a Deaf Interpreter -ASL Version

Booking a Deaf Interpreter (DI)

Whether you are contracting with an interpreter who operates an independent business or with a referral agency, securing interpreting services is a business transaction. There are a number of factors and terms that need to be discussed and negotiated.

The following factors will help a Deaf Interpreter determine if they are qualified for the assignment

  • The nature of the appointment
  • Availability of adequate preparation materials (information related to the appointment that will help the interpreter prepare)
  • Identities of the individuals involved
  • Composition of the interpreting team
  • The need for related professionals - Deaf Interpreter, Deaf Advocate

If the Deaf Interpreter deems themselves to be qualified, the following terms will need to be confirmed

  • Date, time and location of the appointment
  • Fees
  • Payment for time preparing for the appointment payment for travel expenses/travel time cancellation policy

In some circumstances, it may be useful to have a signed service agreement outlining mutually agreed upon terms. In other circumstances, emails clearly laying out terms prior to confirming the booking may be sufficient. Many Deaf interpreters work as independent contractors. For this reason, there are variations among business practices.

Because of the increasing demand for Deaf interpretation, the availability of many interpreters fills up very quickly. For this reason, OASLI suggests that you contact and secure a Deaf Interpreter a minimum of 2-3 weeks ahead of the actual appointment.

If you are looking for a Deaf Interpreter, please see our Directory of OASLI Interpreters where you can search alphabetically for OASLI members.