Frequently Asked Questions

How can I prepare to work with sign language interpreters?

When placing a request for services, your event will be assessed based on several factors including but not limited to the subject matter, environment, parties involved, and the history or background information.  Please be prepared to provide this information when placing a request.  Depending on the type of event, you may also be asked to provide preparation materials such as an agenda, presentation materials, scripts/set lists, and more.  Once your event has been assessed, a representative will assist you with further guidance.

Someone on our staff knows sign language.  Can that person interpret for us?

Allowing someone who is not current in the studies and practice of professional interpreting to work in the role of interpreter is risky for all parties involved. Additionally, the party responsible for ensuring that communication is accessible will be held liable for the interpreting work of the hired interpreter.  That means they will be responsible for the ramifications of any errors in their interpretations. In some cases, an unqualified person working in the role of interpreter may be a violation of state licensure laws.

Interpreting requires specialized expertise. A common misunderstanding is that an interpreter only need have language skills in each of the languages. Language skills alone are not sufficient for an individual to do the work of a professional interpreter. Interpreting is a complex process where a high degree of linguistic, cognitive, and technical skill are needed; it requires physical and cognitive stamina, endurance, the ability to emotionally handle the situation, portray the intent and emotion of the people talking, and adhere to confidentiality. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires the provision of qualified  interpreters in a variety of settings. It states that "To satisfy this requirement, the interpreter must have the proven ability to effectively communicate...". One important measure of an interpreter’s proven ability is professional credentials. The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc. (RID) provides testing for national certification.

My patient’s insurance is responsible for the cost of interpreting services, right?

Not typically. You can find the answers to common questions regarding health care providers and the ADA at

How does the privacy rule of HIPAA apply when I need to hire interpreters?

Interpreters are bound by the same regulations. When hiring an interpreter to provide services as a means for you and your staff to provide medical care, the interpreter/interpreting service provider becomes a part of the covered entity.  The privacy rule of HIPAA (PL 104-191) permits the disclosure of protected health information to interpreters/interpreting service providers.  Depending on the business relationship with the interpreter/interpreting service provider, you may need to execute a business associate contract. (see more information)

Is sign language really a language?

Yes, American Sign Language (ASL) is a distinct visual-gestural-kinesthetic language. While it borrows elements from spoken English and old French sign language, it has unique grammatical, lexical and linguistic features of its own.
Other common forms of signed communication used in the United States, some of which are referred to as signed codes and signing systems, are
Signed Exact English (SEE), Manually Coded English (MCE), Conceptually Accurate Signed English (CASE), and Pidgin Signed English (PSE), also referred to as Contact Sign.

Is sign language universal?

No, American Sign Language is no more universal than any spoken language. American Sign Language (ASL) is the language used by a majority of people in the Deaf communities of the United States, most of Canada, certain Caribbean countries, and areas of Mexico. Other areas of the world use various signed languages.

A common misconception is that signed languages are dependent of a relative spoken languages - meaning the signed language is the spoken language in gesture form.  Signed languages are developed like any other language in the world. For example, people in Britain and people in the United States both speak English, with some variance, but American Sign Language (ASL) and British Sign Language (BSL) are very different. 

Also, there are countries where there are multiple spoken languages, but only one spoken language.  And some with one spoken language, but multiple signed languages. 

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