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Academic Paper - Importance of Sign Language Interpreters for Deaf Clients

History, Roles, Responsibilities and Relationships

By Jenelle Rouse and Ann Barrow, Ph.D

Updated June 19, 2009

to discuss privately my concerns over 'this and that', things I do not like and wish changed. I then offer alternatives for us to agree on." It should be noted that SL interpreters have the same right to be treated with respect by their clients. Mike's earlier statement, "I am not a machine," bears repeating. Neither party is to mistreat the other, but is responsible to communicate respectfully and professionally.

According to Cynthia B. Roy (1995), a SL Interpreter's role can be defined as professional if one has the following:

  • Complete fluency in two languages (in this case, American Sign Language and English)
  • Interpretation skills
  • A wide general knowledge
  • A knowledge of the field in which he/she interprets
  • Bicultural sensitivity, and
  • A highly developed sense of professionalism (137).
Roy's list encourages Deaf clients to approach the hiring of a SL Interpreter with confidence knowing their right to professional etiquette and treatment. The relationship between SL Interpreters and clients work effectively when both parties are familiar with the boundaries and codes of conduct governing them.

According to "Sylvia," a SL Interpreter: "Most conflict comes from consumers not knowing what my job is (or isn't!). This seems to arise from more hearing consumers than Deaf. Most Deaf know about interpreters and don't push the boundaries. Some hearing consumers become uncomfortable with me and the Deaf person, whereby the hearing become awkward, even demanding sometimes."

Yet, the boundaries do get crossed. For example, when the professional distance begins to be transformed into a personal relationship. This arises for many SL Interpreters working with Deaf clients (as well as hearing clients) as Sylvia emphasizes: "The longer you work with someone the harder it becomes to maintain a professional, detached stance. You can't help but get to know the people you work with, and often the Deaf consumer will talk with the interpreters more than the hearing people (and vice versa), which only deepens their bond."

Developing a mutual regard is not to be seen as something disadvantageous to either party since it often creates a sense of human connectedness to the other world desired by either the hearing or Deaf client. Such a growing appreciation for each other's different world is made possible by the interpreter. The interpreter's personal involvement, as long as it is within the confines of professional decorum, may benefit the hearing or Deaf client.


SL Interpreters are hired solely to facilitate the communication between hearing and Deaf clients. As a matter of fact, while hearing and Deaf persons converse, SL Interpreters need not be noticed, but treated as non-existence or invisible after the initial acknowledgments and introductions have been exchanged. Issues (in Canada) relative to SL interpreters include: government cutbacks, significant lack of students being attracted to the profession, lack of qualified SL interpreters and the demand on the part of the hearing and the Deaf world for interpreters.


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AVLIC. (2006). Association of Visual Language Interpreters of Canada. July 2000. <http://avlic.ca/Code%20of%20Ethics.pdf>
Bryman, Alan. (2004). Social Research Methods 2nd Edition. NewYork: Oxford University Press.
Butterworth, Rob R. and Flodin, Mickey. (1995). The Perigee Visual Dictionary of Signing. New York: A Perigee Book.
Canadian Hearing Society. (2006). "Ontario Interpreter Services." 14 April 2006.<http://www.chs.ca/services/ois1.html>
Carroll, Lewis. Alice In Wonderland (1869). IIIust. Ralph Steadman. New York: C. N. Potter, 1973.
Howell, David. (2003). "Cancelled Course a ‘Huge Loss’ for Deaf: Sign Language Interpreters Already in Short Supply." Cityplus. 5 June 2003.<http://www.asu.edu/educ/epsl/LPRU/newsarchive/Art2467.txt>
Humphrey, Janice H., and Alcorn, Bob J. (1995). So You Want To Be An Interpreter? An Introduction to Sign Language Interpreting. 2nd Edition. Texas: H & H Publishers.
Kanda, Jan. (1989). What makes a "Good" Interpreter?" Convention, Northern California.
Koob, Martin (1996). "Looking to the Future: Becoming a Professional." The AVLIC News, 10 (2), 14.
Lane, Harlan, Hoffmeister, Robert and Bahhan, Ben. (1996). A Journey into the Deaf World. New York: DawnSignPress.
OASLI. Ontario Association of Sign Language Interpreters. (2006). OASLI Documents. Milton, Canada. <http://www.oasli.on.ca/Working%20Folder/documents.htm>
Roy, Cynthia B. (1993). "The Problem with Definitions, Descriptions and the Role Metaphors of Interpreters." Journal of Interpretation. 127-154.
Stratiy, Angela. (1996). "Are you Satisfied with Interpreters?" Deaf Canada, 2 (3), 2-3.
Taylor, Marty. (1988). "Sign Language Interpreters Education in Canada." Papers from the 1988 Conference of the Association of Visual Language Interpreters of Canada. Edmonton: AVLIC.

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