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ASL: How to Use a Tele-Interpreter for a Phone Call

Tele-interpreting, which utilizes the help of American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters, is still a reliable form of communication even though it isn’t as common as it used to be. Tele-interpreting continues to be viable because not all Deaf people have immediate access to communication devices, and machines tend to break down every now and then.

Understanding the role of Sign language interpreters

A Sign language interpreter is a person who conveys information from spoken English into ASL and vice versa. Many interpreters test for competency certification. Part of the test is understanding and following the code of ethics of Sign language interpreters. Confidentiality is the most important part of this code; if an interpreter reveals information that he or she has learned while interpreting, a formal complaint can be filed with the organization that issues the certification, and that complaint will be investigated.

Most interpreters who are nationally certified have been issued certification from the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID). Interpreters are also certified through the National Association of the Deaf (NAD). Certified interpreters from both organizations carry wallet-sized cards of verification. Noncertified interpreters are usually working toward being certified.

Using an interpreter for telephone conversations

Interpreting a phone conversation for a Deaf person is usually done when a Deaf person needs to give or receive information:

  • The interpreter as middle-man: When the phone is dialed and someone responds, the interpreter signs to the Deaf person that someone has answered. The Deaf person identifies him- or herself and says that he or she is speaking through an interpreter. A delay always occurs while the Deaf person is signing and the interpreter is visually reading the signed information. This silence may seem a little awkward, but it’s necessary. When the Deaf person is finished, he or she indicates that the conversation has ended by saying good-bye to the other party.

  • An earpiece that’s connected to the phone: Used by Deaf people who have speech capabilities but need an interpreter to receive information. This process is usually done with a Deaf person and a hearing person. The interpreter listens to the conversation through the earpiece and then signs to the Deaf person what the other party is saying. Again, the Deaf person terminates the conversation when he or she is ready.

    At no point is the interpreter to intervene with any opinion or advice. The conversation should take place without the interpreter being an active participant in the actual conversation.

Telephone interpreting can become a complicated process if the interpreter begins the process without any foreknowledge of what the Deaf person is trying to accomplish. Most Deaf people let the interpreter know the reason for the call. The Deaf person then dials the number, and the interpreter begins the process.

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