Information for Businesses About Providing an Interpreter

Frequently Asked Questions for Sign Language Network of Kentucky (SLNofKY)

Why do I need to hire an interpreter?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 mandates that a comprehensive variety of public and private services as well as employers must be accessible to all people, regardless of disability. When dealing with people who are Deaf, Deaf-blind, or hard of hearing, this means that communication must be accessible. In many cases, the best way to ensure this is to have an interpreter.
When do I need to use an interpreter?
An interpreter may be used any time communication is occurring between people who do not share the same language. Deaf, Deaf-blind, and hard of hearing people may not have access to information if it is presented in English, either verbally or in writing. Some simple communications (for example, between a Deaf customer and a clerk in a store) can be done through written notes or gestures, but any time important content is being communicated, having an interpreter present safeguards the participants by ensuring that information is accessible to both parties.
Who is required to pay for an interpreter?
The ADA states that all public and private agencies that provide services to the general public, and all employers with 15 or more employees, must be accessible. This means that, if your agency, service, or business is accessible to people without disabilities, it must be accessible to people with disabilities. Additionally, companies with 15 or more employees must follow fair hiring and employment practices when considering candidates with disabilities. (However, the ADA is superceded in Washington State by RCW, which covers employers with 8 or more employees.) Therefore, it is the agency, service, or business which is responsible for payment for interpreting services.
Isn't it expensive to provide interpreting services?
Interpreting services should be budgeted as part of your annual planning for accessibility services. It is true that, on a per-encounter basis, you may pay more for interpreting services than you generate in revenue for your company. However, if you consider the cost over the course of a year as an overhead cost of doing business, providing accessible services is quite reasonable.
Will I have to pay a minimum charge?
You will be asked to pay usually a one or two hour minimum charge for interpreting services. Because interpreters come to you, on your schedule, their fees have to take into account the amount of time spent traveling between jobs, wait time for the next assignment to start, and down time when no work is available. Additionally, mileage and/or travel time is sometimes charged, depending on how far the interpreter has to travel to your assignment.
What if I have to cancel my request?
When you schedule an interpreter, you are purchasing his/her time. If you have to cancel your request, it may or may not be possible to sell that time to another customer. Please be sure to ask about our cancellation policy when requesting an interpreter.
How much advance notice do I need to give you to get an interpreter?
There’s never too much advance notice! Interpreters are a scarce resource, and often the demand exceeds the supply. Because interpreters come to you, on your schedule, we must juggle many customers’ needs to try to accommodate as many requests as possible. The farther in advance you can plan appointments, trainings, or meetings where you will be using an interpreter, the better. However, if you have a last minute need, don’t despair. Often another customer will cancel interpreting services at the last minute, freeing up an interpreter’s time for your last minute request.
What does it take to become an interpreter?
Interpreting is a complex task, requiring near-native language skills in at least two languages, as well as a deep knowledge of two cultures. A skilled interpreter should provide the full content of an interaction between two or more people who do not share the same language. This often requires exposure to and understanding of the information that is being transmitted, as well as interpreting skills. Most interpreters have studied American Sign Language for two to five years, plus one to three years of interpreter training. They are required to continue expanding their skills on an annual basis.
How do I know an interpreter is qualified?
There are national testing systems in place to evaluate an interpreter’s skills. All SLNofKY’s interpreters (except apprentices) have passed the national examination administered by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc. (RID), which tests knowledge of culture, ethics, and interpreting skills. This is a very rigorous examination which guarantees a minimum level of competency. Additionally, since SLNofKY is owned and managed by experienced interpreters, all our interpreters are screened to determine their level of skills before being placed on assignments. Of course, no one interpreter can be qualified for every situation, so SLNofKY’s scheduler has the responsibility to gather as much information about your assignment as possible to determine which of our interpreters will best meet your needs.
What guarantees do I have that my interpreter will behave ethically?
All RID certified interpreters are required to follow the RID Code of Ethics
This Code of Ethics requires that interpreters behave in a manner appropriate to their position, e.g. interpreters may not add to, omit, or change the message they are interpreting; all assignment-related information must remain confidential; interpreters will use their judgment when accepting assignments; no personal opinions or advice can be interjected while interpreting. If you feel an interpreter has behaved unethically, you can contact RID to find out how to file a grievance against that interpreter
Why do I have to have two interpreters for my assignment?
Interpreting is a very taxing activity, both mentally and physically. Research has shown that an interpreter’s ability to mentally process the message and interpret it accurately diminishes drastically after approximately 20 minutes of interpreting. Worse, the interpreter is usually unaware that his or her accuracy has decreased, so misinformation is being unwittingly transmitted. Additionally, the rate of repetitive motion injuries among sign language interpreters is very high (some studies have shown over 60% of interpreters suffering some injuries that require medical treatment). Therefore, when an assignment is over 1-2 hours, two interpreters will be scheduled; they will spell each other approximately every 20 minutes, to ensure that the message is interpreted accurately for the full length of your assignment. SLNofKY’s scheduler will assist you in determining the appropriate number of interpreters needed.
Someone in my office knows sign language. Can I have that person interpret for us?
Interpreting is a very complex task that requires more than just knowing some sign language. The process of translating a message from one language to another requires a high level of proficiency in both languages, as well as knowing principles of accurate interpretation. 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 his/her ability to perform his/her assigned duties. Additionally, there is no guarantee of quality, accuracy, or confidentiality of information when using a person who works in your office or workplace. In many cases, more damage has been done by a “signer” who is trying to help out, requiring more extensive interpreting time to repair the misunderstandings caused by not calling in an interpreter the first time!