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Communicating Through Sign Language Interpreters


Interpreters employed by the Office of Disability Services (ODS) at Texas State University (TXST) are trained, certified professionals who are proficient in American Sign Language (ASL) as well as other methods of visual communication. The national Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) membership established standards of ethical behavior to protect and guide interpreters as well as consumers. TXST recognizes that the term consumer applies to students, faculty and staff. The RID Code of Ethics includes:

  • Interpreters/transliterators shall keep all assignment-related information strictly confidential. Consequently, interpreters cannot answer questions about the student being served and the ODS will not provide the student’s name prior to the first day of class.
  • Interpreters/transliterators shall render the message faithfully, always conveying the content and spirit of the speaker using language most readily understood by the person(s) whom they serve. The interpreter will sign what you or others speak in the room and will voice what the student signs.
  • Interpreters/transliterators shall not counsel, advise or interject personal opinions. For this reason, interpreters must remain neutral during an assignment; they must refrain from participating in discussion.

Interpreter Preparation

In order for an interpreter to provide the most effective interpretation of the lecture, they need to prepare in advance of each class period. Copies of the course syllabus and handouts given in class facilitate this process. Preparation enables the interpreter to review specialized terms and diagrams, and check for the correct spelling of proper names. Some terminology has no specific sign equivalent and requires the interpreter to develop signs that are conceptually accurate.

Interpreting Teams

Depending on the length of a class, it may be necessary to have two interpreters for some classes. Therefore, depending upon availability and assignment load, partners may be assigned. The partners will alternate every 15 to 20 minutes.

Student Absences

An interpreter will wait for 15 minutes outside the classroom for a student to arrive. If the student does not arrive within that timeframe, the interpreter will leave, considering the student a “no-show.” Students are aware of this policy, and know that if they arrive after the 15 minutes, they will be without an interpreter.


Because interpreters communicate visually, it is important that they can be easily seen by the student during the lecture or meeting. During a meeting, the interpreter will sit or stand next to you. This allows the student to see both you and the interpreter at the same time.

In the classroom, the interpreter will need to be at the front of the class. This allows the student to receive the information while having visual access to the professor, the chalkboard, and overhead materials.

Interpreter Process/Lag Time

There is a slight delay in translating spoken English into sign language. Therefore, you may experience a delayed response to questions or feedback from the student.

You Should Know...

  • Students using interpreters can participate in class discussion.
  • Students using interpreters can keep up with course material.
  • Students who use interpreters are acting independently from the interpreter

Quick Reference to Communicating Through Interpreters in Compliance with the Code of Ethics

  • Address the student directly, not “Tell them…” or “Ask them…”
  • Address questions regarding accommodations to the student, not the interpreter.
  • Speak at your normal rate and volume. No need to ask the interpreter if you are going too fast.
  • Avoid making comments to the interpreter. It may seem to the student that you are talking about them.
  • Avoid asking the interpreter questions. It may seem you are discounting the student’s ability to give input.
  • Avoid asking the interpreter to give a message to the student.
  • An interpreter does not need to know the student’s grades.
  • An interpreter cannot summarize or explain information to the student.