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Finding an Interpreter for an Interview

Resources to help find sign language interpreters

From the desk of Teresa Goddard, M.S., Lead Consultant – Assistive Technology Services

During my time at JAN, I have watched with growing satisfaction as employers have become more comfortable with the idea of hiring an interpreter.  In 1992, the EEOC stated in section III of the Technical Assistance Manual for Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that, “It may be necessary to obtain a qualified interpreter for a job interview, because for many jobs the applicant and interviewer must communicate fully and effectively to evaluate whether the applicant is qualified to do the job.” However, 10 years ago it was common for me to take several calls a month about whether an interpreter should be provided for an interview. Now, as the ADA is turning 30, I get far more questions about how to provide this important form of accommodation. If you are looking for an interpreter, JAN can help. As a starting point, see the JAN webpage on Interpreters.

The membership directory of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) may also be helpful when searching for a community-based American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter. If finding a freelance interpreter is challenging, RID also offers a search for agencies feature that provides interpreters and interpreter referral services. RID also offers information on hiring an interpreter.  

When employers are having difficulty contracting with an interpreter locally, there are a couple of additional strategies that JAN consultants typically suggest. First it may be possible to find a vendor providing nationwide onsite interpreting.

Another option to consider is contacting a company that specializes in streamlining the process of scheduling onsite and video remote interpreting (VRI) interpreters. VRI allows consumers to schedule interpreters via a point-to-point videoconference instead of having a live, on-site interpreter.

Finally, you may also want to contact the applicant to see whether they know of anyone who might be able to interpret or assist you in finding an interpreter. For example, the applicant may know of an interpreter who is in the area or may be receiving services from an organization that could help, such as a state vocational rehabilitation program. You might also ask the applicant whether they would prefer to delay the interview until a qualified onsite interpreter can be found, or whether they would prefer instead to explore other accommodation options such as VRI. This can also be an option for providing interpreter support during video-based interviews. Videoconferencing with interpreter support is much like conferencing in any other third person over video, except that the third person is an interpreter.  

Employers often ask about using Video Relay Services (VRS) during telephone interviews with candidates.  This can be a useful option especially for situations where an initial telephone interview is part of the hiring process.  Some candidates may even prefer it especially if interviewing for a position that requires phone use. However, employers may want to consider other options such as VRI or a community-based (in-person) interpreter, especially if they anticipate discussing complex topics, or if interviewing for a position in a field with extensive technical jargon.  Having an interpreter who is familiar with one’s industry, or who can be briefed on vocabulary in advance, can be helpful in providing a candidate with the best opportunity to showcase their skills and experience, leading to a successful hiring process.

In some cases, employers have also reported using text-based methods such as online chat as part of their interview process.  This can be an option if used to avoid delays in interviewing a candidate who is deaf with their agreement or at the candidate’s request.  However, it is of vital importance to ensure effective communication in order to facilitate equal access to the hiring process.  If the effectiveness of a communication method is in doubt, it may make sense to schedule a follow-up conversation using another more effective method.  

Remember, individual needs vary.  Some individuals who are deaf may prefer to use ASL for an interview even if they also use assistive technology and text-based communication some of the time. Others, particularly those who acquired deafness later in life, may prefer other forms of support, such as Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART), remote CART, and communication access technologies or apps.  Linking two text telephone (TTY) devices is an older, but functional approach for organizations that have this equipment on hand. Borrowing or purchasing a dedicated device for text-based communication, for example the UbiDuo, is another possibility. If text-based support is needed, but specialized technology isn’t available, texting and sharing a keyboard to type back and forth may work in some cases. Captioned phone calls continue to be a popular option among individuals who are hard of hearing, and TTY relay services, while less commonly used than in the past, continue to be used, especially in rural areas with limited internet connectivity. Again, effectiveness is key. While some candidates may prefer and even specifically request text-based or text-supported communication, it is preferable to provide an interpreter if one is requested.

Also keep in mind that some candidates may use the terms deaf and hard of hearing differently than you might expect. A useful strategy, especially when a candidate has disclosed that they are deaf or hard of hearing, is to let the candidate know about the next step in the application process and ask if an accommodation is needed.  This provides the candidate with a cue to let you know about their communication needs and accommodation preferences.

As always, please contact JAN with any questions about effective communication in the workplace. 


Interpreter signing in a group