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Sign Language Interpreters

Learn more about common questions related to sign language interpreters

JAN receives many calls with questions about sign language interpreters and when they should be provided in the workplace. Some of the more common questions that have been asked are:

What other accommodations, other than an interpreter, could be provided for interviewing an individual who is deaf?

  • While there are other ways to communicate (from simple pen and paper to more sophisticated technology) with individuals who are deaf or hearing impaired, the individual’s preferred means of communication should always be taken into consideration. American Sign Language (ASL) has a different syntax (a different arrangement of words and phrases) than that of the English Language, so a native ASL user may not understand what is being communicated if other means of communication is used.

Is the employer obligated to provide an interpreter for an employee who is deaf during a holiday luncheon that will be held onsite?

  • While sign language interpreters are usually thought of for more important events, such as job interviews, performance reviews, and company meetings, an interpreter should be provided (absent undue hardship) not only for such events, but also for other company events such as trainings, luncheons, and any other company-sponsored event that employees without disabilities have the privilege of attending.

Can an employer use a current employee who knows sign language to interpret during a training class? Is an employer required to hire an outside interpreter from a professional agency?

  • While many individuals, such as co-workers, may be knowledgeable or fluent in sign language that does not mean that they are qualified to interpret for an individual. Sign language interpreters are specially trained individuals who usually hold a specialized degree and may also be certified (certification requirements vary by state). Hiring a qualified Interpreter will ensure that all information is being communicated effectively. 

Who is responsible for providing and paying for a sign language interpreter?

  • The EEOC provides good information and examples as to who is responsible for providing and paying for an Interpreter.  From the EEOC: Employers must provide reasonable accommodation (e.g., sign language interpreters; written materials produced in alternative formats, such as Braille, large print, or on audio- cassette) that will provide employees with disabilities with an equal opportunity to participate in employer-sponsored training, absent undue hardship. This obligation extends to in-house training, as well as to training provided by an outside entity. Similarly, the employer has an obligation to provide reasonable accommodation whether the training occurs on the employer's premises or elsewhere. Employers arranging with an outside entity to provide training may wish to specify in the contract who has the responsibility to provide appropriate reasonable accommodations. However, if the outside entity fails to provide an interpreter, the employer should go ahead and provide the interpreter and then recoup the costs from the outside entity based on the contract. For additional information and examples, please see the EEOC Website.

A job candidate is deaf and is requesting an interpreter. Do you have any interpreter resources in our area?

  • Not all sign language interpreters are certified or registered. To locate a sign-language interpreter, contact the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) at 703-838-0030 V, 703- 838-0459 TTY, or use RID’s search tools to look for an interpreter or interpreter agency/referral service. You can search for agencies by name, city, state, area code, or zip code.  It may also be a good idea to contact RID directly to ensure that the information listed on the Website is current.
  • For additional information on providing sign language interpreters, please see the Technical Assistance Manual: Title I of the ADA
  • For additional information on job accommodations for individuals with hearing loss, see JAN's A to Z: Hearing Loss.
  • For more information or questions related to sign language interpreters, please contact JAN to speak with a Consultant.
interpreter signing in a group