A Deaf Interpreter is a specialist who provides interpretation and transliteration services, most commonly between a signed language and other visual and tactual communication forms used by individuals who are Deaf, Hard-of-Hearing, and Deaf-Blind; translation between a signed language and written texts; and interpretation between two signed languages. This document delineates the competencies required of the Deaf Interpreter based upon studies conducted by the National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers (NCIEC). The delineation refers broadly to generic and specialty area competencies required of all interpreters, and then delves more deeply into the unique aptitudes, formative experiences, and competencies that differentiate Deaf Interpreters from their hearing counterparts.

Three NCIEC studies of current Deaf Interpreter practice inform this work: A national survey of 196 Deaf Interpreters conducted by the NCIEC in 2007 (NCIEC 2009c), six focus groups involving twenty-four working Deaf Interpreters from across the U.S. (NCIEC 2009a), and two focus groups including a total of twelve Deaf Interpreter educators (NCIEC 2009b). Key findings leading to the description of Deaf Interpreter competencies presented here are the following:

  • Deaf Interpreters describe shared, formative “Deaf-World” experiences, that shape theirethics, establish their language and cultural fluency, and serve as the foundation for their training and development as interpreters.
  • There is agreement among Deaf Interpreters and Deaf Interpreter educators of the need for core interpreting competencies as well as specialized training for particular settings.
  • Deaf Interpreters work across the full gamut of community interpreting venues, but most commonly in social services, medical appointments, business meetings, VR/workplace, legal, and mental health settings where setting-specific knowledge and skill sets are required.
  • Deaf Interpreters are most frequently called upon to interpret for Deaf monolingual ASL users with limited English proficiency; second most frequently, for individuals who are Deaf-Blind; and third most frequently, for consumers who have little or no language. It is often a challenge to determine and match the consumer’s interpretation needs.
  • Most Deaf Interpreters work primarily in a combination of ASL and visual-gestural communication.
  • Deaf Interpreters most commonly practice as a member of a team working with a hearing interpreter; only 29% report that they may work alone with certain consumers or in certain settings.
  • Nearly half of all Deaf Interpreters provide sight translation between English print and ASL.
  • It is common practice for Deaf Interpreters to employ strategies intended to engage the consumer, seek clarification, check comprehension, maintain focus, clarify context, and construct interpretation that is consistent with the experiential and linguistic framework of the consumer.
  • Development of and participation in educational programming for Deaf Interpreters are critical for the future development of the Deaf Interpreter profession.

The NCIEC Deaf Interpreter Work Team comprising eight experts – Deaf Interpreters, educators, and researchers – developed the Competencies. Thirty colleagues offered diverse perspectives on earlier drafts. We believe this document captures the distinct knowledge and skills sets that the Deaf Interpreter brings to interpreted interactions. We intend that it be used as foundation for building curriculum for formal Deaf Interpreter preparation, as content for the education of hearing interpreters and the public on the process and benefits of working with Deaf Interpreters, and as the basis for developing testing content and procedures for credentialing of Deaf Interpreters.

Generalist Competencies

It was my first time having both Deaf and hearing interpreters in my meeting with the director of my halfway house. My body felt more relaxed and I could honestly express what I wanted to say. I felt good as I knew I could trust their work. – Deaf consumer

Domains and competencies of generalist practice are delineated in Entry-to-Practice Competencies for ASL-English Interpreters (2005). These include a variety of linguistic, interactional, interpersonal, cognitive, technical, academic, affective, and creative competencies and professional attributes that ensure effective performance in routine situations. The effective Deaf Interpreter possesses these interpreting competencies:

Theory and Knowledge Competencies: Academic foundation and world knowledge essential to effective interpretation

Human Relations Competencies: Interpersonal competencies fostering effective communication and productive collaboration with colleagues, consumers, and employers

Language Skills Competencies: Required levels of fluency in languages in which the interpreter works

Interpreting Skills Competencies: Effective interpretation of a range of subject matter in a variety of settings

Professionalism Competencies: Professional standards and practices