Participants were articulate in analyzing and describing the task of interpreting, and two foundational principles were emphasized:

  • Deaf people have a right to understand and participate fully.
  • The Deaf Interpreter is ultimately fully responsible for the accuracy of the messages conveyed to and from the Deaf consumer, in part because of their special qualifications, and in part because they are the interpreter in direct connection with the Deaf consumer.

Choice of Consecutive vs. Simultaneous Interpreting

Participants agreed that whenever possible consecutive interpreting is the preferred approach. They observed that it is more conducive to successfully conveying meaning. In the words of one participant:

“With sufficient processing time, the message is more accurate. If there is time to process, confidence in product is increased. Without sufficient processing time, copying the hearing interpreter’s signs and structure is more likely.”

Source Language Analysis

Participants discussed the importance of message analysis and the responsibility of the Deaf Interpreter to control the flow of information and assure his or her own comprehension. Key among the concerns were:

“….to determine the source language’s message, and the goal of the communication.”“If the Deaf Interpreter is not confident of their own comprehension of the source message (for whatever reason, content, language, interpretation) the Deaf Interpreter has an obligation to stop the process to gain clarity, in order to accurately convey the message in the target language.”“[There is a] need to control the flow of information so [one] does not become overwhelmed by the amount trying to process.”

Mental Representation of Source Language Message

The Deaf Interpreters described the process of leaving source language form behind to get at meaning. They described:

“‘Processing’ – Making the transition from language to language, focused on meaning, not lexicon. Strip away lexical form.”

“Knowing what of the message to leave out in order to avoid overloading that may bury the more important information. Such decisions are based on experience, and if mistakes are made they must be admitted to the consumers. Yet, there is also the thought that the entire message must be delivered or it is an ethics violation.”

Mental Representation of Target Language

Participants described their consideration of the Deaf consumer’s comprehension as well as target language discourse structure in formulating the interpretation. They offered several points:

“The interpreter needs to have full picture in mind, not just passing along unprocessed communication: Visualization.”

“The Deaf consumer’s abilities must be taken into consideration, and the message sequenced and arranged spatially for best comprehension.”

“Considering the differences in discourse structure between ASL and English is important – such as ‘take the medication twice a day’ is more effective if interpreted in ASL as ‘take the medication in the morning and evening every day.’ Interpreters need to consider the ‘diamond shape’ of ASL discourse and not impose English discourse structure.”

“Chunk ‘enough’ in the conveyed message. If the consumer is understanding well, one can convey bigger chunks.”

“Considering what visual information needs to be added to support comprehension by Deaf-Blind consumers.”


The Deaf Interpreters described some of the methods that they use to support consumer comprehension:

“Refer to previously mentioned concepts and connecting them to the current information is effective and supports comprehension.”

“Use concrete examples as possible to incrementally clarify dense messages and concepts.” “If the speaker repeats information, use reiterations as opportunity to expand on concepts.”

“Continue to repeat, deliver, the interpretation until it is successfully understood.”

Self-Monitoring and Modification of Production

Participants acknowledged that time constraints were a factor in the production decisions that they made. As one Deaf Interpreter put it:

“[There is a] need to balance expansion in pursuit of comprehension with consideration of time – yet there is discomfort with ’paring down the message,’ or having time considerations interfere with gaining complete comprehension. Having a second interpreter to assist with managing balance of, for example, expansion versus time versus delivering the complete message, would be helpful.”

Consumer Feedback – Comprehension and Need for Intervention

In line with the Deaf Interpreter’s “mandate” described above, participants spoke of the measures they take to ensure consumer comprehension, for example:

“Check in with the Deaf consumer regularly and make adjustments in communication or approach as necessary.”

“If the Deaf Interpreter realizes the Deaf person is not understanding, and not saying so, there is a need to intervene (perhaps to provide explanation, additional information, some communication advocacy) to help ensure understanding takes place.”