This page summarizes the perspectives of Deaf Interpreter focus group participants on Professional Standards and Expectations.

Participants expressed that the Deaf Interpreter must be able to explain the need for a Deaf/Hearing interpreting team, and then carry out her or his role. They bring specialized skills and knowledge to the situation, and see themselves carrying the accountability for communication success.

Personal Accountability for Communication Success – Qualifications
The Deaf Interpreters spoke of a personal professional standard, indeed a mandate, to ensure the Deaf consumer’s comprehension and opportunity to participate in communication events. There was a strong belief expressed that Deaf Interpreters have more ability to catch subtle expressions from Deaf consumers regarding comprehension, increasing communication effectiveness.

Participants raised a number of competencies required to achieve successful communication including:

“Full competence across ASL-English spectrum and command of both ASL and English”


“Awareness, attentiveness to, differences in consumer language”

“Broad experience and tools from which to draw to match consumer’s culture and expressive system/language”

“Willingness to do whatever is necessary to accomplish comprehension, including drawing and mouthing English”

Roles and Responsibilities
It was observed that many hearing and Deaf consumers do not understand the roles and responsibilities of Deaf Interpreters, and Deaf Interpreters need to educate people about what they do. There is a perception that they are specifically to be called in when a Deaf consumer has limited English proficiency or is “low functioning,” but it was stated that they can and should also be used for the larger Deaf population. Related issues expressed as significant included:

  • At first Deaf consumers are awkward with Deaf Interpreters but once they have experienced their use they realize the benefits.
  • The community is small and the Deaf Interpreter probably has many other roles in the community, which can be very confusing to some community members regarding what to expect in a specific situation. Keeping role boundaries clear is more of an issue than for most hearing interpreters. Deaf Interpreters are responsible for providing that education to consumers, and for keeping clear that,“Who we are in the Deaf world and who we are at work needs to be kept separate and distinct.”
  • NAD could take the lead and sponsor workshops on the subject – so Deaf people can learn how to make a request for a Deaf Interpreter, the advantages and benefits, and how it can change their lives.

Ethics and the Code of Conduct
A perception was expressed by participants that Deaf Interpreters who hold certification tend to value adherence to the Code of Professional Conduct (CPC) more than those who are not certified. It appeared to participants that the books that discuss interpreting ethics are clear that interpreters are not to become personally involved in any situation, offering advice or opinions, and that interpreters are strictly to transmit information between the parties. It was suggested that hearing interpreters may work from a different set of ethical principles than Deaf Interpreters, and that keen insight is needed to ascertain other interpreters’ ethical processes.

 Views on the Code of Professional Conduct
Three principal views related to the Code of Professional Conduct (CPC) became clear through the dialogue.

  1. For Deaf Interpreters, the RID Code of Professional Conduct is subordinate to a higher ethic. There was a belief expressed that for some Deaf Interpreters, strictly following the RID Code of Conduct may result in violating a higher level of ethics – the ethic holding that Deaf people have a right to fully understand and participate in communication, and interpreters are to do whatever is necessary to accomplish that. Additionally, they felt that part of the expertise Deaf Interpreters bring to the field is knowing when to rely on their own inner guidance and go beyond the CPC if necessary. A suggestion was that there are two checkpoints along the way towards reaching the goal for Deaf Interpreters: 1) do no harm to Deaf consumers, and 2) every option to provide equal communication access is exhausted.
  2. CPC is situational and appropriate. Others perceived that the CPC has been revised and refined to the point of being situational and appropriate for both Deaf Interpreters and hearing interpreters. Confidentiality and respect are paramount.
  3. CPC is a framework. A third view proposed was that the CPC should be considered an ethical framework, helping to establish limits, yet flexible. Deaf Interpreters should stay within the framework while striving for personal excellence, continuing to develop professionally, yet still have flexibility to do what they need to do (assuring comprehension and participation) beyond what hearing interpreters do.

It was also expressed that veteran Deaf Interpreters tend to be the most flexible in their interpretation and application of the CPC, versus newer, formally trained, Deaf Interpreters who tend to follow the CPC more rigidly.

Views on Advocacy
That advocacy is not part of interpreting was a point of agreement, and that if a Deaf consumer needs an advocate the communication needs to be suspended so appropriate steps can be taken to include someone who can provide education and guidance. It was noted that some veteran Deaf Interpreters seem to blur the lines in this area.

Views on Decision-making
There was concern expressed about the level of specific guidance regarding ethical decisions hearing interpreting students appear to need. Deaf ITP instructors among the participants reported repeatedly responding with “it depends” to their questions, yet the hearing interpreting students seemed to want to be told “The Answer” and they do not understand that “The Right Thing To Do” could be situational.

At the same time, there was concern expressed that the Deaf community is so small that consistency in decision-making is imperative. If an interpreter does something one way one time and a different way another with the same Deaf person, or with different people who talk to each other about interpreters, the reasoning must be made clear to all.

Read Full Report: Analysis of Deaf Interpreter focus group discussions conducted April-July 2007