Sign language interpretation: Ultimate guide

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A person using sign language in a video-meeting

Today, inclusivity is one of the biggest themes in the business world. Organizations understand that their policies, frameworks, and protocols have to be more accessible to all sections of society. In the events industry, this calls for a bigger focus on sign language interpreting.

Accessibility has been a problem for the hearing impaired for quite a while. And with the rising popularity of online and hybrid events, there’s a worry that the needs of those with hearing disabilities might get sidelined. In all the talk about technology adoption and efficiency, inclusivity shouldn’t be forgotten.

Today we’ll discuss sign language interpretation and why it’s so important to consider when planning your next event or meeting.

What is sign language interpreting?

In sign language interpreting, interpreters use hands, fingers, and facial expressions for translating the speech into American Sign Language (ASL) or other sign languages. Sign language interpreters also offer their services to clients who would use transliterated Signed English, oral method, tactile interpreting, and cued speech modes. 

The need for sign language interpretation awareness

The biggest reason for organizations to be serious about sign language interpreting is that most people are unaware of the scale of this problem. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hearing loss is number three on the list of major disabilities in the US. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the number of people with hearing loss will make up 10 percent of the population by 2050. This calls for greater awareness of problems that people with hearing disabilities face and the need for coordinated action from organizations. 

The regulatory requirements for sign language interpretation

Providing accessibility to the hearing disabled isn’t just a moral responsibility. It’s also a legal requirement. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) makes it clear that businesses must provide sign language interpreting services. 

The Act goes into detail about the kind of services for those who are deaf, deaf-blind, or have hearing loss. Businesses are required to provide an oral interpreter, qualified sign language interpreter, qualified notetaker, tactile or cued-speech interpreter, printed script of a stock speech, written materials, and real-time captioning when the need arises.

Importantly, organizations cannot charge the cost of interpreter service to the individual who needs it. Small businesses, defined as those with under $1 million in revenue or with 30 or fewer employees, are eligible to get tax credits for the costs of interpretation services.

Helpful tips for working with sign language interpreters

It’s clear that sign language interpreting is necessary when organizing an event that includes people with hearing disabilities. But if it’s your first time working with sign language interpreters, there might be quite a few things to remember. So we’ve narrowed down the best practices for you to keep in mind when incorporating ASL interpreting to  your event or meeting.

Share detailed information

Organizers should put together all relevant documents for the meeting and hand them over to the sign language interpreters in advance. This includes information on the speakers, technical phrases, acronyms, notes, handouts, outlines, and un-captioned movies. You can also hand out transcripts or email the content prior to the event.

Give a clear line of sight

The interpreter should be positioned near the speaker. When providing seating for the deaf or those with hearing disabilities, make sure that they have a clear line of sight to the interpreter. It’s a good idea to seat them in the front rows so that they can have an unobstructed view of the speaker. 

Caption videos

Along with the written material, it’s also important to caption videos that will be played at the event or meeting. Subtitles and captions on videos and even songs can help those with hearing disabilities feel more included. This also has another benefit: individuals who are not entirely comfortable with the spoken language will find the captions and subtitles immensely helpful.

Use assistive listening devices

Using assistive listening devices can help individuals with hearing disabilities listen better. The National Association of the Deaf has detailed information on the three main types of listening devices that organizers can use. While they all amplify the sound to varying degrees, you should choose a device with noise cancellation. If you decide to use these devices at your event or meeting, add the International Symbol of Access for Hearing Loss to inform your participants. 

Get the lighting right

There should be the right amount of lighting for the interpreter during the meeting. In case the event requires the lights to be dimmed during any particular part, the light on the interpreter should be left on. If there is a presentation, make sure that the light is switched back on immediately after it’s over.

Be professional

The sign language interpreter is a professional and should be treated accordingly. Their job is to facilitate communication for the hearing disabled. They’re not there as a personal assistant. 

Talk directly to those with a hearing disability

Organizers should always treat the hard-of-hearing with respect. When talking to them, make sure to maintain eye contact and address them directly. It would be considered inappropriate and awkward to look at the interpreter when speaking to the person who has a hearing loss.

Use your regular pace and tone

Just because there’s sign language interpreting doesn’t mean that the speakers have to slow down their speeches. They can talk at their normal pace and tone. And if for any reason the speaker has to slow down, the sign language interpreter will inform them. 

Give interpreters time to finish

While speakers can maintain their normal tone and pace, unless requested otherwise, they should always provide time for the sign language interpreter to do their job. This also creates an opportunity for those with hearing problems to participate by asking questions or joining the discussion.

Avoid overlapping

Only one person should be allowed to speak at a time. This is especially true for group discussions. In sign language interpreting, the interpreter would find it challenging to follow multiple speakers at once. Therefore, encourage the participants to raise their hands if they need an opportunity to speak. 

Start with an introduction

One of the most effective ways to be inclusive and accessible is by asking the speakers to introduce themselves before they start speaking. This way, the participants with hearing disabilities can feel more connected and included knowing a bit more about the person speaking.

Ask for clarification

If this is the first time you’re using sign language interpretation services, it’s natural that you may have questions. But there’s no reason to panic. Simply reach out to someone with a hearing disability or ask a sign language interpreter.

How event organizers should prepare for events with sign language interpretation

There are certain things that event organizers can do to ensure that sign language interpreting goes seamlessly when planning an event. To begin with, the individual conducting the final meeting should ideally be the one handling requests from the sign language interpreter. This would help the ASL interpreter to easily familiarize themselves with the proceedings. 

Secondly, if it’s a virtual or hybrid meeting, everyone should be familiar with the video-conferencing tools. Introduce the interpreter and the participants to the format of the meeting and the various ways in which they can participate through the software. 

The next task is thoroughly checking all the systems before the meeting. This will help you avoid any unpleasant surprises during the event. Don’t forget to check the lighting and make sure that the speaker is visible to both the participants with hearing disabilities and the ASL interpreter. 

Finally, remember to always talk directly to those with hearing disabilities. Talk to them the way you would talk to anyone else and never address the interpreter with a question or remark intended for the person.

How Interactio can help

With Interactio, you don’t require any additional software to integrate sign language interpreting. Using the remote participation panel, all participants will receive the same message as the rest of the audience listening to the speaker in their chosen language. 

The Interactio multilingual meetings solution allows you to seamlessly stream the interpreter’s video, enabling your participants to listen to the speaker in real-time. As a professional interprets the speech in sign language, the system automatically relays the video to the participants with hearing disabilities in the audience. This can help you make your event or meeting truly inclusive and accessible.

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Published on

Mar 8, 2022

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