Written by Kelsey DeLonis & Hannah Schumacher
Working with an ASL (American Sign Language) interpreter for the first time can seem intimidating. Don’t worry, we are here to help!
As a hearing person, you instinctively look towards the direction of sound. Maintaining eye contact with a Deaf person is crucial in any setting. It is important to remember that the interpreter is not your client and that speaking directly to your Deaf client empowers them as an equal participant in the interaction. It can feel confusing to be looking at a person who is not verbally responding to you and possibly isn’t making eye contact with you (depending on where the interpreter is placed). Deaf people rely heavily on facial expressions and can often determine what is going on from mouth movements. This does not always mean they read lips, though.
It may seem rude or strange, but the best practice is to pretend as if the interpreter is not there. Your instinct will be to respond directly to the person you hear speaking; fight that instinct. This will also help the interaction feel more natural when the interpreter speaks in first person, rather than beginning every sentence with “he/she says.”
Interpreters are present to ensure equal access for all parties involved, and it is not their job, or right, to filter what to interpret and what to omit. This goes both ways; if the Deaf client signs something, it is equally imperative that the interpreter relays that information. The interpreter is there for you as much as they are for the Deaf individual. It is never appropriate to tell an interpreter, “don’t interpret that.” Ethically, the interpreter’s role is to provide language access; interpreters are not the same as caregivers.
Each time you work with an ASL interpreter, this process will become more familiar to you. It’s a learning curve. Asking questions is always a good idea! Lean on the preferences of the Deaf individual and then the expertise of the ASL interpreter.