Where people meet and engage in conversation but do not share a common language; they may require an interpreter

While anyone with some knowledge of a language may from time to time assist with communication, it is essential that when a deaf person wishes to access a professional service such as a health care service, a legal service, a training event they are entitled to the fluency, interpreting skills, level of accuracy, confidentiality and boundaries afforded by the Professional Interpreter.

Professional Interpreting - role and boundaries
The role of the interpreter is complex; the interpreter as a professional language service practitioner must advocate for appropriate arrangements to enable access in any given environment. The language service provider informs on best practice and how best to utilize the service in a particular context. However, while on-site and functioning as an ‘interpreter’, the practitioner must function as an impartial actor.

  • Interpreters are impartial agents who in general do not give their own opinions or views – merely facilitate the communication of others expressing theirs. Information will not be deleted or abbreviated, although an element of ‘cultural adjustment’ may be present when trying to translate a word, phrase or concept into the other language. Interpreters deal with a wide variety of variation in both the English language and Irish Sign Language. (IASLI, 2007)
  • Interpreters follow a Code of Ethics compelling them to confidentiality, impartiality and other ethical issues such as continuous professional development of knowledge and skills. You may be confident that our team of experienced professionals are ever vigilant in their care of sensitive information, and documentation is treated with respect. Interpreters may not utilise privileged information for personal gain.
Successor to, IASLI, The Council of Irish Sign Language Interpreters, CISLI, is the Professional Body.  Interpreters follow their Code of Ethics.

Advocacy / Special Needs Assistants

An interpreter is not an advocate or representative of the end service user, nor is he/she a special needs assistant. The  interpreter is an impartial actor who is confined to the task of ensuring that the communication is meaningful and accessible to the end user.  Therefore, there may be some situations that require the services of social workers, or advocates or personal assistants in addition to the communication team.

Avidicus Symposium 2011, example of simultaneous interpreting in action

Types of Interpreting

Simultaneous Interpreting

This is the most popular form of interpreting.  In face to face meetings such as team meetings, hospital appointments, lecturers as the originator speaks the interpreter also signs producing the interpreted message with only a short delay.  As a deaf person signs a response, the interpreter speaks the interpreted message with only a few minutes delay (lag time).  This facilitates a 'real time' feel for all and it facilitates spontaneous two-way interaction well.

Consecutive Interpreting

This facilitates more accurate interpretation.  The interpreter takes notes while the originator speaks.  They may naturally pause, or the interpreter may ask them to pause and she then interpreters the details to the deaf person and vice versa.  This is a slower method but it facilitates greater accuracy.  It is also excellent in situations where the deaf person is visually dual tasking such as in receiving instructions to using machinery.  In legal settings, for example, a deaf person is making a statement and is referring to a map/ picture of a point 'x' on a road going over a bridge, or the deaf person might be identifying a person in a crowd.  The visual demands of such situations are better met by consecutive interpreting.

Deaf Interpreter/Intermediary

A deaf interpreter (preferably registered) is person who is deaf and fluent in a particular signed language.  They may also have excellent communication skills across other signed languages.  This person is knowledgeable on the linguistic composition of signed languages and Deaf culture.  A professional deaf interpreter has the ability to transfer information from the standard form of the language into a target language or target 'form' of language.  The deaf interpreter may work between two differing signed languages such as Irish Sign Language (ISL) and American Sign Language (ASL),British Sign Language (BSL) or international signing. They may also work within one language, to facilitate communication with responsibility to ensure that the final output is produced at an appropriate level of complexity ensuring that communication is meaningful for the deaf service consumer who may be a foreign national, a vulnerable adult or a young child.  It may also be necessary to elaborate, expand and explain concepts that are represented by single words or signs in the original message.  The service is impartial, non-judgmental, confidential, and non-advisory/representative.  

A deaf interpreter may also work from written texts.  Vulnerable adults, deaf children, and deaf people from other countries who may be less articulate, less sure of their rights to request service, less certain about systems may find working with a deaf interpreter a more safe and reassuring service.  The familiarity of a shared deaf experience, or of coming from a shared equivalent of a ‘mother tongue’ can create trust and confidence that communication is meaningful beyond the surface level of words, expressions, and culturally embedded values and ideas into something familiar, safe and reliable. 

Deafblind Interpreters: Visual Frame, Hands-on or Manual

A Manual Deafblind Interpreter touches different parts of a Deafblind person’s hands, denoting letters, and in this way spells out words.

A Hands-on Deafblind Interpreter places their hands beneath the Deafblind person's hands, allowing the Deafblind person to follow their movements and the shape of their ISL signs.

A Visual Frame Deafblind Interpreter signs on a much smaller scale than for a Deaf person, according to the person’s visual needs. (All ISL interpreters are capable of adapting their signing to accommodate for a Visual Frame request.)


Translation offers a more considered approach to the presentation of information and continuity of the information via digital storage. Several approaches are possible depending on the function of the finished text, and how users will interact with it.  Sight translation is a quick translation suited in in-house usage.  An interpreter will make a quick study of the text (depending on size of original e.g. 20 minutes) The interpreter then signs the main ideas of the text focusing on content, and function of the text.  Translation for publication requires experienced interpreters and is recorded  in a professional studio and edited.  Below is a list of possible types of translation.

  1. Business critical translations [ documents]
  2. Standard translation [academic texts - thesis]
  3. Sight translation [information leaflet, letter]
  4. Summary translation  [within a work setting
  5.  where staff member is familiar with content]
  6. Website translations
  7. Presentations & media translation [marketing presentations, educational publications]