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How to Work With Interpreters/Captionists

Students who are deaf or hard of hearing often require classroom accommodations so they can access, understand and learn the material presented. Some individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing prefer communicating through sign language as opposed to writing, speech reading, or if the individual possesses residual hearing, possibly using a device to amplify sounds.

When sign language is the preferred form of communication, the services of an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter may be arranged for the student as a reasonable and useful classroom accommodation to help the student learn and understand course content. Therefore, it is important for both the student who is deaf or hard of hearing and the instructor who teaches the student to know how to utilize the services of an interpreter effectively.

Effective use of interpreting services requires an accurate understanding of the interpreter’s role and responsibilities as well as confirming your own role and

responsibilities as instructor when an interpreter is present in your classroom. Listed below is a brief definition of the interpreter’s role/work, followed by suggested guidelines that can help make the teaching process go smoothly for you, the interpreter, and most importantly, for the student. For more information on interpreting in the classroom or on teaching students who are deaf or hard of hearing, please contact theStudent Accessibility Services office at (330) 672-3391.


A sign language interpreter is a trained professional, often possessing national interpreting certifications and degrees, who facilitates communication and conveys all auditory and signed information so that both hearing and deaf individuals may fully interact.

The professional interpreter is bound by a national code of conduct, which includes keeping all material interpreted strictly confidential. In addition, interpreters are to maintain the integrity of the message, always conveying the content and spirit of the speaker. The interpreter’s mission is to facilitate communication; he/she should neither add nor delete any information at any time. Because of the specific nature of the interpreter’s role, it is important not to ask the interpreter for his/her opinion or request that they perform any tasks other than interpreting. Nor is it appropriate to tell the interpreter to not interpret something that is being spoken.

Depending on the length of class, the interpreter’s schedule and the discourse patterns of the class, more than one interpreter may be present to ensure interpreting accuracy.

Instructional Strategies

  • If possible, circular seating arrangements offer deaf or hard of hearing students with the best advantage for seeing all class participants. When desks are arranged in rows, keep front seats open for deaf and hard of hearing students.
  • Interpreters typically sit in chairs while they interpret. They may choose to stand near the front of the classroom as well depending on the style of teaching.
  • It is helpful to repeat comments or questions that are made from the back of the room. Sometimes it is difficult to for the interpreter to hear and/or for the deaf student to lip read a person who is far away.
  • Because visual information is often a deaf person’s only means to receiving information, films, overheads, diagrams, power point presentations and other visual aids are often useful instructional tools.
  • When in doubt, ask the student how you may best meet their needs in the class.
  • Allow the student to have the same anonymity as other students. However, do not avoid the deaf student merely because you cannot sign. Get to know the student as you would anyone in the class.
  • Have the same general expectations of the student as you would anyone else in your class.

Helpful Hints to Remember While Working with Interpreters:

Acknowledge The Interpreter’s Role. Remember that the interpreter is in the classroom to facilitate communication for both the student and instructor. He/she should not be asked to run errands, proctor exams, or discuss the student’s personal issues. He/she should not participate in the class in any way independent of the student or express personal opinions.

Use Captioned Materials. Captioned films or videotapes are strongly recommended to allow the student direct visual access to the information. However, if you are planning to show a movie or use other audiovisual materials without captioning, inform the interpreter beforehand so that arrangements can be made for lighting and positioning.

Establish the Interpreter’s Location.
When a student uses a sign language interpreter, the interpreter and student will discuss where the interpreter should be located in the classroom to provide the greatest benefit for the student. Keep lines of sight free for visual access to information. In class, the interpreter will attempt to position himself/herself so the student who is deaf or hard of hearing can see both the instructor and any visual aids.

Share Lecture Content. Familiarity with the subject matter will enhance the quality of the interpreted message. If possible, meet with the interpreter to share outlines, texts, agenda, technical vocabulary, class syllabus, and any other background information that would be pertinent. SAS has the capability to add interpreters to VISTA. Interpreters will benefit from receiving the same handouts the students receive.

Speak Directly to the Student. Because the interpreter is in the classroom to facilitate communication for both the student and instructor, speak directly to and maintain communication with the student. The interpreter may request clarification from you and/or the student to ensure accuracy of the information conveyed.

Use “I” and “You” References. The interpreter will relay your exact words. Use personal references such as “I” and “You” when communicating with individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. Avoid speaking of the student in the third person; phrases such as “ask her” or “tell him” are interpreted as such and can be confusing to the student.

Speak at a Reasonable Pace. Interpreters tend to interpret with a time lag of one or two sentences after the speaker because interpreters must first process/understand the information before relaying it. Speak naturally at a modest pace, keeping in mind that the interpreter must listen and understand a complete thought before signing it.

Write/ Spell Out Technical Words. It is helpful to have technical terms or jargon relating to a particular discipline or concept to be spelled or written out, either on the chalkboard, an overhead projector, a class handout, or with some other visual aid.

Encourage Communicating in Turn. It is important that only one person speaks or signs at a time. The interpreting process only allows one person to communicate at a time. Therefore, encourage students to wait before speaking or signing until you recognize them.

Allow Ample Time for Reading. The student cannot read and watch the interpreter at the same time. Avoid talking while students are focused on written work or overhead projections/multimedia presentations.

Allow Ample Time for Questions. During class discussions or question/answer periods, give the student an opportunity to raise his/her hand, be recognized, and ask questions through the interpreter. Making time for questions allows the interpreter to finish interpreting for the current speaker and enables the student who is deaf or hard of hearing to participate in class.

Recognize the Need for a Note taker. It is difficult to take notes while lip reading or watching a sign language interpreter. The student may request a note taker at the beginning of the semester.

Movies/Videos/ DVDs in the Classroom

Captioning makes videotapes accessible to students with hearing impairments by displaying the spoken dialogue in printed form on the screen, similar to subtitles. Closed captioning is usually not available on very old videos and movies. Therefore, when your syllabus includes the use of video tapes, it is necessary to check the tape to see if it is captioned well in advance of showing it in class. Almost all DVD movies provide English subtitles. Many of the KSU televisions were manufactured before 1992 and do not have a decoder chip to read the closed captioning built in the television. A newer model television will need to be ordered from the Department of Audio Visual Services and sent to your building. The Department of Audio Visual Services will need advance notice in providing you with a newer model television.

  1. How do I determine if my videotape/movie is captioned? Captioned materials are sometimes identified on the videotape box by a "CC" or small television icon that looks like a square shaped “Q.” Therefore, it is always necessary to verify whether the video is captioned. There are three ways to do this: You can check the tape yourself. Most televisions (unless manufactured prior to 1992) have a pre-installed closed caption decoder chip. Simply locate the caption option on your television's menu, turn on the captions, and then watch for about 5-minutes of the video to see if English captions appear. The Department of Audio Visual Services is available to help you, and can be reached by phone at 330-672-3456.
  2. Do I need any special equipment in my classroom? In order to display the encoded captions, you must request a closed captioned decoder for LCD screens if you are not using a DVD, or request a television set with captioning technology built-in. This decoding equipment is available for your use by the Department of Audio Visual Services. However, a few building/colleges have decoders available to borrow, which are located in the main offices. Captions will not be visible without this equipment or the captioning option selected on newer televisions. Please contact the Department of Audio Visual Services with sufficient time to enable them to assist you.
  3. What do I do if my video is not captioned? In the event that your videotape is not available with captions, it is recommended that you consider one of the following suggestions:
  • Provide the interpreter(s) in your class with a copy of the video to review prior to the showing so that he/she can manage the fast pace text during the actual showing of the video in class.
  • Provide the interpreter with the highlights of the movie and what you want the students to learn/remember from the movie so that if it is too fast paced the interpreter(s) know what to paraphrase.Provide a possible transcript to the student.

4. If I have Sign Language Interpreters in my class, do I still need closed-captioned


It is often difficult to accurately interpret videos that are not captioned due to the speed at

which information is transmitted, the length of the videotape, and the detail presented.

While some of the information can be transmitted, some will be omitted. In addition, the

student must look back and forth between the video and the interpreter, possibly missing

information that is only transmitted visually. Therefore, you still need the closed



Don’t hesitate to call the Student Accessibility Services at (330) 672-3391 to arrange for

a meeting between you, a disability services specialist, the interpreter and the student to

work out any issues, and to collaborate regarding the best instructional strategies for the



o Darroch, Kathy & Marshall, Liza. National Technical Institute for the Deaf, Rochester Institute of

Technology (RIT). (1998) Northeast Technical Assistance Center Teacher Tip Sheet,

“Interpreting.” Publication developed through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education,

Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) and produced through a

cooperative agreement between RIT and OSERS (H078A60004).

o Office for Disability Services, Ohio State University. (2001). Instructor Handbook: Teaching

Students with Disabilities. Available on-line at:

o The Ohio State University Partnership Grant, Fast Facts for Faculty Series: Teaching Students

with Sensory Impairments. Available on-line at

o Columbus State Community College Policies and Procedures and Alexa Murray

o Georgia State University Policies and Procedures

o Adaptive Environment Center under contract to Barrier Free Environments, NIDRR


Additional Resources:

o Gallaudet University,

“Gallaudet University, located in Washington DC, is the only liberal arts university in the world

designed exclusively for deaf and hard of hearing students.” Site offers information on the

campus, academic programs, and latest research.

o The National Association of the Deaf (NAD),

“The NAD, established in 1880, is the oldest and largest constituency organization safeguarding

the accessibility and civil rights of 28 million deaf and hard of hearing Americans in education,

employment, health care, and telecommunications.” Site offers information regarding issues

related to deafness including “information on deaf people, sign language, and legal rights.”

o The Northeast Technical Assistance Center (NETAC),

“NETAC provides outreach and technical assistance to postsecondary programs

in the Northeast serving individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing.” Site offers information

regarding issues and special topics related to postsecondary students who are deaf or hard of

hearing, interagency agreements associated with 1998 amendments to Section 504 of the Rehab

Act of 1973, and tips for students on how to finance their education.

o The Postsecondary Education Programs Network (PEPNET),

“PEPNET is the national collaboration of the four Regional Postsecondary Education Centers for

Individuals who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing. The goal of PEPNet is to assist postsecondary

institutions across the nation to attract and effectively serve individuals who are Deaf and Hard of

Hearing.” Site offers information regarding the four Regional Centers, current news and events, a

listserv to ask questions and share experiences, and online training for education professionals.

o The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID),

“RID is a national membership organization of professionals who provide sign language

interpreting/transliterating services for Deaf and Hard of Hearing persons.” Site offers information

regarding interpreting including hiring/working with an interpreter, and interpreting standards.

o The United States Department of Justice, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) homepage,

Site includes information regarding disability rights and laws, ADA questions and answers, and a

list of ADA publications.

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