Why Can’t We Use A Staff Member Who Took Some Sign Classes?   

Interpreting is very different from having a casual conversation with someone who is Deaf or hard of hearing. Professional vocabulary and content use a different vocabulary from that used in casual conversation which is what most beginner signers know. American Sign Language (ASL) incorporates it’s own idiomatic phrases, non-manual communication, and idiosyncrasies. These dynamics are too advanced for someone who took a few classes. Learning another language is very difficult and requires advanced training and years of experience. How long would it take for you to be fluent in Russian, Arabic, Farsi, Wolof, or another language?

You would not want a person who took some basic medical classes to perform surgery on you. Professional interpreters have advanced training and education, as well as years of experience, which enables them to understand ASL, English, Deaf culture, hearing culture, and related terminology in areas such as medical, legal, mental health, job-related situations, technology, and many other arenas. A staff member who took a few ASL classes probably does not know the ASL signs for the English words everyone uses in the office.

In addition, Deaf or hard of hearing people may be signing using ASL, Pidgin Signed English (PSE), Signing Exact English (SEE), or Tactile Signing or some combination thereof. The interpreter must be ready to match the signing style or mode used by the person who is Deaf or hard of hearing in order for effective communication to occur. Professional interpreters are your best bet to ensure that the communication is facilitated effectively despite the mode of communication being used by the Deaf person(s).

Another reason not to use staff members is because they are not required to adhere to an interpreter code of ethics. This means they could leave the work environment and talk about what an interesting experience it was to work with so-and-so, the Deaf person that came into work that day. You expose yourself to liability and possible infractions of laws such as HIPPA. Protect yourself by using a professional.