How to Communicate With a Deaf Person Through an Interpreter
Perhaps you are arranging a meeting with a deaf person and would like to communicate with them through an interpreter or you are giving a presentation where a deaf person will be present, with an interpreter. Communicating with a deaf person through a sign language interpreter may feel awkward at first, but if you keep a few simple etiquette tools in mind, you can minimize the communication barrier.
Creating a Positive Atmosphere for the Conversation
Talk with the interpreter before the conversation, if possible. If you know you are going to have a conversation or meeting in a professional setting where the deaf person and the interpreter will be present, try to meet with the interpreter few minutes before the meeting or the day before the meeting. You can then let the interpreter know how long the meeting will be and what topics will be discussed. This will allow the interpreter to prepare for the meeting and get a better sense of what she will be signing to the deaf person.
Make sure you discuss all fees with the interpreter before the meeting. You should both agree on the fees charged by the interpreter or through a referral service for the interpreter. You do not need to discuss the fees with the deaf person, as you are hiring the interpreter and do not need to get the deaf person involved in the payment process.
The deaf person may also have her own interpreter that she prefers to use. You can also discuss hiring an interpreter with the deaf person and see if she has a preference for a particular referral service or a particular interpreter.
Schedule breaks if the conversation is going to be more than one hour long.This will allow the interpreter to take a break and give the deaf person a momentary rest from having to watch the interpreter. The breaks do not have to be long, but having breaks will give the deaf person and the interpreter a breather.
As well, It is a best practice to have two interpreters on hand for conversations or meetings that will be longer than an hour and a half. It can be difficult for one interpreter to work for more than an hour and a half at a time. Having two interpreters will allow them to rotate and take breaks.
Make sure the room has sufficient lighting. If the meeting requires the use of slides, films, or images projected on a screen, you should make sure there is a small lamp or a light next to the interpreter and the deaf person. This will ensure the deaf person can see the interpreter during the meeting.
If you cannot get a small lamp, try to dim, rather than shut off, the lights so the deaf person can still see the interpreter. You may want to do a trial run with the interpreter and the deaf person before the meeting to make sure they are both visible to each other.
Offer the interpreter a beverage and a place to set up. Treat the interpreter like a professional and try to be accommodating to her needs. Ask her if she would like a glass of water or a beverage. Have her choose a place in the room to set up, preferably a spot that is well lit and away from the windows to reduce glare. You may offer her a chair to keep in her chosen spot so she can sit down and rest during breaks in the meeting.
If you are providing lunch or refreshments for the participants at the meeting, you should offer them to the interpreter as well. Consider the interpreter a participant in the meeting and make sure you include her as part of the group.
Following Appropriate Protocol During the Conversation
Introduce the interpreter. At the beginning of a group meeting, you should briefly introduce the interpreter by saying, “This is [name] and she will be the interpreter for today.” This will let everyone know what the interpreter’s role is in the room and acknowledge her presence for the deaf person. You may then want to allow the deaf person to introduce herself to the group, using the interpreter.
If you are meeting the deaf person one-on-one with an interpreter, you should introduce yourself to the deaf person, not the interpreter. Face the deaf person and speak slowly and clearly.
Most deaf people can read lips, but the deaf person may also have the interpreter sign your name. The deaf person may also introduce their interpreter to you, but you should avoid addressing the interpreter directly. Interpreters are there to facilitate, not participate, in the conversation.
Position yourself out of the sightline of the interpreter and the deaf person.Make sure you are standing in a spot where the interpreter can be seen by the deaf person. Do not stand between or in the sightline of the interpreter and the deaf person.
You may ask the interpreter where they would like you to stand or have the interpreter stand to the side of you in their chosen spot.
The deaf person may also prefer to sit in the front of the room, close to the interpreter, so she can see the interpreter clearly during the meeting.
Pass out any written materials at the beginning of the meeting. You should start the group meeting by handing out any written materials right away as this will help the deaf person follow along and note anything if she misses the interpreter’s signs. You may also want to create a clear itinerary for the meeting and hand it out so the deaf person is aware of what is going to be discussed.
Speak directly to the deaf person, not to the interpreter. Remember the interpreter is not part of the conversation you are having with the deaf person and is not allowed to voice any personal opinions or enter the conversation. You should make eye contact with the deaf person and position your body toward her.
If the deaf person needs the interpreter to explain something, she will turn and ask the interpreter. Allow her to do this, rather than try to do it yourself.
Talk in your normal speed and tone. You should try to speak in your normal speed and your normal tone of voice. Try to not rush or stumble when you speak and project your voice so it can be heard. Take a breath between each sentence as this will allow the interpreter and the deaf person time to catch up with what you are saying.
If you are reading a text out loud, speak slowly and clearly. Avoid shouting or yelling, as this will not make it easier for the interpreter to sign to the deaf person and can be considered rude or inappropriate.
Wait patiently while the interpreter communicates your words to the deaf person. Remember that there will be a slight lag as the interpreter signs to the deaf person. Keep this lag in mind as you speak and be patient as the interpreter finishes signing your words to the deaf person before moving on to your next sentence or thought. This lag will usually be a few words behind your speech. Allow for time for the interpreter to finish so the deaf person can respond and participate in the discussion.
If the interpreter is confused or unclear about what you are saying, she may ask you to repeat your statement or ask questions about your statement for clarity. Answer her questions patiently and promptly to keep the conversation flowing for the deaf person.
Have only one person speak at a time. It can be confusing and overwhelming for the interpreter when more than one person is speaking at a time. In a group meeting setting, have everyone speak one at a time or take turns speaking around the room. You may also want to give the floor to one person at a time so the interpreter can focus on that person.
You should make sure there is a brief pause between speakers so the interpreter has time to finish signing to the deaf person. This pause can also allow the deaf person to collect her thoughts and respond to the speaker.
Avoid talking over someone else or interrupting someone during the meeting, as this can throw off the interpreter and make it more difficult for you to communicate effectively with the deaf person.
Part3 Wrapping Up the Conversation
Ask the deaf person if she has are any last questions or concerns. You should wrap up the meeting by focusing on the deaf person and asking her if she has any other questions or concerns. Doing this will allow the deaf person to respond to anything said during the meeting and present her thoughts to the group.
If you are having a one-on-one conversation with the deaf person, you may want to end the conversation by asking her if she has any questions or if you were unclear in any way. Often, the deaf person will let you know, through the interpreter, if there was anything she missed.
Thank the interpreter for her work. As a final courtesy, you should say thank you to the interpreter after the meeting is over and she has fulfilled her duties. You may do this by saying, “I would like to thank the interpreter for her services” at the end of a group meeting.
If the interpreter is present during a one-on-one conversation, you may not need to thank the interpreter for her services, as she may be hired by the deaf person and not by you. If you did hire the interpreter, you should thank her formally for her work once the conversation is over.
Follow up with the deaf person and the interpreter. You should let the interpreter or the referral service for the interpreter know if there were any problems or issues on your end. You may also ask the deaf person if she found the interpreter’s service useful and helpful. Provide feedback to the interpreter or to the referral service so you can improve your experience in the future or recommend the interpreter for future meetings.
You should also be open to receiving feedback from the interpreter about your behavior and presence during the meeting. If you are new to communicating with a deaf person through an interpreter, you may make a few mistakes or missteps. Getting feedback can allow you to recognize what you did wrong and improve your communication with the interpreter and the deaf person in the future.