Certifying Deaf Interpreters at the National Level

In 2011, the University of Arizona National Center for Interpretation (NCI) received a grant to meet a special and pressing need for language access by developing a valid and reliable two-part certification test for deaf interpreters.  The project was funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR). 

The first part of the certification process consists of a video-based ASL Proficiency Test.  Passing candidates then becomes eligible for the Deaf Interpreter Performance Test.  Both of these tests have been developed, reviewed, piloted, and validated.  The project is now complete and the tests will soon be available for general administration, beginning in the State of Texas. 

Function of Deaf Interpreters

Deaf interpreters perform the essential function of allowing a large percentage of deaf or hard of hearing individuals to fully communicate in legal, medical, social service, and other settings.  A Deaf Interpreter often works in tandem with a certified hearing interpreter, who depends on the Deaf Interpreter to make the idiosyncratic language of the deaf or hard of hearing consumer comprehensible.  Likewise, the deaf or hard of hearing consumer depends on the Deaf Interpreter to accurately convey the message as relayed from the hearing interpreter.  According to the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), in appropriate circumstances the use of a Certified Deaf Interpreter and an interpreter who is hearing creates “a highly effective team to provide quality communication access for everyone.”

Deaf Interpreters Meet Special Communication Challenges for Consumers who:

  • Use idiosyncratic non-standard signs or gestures such as those commonly referred to as “home signs” that are unique to a family;
  • Use a foreign sign language;
  • Have minimal or limited communication skills;
  • Are deafblind or deaf with limited vision;
  • Use signs particular to a given region, ethnic group, or age group;
  • Have characteristics reflective of Deaf Culture not familiar to hearing interpreters.

Essential Skills of Deaf Interpreters

Accommodating diverse communicative styles and modalities requires strong proficiency in standardized, non-standardized, and highly idiosyncratic visual gestural communication (VGC) to meet the communication needs of a significant proportion of the Deaf, hard of hearing, and deafblind communities. 

According to the National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers (NCIEC), a Deaf Interpreter should possess: (1) Cultural mediation skills, (2) Knowledge of team interpreting protocols, (3) Advanced interpreting proficiency—including mirroring, expansion, and VGC skills, (4) The ability to incorporate props and environment into the interpreting process, and (5) ASL and English and semi- or non-lingual communications systems. 

Together, the ASL Proficiency Test and Deaf Interpreter Performance Test are designed to ensure that deaf interpreters possess the critical knowledge, skills, and abilities to competently perform their duties.

NCI Background in ASL Interpreter Testing and Training

The University of Arizona National Center for Interpretation has been testing and training interpreters in various languages since the early 1980s.  NCI’s involvement with the certification of ASL/English interpreters began in 2001, with the initiation of several test development projects for the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS).  These projects resulted in a series of Basic, Advanced, and Master ASL/English certification exams in 2011, and more recently ASL/English Court and Medical Interpreter Certification Examinations in 2015.  NCI also received a Department of Education grant to produce the first ever Trilingual Certification Examination (ASL/Spanish/English), which was finalized in 2009 and is currently administered by DARS.  In addition, to help alleviate the widespread lack of training opportunities for sign language interpreters, NCI developed and administered its first 2-day ASL Court Interpreter Training Seminar in June, 2015 for both hearing and deaf interpreters.   

NCI is extremely proud of its long involvement with ASL testing and training projects that contribute to providing quality interpretation for the deaf and hard of hearing, and looks forward to continuing those achievements with the culmination of the Deaf Interpreter Certification Project in 2016, as well as additional ASL training seminars.  Please visit our website at http://nci.arizona.edu/ to review information about our interpreter testing and training initiatives, and to explore NCI’s wide range of products and live and online training seminars for both aspiring and professional interpreters. The National Center for Interpretation is committed to promoting intercultural communication and social justice for language minorities through cutting-edge research, training, and testing for interpreters and translators while advancing professionalism. We rely on the support of the community to fulfill our mission, and a donation to one of our student support funds will allow aspiring interpreters to pursue the highest quality training in the interpreting profession who otherwise would not have the means to attend.

Please consider making a tax-deductible donation of any amount in support of increasing access to social justice for limited-English-speaking individuals across the country.

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