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6 Tips for Effective Communication in the Presence of Sign Language Interpreters

October 05, 2017

In a business or professional setting, an employer or business owner may at some point encounter a scenario in which an employee or customer who is deaf or has a hearing loss is utilizing a sign language interpreter. Don’t panic. It’s a highly effective way for sign language interpreters to stay in the conversation.

Here are six things to keep in mind when in the presence of an interpreter.

Remember whom you’re speaking to.

One key element of carrying on a conversation with someone who is utilizing a sign language interpreter—be they a customer, an employee, or simply a person on the street—is to remember who your conversation partner is. Maintain eye contact with the individual, rather than the interpreter. It’s a sign of respect and consideration.

Assume everything is fair game.

Most sign language interpreters are instructed to communicate as much as possible of what’s spoken in the person’s presence—from direct addresses to side conversations, private phone calls, and ambient sounds. Be aware of what you’re saying, and keep things professional.

Optimize the lighting.

If you’re anticipating interacting with a sign language interpreter, whether it’s a business, educational or personal setting, make considerations for lighting ahead of time. An individual relies on visual cues, so make sure there is ample brightness to see the interpreter’s signs.

Don’t mumble.

Clear speaking is critical for a sign language interpreter—particularly when complicated or unfamiliar topics of discussion are involved. Use clear, precise diction, and offer context for niche or complex words, such as unusual proper names or places.

Prep adequately.

If an interpreter will be used in a public or professional setting in which individual without disabilities will be present, plan ahead. Communicate with the person utilizing the interpreting service and ensure that his or her needs are met beforehand, whether it’s written materials provided ahead of time or best practices for pronunciation, pace of speaking, etc. Asking ahead shows you care!

Distribute written materials.

Speaking of written materials, if you’ll be speaking from a pre-written text—such as HR policies, contracts, or training materials—plan on giving a copy to the interpreter beforehand. It can help familiarize him or her with the topic at hand and offer some much-needed insight for your conversation partner.

Want some more insight on how to improve your workplace for people with disabilities? Check out some of the services Ability for Hire offers here.

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