Frequently Asked Questions

FAQ: HSDC and ASLIN Joining Forces!


Why do I need to hire an interpreter?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 mandates that a comprehensive variety of public and private services, including employers, must be accessible to all people, regardless of disability. When dealing with people who are deaf, deafblind, or hard of hearing, this means that communication must be accessible. In many cases, the best way to ensure this is to have an interpreter.

When do I need to use an interpreter?

An interpreter may be used any time communication is occurring between people who do not share the same language. Deaf, deafblind, and hard of hearing people may not have access to information if it is presented in English, either verbally or in writing.

Some simple communications (for example, between a deaf customer and a clerk in a store) can be done through written notes or gestures, but any time important content is being communicated, having an interpreter present safeguards the participants by ensuring that information is accessible to both parties.

Who is required to pay for an interpreter?

It is the agency, service, or business that is responsible for payment for interpreting services. The ADA states that all public and private agencies that provide services to the general public, and all employers with 15 or more employees, must be accessible. This means that if your agency, service, or business is accessible to people without disabilities, it must be accessible to people with disabilities.

Additionally, companies with 15 or more employees must follow fair hiring and employment practices when considering candidates with disabilities. (However, the ADA is superseded in Washington State by the Revised Code of Washington (RCW), which covers employers with 8 or more employees.)

Isn't it expensive to provide interpreting services?

Interpreting services should be budgeted as part of your annual planning for accessibility services. It is true that, on a per-encounter basis, you may pay more for interpreting services than you generate in revenue for your company. However, if you consider the cost over the course of a year as an overhead cost of doing business, providing accessible services is quite reasonable.

Will I have to pay a minimum charge?

You will usually be asked to pay two hour minimum charge for interpreting services. Because interpreters come to you, on your schedule, their fees have to take into account the amount of time spent traveling between jobs, wait time for the next assignment to start, and down time when no work is available. Additionally, mileage, parking fees, and travel time may be charged, depending on how far the interpreter has to travel to your assignment.

What if I have to cancel my request?

When you schedule an interpreter, you are purchasing his/her time. If you have to cancel your request, it may or may not be possible to sell that time to another customer. Please be sure to ask about our cancellation policy when requesting an interpreter. Generally, cancellations under 48 business hours are billable.

How much advance notice do I need to give you to get an interpreter?

There’s never too much advance notice! Interpreters are a scarce resource, and often the demand exceeds the supply. Because interpreters come to you, on your schedule, we must juggle many customers’ needs to try to accommodate as many requests as possible.

The farther in advance you can plan appointments, trainings, or meetings where you will be using an interpreter, the better. However, if you have a last minute need, don’t despair. Often another customer will cancel interpreting services at the last minute, freeing up an interpreter’s time for your last minute request.

What does it take to become an interpreter?

Interpreting is a complex task, requiring near-native language skills in at least two languages, as well as a deep knowledge of two cultures. A skilled interpreter should provide the full content of an interaction between two or more people who do not share the same language. This often requires exposure to and understanding of the information that is being transmitted, as well as interpreting skills.

Most interpreters have studied American Sign Language for two to five years, plus one to three years of interpreter training. They are required to continue expanding their skills on an annual basis.

How do I know an interpreter is qualified?

There are national testing systems in place to evaluate an interpreter’s skills. All of SignOn’s interpreters (except apprentices) have passed the national examination administered by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc. (RID), which tests knowledge of culture, ethics, and interpreting skills. This is a very rigorous examination which guarantees a minimum level of competency.

Of course, no one interpreter can be qualified for every situation, so SignOn’s scheduling team has the responsibility to gather as much information about your assignment as possible to determine which of our interpreters will best meet your needs.

What guarantees do I have that my interpreter will behave ethically?

All RID/NAD certified interpreters are required to follow the NAD-RID Code of Professional Conduct. This Code of Ethics requires that interpreters behave in a manner appropriate to their position, e.g. interpreters may not add to, omit, or change the message they are interpreting; all assignment-related information must remain confidential; interpreters will use their judgment when accepting assignments; no personal opinions or advice can be interjected while interpreting.

If you feel an interpreter has behaved unethically, you can contact RID to find out how to file a grievance against that interpreter.

Why do I have to have two interpreters for my assignment?

Interpreting is a very taxing activity, both mentally and physically. Research has shown that an interpreter’s ability to mentally process the message and interpret it accurately diminishes drastically after approximately 20 minutes of interpreting. Worse, the interpreter is usually unaware that his or her accuracy has decreased, so misinformation is being unwittingly transmitted.

Additionally, the rate of repetitive motion injuries among sign language interpreters is very high (some studies have shown over 60% of interpreters suffering some injuries that require medical treatment). Therefore, when an assignment is over 1.5 hours, two interpreters will be scheduled; they will rotate approximately every 20 minutes, to ensure that the message is interpreted accurately for the full length of your assignment. SignOn’s scheduling team will assist you in determining the appropriate number of interpreters needed.

Can you interpret for deafblind clients?

Yes. The Seattle area draws many deaf and blind people to this area because of the active DeafBlind Community and rich supply of specialized services.

Interpreting for individuals who are deaf and blind is a highly unique skill that requires the interpreter to literally sign into the hands of the customer or work within close visual proximity. The message must be transmitted at a pace that is manageable and in a language that’s comprehensible to the deafblind person. Deaf (Relay) Interpreters or CDIs are available for those not fluent in ASL.

What is Oral Translation?

Some deaf people read lips as their preferred mode of communication. This is very difficult in a group setting.  An oral interpreter will present on the lips and face what is being said to the deaf consumer. The interpreter does this in such a way, using pace, translation, and expressions, that it is easily understood by a deaf person who uses speech reading.

What is Lip Reading Translation?

There are some situations where an individual who is trying to communicate can mouth the words they’re trying to say but they have no use of their voice. One example of this is with people who have tracheotomies. They have no access to the speech mechanism to produce any sound, but they can move their lips in order to communicate. Often these patients don’t have the ability, at the time, to write or type as well.

SignOn works in partnership with Lip Reading Translation, a company that specializes in speech reading. Check out the link for more details on this highly specialized, professional service.

Someone in my office knows sign language. Can I have that person interpret for us?

Interpreting is a very complex task that requires more than just knowing some sign language. The process of translating a message from one language to another requires a high level of proficiency in both languages, as well as knowing principles of accurate interpretation. A coworker, or someone who is responsible for other duties in your workplace, should not be put in the position of interpreting for a deaf colleague or customer, as it takes away from his/her ability to perform his/her assigned duties.

Additionally, there is no guarantee of quality, accuracy, or confidentiality of information when using a person who works in your office or workplace. In many cases, unintended damage has been done by a “signer” who is trying to help out, requiring more extensive interpreting time to repair the misunderstandings caused by not calling in an interpreter the first time.

Video Remote Interpreting

How does Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) work?

Instead of having an interpreter in person at your place of business, you would have a live interpreter in a remote location that both the deaf and hearing participants can see and hear on a screen. It is just like having the remote interpreter in the room with you. Your screen of choice could be a computer or any video conferencing equipment you have. Most people use a laptop computer.

What situations or settings can I use VRI for?

VRI can be used in most settings that a live interpreter would be used. Some of those are: staff meetings, classrooms, conferences, hospitals, courtrooms, and one-on-one meetings.

What equipment do I need?

You will need a computer and high speed internet connection. In order to have a smooth and clear video connection, it is recommended that you have at least a 1 MB upload/download speed. To check your connection speed, click here

I have my computer and high speed internet, now what?

You will need a webcam for our interpreter to see you. Most new laptops have webcams integrated but often an external webcam works better for VRI. You may also need external speakers and a microphone based on the set-up of your meeting/event. We typically assess that need during our initial test session.

I have a computer, high speed internet and webcam, what now?

Now that you have all your equipment, you just need to choose how to connect with SignOn Video Remote Interpreting service. We offer several ways to connect.

  • Web-based service. We often use Skype as a tool for videoconferencing. It’s a free service and you can easily download it onto your computer. To download the program, go to the Skype website and follow the simple downloading instructions.
  • IP based service. SignOn often uses IP based service using an H.323 video protocol. One of the more popular video software systems we use is Polycom. You would have to purchase a license and download this software onto your computer. Sometimes adjustments need to be made to make sure the portals are all open correctly. Many organizations already operate this protocol and we simply work through existing systems.
  • iChat. Many people who use a Mac already use iChat as a video communication tool. It’s built into the newer Mac computers and is simple to open and operate. iChat provides a very clear picture and is a good option for Mac users.

Can I get an InterpreterNow?

SignOn no longer offers 24/7 instant access to VRI interpreters. We offer pre-scheduled VRI, and can often accommodate same-day requests.

RID Certification Tests

What interpreting certification tests can I take at SignOn?

All RID certification tests are available at SignOn. Some tests may be easier to schedule than others because not all of the LTA’s are able to administer all tests.

Where do I pay for the test?

Application, registration, and payment for all tests must be done through the National Testing System (NTS) at RID, Inc.

Can I schedule a test right after I apply and pay for it?

No. In order to schedule, the Supersite needs verification that RID has received the application and payment for the test(s) candidates want to take. Once you have applied and paid for the test, you should receive an Authorization to Test letter. The typical sequence of events is as followed:

  1. Fill out the testing application form and send it with payment to RID.
  2. Receive the receipt of payment and Authorization to Test letter from RID.
  3. Fax/email a copy of this letter to the Supersite with the month in which you want to test.
  4. A calendar of available dates/times will then be sent to you.

Will you be able to tell me how long it will be before I get my results?

No. We have no contact with the raters and RID does not provide us with information about how long test results are taking. Candidates who need this kind of information will get faster and more complete information by calling RID at (703) 838-0030 (voice), (703) 838-0459 (TTY), or (703) 838-0454 (fax).

Do I schedule the interview and performance portions of the NIC at different times?

No. What is known as the “NIC Performance” is actually a two-part test done on video. It consists of an ethical test and a performance test. They are done on the same day, however, candidates can decide which part to take first. This means that there is only one appointment needed for the whole thing.

Conference Planning

What are some of the things I need to consider before I get started?

  • Include the cost of accommodations (including interpreting services) in the overall conference budget. These costs should be considered when setting registration fees.
  • Immediately upon scheduling a conference: Contact SignOn to begin the requesting process for interpreters. Be prepared to provide information on the conference schedule, location, and topic. This contact may be made before any participants request services.

What information will SignOn need to get started?

Beside the logistics of date, time, and place, the information below is helpful in determining your conference needs:

  • How big/complex is the conference? Factors in complexity:
    • Number of participants
    • Number of deaf and deafblind participants
    • Communication needs of deaf participants
    • Any deaf presenters
    • Number of breakout sessions at any one time
  • Length of conference (number of days/number of hours per day)
  • Topic of conference
  • Format of sessions (workshop, lecture, research paper, panel, roundtable)
  • If people will schedule to attend sessions in advance, or if they will be waiting to make session selections on site
  • Room setup and need for accommodations (lighting, backdrops, etc)
  • Copies of any presentation materials, vocabulary, and schedules.

What information should be gathered through the registration process?


  • Ask participants what accommodations they prefer:
    • ASL interpretation
    • PSE transliteration
    • Oral interpreting
    • Deafblind interpreting (tactile or close visual)
    • Real time captioning
    • Assistive Listening Device (FM system, etc.)
  • Ask participants what their attendance schedule will be (how many days, what hours of the days)

When conference publicity information is sent out, consider what information should be solicited regarding necessary accommodations during the registration process. Set deadline for requests for accommodations. The actual deadline will depending on the registration deadline, amount of advance publicity, number of deaf attendees, the number of sessions offered, and the number of interpreters required.

What would a recommended timeline for access planning look like?

  • 2-3 months before conference start date: Make a schedule of events during the conference. Schedule should include breakdown of times (start times and end times for each day) and configuration of breakout sessions, plenary sessions, and any other activities (including social activities).
  • 2 months in advance: Provide interpreter coordinator with a list of presenters, their phone/fax/email information. (Especially important for any deaf presenters; interpreter coordinator will want to know what their communication modality preferences are, i.e. will they be signing or voicing their presentation, do they prefer ASL or PSE or another sign language, and who are their interpreter preferences.)
  • 2 months in advance, then regular updates: Provide interpreter coordinator with contact information for conference attendees, so that information can be obtained on their schedules and interpreter preferences.
  • 1 month in advance: Approve letter of confirmation.
    • Confirmation letter will cover:
      • Hourly fee
      • Coordination fee (will be negotiated, based on the complexity of the assignment and the number of interpreters required; the coordination fee may be a separate charge, or it may be built into the hourly cost of interpreting services)
      • Total number of hours (approximate; may include a provision for increasing services if information changes)
      • Cancellation policy (both if entire conference cancels, and if only portions of conference cancel)
      • Mileage/parking requirements, if applicable
      • Deadlines for information to be received by SignOn to ensure services. Information on who is involved in the conference organization will be designated the on-site contact for the interpreters
      • Billing address
      • Billing terms
  • 2-4 weeks in advance: Deadline for conference attendees to request services. Requests made after this date may not be guaranteed, or may involve an increase in coordination fees and/or higher hourly fees for interpreters.
  • 2-4 weeks in advance: Determine with interpreter coordinator if any of the following are necessary:
    • Supplementary lighting
    • Backdrops
    • Real-time captioning services
    • Assistive listening devices
  • The interpreter coordinator may need to schedule a walk-through of the conference site in order to determine the need for some of these services.
  • 1-2 weeks in advance: Assist the interpreter coordinator in securing any abstracts, PowerPoint presentations, or notes for interpreters to use in preparation.
  • First day of conference (or day before): Assist the interpreter coordinator in selecting site for interpreters’ table, if on-site coordination will be available. On-site coordination is often provided for at least the first day of the conference.