General Questions

The following questions concern HSDC Interpreting Services and interpreting for the Deaf and hard of hearing. For basic information on how to communicate with Deaf and hard of hearing individuals, visit our Deaf 101 page.

Ready to schedule an interpreter? Visit our Request an Interpreter page.

Who is required to pay for an interpreter?

An interpreter facilitates communication between parties who do not share the same language. Deaf, DeafBlind, and hard of hearing people may be prevented from understanding and/or participating in situations if spoken or written English is the main mode of communication.

Some simple communication (for example, a brief encounter 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?

Businesses and community organizations are responsible for paying for sign language interpreting services. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates that “title II entities (State and local governments) and title III entities (businesses and nonprofit organizations that serve the public) communicate effectively with people who have communication disabilities. The goal is to ensure that communication with people with these disabilities is equally effective as communication with people without disabilities.” You can find some quick tips here.

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 The ADA is superseded in Washington State by the Revised Code of Washington (RCW), which covers employers with 8 or more employees.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

Accessibility services such as sign language interpreting should be budgeted as part of your annual planning. It is true that, on a per-encounter basis, some organizations may pay more for interpreting services than is generated in revenue. 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 a 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 their 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 the needs of many customers 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 sudden need, don’t despair. Often another customer will cancel interpreting services at the last minute, freeing up an interpreter’s time for your urgent request. Contact us to ask about immediate availability.

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

No. 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 in a professional setting.

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, requiring a professional interpreter to be hired just to interpret a mediation that would not have been necessary if that same professional interpreter was obtained at the start.

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 requires deep understanding of the information that is being transmitted, as well as practiced manual interpreting skills.

Most sign language interpreters have studied American Sign Language (ASL) for two to five years, in addition to 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 HSDC’s interpreters (excepting apprentices) have passed the national examination administered by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (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. Our scheduling team will 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 RID Code of Professional Conduct, developed in partnership with the National Association of the Deaf (NAD). This Code of Ethics requires that interpreters behave in a manner appropriate to their position. This means that 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; finally, 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 and interpret a message 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. Our 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 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 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.

We work in partnership with Lip Reading Translation, a company that specializes in speech reading. Visit the link for more details on this highly specialized, professional service.

What happened to SignOn and the ASL Interpreter Network (ASLIN)?

SignOn Interpreting Services was founded in Seattle in 1997 and joined Hearing, Speech & Deaf Center in 2011. In 2017, SignOn merged with the ASL Interpreter Network (ASLIN), becoming HSDC Interpreting Services. The merger will help HSDC to provide more complete, accessible interpreting services to the Puget Sound area. With the combined resources of the former SignOn and ASLIN, we contract with interpreters of almost every specialization and can assign the perfect interpreter to each assignment we accept.

You can view a video announcing the merger here.

Video Remote Interpreting (VRI)

Ready to schedule a VRI appointment? Visit our Request an Interpreter page. If you have more questions about VRI interpreting, feel free to contact us.

How does VRI work?

Rather than having an interpreter in person at your appointment, your interpreting would be done through a video connection in which an interpreter at another location interacts with both the Deaf and hearing participants through a video screen and camera. It is just like having the remote interpreter in the room with you.

Your video screen can be a computer with a camera or any other video conferencing equipment you have. Most people use a laptop computer.

In what situations or settings can I use VRI?

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

If you’re not sure if you should request a VRI interpreter or an in-person interpreter, feel free to contact us and ask.

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 1MB upload/download speed. To check your connection speed, click here

You will also need a webcam for our interpreter to see you. Most new laptops have webcams integrated, but external webcams often work better for VRI because they are more powerful. You may also need external speakers and a microphone based on the arrangement of your meeting/event.

We typically assess your equipment needs during test sessions. If you’re missing any necessary equipment, we can let you know.

I have the necessary equipment. What now?

Now that you have all your equipment, you just need to choose how to connect with HSDC Interpreting Services. We offer several options.

  • Web-based. We often use Skype as a tool for videoconferencing. It’s a free service and you can easily download it onto your computer. Just go to the Skype website and follow the simple downloading instructions.
  • IP-based. We often use 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.

We will discuss the best connection option for you when you contact us to schedule an interpreter.

Can I get a VRI interpreter immediately?

We offer pre-scheduled VRI appointments and do not currently provide 24/7 instant access to VRI interpreters. However, we can often accommodate same-day requests.

If you have an urgent VRI need, contact us to inquire about availability.

Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) Certification Tests

What interpreting certification tests can I take through HSDC Interpreting Services?

All RID certification tests are available through HSDC Interpreting Services. 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 Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID).

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

No. 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 may take. 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.

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 HSDC Interpreting Services to begin the requesting process for interpreters. Be prepared to provide information on the conference schedule, location, and topic. You may contact us before any participants request services. We can help you prepare to accommodate your Deaf and hard of hearing clients or participants.

What information will I need to provide?

Besides 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, DeafBlind, and hard of hearing participants
    • Communication needs of Deaf, DeafBlind, and hard of hearing participants
    • Any Deaf, DeafBlind, or hard of hearing 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 I gather from conference clients/attendees during registration?


  • 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. We can work with you to decide the best course of action.

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 HSDC Interpreting Services with a list of presenters and their phone/fax/email information. (Especially important for any Deaf presenters; interpreter coordinator will want to know their communication modality preferences.)
  • 2 months in advance, then regular updates: Provide HSDC Interpreting Services 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, which 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 specific interpreting assignments cancel)
    • Mileage/parking requirements, if applicable
    • Deadlines for information to be received by HSDC Interpreting Services 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 HSDC Interpreting Services if any of the services below are necessary. We may need to schedule a walk-through of the conference site in order to determine your need.
    • Supplementary lighting
    • Backdrops
    • Real-time captioning services
    • Assistive listening devices
  • 1-2 weeks in advance: Assist the HSDC Interpreting Services in securing any abstracts, PowerPoint presentations, or notes for interpreters to use in preparation.
  • First day of conference (or day before): Assist HSDC Intepreting Services 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.

Still have questions? We’re here to help! Contact us today.