Focus on Deafness: The Role of the ASL Interpreter

Robb Adams, ASL Coordinator, 585-200-1317 (voice and text)

There are different kinds of interpreters for deaf people: American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreters, Signed English Interpreters, Oral Interpreters, Cued Speech Transliterators and more. All of these interpreters may be found in Rochester. The most common interpreters requested are the ASL Interpreters, whose primary function is not to translate word-for-word, but to adapt the spoken message in English into a visually signed message—ASL. ASL interpretation is, therefore, more subjective and more nuanced than straightforward translation.

Most skilled interpreters can walk into almost any setting and begin to interpret into ASL. However, this interpreted message is more fluid when the interpreter has background knowledge of the vocabulary and workings of a given setting such as a medical office, a legal office, or a church service. The interpreted message will also improve as the interpreter gets to know the deaf customer and his or her particular vernacular.

When I went to college in the Midwest, my roommate (from the Midwest) used the word “pop” when we were talking about carbonated drinks. I said that I used the word, “soda.” We then had a conversation about all of the words and expressions that were different between the Midwest and the East coast. That’s the kind of clarification that can and should go on between an interpreter and the deaf customer. Subtle clarifications of meaning can enhance and deepen the meaning of a message. 

Next month I plan to talk about some of the specific signs that our Interpreter is using for religious terms like faith, grace, God, heaven, and amen. These and many other religious terms are used throughout the service. See if you can find them as the interpreter is communicating. Please let me know what you see and what you think about our interpreting services on Sunday mornings. I welcome your feedback.