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Frequently Asked Questions

Is sign language the same all over the world?
No. American Sign Language (ASL) is used in the United States. It is a unique language with a distinct culture. Just as spoken languages have evolved throughout the world, various signed languages have also emerged in different parts of the world.

Can deaf people read lips?
Only a small percentage of language is speech readable. Many words look the same on the lips. What the mouth can form is only a small portion of speech reading. The other factors affecting speech reading ability are not visible in that manner.

Why can't we just communicate by writing back and forth?
Besides the enormous amount of time it takes, ASL has a completely different structure than English. A simple example would be the phrase "I'm going to the store tomorrow." In ASL that would be changed to "Tomorrow store I go to." There is no verb tense other than the initial declaration of time, past, present or future. The pronouns are included in the verb, and ASL has no articles (the, a, an). Plurals are shown by repetition of a sign. Adjectives are placed after the nouns they describe. Adverbs are in the body language and expressions that comprise most of the language, and it simply isn't possible to express in writing.

Why can't the deaf person just bring a family member to interpret?
There are a number of factors that come into play — ethical concerns, privacy, security, emotions and, perhaps most important, liability. Especially in emergency situations, it would be highly unethical to place a family member in the middle of a communication process when they need to be focusing on personal matters. In addition, subjects may come up that are inappropriate for a family member to be part of. Also, there is more danger of liability issues if a family member makes a mistake in the midst of stress or confusion. Incorrect medicine could be given, credit decisions could be misdirected and situations could go awry resulting in actions that could adversely affect the deaf person's life. It could even result in serious illness, injury or death. Qualified interpreters, specifically appropriate for the situation presented, should always be employed to facilitate the most favorable results and avoid problems.

Someone in my office knows sign language. Can't that person interpret for us?
People with disabilities have the legal right to "qualified" interpreters, according to the meaning of that word in U.S. federal law. For example, interpreters are required to be impartial and to have a specific level of skills. For informal, brief, non-critical communication with deaf consumers (for example, taking an order in a restaurant, checking books out of the library, etc.) it is perfectly acceptable to be creative using signs, writing, miming, demonstration pictures and other ways to "talk." However, for any communication where accuracy for the deaf consumer, the hearing person, or both, is critical, an interpreter is required under law. You should ask, "Do you need an interpreter?" and if the response is "yes," then you must provide one. Typically communications at these venues are considered critical:

urgent care
doctor's offices
school meetings
parent/teacher conferences
university classrooms
training sessions
phone conference calls
staff meetings
IEP meetings

When should I consider hiring an interpreter?
An interpreter should be used whenever you want to accurately and efficiently convey information during official meetings, social events, disciplinary proceedings, telephone conferences or private phone calls. Using an interpreter ensures impartiality and confidentiality because everyone is able to participate equally, using his or her native language.

Why should my business or organization provide interpreting services?
Interpreting is an effective means of providing access to your company or organization to a much broader segment of the population. Providing an interpreter saves time and reduces confusion, liability and frustration for all parties involved. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that a sign language interpreter be provided in order to give clear and concise communication and to prevent discriminatory treatment of deaf and hearing-impaired individuals.

How can I learn more about my responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?
Visit the ADA website.

Is the deaf person responsible for payment?
No. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a business or organization cannot charge a person with a disability for the cost of the accommodation; for example, a sign language interpreter. For more information refer to the ADA website.

How am I charged for interpreting services?
Interpreting services are usually billed on an hourly basis, with a two-hour or three-hour minimum. Because interpreting is physically and mentally demanding, assignments typically require a team of interpreters, with individuals alternating during the job. Hourly rates vary, based on factors such as type of assignment, complexity and how much advance notice you provide WIN.

Why would I need two interpreters for one assignment?
Team interpreting is standard practice in this profession. Two or more interpreters work as equal members of a team, rotating at prearranged intervals and providing support and feedback to each other. Research shows that the longer the period of time the interpreter translates, the less accurate and effective the service becomes. When an assignment is more than two hours, two interpreters are scheduled. They relieve each other approximately every 20 minutes to ensure the message is as accurate as possible for the full length of your assignment. In addition, using this "20/20" approach for an interpreting team ensures the professionals don't incur injuries that could put an early end to their career. WIN's scheduler can assist you in determining the appropriate number of interpreters for your job.

Why is there a minimum charge?
Because interpreters come to you, on your schedule, their fees have to take into account the amount of time spent traveling between jobs and wait time for the assignment to start. Additionally, mileage and/or travel time may be charged, depending on how far the interpreter has to travel to your assignment.

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, the cost for interpreting services can sometimes be more than the amount you generate in revenue for that encounter. However, if you consider the cost as part of your overhead over the course of a year, providing accessible services is quite reasonable.

What if I have to cancel my request?
When you schedule an interpreter, you are purchasing his or her time. If you have to cancel your request, it may or may not be possible for us to reschedule that time for another customer. WIN's policy is that we charge the full rate for assignments cancelled with less than two business days' notice.

How do I know that what is discussed will be kept confidential?
All interpreters are expected to adhere to the RID Code of Professional Conduct.

How can I be sure my interpreter will behave ethically?
All RID-certified interpreters are required to follow the RID Code of Professional Conduct. This code obligates interpreters to behave in a manner appropriate to their position. For example, interpreters may not add to, omit or change the message they are interpreting. All assignment-related information must remain confidential. Interpreters must use their judgment when accepting assignments and no personal opinions or advice can be interjected while interpreting. If you have any questions about the behavior of a WIN interpreter, you should contact us immediately. You can also contact RID directly to find out how to file a grievance against an interpreter.

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