Deaf Certified Interpreters

While American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters are common, Certified Deaf Interpreters (CDIs) are less common. 

However, CDIs share many similarities with ASL interpreters, possessing specialized knowledge and skills that ASL interpreters lack training in. The relationship between CDIs and ASL interpreters resembles that between Special Forces and a town Sheriff; both have overlapping abilities, yet distinct skill sets tailored for working with Deaf clients. 

CDIs and ASL interpreters often collaborate as a team, like in courts and hospitals, to facilitate communication between hearing individuals and Deaf clients by complementing each other’s strengths. 

There are two groups of interpreters to note – Certified Deaf Interpreters and Deaf Interpreters. While Deaf Interpreters lack certification, they still possess similar skills and expertise as their certified counterparts. The focus of this post is on Certified Deaf Interpreters.

What are Three Requirements of a CDI:

A Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI) is a Deaf or hard-of-hearing individual:

  1. Who is a native user of American Sign Language (ASL).
  2. An established member of the Deaf community with a strong sense of Deaf culture.
  3. Certified by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc. (RID) through their certification process.

What is the Key Difference that sets CDI apart from ASL interpreters?

The first major difference between ASL interpreters and CDIs is that ASL interpreters are typically hearing while CDIs are Deaf or hard of hearing from birth. 

ASL interpreters undergo extensive training to become professional interpreters, whereas CDIs are natives, inherently part of the Deaf community and deeply familiar with Deaf culture due to being raised within it. 

The crucial distinction is the use of the word “native.”

For ASL interpreters, sign language is their second language, whereas for CDIs, it is their native tongue. Working extensively in a second language can be mentally and physically draining for non-native speakers, potentially impacting interpretation quality. 

CDIs, on the other hand, do not experience this added cognitive burden since sign language is innate for them.

CDIs, who are native in sign language and Deaf culture, can communicate more easily and clearly with Deaf individuals than ASL interpreters. Unlike ASL interpreters, who focus on translating spoken language into sign language, CDIs specialize in incorporating interpreting, gestures, miming, classifiers, non-manual markers and other tools to provide nuanced Deaf communication. This fluency and cultural expertise allows CDIs to convey information to Deaf individuals with greater accuracy.

It should be evident that Certified Deaf Interpreters (CDIs) do not provide the same service as American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters. While CDIs specialize in sign language, they cannot interpret spoken language like ASL interpreters. Therefore, ASL interpreters and CDIs often collaborate to enable more accurate interpretation. 

The ASL interpreter vocalizes the spoken language into ASL for the CDI, who then signs it to the Deaf client. In turn, the Deaf client signs to the CDI, who interprets into ASL for the ASL interpreter, who then interprets into spoken language.

When does CDI comes in? 

  • Deaf youth
  • a developmentally disabled Deaf person
  • someone using non-standard American Sign Language (ASL) or a unique dialect of ASL
  • a Deaf person who uses a foreign sign language
  • a victim
  • a Deaf person overwhelmed by the pace of the interpreting process
  • in a variety of legal and medical situations

How does the Interpreting Process work with a Deaf Interpreter?

A Deaf interpreter works together with a hearing sign language interpreter to facilitate communication between hearing and Deaf individuals. The hearing interpreter conveys the message from the hearing person to the Deaf interpreter. The Deaf interpreter then interprets the message into the sign language and cultural references most easily understood by the Deaf recipient. This allows the Deaf interpreter to bridge any linguistic or cultural gaps for the Deaf recipient.

When faced with highly complex situations, Deaf and hearing interpreters often collaborate to fully comprehend a Deaf individual’s message. The interpreters discuss the message together in order to produce the most accurate interpretation possible, which they then relay to the hearing person.

The Deaf interpreter must adhere to the same Code of Professional Conduct as the hearing interpreter. This code requires confidentiality for all assignment details, professional and neutral conduct at all times (the Deaf interpreter does not act as an advocate), and accurate relaying of information that captures both the emotion and message.

Benefits of using Deaf/Hearing Interpreting Team

The consecutive interpreting process understandably requires more time than simultaneous interpreting or working with one interpreter. However, the benefits make it worthwhile: a Deaf/hearing interpreter team optimizes understanding for all parties and efficiently uses everyone’s time and resources.

Taking extra time to ensure effective Deaf/hearing interpretation is more cost-effective than having to reschedule and repeat the entire process when using just one hearing interpreter proves unsuccessful.

Deaf interpreters have a deep cultural awareness that allows them to establish trust and provide sensitive interpretation to Deaf individuals and marginalized communities, who often face injustice. While Deaf interpreting has been practiced since the 18th century, it is only recently gaining professional recognition for its immense value in the field.

Until next time, ta ta! 😄🤟🏻

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