Working with Sign Language Interpreters

The following information is presented to facilitate communication between you and any people who use sign language interpreting.

What do interpreters do?

  • Interpreters are highly trained professionals who adhere to a code of professional conduct with strict standards of confidentiality, neutrality, professionalism, and respect.
  • Interpreters are present solely to facilitate communication between the Deaf student, instructor, and the class. They translate spoken language into visual language (and vice-versa) to ensure that the Deaf student has equal access to your course.
  • Interpreters do not provide tutoring or any other academic or support services.
  • Interpreters cannot assist with handing out papers or running errands.

Where will the interpreter be located?

  • For in-person courses, the ASL interpreter will find a location where they will stand throughout class so that the interpreter and instructor are both in the Deaf student’s line of sight.
    • Whenever possible, work with interpreters so that they can stand in front of a neutral background, rather than a window or backlit background.
  • For remote/online courses, ASL Interpreters will join all synchronous meeting times and interpret over video.
    • The interpreter will need to have access to join the synchronous meeting link. Do not use the Zoom setting “Authenticated Users Only” for your course meetings, as service providers may be unable to join. Instead, try requiring a passcode that can be shared to all attendees!
    • Keep the Zoom chat available. If the student or ASL interpreter has urgent questions of technology issues during class, this may be the best way for them to reach each other or you. 

What is the best way to interact with an interpreter?

  • Interpreters are required to interpret everything that is said. Do not ask the interpreter to refrain from interpreting what you say. Interpreters are also required to interpret what the Deaf student says.
  • Interpreters often work in teams of two and switch during the class. One interpreter will rest out of the way while the other interprets.
  • Speak directly to the Deaf student. If you need to address an interpreter directly, start with “Interpreter ….” and be aware that the interpreter will interpret the conversation.
  • When the interpreter speaks, they are voicing what the Deaf student is saying. Keep your eyes on the Deaf student; the interpreter is not a participant in the conversation, but may ask for clarification, or for someone to repeat what is said on occasion to ensure accurate interpreting.
  • While a Deaf student may or may not speak themselves, it is not appropriate to ask them to speak.
  • Work with the student to arrange for an interpreter for meetings during office hours or outside of class. You can use our request form to do so.

    The Do and Do Not of Working with ASL Interpreters

    Do: Do Not:
    DO speak directly to the Deaf student and maintain respectful eye contact. DO NOT talk to or look at the interpreter as if the Deaf student isn’t there, or talk about the Deaf student in the third person (“Tell them…”)
    DO speak in your regular tone of voice and at your natural pace. The interpreter will ask you to slow down or clarify if needed. DO NOT speak slowly or over-enunciate.
    DO plan for the interpreter to stand or sit near you so that you and the interpreter are in the Deaf student’s line of sight. DO NOT ask the interpreter to sit next to the Deaf student or have the interpreter stand at a distance from you. Too much distance between you causes the Deaf student to look back and forth between the instructor and the interpreter, similar to watching a tennis match.
    DO make sure the interpreters are present when you communicate with a Deaf student. Students or their instructors can request interpreting services for scheduled meetings from the DRC by entering a request for ASL interpreting. If a student is not sure what to do, please refer them to the DRC. DO NOT assume the Deaf student can read lips. Even proficient lip readers only get about 35% of what is said; the rest they guess by context. Interpreters are a vital part of accurate, appropriate communication.
    DO provide handouts to the Deaf student and interpreters prior to the class. DO NOT ask interpreters to carry handouts from you to the student.
    DO use sign language interpreters to provide interpreting services in classes or meetings. DO NOT ask a student or colleague who knows sign language to act as an interpreter. It is not possible for someone to participate in the class/meeting and interpret at the same time.


    The following video about sign language interpreting in the classroom from St. Petersburg College contains helpful information about working with ASL interpreters. Note that procedures at St. Petersburg are different than here at PSU, and we recommend that you view only the first four minutes.

    Watch the first 4 minutes only!

    If you have questions about the information on this page, please contact the Disability Resource Center.

    Access Services Coordinator
    For Interpreting and Captioning
    Phone: 503-725-6504

    Check our home page ( for our hours and contact information.