American Sign Language Interpreters and State Licensure


Sight translation by Mary Luczki.

When it comes to hiring qualified interpreters, national certification is a must. The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf is the national organization that issues and maintains the certification system for all nationally certified sign language interpreters. Hiring a nationally certified interpreter comes with some assurances: the interpreter has passed the national exam meeting the minimum requirements to practice, attends 80 hours of workshops and trainings every four years and abides by a code of professional conduct. While interpreters, interpreting agencies, and many Deaf people are familiar with the value of certification and what it involves, those requesting interpreters for their patients, may have no idea what interpreter certification means or that it is even necessary. It is the gap between knowing you need an interpreter and what minimum qualifications are necessary that many states are trying to close.

Currently there are 13 states that have legislation in place that require interpreters to hold state licensure; of those 13, 11 require national certification to hold state licensure. There are numerous benefits of a state licensure requirement, not only for interpreters, but also those requesting interpreters for their Deaf patients and consumers.

Benefits of State Licensure:

Requiring interpreters to hold state licensure ensures that practicing interpreters have met minimum standards set forth by the state. For example, Michigan, a state requiring state licensure says, “Our mission is affirming the indisputable right of Deaf, Blind and Hard of Hearing Persons to secure effective communication.”

In Iowa, the state evaluates the qualifications of applicants for licensure and grants licenses to those who qualify.  The Board establishes rules and regulations to ensure the integrity and competence of licensed Interpreter's for the deaf and hard of hearing and investigates complaints for unprofessional conduct.  The Board is the link between the consumer and the licensed Interpreter and, as such, promotes public health, welfare and safety. State licensure provides an additional layer of proof that an interpreter has the skills necessary to provide the highest quality service possible. In Illinois, interpreter licenses are based on proficiency levels. The proficiency levels determine which interpreting assignments an interpreter can accept.

New Hampshire requires licensed interpreters to obey the professional conduct standards and professional principles as set forth in the rules, Chapter 500, Int 501.03 and Int 501.04, respectively. The Board of Licensure holds statutory jurisdiction to make decisions on applications for licensure and complaints filed against licensees. A written allegation of professional misconduct against a licensed interpreter should be addressed to the board. A complaint which raises genuine issues of professional misconduct will initiate a formal disciplinary hearing. A pre-hearing conference can be scheduled if the presiding officer determines that to do so would facilitate the hearing or encourage resolution of the dispute. The above may be referenced in the statute RSA 326-I:4 III and 326-I:14 and 326-I:15 and in the rules Chapter 200 Int 204.01-03 and Int 210.

Non-resident interpreters certified by the national Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf/National Association of the Deaf (RID/NAD) or the American Consortium of Certified Interpreters (ACCI), levels IV and V, who have completed RID/NAD-approved legal interpreter training or who hold a legal specialty certificate (RID SCL:L) when working in court settings in New Hampshire, are not required to be licensed, provided that such interpreter shall be subject to disciplinary procedures of the board.

As exemplified above, the benefits to state licensure are numerous. State licensure provides the, Deaf and hard of hearing, recourse in the event there is a grievance that stretches beyond the certifying organization. When states require licensure and all the requirements that come with it, the mystery of knowing whether an interpreter has met the minimum qualifications is removed, giving peace of mind to hiring entities. While certification is the baseline, it is important to remember interpreter experience and expertise is crucial when pairing the right interpreter with Deaf consumers.


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