Your Office Needs an ASL Interpreter...Now What?


Your medical office has just set an appointment with a Deaf patient. Now you need to arrange for an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter. If this is the first time your office has needed ASL interpreting, you might not know where to start, but there are straightforward ways to ensure you provide a qualified interpreter for your patient.

As with any professional service, there are varying degrees of qualifications, and there are significant,  identifying qualities that can help you evaluate potential interpreters for your healthcare setting. Most importantly, professional ASL interpreters should be nationally certified by the Registry Interpreters for the Deaf. By holding this certification, they adhere to a code of professional conduct which outlines confidentiality, professionalism and ethics that protect the integrity of professional interpreting. Further, a qualified interpreter should have medical interpreting experience and training which aids tremendously in providing accurate interpretation for your patients.

Your Office Needs an ASL Interpreter

There are two options for identifying a qualified ASL medical interpreter:

On-Site Interpreting

The first option is to hire an onsite interpreter through a local referral agency. A quick search on Google using the phrase “ASL interpreter referral agency” along with your geographic location should provide listings for multiple agencies in your area. These agencies contract with dozens of interpreters and will help determine the best interpreter for each patient while also arranging payment. When contacting an agency, it’s important to request a certified interpreter with medical interpreting experience.

Scheduling an onsite interpreter often requires two weeks' notice. If a patient needs an appointment more quickly, and the local agency is not able to schedule an interpreter on short notice, video remote interpreting is an effective alternative.

Video Remote Interpreting

Video remote interpreting (VRI) provides instant access to qualified interpreters via WiFi or a broadband internet connection. There are dozens of VRI providers nationwide that contract with interpreters from all over the country. As with local referral agencies, it’s important to vet the VRI company to ensure they provide certified, medically experienced interpreters as well as a few technological safeguards to ensure a smooth experience for your office and patient. In a recent post, we provided a checklist for selecting the best VRI company to make the process easier.

How To Decide

Now that you know you have access to interpreters both locally and via VRI, how do you know which option is best for your office and your patients? If your patient is Deaf-Blind, has low vision, has limited mobility, is scheduled for an appointment with a team of providers at once, or is being seen for a traumatic incident, an onsite interpreter is ideal. However, if none of these circumstances apply to the appointment, VRI is an appropriate and efficient option. Refer to our decision tree for more information on whether to select an ASL interpreter who is on-site or available with VRI.

Oftentimes a Deaf patient will attend an appointment with a hearing family member or friend. While it might seem like the easiest option to rely on a family member or friend to provide interpreting services, it’s important to remember the patient’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the responsibilities of the provider to arrange for interpreting services. Just as we want doctors to provide the best possible medical advice and care, we want professional interpreters to provide access to effective communication, and enable families and friends of patients to focus on offering support and encouragement.

Working with Deaf patients may take a few extra steps prior to the appointment, but once you’ve arranged interpreting services for the first few times, it will become second nature for your office. Most importantly, Deaf patients will be grateful for your diligence in securing the best interpreters for them at each appointment. This gives them the freedom to focus on their health and not on how they are going to effectively communicate with their medical provider.

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