A Display of Incompetence:

Residents of Manatee County, Florida anxiously watched the news to find out if an evacuation of their homes was to be issued due to Hurricane Irma heading straight for their communities. Officials held a news conference because of the natural disaster to tell the residents there was in fact a mandatory evacuation ordered for people in the path of most danger. Residents were ordered to seek higher ground and consider staying at shelters. The man hired to extend the vital information to deaf viewers, was not a professional sign language interpreter, he works as a lifeguard for a county run beach and has a brother who is deaf. A spokeswoman for the county claimed there was not enough time to find a professional ASL interpreter before the news conference and that’s why the unqualified man was asked to interpret.

The signing was unintelligible at most points and referenced pizza, bear monsters, BB team trucks and he even called the evacuation a test. This was critical information that needed to be delivered to residents in order to save lives, the use of an unqualified person to provide sign language interpretation was unacceptable and in this case potentially could have put residents in danger. Situations like this show the absolute necessity of hiring a professional language service provider when in need of an ASL interpreter. There is no substitute for professional skills and there is not an instance in which it’s ok to put the responsibility of interpretation on the shoulders of an unqualified individual.

ASL Interpreters Are Trained and Skilled at Interpreting:

Professional ASL interpreters develop interpreting skills through extensive training and practice. The art of interpretation, spoken or visual, requires time, dedication, study, immersion and constant practice. ASL interpreters facilitate communication between signed and spoken languages. Facial expressions, body language and lip movements are all integral parts of an interpretation. ASL interpreters often use finger spelling for jargon or industry-specific words but the interpreter must be able to sign anything without hesitation. This was clearly not the case at the news conference, the man signing looked unsure and fumbled throughout the interpretation. Interpreting is not a job for just anyone who knows how to sign, this is a job for a person who has been professionally trained and has experience signing. The signer in the news conference gave off a huge clue that he was not professional because he wore a yellow shirt while signing. Professional ASL interpreters know that solid shirts should be worn during interpretation sessions and if you are light in complexion you should wear a dark shirt and if you’re darker in complexion you should wear a lighter shirt to contrast your hands for better viewing. It’s important that professionals are hired when in need of ASL interpreting, the risk is too great to allow an unqualified person to handle the job.

ASL Interpretation Etiquette, Get The Most Out of Working with an ASL Interpreter:

  • Hire a reputable language service provider to gain access to competent ASL interpreters who have experience and credentials to back their interpreting ability.
  • If able and if time permits, provide the interpreter with as much information as you can before the actual interpretation session including notes or presentation files, this helps the ASL interpreter better prepare for the session.
  • If the lights will be low during the interpretation, remember to allow enough light to shine on the ASL interpreter, they have to be seen to be understood.
  • Allow the ASL interpreter to position him or herself in the best possible viewing range for the individuals he or she is interpreting for.
  • Look and speak directly to the deaf person, the interpreter is there to facilitate communication, you are not having a conversation with the interpreter.
  • Be yourself, speak at a normal pace, style and tone.
  • Be aware that the interpreter must interpret everything you say, so if there is something you do not want repeated then don’t say it.
  • Relax, be friendly, have patience and ask questions if you are unsure of the process.

Niki’s Int’l Ltd. is a WBENC-Certified Women Business Enterprise with 21 years of language service experience. A global network of highly skilled interpreters and translators are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for on-site, telephonic and video remote interpretation services. Our linguists are available in over 350 languages and dialects, and our network includes certified interpreters and translators. Our work is guaranteed with a $1 Million Errors & Omissions policy, so that you can be confident that your project will be completed with the highest level of quality and professionalism within the field. For more information contact us at 1-877-567-8449 or visit our website at

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