Bridging the Cultural Gap

Sign Language InterpreterWhat’s it like to be an American Sign Language interpreter?  It’s not just about bridging the communication gap.  It’s also about educating – helping the hearing public learn what it’s like to be Deaf in a hearing world.

The Deaf community encompasses different types of persons: Deaf, Deaf-Blind, Late-Deafened, and Hard of Hearing (HOH) persons.  It also includes hearing persons such as family members and interpreters.  There are also different signed languages.  The most common one used in the United States is ASL—American Sign Language.  But travel to another country or continent and you’ll find as many signed languages as there are spoken languages.

One of the most common situations that require education has to do with eye contact. Eye contact is very important to the Deaf community, so the hearing person needs to make eye contact with the Deaf person and not with the interpreter.  The hearing person also needs to remember that this is a conversation with the Deaf person and not with the interpreter.  It is considered rude to start a statement or question with “tell him/her that…” or “can you ask him/her if…”.  And just like any hearing conversation, when something is spoken, everyone hears.  The same rule applies when talking to someone who’s Deaf.  It’s important to refrain from asking the interpreter not to sign part of the conversation or telling the interpreter that what he/she missed doesn’t apply to the Deaf person and not to worry about it.

1022427_30637656Every day is a new schedule and experience for an interpreter.  They may be signing in a family therapy session or tactile-interpreting for Deaf-Blind consumers in group or individual settings.   They interpret during medical reviews for patients and their doctors.  They are also called to interpret at ISD (Indiana School for the Deaf) when students meet with an Aspire doctor or Advanced Nurse Practitioner.  Interpreters also interpret during Aspire staff meetings and training sessions to ensure a smooth communication process.

So what is it like to be an ASL interpreter?  One interpreter summed it up like this: “I’m not a direct service provider by any means, but it is amazing to be able to be a part of the healing process for so many of our clients. It’s also especially rewarding to know that I’m helping bridge the gap between the hearing and Deaf worlds.”

-To learn more about Aspire Indiana’s Deaf Services program, visit Aspire Indiana’s webpage at, or visit Aspire Indiana’s Deaf Services Facebook page at

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