This site is best viewed in Firefox, Chrome, Safari, or EdgeX

What is a Sign Language Interpreter?

An interpreter is a specially trained professional whose job is to convey the messages of people who do not share the same language, culture, or mode of communication.

The purpose of providing an interpreter is to allow hearing, deaf and hard of hearing people equal access to information and interactions.

People who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing Communicate in a Variety of Ways:

  • Many use some form of sign language, usually American Sign Language (ASL).
  • Other modes of sign language may also be preferred (i.e. Signed English – a hybrid of ASL signs expressed in English grammatical order)
  • Others may prefer to use their own voice and/or lip read

What is a Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART)?

Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is a word-for-word speech-to-text interpreting service for people who need communication access. Unlike computerized notetaking or abbreviation systems, which summarize information for consumers, CART provides a complete translation of all spoken words and environmental sounds, empowering consumers to decide for themselves what information is important to them. CART consumers include people with hearing loss; individuals with cognitive or motor challenges; anyone desiring to improve reading/language skills; and those with other communication barriers. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) specifically recognizes CART as an assistive technology that affords effective communication access.

What are the various ways to use CART?

A CART provider supplies instant speech-to-text translation on a computer monitor or other display for the benefit of an individual consumer or larger group in a number of settings: classrooms; business, government, and educational functions; courtrooms; religious, civic, cultural, recreation, or entertainment events. A CART provider is sensitive to the varying needs of consumers and has had training in conveying a speaker’s message, complete with environmental cues. This expertise distinguishes a CART provider from a court reporter in a traditional litigation setting.
BROADCAST CAPTIONING While broadcast captioning falls under the CART umbrella in its broadest sense — communication access — it is considered a separate specialty. The software, hardware, and technical knowledge base will not be addressed in this document.
REMOTE CART When providing remote CART, the provider is in one location and the consumer is in another. The CART provider is listening to voices via the phone or over the Internet, translating the speech to text in realtime, and transmitting the text to a designated Uniform Resource Locator (URL), Web page, Internet site, other locations or devices. This is particularly helpful in areas where there is a lack of CART providers. Special technical training and support is necessary when providing this service. For equipment requirements.

Frequently Asked Questions

Sign Language Interpreting FAQs

Q: Can anyone who signs be an interpreter?

Q: Can anyone who signs be an interpreter?

A. No. Perhaps the biggest misconception of the general public is that anyone who has taken classes in American Sign Language or knows the manual alphabet, is qualified to be an interpreter. A signer is a person who can communicate conversationally with people who are deaf or hard of hearing. An interpreter is a person who is not only bilingual but has also received specialized training and credentials to develop the skills and expertise needed to mediate meanings across languages and cultures. The development of these skills requires years of training and practice.

To ensure the quality of interpreting services, an interpreter is a professional who has passed either a state or national level of certification. As such, he or she is bound by a strict Code of Professional Conduct as established by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf.

Q: Are there different kinds of sign language interpreters?

Q: Are there different kinds of sign language interpreters?

A. Yes. People who are deaf or hard of hearing communicate in a variety of ways. Thus, there are distinct modes of interpreting that correspond to each.

They are:

  1. Interpreting in American Sign Language (ASL): ASL is a distinct language with its own grammar, syntax and cultural nuances. ASL is as different from English as Spanish. An ASL interpreter will sign, using ASL, what is spoken in English and voice into spoken English what is signed in ASL.
  2. Transliterating in Signed English: Interpreters transliterate when they combine signs and finger spelling to present a visual, manually-coded form of English following the grammatical structure of English. The interpreter will voice into spoken English what is signed in a visual form of English and voice into spoken English what is signed in Signed English.
  3. Oral Interpreting: Interpreters will show mouth movements of a spoken English message without using their voice. At times, they may mouth a word which is more “lipreadable”. They may also use their voice to clarify any spoken message of the person who is deaf or hard of hearing.
Q: What is the role of the interpreter?

Q: What is the role of the interpreter?

A. Sign language interpreters are bound by a Code of Professional Conduct that has been established to protect the rights of all consumers of interpreting services: individuals who are hearing, deaf, or hard of hearing. This Code sets standards of professional behavior and practices for interpreters that ensure confidentiality, discretion and impartiality in conveying the messages of all consumers involved.

It is virtually impossible to be both an active participant in an interpreted interaction and a neutral communication bridge between the hearing, deaf and hard of hearing persons involved. For this reason, it is not within the realm of the interpreter’s role to advise, edit, advocate, teach, or participate while in the interpreting situation. The interpreter must faithfully transmit the spirit and content of any speaker or signer, leaving the right to control the communication interactions with the consumers: hearing, deaf or hard of hearing.

A primary tenet of the professional interpreter’s professional code is that all information conveyed during any interaction where the interpreter works is to remain strictly confidential. Revealing information outside the context of the interpreted situation remains the sole right of the consumers involved.

Because the ultimate goal of providing interpreter services is to provide equal access for all interactions between deaf and hearing persons, the interpreter is responsible for conveying all comments made by all consumers involved. This means that the interpreter will sign any comments voiced by hearing consumers and will voice any comments signed by deaf or hard of hearing consumers without exception.


Q: Can anyone be a CART Provider?

Q: Can anyone who signs be an interpreter?

Attainment of certification so that an individual’s skills and knowledge can be examined objectively is strongly recommended. NCRA’s Certified CART Provider (CCP) designation is a nationally recognized standard. The CCP combines a written knowledge test and a skills exam focused on the requirements demanded of a competent CART provider. Other exams that may be relevant to judging an individual’s capability to perform the required work are the Certified Realtime Reporter (CRR) and Registered Professional Reporter (RPR) designations. Although both the CRR and RPR also incorporate written knowledge and skills exams, neither tests an individual’s knowledge of or capacity to provide CART with the specificity offered by the CCP exam.

Q: What is the role of a CART Provider?

Q: What is the role of a CART Provider?

A. Staying in Role A CART provider’s role is to facilitate communication. The CART provider will at all times stay in role and perform in a manner appropriate to the situation. A CART provider should decline any invitation or suggestion by participants and the consumer to comment, interject, advise, respond to inquiries, or in any way become involved in the assignment outside the role of CART provider. If necessary, the CART provider should politely explain the necessity to stay “in role.” A CART provider may be asked to step out of role to answer questions about the service, to demonstrate equipment during a break, or to schedule future dates. Deviations from role should be the exception and should be discouraged, but may occur with the approval of the CART consumer. The CART provider must exercise discretion in situations which may warrant interrupting the proceedings to ensure the integrity of the CART translation. Care should be taken not to call undue attention to the consumer or oneself. At the request of the consumer, the CART provider may voice for the consumer in order to facilitate communication.

B. Impartiality the CART provider must be fair and impartial to each participant in all aspects of CART and be alert to conflicts of interest. Such circumstances may include, for example, an assignment involving a participant who is a close friend, family member, or business associate. Any potential conflict of interest or inability to be impartial shall be disclosed by the CART provider. Failure to do so may make it difficult to prove oneself unbiased if challenged.

C. Confidentiality Courtesy and discretion are required of the CART provider at all times. A casual word or action may betray a consumer’s confidences or violate a client’s privacy. Confidentiality of the consumer’s information and privacy of the person must be maintained.

Print View