How do Sign Language Interpreters Increase Opportunity in a Weak Economy?

February 2, 2012

How often do we as sign language interpreters think about the demands placed on an interpreter scheduler? Brandon Arthur challenges us to reach out and become true partners with this integral position in many of our worlds for the goal of our mutual benefit.

One of the main giving hands in the sign language interpreter economy is the scheduler of interpreting services for the local interpreting agency, university, or VRS company.  These daring individuals play an extremely important role in the livelihood of most sign language interpreters.  So, when it can literally mean the difference between thousands of dollars and ample opportunity or zippy, why are they so frequently unappreciated?

Why Ingratiate?

As a sign language interpreter, if you truly consider the impact a scheduler can have on the opportunities presented to you, it is clear that to invest in them is not just a good idea—its’ critically necessary.  These are the folks who control who gets called first, offered the high profile and multiple day assignments, and pair interpreters for requests needing more than one.

So, what do you do to ingratiate yourself to these workers of logistical magic?  How do you ensure you are considered among the first contacted when an opportunity presents itself?

What follows are suggestions for developing the type of working relationship that will position you top-of-mind with the sign language interpreter schedulers you work with.

Return Calls & Email

If you have ever sat near the desk of a sign language interpreter scheduler, you know that they initiate and receive hundreds of phone calls and emails week-in and week-out.  Surprisingly, much of this correspondence seeking to pair artists with opportunity goes unanswered.

Even if you have the good fortune to be booked for the time inquired about by a scheduler, keep the karma of gratitude on your side and return their correspondence.  It will go a long way to build the type of working relationship that will keep you at the front of the line when the sexy work comes in.

Take a Personal Interest

When returning these phone calls, take a few minutes to inquire as to how these logistical talents are personally.  Find out about their lives, their kid’s lives, and the things that get them juiced about life outside the job.  Coordinating logistics is an intense and thankless job. Pausing to take a personal interest shows that you aren’t just a taker, but you are a giver as well.

It’s easy to give to those that give.

Be a Partner

It is important to think of a scheduler as a partner.  As partners, each of you has a job to do and both contribute to the success of any given opportunity. Therefore, do what partners do,

  • Regularly offer appreciation for a job well done
  • Always give them the benefit of the doubt
  • Should a conflict or a mistake occur, address it with them directly before escalating it
  • Take the unsexy job when they are in a tough spot, even if it is inconvenient
  • Occasionally drop by the office to say a hello
  • Extend a small appreciation gift  on occasion (something on administrative professionals day is a no brainer)
  • When encountering information that is relevant to their personal life, send it to them

To be a partner is to have a partner.

A Smart Investment

There are a number of places to make investments in your career as a sign language interpreter that is for sure.  With that said, I can think of fewer investments that costs so very little and pay such a huge dividend.

These logistical field generals do a thankless job and one that makes doing our job more convenient.  Let’s not make the mistake of mistreating or not appreciating them.  It’s bad for the profession and bad form all around.

I double dog dare you to hug a scheduler and see what happens!  

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44 Comments on "How do Sign Language Interpreters Increase Opportunity in a Weak Economy?"

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Be a partner: yes! Develop a close personal relationship outside of work to guarantee your book is always full: distasteful. Using undue influence to win over schedulers is not ethical. Because both parties have a lot to gain from filling jobs, care should be taken from both sides and the power-balance should be something all should respect. Keep the CPC at the forefront when accepting jobs… I personally support certified interpreters as schedulers. For one, they at least (in theory) are held to the standard of the CPC.

Jon Barad: HI! You may remember me, you had interpreted for me a while ago. While I can appreciate that you support the idea of certified interpreters as schedulers, I beg to differ- deaf people as schedulers also can do this job very well. As a deaf scheduler for a local interpreting agency, I do believe my experience as a deaf consumer in the industry enables me to assign interpreters to the appropriate assignments ensuring that the consumer/interpreters are a good match. I enjoy my work with interpreters. I make effort to thank them for the work they picked up;… Read more »
Kitty LaFountain



I prefer the business model of an independent working interpreter. I am my own scheduler. This is mostly due to the fact that I live in a location where it is possible due to volume of work. I think we need a new paradigm of service provision that is not solely based on the agency model.

Kitty LaFountain
Wow! so much I would like to write here, buuttt… so I will simply say,I have been independent since the year 2000. And I like it! I tried all the “nice” things to say and do for interpreter schedulers assigned to agencies. I really, genuinely loved one of the schedulers, and of course she quit the agency. Then ONWARD to the next one who implied that “money” was the best gift. I’m sure she got it, and still gets it from other interpreters. As for me, I saw that as blackmail, unethical, and deplorable! The final straw was when I… Read more »
Greggory F.

Enjoyed your response!… So true!… I’m actually a working interpreter in CA.. from Houston TX.. so, I’m gonna keep your info “at-hand” when i come to visit family during the holidays, gonna check out the agency– USING YOUR NAME!! Just teasing.. Yes, this could be a very SHOCKING situation.. Good luck and blessings to your future :).. again- thanks for the feedback! gefs

Kitty LaFountain
Hey Greggory, I would suggest you find Sign Shares on-line and send them an email informing them of your dates in Houston. Sadly Debbie Gunter passed away Dec 15, 2011 at the young age of 58. But my understanding is that the staff is still keeping everything together and terps are still fully employed. But check it out. This is the type of agency I wish we had in my area. Debbie put me to work immediately upon arriving in Houston for my husband’s cancer treatments. We lived there for almost three months. I was scared of Houston, scared of… Read more »

Showing integrity, respect to consumers, keeping things confidential, being on time, not posting your “guess where I worked” blasts off Facebook, will get you a lot more work than kissing up to the scheduler. I think the deaf consumers are realizing what is really happening in our profession. I would be thrilled to see the consumers putting their foot down on this hypocrisy.


As a consumer, I would hope that my request for communication access are based on my communication needs, and the interpreters skill.
I hope it is not based on if an interpreter went out for body shots on Friday night with the scheduler, or if the interpreter takes the job because they have a house payment due.
The bottom line should always be, the consumer’s communication needs and the skill level of the interpreter. Period.

Squirrelly Girl
The note about responding to e-mails and phone calls with requests, even if you are unavailable, is especially on the mark. I schedule interpreters directly (not via an agency) for my employer’s needs and purposefully look at freelance interpreters to fill the job. Those that I e-mail are selected by me and are contacted because they are my first choice to fill the job (I am usually, but not always, the consumer as well) and I really do want to know if you are available – OR NOT. A reply is the best thing you can do to keep yourself… Read more »
In response, I think it is important to know how that agency/hiring official likes to work. I do make an effort to know my schedulers and consumers as a real people, I think it respects the humanity in all of us. Some of the statements I have read in this thread reminds me of how blessed I am; although I realize I am competing, and am sometimes the one favored, I have not been expected to pay for that access with cash, and I would likely limit work with such those who operate with such unethical business practices. In my… Read more »
Aaron Brace
I always get a little nervous when I hear recommendations like the ones you’re offering, Brandon, for some of the reasons others have already shared. If we could assume competence, self-awareness and ethical decision-making as givens, then these recommendations make intuitive sense. Unfortunately, many practitioners prioritize these business strategies over actually increasing their suitability for the additional jobs they might get offered as a result. On the other hand, it’s also a good wake-up call to the more experienced and/or skilled interpreters to not take their reputations for granted, but to actively look for ways to make the lives of… Read more »
Treat 'em well

Good tippers get prompt attention of underpaid staff at restaurants and bars. Scheduler pay is not on par with interpreter pay. Interpreters depend on these schedulers for assignments. Treat them well and you will make a decent living.

Kitty LaFountain

@ “Treat’em well” ummmmmmmmm tips? First horse in the second race? Not sure where you are located, but, these schedulers in our state are living well, ummmmm not from my “tips”.

Greggory F.
Thank you, Brandon, for the article- very interesting. Okay, I must admit, I sometimes read feedback before I read the article- I read the article partly– somewhat got the gist- then moved on to the feedback!… AWWWWWW!! Clearly anyone posting should have schema re: his article… but “read-ups” are always welcomed especially for the novice interpreter. I guess you can say people “get” out of something whatever they’re looking for———- GUESS what, Brandon- Your Article just provided me with a “professional network” contact, as you may have noticed I replied to an individual that had posted in response to your… Read more »
Kitty LaFountain

@Greggory: 40 years in this business, almost EVERYTHING has happened to me! (and I’ve been grabbed many times)

Interesting discussion everybody! I’m jumping in from the agency perspective. Ours is a ’boutique’ (read smaller) agency in the Los Angeles area. I am not the scheduler, but I have noticed how some interpreters call in periodically to ‘check and see if we have any needs’ or to report back on a job recently completed. These are also the interpreters who answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when a job request goes out. It’s not unusual for them to call as a request has just come in. All things being equal, and if they are a proper fit, it makes sense to… Read more »
I like the idea, Brandon. Attending to and maintaining good relationships is just good customer service. It does make a difference. I reach out periodically, just to touch base, to let people know what’s going on with me, to find out about my consumer (agencies would also fit here) needs and trends…I provide feedback about assignments, both positive and negative, when I feel it is appropriate…and I don’t linger as schedulers are very busy. There are a few where I drop by to introduce myself or say hello, if I am nearby. Schedulers and representatives are also often visible at… Read more »
Cheryl Moose

Excellent article and excellent ensuing discussion. Brandon, Thank you for this important contribution and valuable information. As professionals we should take heed.


Absolutely true! I’ve become so friendly with one booker ( scheduler ) that I’m already beginning to miss her now the clients one year contract has finished . Our parting emails were touching . We became friends over the airwaves and I was always at the top of her appointment book . Taking an interest in the person at the other end of the pen , so to speak, added another layer of pleasure to the assignment .

Several months later here, but I just got around to catching up on some of my reading. Brandon, in your original article one of your points is: “Extend a small appreciation gift on occasion (something on administrative professionals day is a no brainer)” In my opinion totally inappropriate and unethical to the Nth degree. I cherish the schedulers I work with who put the effort in to making good matches for the Deaf Consumers. I let them know they are appreciated by thanking them and making sure that I communicate my pleasure to Agency owners. I do call in regularly… Read more »
Stephanie Feyne
Just a quick reminder – that in a weak economy it is mostly the underemployed who get hit hardest. In these times, I think it’s just as important to extend opportunities to members of the Deaf community who also have experienced economic hardship. Are we being a partner to the Deaf community? Have we ingratiated ourselves to members of this community? Or only to the hearing people who hold the purse strings? Have we shown an interest in the lives of the people we walk in the door to serve? How many of us continue to offer pro bono services?… Read more »
Aaron Brace
Thanks, Stephanie! We have some serious challenges ahead of us, the most present on my mind here in the Bay Area being the incursion of foreign language agencies into our industry, winning some big contracts with low-ball bids. The economic downturn has certainly facilitated this, but it has the potential to become the new normal, with these agencies being gatekeepers to the work long after the economy has returned to closer to what it once was. With that in mind, I’ve been thinking that one of the most important things we can do as allies to the Deaf community is… Read more »

Ditto the comments above about not kissing up to schedulers to ingratiate yourself to rustle up work opportunities.

Be responsive, timely, provide excellent customer service, be consitently responsive and flexible, show respect, be thankful, offer creative solutions to challenges, work well with team interpreters, be honest and professional and enjoy your work.

I absolutely do not try to relate on personal levels and give gifts. That is shmoosing.


[…] the cost of additional fees or a reduction in fees or to cover sickness or double bookings. Knowing the gatekeepers of bookings helps i.e. agency booking staff. It was reported recently that one interpreter put […]


This has always seemed like common sense to me. Now it may be due to the fact I coordinated interpreters for 5 years, but even before that I would always return calls and emals, even if it was just to say “I’m unavailable”.

I let them know when I finish a job. I can’t count how many other jobs I went to because I called in to report I was done/available.

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