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Sign Language Interpreters: 5 Helpful Tips in Selecting an Attorney

When a sign language interpreter needs an attorney, do we know what to look for? Carla Mathers highlights the top five guidelines for selecting the right legal counsel.

One thing sign language interpreters should know when selecting an attorney is that one size generally does not fit all. There are many misconceptions about attorneys. The generic attitude that a good attorney is something akin to a pit bull is problematic for a number of reasons that I will discuss in this post. In addition, I have several tips for identifying the kinds of attorneys that sign language interpreters might need. If you recall, we already discussed a number of legal issues that affect sign language interpreters as independent business people in How Practicing Sign Language Interpreters Protect Against Legal Liability.

TIP #1: Why do You Need an Attorney

Try this. At a dinner party, ask the attorney sitting next to you what they think about the FCC regulations on sign language interpreters working from home, the recent Supreme Court decision distinguishing interpretation from translation, or even something mundane like the HIPAA Business Associate Contract that sign language interpreters must complete to work at a hospital and watch their eyes glaze over and begin the disclaimer: ‘I don’t practice that kind of law.’

Specific Legal Need

The law is very broad. Most lawyers are subject matter specialists in one or only a few areas and in a specific geographical region. The specific legal need will drive the type of attorney that a sign language interpreter needs to consider. Have you been sued or are contemplating suing someone? Have you been charged with a crime? Are you contemplating divorce or adoption? Are you interested in an attorney who will assist you in reviewing and negotiating contracts? Are you in need of an attorney to assist you in setting up a limited liability company (“LLC”)? Are you interested in providing services in other states and need to know the requirements for foreign corporations to do business in those states?  If the sign language interpreter is seeking counsel to set up an LLC, she should not then look for a criminal defense attorney.

Locate an Attorney

Once the legal need is determined, then the search can be narrowed. I recommend using Martindale Hubble. Martindale is primarily used by attorneys to locate other attorneys for referrals or to assess opposing counsel; however, the public can search for attorneys by location and practice area. In addition, Martindale employs a peer rating system to give the user a general idea of the quality of the attorney. When you have identified an attorney, for example, to set up the sign language interpreter’s LLC, then call and ask for an initial conference or telephone interview. Most attorneys will sit down with prospective clients for a half hour or so without charge.

TIP #2:  Win-loss Records Don’t Apply

In speaking with the attorney, you should get an idea of their expertise by asking the right questions. Do not ask ‘what is your win-loss record’ because there is no such thing. The fact is that 99 percent of all cases are resolved without a trial whether it by way of an agreed upon settlement or a guilty plea in the criminal context. A guilty plea is always a win for the government, but it also may represent a very good outcome for the defendant. A civil settlement is an agreement by the parties to forego litigation in return for each giving up something and each getting something they want. In the end, no one ‘won’ yet the result may be completely satisfactory to both sides.

The Right Questions

Ask the attorney, Have you set up LLCs in the past? How many? When was the last time? Have you ever set up an LLC for an individual service provider? What other types of companies have you set up? Have you ever taken continuing legal education courses in establishing LLCs? Have you assisted small businesses in navigating the state licensing and regulatory arenas? If your attorney has only set up one or two LLCs and it has been a number of years since then, it might not be the best fit. The law changes regularly and it is important to maintain current awareness of the changes. If the attorney’s awareness is not current, again it might not be the best fit.

TIP #3:  Don’t Expect Your Lawyer to be Your CPA

Sign language interpreters, as small business owners, need competent tax advice. There are taxation implications in most areas of the law such as opening a business, writing a will, and getting divorced. Most general practitioners can give general advice on the tax code for those areas in which they specialize. However, for more in depth treatment, the wise sign language interpreter should seek advice from a specialist in taxation.

TIP #4:  If You Want a Pit Bull, go to the SPCA

If you are being sued, say for violating the provisions of a non-compete clause in a state where those are valid, you need a litigator. Many clients think that an aggressive lawyer is a competent lawyer: nothing could be further from the truth. Litigators who fight, delay and who ‘papers the other side’ with motions are simply running up your bill.

After nearly 20 years litigating, I can confidently state that an aggressive lawyer is simply an expensive lawyer.

A good litigator is a good communicator, one who can develop a rapport not only with the client but also with opposing counsel in order to facilitate a reasonable resolution to the issue. Trust and a good rapport with the client is critical so that the client understands the reason why costly legal research and motions practice needs to be undertaken and when it needs to be taken.

TIP #5:  The Attorney Client Relationship Should be Like a Good Marriage

The attorney client relationship should be built on trust not fear or resentment. The sign language interpreter should interview enough lawyers and select someone who also fits their personality type. For sign language interpreters, the relationship typically will be ongoing (assuming you do not get sued often) and it will be based on specific transactions such as setting up the initial corporate structure, reviewing contracts, negotiating terms in your behalf, and possibly assisting with licensing and regulatory issues. In sum, the sign language interpreter should enter the relationship knowing why an attorney is necessary, knowing the questions to ask to determine if the attorney is a good fit, and knowing the specific practice and geographical areas in which the attorney is competent.


When interviewing to identify the attorney that will serve you best, remember one size doesn’t fit all. Engage specific attorneys for specific situations. Ask the right questions. Attorneys aren’t CPA’s, unless they are. An aggressive lawyer is an expensive lawyer. Trust and rapport building skills are core competencies you need. Always make sure you and your attorney are a good fit.


As always, this post is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact an attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. Access to this post does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the user or browser.

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Failure to Innovate: A Deathblow for Sign Language Interpreting Agencies

How do sign language interpreting agencies survive and thrive in a market where opportunities abound for individual practitioners? Brandon Arthur emphasizes the need for, and understanding of, innovation as it applies to the agency-interpreter partnership.

Is it still an advantage for sign language interpreters to trade a higher hourly rate in exchange for the “benefits” of being represented by an agency? Particularly, given the world is chock-full of affordable DIY (do it yourself) business and connection tools.

While the answer to this question will differ from interpreter to interpreter, the value of this exchange of rate for representation is measured by the currency of convenience. Simply, does working with an agency make it easier for a sign language interpreter to do their work? If yes, good trade. If no, zippy.

Let’s get to the point.

If convenience is the primary factor for a sign language interpreter in determining whether a relationship with an agency is valuable or not, why aren’t agency owners and operators consumed with innovating convenience into their practices and business models? It would make good sense, no? Is it that they don’t care?

The truth? Implementing innovation is yeoman’s work.

There is a Difference

There is an important distinction between the acts of assembling practical, even clever, solutions to a problem and the act of implementing that solution. Assembling—easier. Implementing—harder.

Why is implementing harder? Humans.

3 Inhibitors of Agency Innovation

Unfortunately, it is people that make implementing new solutions to existing challenges difficult. Agency owners and operators—yes, they are people too—unintentionally get in their own way, and the forward progress of their agencies as a result of being trapped by three primary innovation inhibitors. 

Inhibitor One: Perfection is Attainable

All too often agency owners/operators fall victim to perfectionism. They become obsessed with a process or protocol being followed exactly right. In order for convenience innovation to occur and be implemented effectively, it is essential for agency owners and operators to acknowledge innovation is an iterative process.

Unfortunately, perfectionist tendencies frustrate innovation by suggesting that any iterative process of improvement falls short of the ideal and is therefore unworthy of the effort. This results in agency owners and operators stalling in their attempt to innovate.

It is essential that agency leadership get comfortable with the idea that it’s always a little messy in the middle.

Inhibitor Two: Denial of Marketplace Realities

Because the work to implement innovation is difficult, agency owners and operators sometimes deny the existence of changing marketplace realities. Conscious, or not, they do this in order to protect the status quo. A few of the marketplace realities that are currently being denied are:

1)    It is easier and cheaper than ever before to start and operate a small business. The Internet and subscription tools make it easy for sign language interpreters to establish a large virtual presence and compete for customers.

2)    Social networks empower sign language interpreters with access to vast amounts of instructional information and serve as gathering places to exchange knowledge, practices, and ideas—all of which make them formidable competitors.

3)    The weak economy is causing under-employment within the sign language interpreting industry, which makes starting a small, privateer business a strong employment option for sign language interpreters.

The denial of marketplace realities, regardless of what they are, challenges any need to depart from the status quo. Unfortunately, it also perpetuates the poo-pooing of any need to rethink how business is getting done. This is particularly true as it relates to creating additional value for the sign language interpreter.

Owners/operators with their heads in the sand are unable to lead (i.e. implement) from the front. Maybe a lesson from a sidewalk-executive is in order? 

Inhibitor Three: A Biased Perspective

Inhibitor three is the most difficult to overcome. Often it is the inaccurate perception of their own work that prevents agency owners/operators from implementing innovation. This biased perspective preoccupies managers with their historical intent of implementing systems and practices and prevents them from critically evaluating if that system truly delivers value for a sign language interpreter.

To overcome this bias, and implement successfully, agency owners and operators have to find the courage necessary to seek answers to hard questions. Questions like, what do interpreters really care about? Is what we are doing effective? What would it take for us to do [insert practice or process] better?

It takes a secure manager to check their bias and critically evaluate their practices. It takes a leader to do that and then successfully implement. 

Tips for Innovating Value

The good news is implementing innovative solutions successfully can be learned. To that end, agency owners/operators need to remember, there will be no proof that the iterative adjustments made will succeed. Innovating is a strategic choice to deliver a better experience. The following may prove helpful when choosing to innovate and working to implement those innovations.

1)    Create with the sign language interpreter in mind. Owners/operators need to take time to observe the behaviors of the interpreters engaging with their agency. Understanding social, professional, cultural and emotional drivers is key to improving their experience. Recognize that both the sign language interpreter and the business can win.

2)    Recognize limitations. When identifying process improvement opportunities, Owner/operators need to work within their agency’s ability to support the change. There is little worse than when an “innovation” makes a challenging process more cumbersome.

3)    Stop asking sign language interpreters what they want. Owners/operators need ask what concerns or bothers them about the business or its practices. Then watch where the interpreter experience suffers and fix it.

4)    Remember, there are no best practices. Because the competition conducts business in a certain way, doesn’t mean a “me too!” approach is in order. Think outside the box!

A Word of Advice

A suggestion to agency owners and operators, when pitching the rate trade for agency representation to a sign language interpreter, don’t position standards as value adds.

I believe sign language interpreters would agree that, online systems, training for CEUs, direct deposit, and reimbursement for professional dues/fees are operating standards, not differentiators.

In my mind, these are not reasons interpreters ultimately choose to align themselves with an agency.

In the End

Agencies who overcome the tangles of implementing innovations will successfully survive—even thrive. Others will find the blow of failing to innovate to be too much and will wither on the vine. At the end of the day, sign language interpreters vote with their feet. Limited number of interpreters, limited success. Yes, it is that simple.

Sign language interpreters are looking for industry entrepreneurs to introduce the next wave of innovation, even social disruption, within the sign language interpreting industry. Who’s going to be?

Sign language interpreters, what innovations would you like to see most within the agencies you work alongside?

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Defenders of Certification: Sign Language Interpreters Question “Enhanced” RID NIC Test

Sign Language Interpreters - Defenders of Certification

The advent of the tiered NIC test brought with it a host of questions and concerns among members of RID. Dennis Cokely shares a personal letter sent to the RID Board and outlines his requests for explanation regarding the format and procedures of the current certification process.

At this point in our history, the NIC assessment is the foundation for determining who is “one of us” and, as such, certified members of RID should be the defenders of the certification process. However, the fact that certified RID members are unsure of the validity of the current NIC assessment is unacceptable. I believe that the NIC Task Force and the Board of Directors have implemented changes to the RID assessment process the validity of which has not all been transparent to the certified membership. And so, instead of being defenders of the process, we find ourselves in the position of questioning, challenging and/or belittling the recent RID assessments procedures.

My Letter

On March 18,2012, I sent an email letter to each member of the RID Board of Directors in which I raised a number of questions regarding the new “enhancements” to the NIC test. That letter is reprinted below.

Before reading the letter, it is important to me that you understand the spirit in which that letter was sent.

My intent in sending the letter was neither to create or enflame divisiveness within RID nor was it to attack the current leadership of the RID. Rather it was a request that the Board provide the information necessary so that the RID membership, especially the certified membership, could feel confident and secure in the knowledge that the “enhanced NIC” was indeed valid and reliable; information that was not made available for the previous iteration of the NIC.

Until the day when RID (and we are RID) has a transparently valid and reliable certification process that determines who will be “one of us”, we will always have division and animus (parenthetically, I believe this can only be avoided if we, RID, decide to divest ourselves of the assessment process). My letter was sent to the Board requesting that all the information and documentation that provided the psychometric basis for the “enhanced NIC” be made available to all of the members. The Board has committed to releasing a report that would address the questions I raised.

RID Response

On April 22 I received an email from the RID President that stated, in part: “…the board of directors and national office staff agree the comprehensive report would be shared with the entire membership.  Therefore, this will take some time and resources to complete and request your patience and continued support to allow us the time to complete this comprehensive report. In fact, the work has been underway since the receipt of your letter.”

To be sure, it is unclear to me why the answers to the questions I raised should “…take some time and resources to complete.” After all the questions I raise are the essential questions one must ask and the evidence one must have in advance of implementing such a radically new assessment approach. The information should be readily available; if it has to be created in response to the questions I raise, there are even more serious questions about the process by which this iteration of the NIC was developed and implemented. Nevertheless, I applaud the fact that the RID Board will share full information regarding the new NIC with the membership. Hopefully that report will be issued in a timely manner and, in my opinion, it certainly must happen in advance of the regional conferences.

Reactions — Keep Them in Check

Given all of this, I trust you will read the following letter in the spirit in which it was intended. I sincerely hope that any reaction you may have will be held in check until we all receive the “comprehensive report” from the Board. I believe that any action prior to receipt of the “comprehensive report” would be premature and uniformed.

Letter Reprint

Members of the Board of Directors
Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf

333 Commerce Street
Alexandria, VA 22314 

March 18, 2012

To Members of the Board,

I am writing this letter to the Board, one of the very few I have written since 1972, as a concerned and dedicated member of RID for over forty years and as a Past President of RID. Specifically, I am extremely concerned about the new “enhancements” to the NIC test. I think it goes without saying that the last iteration of the NIC was significantly flawed. Claiming, as we did, (lacking both the sophistication and the empirical data) that a three-tiered certification based on a single evaluation test was valid and defensible, was clearly shown to be a serious mistake (one which we made earlier in our first effort at testing – CI/CT/CSC). With this latest unsubstantiated testing attempt, not only did we damage the credibility of the NIC and the RID itself in the minds of many RID members but perhaps more importantly in the minds of many Deaf people. Both interpreters and Deaf people saw that the test results and tiered certifications awarded often did not match the reality experienced by the “eyes on the street”.

I believe that the lesson that must be learned here is clear — we should definitely not advance an approach to testing that is not directly supported by empirical data on sign language interpretation and that we must make that empirical data clearly and widely known to interpreters and Deaf people.

Make no mistake, I applaud some of the changes to the NIC, specifically uploading a candidate’s video data to a secure server and having those video data available to be viewed by multiple raters. Unfortunately I believe we have made the same fatal mistake – lack of empirical data – with the newest iteration of the NIC as we made with the last iteration and as we made in 1972. Unless there is evidence that has not been made publically available, I believe that the current NIC testing approach lacks face validity — it does not look like what interpreters regularly do. Perhaps better stated, I believe the current test cannot claim to validly certify a candidate’s ability to interpret in a way that reflects real world practice. Certainly there is nothing in the research literature relevant to sign language interpreters of which I am aware that would support the current testing approach. I make the following statements and raise the following questions and concerns based on the new Candidate Handbook 2011 and on conversations with several candidates who have taken the current NIC.

1. It appears that someone predetermined that the test should last only an hour and then the resultant math determined that each of the two ethical and five performance scenarios would last only 4 minutes. If true, RID members need a more thorough explanation of why time and a simple mathematical formula should be the primary drivers behind the format of the certification test; if this is not true, then a clear explanation should be provided for how the current 4-minute per vignette test segmentation was determined.

2. I agree that that it may be possible to make a marginally valid, albeit shallow, determination of one’s approach to ethical decision-making and one’s knowledge of the Code of Professional Conduct from two 4-minute vignettes. However, one would hope that the vignettes are sufficiently complex that they will elicit higher levels of ethical thinking than mere regurgitation of the Code of Professional Conduct. A description of the guiding principles used to develop and/or select the ethical vignettes must be provided to the RID membership. Note I am not asking for the rating rubrics (I agree that teaching to the rubrics was a significant issue in the last iteration), I am simply asking that an explanation for the process/principles used in the selection of and/or development of the vignettes be made known to the membership.

3. I am aware of no research that provides evidence that a 4-minute sample of a piece of interpretation is sufficient to make a determination of overall interpretation competence. What the research does show is that during the first five minutes of a twenty minute monologue an interpreter’s work is often “less challenging” because it is the most predictable – introductions, niceties, setting an overall tone for a talk or meeting, etc. This is also true of the last five minutes of an interpreter’s work – summaries, next steps, closings, etc. Consequently, if all of the five performance vignettes were from the first five minutes of interactions, we would only be sampling and rating the “less challenging” parts of interactions and thus would not be presented with a true and valid representative sample of a candidate’s overall interpreting proficiency. I might agree that if we had five 20-minute samples of an interpreter’s work and we wished to select 4-minute samples from each 20-minute sample (some from the beginning, some from the middle and some from the end) then perhaps we might have a more thorough and more time efficient way of rating an interpreter’s work. But what we have here with the current NIC is clearly not 4-minute samples from longer samples of work. A full explanation of the empirical justification for this 4-minute sampling approach must be provided to the membership.

4. According to the Candidate Handbook, however, some of the vignettes will require that the candidate begin interpreting in the middle portions of interactions after providing the candidate with only a written synopsis of what has transpired up to that point in the interaction. Here again, I contend there is no empirical data that can justify this as a valid approach to obtaining a true and valid sample of a candidate’s overall interpreting competence. As any experienced interpreter knows, by the mid-point of any interpreted interaction the interpreter has developed some content background information (which I presume the NIC proposes to present in printed form). But more importantly the interpreter has a sense of communicative preferences, interactional rhythm, signing style, accents, spoken/signing speeds, prosodic features, etc. None of this can be presented in printed form in any manner that assists the candidate nor can it be presented in a manner that validly replicates what happens in real life.

On this basis alone, I would contend that this 4-minute assessment approach does not provide the essential cognitive, discourse or linguistic tools/knowledge that are available and that unfold in “real life” situations. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, by the halfway point in any interaction the interpreter has acquired an “interactional schema”. As any experienced interpreter knows, this relates directly to critical areas such as over-arching goals, what counts as success and the overall interactional rhythm and flow. Absolutely none of this is accessible to a candidate suddenly instructed to begin in the middle of an interaction for which only written background content information has been provided. Of necessity, the written background will be about content, but none of this is what is most important to interpreters. A clear explanation of the rationale and justification for placing candidates at such an interpreting disadvantage must be provided to the membership.

5) Given that each performance vignette provides only 4 minutes of a candidate’s work, it would appear that we, as an organization, are no longer concerned about the ability to sustain quality of work during an interpreted interaction. For the past forty years the RID evaluations have contained interactions (monologues and/or dialogues) that have lasted 15-20 minutes in length. This was essentially due to the fact that this most closely reflected the real world work and experience of interpreters and then raters could sample within interactions, not across what are essentially 4-minute, flawed interactions. A detailed explanation of the rational for, and empirical support for this decision and this deviation from forty years experience is also needed by the membership.

6. Given that each performance vignette provides only 4 minutes of a candidate’s work, it would appear that we, as an organization, are no longer interested in the ability to produce work of sustained quality over time. Clearly, a 4-minute text simply does not allow time for the candidate to demonstrate or time for the rater to assess meaning sustained over time. The rater has no opportunity to assess features such as consistent use of grammatical features (manual and non-manual), consistent use of space, consistent use of deitic markers, etc. Simply put, a 4-minute sample simply does not provide sufficient opportunity to demonstrate a candidate’s ability to sustain quality work over time. If there is evidence that supports the claim that a 4-miute sample can validly and reliably assess a candidate’s ability to assess sustained quality over time, then it must be made known to the membership.

7. With a 4-miute segment to assess, the question must be asked “What are the raters looking for?”. It is clear that there is a new rating paradigm (pass/marginal pass, fail/marginal fail) and one could make a solid case for this. Certainly raters for the signed portions should be looking for grammatical features such as agreement, consistent use of “nonce signs” (signs established for this situation only), the use of coordinated and reflexive space, etc. But it is unclear what raters would be asked to assess in a 4-minute sample of work. Certainly raters are unable to assess the full range of linguistic competencies that interpreters must posses in order to able to interpret (if there evidence to support this it must be made public).  What are the various English and ASL grammatical and semantic features in vignettes that raters will be assessing and do these five 4-minute vignettes provide sufficient linguistics and discourse variation to elicit an appropriate range of English and ASL grammatical and semantic features?

8. As was true with the last iteration of the NIC we offer the candidate no opportunity to demonstrate the exercise of discretion. This clearly begs the question of whether there is any research that demonstrates that the five performance vignettes somehow represent “seminal” vignettes, i.e. vignettes for which no candidate would ever deem that he or she was an unsuitable fit. Clearly the message sent to candidates taking the NIC and to interpreters in general that one “must interpret everything presented to them” stands in stark contrast to our long held organizational belief that discretion in accepting assignments is critical. Since using discretion in selecting assignments is one of the core operating principles of our long-standing Code, the rationale for adopting an “all or nothing” approach must be made clear to the membership.

9. Virtually all of the candidate’s with whom I have spoken have the same reaction and response to the 4-minute performance vignettes. They state “They [the vignettes] were too short”; “I was just getting warmed up”; “I didn’t have the right information to start in the middle [of a vignette]”; “I don’t think it was a fair sample of my work”; “I needed more time to get over my nerves”; “This isn’t what I do everyday”. These comments are, to me as I hope they are to you, extremely troubling. Even if we assume there is a valid and reliable empirical basis for the “4-minute vignette” approach, the experience of the candidates is quite at odds with that basis. The danger here is that the candidates will, rightly or wrongly, begin to spread these perceptions to certified and not-yet certified interpreters. The end result will be that we return to the set of circumstances that resulted in abandoning the former iteration of the NIC – acting in the absence of empirical data to guide our decision-making. A clear, empirically supported explanation of why the current NIC assessment is valid and can be reliably assessed by raters must be provided to the membership.

The issue of how and the process by which we determine who will be viewed “as one of us” (i.e. who is certified) is of grave concern to many in the membership. As you should well know, it has clearly created some very, very deep rifts within the organization. So deep are the rifts that there is on-going discussion of creating an alternate organization. Yet, we in RID continue to move forward without the necessary empirical support we need to offer a credible approach to the testing process. The “alphabet soup” of certification that we have produced sadly moves us closer and closer to being quite laughable in the eyes of those who view professional organizations as knowing clearly how to determine who will be viewed as “one of us”.

In an ideal world, we would out-source the testing process so that RID could be the “assessment watch-dog” and thus RID could avoid any appearance of conflict of interest. Lacking that possibility at the present time, I believe that the Board should muster the political and moral will to insist on a truly valid and reliable certification test, accepted by the certified members. Then the Board should declare a phased in process by which ALL former certificates (save SC:L and CDI) would be declared invalid and no longer recognized. A staggered timeline would be put in place by which ALL those holding any certificate prior to the valid and reliable test would have to be retested and the “alphabet soup” would eventually no longer exist.

But we are where we are and that is that we have the current iteration of the NIC.

On behalf of the membership and all those who have served in positions of leadership, I am asking for a much greater level of transparency regarding the crafting of the current iteration of the NIC. If there is research data to support the decisions underlying the format of this iteration of the NIC those data must be made very public. I, for one, need to see the consultant’s report on why they believe this approach/format is valid and reliable before I can support this approach. I know that many of my colleagues, who are both members and organizational leaders, feel the same way.

Please know that I raise these questions and ask for this unprecedented level of public transparency in the best interests of RID the organization, of RID members and of Deaf people. I am happy to discuss any of these questions and concerns with the Board, individual or collectively, and/or the psychometric consultants hired to oversee the new NIC test.

Please let me know if you have any questions or need further clarification on any of the issues/questions raised. I eagerly await and expect your response to the questions and issues I have raised in this letter in a timely manner.

Dennis Cokely
Director, American Sign Language Program
Director, World Languages Center
Chair, Department of Languages, Literatures & Cultures


Overall Frame

We should definitely not advance an approach to testing that is not directly supported by empirical data on sign language interpretation and that we must make those empirical data clearly and widely known to interpreters and Deaf people

The Questions that Need Answers

1. RID members need a more thorough explanation of why time and a simple mathematical formula should be the primary drivers behind the format of the certification test; if this is not true, then a clear explanation should be provided for how the current 4-minute per vignette test segmentation was determined.

2. An explanation for the process/principles used in the selection of and/or development of the vignettes be made known to the membership.

3. A full explanation of the empirical justification for this 4-minute approach must be provided to the membership.

4. A clear explanation of the rationale and justification for placing candidates at such an interpreting disadvantage must be provided to the membership.

5. A detailed explanation of the rational for, and empirical support for this decision and this deviation from forty years experience is also needed by the membership.

6. If there is evidence that supports the claim that a 4-miute sample can validly and reliably assess a candidate’s ability to assess sustained quality over time, then it must be made known to the membership.

7. What are the various English and ASL grammatical and semantic features in vignettes that raters will be assessing and do these five 4-minute vignettes provide sufficient linguistic and discourse variation to elicit an appropriate range of English and ASL grammatical and semantic features?

8. Since using discretion in selecting assignments is one of the core operating principles of our long-standing Code, the rationale for adopting an “all or nothing” approach must be made clear to the membership.

9. A clear, empirically supported explanation of why the current NIC assessment is valid and can be reliably assessed by raters must be provided to the membership.


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Interprenomics: A Decoder Ring for Sign Language Interpreters

Do interpreters understand the business side of service provision as well as they should? Wing Butler gives a step by step for sign language interpreters to reevaluate and reposition themselves in a competitive market.

At some point every sign language interpreter is faced with the task of valuing and selling their art. As a craftsperson, the value of a sign language interpreter’s work is not found in the dollars and cents of a transaction, but in the impact their work has on the person receiving it.

Faced with the challenging task of valuing their art when compared to their peers, it is easy to see why sign language interpreters often possess business related skills that are underdeveloped or worse, non-existent.

To successfully decode the conflict–real or perceived–of balancing the art and the business sides of sign language interpreting industry, interpreters need to be familiar with the concepts and exercises that offer context and insight into the value of their work.

Enter, interprenomics.

Big Bang Theory – The Interpreting Economy

In order to understand interprenomics, it is important to consider the zone of primary events that are responsible for the foundations of the sign language interpreting economy—the formation of the sign language interpreting industry.

  • Founding of Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID): The beginning of professional standards, practices, and certification for sign language interpreters.
  • Enacting of Federal Laws: The Education of the Deaf Act (1986), The Rehabilitation Act (1973), Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (Reauthorization 1997), Americans with Disabilities Act (1990). These laws embedded the role of the sign language interpreter in mainstream America.
  • Reimbursement of Video Relay Services: In 2002 the U.S. FCC begins the reimbursement of interstate VRS providers via the interstate TRS fund.

Without the resulting reaction and expansion of these events coming together, the economic disposition of the sign language interpreter would be less of an explosion of opportunity and more of a slow creep toward legitimacy.


There is power in using timely and relevant information to act. Interprenomics is the examination of the availability, compensation and purchasing of sign language interpreting services.  Like decoding sudoku, understanding interprenomics assists sign language interpreters in decoding the challenges of placing value on their art and making sound business decisions.

Components of Interprenomics:

  • Availability: the number of sign language interpreters, the availability of the various types of credentialed interpreters, how and why certain interpreters are selected for the work.
  • Compensation: how the income and the opportunity (short and long-term) to earn it is distributed among sign language interpreters and/or the agencies that hire them.
  • Purchasing: the transaction between individuals and/or organizations to buy sign language interpreting services.

             * More detail on the components/application of interprenomics can be found below.

Simply, interprenomics is the examination of the buying and selling of sign language interpreting services.


The Big Bang that created the sign language interpreting economy has traditionally afforded interpreters the advantage in the supply vs. demand equation–known as availability.

Availability, as defined in interprenomics, is the single greatest factor impacting economic opportunities for sign language interpreters. To understand availability positions an interpreter to be more successful in representing themselves and their rate of pay within their local interpreting economy.  There are four inescapable drivers of availability and only one can be true at any given moment:

1.  If demand increases and interpreter supply remains unchanged, it leads to higher interpreter wages and more opportunity.

2.  If demand decreases and interpreter supply remains unchanged, it leads to lower interpreter wages and less opportunity.

3.  If interpreter supply increases and demand remains unchanged, it leads to lower interpreter wages and less opportunity.

4.  If interpreter supply decreases and demand remains unchanged, it leads to higher interpreter wages and more opportunity.

As mentioned, in large part sign language interpreters have experienced Availability driver #1.  This scarcity of supply driven by legislation has ensured interpreters a rich wage and abounding opportunity. Consequently, sign language interpreters have, until recently, enjoyed an above the average median wage.


Compensations is the flow of greenbacks that support the local sign language interpreting economy. For the purpose of interprenomics, compensation is the total revenues (i.e. monies) generated in a local interpreting economy and its distribution among sign language interpreters and the agencies that hire them.

Understanding how this compensation is divvied up between these local interpreting economy stakeholders can do four things for a sign language interpreter:

  • Determine if the amount of work accessed by an interpreter is appropriate given the total amount of work being performed in a local area.
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  • Determine where work is most readily available and who is receiving it.
  • Identify which opportunities are most financially beneficial given the time investment.
  • Gain insight into the appropriateness of a rate being paid or charged by an interpreter.

There is power in the context provided by understanding the compensation dynamics of a local interpreting economy. Particularly, if what Brandon Arthur stated in his article, Will Sign Language Interpreters Remain Silent of VRS Reform, regarding falling compensation, under valued credentials, and supply exceeding demand holds true.

To apply interprenomics to your work be sure to read the Use Interprenomics section below.


The temperature gauge of any local interpreting economy is Purchasing. The act of customers buying validates the true value of an interpreter’s availability and the compensation that is distributed as a result.  Measuring the trends associated with purchasing provides an interpreter with a general indication of the health of their local interpreting economy.

Purchasing trends give sign language interpreters insight into:

  • The competitiveness of the service offering made by individual interpreters and agencies.
  • The frequency, volume, and costs at which services are bought and sold.
  • What customers find compelling about the service delivery experience.

The value of this type of information to the local sign language interpreter is that it assists them in aligning their service offerings with the core values of their paying customer.

Using Interprenomics

The power of interprenomics is contained in its application. While some sign language interpreters remain content with a “wait and see” approach, others are compelled to seek opportunities to act and in so doing improve their position in their local sign language interpreting economy.

For those sign language interpreters seeking to improve their position, the following two-step process will assist them in leveraging interprenomics to more effectively navigate their local interpreting economy to better ends.

Step One: Gather Information to Create Context

In order for sign language interpreters to align themselves more effectively with their customer’s core values, they must first gain an understanding of their current position in their local marketplace. In order to do this, one must gather sufficient and detailed information to answer the following questions:

In relation to Availability:

  • How many interpreters and agencies am I competing with?
  • How many hours per week am I working?
  • How many hours on average are interpreters in the area working per week?
  • What is the total number of hours worked throughout the local area?
  • What is the range and average rate of pay for interpreters and agencies in the area?

In relation to Compensation:

  • How much money is spent annually on sign language interpreting in your local area?
  • What credentials and skillsets do interpreters/agencies have who get the most of the work?
  • Calculate Compensation using the following formula below:

Total Number of Interpreters x Hours of Interpreter Availability = Local Economy Compensation

Example: 30 interpreters x  32 hrs/wk = 960 hrs/week

In relation to Purchasing:

  • What are the core values of my customers?
  • Do I embody the core values of my customer and meet their skillset expectations?
  • What do customers and interpreting agencies want in a sign language interpreters?
  • Is what I offer competitive? Is my rate of pay competitive?
  • Do I have as much works as my fellow colleagues?

While challenging, the genuine examination of the information gathered will assist a sign language interpreter to use interprenomics and reposition themselves within their local interpreting economy.

Step Two: The Evaluation & Repositioning Process

An examination of the information gathered will identify a baseline of competitive points among local interpreters. This baseline will provide an interpreter with the ability to evaluate their competitive position on the various aspects of their service offering.

If a sign language interpreter determines their service offering is not competitive, it becomes necessary to begin the repositioning process.  In addition to challenging the assumptions on the various points of competition, sign language interpreters also have to confront the assumptions on their skillset, personal brand, rates and practices, and the current value of certification.

This confrontation is essential in order to enhance their competitive edge.

Additional areas worthy of challenging assumption:

  • Hourly rate competitiveness
  • Level of professionalism
  • Likability and soft-skills
  • Strength of reputation
  • Impact on team dynamics
  • Level of flexibility
  • Supporting industry standard practices

The process of evaluating and repositioning is difficult work. It requires a sign language interpreter to step outside their comfort zone, challenge their personal perceptions, and confront the need to change. With that said, it is the most impactful work that an interpreter can do to position themselves for success long-term.

How Are You Positioned?

In most cases, the career path tread by sign language interpreters begins with a journey of discovery, and unfortunately the school of hard knocks when it comes to positioning themselves successfully within the local sign language interpreting economy. For some interpreters a quick study on foundational interprenomics could have helped them to avoid career bankruptcy and provide a basis for successful integration into their local interpreting community.

What changes in your local market have you concerned?
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Educational Interpreters: Buck the Low Wage, No Credential Status Quo


A major challenge of educational interpreting is quality assurance. Shelly Hansen outlines how those in and around the educational setting can actively drive change to support higher minimum requirements for educational interpreters on a state by state basis.

Most sign language interpreters at some juncture in their career will provide interpreting services in an educational setting.  As mainstreaming with an interpreter has become a commonplace approach to educating deaf and hard of hearing kids, there is a consistent demand for educational interpreters.

While more common, twenty-two years after the ADA and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (both signed into law by President George H. W. Bush in 1990), there are still challenges faced by deaf children and their families in securing a Free and Appropriate Public Education.

One of these challenges is having access to a qualified, competent sign language interpreter.

Legislated Interpreter Standards

In the state of Washington, more than once in years past, bills have been put forward to establish standards for educational interpreters which would be phased in over time and require these sign language interpreters to demonstrate their proficiency thru national credentialing ie: NAD/RID/EIPA.   These bills historically have not been taken past committee.  This spring, during the recent 2012 WA legislative session, a group of three Deaf seniors from Snohomish High School successfully submitted HB 2765 for consideration.

WA HB 2765

Essentially this bill would have established a requirement for educational interpreters employed by school districts to successfully achieve minimum performance standards (as set by a professional educator standards board),  on one national written and performance assessment by the 2015-16 school year, and national interpreter certification (either RID or NAD certification) by the fall of 2018.  The full bill can be reviewed here.

The Challenge is Fiscal

Unfortunately, HB 2765 failed to reach the House floor.  Among the reasons cited for not taking it past committee was…budgetary.  WA state is currently experiencing a budgetary crisis, like many states in the aftermath of the Great Recession.   To put it bluntly, if you raise standards for educational interpreters, the cost for those professional services will most likely increase.

I saw a posting three weeks ago for an educational interpreter position in my area.  The qualification requirements include: HS diploma, proficiency in variety of sign systems and ASL with desired bilingual/bicultural Spanish skills.  The hourly rate is $13.78/hr.  In WA state the 2012 minimum wage is $9.04.  This is in dramatic contrast to the hourly rate of $85.08 which a freelance interpreter would need to be commensurate with the earnings of a public school teacher, as suggested by Theresa B. Smith, Ph.D in, Thinking About Money – Pulling Back the Curtain, 2009.

 Duty to Act

I would like to challenge educational interpreters in states that lack standard requirements for employment that include national credentialing to consider some kind of collective action.  Imagine a “Stay Home Tuesday.”  Promote utilizing available assessment tools (EIPA, RID).  Find your way to your legislators and state capitol.  Reject the status quo, work through your resistance and recognize the value of competency standards. Don’t ignore student efforts to secure a quality education.  Dialogue and join hands with colleagues on ways to expedite the establishment of professional standards in your state consistent with national credentialing trends.  Many sign language interpreters working in educational settings are already certified and their dedication and commitment to professionalism is to be commended. The students deserve to have qualified competent sign language interpreters commensurate with credentialed administrators, teaching staff, speech therapists, counseling staff etc…

Educational Interpreter Angst

Gina Oliva provides insight into the perspectives of educational interpreters in her recent Street Leverage article: Sign Language Interpreters in Mainstream Settings: Heartbroken and Gagged. In her post Gina suggests that  the collective voice of educational interpreters is the only hope deaf children have in remedying the many issues they confront in the classroom.  She suggests that sign language interpreters working in educational settings can do two very important things, one is to advocate for their students and the other is to bring a collective voice to the forefront in Deaf Education.  Advocating educational interpreter standards is a critical first step in support of positive student outcomes in mainstream settings.

State Requirements

Below is a listing of state requirements for educational interpreters.  It is difficult to find current information for each state and I would welcome updates from readers for missing or erroneous information on this listing compiled from various websites including the DOIT Center in Colorado.

Educational Interpreter Requirements

Alabama:  EIPA 3.5, RID Cert

Alaska: EIPA 4.0

Arizona: EIPA 3.5, RID Cert, NAD 3.0+

Arkansas: QAST 3/2 or 2/3, and written exam

California: EIPA 4.0, RID Cert, NAD 4+

Colorado: EIPA 3.5

Florida: RID Certification

Georgia: RID Certification, NAD 3+

Idaho: EIPA 3.5

Illinois: EIPA 3.0 (Note: 3.0 = Initial license, 3.5 = Standard License)

Indiana: EIPA 3.5, RID Certification, NAD 4+

Iowa: EIPA 3.5

Kansas: EIPA 4.0, QAST 4+,

Louisiana: EIPA 3.0

Maine: EIPA 3.5+

Michigan: EIPA 3.5 (may be upgraded to 4.0 pending review)

Minnesota: RID Certification, NAD 3+

Nebraska: EIPA 3.5, RID Certification, NAD 4+, QAST 4+

Nevada: EIPA 4.0, RID Certification, NAD 3+

New Jersey: EIPA 3.0, RID/NAD Certification

New Mexico: EIPA 4.0, RID Certification, NAD 3+

North Carolina: EIPA 3.5

North Dakota: EIPA 3.5, RID/NAD Certification

Ohio: RID Certification

Oklahoma: EIPA 3.5, RID Certification, NAD 4+

Pennsylvania: EIPA 3.5

South Dakota: RID Certification, NAD 3+

Texas: RID Certification/QAST

Utah: EIPA 3.5, RID/NAD Certification, QAST

Virginia: QAST 3+

Wisconsin: EIPA 3.5, RID Certification

Wyoming: EIPA 3.5+

At the End of the Day

I would like to encourage a collegial dialogue to assess whether sign language interpreters are complicit in keeping pay scales below professional wages by continuing to work without professional standards. Raising standards of interpreter competence has a direct impact on kids’ educational opportunities and access to academic and social content, which in turn affects their future opportunities as fulfilled, contributing citizens in a global market.