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Deaf Interpreters

Deaf people engage with the legal system. Like people who can hear, Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing people participate in lawsuits, get divorced, manage children and family services, as well as being witness to or accused of crimes. Deaf people in the United States use American Sign Language (ASL). However, a critical number of Deaf people do not use standard ASL due to a complex set of environmental and psychological factors. Non-standard users of ASL require additional accommodations to participate in the American Judicial System. 

As a result, the legal system must take steps to protect the Deaf individuals' right to meaningfully participate. The appointment of a legal interpreter who can hear often times is not the most appropriate accommodation; possible lack of language fluency, legal knowledge, and linguistic skill to convey legal content. The appointment of an intermediary interpreter is needed to provide accurate interpretation between the Deaf person, who may not be fluent in ASL, and the legal system (including legal interpreters who can hear). 

An intermediary interpreter is a Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing individual who has specialized training in the legal system and interpreting. The intermediary interpreter, also called a Deaf interpreter, are specialists possessing mastery of ASL and visual-gestural language features. Deaf interpreters are linguistic experts which ensures that most Deaf people are afforded full and equal access to the justice system when communication is complex and/or high risk.

Deaf Interpreters at Work: Mock Trial

Deaf Interpreters at Work: Mock Trial provides a demonstration of collaborated interpretation involving two certified interpreters, one who is Deaf and one who is not, working in a (mock) court proceeding. 

These recordings were created through a collaboration of the National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers' Deaf Interpreter and Legal Interpreting work teams. While not intended as a model interpretation, practicing and aspiring interpreters will find much to consider, analyze, and discuss in this demonstration.

IntroductionASL only video

Mock Trial

Participant InterviewsASL only video

Discussion Questions, ASL only video

(5 questions)

Credits, written English only video


Three publications are available in Archives under Deaf Interpreter.

  1. Recommended Guidelines for the Use of Deaf Intermediary Interpreters by the Judicial Council of California/Administrative Office of the Courts (2010)
  2. Deaf Interpreters in Court: An Accommodation that is More than Reasonable by the National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers (2009)
  3. Deaf Interpreters as Reasonable Accommodation: Fact Sheet by the National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers (2010)

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The contents of the Project CLIMB website was developed under a grant (#H160D160001) from the Department of Education. The contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education. Do not assume endorsement by the Federal government.

As of December 31, 2021, this grant project is no longer active or soliciting applications.
This website will remain available as a resource.

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