top of page

Working with a Sign Language Interpreter

Role of the Interpreter


A sign language interpreter facilitates communication either between users of a sign language such as British Sign Language (BSL) and users of a spoken language, or between users of two different sign languages. Interpreters will use their skill and knowledge of the two languages, and their understanding of any cultural differences between those for whom they are interpreting, to transfer a message from one language into the other. They have to listen carefully to, or watch the message, extract the meaning and then find an appropriate way to express the message in the second language. They do not interpret word-for-word, rather they will reformulate the meaning. BSL is not English words 'signed'. 

NB:  Due to the physical and mental demands of interpreting, more than one interpreter may be required for an assignment of more than one hour. The reasons for this are varied, but include the duration and/or intensity or complexity of the work involved and to ensure accuracy and quality of interpreting are maintained. Examples of where this might be the case are when interpreting training, lectures, conferences, courtroom and mental health tribunals to name a few. The interpreter can discuss your requirements and advise you accordingly at the time of booking.


Categories of Sign Language Interpreters

Registered Sign Language Interpreters (RSLI) will have demonstrated that they have achieved a nationally agreed standards in interpreting. They will carry a yellow photo ID card.

Trainee Sign Language Interpreters (TSLI) have met minimum competence requirements and are undertaking an approved, supervised programme of training that leads to NRCPD Registered status. Trainee Sign Language Interpreters may not work in the legal domain – courts, police, legal processes etc, - or in mental health settings. They will carry a purple photo ID card.

Before the booking

• Inform the interpreter of the type of assignment and details of the date, time, length and location as well as other participants

• Tell them how many deaf people will be using the service

• Make sure the interpreter has a contact name and telephone number

• Ensure that the interpreter receives copies of agendas and any other relevant materials at least a week before so they can prepare for the assignment

• Remote - Consider how this will be accessible. Software that does not allow a Deaf person to see both the Interpreter and Slides will not be accessible as they will need to be able to 'Pin' the Interpreter/s on screen.

What rights do deaf people have?

Under the Equality Act 2010, service providers must make “reasonable adjustments” to ensure they are fully accessible, including providing an interpreter.

NHS guidelines on the provision of interpreters within the Health Service: “Doubly Disabled Equality for Disabled people in the new NHS Access to Services”, NHS Executive (1999), clearly states that only registered Interpreters should be used.


Who pays for the interpreter?

It is the responsibility of the service provider under the Equality Act 2010,  however, some funding is available such as Access to Work (DWP) for work related interpreters or Disabled Students’ Allowance for university bookings. Some services, such as health and social care, may have a centralised booking service.


Interpreter fees will depend on factors such as the type of booking, duration, complexity and the Interpreter can advise you of the fee. Interpreters usually charge a half day or full day for bookings, although some interpreters may charge a 'short duration fee' for certain bookings. Specialist areas such as court, conference and mental health may incur additional charges. 

When and where are Interpreters used?

Deaf people need an interpreter whenever important communication is taking place and it is their right to access that information.

For example:

• Medical: hospitals, GPs and other NHS services
• At work: Interviews, training courses, meetings, phone calls

• Social Services: with Social Workers, staff, care services
• Education: Schools, colleges and universities
• Council: Attending public meetings 
• Legal: Court or a police station
• Services: Banks and other providers 

Interpreters also work in areas of Media/TV, Theatre, Comedy, Political, Public Events, Visitor Experiences, Galleries, Museums

Deaf Interpreters

Deaf Interpreters are sometimes called Deaf Relay Interpreters.  A Deaf Interpreter is a Deaf person who is an expert in assisting Deaf people who have complex communication needs. This could perhaps due to having limited language skills, idiosyncratic or non-standardised sign language use or due to having a learning difficulty or mental health problem which affects their ability to communicate effectively. The Deaf Interpreter works as part of team alongside a registered BSL/English Interpreter. A Deaf Interpreter will broker communication between the BSL Interpreter and Deaf client in order to ensure that the Deaf client understands the message being communicated. 

Deaf Intermediaries

Deaf Intermediaries work with a wide variety of vulnerable deaf adults and children including those with additional needs including communication difficulties, learning difficulties, limited speech or those who use a foreign sign language. Deaf Intermediaries work in police and court settings to ensure that Deaf participants can understand, and can be understood, within the legal process.

Tips for working with an Interpreter



  • Do send any handouts or preparation to the deaf person and interpreter ahead of the session.
    Answer any questions asked in advance

  • Do be flexible and make sure the deaf person is able to see the interpreter and speakers clearly, usually sitting opposite the interpreter

  • Do ask the deaf person if you have any questions about interpreting or how the session will work

  • Do speak as you normally would (pace, content etc)

  • Do ask the deaf person to explain something if you do not understand it

  • Do allow extra time for the deaf person and interpreter to meet prior to the start of the session. This is so they can familiarise themselves with their language styles

  • Do look at and speak directly to the deaf person

  • Do include the deaf person in all conversations

  • Do allow for ‘eye breaks’. It takes a lot more concentration for the deaf person to actively ‘listen’ with their eyes than a hearing person

  • Do give the deaf person extra time to look at overheads or handouts – remember they can’t read materials and watch the interpreter simultaneously 


  • Don’t be concerned that information will be leaked/shared. Interpreters work to a strict code of conduct that includes confidentiality

  • Don’t ask the interpreter to explain what the deaf person means

  • Don’t speak slowly, over pronounce or try to think of simple sentences

  • Don’t ask the interpreter about their job whilst they are working

  • Don’t place either the deaf person or interpreter in front of a window, or too far away, as they won’t be able to see clearly

  • Don’t ask interpreters for their personal opinions or ask them not to interpret something you said

  • Don’t ask the interpreter to “tell him/her… or ask about the Deaf person - ask the Deaf person directly

  • Don’t distract the deaf person or interpreter by moving around too much

Fees:  Interpreters typically charge either half day or full day fee. Some may charge a short duration fee for unusually short bookings. Please contact me directly and I can advise you depending on the booking requirements.

Please note that due to the physical and mental demands of interpreting, more than one interpreter may be required for an assignment of more than one hour depending on the duration and/or intensity and complexity of the work as well as to ensure accuracy and quality of interpreting are maintained. I can discuss your requirements and advise you accordingly at the time of booking. If I cannot meet your requirements, I may be able to recommend another interpreter or agency.

bottom of page