Why are sign language interpreters needed?

It is estimated that there are approximately 6,500 Deaf people in Australia who use sign language to communicate (Johnston, 2004).

Each country has its own sign language and in Australia, the language is called Auslan (Australian Sign Language). Auslan was recognised by the Australian government as a community language in 1987. It is a visual-spatial language with meaning expressed in signs, which include body movement and facial expression.

For Deaf people to access the community and enjoy the same rights as other people in NSW, the services of a qualified Auslan interpreter are often required, particularly in important life situations.

When should an Auslan interpreter be used?

Situations in which a qualified interpreter may be needed include:

Most importantly, you must determine if the Deaf person wishes to have an interpreter. The Deaf person is the best judge of when an interpreter should be used - don't assume that the person will need or want an interpreter just because they are Deaf.

What can you expect from an Auslan interpreter?

Auslan interpreters are bilingual in Auslan and English so that they can facilitate communication between Deaf and hearing people. They also need to have a knowledge of social and cultural aspects of the Deaf community and are required to follow a Code of Ethics that specifies appropriate behaviour when interpreting and assisting interpreters to make decisions relating to their role, obligations and rights. The Code of Ethics emphasises the importance of confidentiality, accuracy and impartiality.

Locating and booking an interpreting

Many interpreters work on a freelance basis which means negotiating work directly with the interpreter. Alternatively, interpreters may be booked through interpreting booking agencies which employ interpreters on a casual basis. Irrespective of whether you employ an interpreter directly or through an agency, as much notice as possible should be provided (at least 2 weeks is recommended) due to the shortage of interpreters.

Working conditions of interpreters

The following is the Employment Conditions policy, which is endorsed by the NSW branch of ASLIA.

  1. During an interpreting assignment, an interpreter will have a 10 minute break during every working hour. When planning a program, for which an interpreter is required, scheduled breaks should be incorporated into that program.
  2. An interpreter should not work through scheduled breaks.
  3. Should a service require sign language interpreting for an assignment in excess of two hours in duration, it is recommended that two interpreters be contracted to alternate every 20 minutes. This is to:
    1. Ensure continual flow of accurate information
    2. Reduce interpreter fatigue
    3. Reduce the incidence of Occupational Overuse Syndrome
  4. To assist the interpreter to work to optimal capacity, the person requesting the service should provide the interpreter, in advance, with any relevant:
    1. Paper work, such as agenda and minutes of past meetings, subject matter to be discussed, names of those attending, copies of presentations and scripts of videos to be used (if the video is not subtitled)
    2. A brief list of terminology, jargon or acronyms commonly used
  5. The interpreter will usually arrive 15 minutes before the booking in order to:
    • Meet the Deaf client and establish the appropriate mode of communication to be used
    • Be briefed by the service provider about the content of the assignment
    • Negotiate work conditions specific to the assignment

Pay rates and cancellation fees

The amount you will be charged will depend on the qualifications of the interpreter, how often and how long they work and if booked through an agency, the fee structure of that booking agency. The actual rate is determined by negotiation between the parties involved. ASLIA (NSW) does not promote a particular pay rate or scale but, as a guide, interpreters are generally paid in the range of $40 - $70 per hour.

If a booking is cancelled, the interpreter or booking agency may request payment of a cancellation fee. The actual amount will vary depending on the amount of notice and the interpreter/agency involved.

Working with interpreters

Experience and a little knowledge can assist in working effectively with an interpreter. Below are some points to keep in mind when using the services of an interpreter.