Working With Interpreters

The following tips should provide you with key information about interpreters and how to work with them effectively in the classroom and a lab setting.

Interpreters in the Classroom

Interpreters in Lab Settings

Interpreter Roles and Responsibilities

  • Sign language interpreters help bridge the communication gap by listening in class and translating lectures and discussions into sign language. They may also translate the student's signed communication into spoken English when the student is called upon, has a comment or question, or makes a presentation.
  • Interpreters are there to provide communication access for the student, the instructor, and the class.
  • Sign language interpreters are highly skilled professionals who have studied American Sign Language and interpretation for many years. They have gone through rigorous testing to become certified and are required to obtain CEUs each year in order to continue their development and maintain certification. 
  • At UCSC we typically use interpreters who are nationally certified by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) to ensure the highest level of expertise and professionalism.
  • Interpreters pledge to abide by the RID Code of Professional Conduct (link to ) dictated by the RID that requires adherence to strict standards of confidentiality, neutrality, professionalism, and respect for consumers (including students, professors, TAs, staff, and other interpreters).
  • Interpreters have an ethical responsibility to remain neutral. They cannot answer personal questions about the student, interject personal opinions, or assist a student with schoolwork. They are there strictly to translate what is being said. Address questions or comments regarding the Deaf student directly to the student.
  • Interpreters should not be expected to hand out papers, take notes, participate in discussions, or attend class when the student is absent.
  • Interpreters often work in teams. If classes are more than an hour in length or content is complex, there will be two interpreters in the class. One will be up front near you interpreting, while the other is watching visuals and listening in order to assist the primary interpreter with cues as needed. They will switch every 15-20 minutes.
  • Situations may occur when it may be necessary for interpreters to share classroom information with other members of the DRC. However, any notes and transcripts are held to the same confidentiality policy as other disability-related accommodations.

Ensuring Successful Classroom Communication – Interpreters

  • Speak directly to the deaf student, not to the interpreter. A common mistake is to say, “Tell her…” or “Ask him…” Instead, make eye contact with and speak directly to the deaf student as though the interpreter is not present. This shows the student respect and helps develop the student/instructor relationship.
  • Expect lag time: Wait for interpretation and response before continuing to speak.
  • Deaf/hard-of-hearing students may or may not speak for themselves. Even if sign language interpreters are present, the student may choose to speak for him/herself when commenting or responding to questions in class.
  • During class, the speaker and interpreter should both be in the student’s line of sight. Interpreters may ask you where you are sitting or standing in order to be seated near you. Make sure you do not stand between the interpreter and the deaf student.
  • Keep in mind that the student must try and watch you as well as watch the interpreter. This is not always an easy task.  Lecturing from the front of the room rather than walking around the room can help, as can ensuring that you face the class as much as possible and speak at a moderate pace.
  • Provide any class materials and handouts to interpreters, and do this in advance whenever possible. 
    • Advanced copies of lecture notes, technical terms, hand-outs, speeches, audio recordings, song lyrics, websites, PowerPoint slides, and other materials will help orient the deaf student and allow the interpreter to better prepare to translate the class content. 
    • The DRC attempts to assign interpreters with university degrees and knowledge of the course content in addition to their sign language skills. However, for complex material, interpreters often have to prepare outside of class just as students do.
  • If you plan to read something aloud in class, provide the student and the interpreter with a copy before you begin (preferably in advance of class).
    • When reading aloud, people often tend to speak faster than normal. This may affect the interpreter's translation of the material. If possible, try to slow down a bit when reading.
    • You should also be aware that translation into ASL without seeing the written copy may affect the student in terms of the expectation for any exercise associated with the reading.
  • To get a deaf person's attention when an interpreter is not available, use a hand motion or wave in their field of peripheral vision.

QUESTIONS? If appropriate, clarify disability-related needs with the student directly. Otherwise, contact the DRC at or 459-2089.

Working with Deaf Students and Interpreters in Lab Settings

Often professors in the sciences have safety concerns about having deaf students and interpreters in lab settings. In fact, deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals are no more or no less susceptible to safety issues in the lab than other students. Here are a few things to consider in order to ensure an effective and safe learning environment for all. Please review these with TAs as well. 

  • Most deaf students have had some prior science background, so they are familiar with the setting. The student is a great resource in determining what will work best in your lab setting.
  • The deaf student should have a lab station that provides an unobstructed view of the instructor.  The student must be able to see any instruction and demonstration that occurs.  The interpreter must be able to hear and see all instruction as well.
  • For this type of course, the DRC attempts to assign interpreters with science and lab background. Occasionally, interpreters may ask for clarification so that they can interpret concepts, tasks, and procedures more clearly. However, the interpreters are not instructors, and should not be relied on to explain concepts or show the student how to do procedures in the lab. 
  • It is helpful if the professor or TA can meet with the student and interpreters before the first lab in order to discuss logistics. This meeting should take place in the actual lab so that everyone can agree on best physical placement of student and interpreters, as well as any other concerns.
  • Interpreters prepare ahead of time so that they fully understand what will happen in the lab on a particular day. Please make sure that interpreters have any relevant handouts, lab assignments, and lab workbooks, as well as access to any websites that will be used.
  • If students are required to wear special safety gear, such as lab coat, goggles, gloves, etc., such gear should be provided to the interpreters as well.  Interpreters will not work in the lab without appropriate protective gear.
  • Interpreters usually work in teams of two for classes of more than one hour. In some labs, one interpreter may be sufficient. If that is the case, the interpreters will communicate that to the DRC.
  • When there is an interpreter team, only one interpreter will be working in the vicinity of the deaf student at any given time.  The second interpreter will wait off to the side until it is her turn to interpret.  Interpreters will be cognizant of what’s happening in the lab so that when they alternate it will not be disruptive or hazardous to others in the lab.
  • Sometimes deaf students may be comfortable communicating one-on-one or individually with the professor or the other students.  In this case, the interpreter will remain within sight line to be called when needed, but out of the way until called. 
  • Interpreters will work dynamically with student, professor, and TAs to modify communication and logistics as needed during lab times. Ongoing communication is critical to ensure safety for all. If any questions or concerns arise that cannot be resolved through communication with student and interpreters, please contact the DRC at or 459-2089.