We understand there can be a lot of questions about providing the best communication access services to your employees, students, guests, or customers.

The following FAQ is a great place to start, but if you have any further questions, reach out to us by phone at (800) 930-2580 or signup@deafservicesunlimited.com. We’ll get back to you as soon as possible!

Sign Language Services

When do I need to use an interpreter?

An interpreter facilitates communication between parties who do not share the same language. Deaf individuals may be prevented from understanding and/or participating in situations if spoken or written English is the main mode of communication.

Some simple communication can be done through written notes or gestures, but any time important content is being communicated, having an interpreter present safeguards the participants by ensuring that information is accessible to both parties.

What should I expect when working with an interpreter?

Remember that the interpreter is there in a professional capacity. Feel free to speak with them as you might a new colleague, but keep in mind that they are there to provide a professional service to allow communication access. They are a bridge for communication between the Deaf and Hearing parties, not an additional person in the discussion. It can feel strange at first to have an outside person facilitating your conversation, but keep in mind that you are speaking with the Deaf or hard of hearing individual, not the interpreter. Avoid falling into the habit of speaking in the third person (he/him, she/her, they), rather, use the second person (you/we) just as you would when speaking with a Hearing person. Speak directly to the Deaf or hard of hearing individual and make eye contact with them, not the interpreter, for the duration of the conversation.

Who is required to pay for an interpreter?

Businesses and community organizations are responsible for paying for sign language interpreting services. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates that “title II entities (State and local governments) and title III entities (businesses and nonprofit organizations that serve the public) communicate effectively with people who have communication disabilities. The goal is to ensure that communication with people with these disabilities is equally effective as communication with people without disabilities.” The cost for the provision of services should never be discussed in the presence of the Deaf or hard of hearing consumer. Doing so devalues the individual and imposes a sense of guilt.

Is providing interpreting services expensive?

Accessibility services, such as sign language interpreting and CART captioning, should be budgeted as part of your annual planning. It is true that, on a per-assignment basis, some organizations may pay more for interpreting or captioning services than is generated in revenue. However, if you consider the cost over the course of a year as an overhead cost of doing business, providing accessible services is quite reasonable. With DSU, you will be assured of clear and effective communication, delivery of quality customer services to your Deaf consumers, and compliance with state and federal mandates on accessibility requirements. Tax Credits can be available. To find out more about this reimbursement opportunity, contact your tax professional. If qualified, DSU will assist you in getting reimbursed the maximum amount for your provision of interpreting or captioning services.

Why is my business obligated to provide accommodations?

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all places that are open to the public. When a ramp is constructed outside the entrance of a building, it is built to create an accessible location for all individuals regardless of physical ability. Interpreting and captioning expenses should be viewed similarly. Communication access services are provided to create an accessible environment for all individuals regardless of their ability to hear. Services are not provided only for the Deaf or hard of hearing consumer but to enable both the Deaf or hard of hearing party and the Hearing party to communicate with each other. Accommodations benefit your business just as much as they benefit the Deaf or hard of hearing consumer.

Will I have to pay a minimum charge?

You will usually be asked to pay a two-hour minimum charge for on-site interpreting services. Because interpreters come to you, on your schedule, their fees take into account the amount of time spent traveling between jobs, wait time for the next assignment to start, and down time when no work is available. Additionally, mileage, parking fees, and travel time may be charged, depending on how far the interpreter travels to your assignment. Depending on the situation, Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) services can be provided with a 30-minute minimum and will never have travel fees. When used appropriately, this can be a cost-effective means of providing interpreting services for a short period of time.

What if I have to cancel my request?

When you schedule an interpreter, you are purchasing their time. If you have to cancel your request, it may or may not be possible to sell that time to another customer. Please be sure to ask about our cancellation policy when requesting an interpreter. Generally, cancellations within 48 business hours are billable.

How much advance notice do I need to give you to get an interpreter?

There is never too much advance notice! Interpreters are a scarce resource, and often the demand exceeds the supply. Because interpreters come to you, on your schedule, we must juggle the needs of many customers to try to accommodate as many requests as possible.

The farther in advance you can plan appointments, trainings, or meetings where you will be using an interpreter, the better. Still, if you have a sudden need for an interpreter, please reach out to us. Together we can work to find a solution that marries available resources with your unique needs.

Why do I have to have two interpreters for my assignment?

Interpreting is a very taxing activity, both mentally and physically. Research has shown that an interpreter’s ability to mentally process and interpret a message accurately diminishes drastically after approximately 30 minutes of interpreting. Worse, the interpreter is usually unaware that his or her accuracy has decreased, so misinformation is being unwittingly transmitted. Research also indicates accuracy improves on longer or more complex assignments when implementing a Team interpreting approach.

Team interpreting refers to interpreting situations where two or more interpreters work together with the goal of creating one interpretation. An interpreting Team creates a collaborative approach by capitalizing on each interpreter’s strengths and supporting each other for consistency.

Our scheduling team will assist you in determining the appropriate number of interpreters needed. The decision of when to use a Team rather than an individual interpreter is based on a number of factors, including but not limited to:

  • Length and/or complexity of the assignment
  • Unique needs of the individual needing accommodation
  • Physical and emotional dynamics of the setting

When necessary, Team interpreting provides continuity in the interpreted message, increased accuracy, and optimum interpreting services for Deaf and hard of hearing individuals.

Interpreter Qualifications

Someone in my office knows sign language. Can I have that person interpret for us?

No. Interpreting is a very complex task that requires more than just knowing some sign language. The process of translating a message from one language to another requires a high level of proficiency in both languages, as well as knowing principles of accurate interpretation. A coworker, or someone who is responsible for other duties in your workplace, should not be put in the position of interpreting for a Deaf colleague or customer in a professional setting.

There is no guarantee of quality, accuracy, or confidentiality of information when using a person who works in your office or workplace. In many cases, unintended damage has been done by a “signer” who is trying to help, requiring a professional interpreter to be hired just to interpret a mediation that would not have been necessary if that same professional interpreter was obtained at the start.

What does it take to become an interpreter?

Interpreting is a complex task, requiring near-native language skills in at least two languages, as well as a deep knowledge of two cultures. A skilled interpreter should provide the full content of an interaction between two or more people who do not share the same language. This requires a deep understanding of the information that is being transmitted, as well as practiced manual interpreting skills.

Most sign language interpreters have studied American Sign Language (ASL) for two to five years, in addition to one to three years of interpreter training. They are required to continue expanding their skills on an annual basis.

How do I know if an interpreter is qualified?

Deaf Services Unlimited only employs the most highly qualified interpreters. DSU interpreters are nationally certified by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), or National Association of the Deaf, and have at least three years of interpreting experience.  All DSU interpreters hold licensure and credentials mandated by the state in which they are providing services.

Of course, no one interpreter can be qualified for every situation. Our scheduling team will gather as much information about your assignment as possible to determine which of our interpreters will best meet your needs.

Specialized Interpreting

How are Certified Deaf Interpreters (CDIs) different from Hearing Interpreters (HIs)?

CDIs possess a first-language understanding of sign language and are themselves members of the Deaf or hard of hearing communities. As noted by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), CDIs “have specialized training and/or experience in the use of gesture, mime, drawings, and other tools to enhance communication.” CDI/HI Teams are a great resource for accommodation when a Deaf or hard of hearing individual does not use traditional American Sign Language (ASL), whether they use Pidgin Signed English (PSE) – a combination of ASL and English – or are fluent in another signed language. CDI/HI Teams are increasingly being used for announcements with the potential for a broad Deaf and hard of hearing audience, such as White House Press Briefings and other formal government statements.

Do I need a certified legal interpreter?

Law enforcement investigations, interviews and interrogations, client-attorney interactions, and a wide range of court and legal proceedings all require interpreters with legal certification.

Working in the legal setting requires advanced interpreting competence including: the ability to fluently execute consecutive and simultaneous interpreting of complex texts; the ability to effectively work in Teams – particularly the ability to work collaboratively with Certified Deaf Interpreters (CDIs); and the ability to adapt language use to a wide range of sign language users. Further, it requires an in-depth understanding of law enforcement and the legal system.

There are unique parameters impacting the work of interpreters in this setting as a result of case law, legal and evidentiary procedures. Typically, the knowledge and skills required of interpreters in order to work in this setting are acquired after completion of a solid academic foundation in interpreting, coupled with multiple years of practice, followed by specialized training in legal interpreting and supervised field experience.

I need an interpreter with clearance. Is this something DSU can provide?

Yes. We have pools of interpreters with state and federal agency clearances and are familiar with the processes of obtaining clearance for interpreters as needed. Please let us know when you submit your request what clearance(s) are required.

What is STEM interpreting?

Interpreters with specialized knowledge in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) have and maintain a vocabulary of terminology unique to these fields and are adept at building glossaries of signs specific to ongoing STEM assignments. These interpreters are invaluable for advanced STEM courses in higher education, research conferences, and employment assignments within STEM fields.

What is performing arts interpreting?

Interpreting for a live production involves specialized training, artful and expressive signing, and an extensive amount of preparation, including studying scripts and attending rehearsals. Performing arts interpreting is almost always Teamed. It is used to mirror the artistry and emotion of a variety of theater and musical productions, live concerts, and other entertainment events.

Video Remote Interpreting (VRI)

How does VRI work?

Rather than having an interpreter in-person for your assignment, your interpreting is done through a video connection in which an interpreter at another location interprets for the Deaf and Hearing participants through a video screen and camera. It is just like having the remote interpreter in the room with you.

Most people use a laptop computer, but your video screen can be any computer with a camera or any other video conferencing equipment you have at your disposal.

In what situations or settings can I use VRI?

VRI can be used in most settings that a live interpreter would be used, including:

  • One-on-one meetings
  • Staff and team meetings
  • Conferences and workshops
  • School and college classrooms
  • Hospitals and medical practices
  • Courtrooms

If you’re unsure if you should request VRI or in-person interpreting, our coordination team can help you determine which accommodation is most appropriate.

Is VRI HIPAA compliant?

Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) is compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and supplemental legislation referred to collectively as HIPAA. Interpreters who provide remote services abide by the same Code of Professional Conduct as all other interpreters as defined by the NAD-RID Code of Professional Conduct. Among other tenets, the Code of Professional Conduct maintains that “Interpreters adhere to standards of confidential communication.” Interpreters will never share information obtained in the course of providing services, including protected health information (PHI).

Can I get a VRI interpreter immediately?

While we do not currently provide 24/7 instant access to VRI services, we can often accommodate last-minute requests. Contact us here to inquire!

Conference Planning

What do I need to consider when planning accommodations for a conference?

Immediately upon scheduling a conference, you should contact DSU to initiate the requesting process for interpreters and captioners. Be prepared to provide information on the conference schedule, location, and topic. You can contact us before any participants request services. The cost of accommodations, including interpreting and captioning services, should be anticipated, and included in the overall conference budget. These costs should be considered when setting registration fees.

What information will I need to provide?

In addition to the conference schedule, location, and topic, the information below is helpful in determining your conference needs.

How complex is the conference? Factors in complexity include:

  • Number of participants
  • Number of Deaf and hard of hearing participants
  • Communication needs of the Deaf and hard of hearing participants
  • Number of Deaf and hard of hearing presenters
  • Number of breakout sessions occurring at any one time

How long – both in terms of days and hours per day – is the conference?

What is the format of the conference sessions? (Ex. workshop, lecture, research, panel, roundtable, etc.)

Will participants register for sessions in advance, or will they wait to select sessions day-of?

What is the setup of the room(s) the conference will take place in? Will additional lighting or backdrops be needed for accommodations?

How soon can you provide copies of presentation materials? (Ex. PowerPoint slide decks; specialized vocabulary; written speeches or abstracts; pre-recorded videos; etc.)

What information should I gather from conference attendees during registration?

When conference information is sent out, consider what information should be solicited regarding accommodation needs and set a deadline for accommodation requests as part of the registration process. The actual deadline will depend on the registration deadline, amount of advance publicity, number of Deaf and hard of hearing attendees, the number of sessions offered, and the number of interpreters required. We can work with you to decide the best course of action. Ask participants who request accommodations what their attendance schedule will be, including the number of days of the conference they are attending and the times of the sessions they are participating in, and what kind of accommodations they prefer.

What does a recommended timeline for access planning look like?

3 months in advance
Make a schedule of events during the conference. This schedule should include a breakdown of times (start and end times for each day and session within the day), the configuration of breakout and plenary sessions, and any additional activities (including social activities).

2 months in advance
Provide DSU with a full list of presenters and their phone and email information, as well as communication modality preferences (this is especially important for any Deaf or hard of hearing presenters).

2 months in advance
Provide DSU with any registration or vaccination requirements for interpreters and captioners to complete in advance.

2 months in advance, then regular updates
Provide DSU with the contact information for Deaf and hard of hearing conference attendees, so that information can be obtained regarding their schedules, interpreter preferences, and communication modality preferences.

1 month in advance
Sign DSU’s Customer Agreement.

2-4 weeks in advance
All requests for services by conference attendees are submitted. Requests made with fewer than two-weeks’ notice may be harder to fill.

1-2 weeks in advance
Submit any final presentation materials for interpreters and captioners to use in preparation for providing services.

What can I expect from conference interpreters?

The interpreters will use sign language to interpret all that is heard or communicated. They will also use spoken English when a person who is Deaf or hard of hearing is communicating through sign language. At no time will the interpreters join the discussion themselves.

Throughout a presentation or discussion, you may notice the interpreter continue interpreting even after you have paused. The interpreter also may not begin signing at the exact time you begin speaking. This is normal and allows processing time crucial to providing an accurate interpretation.

The interpreters will position themselves prior to the beginning of a presentation or discussion. This positioning considers easy transition visibility between the interpreter and speaker, lighting, and any multi-media being utilized.

To reduce the risk of repetitive motion injuries, programs lasting over an hour sometimes require two interpreters to present the best possible interpretation. The interpreters will switch between primary and supporting interpreter every 20-30 minutes.

CART Captioning

What is CART captioning?

Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART) is a form of captioning that can be provided on-site or remotely and is most often used for live presentations such as meetings, classes, or conferences. The captions produced are viewed in real-time by the Deaf or hard of hearing participant on a computer, laptop, tablet, smart phone, or projected screen through a browser.

How does CART captioning work?

For remote CART captioning, an audio feed taken from a classroom or meeting room is sent to an experienced CART writer, or captioner, via a phone or web connection. The captioner then creates captions using a stenography machine and captioning application. For on-site CART captioning, the process is the same, but without an audio feed since the captioner is present in the room. In both instances, the captions are streamed back to the viewer in real-time using an internet connection.

How do I provide audio?

For the best results, the CART writer needs to have a clear audio signal to fully hear what needs to be captioned. Most frequently, our clients use Zoom to connect, but audio can also be sent successfully through a phone connection. For the best results with Zoom or another web platform, we recommend using a Bluetooth microphone.

What devices can support CART services?

CART services are accessible through any web-enabled device such as an iPad or tablet, laptop, desktop computer, or smartphone.

I would like a transcript. Is that possible?

Yes. The transcript is included with your session. Just let the coordinator know ahead of time that you would like a copy, and they will obtain one for you from the CART writer.


What post-production services does DSU provide?

DSU provides Closed- and Open-Captioning and post-production interpreting. Closed-Captions refer to captioning that can be opened or closed during the video, while Open-Captions are burned into the video and are always visible. Post-production captions are written by a certified captioner, not a computer program, and undergo a review process to ensure accuracy. Though auto-captions can seem like a convenient post-production option, they are not ADA compliant, and often include significant errors and delay.

Post-Production interpreting involves adding a polished, professionally lighted American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation of the recorded content picture-in-picture to the existing video. As with all of our interpreting, this interpretation is done by a nationally certified interpreter.

ADA Compliance

What is ADA compliance?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) can be overwhelming to understand. Passed in 1990, the ADA is a civil rights law designated to secure the rights and freedoms to which disabled citizens are entitled. It prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public.

Prior to the ADA, the few laws intended to support the Deaf and hard of hearing communities were limited in scope and applied only to entities receiving Federal funding. This included hospitals that accepted Medicare and colleges that received Federal funds. At the time it didn’t include tax appointments, retail stores, meetings with lawyers, most medical practices, or countless other private business entities. The ADA brought these overlooked places into the fold so that essentially everywhere you go, Deaf individuals have the right to communication access.

For Deaf and hard of hearing individuals, this law requires reasonable accommodations be made to allow equal communication access as others who do not have a hearing loss. The most common accommodation for Deaf and hard of hearing people is a qualified ASL interpreter, provided on-site or remotely. However, there are several other accommodations listed under the ADA, such as Relay Services, CART Captioning, Video Captioning, and various telecommunication solutions.

Sometimes people unknowingly provide unreliable methods, leaving them vulnerable by not complying with the ADA. Writing notes back and forth, relying on a family member or friend to sign, or asking the Deaf or hard of hearing individual to lipread are not accommodations supported by the ADA. Each of these methods leaves a wide margin for error and places your institution at risk of legal action. Denying services because accommodations are requested also puts your organization at risk.