Becoming an interpreter for the deaf is a very popular choice for many ASL students.
I go into more detail about becoming an ASL interpreter in Don’t Just “Sign”… Communicate!: A Student’s Guide to ASL and the Deaf Community, but I have included some of the most important information here.
The educational requirements for certification from the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf are currently changing. As of June 30, 2009, all hearing candidates for RID certification must have at least an associate’s degree, in any field, in order to take the performance exams. This requirement is expected to increase to a bachelor’s degree by 2012. Deaf candidates for RID certification are expected to have an associate’s degree by 2012 and a bachelor’s degree by 2016.
As of right now, the degree can be in any field in order to take the RID performance exams. However, you still need to be prepared for these exams. For most people, the best way to prepare is to get a two-year or four-year degree in ASL Interpreting.
Many colleges and universities offer ASL interpreter training programs. You can find interpreter training program listings on the RID website:
RID’s database of interpreter education programs.
Certification is now required for most interpreting positions. There is a National Interpreter Certification (NIC) test that is given jointly by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) and the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID). This test involves a written test, an interview, and a performance test. To learn more about the certification process, visit the Certification section of the RID website.
Your state may also require other certification on top of the national certification in order to be an interpreter for the deaf. And depending on the setting in which you plan to interpret, there may be other certifications required as well.
Types of Interpreters
As an interpreter for the deaf, you can work either as a staff employee, a freelance independent contractor, or an agency interpreter.
As a staff employee, your job would be more stable, predictable, and often include benefits. However, you would also have less flexibility in picking your assignments and your range of experience would be limited to what the organization does.
As a freelance interpreter for the deaf, you get to contract with many different agencies. These can include private agencies, public agencies, schools, hospitals, courts, businesses, and even directly with clients. However, unlike a staff position, you wouldn’t get benefits such as health insurance or vacation pay. You also have to deal with extra paperwork like preparing quarterly tax estimates and obtaining business licenses and insurance. Also, freelance interpreters normally don’t receive a full forty hours of work per week.
Agency interpreters are interpreters who are contracted by interpreting agencies. These agencies are contacted by clients and the agency sends out the most qualified interpreter for that job.
Interpreter salaries can range from $12 to $50 an hour or more or $10,000 to $50,000 or more annually. Your salary will depend on your geographical location (rural areas tend to pay less), education, credentials, amount of experience, and what type of interpreter you are (such as staff, freelance, or agency).
If you plan on becoming an ASL interpreter, we also highly recommend all of the books listed on my Great Book Recommendations for the ASL Interpreter page. You will find a lot more information about interpreting in these books that you will on the internet.