Within the hearing-impaired community, there is an incredible amount of diversity, including in the ways in which individuals choose to navigate our world. For some, cochlear implants are the ideal option, while others prefer using sign language to communicate. And for many individuals, it’s a combination of these and other strategies that work best for them.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon to hear stories of the many challenges experienced by hearing-impaired individuals. Our society is primarily designed to meet the needs of hearing individuals only. So, even a seemingly simple task – like grabbing a morning coffee – can present major obstacles for a person with hearing loss. For example, if a coffee shop isn’t able (or willing) to make minor accommodations, such as offering a printed menu to make ordering more accessible, the impact on the hearing-impaired community is significant.

But though these experiences are far too common for hearing-impaired individuals, there are many people who are determined to help make a change.

Sign language interpreters have always served an important role within our community, making a broad range of experiences (concerts, speeches, education, and more) accessible to those with a hearing impairment. And these interpreters don’t just help individuals with hearing loss – hearing individuals also reap the benefits of being able to connect, better understand, and effectively communicate with members of the hearing-impaired community.

What is Sign Language?

Most of us are at least generally familiar with sign language – but did you know that there isn’t one universal form of sign language? In fact, signed English is much different than American Sign Language (ASL), and there is also British Sign Language and other forms as well. For those fluent in sign language, it’s easy to detect an “accent” from another part of the world; in other words, the dialect and slang differ depending on the geographical location.

American Sign Language tends to be the primary choice throughout North America, and hundreds of thousands of Americans are able to sign.

Who uses sign language?

Sign language is the primary language of many deaf and hearing-impaired individuals. However, there are many people without hearing impairments that can also communicate using sign language:

  • Parents: A large majority of deaf children are born to hearing parents, making sign language a necessity. Many parents learn sign language early on, expanding their skills alongside their children.
  • Educators: While sign language is often a critical skill for educators certified to teach special education, it’s becoming an increasingly desirable skill for all teachers. It’s not unusual for a teacher to have a hard-of-hearing child in their classroom, so sign language can be an incredibly valuable tool. There are also ASL-certified teachers, who teach American Sign Language as a part of the classroom curriculum.
  • First responders: Paramedics, police officers, and firefighters regularly interact with a diverse range of individuals in emergency situations. The hearing-impaired community includes people of all ages, any of whom may require emergency services at any time.
  • Service providers: Medical professionals, counselors, social workers, and other service providers are also benefiting from learning sign language as a professional skill.

What Do Sign Language Interpreters Do?

There are many different types of sign language interpreters, but their overarching purpose is generally the same: to work as a “translator” for deaf and hearing-impaired individuals. Essentially, a sign language interpreter works to translate spoken language to sign language, and vice versa. They help bridge the communication gap between a hearing person and a hearing-impaired individual, ensuring fair and equal accessibility.

Some of the most common sign language interpreter jobs include:

  • Freelance interpreters, who contract with many interpreting agencies or secure their own clients/work assignments. A freelance interpreter may work in a variety of settings, including schools, hospitals, private businesses, courts, and more.
  • Agency interpreters may work directly for an agency, which facilitates various jobs and assignments. Depending on the agency, as well as the interpreter’s qualifications, the jobs can vary considerably.

Recently, viral videos of sign language interpreters for popular music artists have earned national attention, showing many people just how exciting and unique of a career it can be. Perhaps your goal is to interpret in an entertainment setting; or, maybe you’re interested in working in a school, healthcare facility, or as a personal interpreter for an individual. Whatever path you choose, the opportunities are virtually limitless – and you can look forward to a fulfilling career

How Sign Language Interpreters Benefit Everyone

Sign language interpreters provide a valuable service for our community, with benefits that extend to both hearing and hearing-impaired individuals:

  • Facilitating meaningful communication: Being able to translate between spoken and sign language can connect two individuals that may not otherwise be able to effectively communicate. Because neither party has to struggle to make their needs, wants, and ideas are known, it opens the door to a more well-rounded form of communication.
  • Enhance accessibility: Even though there are laws in place that are designed to support accessibility, there are still many ways in which the hearing world falls short. Hearing-impaired individuals face numerous obstacles on a daily basis, which can be understandably frustrating and even disheartening. An interpreter in virtually any setting supports the needs of a hearing-impaired individual in a way that can improve many life experiences.
  • Support education and awareness: For hearing individuals that don’t have first-hand experience with a friend or family member with a hearing impairment, there can sometimes be a certain discomfort with the unknown. But with an interpreter available, many hearing people are able to realize that individuals with hearing impairments aren’t really that “different” at all – they simply need some small accommodations at times.

Learn More about Hearing Education and Advocacy

Memorial Hearing is an award-winning audiology provider in Houston, TX, with a skilled and dedicated team led by Dr. Elly Pourasef. We’re committed to supporting better accessibility, education, and advocacy efforts, in addition to providing audiology services including hearing tests, hearing aids, and pediatric audiology in Houston.

For more information about how sign language and other strategies can make an incredible difference in our community, contact our office today.

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