How to Become an Interpreter for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Interpreters for the deaf and hard-of-hearing are fully trained professionals. How to become certified or licensed to interpret in your city, town or area will depend on local certification laws. This article is based on professional experience as an interpreter in Austin, TX. It is possible that the steps to become an interpreter here are similar to those in most places in North America.


  1. Image titled Become an Interpreter for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Step 1
    Find out exactly what your state, county/parish, or municipal area requires to certify or license interpreters.
  2. Image titled Become an Interpreter for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Step 2
    Acquire proficiency in American Sign Language and begin learning about deaf culture.
  3. Image titled Become an Interpreter for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Step 3
    Pass the examinations and assessments put in place by your local government agencies.
  4. Image titled Become an Interpreter for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Step 4
    Seek employment as an interpreter.


  • For #1 above, contact your state's agency that oversees Deaf services; for example, in Texas, it's the Dept. of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services. Your state probably has something similar. Write, email, or call them and ask for all their information about becoming certified to interpret.
  • Once you feel you've become fluent enough in the language to interpret, go to your state agency and ask to take whatever interpreter assessment instrument they have in place.
  • The 4 steps above are simple for the sake of brevity.
  • There is a national registry for interpreters, the RID (Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf). While most all of the 50 states accept RID certification in lieu of state certification (which is called "reciprocity). Some States do not. Again, check your local laws to find out. RID Certification can be accepted in most of the English speaking provinces of Canada as well.
  • For #2 above, you can acquire proficiency by attending sign classes, making deaf friends and socializing with them (the best way to learn). Or, join a college ITP (Interpreter Training Program). (See How to Begin to Learn American Sign Language in wikiHow.)


  • An important idea to keep in mind is that ASL (American Sign Language) is a bona fide language, exactly like English or French or Spanish. It is not just English put into motions. Mastering it is just as easy or as hard as becoming proficient in Russian or German. Some people pick up languages quickly. If you are one of these lucky ones, you'll probably pick up ASL quickly too. If you struggled in Spanish class in high school, you might struggle just as much with ASL. It has all the earmarks -- the grammar, the complexity, the interdependency on culture, etc. -- of any other language.
  • Considering becoming an ASL/English Interpreter is not something that should be taken lightly. If possible, try to meet someone who has graduated from the field and is actively working in the field. Find out what it's really like. If you think you still have enough passion for such a field, then go ahead. It is challenging! You need to know ASL and English very well. Also, learning about Deaf culture and respecting Deaf individuals is very important. Learning ASL and learning about a new culture is very enriching.
  • Before you have actual certification to interpret, either from your home state or from RID, do NOT attempt to interpret, except for in church. Many interpreters I know began signing in front of large groups of people via their church, and as a rule, churches will not sue a signer for making mistakes while interpreting "How Great Thou Art." But if you memorize a sign dictionary, then go out and get a job interpreting for the public school system, you can (and probably will) be sued for malpractice when something goes wrong.
  • Please, do not attempt to interpret unless you have been trained specifically in the subject. Being fluent in the language does not necessarily mean that you have sufficient training to be an interpreter for people in need.
  • Please realize that in most cases, interpreters must be certified professionals. Until you are certified, do not represent yourself as a professional, even if you have or consider yourself to have excellent signing skills.

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Categories: Administrative Careers | Manual Communication