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E-Michigan Deaf and Hard of Hearing People.
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For people who communicate primarily by American Sign Language, interpreters are a critical link to the hearing world. For those who cannot hear, whether Deaf, deaf–blind, or hard of hearing, interpreters make the spoken word visible. Likewise, they give audible voice to the rich language of the Deaf person.

Interpreters are highly trained professionals who translate between two distinct languages. Interpreting is a very complex process that requires extensive training, practice and continuing education. Interpreters listen to spoken words, inflection, and intent, and render the meaning in a visual manner. Interpreters must have an understanding of the dynamics of human interaction, an appreciation of social and cultural differences, the ability to concentrate and maintain one’s attention, tact, judgment, stamina and often times, a good sense of humor.

Depending on the preference of the deaf or hard of hearing consumer, the interpreter may use American Sign Language, Oral Interpreting, Transliteration, or Tactile signing. For description of sign language, oral, DeafBlind interpretering, click here.


Example of Interpreting.

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Legal Base and Definitions

State and local governments, educational institutions, and public accommodations, are required to ensure effective communication with persons who are deaf, hard of hearing or deaf–blind. In many instances, this is accomplished by employing an interpreter.

The legal basis for providing interpreters is found in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), the Person’s with Disabilities Civil Rights Act of 1976 (PA 220), and the Deaf Persons’ Interpreter Act of 1982 (PA 204), which are detailed below. Each of these laws specifies that people with disabilities have a right to access and participation.

  1. Rehab. Act of 1973 (Section 504) — No otherwise qualified individual with handicaps in the United States...shall, solely by reason of...handicap, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

  2. ADA, Title II, Sec. 202 (PL 101-336) — Subject to the provisions of this title, no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.

  3. ADA, Title III, Sec. 302 (A) (PL 101-336) — General Rule–No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.

  4. PA 220, Article 1, Sec. 102 (PA 220 of 1976) — The opportunity to obtain employment, housing, and other real estate and full and equal utilization of public accommodations, public services, and educational facilities without discrimination because of a handicap is guaranteed by this act and is a civil right.

  5. The Deaf Person's Interpreter Act (PA 204 of 1982) was amended in 2007 by Public Acts 23 & 24. According to a press release issued by Governor Granholm: "Under Public Act 23 (Senate Bill 25) and Public Act 24 (House Bill 4208) employers, state and local governments, and businesses providing a variety of services to the public are now obligated to provide for effective communication... "PA 23 now defines a "qualified" interpreter as a person who is certified through the National Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf or by the Division of Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DODHH) in the Department of Labor & Economic Growth (DLEG)." It is significant to note that there are now penalties for non-compliance with this law as outlined in the following section:

    Sec. 8b.
    1. A person who knows that he or she does not meet the definition of qualified interpreter under this act and misrepresents himself or herself as a qualified interpreter is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 90 days or a fine of not less than $500.00 or more than $1,000.00, or both.

    2. An individual who applies to become certified as a qualified interpreter through the state by the division or a qualified interpreter certified through the state by the division who violates this act is subject to 1 or more of the following actions by the division:

      1. Rejection of his or her application for certification as a qualified interpreter under this act.

      2. Revocation, suspension, or limitation of his or her certification as a qualified interpreter under this act.

    3. An appointing authority that willfully violates section 3a is subject to a civil fine of not less than $1,000.00 and not more than $10,000.00.

    4. Subsection (3) becomes effective on the effective date of the rules promulgated under this pursuant to section 8a.

    Read the full text of the law.

    For a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) see the Division on Deaf and Hard of Hearing web site at

  6. PA 204, Sec. 3 (PA 204 of 1982) — In any action before a court or a grand jury where a deaf person is a participant in the action, either as a plaintiff, defendant, or witness, the court shall appoint a certified interpreter or in its discretion, appoint a qualified interpreter, to interpret the proceedings to the deaf person, to interpret the deaf person’s testimony or statements, and to assist in preparation of the action with the deaf person’s counsel.

  7. PA 204, Sec. 5 (PA 204 of 1982) — If a deaf person is arrested and taken into custody for any alleged violation of a criminal law of this state, the arresting officer and the officer’s supervisor shall procure a certified interpreter or a qualified interpreter in order to properly interrogate the deaf person and to interpret the deaf person’s statements.

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Requesting Interpreters

It is the responsibility of the deaf or hard of hearing person to request an interpreter. If an interpreter is not requested, there is no responsibility to provide one. The only exception is with State or Local Government agencies. When a deaf or hard of hearing person makes an appointment with a government agency, the agency must inform the person of the right to a certified or qualified interpreter. Allow adequate time, at least 2 days (more in rural areas), for the service provider to find and hire an interpreter. If you are unable to keep an appointment, and an interpreter has been arranged, make sure to notify the provider as soon as possible.

Service providers should not make assumptions about accommodations. Ask the consumer if accommodations will be required and what is needed. Not all people who are deaf or hard of hearing prefer to use interpreters.

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Professional Training

Interpreters must complete rigorous training and testing to obtain certification. Most interpreters have completed college or university interpreter education programs and have earned degrees in interpreting. Some interpreters have also chosen to obtain advanced degrees in related fields such as deaf culture or linguistics.

Michigan has three Interpreter Training Programs, approved by the Department of Education.

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Interpreter Standards

State and Federal laws give deaf, hard of hearing and deaf–blind people the right to an accommodation for effective communication. When the accommodation is an interpreter, that person must be qualified. A family member or friend who knows sign language, is not necessarily ‘qualified.’

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) defines the term “qualified interpreter” in its Title III regulation to mean:

“an interpreter who is able to interpret effectively, accurately and impartially both receptively and expressively, using any necessary specialized vocabulary.”

While this definition is broad and does not establish the standard for the interpreter prior to the assignment, it is the closest to any type of a federal “standard”. Many states are considering and/or have passed state licensure requirements for interpreters. Some of the legislation further defines “qualified interpreter”.

Michigan does not have a licensing requirement for interpreters. Public Act .204 of 1982 (the deaf person’s interpreter act) requires courts to appoint certified interpreters or in its discretion, appoint a qualified interpreter to interpret the proceedings. Michigan’s Special Education rules require interpreters to be nationally certified, or hold a QA II or QA III, or be a high school graduate with advanced training in a community college, or degree–granting institution, whose training program has been approved by the department.

The Division on Deaf and Hard of Hearing, through the Legislative office for the Family Independence Agency (FIA), submitted Interpreter Standards legislation. The legislation is currently at the Governor’s office awaiting further action.

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Important Points

  • The Division on Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DODHH), Michigan Coalition for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons and the Michigan Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, strongly urges the use of nationally certified or state qualified interpreters.

  • Certified and qualified interpreters must adhere to a strict Code of Ethics, including confidentiality and professionalism. Ask to see an interpreter’s current certification or qualification card.

  • Be sure the consumer understands the interpreter and vice versa before beginning the assignment.

  • Two or more interpreters may be needed in some situations. Call DODHH or your local agency for technical assistance.

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Interpreter Credentials

Check the following links for the national and state interpreting certifications explanations:

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Maintaining Interpreter Credentials

Interpreters who have earned certification credentials must keep them current. They pay an annual renewal fee and submit proof that continuing education requirements are met. Fees and educational requirements vary according to certifying organization.

Professional organizations provide on–going opportunities for interpreter training. See Interpreters on the E–Learn Organizations page for a listing of some of these.

The College of St. Catherine offers unique ways for interpreters to improve their skills from home. These include Independent Study Packets and a series of CD ROMS. For more information go to:

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Locating a Qualified Interpreter

When an agency, court, public service, public accommodation, deaf or hard of hearing or deaf–blind person determines the need for an interpreter, it is strongly suggested they contact the closest Interpreter Referral Center (IRC). The IRC will identify and send the most qualified interpreter for the assignment. Please remember that ample time is needed to schedule the interpreter. Assignments of two hours or longer may require more than one interpreter.

If you choose to contract with an individual interpreter, look for nationally certified interpreters first then, QA III, QAII, etc. Nationally certified interpreters are strongly recommended for legal, mental health and long term counseling situations. If you have questions or need further assistance, contact the Division on Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DODHH), the only state agency that focuses on the rights and needs of deaf, hard of hearing and deaf–blind people. Contact DODHH at: (517) 335–6004 V/TTY; (877) 499–6232 V/TTY (toll–free); or (517) 335–7773 FAX; or VP 866-939-3853 or IP: DODHH.NET.

To request qualified and certified interpreters and for more information check: Interpreter Referral Agencies

Suggested Guidelines for Coordinating Interpreter Services

  1. Find out the date, type and duration of event or situation
  2. Ask the Deaf or hard of hearing presenter/s or attendee for interpreter preferences, needs, etc.
  3. Determine the number of interpreters needed.
  4. Decide whether you will contract with an interpreter referral agency or with individual interpreters. Discuss costs, billing procedures and any other special arrangements ahead of time.
  5. Identify, contract and confirm the interpreters for the assignment.
  6. Designate, or ask the agency to designate, the “Lead” interpreter when there are more than one.
  7. One to two weeks prior to the event, reconfirm the interpreters and forward the name and phone number of the “On–site” contact person, maps, itinerary or event agenda.
  8. The day of the event, the “On–site” contact person can greet the interpreters, explain the physical settings, introduce the deaf presenter or attendee if necessary, locate needed stools, glasses of water, adjust microphones and/or assistive devices and lighting and complete adjustments prior to the beginning of the event.
  9. If interpreters are to work through meal times, arrangements should be made to have one interpreter eat the first half of the allotted meal time, and vice versa for the other interpreter.
  10. The “On–site” contact person should follow up with the deaf presenter or attendee to be sure the communication is effective.
  11. The “On–site” contact person should check with the Lead Interpreter to see that everything is progressing well.
  12. Evaluate the interpreter’s services and provide appropriate feedback to the referral agency or interpreter.

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Job Market

Sign language interpreting is a relatively new profession. The passage of state and federal laws requiring effective communication has impacted the profession. There are increased career opportunities for people to work with the deaf, hard of hearing and deaf–blind communities. The number of interpreter training programs continues to grow. Professional training opportunities offered at local, state, regional and national levels continue to increase in number.

Currently, there is a shortage of qualified interpreters. Interpreters are needed in areas including, but not limited to, education, employment, medical, legal, financial, state and local government services and public accommodations. Students who “master” sign language, but do not choose interpreting as a profession, may find sign skills useful in other areas of employment such as counseling, real estate, nursing, or any other profession where effective communication with a wide range of people is important. Various agencies and organizations are working to establish interpreter standards, upgrade interpreter pay and benefits, increase educational training opportunities for interpreters, formalize a strong mentoring program for new interpreters, and increase the numbers of working interpreters.

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DODHH New Brochure - Deaf Persons' Interpreter Act

The DODHH has developed a new brochure outlining information regarding the Michigan Deaf Persons' Interpreter Act. The tri-fold brochure is below for your reference and for distribution for your state and community partners.

The DODHH will be printing a limited number of these brochures for the public and soon will be posting this brochure on our website for public access at

Download the brochure here.

E–Michigan’s Interpreter Organization and Resources Section
Complete listing is located under E–Michigan website’s Organizations section

The Interpreter’s Friend
This web site is created to provide professional development and resources to interpreters. Interpreters will find articles, ASL glosses of religious and other specialized language, as well as other resources.

This web site list jobs announcements for interpreters nationwide.

Click here for Books and Such.

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