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Auslan Interpreters

When signing Deaf and speaking hearing people meet communication is often challenging due to the two different languages used. An Auslan interpreter can be key for communication between Deaf people who use Auslan to communicate and hearing people who are not proficient in Auslan in a range of settings. 

What is an Auslan Interpreter?

An Auslan interpreter is proficient in both Auslan and English and will use both languages to interpret for the Deaf and hearing people. This is usually done simultaneously. Interpreters cannot add or omit information or modify the original message. They therefore interpret everything that is said.

Interpreters may assist with ‘cultural bridging’, which could include the addition of information to assist someone who is not familiar with another language to understand what was said. For example, interpreters may need to explain why a joke is funny in Auslan or English or add information about cultural practices that may not be widely understood. Interpreters must remain impartial and objective and ensure all information remains confidential.

An Auslan interpreter must be NAATI certified to work as an interpreter.

Note: Interpreting is different to translating. Translation involves information being prepared, developed, reviewed, edited and polished for presentation.

What is a Deaf Interpreter?

A Deaf interpreter (also required to be NAATI certified) work with hearing interpreters in situations where additional language needs are required. These include situations where the Deaf individual may be:

  • Deafblind
  • A sign language user of another language that is not Auslan
  • Linguistically and/or socially isolated with limited sign language proficiency due to reasons such as minimal exposure to the Deaf community, mental health issues, a poor education or has a cognitive disability
  • Having trust or issues of cultural sensitivity/comfort factor is paramount e.g., trauma counselling
  • International Sign users at conferences and events
  • Unable to sign or communicate fluently for whatever circumstances, e.g., in hospital and unable to communicate coherently with a hearing interpreter
  • The Deaf interpreter may also do English-to-Auslan or Auslan-to-English translations of text to ensure accessibility

Deaf interpreters have a keen understanding of the complexities of the communication exchange. They are also often used in situations where the hearing interpreter does not possess adequate interpreting skills to meet the specific communication needs of the individual.

What is a Deafblind interpreter?

A Deafblind interpreter can either be Deaf or hearing and work specifically with Deafblind people. This involves interpreting in three main ways:

  • Standing/sitting close and face-to-face to the Deafblind person and signing within a restricted space and within the field of vision
  • Tracking by touching the interpreter’s wrist or forearm to visually follow their hands – this is for those who have some vision
  • Tactile: a hand-over-hand method for people who receive signed information through touch
The role of the Deaf Interpreter (DI)

The role of the Deaf Interpreter (DI) cannot be underestimated and is most certainly not undervalued compared to that of the Auslan interpreter. The DI, like the Auslan interpreter, is highly skilled in interpreting from one language to the other. The DI plays a crucial role in facilitating and supporting communication between deaf and hearing individuals, including that of the Auslan interpreter. The deaf individual may need a DI for several reasons, namely:

  • Severe language deprivation
  • Use of home signs
  • Use of a different sign language such as ASL (American Sign Language) not in use here in Australia
  • A mix of Auslan and Non-Conventional Sign Language (NCSL).

The key aspects of the role and qualifications of the DI includes but is not limited to:

Communication Facilitation:

  • Interpret Auslan into meaning that would make sense for Deaf individuals.
  • Interpret signed communication from the Deaf individual into Auslan.

Cultural Mediation:

  • Bridge the cultural gaps between Deaf and hearing individuals by understanding and navigating both cultural perspectives.

Clarification:

  • Clarify and ensure accurate understanding of information exchanged between parties.

Context Awareness:

  • Be aware of the context and nuances of the communication, considering factors such as cultural, linguistic, and situational aspects.

Adaptability:

  • Adapt communication style to meet the needs of the individuals involved, considering variations in signing styles and preferences.

Ethical Standards:

  • Adhere to professional and ethical standards of confidentiality, impartiality, and accuracy.

 

Qualifications of a Deaf Interpreter:

Fluency in Sign Language:

  • Proficiency in Auslan, English and/or other relevant sign languages, depending on the region and community served.

Cultural Competence:

  • Understanding of Deaf culture, including norms, values, and linguistic nuances.

Training and Certification:

  • Completion of formal interpreter training programs, which may include specialised training for Deaf Interpreters.
  • Certification by NAATI.

Interpersonal Skills:

  • Strong interpersonal and communication skills to establish rapport with Deaf and hearing individuals.

Knowledge of Subject Matter:

  • Depending on the setting, a Deaf Interpreter may need knowledge in specific subject matters (e.g., medical, legal, educational) to accurately convey complex information.

Continuous Professional Development:

  • Commitment to ongoing professional development to stay updated on best practices, language evolution, and changes in the field.

Legal and Ethical Understanding:

  • Awareness and adherence to legal and ethical guidelines governing the profession of interpreting.

Problem-Solving Skills:

  • Ability to adapt to unexpected situations and problem-solve in real-time to ensure effective communication.

Deaf Interpreters can and do play a vital role in creating an inclusive and accessible environment for deaf individuals across various domains, contributing to equal access to information and services.

Who is NAATI (The National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters)?

NAATI is a certification agency for translators and interpreters and is owned by the Commonwealth, state and territory governments. They are the only authority in Australia permitted to issue certification to those who want to work in the field of translation and interpreting. They certify interpreters in all languages, not only Auslan.

NAATI certification of an Auslan Interpreter:

1. Certified Provisional Auslan Interpreter: An interpreter who interprets non-complex messages, accurately reflecting the meaning.

2. Certified Provisional Deaf Interpreter: An Auslan interpreter who is Deaf and skilled in transferring meaning between Auslan and/or written English and other signed languages.

3. Certified Professional Auslan Interpreter: An interpreter who has more experience than Certified Provisional Auslan Interpreters. They transfer complex, non-specialised messages from one language into another.

4. Auslan Certified Health Specialist interpreter: An interpreter who is experienced and has expertise in interpreting in the health domain. They have completed training and regularly undertake continuous professional development in specialist health interpreting.

5. Auslan Certified Specialist Legal interpreter: an interpreter who is experienced and has expertise in interpreting in the legal domain. They have completed training and undertake continuous professional development in specialist legal interpreting

6. Auslan Certified Conference Interpreter: an interpreter who is experienced and has expertise in transferring complex, specialised messages from a source language into a target language. They interpret in situations such as speeches and presentations at high-level international exchanges, like international conferences, summits, meetings and negotiations (e.g., UN summits, bilateral treaty negotiations), across a broad range of domains

Accreditation and Certification:

From 2018 onwards NAATI changed the accreditation system into a certification system. If an interpreter says they are accredited and qualified (e.g., they may have a Diploma of Interpreting) check if they are certified under the newer system. Reputable agencies do not employ interpreters who are not certified. It is important to check this, for two main reasons:

  • If they are not certified their interpreting may risk legal ramifications, in that their interpreting skills may be called into question.
  • If they are charging the same fees as a certified interpreter this is ethically questionable.

Interpreters accredited but not certified still do some work with the NDIS. To check if an interpreter is certified go to the NAATI online directory here: https://www.naati.com.au/online-directory/

Working with Auslan Interpreters

The role of an interpreter:
  • Interpret between people who use Auslan and spoken English
  • Provide complete and accurate information including contextual meaning
  • Staying impartial (no opinions given)
  • Manage rapport with and between clients
  • Comply with the code of ethics as mandated by ASLIA*

*For more information see here at: https://aslia.com.au/wp-content/uploads/ASLIA-Code-of-Ethics.pdf

What is NOT the role of an interpreter:
  • Speaking for the Deaf/Deafblind person
  • Giving opinions
  • Controlling the situation, e.g., instructing people where to sit
  • Soliciting work directly from the client
What to do when you want to give positive feedback:

If you experience a particularly positive experience with an interpreter and would like to give positive feedback, you can do any or all the following:

  • Tell the interpreter directly.
  • Inform the agency responsible for booking the interpreter.
  • Inform the person responsible for booking the interpreter that you would like this interpreter booked again.
What to do when an interpreter behaves inappropriately:

There are several ways to deal with this situation; you have the right to ensure that this does not happen to you again. You can do any or all the following:

  • Inform the interpreter that the behaviour is inappropriate.
  • Inform the agency responsible for booking the interpreter
  • Contact NAATI via their website here: https://www.naati.com.au/contact/
  • Contact your local disability legal organisation if you feel your right to confidentiality was breached
  • Contact the NDIS Quality and Safeguard Commissioner here: https://www.ndiscommission.gov.au/

Summary of Your Rights

Right to a qualified Auslan interpreter:

The Disability and Discrimination Act (DDA) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) outlines the right to a qualified sign language interpreter so you can participate in your local community, to access information, goods and services. Each state and territory strengthen this right to varying degrees under state and territory acts and human rights charter.

Right to a preferred interpreter:

You have the right to choose who you want to interpret for you. Some booking agencies will ask you to list your preferred interpreters. They may also ask you for a list of interpreters you do not want interpreting for you.

If an organisation is booking an interpreter for you, you have the right to let them know who you want, and they must share this information with the booking agency.

Right to know who is being booked:

You have a right to know who is being booked to interpret for you. When you request an interpreter be booked for you, let the person making the booking know that you need to be informed who has been booked for you within a reasonable timeframe, so that they can change the interpreter if you would prefer a different interpreter.

Right to decline the interpreter:

You have the right to say no to an interpreter booked for you. The booking agency may ask your reasons for saying no to ensure they select a better match for you. However, you do not have to explain your reasons for saying no.

You have the right to have your decision respected; under no circumstances should the booking agency or organisation responsible for booking an interpreter try to force you to accept the interpreter.

Right to demand that the organisation pays for the interpreter:

You are NOT responsible for the cost of paying the interpreter when requested in situations such as:

  • Education – schools, TAFE, universities, workshops*.
  • Public Health – this includes hospitals, GPs, specialists, day surgery centres, medical appointments for X-rays or ultrasounds.
  • Professional Development such as workshops, online courses or any other learning modules as mandated by your workplace.
  • Government agencies such as Centrelink, Vicroads/Transport NSW, Department of Human and Health Services.
  • The justice system, which includes police, court and tribunal proceedings, correctional centres
  • When attending your NDIS planning meetings.
  • Banks.
  • When you have been obligated to attend a meeting with an organisation.
  • Public museums
  • Art galleries such as the National Gallery of Victoria

Note: For those aged 65 and over, ineligible for NDIS: NABS clients aged 65 years and over will be eligible for Continuity of Support (CoS). CoS will support all Auslan users (including new clients) aged 65 years and over ineligible for the NDIS to access Auslan support for private medical appointments.

Auslan Connections has received funding of $20 million dollars to provide interpreters for other things usually accessed through the NDIS, such as family gatherings or senior activities. For more information see here: http://auslanconnections.com.au/deaf-seniors-interpreting/.

*Disclaimer: workshops provided by non-government organisations may not always be able to cover the cost of interpreters. 

Sometimes organisations cannot or do not have to pay for the interpreter:

Sometimes organisations cannot or do not have to pay for interpreters. In these circumstances, you can either negotiate with the organisation for an ideal solution or choose to use your NDIS. The valid reasons for organisations to not pay for interpreters include:

  • The cost being an unjustifiable hardship for the organisation. This means if they paid for the interpreter, they would lose too much money and not be able to operate as an organisation.
  • The community event, not hosted by the council, is a free one. Often this means that the budget for the event does not allow for expenses such as interpreters.
  • Volunteer activities, groups or networks.
  • Examples where your NDIS funds are designed to cover (see below).
Right to use own/NDIS funds to pay for interpreters:

NDIS funds are not used to cover the responsibility of government and community services. They are used to provide you with access to social and work events. For more information see this video presented in Auslan above.

Examples include:
1. Personal trainer and yoga at the gym
2. Funerals and funeral preparation
3. Private school meetings
4. Surf competition
5. Technical trade college open day
6. Meeting with a shopping centre
7. Support groups
8. Dance performance
9. Income tax appointment
10. Gymnastics championships
11. Private health appointments

NAATI has an online directory where you can check to see if the interpreter you want is certified (see above). If you are booking an interpreter directly, there are a few things you can consider checking to make sure that you are getting what is right for you. They include:

  • The interpreter has a NAATI certification
  • The interpreter has PL&I (public liability and indemnity) insurance
  • The interpreter has NDIS worker screener check
  • The interpreter has an ASLIA membership
  • The interpreter has Deaf Australia membership
  • The interpreter has a WCCC/blue card
  • The interpreter has WASLI/WFD membership

If the interpreter does hold membership/s and PL&I insurance as suggested on the checklist, it shows a commitment to the Deaf community. It also shows a commitment to the professionalism of being an interpreter domestically and internationally as well as ensuring a safe and reliable interpreter.

Rights on negotiating costs for interpreter – if direct:

Interpreters set their own prices for a variety of reasons. This could be based on their certification level, tertiary study qualifications and years of experience in the field. Some interpreters may overcharge or undercharge their fees. Others may not be aware of what other interpreters with the same skill set and qualifications charge. You have the right to request a quote from an interpreter you want to book directly with and see what exactly their charges cover.

When setting their prices, interpreters need to include costs associated with running a business. For example, their hourly rate needs to cover their tax, superannuation, PL&I insurance, travel costs, preparation time and they also have their own cancellation polices to ensure they do not run at a loss. Often interpreters have a 2-hour minimum (like a call out fee for plumbers/electricians) to cover the overheads of running a business, time taken for administration of quotes and invoices.

You can negotiate with interpreters; you can agree upon a daily rate that is inclusive of any travel or preparation costs. You may ask an interpreter for a shorter minimum booking time for a slightly higher rate. If you wish to book an interpreter for ‘when necessary’ interpreting, some interpreters may charge the accumulation of interpreting times into one invoice instead of a minimum charge each time.

It’s important to negotiate breaks throughout the booking, clarify if meals will be provided or if the interpreter needs to supply their own, communicate if there is access to kitchen and bathroom facilities. Often this extra administrative task is done with agencies, as interpreters have a right and expectation to work in a safe environment.

Rights on communicating with the booking agency re: status of booking:

If you have not heard from the booking agency about your request for an interpreter, you have the right to ask them for an update. You also have the right to request that they keep you updated on a regular basis over their progress in looking for an interpreter.

What to do if...

The organisation does not know how to book an interpreter

Provide the organisation with the names of your preferred interpreter(s) and booking agencies. The booking agency can explain how to book an interpreter directly to the organisation. Make sure you receive an acknowledgement of the document received.

You can provide them with this letter “Advocacy Letter to address steps to book an interpreter” (jump to download at bottom of this page) which explains how to book interpreters.

The organisation denies you an interpreter

Note! There may be situations in where the organisation cannot provide an interpreter due to reasons such as:

  • They cannot afford it from their own budget;
  • They do not have access to government funds to cover this; and
  • The event is free

This is discrimination under the Disability and Discrimination Act.

In the situation where an organisation is obliged to provide you with an interpreter, you can inform them they are denying you your right to an interpreter. If they still say no, you can decide which option best suits you here:

Remember that while some organisations can deny paying for an interpreter, they cannot deny you having an interpreter in general. Please see the section above on legal reasons for why the organisations can deny paying for interpreters.

The organisation will not communicate with you re: interpreter

Sometimes this happens because the organisation is not aware that you have the right to know who the interpreter is, or they might think they have to comply with privacy regulations about who your interpreter is.

  • Inform them that they are required to let you know whether they have booked an interpreter and who the interpreter is.
  • Provide the organisation with this advocacy letter “Advocacy Letter to address refusal of the provision of an interpreter” (jump to download at the bottom of this page).
The organisation does not allow you to choose the interpreter

Sometimes this happens because the organisation does not understand your right to choose the interpreter. If you inform the organisation that it is your right to choose the interpreter and the organisation still refuses, download this advocacy letter “Advocacy Letter to address refusal to allow choice of interpreter” (jump to download at the bottom of this page).

The organisation will not pay for the interpreter

This is common in private education, private legal settings, community and small business settings. The Disability & Discrimination Act is clear; they must provide an interpreter. If they do not, provide them with this advocacy letter “Advocacy Letter to address refusal of the provision of an interpreter” (jump to download at the bottom of this page).

Self-booking interpreter via agency does not turn up

There can be situations in where this does happen and the agency you book through will make efforts to contact you to let you know. If there is enough time and opportunity, the agency may try to replace the interpreter with another interpreter.

However, if there has been no communication regarding the absence of the booked interpreter, you have the right to complain to the agency, in whatever method you prefer – Auslan or English. You can also request that they respond in Auslan if you would prefer.

If the outcome is not satisfactory you can choose to:

Self-booking interpreter direct (not via agency) does not turn up – and does not provide a good reason

This is not OK. If the interpreter does not let you know prior to the booking that they are unable to come for whatever reason, or simply does not turn up and does not explain after the booking time – you have the right to make a complaint.

How to book an Auslan Interpreter

Fact: Interpreters are not a one-size-fits all service provider. Not all interpreters have the same interpreting skills or are able to understand every deaf person.

Ask for a list of preferred interpreters:

Ask the person making the request for an Auslan interpreter to provide you with a list of preferred interpreters. Also ask for a list of interpreters who are on their exclusion lists. It is a basic right to have preferred interpreters booked and under no circumstances should a person be told they should accept whoever is available.

This is because not all interpreters suit all circumstances, and not all interpreters are compatible with deaf people. When people have a preferred interpreter, it is not because of “fussiness” or “being picky”, it is because the deaf person would have worked with many different interpreters and know and trust that the chosen interpreter would understand them and interpret the situation appropriately.

If your organisation does not have an interpreter booking agency on file, please ask the deaf person their preferred booking agency. Otherwise, you can check out DeafNav, where there is a list of interpreter agencies with their own website links at: https://deafnav.com.au/access/services/interpreting*

*Disclaimer: this is not an exhaustive list of interpreting agencies. Please check with the person if they have a preferred agency to book with. 

The earlier, the better:

There are approximately 300 actively working Auslan interpreters to service the demand of more than 30,000 signing deaf people in Australia. It is critical to send your request at least two weeks before the appointment or event (if you can make the request even earlier, even better). This will give Auslan interpreting agencies enough time to contact and schedule the interpreter/s, especially if you have given them a list of preferred interpreters. On no account should the Auslan interpreting agencies suggest interpreters who are on the deaf person’s exclusion list.

Information you will be asked to provide:
  • Name of the person or people needing the interpreter
  • Name of the Deaf person(s) who will be present for the booking (if known)
  • Location, date and time of the appointment
  • Type or topic of assignment / appointment
  • Preparatory material wherever possible (handouts, reading references, etc.)
  • Contact name and number of the person making the booking
  • Name and contact information of the person the interpreter can report to on arrival
  • Onsite telephone number if the interpreter needs to make contact before or on arrival.
  • Make sure to let the booking office know if the booking will be filmed or livestreamed.

Note: Just because the agency has confirmed your booking, this does not mean that an interpreter has also been booked. You should get another email or text to confirm the booking of an interpreter, which will have their name.

Follow up:

Make sure the booking agency received your request and has emailed or texted you in acknowledgement of your booking. The booking agency should let you know once they have secured the interpreter(s).

If you have not heard back from the agency as it gets closer to the date of the appointment or event, check in with them to make sure they are working on your booking request.

Note: if the agency informs you that the preferred interpreter is not available and suggests another interpreter, please check with the deaf person before confirming.

Name of interpreter/s:

The booking agency should let you know who has been booked. This information needs to be sent to the deaf person and the hearing person who made the original request.

Who pays for it:

All public organisations e.g., museums, libraries, government departments and private corporations i.e. The School of Life are required to pay for the provision of interpreters. NDIS funds are only to cover private appointments such as family events or meeting with the car mechanic.

Payment:

The booking agency will send you an invoice with instructions on how to pay.

Advocacy Letters & Resources

We have three letters plus the contents of this webpage that you can use to advocate for yourself:

  • Advocacy Letter to address refusal of the provision of an interpreter
  • Advocacy Letter to address steps to book an interpreter
  • Advocacy Letter to address refusal to allow choice of interpreter
  • Word and PDF format of the entire content of this webpage

To access the downloads, please fill out the form below.  The link will automatically appear after you fill out the form.

References

Bontempo, K. & Levitzke-Gray, P. (2009). Interpreting Down Under: Signed language interpreter education and training in Australia. In Napier, J (Ed), International perspectives on signed language interpreter education. Washington DC: Gallaudet University Press. 149-170

Expression Australia (2019). Language and culture: Auslan (sign language) interpreting and your responsibilities. Accessed online at https://www.expression.com.au/uploads/main/Pdfs/Information-and-FAQs/Auslan-Interpreting-and-your-Responsibilities.pdf

Human Rights Commission (2023). Disability rights. Accessed online at https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/disability-rights

Mapson, R., & Major, G. (2021). Interpreters, rapport, and the role of familiarity. Journal of Pragmatics, Vol. 176: 63-75

National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (n.d.). NAATI’s certification system. Accessed online at https://www.naati.com.au/certification/

National Deaf Center (2021). Interpreting. Accessed online at https://www.nationaldeafcenter.org/sites/default/files/Sign%20Language%20Interpreters_%20An%20Introduction.pdf

Royal Institute of Technology (2023). Interpreter resources: Interpreters for the Deaf-Blind. Accessed online at https://infoguides.rit.edu/c.php?g=441626&p=3013005

World Association of Sign Language Interpreters (2014). Statement on the role of sign language interpreters. Accessed online at https://wasli.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/WASLI-Statement-on-Role.pdf

World Federation of the Deaf (2019). Position paper on accessibility: Sign language interpreting and translation and technological developments. Accessed online at https://docs.google.com/viewerng/viewer?url=https://wfdeaf.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/WFD-Postion-Paper-on-Accessbility-12-Feb-2019-Updated.pdf&hl=en_US

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