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Published: November 11, 2020
10 Tips for Working with American Sign Language Interpreters Virtually


By Rebecca Hull, IL Specialist Outreach

Almost overnight, the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we communicate. Everything from school classes to work meetings to religious services are now being held virtually. Making these online events accessible to everyone may mean including an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter if requested by an attendee who is Deaf or hard of hearing. To help ensure that your meeting runs smoothly and results in the best experience for all of your attendees, The Independence Center has put together the following tips.

  1. Request services well in advance. As the meeting host, ask your invitees to submit their accommodation requests a MINIMUM of a WEEK prior to your scheduled meeting. When scheduling a request include the virtual invitation with meeting date, time, and platform details.
  2. Length of meeting and team interpreters. If your meeting is scheduled for MORE THAN 1 hour, two interpreters (team) are required.
  3. Provide an agenda. As the meeting host, send a simple outline with your planned discussion topics to your invitees and interpreters prior to your scheduled meeting.
  4. Enable chat box/non-verbal meeting settings. Use the raise hand feature or chat box to moderate discussion.
  5. Assign a meeting facilitator. The facilitator is responsible for determining who is asking for the floor, monitoring the chat box for comments, assigning turns in an equitable manner, and enforcing audio off/video off policies. The facilitator also should keep an eye on the time, as interpreters are NOT required to stay past your scheduled meeting end time.
  6. Start your meeting by reviewing communication ground rules. Educate your attendees on your communication expectations. These rules may include: consider keeping your audio off/video off when you don’t have the floor; use the raise hand or chat feature before speaking; wait for acknowledgment from the facilitator before speaking; and stating your name when changing speakers.
  7. One speaker at a time. The meeting facilitator should encourage turn-taking in your meetings. Interpreters can only translate one voice at a time.
  8. Understanding interpretation lag/delay. The nature of interpreting English to ASL and ASL to English results in a slight delay in rendering the message. Please allow time for (or be mindful of) the interpretation to be completed before moving on to the next topic.
  9. Sharing screens and screen set-up. Are you about to share your screen? Allow for a brief pause for interpreters to set up their screens. Set-up includes “pinning” or “spotlighting” videos, so they are accessible for viewing.
  10. Numbers matter. Consider how the number of meeting attendees influences communication:
  • Groups of four or fewer: Typically, does not require formal meeting management.
  • Groups of five to seven: A facilitator should be assigned to manage turn-taking.
  • Groups of eight or more: Formal communication becomes important. Communication rules and expectations should be reviewed at the beginning of meeting (see sample language below).

If you have questions about how to make your meetings more accessible or about accessibility requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act, please call us at 719-471-8181.

Sample Introduction for Meetings with ASL Interpreters

The following is sample language that can be used at the start of a large group meeting. This language is written for Zoom users; please adapt as necessary for any other platforms.

Hello, and welcome to _______________.

My name is ­­­­_________. Before we get started, I will be going through a few quick reminders about our Zoom options for the meeting. Please keep your audio off during the meeting unless you are the speaker. Questions are to be posted in the chat- or raise your hand and allow the speaker to invite you to speak.

I will be sharing my screen today- if you require the ability to see the ASL interpreter, be sure to pin them and select side by side view to see them simultaneously with the presentation screen.

Captions are available to be turned on by each user by selecting “show subtitles” from the close captioning menu.

We will be using a poll feature today on zoom; once it begins you will be able to select your answers when prompted on your screen. When the results are shared, you will be able to scroll through them on your own monitor.


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