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Jun 21, 2022 8:29:35 AM | interpreting Tips for Finding a Special Event Interpreter

Accessibility is important and finding an interpreter for a special event can be overwhelming. Here are some tips to finding an interpreter.

Sign language interpreters are everywhere it seems. Television, YouTube, concerts, graduations…you can’t escape it and it’s really a great thing to see. 


If you need to plan for an Interpreter though, it could be an anxiety-ridden task. What in the world do you do to get ready for such an undertaking? Let’s talk about it and break it down.

First, find out if your organization has a contract with an agency. If they do, that’s the agency you should utilize. If they don’t, you will need to find an Interpreter. If you are providing services for a particular Deaf person, ask them who they like or use most often. If you are providing an Interpreter so that you are openly providing effective communication and have no idea if there will be Deaf people at your event, then contact an agency near you like Global Interpreting Services. Agencies are nice because if you need more than one Interpreter, they will take care of it. If an Interpreter calls off, again, they will cover that Interpreter. All you do is make a phone call to one office; they take care of the rest.

Next, figure out what the workload would be for the interpreter. If you are doing a stage presentation with speakers and it will be more than an hour you should have two Interpreters. They will take turns interpreting and ensure that fatigue doesn’t set in. Don’t worry, they will not disrupt your presentation. They will make it as seamless as possible and will choose times to change out that are natural.

Another piece of the puzzle is the placement for the on-site interpreter. You should place the interpreters ideally where the Deaf people can see the interpreter and the person who is speaking. I know that it seems strange to have an additional person on the stage and some people feel the Interpreter will “upstage” them. Trust me, at first, people may look at the interpreter, but it’s not their job to be the focus, it’s their job to facilitate communication to the people who need it, not become rock stars. They just want to do a good job. Allowing the Deaf person to see the speaker and them at the same time so that they can see the speakers’ actual emotions and reactions, actions and the Interpreters is the best way to make communication happen.

If you can have special seating for the Deaf down in the front so they are able to see the Interpreter better that is best. If not, perhaps putting the Interpreter on a screen so that the Deaf seated in the back are able to see the Interpreter would be helpful. It really depends on the size of your event. You can have interpreters in the aisleway in the audience if you know you will have a large number of Deaf attendees.

From DeafHope: Guide to working with an interpreter at events

If on-site interpreting isn't an option, CART, Real-Time Captioning is another consideration. It’s the perfect accommodation for the hard of hearing attendees, who may be a larger number than your Deaf attendees and don’t know they are able to request accommodation and helpful for people who just might not be able to hear the speaker for any number of reasons. Whatever is being said will be put into text onto a screen for the audience to read. All you do is provide a list of speakers’ names to the company providing the CART services so that they know how many different speakers there are and how to spell their names.

If you have a show where people have earpieces and are looped into a system, you will want to have earpieces for the Interpreter. They need to be able to hear the people on the stage. If they are using those earpieces because of a loud and large crowd, don’t forget the importance of including the interpreters.

How do you include foreign language interpreters?

There are different technologies available that will allow you to include foreign language interpreters and a real-time interpretation of your event into another language for an audience member. You are able to rent technology for your event. Contact your local agency for more information about the size of your event and the number of people and languages you need.

Now what about on-stage performances?

Providing interpreters for a play is a whole different conversation. There are times when interpreters are placed on the corner of the stage and they interpret the play. However, the best way for a play to be interpreted is to provide what is called “shadow interpreted” performances. That is when the interpreters actually move around the stage and “shadow” the performers. They dress in costume and become a part of the show. Whichever way communication is provided, you need to provide the screenplay ahead of time so that the interpreters can amply prepare. If there will be songs, provide those as well. Invite the interpreters to the rehearsals so they can see how the play moves. If they are doing a shadow performance, this is of course mandatory.

Speaking of providing materials, for all events, if you can provide copies of speeches or any songs that will be sung ahead of time, that helps the interpreters prepare and ensure they are equipped with the proper vocabulary and spelling of participants' names.

With the proper thought and preparation, providing interpreters for your event doesn’t have to be a chore. It can end up being a wonderful way to include a broader part of the community.

Dawn Flanigan

Written By: Dawn Flanigan