Where two people need to communicate and do not have a language in common, an interpreter is required to enable communication. This often includes Deaf and hearing people, or Deaf people from different countries. The interpreter’s tasks are to facilitate communication without becoming personally involved in the interaction and to give both parties equal access to culturally appropriate information.

Sign language interpreters are needed in all aspects of life. Settings include schools, universities, courts, hospitals, conferences and theatres, as well as personal and business settings. Interpreting is also needed on television and in the media (including websites, web broadcasts, etc) so that Deaf people may have equal access to information and entertainment.

Sign language interpreters may be Deaf or hearing. Deaf interpreters may work between two sign languages; between a sign language and a modified version of the same sign language (e.g. for DeafBlind people or individuals who have not acquired a full sign language); or between a spoken language and a sign language (using a hearing interpreter or scrolling text to access the spoken language). Hearing interpreters work between a spoken language and a sign language.

Professional interpreters must have a high level of fluency in the languages they work with and must have graduated from an interpreter training programme. They should be able to interpret in both directions, without using dictionaries. They need to have some background knowledge of the general subject of the message to be interpreted, and be able to understand the content in one language and then express it in the other language. Additionally, it is an essential part of their competence to be familiar with both cultures. Interpreters must follow the code of ethics of their national interpreter organization/s. One important aspect of their ethics is absolute confidentiality about the interpreting assignment and the information discussed.

Sign language interpreting services around the world provide professional interpreters both nationally and internationally, many of whom are members of the World Association of Sign Language Interpreters (WASLI; see for more information).