What I Wish I Knew About Sign Language Interpreters When I Was An Event Organiser

Sign language for Event

Did you know sign language is some people’s first language?

Every day’s a school day in events. I’ve worked in events for 20 years, hiring countless sign language interpreters over the decades, so I thought I knew how it worked. 

Turns out, I was just scratching the surface. 

Since flipping my role from event organiser to event language agency, sign language interpreters share so much more, and it’s left me wishing I’d known all this as an event organiser.  So, I wanted to pass on their most valuable points, as it may help your events in the future. 

Did you know that deaf people assume they aren’t catered for at most events, so don’t just turn up without checking in advance?

One step to removing this barrier is advertising your event directly to the deaf community, via the local deaf centre for example. However, also consider if your content is valuable to them whether signed or not and would they feel represented, among your speakers for example. 

Did you know that if a sign language interpreter has been booked but there are no deaf people, they normally wait for approximately 45 minutes before leaving?

Sign language interpreters are in high demand and get booked up really quickly, so the time they spend sitting around at your event may mean a deaf person isn’t getting the service they need. Don’t waste interpreters’ time. If you aren’t expecting any deaf people, don’t have interpreters sitting around ‘just in case’, just because you think it makes your event look accessible. 

Just because you have sign language interpreters at your event, it doesn’t mean your event is accessible to deaf people.

For your event to be truly accessible, everything available on the agenda must be available for everyone, including networking and all workshops. Just because you’re signing the keynote theatre, it doesn’t mean your event is accessible.

Finally, if you have sign language interpreters, they must be an integrated part of your event.

Where they’re positioned and how they’re catered for must be thought through.

As an example, please do not ask them to stand in a corner because it affects the aesthetics of the stage. This could make deaf people in attendance feel second-rate, unimportant and sidelined. One sign language interpreter recently described it as follows: “A similarity would be like asking for a ramp, allowing wheelchair access to be put around the back of a building as it does not look aesthetically pleasing around the front. Having a BSL interpreter so far away from what is going on can appear tokenistic rather than genuinely being about accessibility.”  

Also, remember that the interpreters you’re working with have likely been fighting for access for the deaf community for some time, so how you manage them at your event has the potential to affect their work and their reputation.

Download our Sign Language Interpreters Checklist for free

This quick checklist is jam-packed with information that we hope brings some clarity on things you need to know about sign language interpreters.

We’re here to help you with this checklist.

Sign Language Interpreter Checklist

I’d be really interested to hear if you’d add anything or if you have any comments.

If you…

  • Are in need of Sign Language Interpreting services for the first time and don’t know where to start.
  • Regularly work with Sign Language Interpreters but in need of one in a language new to you.
  • Simply want to know more about how we work.

… feel free to contact us now at info@translateable.com or complete the form to request a quote or get more information. We’d be happy to have a chat about how we may assist you with your interpreting needs and more!

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