The issue

There is a critical lack of interpreters in Canada, and a widespread lack of understanding of their role.

Our position

Qualified professional interpreting is a right that assists non-deaf people in communicating with Deaf people.

Most Deaf Canadians whose first language is Sign are capable of using English or French as their second language. Most non-Deaf Canadians cannot use Sign language as their second or third language after English and/or French. Interpreters help non-Deaf people overcome their language barrier in order to communicate with Deaf people.

The Canadian Association of the Deaf – Association des Sourds du Canada considers it appropriate for non-Deaf people to provide the services of a qualified interpreter in any circumstances involving communication with Deaf people. This is a human right to communication as well as simply good sense in ensuring that both the non-Deaf and the Deaf person clearly understand the information being communicated.

There are a number of weaknesses in the interpreting field which concern us. These include:

  • not enough interpreters (particularly well-qualified ones) to meet the demand for their services;
  • too few training programs, some of which may have rather low standards for passing students;
  • the proliferation of spoken-language translation agencies that recruit unqualified and under-qualified people who merely “know [some] Sign language” and pass them off as fully-qualified professional interpreters at a price that undercuts the prices of legitimate, qualified interpreters;
  • insufficient funding for interpreting services, which causes many requests for their services to be turned down for financial reasons;
  • lack of information and awareness about costs of interpreters, especially in the workplace, which causes many employers to refuse to provide the interpreters (at least after the initial interview and job training phases), because they do not know of funding sources or business expense deductions that would underwrite these costs;
  • lack of clarity and widespread understanding of the rights of Deaf people to interpreters; for example, CAD-ASC is frequently asked by employers if they must continue to provide interpreters for a Deaf employee at all meetings or training sessions after the initial employment period.

If access and equality are to mean anything for Deaf people, these problems must be given higher priority than they have received so far from federal and provincial governments and by other funding bodies.

The Canadian Association of the Deaf – Association des Sourds du Canada supports the use only of qualified professional interpreters who are members of the Association of Visual Language Interpreters of Canada (AVLIC) or l’association québécoise des interprètes en langues des signes (AQILS). Professional interpreters who are members of AVLIC/AQILS are governed by the Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Professional Conduct, and are expected to maintain confidentiality as well as professional decorum and standards. This applies equally to non-Deaf interpreters and Deaf (ASL-LSQ) interpreters.

We do not consider family, friends, acquaintances, social workers, teachers, educational assistants, ministers, or others to be either qualified or professional interpreters. In situations of high importance, such as legal cases or academic examinations, we particularly insist upon the use only of interpreters whose skills have been certified under the Canadian Evaluation System (CES) and who have the education or expertise to clearly understand and relay the specialized information being presented.

We support the right of Deaf people to reject the services of interpreters they consider incompetent or incompatible, and to demand specific interpreters with whom they are comfortable. In a similar vein, the Deaf person has the right to determine which language will be used by the interpreter (ASL/LSQ, sign systems, Sign with or without oral interpreting, etc.)

We urge the further development, recognition, training, certification, and use of Deaf relay interpreters to assist both the non-Deaf interpreter and the Deaf person in ensuring full understanding and communication. We also urge greater recognition and use of Deaf culture intervenors, who must be Deaf persons capable of adapting information to make it comprehensible and accurate within the norms and values of the Deaf culture.

The CAD-ASC is very concerned about the apparent lack of standards or minimal requirements for educational interpreters. Studies show a significant perceived difference in the quality of interpreting amongst the interpreters hired by schools. This quality varied on the proficiency level of the interpreter, the ability to impart the information provided by the teacher and the student, the knowledge of material that was taught in the classroom, the quality of personal communication between the student and the teacher, and the student’s general academic achievement. It has often been said that interpreters who are not very skilful go into educational interpreting, if only for the chance to gain experience and confidence. What this does is disadvantage the Deaf student(s) who must suffer poor interpreting in their pursuit of an education. Team interpreting that would match a weaker interpreter with a skilled interpreter would enable the weak interpreter to improve his/her skills without disadvantaging the Deaf student.

Another concern with the state of educational interpreting is the trend, common to every provincial government in the country, to cut expenses by streaming Deaf students into regular schools with either no interpreter support, or only partial support (e.g., interpreters for two or three courses instead of a full school-day), or on a “solo interpreter” basis (i.e., only a single interpreter). Interpreters are only human, and interpreting is a job that is both mentally and physically exhausting; studies have shown that after only one hour, an educational interpreter working solo is so tired that the lesson becomes so full of errors as to be incomprehensible. This is another reason why the CAD-ASC strongly advocates educational interpreting in teams, or at the very least, in pairs.

How the school system and the teachers understand the role of educational interpreters is another serious concern. Too often, they are viewed as classroom helpers who should be performing a double role: not only as interpreters but as educational assistants as well. It must be emphasized that interpreters are interpreters only, and that education assistants are educational assistants only. No one can wear both hats at the same time.

Interpreters, excepting only Deaf interpreters and Deaf intervenors, are not to be considered experts or consultants on Deaf issues. They simply provide their skills in communication facilitation between the Deaf and the non-Deaf. Expertise on Deaf issues and Deaf culture can be provided only by the Deaf themselves.

Because of the importance of interpreting, and the obvious power an interpreter may have over Deaf clients (since he/she controls the information the Deaf client receives and gives), it is our firm position that interpreting service delivery must be governed by Deaf people and Deaf organizations themselves. Giving non-Deaf people control over interpreter service delivery is exactly the same thing as giving them control over the Deaf community, for they would control our access to information and communication in a manner they would never tolerate in their own lives. Any form of non-Deaf control of the Deaf community is a form of oppression and disempowerment of the Deaf community and is therefore totally unacceptable.

Recommended reading: “Educational Interpreting: Multiple Perspectives on our Work From Deaf students, teachers, administrators and parents”, by Debra Russell and Jane McLeod. Russell, D. and McLeod, J. (2009). Educational interpreting: Multiple perspectives of our work. In J. Mole (Ed.), International perspectives on educational interpreting (pp. 128-144). Brassington, UK: Direct Learned Services Ltd.



The Canadian Association of the Deaf-Association des Sourds du Canada
606 – 251 Bank Street
Ottawa, Ontario K2P 1X3
(613) 565-2882