A Guide to Remote Interpreting for Sign Language Interpreters

If you’re a working sign language interpreter, you’re probably finding yourself doing remote work from your home these days. Bonus that you finally get to work in those bunny slippers, but how do you convert your space into an interpreting studio? This truly is uncharted territory for everyone, but thankfully there are plenty of tools available to help us succeed in delivering quality services to Deaf consumers during this time.

A little about the author; I am a staff ASL/English interpreter at Microsoft. Prior to Microsoft, I have 14 years of professional video remote interpreting (VRI) experience in both workplace and home-based settings. I enjoy supporting other interpreters through the troubleshooting process, and I created this guide as a resource for my colleagues who are now working from home.

The Other Side_That Deaf Guy

Download the guide here

Guide to VRI for Sign Language Interpreters (PDF)

Guide to VRI for Sign Language Interpreters (Word)


Set up your space well

Designate a space in your home for interpreting with special consideration of privacy. Ideally, use a room with a door. If not, find a corner of your home that is quiet and away from other people where you can set up a solid colored background. Limit the number of windows around you unless you have blackout curtains. Use a headset, even if it’s just earbuds. If others living with you are able to hear your calls, get them a pair of noise cancelling headphones. Give some thought to your lighting, with an eye toward what a photographer might use. I have found good luck with color changing smart lights.

Here is a picture of my background: a wall painted cornflower blue.

Backdrop of home office. Cornflower blue wall with a black office chair.

My home office background: Cornflower blue paint.

Know your technology

Test your technology before go time! Tech issues can and will happen, even to those who are well prepared. Keep calm and be flexible. It is worth having a hard-wired connection even if you have to run a cable across the floor during your call. Reboot your computer every once in a while, and don’t leave 50 tabs open on your browser while you’re interpreting. I recommend having a backup device at the ready, like a tablet or a cell phone, just in case something goes sideways on your computer. Set up your laptop on a stack of books to a height that is comfortable for your neck, or better yet, set it up on a surface that lets you stand while you’re working. Take good care of your body; remote video work can be more physically tiring than in-person work.

Here is a picture of what’s on my desk: a laptop, monitor, iPad, landline, headset, keyboard and mouse.

Bamboo desk with laptop, monitor, keyboard, iPad, phone and headset. Window in background.

Here is what’s on my desk: PC laptop, external monitor, iPad, headset, landline, keyboard, mouse and a whiteboard.

Work in partnership with consumers and teams

Follow the Deaf person’s preferred method of connecting and make sure you have a means of texting with them outside of the video call in case you get disconnected. Some consumers prefer the interpreter to join the conference call with video on, visible to all participants. Others prefer to connect with the interpreter outside of conference call on a separate video app, joining the meeting with audio only. If you’re connecting to an app for the first time, take the time to learn the basics or find an online tutorial. (consider it prep!) When teaming with another interpreter, plan in advance how you’re going to connect. Get creative…you might find that it’s best to set up a separate connection with your team on your cell phones or tablets.

Adjust to the new medium

Interpreting on video is a different animal and requires some adjustments. Monitor your work and make sure you’re constantly framed well in the picture. Remember that you’re in a 2-D space, so you might need to adjust some signs or fingerspelling so they’re easily understood. Make it a habit to identify individual speakers and use lots role shifting. If you’re on a conference call app with a participant list, use it to help identify who’s talking. Ask consumers for feedback and adjust as needed.

Finally, recognize that it is challenging for everyone to work remotely. Proceed with empathy and commit to doing your best work, making the process a little easier for others. Follow blogs and posts written by Deaf people about their experience working remotely. Here are some examples: Learnings from Remote Experience: Work It Like A Deaf Person and Accessibility Tips for a Better Virtual Meeting Experience.

For more information with specific tech tips and product recommendations, download the Guide to Remote Interpreting for Sign Language Interpreters. PDF version and Word docx.

I hope you’ve found this helpful. Please let me know what tips and tricks you’ve learned along the way too.