Sign Language Resources, Inc.

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Medical Interpreting

Medical Professional
Certification and Experience


Sign Language Resources, Inc. has a large number of certified and medically trained nterpeters who specialize in medical work. Not only are they keenly interested in this genre of Sign Language interpreting, but have sought specific training in medical terminology and procedures in order to perform optimally when Deaf patients and professionals in the medical world need to converse with each other.


There are over 28 million deaf and hard-of-hearing people in the United States. Many of them will need hospital, medical, or emergency care from time to time. The anxiety associated with this experience quite profound.


A hearing person can only imagine the distress produced by the soundless images of the emergency room, operating room, recovery room, testing laboratories, medical equipment, and medical personnel in a hurry. Even more apprehension is generated for the deaf and hard of hearing by their fears of being descriminated against, isolated, misunderstood, and failing to understand questions and instructions. The concern that they will receive the wrong treatment is great. To really understand the difficulty, imagine yourself in another country, where you have only a rudimentary understanding of the language, and experience a medical emergency. Only an interpreter who can converse in your native language would help alleviate the anxiety that would naturally overcome you.

Today, medical and hospital personnel all possess the medical ability to alleviate the kinds of problems encountered by the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in medical situations and to deliver effective, quality care to them. Increased awareness, preventive actions, and simple considerations will ease many of the fears and apprehensions that accompany medical and emergency services for those who cannot hear your questions and instructions, or those who may not be able to articulate their issue or its cause.

Access to Sign Language interpreters is the medical community's most effective line of communication. Establishing this mode of communication will help facilitate a much more accurate and quicker evaluation of a Deaf or Hard of Hearing patient.

In addition to Sign Language and an interpreter, patients can, or may, use any one of these various methods of communication with medical staff at times in between interpreter assisted appointments or shifts:

  • Lip reading

  • Writing

  • Gesturing and mime

  • Use of hearing aids

  • Speech

  • Communication Strategies
    The technological world of electronic medical records is quickly becoming the norm in doctors'offices, hospitals, and medical facilities. Therefore, Deaf or hard-of-hearing patients are faced with medical personnel looking at computer screens and keyboards, and are now experiencing even less face-to-face communication and limited eye contact than before. To improve interpersonal communication between medical personnel and deaf and hard-of-hearing patients, first hire a certified Sign Language interpreter, and then in addition, here is a list of very important communication strategies:

  • Ensure that you are facing the deaf or hard-of-hearing patient

  • Maintain eye contact by looking directly at the patient's face

  • Do not turn away in the middle of a sentence

  • Speak clearly and in simple sentences, rephrasing rather than repeating

  • Speak naturally, not too fast, and do not shout

  • Do not exaggerate your lip movements

  • Allow more time for communication

  • Do not allow two people to speak at the same time

  • Face the light while speaking, eliminating shadows, and easing lip reading

  • Use pantomime, gestures, and facial expressions to assist your communication

  • Avoid technical terms and keep the information straightforward

  • Write important instructions in clear, basic language

  • Speak to the patient, not to the interpreter

  • Explain medical procedures as they are being performed

  • And, extremely important, check back for understanding by asking questions of what was just discussed

  • Specific Medical Considerations
    Due to unintentional communication barriers, the Deaf, and Hard of Hearing often need more support and explanation than is required for other patients. If you are in the medical profession or are tending to a Deaf person in any medical situation, keep the following suggestions in mind:

  • When it is necessary for medical personnel to use masks, the use of clear masks should be used at all times when communicating with a patient who needs to lip read. Clear masks should be available at all medical facilities for personnel.

  • Patients may need or want to use sign language; therefore, it is important not to restrict the patient's hands or arms. If possible, use the forearm area to insert any intravenous needles. When placed in the back of the hand or the wrist area, IVs limit hand movement and cause discomfort. (This same rule applies to those patients who are not deaf or hard of hearing but who may use sign language as a mode of communication with their family members.)

  • Patients who are lying down will have difficulty lip reading. Try to speak from the same level. Only 30 percent of all language can be seen on the lips, even under the best of conditions. Do not assume you have been understood.

  • The vision of a patient should not be covered unless absolutelynecessary. This is due to the importance of sight for comprehension. If vision is compromised for any reason, gentle and constant reassuring touching should be given.

  • Always explain to a patient why you are leaving the room and when you are coming back. Do not just walk out. Patients should not be isolated or left alone or in complete darkness.

  • Do not engage in small talk. Although this is reassuring to hearing patients, it may cause deaf or hard-of-hearing patients to feel that they are missing important information, and they may become agitated and confused.

  • Ensure that patients have access to their hearing aids, glasses, and a Sign Language interpreter when instructions are complicated. These are vital communication tools.

  • It is NOT appropriate either ethically or legally for medical personnel to use family members as interpreters. Specifically, it is extremely INAPPROPRIATE to use children as interpreters in ANY medical situation.



    Also see NAD Healthcare and Mental Health Issues


    Also see NAD Position Statement, Healthcare Access for Deaf Patients


    Also see NAD Questions & Answers for Healthcare Providers


    Also see RID Standard Practice Paper on Healthcare