Association of Science - Technology Centers
About ASTC
About Science Centers
Annual Conference
Exhibition Services
Professional Development
Resource Center
  Accessible Practices
Museums' Legal Obligations
Disability Rights Movement
Access Advisors
Access Survey
Access Plan
Best Practices
Behind the Scenes
Links & Publication
Equity and Diversity
Making the Case
Science Center Planning
Visitor Studies
Youth Programs
Products and Services
Older Adults in Science Centers

Resource Center

Accessible PracticesBest PracticesSign Language Interpreters

By providing sign language interpreters for meetings, special events, and programs, museums accommodate visitors who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Below we outline a process for securing interpreters. While it is likely that the
process for booking sign language interpreters will vary from one location to another,
this advice should get you started.

  1. Investigate now

    The ADA talks in terms of "qualified" interpreters and has a definition
    for qualified interpreters. The ADA also says that if state
    laws afford greater protections, then those laws take precedence.
    In instances where state laws require interpreters
    to be "certified," those laws need to be followed.
    The National Association of the Deaf provides a
    "Table of State Laws and Regulations on Requirements of Interpreters"

    It is never too early to know where to call to schedule sign
    language interpreters. A good place to start is the
    yellow pages of your phone book. Look under "Translators and Interpreters." Another suggestion is to contact other museums
    and organizations to learn what agencies they use and
    recommend. The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf
    ( is another source.
    Although a national organization, it can provide
    you with information on local interpreter service
    agencies. Finally, shop around. There may be more than one
    option in your community. Having collected multiple options,
    you are more likely to be able to respond to individual requests.

    In addition, ask the person or persons for whom this service is
    to be provided what specific interpreters or service agency they recommend.
    By asking, you may learn new sources to add to your list.

    Once contacted, an interpreter service agency will likely fax
    or mail you a packet of informational materials.
    Call them back if you are not clear about their rates
    (hourly and all day), and travel and cancellation policies.
    Also, be clear that all interpreters are certified.

  2. Establish a way for visitors to request interpreter services

    Not everyone who is deaf or hard of hearing uses American Sign
    Language (ASL). Some prefer an English sign system, oral,
    or tactile or close vision. Services for visitors who are
    deaf or hard of hearing who do not use ASL include
    visual assistive devices, note taking services, and
    computer-aided real-time reporting (CART), a form of
    live captioning that also requires preplanning.

    Note in all your publications and registration forms
    whom visitors should contact to arrange for interpreter services.
    Be sure to indicate deadlines for requests.
    For example, "Sign Language Interpretation:
    Available by request, with at least two weeks' advance notice.
    Please call ___." (Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge, Massachusetts).

    If you know an agency's policy on deadlines, you can use
    this information to set the deadline by which participants
    must request all accessibility services. If you receive no requests,
    you may decide to call the agency
    and cancel.

    For consistency, we recommend designating one staff member to
    be responsible for scheduling interpreters for your museum.

  3. Schedule interpreters early

    Scheduling interpreters far in advance of a museum event helps
    ensure that sign language interpreters will be there when you
    need them. If you wait, interpreters may not be available or you
    may incur a higher cost for the late request.

    Sometimes one interpreter is required sometimes more.
    Be sure to check out the number of interpreters needed with
    both the agency and the person or persons for whom this service
    is to be provided. It is standard procedure to have two
    interpreters for events lasting more than two hours.
    In such instances, interpreters rotate signing, working
    about 20 minutes each. If there are multiple activities to
    choose from, provide enough interpreters to allow for persons
    who are deaf or hard of hearing to participate in the activities of their choice.

    Book interpreters to stay throughout the event.
    And if you plan to have interpreters at regularly
    scheduled events (e.g., a lecture series), try to book
    the same interpreters each time. In this way, you begin to know
    them and they, in turn, are more familiar with the facility, the topic,
    and any specialized vocabulary.

    The agency will want to know from you

    • date and time of the event
    • address and room location
    • length of the assignment
    • type of assignment (title; whether lecture, panel, or tour)
    • arrangements for interpreters to take lunch and breaks
      (Will food be provided for interpreters? Will interpreters be
      expected to work through lunch and breaks?)
    • kind of interpreting services requested (ASL, signed English,
      oral or tactile sign)
    • name of contact person at museum and his or her telephone
    • billing information and purchase order number, if applicable

  4. Prepare interpreters for the event

    At some point, talk with the agency or the interpreters assigned
    to you about the purpose of the event, its content, and the kinds of activities
    that are scheduled (e.g., small groups and large; breaks and lunch;
    tours). If pre-event preparation would be helpful, send a schedule,
    names of panelists and other presenters, vocabulary list, and other
    relevant print materials to the agency or interpreters directly.

    Be aware that interpreters should not be asked to join in activities as participants.

    Because people who are deaf or hard of hearing are likely to want to interact with other participants during lunch, breaks, and at the
    conclusion of the event, be sure signing during these times is
    discussed and agreed on.

    Finally, go over travel options. If interpreters are coming by car,
    provide directions and parking options.

  5. Plan event set-up

    A variety of logistical elements need to be considered, primarily having
    to do with seating, room arrangement, and lighting. You will want
    to think through these considerations in advance, but know that
    you may need to make changes the day of the event.

    Here are some basics to consider. A person who is deaf should be
    able to see the speaker and the interpreter simultaneously. Your
    visitors who are deaf should not have to when they are alternating between looking at the speaker and the interpreter. Avoid placing the interpreter in front of visually distracting walls or curtains and where
    glare or backlighting makes the interpreter difficult to see. Experts recommend placing an interpreter in front of a plain, dark background. Finally, ensure that the interpreter can hear the speaker.

    Seat people viewing the interpreter together and near the front for the best view. Try to eliminate other people walking, standing, or sitting between the interpreter and the viewers.

    For audiovisual presentations such as slides and videos, the light level in the room is often low to make these visuals easier to see. However, it is important to keep lights bright in the area where the presenter and interpreter stand. You may want to have a light focused on the
    interpreter and patched on a separate dimmer from the room's lights so that it can be adjusted as necessary.

    If responses are encouraged from the audience, expect that people who are deaf or hard of hearing may raise their hands or signal to the interpreter that they want to say something. At these times, bring the microphone over to the interpreter. She or he will translate what the audience member signs.

    Staff, volunteers, and speakers should be aware of appropriate

  6. Reconfirm interpreters

    Reconfirm day, time, and location either with the interpreter or the
    agency a week before your event.

  7. Coordinate accessibility at the event

    As people arrive, make a point of personally greeting each person who is deaf or hard of hearing and discussing seating arrangements with him or her. Make changes when needed. Assign staff to trouble-shoot and
    assist with accommodations at the event.

    Especially in situations where many people are talking, such as during discussions or when responses are solicited from the audience, explain
    the process of sign language interpreting to the whole audience. Remind speakers and audience members to take turns when speaking so that the interpreter will be able to keep up. They should also speak directly to and look at the person who is deaf, not at the interpreter.

    Check in with each interpreter during breaks, especially early on, to see how things are going and whether adjustments need to be made.


Links Related to Sign Language Interpreters

Behind the Scenes
Julie Johnson, Director of Education: Planning for All Visitors

Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (MCDHH)
MCDHH has a great information series available online. Topics include American Sign Language (ASL), computer-aided real-time captioning (CART),
communicating with people who are deaf or hard of hearing, and interpreters.

National Association of the Deaf (NAD)
NAD is the oldest and largest organization representing people with
disabilities in the United States. Programs and activities include grassroots advocacy and empowerment, captioned media, certification of American Sign Language professionals; certification of sign language interpreters; deafness-related information and publications, legal assistance, and public awareness. NAD's information center has articles on ASL, state laws regarding interpreters, legal issues, and more.

Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc. (RID)
RID is a professional organization of sign language interpreters. RID certifies interpreters. Regional and local RID affiliates can be used to find interpretation service agencies in your community. You can request that fact sheets about interpreters be faxed to you using RID's fax on demand service.

Sign Language Associates, Inc. (SLA)
SLA is an interpretation service agency based in Maryland. You can contact
SLA for referrals to interpretation service agencies nationally or internationally. SLA has provided performing arts interpreters in the Washington area for over
17 years through its Cultural Access Program.


This web site is not intended to offer legal, architectural, engineering, or similar professional advice. Refer specific questions to an attorney or an ADA authority.

return to top
About ASTC | About Science Centers | Annual Conference | Exhibition Services
  Professional Development | Publications | Resource Center | ASTC Home  

ASTC Home Find a Science Center