Based on standard hearing exams, one in eight people in the US aged 12 years or older has hearing loss in both ears. This number equals 13 percent of the population or 30 million people. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires title II (state and local governments) and title III entities (businesses and non-profit organizations that serve the public) to communicate with people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. Subsequently, interpreting services are required in all kinds of industries, including courts, government, hospitals, and various smaller businesses and organizations.

Deaf services for language access are more than just getting a sign language interpreter though—it is a complex world of access for those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, and many different aspects are at play that go into pairing an interpreter and a person who needs sign language interpreting. In this blog, we will look at the different types of sign languages and deaf services that provide communication access, and what’s important to know when determining meaningful access for individuals.


Types of Sign Languages

Like spoken languages, sign languages have developed organically through different groups communicating with each other. As a result, a single sign language isn’t used universally. In fact, somewhere between 138-300 different sign languages are used worldwide. Here are some of the more common types of sign languages used in the US.


American Sign Language (ASL)

American Sign Language is most commonly used in the US and in anglophone Canada. Based on French Sign Language, ASL is thought to originate in the 1800s, making it a fairly new language. It’s a visual language with its own grammar and syntax, allowing for multiple word orders to represent a concept.

Signed Exact English

Signed Exact English is a signing system that strives to be an exact replication of English. While ASL might have word order changes, Signed Exact English follows standard English order and rules, so it’s very linear.


Tactile signing is a way of communicating using touch for those who are both deaf and blind. One person signs while the other places their hands on the signing person’s hands to feel what’s being communicated. Tactile signing is also known as “hand over hand” or “hands-on signing.”

Regional Varieties

As with any language, different sign language terms may vary according to localized regions. For example, the sign for pizza varies across regions within ASL.

Around the World

Many sign languages are used throughout the world. Some are taught formally, while others may arise out of more natural contexts (such as Nicaraguan Sign Language). As a result, sign languages are seen as completely distinct languages.



Scheduling Practices for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Services

For those who schedule services for people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, consider the following.


Provide the Preferred Sign Language

Although ASL is the most common sign language in the US, not all individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing use ASL. That’s why it’s important to find out a person’s preferred language—if someone doesn’t use ASL, then providing an ASL interpreter won’t be helpful. Some examples include:

  • Children – If they have hearing parents and were never immersed in deaf culture or went to a school for the deaf, they may have signs that they’ve developed in the home. Another scenario is children who may have some ASL skills, like perhaps they’ve been in a school for the deaf for a few years, but they’re still building up their standard ASL knowledge.
  • Using another sign language – Some individuals grew up signing a different sign language. If a deaf individual is traveling from out of the country, it will be critical to find out what sign language they use. For example, British Sign Language is different than ASL.
  • Home-based or self-taught sign language – Some individuals may have grown up within a smaller deaf community or nuclear family home signs.
  • Late-deafened individuals – Some individuals may have become deaf later in life, and in these instances, they may or may not have learned ASL. This must be determined on a case-by-case basis by asking the person, as there are many sign language preferences. Some individuals may have learned ASL and prefer it, while others may still use their voice or other communication methods.


Style of Language Service

In addition to the type of language service, the method of delivering the service is also very important. For example, some people may prefer in-person services while others prefer remote. The ideal scenario would be to provide the preferred type of sign language and the delivery method. Knowing second and even third preferences would also be beneficial in case the first preferences aren’t available.


Other Accessibility Services

In addition to individual interpretation needs and preferences, other accessibility services for individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing also exist.


Communication Access Real-Time Translation (CART)

CART, also known as real-time captioning, allows a provider to transcribe spoken words into text and then display them computers, mobile devices or screens. CART can be used in a variety of ways, such as events, training, classrooms, workshops, meetings, and more. Not only does it help individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, but it also helps those who may struggle to hear in loud places and Limited English Proficient individuals. Remote CART can also be streamed to an internet browser for remote communication needs.


C-Print is similar to CART, but it uses a QWERTY keyboard. The service provider uses software to type full and abbreviated words, and the software finds full words for the abbreviations. C-Print allows individuals to type responses, making the communication two-way.


Considerations for Finding an Interpreter

When seeking out an interpreter, consider these scenarios and preferences.


Hearing Interpreters

Depending on certifications and skills paired with an individual’s preferences, these interpreters work with a person who is deaf and the organization to facilitate communication–most often using ASL.

Certified Deaf Interpreters

These interpreters are specially trained with personal knowledge of the deaf community, added resources, and more to work with a hearing interpreter as a team. They have firsthand knowledge of the deaf culture and can work with individuals who are children, use home signs, use sign languages from other countries, and more.

Children of a Deaf Adult (CODA) Interpreters

CODA interpreters have grown up using sign languages, typically in tandem or even before using spoken English. They have nuclear family awareness about deaf culture and language.


These technologies can be leveraged when individuals understand written English, but do not have a way to communicate through signs.


Schedule Interpreters Early: Shortage of ASL Interpreters

Sign language interpreters can obtain a variety of certifications. These certifications show rigorous understanding of ASL through testing that helps to ensure the quality of interpreters and thus the integrity of the communications. The nationally recognized certifications include NIC (National Interpreter Certifications), CDI (Certified Deaf Interpreter), and others available on the RID website. In addition, Board of Evaluation of Interpreters (BEI), Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment (EIPA), and others may have formalized processes for certain uses or regions.

The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc. (RID) is the national organization that issued certifications for sign language interpreters. However, in 2016, they placed a moratorium on certifications as a way to address systemic issues with testing, and that moratorium is still in place today. Currently, the only nationally issued certification through RID is the National Interpreter Certification (NIC).

There are already too few sign language interpreters, and the RID moratorium presented another issue. Since 2016, not many interpreters have been added. This can make scheduling last-minute sign language interpreters difficult, so plan ahead when you have a need for an ASL interpreter.



We recommend using the information provided here to help get as much information from an individual about their needs before scheduling an interpreter. Also, be sure to schedule as far out as possible to ensure you can meet the needs.

We provide remote interpretation services for all kinds of industries and environments. To learn more about our remote interpreting technology, see this video. For more information, contact us at [email protected] or (530) 750-2040. Let us help you provide the best language services.