Preparing Educational Interpreters For Distance Learning


 Return to the COVID-19 Resource Page | Last Updated: March 20, 2020

Due to the spread of COVID-19 (aka “coronavirus”) in the United States, we recognize that everyone is being impacted in some way or another, whether at work, at home, or through family, friends, and consumers. One of the things we are so proud of our membership for is the concern we have for deaf, hard of hearing, and deafblind (D/HH/DB) students and the community at large. However, facing such sudden and unprecedented changes in our educational settings is daunting to say the least. How can we better prepare in our professional roles to address such inevitable shifts, such as the transition to virtual instruction? To ensure continued accessibility, which issues should we be ready to address and offer solutions?

We are a resource to not only students, but teachers and other educational professionals, administrators, and staff. 
We are problem-solvers, and we can demonstrate this by adapting to new situations.
We are part of the educational team and must be included in decisions related to accessibility.

Educational interpreters provide essential, legally-designated services and must continue to be available, as well as compensated, during the period of online instruction. Using auto-generated speech-to-text tools or other alternatives is a risk to effective communication. Continued services by educational interpreters is crucial for D/HH/DB students. Research indicates that changing interpreters too frequently can impact the consistency of language and content being represented. To help maintain IEP strategies and goals, educational interpreters are necessary to provide access, including access to virtual classrooms. 

Don’t expect perfection in times of crisis; be humble, be flexible, be alert, and be ready to interpret to the best of your ability given the situation.

Advocate for access
Howard A. Rosenblum, NAD’s CEO, encourages proactive communication with educational institutions. As decisions are being made, follow up with teachers and administrators in order to promote awareness of how changes will impact D/HH/DB student communication. Moving to online classrooms where information heavily relies on English can be challenging for students who primarily use sign language to communicate. It is essential to understand and articulate the concerns regarding D/HH/DB students relying on written English for instructional and communication purposes.

We recognize that home can be a very isolating experience for many D/HH/DB students; school may be one of the few opportunities to communicate in sign language and with peers. In many cases, the educational interpreter functions as the primary language model. During the transition to online learning, consider ways that direct communication in sign language can continue. Free video conference rooms that anyone can join (such as WherebySkypeFaceTimeGoogle Hangouts, Zoom, etc.) can be useful for accessing small group and partner discussions or one-on-one meetings with the teacher. There is also a list of educational tools offering free subscriptions during this time.

For direct communication with students, check with parents to find out if the student uses a videophone or other form of technology at home. Consider using an instant messenger system, such as Google chat, in order for teachers, parents, and students to request time-sensitive needs to interpret. Tools are likely accessible through your school’s existing learning management system (LMS) platform. If your school email utilizes Gmail, this free add-on feature allows you record and send short videos via email in sign language. A Google Voice number can be established to allow for voice or text communication without the need for professionals to share their personal phone numbers. Although a personal phone number is required, Glide and MarcoPolo apps allow opportunities for D/HH/DB students to connect via sign language.

Get comfortable with technology
Whether you are a techie at heart or feel overwhelmed by the technology, it is important to be prepared to work with online tools and their features. Testing out the environments in advance can help you, the teacher, and other educational professionals preemptively work out potential accessibility issues.  Work together to ensure the ability to control the view within the video conference room (i.e. share screen and split screen views, pin the interpreter video, and other features). For synchronous class meetings, encourage classroom teachers to establish ground rules for turn-taking.

If the teacher decides to move to recording their lectures and posting them, ask them to be considerate of timelines for you to interpret the recordings. To interpret pre-recorded lessons or other videos, try screen recording software. Position the lesson or video on the screen, open your webcam and create a split screen or picture-in-picture view when screen recording.

Prepare your space for remote work
When setting up your home or office to provide video remote interpreting, look for ways to control your settings and minimize disruption. Space should be secure and confidential, quiet and well-lit, and have a clean background with no distractions (such as pets or other occupants appearing on screen). We understand that you and your family may also be impacted and confined to the same workspace, so be honest and transparent about it with your teachers and students.

Webcams and internet speed are major factors for video quality. If the quality of your computer’s built-in webcam is too blurry or dark, try adjusting settings or consider investing in an high definition (HD) webcam that can connect to your computer. Sarah Brown, CI/CT, BEI Master, developed a tipsheet on Minimum Requirements and Best Practices for Business Meetings and Education with considerations for both technology and your work space. If necessary, ask to borrow equipment from your school.

Be creative with DIY backgrounds (using blankets/curtains/sheets), use a smartphone or tablet as a camera if it is better than your computer’s webcam, or try a mobile hotspot if you don’t have wireless internet. If you use Zoom, check out this feature for virtual backgrounds (you can upload your own image of a solid color, too!)  We recognize that many people don’t have access to the internet at home. Find free Wi-Fi places in your neighborhood such as public libraries, coffee shops and restaurants, museums, hotels, etc. Comcast is offering 60 days of internet essentials for low income families.

Find captioned media
There are ways to find existing captioned media for videos that you can share with teachers. Try the Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) which offers thousands of educational videos geared towards younger audiences that already have captions. Common streaming platforms typically have captioned videos including Netflix, Hulu, AmazonPrime, Kanopy, etc.

When searching on YouTube, there is a way to filter for videos with closed captions; check whether captions are auto-generated or have an “English” subtitle track. If you need to caption a video, check out these DIY captioning resources from DeafTec or refer your school district to a captioning vendor to make videos accessible.

Even when captioned, which is often at a much higher reading level, it is common for instructional videos to require ASL interpretation to ensure comprehension (Smith, 2010).

Share resources with the IEP team
As mentioned previously, we are a resource to teachers and students. Let’s commit to offering solutions and share information from our networks on how we all can address access for D/HH/DB students.

For NAIE members, if you have any additional resources, tips, or other advice, please do continue sharing on the NAIE Member Network Facebook group. Please note: the NAIE Member Network Facebook group is for members only. To become a member today to go


Scroll to Top