The Value of Networking for the Developing Sign Language Interpreter

The Value of Networking for Sign Language InterpretersIn order for students to be successful sign-language interpreters, prior to graduating it is critical that they develop a relationship with both the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community (DHHC) and current-working professionals within the DHHC.  This would include interpreters, educators and DHHC advocates. By fostering these relationships, students will create educational, professional and personal opportunities that would not be available to them outside of the classroom environment. Personally, I would not be as successful in my career had the DHHC and Interpreter Community not provided me guidance.  These communities did not seek me out to help; rather, I became involved in community-related endeavors and positioned myself to become a well-connected member.

Importance of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community

In order for sign language interpreters to be successful, a relationship with the DHHC is paramount, as suggested by Trudy Suggs in her post, A Deaf Perspective: Cultural Respect in Sign Language Interpreting .  An interpreter in California once stated, “If you call yourself an Interpreter and you have never had a deaf person in your home – shame on you!”  In order to be an effective interpreter, one must create a relationship with the community in which you will serve.  Through this relationship, doors are opened which provides for a greater understanding of the people and language epitomizing the culture.  As a participant in the community, interpreters are able to represent and interpret messages more accurately and equivalently.

It is important that interpreters understand their personal and professional roles within the DHHC.  Historical analysis of the role of the sign language interpreter is helpful in developing and understanding the role of today’s interpreter.  For the role has ranged from overzealous inclusion with the community, known as the “helper model,” to almost-complete detachment from the community, also known as the “conduit model.”  As the interpreting profession has evolved through its peeks and valleys, one sentiment has become absolute—relationships with the DHHC are essential and their importance should not be underestimated.

Socializing with Language Users is Essential

Unfortunately, the DHHC is often a stopping point for opportunistic students who simply wish to only learn American Sign Language.  After getting a basic understanding of the language, either by graduating from a program or earning an interpreter certification, opportunists leave with little to no continuing relationship with the DHHC.  I cannot stress the importance of undeviating involvement.  To learn American Sign Language well, interpreters must immerse and socialize with language users.  By starting networks early in ones career, it provides the perfect opportunity for interpreters to create life long friendships that will add richness to their personal journey into the Deaf world. This also creates a link for future professional opportunities. 

Relationships With Working Interpreters

Robert Kiyosaki, an American investor and author stated, “If you want to go somewhere, it is better to find someone who has already been there.” As a graduate, whether you feel completely confident and capable in your skill set, or you feel insecure about your abilities, actual work experiences are invaluable.  Work experiences are continually enhanced through professional relationships with interpreters of all facets. The interpreter profession is growing in popularity, constantly evolving as new research is being discovered, and flourishing with educational opportunities.  These changes have helped create a field of professionals with various skills, abilities, and knowledge, all of which have strengthened the profession.

By developing relationships with others in the field, the opportunities for professional development become endless and help to create a “career,” not simply a “job.”  These relationships create increased opportunities for jobs, provide teaming and mentorship possibilities, allow for professional dialoging and workshop attendance and allow interpreters to meet other professionals that will help advance their careers.

Networking Creates a Strong Community

Having a drive to connect with others, your roots will grow within the profession and you will want to become an interpreter who gives back to the profession by assisting upcoming interpreters in their career endeavors.  Networking aids in creating a strong community of reflective practitioners who work together to become highly qualified while preparing the next generation of interpreters.   This profession has been likened to working on an isolated island, but in my opinion, if that is true, the island I work on must be the most populated island in existence.

Relationships With Professionals Outside of the Deaf Community

Stacey Webb

Stacey Webb

Interpreters often operate as the middleman between the DHHC and Hearing Community.  Therefore, they have opportunities to educate both populations on the particulars of each community and its respective culture.  Further, these professionals are often responsible for the hiring and contracting of other interpreters.  Therefore, remember that anyone you meet has the opportunity to have a deaf client or host a public event that openly caters to the DHHC.  As interpreters, we have all been to public events that would have been enhanced had the venue or organizer provided an interpreter to cater to their DHH patrons.

By networking with other types of professionals, you have the opportunity to educate, which creates a platform for change in accessibility and equal access.  Several business professionals, educators and even government officials that I have communicated with were unaware of the particulars of the Americans with Disability Act and because of my background, I have been able to inform them on the needs for equal access.  It is often through edifying conversations that misconceptions are broken, innocent ignorant stereotypes are overcome and personal responsibilities are accepted.  It is important that you strive to be a resource and a liaison for your DHHC, thus aiding in your professional endeavors, while leaving a considerable and lasting impact on both the DHHC and interpreting profession.

Relationships Build Long-Term Success

Regardless of your years of experience, career satisfaction occurs through improved working relationships with peers, coworkers, students and customers. Sign language interpreters who immerse themselves into the field by staying visible to the people they come in contact with, while avoiding the traps of isolation, and clock watching have a fuller career.  Career expectations come in all shapes and sizes.  When expectations are realized through service as a friend, mentor, teacher, and advocate, you will make a difference for the people you meet along your professional journey.  Below are some tips for all interpreters on how to create and retain your networks.

Creating & Retaining Your Networks

  • Discover Deaf Events: Involve yourself in your local DHHC by actively participating in silent dinners, deaf professional happy hours and workshops particular to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. Attending these events will enable you to immerse yourself in the Deaf culture and will help you come in contact with future clients.
  • Remember Reciprocity: Unfortunately, there are often interpreting needs not covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act.  As an interpreter, you have spent time learning a language so you can help the DHHC and Hearing Communities interact with each other.  It is important to remember the needs of DHHC will also be supporting you financially.  Be willing to work pro bono when the appropriate time arises—for example, interpret weddings, funerals and baby showers as a way to give back to the community
  • Professional Development:  Attend workshops and conferences to expand your professional network. This will enable you to meet interpreters from all over the country and could potentially lead to new job opportunities.  When in attendance, dress professionally, and be willing to meet new people.  If you simply pair up with the one person you know at the event, you will be limiting your professional opportunities.
  • Professional Affiliations:  Join the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) the National Association of the Deaf and local affiliate chapters of both organizations.  Further, if you have any specific interests in the field, join those organizations as well. Whether your interest lies with the Conference of Interpreter Trainers, the National Association of Black Interpreters, or the American Sign Language Teaching Association. You do not have to simply be a cardholder in the organizations. You can join a committee, task force or hold an officer position to become an active member and agent of change.  When you take on such roles, you will meet other stakeholders in the profession and form new relationships.
  • Stay Current:  Read current publications and journals that are well received by the interpreting profession.  RID publishes the Views quarterly and the Journal of Interpretation yearly. Gallaudet University Press also publications and resources relating to the most current research related to American Sign Language linguistics and education, as well as cultural studies of individuals who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH). Additionally, trending blogs and vlogs, bring attention to current topics and issues affecting the DHHC and interpreting profession. These mediums all you to participate in professional dialogues, allowing you to speak knowledgably, credibly and genuinely with your peers.
  • Community Involvement: Become involved in local organizations, such as your local Chamber of Commerce, Sertoma club or hiking group.  By expanding your network of personal contacts, you will also be expanding your network of potential professional contact and will be creating business opportunities for yourself, accessibility for the DHHC and ultimately helping to close gaps between the Deaf and Hearing worlds.
  • Create Opportunities: Do not wait for people to approach you and integrate themselves into your life.  Remember to be friendly, smile and be willing to create conversations with strangers.  Don’t just focus on yourself; ask others questions and learn about their lives and careers.  By helping others achieve their goals, they will often assist you on your journey as well.  Stay at the conference site hotel, arrive to events early, ask questions, share your passions and follow up.

Be Grateful

People live extremely busy lives.  Regardless of whom you meet be grateful for the person’s time.  When appropriate, shake hands, offer a hug and always follow up with a thank you card.  If someone donates their time to you and provides you with the opportunity to take them out for coffee or lunch, remember to always pay and articulate your gratitude.

How have your relationships and professional networks enriched your professional career and personal journey?


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About the Author

Stacey Webb is a nationally certified interpreter currently residing in Nashville, TN. Originally from San Diego California, she has been interpreting professionally since 2004. She received her interpreter training at Palomar College and California State University, Northridge (CSUN). In addition to her interpreting experience, Stacey is an instructor in an American Sign Language Interpreter Training Program at a local community college and has recently accepted an adjunct teaching position with Western Kentucky University’s American Sign Language Studies Program. She looks forward to completing her Masters of Education from Colorado State University this Fall. Working as an instructor and a mentor has become a passion for Stacey and she strives to make a difference in the lives that cross her path.

18 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Wing says:

    Great article Stacey!

    One of the things I have enjoyed about DCCH networking is the additional tool within social media. There are interpreters and Deaf community members that I would never have a conversation with if it wasn’t for social networking online. With social networking online I have access to individuals I may perceive as untouchable or above me. Engaging them in their online projects/presence is a great way to connect. Moving those conversations from a virtual world into the real world is certainly where connections are deepened.

    Great to connect with you online. Hope to meet you in the real world! Wink.

    • Stacey Webb says:

      I have to agree the world of social media has changed how we can network. I have lived in California, Maryland and now Tennessee, through social media I have been able to stay in close contact with so many individuals that I have moved away from. I know that without it, the contact would have been lost long ago. I have also been able to make new contacts that have opened up doors professionally and personally.

      One story to share:
      I was working at a church in California many years ago. On my last Sunday, before I moved to the DC area, a woman came up to me and said I should meet her son who was getting his Masters at Gallaudet University. Thinking it was simply a “setup” I ignored the possible contact. Three years later I found myself in Nashville, TN. I continued to do a lot of work in DC. One day I got an email from a name that sounded familiar but couldn’t place. He asked me about finding interpreters to work a conference of some kind. I referred him to some people. A few months after that I was out with a friend. My friend asked me if I wanted to go to Gallaudet University’s Graduation. Although he had nothing to do with the DHHC or Sign Language Interpreting profession his friend was graduating. When we got there, I met his friend (not connecting it was the same person who had emailed me a few months previous). At the completion of the ceremony I walked out side and saw that very same woman from the church in California. She was there… to see her son graduate, who in fact, was my friend’s friend and the person who had emailed me a few months back. Very small world. I say this because I am lucky that everything came full circle. This person became a new friend of mine who to this day I would consider a close friend. He has since moved overseas and I have been lucky enough to stop by and say hello on some travels. His networks are great and we have been able to share resources from the States to Europe. Just this afternoon we were google chatting about a possible contact that I need to meet- and he is going to introduce us via email. So if it is social media or just the wonders of technology we are able to stay connected and get connected to amazing folks in our field. Just this blog alone has opened up conversations with strangers that soon become friends. Thank you for sharing your perspectives on this topic :) Stacey

  2. Julissa says:

    This is an excellent article. I love all of your suggestions. Do you have any tips for someone like me? I’ve only completed ASL I & have decided to become an interpreter & really want to get involved in the DHHC. However, a few weeks ago I went to my first Deaf event & felt so nervous & inadequate that I started to feel sick. I did get to communicate with one person but I was so nervous that I could barely concentrate on what he was saying/signing & had a really tough time trying to express myself. Any tips?

    • Stacey Webb says:


      First let me take a moment to commend you on reading and posting in this blog while you are only in ASL 1. I think it is great that you have made the decision to pursue this career option and with your willingness to ask for help now… you have a great future ahead of you.

      We have all been to our first Deaf Event. And many of us probably had similar feelings. We were nervous, and felt our skills were inadequate. An amazing interpreter and mentor, Andrew Leyva, once told me that he looked at his years of interpreting experience as his age. So in the past when I said, wow, look at how amazing your skills are, I wish I could be like you. He said, “I am only 17, a teenager in this field… I have so much more growing to do.” He then reminded me at the time, I was only 4 years old. This put so much in perspective for me. When it comes to your ASL skills, you are still an infant.. not even crawling or walking yet. So give yourself some time to grow and develop but don’t be afraid of the people who are going to feed you.

      It is ok to not understand everything. There is a secret that many of us interpreters who have been at it a while sometimes don’t share.. we don’t understand everything all the time either ;)

      So here are my tips for you and I hope others will share theirs as well:

      1. Continue to go the events
      2. Know that its ok to have a “silent period” Research shows that adults acquiring second languages can have a silent period. This is where you are absorbing the information and actually starting to show your understanding of the language before you can actually produce it. Just like an infant you understand so much more than you can directly communicate. If you want more information on this let me I would be happy to share the research I have done on it.
      3. Make friends. Be brave and introduce yourself. If you can say your name and that you are in ASL 1 that is a start. :) Deaf people are typically welcoming of students at Deaf Events and can expect student sot be there. Get text numbers and emails. Be friendly and not pushy!
      4. Invite one of your new friends to coffee.. not because your teacher made you, but because you want to get to know the person for who he or she is. Your language will only grow over time.
      5. Don’t be afraid to write, finger spell or act if you have to. You would be surprised how much you can communicate without signs. Those signs can come later.
      6. Find out if your city has a local agency that needs volunteers. Go volunteer at the agency.. you may start with boring paperwork stuff but over time you could end up tutoring kids in their youth program. Just being around people is going to help your language grow.
      7. Don’t give up. You may not be there yet… but you are closer than you were yesterday! Just keep on working hard. It is this community that is going to change your life forever, embrace the journey :)

      Good luck to you. If you ever need anything along your journey please don’t hesitate to get in touch.


  3. Steven F says:

    Stacey! I was reading in my social network when I found this link. This is a wonderful article, so I am going to show this to several interpreters who are currently working with me. Government jobs down here at Huntsville, AL are unaware of our rights under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). Even today, we are still facing the unequal access to the method of communicating through a sign language interpreter. We try to educate them, but often they forget the importance of the ADA. Sometimes, they kicked the interpreters out during the conference because they were not on the list for any security or classified reason. I took action by halt them from removing my interpreters in the middle of the conference. It has been going on for the last several years. Finally, this year they seemed to understand the equal access for the deaf. Learning how to successfully communicate with hearing challenges and teaching others how it works is an opportunity for us to grow as individuals and our society to grow stronger in its democratic foundation that all people are created as equal and deserve fair treatment. Indeed, you know who this is. I am bidding you with the great luck for you to pursuing and completing your Master degree!

    • Stacey Webb says:

      Thank you for your post. From the looks of it, you have had some pretty frustrating experiences in Huntsville. Ignorance seems to be a pretty common issue here in the South. When I moved from the DC area to Nashville- it was quite a culture shock when it came to accessibility. I was used to seeing requests for accommodations be filled and often accommodations were provided even without the requests simply to provide that equal access. I remember calling the a local political group when a past president was coming to town simply to see if interpreters were going to be provided to the event. It shocked me how ignorant the people on the other end of the phone were. To be honest, I didn’t care if DHH people were at the event or not I felt that a president was coming to a public event it should have an Interpreter. It really was the principle of the matter. Regardless of the situation, we all have to continue the fight for access- and we have to do it together. I know that you will continue to work hard to educate your colleagues and I hope that the interpreters you are working with are also working to be change agents within your workplace.

      Best of luck to you and again thank you for your post.

  4. Karin Kalodimos says:

    Great article and a topic that needs to be stated repeatedly.

    When I was a student in ITP my instructors encouraged and in many ways implicitly required that we participate with the Deaf community and with professional organizations.

    I was blessed to live in an area with a large DHHC with numerous activities, FRAT, NAD, bowling, and many others. While the Deaf community mentored and guided me as a newbie, the interpreting community taught me equally important skills. I followed the guidance of my wise instructors and became an active member of the state RID affiliate chapter. While many said it was clique, what I quickly learned it was a safe place to learn to fly and spread my wings, Both the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community and the state RID chapter were a gold mine of mentors, knowledge, opportunity, encouragement, hugs, and cherished friendships.

    The value of being an active participant and member far outweighed the time and work of serving on committees. For any newbies, take Stacey’s advice and be a part of both communities.

    • Stacey Webb says:

      Thank you for your post. I appreciate you sharing your experiences here for people to read. And I love how you mention again to become an active participant within the local chapters. I remember as a student going to the San Diego RID meetings. I may not have fully understood all of Roberts Rules, and what we were voting for but it was one of the greatest learning platforms for me. The one thing I loved about the San Diego chapter is it always wanted to make sure Deaf people were involved. So it wasn’t just a room of interpreters but it also had consumers of our services there being involved with our current discussions. San Diego interpreters and the Deaf community back home were so instrumental in the foundation of my career. It was as you stated a Gold Mine.. and lucky for me, I struck Gold in California :)

  5. Emily Klingensmith says:

    I found this to be very insightful. Also, very true i feel that interpreters should be well known in the dhhc. i am currently in school to become an educational interpreter and this helped me so much on what i should and have to do within the community. i plan to make my passion for this my life long career. and hope to enjoy every minute of it. thank you so much for the wonderful artical.

  6. Cathy Cherry says:

    What a wonderful article. My teacher for my Intro to Interpreting class (as part of an educational interpreting program) assigned us this to read and I can see why.

    I remember way back in ASL2/Deaf Culture my teacher said interpreters occupy a strange place in the Deaf community. They both are and are not a part of it. I think that probably has to do with the habit of showing up to interpret, get paid, and then give nothing back to the community. I’ll admit it was something that worried me. I really love the Deaf community and I was worried that becoming an interpreter would put me outside of it again. It was what delayed my decision to pursue interpreting as a career.

    So I found this article both relieving and helpful. I was wondering how to give back without being stepped all over and interpreting weddings and the like seemed like such a great way to do so. I feel a little more secure now than I did before reading it. So thanks!

    • Stacey says:


      What great news that your instructor has shared Street Leverage with you all in your program. There is so much information on this website and you will be learning from some of the great leaders within the profession. Personally I am honored to have my article listed on this www.

      Each interpreter is different how they interact with the community. I have worked in large cities with a large population of Deaf people. This created the opportunity for me to have friends, and clients. In other words, I had my pals and then I had folks in the community that I only saw when I was a working interpreter. However, the community small even with large numbers and you still must always remain confidential and ethical with assignments. Other times, I have been in small Deaf Communities where I have friend relationships with the people that I am also working with. The important thing to know is how to turn on and off the type of relationship dependent upon the setting.

      We all have our ways to give back to the community. I personally have a rule, that if I am good friends with the person then weddings are free. If I do not know the person at all, then it is paid. I pretty much always provide free services when interpreting funerals and when I am paid, I often try to give back the money to the organization in which the family is requesting. It is a personal balance. It is knowing that it is ok to say no, but it is also ok to say you will do something for free when someone may not. Best of luck to you while you find that personal balance in your career.


  7. Trina R. T. says:

    This article echoes & adds on to many points I share with my interns/protégés. I am going to add this to the must read list for my interns. Thank you for this post as it does add value to up & coming students and the profession as a whole.

    • Stacey says:

      Hi Trina,

      Thank you so much for reading this article. It is nice to see even though it was posted a while back fresh eyes are still reading it. :) Have a great semester!!

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