American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreting

From certified interpreters to executive and support staff, CHSC focuses on the smallest details, provides a caring touch, and delivers a depth and breadth of experience and expertise in sign language interpreting you won’t find elsewhere in Northeast Ohio.

Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center’s certified American Sign Language (ASL) interpreting services help businesses, organizations and institutions meet the complex challenges of sign language interpreting for existing employees and contractors, clients and constituents, and other individuals.

Our top-quality interpreting services are designed for individuals who are Deaf or hard of hearing. From our certified and highly qualified interpreters to our in-house executive and support staff, we focus on the smallest details, provide a caring touch, and deliver a depth and breadth of experience and expertise in sign language interpreting you won’t find elsewhere in Northeast Ohio.

Below, you’ll find answers to many of the frequently asked questions about our American Sign Language interpreting services for businesses, organizations and institutions. All speech interpreting services are provided through the Community Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (CCDHH) at Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center.

For more information, please call 216-231-0787, or use the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are American Sign Language (ASL) interpreting services needed?

Compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is mandatory for U.S. companies, organizations and institutions. The ADA prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life. While sign language interpreting serves many important purposes within business, organizational and institutional settings, compliance with ADA requirements is chief among them.

Click here for more information on the ADA, ADA compliance, and penalties for non-compliance.

What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and why should I be compliant?

The ADA was signed into law on July 26, 1990 by President George H.W. Bush. As one of America's most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation, it prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life—to enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services, and to participate in state and local government programs and services. Modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin – and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 – the ADA is an "equal opportunity" law for people with disabilities.
To be protected by the ADA, one must have a disability, which is defined by the ADA as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; a person who has a history or record of such an impairment; or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment. The ADA does not specifically name all of the impairments that are covered.

What are the penalties for noncompliance with the ADA?

On March 28, 2014, the Department of Justice issued a Final Rule that adjusts for inflation the civil monetary penalties assessed or enforced by the Civil Rights Division, including civil penalties available under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). For the ADA, this adjustment increases the maximum civil penalty for a first violation under Title III from $55,000 to $75,000; for a subsequent violation the new maximum is $150,000. The new maximums apply only to violations occurring on or after April 28, 2014. Not only is it illegal under Federal law but it denies people their rights under the law to fair and equal access to communication. For more on the ADA, please visit the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division website.

How is American Sign Language (ASL) used as a business, organizational and institutional communications resource?

In the U.S., American Sign Language (ASL) is a recognized language with a unique syntax, grammar and structure. Yet, it is not a form of English; nor is it used throughout the world. Each country has its own unique sign language system. Accordingly, a person who uses ASL as their primary language of communication may or may not be proficient in using Standard English because ASL does not have a corresponding written form.

For the most part, English is an oral/aural language designed to be spoken and heard. Therefore, it is quite challenging to learn and understand English when you cannot hear and may never have heard it, especially when it varies so greatly from the structure and syntax of ASL. The Deaf person who is not proficient in English, like anybody whose native language is not English, is not dim-witted or illiterate; he or she just uses a different language to communicate. Accordingly, ASL is the recognized standard for use in interpreting services for businesses, organizations and institutions. 

When is an interpreter needed, and what does a sign language interpreter do?

An interpreter is needed when a Deaf person asks for one—and is also needed for an organization to remain in compliance with ADA law. Written communication is not sufficient to communicate with Deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals in complex legal, medical or other high-language-level settings such as annual employee benefits elections, company policy changes and monthly “town hall” style meetings.

Interpreters are a communication conduit; they facilitate communication between hearing and Deaf, or hard-of-hearing, individuals. It is the responsibility of an interpreter to relay communication between two or more parties via sign language and voice. Interpreters “sign” everything that is said, and they say everything that is signed. Per the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf Inc.’s Code of Ethics, the interpreter is not permitted to add, alter or omit any part of the message being transmitted between parties.

For businesses, organizations and institutions, interpreters are used in a wide array of settings—from meetings and interviews, to instructional sessions, governmental and court functions, press conferences, physician appointments and more. A sign language interpreter can be utilized anywhere a Deaf or hard-of-hearing person lives, works or requires language accessibility.

Where are sign language interpreters used?

Sign language interpreters are used in any and all settings that provide services to, or that employ, a Deaf or hard-of-hearing individual, including but not limited to:

  • Businesses of all sizes and scopes, including legal / professional service and manufacturing businesses
  • Health care / nursing care settings:
    • Hospitals
    • Physician offices
    • Nursing homes
    • Home health care providers
  • Governmental / agency offices and work sites:
    • Courtrooms
      Police stations
      Employment offices
    • Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation
    • Vocational guidance agencies
  • Retail stores
  • Churches
    Educational institutions:
    • Secondary schools (grades K-12)
    • Vocational schools
  • Car dealerships
  • Conferences and conventions

What standards and qualities distinguish Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center interpreters?

Each Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center interpreter undergoes a skills evaluation before they are brought on staff or hired as a contractor. All of our interpreters are skilled and qualified interpreters, and many are nationally certified by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), the premier national sign language interpreter certification organization in the U.S.

When it comes to sign language interpreter services for businesses, organizations and institutions, experience and capabilities matter—a lot.

You should not leave sign language interpreting responsibilities in the hands of an inexperienced, unqualified or uncertified individual. Doing so is an unwise choice in all situations—but particularly in those involving legal and/or medical proceedings. An individual on staff that knows some sign is not the equivalent of a professional sign language interpreter and is not bound by an ethical code of confidentiality or code of conduct.

An interpreter with limited experience or capabilities can easily break confidentiality; misconstrue nuanced meaning within spoken dialogue, and incorrectly or incompletely convey that meaning. Such issues could alter legal outcomes, affect medical diagnoses and yield other serious consequences.

At Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center, we have long recognized the vital importance that sign language interpreting services play in business, organizational and institutional settings. Our vetting process is extensive, stringent and designed specifically to help ensure that your sign language interpreter lives up to our exacting standards.

You can trust Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center to provide a quality sign language interpreting experience every time.

Can family members be used as sign language interpreters?

Generally speaking, family members are inherently biased as they relate to their Deaf or hard-of-hearing relatives. A family member may “sugar-coat” or otherwise soften a devastating medical diagnosis, or lack knowledge of complicated legal signs and other business terminology that they may have never encountered. Therefore, it is inadvisable that they be used as a substitute for professional sign language interpreters. Professional, highly qualified sign language interpreters from respected organizations like Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center are the recommended option.

How do I hire a sign language interpreter?

Here at Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center, we accept a request for a sign language interpreter only from the individual, agency or company responsible for payment of our interpreter services. We cannot accept a request for an individual, agency or company and bill someone else for an interpreting service of which they have no knowledge. 

Requests should be made with Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center as far in advance as possible. If an employee has requested interpreting services, please fill out the form above.

How do I work with a sign language interpreter?

The specifics of how you work with one of our sign language interpreters will vary to some degree depending on the context of the engagement. Yet there are common practices and strategies we recommend across multiple engagement scenarios. For example:

  • Unlike spoken language translation in which a translator is positioned next to their client, a sign language interpreter should be directly across from their client so they can maintain line-of-sight at all times.
  • Verbal communication strategies: In speaking with a Deaf or hard-of-hearing person through a sign language interpreter, talk at a normal pace, volume and cadence while maintaining good eye contact with your subject—in other words, speak as you would normally. Do not talk to or address the interpreter; instead, talk directly to your Deaf/hard-of-hearing client. It important to note that our Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center sign language interpreters are highly skilled and extremely adept at identifying and then conveying the nuances of your spoken language to the person who is Deaf or hard of hearing.
  • The interpreter must have their hands free at all times. Do not hand documents or other items to the interpreter to pass to the Deaf client. Instead, hand them directly to the Deaf individual.
  • If you are giving a slide presentation or other presentation that requires the room to be dark, be sure to have some local lighting on the interpreter so that their signs can be clearly seen by the Deaf client.
  • If possible, avoid seating a Deaf client or the interpreter in front of a light source such as a window with the blinds open.  A light source behind the person signing can cause the person to be silhouetted, and that makes them difficult to see.
  • Do not use third-person pronouns while addressing your client (e.g., tell him, tell her etc.). Addressing the Deaf client with 3rd person pronouns disrupts the communication flow because you are addressing the interpreter and not the client.

Are there benefits to hiring a Deaf or hard-of-hearing employee? Why should I hire someone with a disability? Isn’t that a liability?

There are numerous studies and articles that tout significant benefits of hiring Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees. For starters, these employees may be proficient at problem-solving; may exhibit above-average attendance and productivity records; may be particularly engaged and committed to their employer; and on top of that, employers may be eligible to earn federal tax credits for hiring disabled workers.

  •  A coaching and support resource to businesses, organizations and institutions across Greater Cleveland

Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center serves as a trusted business partner to businesses, organizations and institutions in providing best-in-class job coaching and other key support services in conjunction with hiring Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees. Fill out the form on this page to request more information about our coaching and support services.

There are many other benefits to hiring Deaf or hard-of-hearing workers. For more information on this subject, check out a recent Huffington Post article. You can also visit the IRS website for tax benefit information. 

Have a Question?


Where can I learn American Sign Language (ASL)?

If you’re interested in starting down the path of learning ASL, Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center can help. We are a comprehensive and trusted resource for businesses, organizations and institutions throughout Greater Cleveland. Just click here to access our ASL Class Form.

Below are some additional ASL resources: 

  • National Association for the Deaf (NAD), the premier civil rights organization of, by and for Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals in the U.S.
  • Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc., the premier national membership organization, which plays a leading role in advocating for excellence in the delivery of interpretation and transliteration services between people who use sign language and people who use spoken language.
  • Gallaudet University, the world’s only university designed to be barrier-free for Deaf and hard-of-hearing students.
  • Nyle Demarco Foundation, a nonprofit organization that exists as a national philanthropic resource for all organizations, institutions and individuals working to improve the lives of every Deaf person in the world.