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ASL Interpreters in Your Class

This information is for professors that are remotely teaching a class that has at least one Deaf student that uses American Sign Language. This is intended to inform you of what to expect, how to communicate with the Deaf student, and how your Zoom class will look as you have Sign Language Interpreters that will also be attending your class.  This page was provided by the Office of Disability Services.

You will most likely have two interpreters in your classroom. They will take turns interpreting, usually alternating every 20 – 30 minutes, depending on the content of the course and how much class participation there is. This transition, because of the way Zoom is designed, will sometimes force the interpreters to verbally inform one another that they are starting their turn as the interpreter. They will wait for the least intrusive time to get one another’s attention. This might feel odd at first, as they say, ‘OK “interpreters name”, I’ve got it’.  It does not take long for everyone to start ignoring the transition. 

There will also be times that one interpreter will be translating for the Deaf person.  The ‘inactive’ interpreter will suddenly start interrupting the ‘active’ interpreter when it does not seem to be their turn. This is one of the imperative reasons for having two interpreters in the room. If the interpreter that is translating is having some sort of disconnect with the message, the other interpreter is expected to be paying attention and step in. This is necessary to ensure that what you hear is a correct interpretation of what the Deaf student is saying. No man is an island, and we, as interpreters, appreciate our team stepping in when we need assistance rendering the message accurately.

Please inform the class that there are two interpreters in the room on the first day of class. While we might think this should be painfully obvious…from the student’s perspective, it might not be. If they have not had interpreters in a class before, they might be unduly distracted. Letting them know right away will allow them to focus on the content of what you are saying, instead of trying to figure out why the interpreter is there. However, please DO NOT POINT OUT WHO THE DEAF STUDENT IS. However well intended this is, it might be an irritant to the student. They will self-identify as Deaf/Hard of Hearing if they choose to. 

Information that will be used during the zoom presentation (Power Points, ‘hand-outs’) should be given to the Deaf student well before the class begins, not moments before. This will allow the student to become familiar with the content.  Then, when they are in class and you present the power point (or other material), the student can benefit from listening to you through the interpreter instead of missing important points as they read the power point and simultaneously try to watch their interpreter. It is ineffective for them to try to do this and they will miss important information.

Address the Deaf student as you would address any of the hearing students. Please do not ask the interpreter to ‘ask’ or ‘tell’ the Deaf student anything. When you address the student, say their name, and pause. This allows the interpreter to make sure you have the attention of the Deaf person. Then proceed with whatever it is you need to say. In doing this, you accomplish two things. Obviously, you dignify your student by addressing them personally. You will also set an example for students to follow while in Zoom classes or in person.

The interpreter will automatically be there to interpret what you say into American Sign Language and will interpret what they say into English. It is unethical for us to monitor or modify conversations. Do not feel you need to change what you say because we are there. Everything a hearing person has access to by way of verbal communication will be signed for the Deaf student to see. We will render all conversations faithfully.

Technology is a blessing that allows us to work remotely…Technology is also a curse that allows us to work remotely.  Due to internal and uncontrollable external factors, Zoom is not completely reliable.

Be aware of and patient with factors that sometimes make Zoom difficult. Internet connectivity is often an issue, forcing some students to log out and then back in.  Coming in and out of the meeting moves the location of all the participants. This might not bother you personally. However, when this happens, the Deaf student, who was watching the interpreter, now must relocate them. 

A Deaf student might pin their interpreter so they can see the signing easier and more clearly. However, if a professor shares a power point or allows another student to share something from their device, the Deaf students pin view is replaced by the view of the person controlling the class at that moment. The student must relocate the interpreter again. When the power point or screen sharing is taken down or stopped, the student must once again relocate the interpreter. The time they spend locating the interpreter and re-pinning them is all lost communication. They literally did not have equal access to the same information their hearing peers had, as they do not ‘hear’ the conversation unless they ‘see’ the interpreter.

While the student does have the option of pinning the interpreter, they might choose to keep the screen in gallery view. This will help them know who is speaking, put names to faces and become familiar with their classmates. 

Knowing some of the difficulties inherent to remote teaching helps us to mitigate some of the impact.   

These factors contribute to the reason we have suggested a general format to how a class is conducted on Zoom. One might think these practices are only for classes that have a Deaf student in them. However, this format would benefit all classes across Wichita State University. The technical issues mentioned above, along with the increased cognitive load, the visual strain, and the varying degrees of learning disabilities that other students have within our university, make controlling the Zoom environment an important aspect in effective teaching.

Best practices during a Zoom meeting:

  • Expect student to arrive to class on time.
  • Inform students this is a class. It is not time to cook, clean, text other people, drive around or do anything else that would distract their fellow students.
  • Remind all participants to MUTE their mic unless they are participating. 
  • Allow only one person to have the floor at a time.
  • Require the use of the hand-raising tool.
  • Have students wait to be called on by the instructor before speaking.
  • Take pauses as needed to keep the pacing of the meeting accessible for everyone, especially during screen transitions (student taking the floor, a power point being shared, finishing a video). This means allowing sufficient time for the Deaf student to locate the interpreter without missing vital information and save the Deaf student from having to ask for information to be repeated/the Professor from asking if the Deaf student is ‘keeping up’ (which would be humiliating).
  • Remind students to lower the hand tool when their turn is over.
  • Monitor the chat box. People use the chat box when they are having difficulties (technology issues, they cannot get their hand to raise, they cannot hear the video). Deaf students will also use the box as an option to communicate. While they do have interpreters in the room, they are not under obligation to have their interpreters voice for them, especially if they see most students are using Chat as opposed to asking their question out loud.
  • If you have break-out rooms, be sure the interpreters are put in the same group as the Deaf student. Do not count the interpreters as participants as they will not participate in the dialogue or feedback. They will only interpret the conversations taking place.

Mixed local/remote participants in the same room:

Having a physical classroom with five participants in it while simultaneously remotely connecting to five other people, one of the participants being Deaf, plus two interpreters – this is a recipe for communication chaos. Conducting a strictly remote meeting has enough potential issues. Adding a layer of some participants physically being together and some participants being remote will complicate this situation. 

Remote meetings already give some students a sense of loss of connectedness to their peers. This will add to it as the remote students cannot see everyone that is meeting in the same room. Not only is it hard to know who is speaking, it is also more common for people who are meeting in person to talk over one another, make side comments (even beneficial or enjoyably funny), or ask quick clarifying questions. If the students that are in a physical room together are sharing a microphone, inevitably, it will be hard for all remote participants to hear everything that is said. 

Generally, it is best to avoid this kind of meeting. However, that is not always possible. If this is the way the class will be conducted, the easiest way to manage it is if everyone brings their own laptop and treats the meeting the same as a large virtual meeting, with the same guidelines set out above in Best Practices.

If you are having a mixed local/remote class, please let The Department of Disability Services know and they will coordinate with you in order to make this situation easier for all involved. 

Allow for students to enter the room before you get there, also - if you are able - arrive a few minutes before the course is supposed to begin. This will allow everyone, including the Deaf students and the interpreter, to be on task when the class begins instead of everyone arriving at the exact moment class begins, starting off at a frantic pace. 

If you are comfortable, please exchange contact information with the interpreters.  The most consistent issue with Zoom is not being able to log in. They will need to contact you to let you know this has happened. Also, you can communicate with the interpreters if you see something that you feel needs to be handled differently or have something else you would like to discuss with them.

Also, feel free to contact the Office of Disability Services: 

This entire remote learning is a process that is constantly evolving. PLEASE LET US KNOW what we can do to improve our role as interpreters in your class. We are more than happy to listen to feedback. We want to team with you in a way that makes your class beneficial for all.