People who are deaf are participating more often in international, national, regional and local conferences sponsored by organizations predominately composed of hearing people. Conference planners face the challenge of making it possible for participants who are deaf to take part in every aspect of conference. The following information is provided to assist the conference planner in providing optimum services for all deaf participants or presenters who attend the conference being arranged.
The conference needs can include interpreting for people who use American Sign Language (ASL) or an English sign or cued system; deaf-blind people who use tactile or close visual signing; oral deaf people who use speechreading, with little or no signing, and other deaf people who may desire assistive listening devices, such as an FM or infrared loop system, or live (real-time) captioning.
Advance planning for the conference should include:
- for larger conferences of two or more days duration, a coordinator of interpreting services should be hired as an adjunct member of the conference planning committee
- provide space on all registration forms for a registrant to notify the conference staff of special communication needs:
- Interpreter services
- ASL – American Sign Language
- An English sign system
- Tactile or close visual signing
- Ethnic/cultural language preferences
- assistive listening devices (ALDs)
- visual assistive devices
- notetaking services
- other (e.g. Cued Speech, Real Time Captioning, Telebraille, etc.)
- Interpreter services
The deadline for requests should be a minimum of one month prior to the conference to provide enough lead-time for planning of services. The conference can guarantee services only for those registered by the deadline. For late registrants, services may be difficult to obtain on short notice.
Requesting interpreting services prior to the conference allows for the planning necessary to provide a high quality of service. Planning time can be used to obtain the following necessary information:
- presenters’ preferences regarding interpreting services
- copies of presentation materials (speeches, songs, poems, etc.) for preview by interpreters
- information regarding the format of the presentations
- information regarding terminology, topic areas, acronyms, conference agenda, and any expected speaker dialects
Selection of interpreters for the conference should be based on the following factors:
- A minimum of two interpreters is necessary for each session a deaf person will be attending. When planning for more than one deaf person in a conference with concurrent sessions, enough interpreters need to be scheduled to allow participants to attend the sessions of their choice.1
- The same team of interpreters (rather than hourly substitutes) should be used throughout the conference as the team will acquire knowledge of the consumers, logistics, specialized vocabulary, and topic areas
- RID certified interpreters should be used whenever possible, preferable those who have prior experience and/or knowledge of the topic or theme of the conference.
- Ethnic, cultural and linguistic concerns of the consumers should be taken into account in selection of interpreters.
Some issues,2 which should be agreed upon in advance of the conference are:
- What is the cancellation policy for letting interpreters know that they are not needed for the conference, after they have been scheduled to work?
- What happens when more interpreters are scheduled than are needed at conference time?
- What is expected of the interpreter(s) if the consumers do not show?
- What is the expected general attire of interpreters?
- What is the arrangement for payment of the interpreter?
- What policies apply to overtime for interpreters?
- What are the policies applying to videotaping conference activities involving interpreters?
During a pre-conference site visit, the conference planner or coordinator of interpreting services should attend to the following concerns:
- proper lighting of interpreters
- physical location for the interpreters including a check for
- a) a visual background that is non-distracting to the participants
- b) the ability of interpreters to view consumers and their comments
- c) elimination of traffic between interpreters and participants
- easy, inconspicuous switching of team interpreters
- adequate, suitably located space for planning of interpreters’ logistical needs
- appropriate signage to information and locations
The conference planner should inform presenters on these basic points of protocol for working with interpreters. Presenter and interpreter(s) should meet prior to the presentation, when possible to:
- preview the general content of the presentation
- preview special content such as jokes, poems, or songs
- forewarn interpreters of special occurrences that might be alarming or disconcerting if unexpected.
Presenters should not involve interpreters as “models” in demonstrations.
Presenters and interpreters are encouraged to talk at break or between sessions about how the interpreting process is going and make appropriate adjustments.
Coordinator of Interpreting Services
Conference needs may vary depending on size, nature and duration. For a larger conference of two or more days, a coordinator should be hired as an adjunct member of the conference planning committee early in the planning process. The person hired for the position of coordinator should have knowledge of the skills of interpreters as well as the needs of deaf and hearing consumers. The coordinator should be a flexible person possessing excellent scheduling skills as well as a calm professional demeanor.
The coordinator would be responsible for:
- contacting/recruiting and scheduling appropriate , qualified, RID certified interpreters for the dates and times needed during the conference
- services as liaison for contracts, payment negotiations, cancellation policies, and payment for interpreting services
- providing entrance credentials, badges, schedules and information regarding sessions for the interpreters upon their arrivals at the site
- deploying interpreters according to need
- arranging last minute substitutions or changes
- providing technical and logistical assistance to the conference personnel
- problem solving or “putting out fires”
- coordinating with other language interpreters
- providing post-conference reports, summaries and final report on expenses as requested by the conference planning committee.
The coordinator of interpreting services and the conference interpreters might be hired through an interpreter service agency. If the coordinator is also an interpreter, it is best that this person not be scheduled for interpreting duties, but be available for contact at all times through a pager system.
The Association Believes
The Association believes that the planning for and use of skilled conference interpreters provides optimum services for the needs of deaf and hearing consumers alike who attend the conference. The conference planner can enhance the provision of equal access to all conference proceedings through this good use of qualified conference interpreters.
RID has a series of Standard Practice Papers available upon request. Footnotes frequently reference these materials
Timeline For Scheduling Conference Interpreting Services
|Hire Interpreter coordinator|
|Secure names of interpreters|
|Mail contracts to interpreters|
|Registration requests received|
|Written presentations / songs / audio tapes to interpeters|
|Names of deaf participants|
|Cancellation of services|
|Payment to interpreters|
|Post-conference meeting to evaluate services|