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Zoom Classes: Before, During: & After: Using a Sign Language Interpreter

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Last Updated: Aug 31, 2021 9:27 AM

Using a Sign Language Interpreter/Captionist

Tips courtesy of Northern Essex Community College. and RIT Teaching & Learning (some tips adapted).

Using Sign Language Interpreters/Captionists During a Zoom Class

Sign language interpreters/captionists for an online class can help eliminate communication barriers. If you plan to use an interpreter/captionist for a class you can maximize the effectiveness by following some helpful tips and etiquette.

Before the Class

Sign language does not always have specific signs for specialized or technical words. Providing vocabulary lists, agendas, materials, notes, or handouts to the interpreter/captionist prior to a meeting, training, or online class makes for a more successful and accurate interpretation and captioning. 

Clarify unique vocabulary, technical terms, acronyms, and jargon.  If you have any questions about working with an interpreter, please speak to the interpreter/captionist before the class begins to discuss any questions you may have.

Work with the interpreter and/or DHH person to select the most effective communication to use. Ask if they prefer the audio and/or video to be on or off during the Zoom class. If possible, send interpreter(s) the Zoom link in advance.

It may also be helpful to meet with them beforehand to make all necessary arrangements. Most of the time, for the DHH person to see each person as they speak, please include audio and have the video on.

Consider recording the class for review. 

General Guidelines for the Zoom Class
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Please be mindful when DHH person is on Zoom. Their eye gaze may not be on eye level toward you since they are reading captions when provided. They may look like they are not paying attention to you.

When using slides or any shared screen, please give DHH person a bit of time to look at the slides/information and at the interpreters. Please present at a slow, steady pace and check in with them to be sure they are finished with the current page and ready to move on.

There is typically a lag time between a speaker and the interpretation. As a result, responses and questions from the person who is deaf or hard of hearing might be slightly delayed. Interpreters might need to ask for clarification. The speaker and other participants should pause until the interpreter and DHH person finishes speaking/signing.

Speak one at a time in group situations. The interpreter is often slightly behind the conversation and it can be difficult for the DHH person to give input without seeming to interrupt the flow of natural turn-taking. Be sensitive to the situation. Choose someone to facilitate the group discussion and monitor that people are speaking one at a time. The speaker and other participants should raise their hand for turn-taking so the DHH person knows who is talking.

The interpreter and/or captionist need processing time from English to ASL/ASL to English. Time is needed for a person who is deaf or hard of hearing to see who is talking before the comments are interpreted. The speaker and other participants need to check and pause when the interpreter and the DHH person stops signing or voicing. Please note: The interpreter won’t voice right away when the DHH person signs.

  • Since captionists will be capturing the instructor's speech, all questions from students will have to occur through the chat tool on Zoom. Check the chat regularly.
  • When reading questions from the chat box, make sure to restate the question before answering it. This will ensure that both the question and answer are captioned for students.
  • Take breaks regularly. Taking a break from instruction every 5 to 7 minutes will provide the instructor a natural opportunity to check for student understanding, and provide the captionist/interpreter the chance to quickly rest or swap with another captionist./interpreter
  • If you need to communicate with a captionist/interpreter during a Zoom session, you can either send a private chat message in the Zoom chat feature or speak verbally to the captionists/interpreters. Captionists/interpreters may also use chat to communicate with the host of the meeting if there is an issue with the captioning functions.
  • Please note that captionists will have their videos and microphones turned OFF by default. 
  • Captionists need to manually save the transcript at the end of the session so they can upload the file to the student's Access Services portal. Before ending the meeting, communicate that the meeting will be over soon and pause for 30 seconds to provide time for the captionist to save the transcript.

Avoid words such as “this”, “that”, "here", "there" when referring to something being demonstrated. Instead, be specific and identify objects by name (noun, proper noun, or keyword). Give the location: bottom, top, middle of the slide or screen. Example: “Look at the upper right-hand corner at this math equation”, “line 21 at the bottom left”

Debrief-Sometimes it is helpful to debrief with the interpreter/captionist afterward to see if there are any concerns, what could be improved, etc. If there is no time to meet, follow up with an email. Share recording with participants, including the interpreter/captionist. 

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