Before booking a communication professional for a deaf or deafblind person you need to check whether a sign language interpreter, an interpreter for deafblind people or another type of communication professional is needed. This quick guide will help you consider which is the right communication professional for you.

Many deaf people use British Sign Language (BSL) as their preferred language, and in some cases their only language. They will usually need a sign language interpreter.

Those who become deaf after they have acquired a spoken language (often referred to as deafened or hard of hearing) usually communicate using speech and rely on lipreading and reading from notes. They are likely to use lipspeakers, speech to text reporters or notetakers, though some may use sign language interpreters.

A deafblind person may use speech, lipreading, writing, fingerspelling, sign language or a combination of all of these and other methods. Depending on the degree of sight and hearing loss, the deafblind person may use an interpreter for deafblind people, a sign language interpreter or any of the other communication professionals mentioned above.

Nigel Cleaver
Nigel CleaverHead of Communications Interpreting
Sign language interpreters transfer meaning from a spoken language into sign language or from sign language in to spoken language. Interpreters will use their skill and knowledge of the two languages and their understanding of the cultural differences to facilitate communication between two people who do not share the same language.
Deaf Relay Interpreters interpret from British Sign Language to other forms of sign language. Deaf relay interpreters will usually work with a registered sign language interpreter to make sure that a Deaf person is fully understood and can understand information within a dialogue. Deaf relay Interpreters are often used when a Deaf person does not use a standardised form of BSL because they have learnt sign language in another country or because of an idiosyncratic use of language.
Lipspeakers repeat spoken messages for people who can lipread. They can be used to ensure clear communication in important situations, or in situations where there is more than one voice to follow. Lipspeakers use facial expression, natural gesture and fingerspelling to support communication.
Sign language translators translate written language (often English) into a signed language (often BSL). Most often this will be for making television programmes, websites or public information accessible for BSL users.
Notetakers produce an accurate summary record of speech within a meeting or lecture, which a deaf person may use for reference.
Speech to text reporters listen to words that are said and use a phonetic keyboard to show the words instantly on a monitor or screen viewed by the user. Speech to Text Reporters provide a complete transcription of spoken words and include notes of environmental sounds, like laughter and applause.
Interpreters for Deafblind people use a range of manual communication methods to enable Deafblind people to understand and participate in interactions. The communication methods include Visual Frame Signing, Hands on Communication and the Deafblind Manual Alphabet. The interpreter will also relay visual and other non-verbal information to the Deafblind person. This can include reactions to what has been said, movement and actions of other people.


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Child Counselling ConsultantChildline UK, London