Shortage of ASL Interpreters

Statistics Show Disturbing Shortage American Sign Language Interpreters

Members of the deaf community are having trouble accessing American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters. ASL interpreters are key to helping mitigate communication problems, but today there are fewer and fewer. This especially problematic for deaf people in courts or hospitals, where communication gaps can have life-changing consequences.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of ASL interpreters is projected to rise 46% between 2012 and 2020. It is one of the fastest-growing jobs on the market. As well as being in high demand, ASL interpreters can know that their profession is helping ensure others’ safety and well-being.

Hospitals, in particular, tend to rely heavily on online interpreting services. They provide a patient with an on-screen interpreter, in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. This act requires that federally-funded hospitals to provide communication with deaf patients via an in-person interpreter, handwritten messages, or an online interpreter. Because of the shortage of ASL interpreters, the last two options are often more affordable for the hospitals.

However, these options are also less reliable. Online services can glitch or lose connection, and sometimes patients are unable to write due to injury or age. When these issues do occur, patients can feel panicked, unsafe, and unable to participate in their health protection. Stressful situations like these lead deaf people to be less likely to seek out medical help.

However, as more and more deaf patients sue their hospitals over failure to meet the Americans with Disabilities Act, hospitals will turn more to in-person interpreters. Since 4% of the American population are members of the deaf community, this will further lead to a demand for ASL interpreters. The deaf community may also be getting larger as more Baby Boomers grow older—perhaps hard of hearing.

The shortage of ASL interpreters can be especially brutal in rural parts of America. Because there are fewer deaf people, those who do live in the area may face even more issues in accessing or affording interpreters. In Southwest Louisiana, only one ASL interpreter was available to provide services for 800 deaf people, including students.

ASL Interpreters are needed in schools, hospitals, companies, counseling services, churches, and courts. Most interpreters at least hold an undergraduate degree in American Sign Language and a joint certification from the National Association of the Deaf and the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. The shortage is also exacerbated when interpreters take the test to be certified, but aren’t able to work right away because of a lack of ASL graders.

Despite the complications that can occur for ASL translators to become certified, it’s important that there regulations in place to ensure interpreters’ quality and experience. There is no shortcut to becoming an interpreter: it requires years of skilled practice to translate others’ words without losing meaning and nuance. Every person deserves the right to communicate easily and effectively with others.