How Certified Deaf Interpreters (CDIs) Help in ASL Interpretation

William Woods ASL

It is not uncommon that William Woods University students and graduates of the ASL Interpretation Studies bachelor’s degree program will work alongside Certified Deaf Interpreters (CDIs) in their internship experiences and well into their professional career as ASL interpreters. But what exactly is a CDI, and what do they bring to the interpreting/communication experience?

What is a Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI)?
The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), explains that there are several circumstances and a broad range of assignments for ASL interpreters where someone who has native or near-native fluency in American Sign Language and an interpreter who is Deaf or hard-of-hearing would be beneficial. This is where Certified Deaf Interpreters come in.

According to RID, the CDI certification has been available through RID since 1998. Holders are Deaf or hard of hearing and “have demonstrated knowledge and understanding of interpreting, Deafness, the Deaf community, and Deaf culture. Holders have specialized training and/or experience in the use of gesture, mime, props, drawings and other tools to enhance communication.”

How the process works
Assumption psychology students learn how social connections affect wellbeing. In situations where a CDI is used, there will be a total of at least four participants in the chain of conversation: two interpreters, including a CDI and an ASL interpreter, and the Deaf or hard-of-hearing individual and the hearing person they are facilitating the conversation between. They format of the conversation goes as follows:

  1. Hearing person communicates his or her message to the ASL interpreter
  2. ASL interpreter takes the words of the hearing person and translates them into ASL for the CDI
  3. CDI then takes that information and interprets it for the Deaf or hard-of-hearing individual in a way he or she can understand
  4. The cycle then continues back up the chain in the opposite manor as the Deaf or hard of individual responds in the conversation

Why work with a CDI?
Those working toward national certification as a hearing interpreter and their bachelor’s degree in ASL interpreting may often work with CDIs as a beneficial addition to their interpreting team. According to interpreter and activist Lydia Callis, a CDI has the ability to reach ASL users on every level, which ensures that the message is conveyed to a broad audience.

“Because sign language is their native language, Deaf interpreters can communicate with Deaf consumers on a level that other interpreters just may not be able to get to. CDIs tend to be more intuitive when it comes to foreign sign languages, informal signs, and translating cross cultural messages,” writes Callis for the Huffington Post.

Reaching a broader audience
The article answers a question from a New York City press conference in which Mayor Bill de Blasio addressed residents concerning a public health question. In the conference, a hearing interpreter was signing a message to a CDI, who was then interpreting it onto the camera. Why use two interpreters? Callis explains that it helps get a message across in a large city like New York where there is a whole audience of foreign born Deaf people for whom ASL is a second language.

“Deaf interpreters come from a background of visual language, so they are able to ‘let go’ of the English form more easily,” Callis said.