American Association of the Deaf-Blind

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Tips for Interpreters Working with Deaf-Blind Consumers

By Rossana Reis, Rhonda Jacobs and Elizabeth Spiers


  • Ask the deaf-blind person what his or her preferred communication mode is (English-based sign communication, tactile sign language, voice or no voice, sign within smaller space, and so on).
  • Ask if the deaf-blind consumer has communication codes to clarify facial expressions if necessary (e.g. one tap on hand for nodding, all four fingers tap at the same time for "wow", squeeze hand for questions). Another example: ask if the deaf-blind consumer has a communication code for getting attention (e.g. gently slide your arm under consumer’s arm towards his/her hand for tactual communication).
  • Always discuss with the deaf-blind person to find out what kind of information he or she wants. If you work with a deaf-blind person long enough, you may get to know his or her preferences.
  • Be assertive if you miss information and ask the person to repeat.
  • Be a team player. Offer support for the other interpreter to feed information (e.g. visual/environmental cues, missed information). The traditional model is: off interpreter means "off." The new model is off means "feeding and supporting" your team interpreter.
  • Deaf-blind people are sensitive to strong body odor, so personal hygiene is important. If you smoke, you may want to check if this is acceptable to a deaf-blind client before accepting an assignment. Also, use unscented personal care products.
  • Wash your hands especially if you provide tactile interpreting services; you may wish to carry dry soap with you.


  • Do not accept an assignment if you are not experienced and trained in working with deaf-blind individuals. It is also important to be comfortable with touch as some deaf-blind people will use touch for guiding or tactile sign language.
  • Do not be late. It’s important to show up 15-30 minutes earlier to discuss your client’s communication needs.
  • Make sure you do not eat foods with a strong odor on the day you are interpreting, such as onions or garlic. You may want to bring breath mints with you to an assignment.
  • Inform, do not decide, for the deaf-blind consumer. For example, if handouts are given before the meeting, let the deaf-blind consumer know the handouts are available. Ask the deaf-blind client if she wants handouts or other written material interpreted or read, and if so, if she wants to do that before or after the meeting. (Deaf-blind consumers are encouraged to request to review materials in advance).
  • Do not be distracted and chat with others or check your pager while interpreting, and thus leave the deaf-blind individuals out.
  • Do not wear perfume/cologne; some deaf-blind individuals may be sensitive and allergic.
  • Do not grab the deaf-blind client’s arm to guide; offer to guide first.

Editor’s Note:
Rossana Reis works as a Client Support Specialist at DCARA, San Leandro, CA. Rhonda Jacobs is a freelance interpreter working in the Washington, DC area.