Definitions of Interpreters:

According to MGL c. 221, §92A, an "intermediary interpreter" is a person who, because of an intimate acquaintance with deaf or hard of hearing persons who use mainly natural or unusual gestures for communicating, can act as a mediator between the hard of hearing person and the qualified interpreter. Intermediary interpreters or as they are more commonly called, relay interpreters, are trained interpreters who are themselves deaf or hard of hearing persons. Intermediary interpreters must complete a rigorous interpreter training program and are required to pass a national certification test. Intermediary interpreters are usually native users of American Sign Language. American Sign Language (ASL) is a language in its own right; having its own phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics and discourse rules. It is a visual language. A deaf or hard of hearing person who has relied on visual communication all her/his life and is a native user of ASL has a richer command of all forms of visual language, a greater orientation to visual communication in general, and a greater understanding of the nuances of ASL than does a hearing qualified interpreter.

A "qualified interpreter," as the term is used in MGL c. 221, §92A, is a person skilled in sign language or oral interpretation and transliteration, has the ability to communicate accurately with a deaf or hard of hearing person and is able to translate information to and from such hard of hearing person, an interpreter shall be deemed qualified or intermediary as determined by the Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing,...

Qualified interpreters are hearing interpreters; all but a small percentage have acquired American Sign Language (ASL) as a second language. In most situations and with most deaf and hard of hearing people, their American Sign Language skills and interpreting skills match the person's language needs and they are able to render an accurate interpretation.

Rationale for Use of Intermediary Interpreters:

There are some Deaf, Deaf blind, late deafened, and hard of hearing people who use mainly natural or unusual gestures to communicate and do not have full competency in a formal language, such as English or ASL, for example. In other cases, individuals may communicate with a mixture of vocabulary and structures from English, ASL, Signed English, gestures and facial/body language. This may be due to several factors such as their educational experience or lack thereof, cultural background, lack of communication during childhood, or additional language or learning disabilities. An interpreter who is not a native user of ASL may not be able to interpret completely accurately for these individuals. If this happens, an intermediary interpreter and a qualified interpreter work together as a team. The deaf intermediary interpreter acts as a relay between the deaf person and the hearing qualified interpreter, ensuring total accuracy of information and details between the hearing and deaf persons.

The use of qualified interpreters is required by MGL c. 221, §92A, likewise, the use of intermediary interpreters is also required since in some situations, a qualified interpreter cannot effectively interpret without the use of an intermediary interpreter.

Intermediary or relay interpreters work in various settings such as court proceedings, legal situations, competency evaluations, mental health treatment, and medical settings where complete accuracy of communication between the deaf and hearing persons is a vital factor to the legitimacy of decisions being made.

Who determines the need for an Intermediary Interpreter?

The MCDHH Interpreter Service determines the need for intermediary interpreters based on the information and/or request from the hearing interpreter who has worked with the deaf or hard of hearing person. The MCDHH Interpreter Service also relies on information received from deafness professionals or from first hand experience of the deaf and hard of hearing person's communication.

The National Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc. has established a professional Code of Ethics that all certified interpreters must follow. One of the principals within the Code of Ethics states that interpreters shall accept interpreting assignments based on their skill level and type of situation. The MCDHH assigns only nationally certified interpreters with legal competency to courtroom and related proceedings. If at any time during the interpreting assignment, the interpreter feels that she/he, as a hearing qualified interpreter , is not able to interpret accurately or not able to communicate, she/he, based on professional expertise, may request to work with an intermediary interpreter.


This information is provided by the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.