Effective communication with deaf people: A guide to working with New Zealand Sign Language interpreters

Finding a sign language interpreter

This section advises how to go about finding a sign language interpreter and respecting the preference of the deaf person(s) involved.



  • Interpreters can be contacted directly or through a booking agency.
  • Check if the deaf person has any preferences for interpreters.


There are two ways to find sign language interpreters. You either contact a booking agency or contact freelance sign language interpreters directly.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each booking method. You should take into consideration the amount of administration required, terms and conditions of the agency/freelance interpreter, and any particular requirements for the meeting/event.

Client choice

The deaf person may have particular requirements about the interpreter or type of interpreter they prefer to work with.

Reasons for preferring a particular interpreter include:

  • gender of the interpreter (such as in health-related bookings, like visiting a GP, a client may prefer an interpreter of the same gender)
  • experience and knowledge of the interpreter in a particular setting (such as medical or legal)
  • previous bookings (for consistency, it is often recommended that the same interpreter does related assignments so that they share the background knowledge and terminology. This would be particularly useful for counselling sessions, for instance)
  • language repertoire (for example, a client may ask for an interpreter who uses clear English lip patterns in combination with New Zealand Sign Language, or is familiar with older or younger people's signing style).

If a preferred interpreter is not available, you should inform the deaf person of this and discuss appropriate alternatives.

Using freelance interpreters

Freelance sign language interpreters manage their own bookings. You contact them directly to make a booking, payment and other matters to do with the interpreting job.

Using a booking agency

A booking agency contacts sign language interpreters on your behalf and handles other aspects of the booking, such as invoicing and helping the interpreter to get preparation materials or further details of the meeting/event.

Booking agencies either employ interpreters on a casual or permanent contract, or act as 'brokers' between freelance interpreters and the agency requesting the interpreting service.

Booking agencies have checked the qualifications and competence of the sign language interpreters on their books. Terms and conditions may vary depending on the agency, but they usually charge a booking fee in addition to the sign language interpreter's fee.

Contact interpreters and booking agencies

SLIANZ directory of New Zealand Sign Language interpreters
  • a list of member sign language interpreters can be found in the SLIANZ directory
  • all sign language interpreters listed have undergone the minimum of diploma training or equivalent/higher overseas training
  • the interpreter's year of qualification is listed (giving some indication of level of experience) as well as preferred areas of work.

Specialised sign language interpreter booking agencies

The following are specialised booking agencies for sign language interpreters:

  • Carefully selects the interpreter that matches the need to ensure the best possible communication outcomes.
  • Access to over 90 professional interpreters skilled in communicating across a diverse range of interactions.
  • A not-for-profit organisation that supports both the Deaf community and the continual development of NZSL interpreters.
  • Operates New Zealand wide and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • Consists of a friendly team who appreciate the importance of communications and regularly go to great lengths to ensure this happens successfully.
Connect Interpreting

Connect is a team of experienced professional New Zealand Sign Language interpreters with an in-depth knowledge of the interpreting process and the New Zealand Deaf community, who have experience managing both general and specialist services, including but not limited to:

  • mental health
  • medical
  • legal
  • conference
  • social services
  • workplace
  • translation
  • media
  • …and a full range of other individual and group interpreting services.

General interpreting booking agencies

You may also be able to book a sign language interpreter through general booking agencies providing interpreting services. Some of these services are:

Interpreting New Zealand
  • provides both on-site and telephone interpreting in some 70 languages, including New Zealand Sign Language interpreters (on-site only)
  • provides sign language interpreters for hospitals, health centres, social services, courts, tribunals, police, immigration, housing and wider local and central government organisations
  • booking service operates 24 hours, seven days a week
  • serves not only the wider Wellington area, but also many other North Island and South Island regions.

Sign language interpreting in health-related settings

Waitemata Auckland Translation and Interpreting Services
  • managed by Waitemata District Health Board Asian Health Support Services
  • a 24 hour, seven days a week service providing access to more than 90 languages and dialects, including sign language interpreters.
Counties-Manukau Health Interpreting and Translation Services
  • part of Middlemore Hospital support services, operated by Counties Manukau District Health Board
  • a 24 hour, seven days a week service providing access to more than 90 languages and dialects, including sign language interpreters.
Auckland District Health Board Interpreting Service
  • provides a 24-hour health interpreting service to Auckland District Health Board and to external services during normal business hours.

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