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

One-to-one or small group meeting

This section describes key things to think about when organising a face-to-face meeting with one deaf person or a small group of people.


  • Plan the use of sign language interpreters in advance, and make sure you have all the meeting information available when you make a booking.
  • Understand what arrangements are required to ensure the sign language interpreters is able to best facilitate effective communication.
  • Know what you need to do and how to behave when working with sign language interpreters.


Before the meeting

  • At the time of booking a sign language interpreter service, you should provide details about the meeting, such as its purpose and any relevant prior history.
  • If you have not worked with a sign language interpreter before and you have questions about the process, ask the sign language interpreter to explain their role and discuss how you plan to run the meeting/interview.
  • Allow enough time for the meeting. Discussions using interpreters will take longer than simply talking to another person. You may want to book extra time for the appointment than usually scheduled.
  • Arrange seating to allow everyone to see each other clearly. Often the sign language interpreter will try to sit next to you so that the deaf person can see both of you at the same time. 
  • If you need to sit behind a desk or table, the sign language interpreter will usually move to the same side of the table as you. In small groups, sitting in a circle is best. Preferably move so that there are no desks or tables between you.
  • A meeting room's physical environment may make it difficult for the deaf person to see the interpreter's face and your face clearly. You should allow time at the start for the sign language interpreter and the deaf person to rearrange seating to ensure clear visibility. For example, sitting in front of a window causes the face to be backlit, or parts of the room may be in shadow, or a visually busy backdrop may be distracting. 
  • If you intend to use any papers, forms or other written material during your meeting, please provide this to the deaf person in advance. They will not be able to read and look at the interpreter at the same time during the meeting. Provide a copy to the interpreter as well so that they can be prepared, such as translating any difficult or specialised language.

During the meeting

  • Introduce yourself to the deaf person and the sign language interpreter, and explain your role. 
  • If the sign language interpreter has not yet met the deaf person, allow the interpreter to introduce him/herself (and where necessary, to explain his/her role).
  • Remember to speak directly to the deaf person rather than to the interpreter. 
  • Sign language interpreters usually interpret consecutively during one-to-one or small group meetings. Allow a person to speak or sign several sentences or take a whole turn in the conversation before giving time for the interpreter. Pause every so often so that the interpreter can convey what you have said.
  • Use plain English and avoid jargon wherever possible. 
  • At times the interpreter may need to interrupt you to ask for clarification. They will only do this to ensure smooth communication, not to add their own opinion. The interpreter will usually announce that they are talking not the deaf person.
  • The sign language interpreter will interpret everything that is being said or signed. Do not talk to the interpreter or to others present about the deaf person if you do not wish this information to be transmitted to them.
  • Allow reading time if providing material to the deaf person during the interview/meeting. The sign language interpreter may need to translate written materials on the spot. If possible, provide written materials in advance so that plenty of time can be given to a translation and assistance can be given to the deaf person with filling in forms if necessary.
  • To ensure that the sign language interpreter can remain a neutral party, you should stay present in the room. Avoid leaving the deaf person and the interpreter alone together.

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