Navigating the World of Virtual Interpreting While Working from Home

TLDR: Remote interpreting is very different from community interpreting - but also not quite the same as VRS. We’ve got some tips & best practices to navigate the world of virtual interpreting.

Before 2020, many sign language interpreters typically chose between community (onsite) interpreting or VRS (Video Relay Services) interpreting. There was a clear delineation between the roles and requirements as well as the pros and cons of the two delivery systems for communications access for the deaf and hard of hearing populations.

And then along came the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. Routines and workflows were turned upside down and topsy-turvy with one of those major shifts being the advent of figuring out that, “Hey! Interpreting can be a telework position if it has to be.”

There have been many tips on how to have the perfect Zoom meeting, how to manage your schedule while working from home and even other interpreters sharing their best practices that they’ve learned along the way. However, many of those were catered to audiences that used spoken languages as their communication modalities. What about ASL and sign language interpreters?

We all know there certainly pros and cons about onsite interpreting versus remote interpreting (virtual interpreting or video remote interpreting (VRI) - however you spin it…) - one thing was certain, it wasn’t an easy transition - but the interpreting & deaf communities made it work together… and remote interpreting is here to stay!

There’ve been concerns about virtual interpreting being billed in 15-minute increments - we wanted to assure you that Linguabee still has a two hour minimum for pre-scheduled virtual interpreting assignments. What are interpreters doing with all that extra time they have now that they don’t have to travel anymore you may ask?

When one looks at community interpreting scenarios - there is typically no need to set up for onsite logistics. The interpreter is able to show up to the job site and expect that everything is in place and ready to rock & roll. Most participants are in the same room, there is no need for internet connectivity or audio feeds and screens for the communications access itself.

In a virtual work from home set-up, interpreters in addition to providing stellar communication access are also their own A/V & tech support personnel. Before the interpreting process can even start - here’s a peek of what goes on behind the scenes: internet connectivity checks, swapping out background to meet consumer preferences (and maintaining professional appearances), setting up the camera, sound checks, connecting with teams & managing all the while managing possible distractions (homeschooling and partners/roommates who also have very important coinciding meetings)... not to mention that health experts universally recommend the importance of regular breaks for optimal physical & cognitive health. Pssst - we all need bathroom and meal breaks too!

We all know that successful effective communication is only as good as all of the parties involved and that sometimes virtual meeting organizers overlook the visual element of communications access on screen. Taking this into consideration - we hope that this quick reference will be a handy tool to share with your meeting organizers: "Enhancing Effective Communications Access in Virtual Presentations".

Hey, don’t forget! Our Happy Team is always on hand to help you figure out how to optimize your set-up.

Phew - it’s a lot! While we certainly want to see optimized work environments, at Linguabee, we believe strongly in a people-first culture and know how important self-care is to avoid burnout and general physical fatigue from signing in a too-small space.

We are huge fans of yoga - check out these deaf Yogis who've made free yoga available in ASL to get that stretch on and those deep breaths in!

- Lilli Erin Yoga

- Yoga with Beatrice

Another personal favorite, while she's not deaf herself - her YouTube videos are always captioned (apparently she learned some ASL in high school since she had deaf friends)!

- Yoga with Adriene (specifically for neck & shoulder pain and hands/wrist health)

To wrap up, while we already know that interpreters have not-so-secret super powers - it is still quite an adjustment to transition from either an onsite community interpreting routine or a VRS call center to setting up your own virtual work from home environment. Whether virtual interpreting is a temporary or permanent change for you - we not only look forward to seeing how this area of communications access continues to evolve… we’ve got you covered every step of the way!

Additional Resources:

Some of our favorite WFH items…