ASL Interpreter Careers: Salary Information & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreting career? Get real job duties, career outlook and salary info to see if becoming an ASL interpreter is right for you.
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ASL Interpreter Career: Pros and Cons

ASL interpreters help people who are deaf or hard of hearing understand the spoken word through the use of American Sign Language (ASL), and they translate ASL into spoken word for hearing individuals. Read the pros and cons in the following tables to learn more.

PROS of Becoming an ASL Interpreter
Great job opportunities (more job openings than skilled workers)**
Can work in different specialties (legal interpreting, international interpreting, etc.)**
Self-employment options (20% of interpreters and translators were self-employed in 2012)*
Fast job growth predicted (46% increase from 2012-2022)*

CONS of Becoming an ASL Interpreter
May require regular travel**
Irregular schedules are common*
Must be fluent in ASL*
May need additional training or education to work in a specialty*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Discover Interpreting.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

As an ASL interpreter, you may help two individuals communicate or you may work with groups. Most likely, your work will involve interpreting the spoken words of one speaker to multiple hearing-impaired listeners. Your knowledge of ASL must be excellent in order to interpret quickly, convey meaning and not miss anything that is said.

Many interpreters are self-employed, which means they work for various clients. Self-employment may also mean long or irregular work hours. Travel is often part of the job since you must go to different locations where your services are needed. Other places of employment can include hospitals, government agencies, schools and businesses. Work can be found almost anywhere there are people who are hearing-impaired.

Popular Career Options

As an ASL interpreter, you may work in a specialty area where you interpret for a specific purpose in a specific type of environment. Some specialty options include educational, healthcare and legal interpreting.

As an educational ASL interpreter, your main duty is to interpret for hearing-impaired students in educational settings, such as schools and colleges. Healthcare interpreting allows you to explain medical procedures and test results to hearing-impaired patients in a healthcare facility, such as a hospital or doctor's office. Legal interpreting may include interpreting in courtrooms or legal offices for lawyers, plaintiffs, defendants and jury members.

Job Growth and Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected 46% job growth for all translators and interpreters from 2012-2022. While this statistic includes all professionals who translate any language, the BLS did note that the need for ASL interpreters is expected to increase quickly.

It is difficult to locate salary information specifically for ASL interpreters. However, the BLS reported a $49,000 mean annual salary for all interpreters and translators in May 2014. The 10th-90th percentile range earned $22,000-$81,000.

Career Skills and Requirements

The most important requirement for being an ASL interpreter is being fluent in ASL. You must also be fluent in English or the language with which you will be translating. Many employers require an associate's or bachelor's degree in ASL interpreting; however, some do not specify a major. Even if you don't major in ASL interpreting, you can develop your skills by volunteering to gain experience interacting with deaf people and taking ASL courses. Volunteering is also a good way to gain the experience required by many employers. Internships are another popular option for gaining experience.

Some states require licensure or certification before you can begin working, so check with your state for requirements. Some employers require national certification regardless of whether it's required by your state. Certification is offered by several professional organizations.

What Employers Are Looking for

Real job postings from April 2012 showed that experience was the top requirement for most jobs. In addition to experience, a strong knowledge of ASL was a must. The following are examples of job postings stating what employers were looking for:

  • A school district in New Hampshire was looking for an educational ASL interpreter. Certification as an educational interpreter from the New Hampshire Department of Education was required.
  • A New York medical center was seeking an interpreter to facilitate communication between hearing and non-hearing persons. An associate's degree was required, but a bachelor's was preferred. Also required was Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) certification and 2-3 years of interpreting experience in a medical setting.
  • A South Carolina medical provider was looking for someone with advanced ASL skills, certification and medical terminology knowledge to help medical staff communicate with deaf and hard-of-hearing patients. Also required was previous interpreting experience in a medical environment.
  • A community college in California was hiring an interpreter to work with deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Formal training in ASL either through an interpreter training program or associate's degree program was required. Professional certification was also required.

How to Maximize Your Skills

Get Specialized

Taking courses or gaining experience in specialty fields such as law, medicine or education can help you prepare for interpreting positions in these areas. Volunteering or interning is a good way to get your foot in the door and gain experience. Most employers in specialty areas of interpreting won't hire you if you don't have previous relevant experience or if you're not knowledgeable in the specialty field.

Get Certified

Many employers seek certified interpreters, so earning certification can increase your employment opportunities. The RID is one organization that offers professional certification for ASL interpreters. Multiple types of certification are offered, but the National Interpreter Certification (NIC) is the most basic option. To qualify for the NIC, you must be at least 18 years old and have an associate's degree in any field (www.rid.org). However, after July 2012, you'll need at least a bachelor's degree in any field. You'll then need to pass a knowledge exam, interview and performance exam. The RID also offers specialty certifications, such as legal interpreting certification.

Alternative Career Paths

Court Reporter

If you feel that becoming fluent in another language is a difficult task but the idea of listening and translating sounds appealing, you may enjoy working as a court reporter. Like ASL interpreting, this career also requires translating. You'll listen to court proceedings and create a typed record of what is said. For this career, you need excellent typing skills, and employers usually require completion of a postsecondary certificate program in court reporting. Additionally, you may need a state license. In May 2011, the BLS reported the mean annual wage for this career was $54,000. The job outlook for this field isn't as favorable as the outlook for interpreting careers; the BLS predicted a 14% increase for the 2010-2020 decade.

Self-Enrichment Teacher

If you want a career with few training requirements, consider becoming a self-enrichment teacher. As a self-enrichment teacher, you'll teach students a subject that they take for fun or self-improvement. You could use your ASL skills to teach your students ASL. There are usually no formal education requirements for this job, but you will need to have experience in the subject that you teach. You may work for a school or teach classes independently in your own business. The BLS reported a $41,000 mean annual wage for this career in May 2011. A 21% increase in employment was predicted to occur between 2010 and 2020.

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Independence University

  • Accounting (BS)
  • Business Administration (BS)
  • Business (AAS)
  • Graphic Arts (AAS)

What is your highest level of education completed?

The George Washington University

  • MSHS Medical Laboratory Sciences
  • MSHS in Immunohematology and Biotechnology
  • BSHS in Clinical Operations and Healthcare Management
  • BSHS in Medical Laboratory Sciences

What is your highest level of education?

Herzing University

  • MBA
  • B.S. - Business Management With No Concentration
  • Associate of Science - Business Management
  • Diploma: Medical Office Admin

What is your highest level of education?

Purdue University Global

  • Master of Science - DNP Executive Leader
  • MS in Psychology - Forensic Psychology
  • Bachelor: Liberal Studies
  • AASBA in Business

Which subject are you interested in?

Full Sail University

  • Master of Science - Film Production
  • BS - Sportscasting (Campus)
  • Cert - Instructional Design and Technology

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

  • Doctor of Business Admin - Applied Computer Science
  • M.A. in Psychology - General Psychology
  • Education Specialist - Organizational Leadership

What is your highest level of education?

Fortis College

  • Associate Degree in Nursing
  • Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration - Associate
  • Business Administration/Accounting
  • Computer Career - Networking

Year of High School Graduation or GED completion:

Grand Canyon University

  • DBA - Management
  • M.S. Psychology with an Emphasis in Gerontology
  • Bachelor of Science in Business for Secondary Education

What is your highest level of education?