Sign language interpretation and online meetings: misconceptions and opportunities

Sign Language interpretation in online meetings on the rise

Online meeting platforms are getting more and more inclusive. As a result, we can connect with more communities easier than ever. And with video conferencing becoming the new normal, Sign Language interpretation is being added to meetings and events now more than ever.

In celebration of National Interpreter Appreciation Day, we asked some Sign Language experts to share common questions about Sign Language interpretation. We also asked what features every online meeting platform should have to improve experiences for Sign Language interpreters and Deaf meeting participants. Lastly, we asked what features Sign Language interpreters hope to see in the future.

What are some common questions about Sign Language interpretation?

Do I speak to the interpreter? Or to the meeting participant(s)?

Sometimes, meeting participants ask the interpreter, “Can you tell her…” or, “Can you let him know…”. There is no reason for anyone to talk directly to the interpreter while in a meeting. Instead, participants should speak directly to whoever needs to be addressed. The signer is there to facilitate conversation; they are not a part of it.

Do I need to slow down?

A major misconception is that signers cannot keep up with fast talkers. For anyone using Sign Language interpreters in meetings- speak at your normal speed. You do not need to slow down. There is one caveat, however. When reading, mind your pace.  On average, while reading a speech or a script, we speak faster and do not take the same natural pauses. This can make signing a bit more challenging.

Why is there a lag?

Sometimes signers will wait a little longer when interpreting to ensure they have the whole idea. This doesn’t mean they didn’t hear you or don’t understand. If you see the signer pause, you don’t need to stop talking; keep going.

Aren’t subtitles enough?

Short answer, no. It would be best if you didn’t assume someone knows English because they know Sign Language. Reading comprehension varies across the board; relying on subtitles assumes that all participants have a certain level of reading comprehension. Subtitles don’t provide full accessibility; therefore, they aren’t enough. 

What ideal features should every platform have when hosting an online meeting with sign language?

Adjustable/ pop-out video

An adjustable window size is essential for anyone following someone using Sign Language due to the intricate details of some words. When windows decrease in size (think a large-scale meeting or the Brady Bunch opening theme), details are lost in a sea of participants. The ideal platform lets participants choose what to view in terms of window size, layout, and placement.

Screen sharing

Screen sharing is a valuable tool often used within online meetings and events. Remember that receiving information via Sign Language and text simultaneously could be taxing. When presenting, give participants time to review the document before discussing it.

Video ON, please

Sometimes the Deaf participant’s video is not visible while a signer is interpreting (whether speaking on behalf or asking for clarification). Deaf participants’ videos should always stay active to keep them in the loop. It also allows for natural feedback (think- “uh-huh,” “got it,” “totally agree”) from the participants.

What types of features would you like to see included in the future?

  • More screen customization abilities
  • A speaker mode where windows enlarge when speaking so that everyone is still visible
  • The ability for online meeting platforms to pick up Sign Language as quickly as a spoken language

As online meeting platforms continue to develop their newest features, keeping all users in mind is key. A more inclusive meeting space means that more ideas are being shared. Collaboration is essential for innovation.

We built KUDO with inclusion at its core. Our mission- to connect people and businesses worldwide by removing language barriers, is about accessibility regardless of language ability. This includes sign language. We hope to ease communication across the board with every new feature we develop.

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