Working as a sign language interpreter is a fascinating and rewarding profession. It allows you to use your skills to assist those who are deaf or hard of hearing in communicating effectively and realizing their potential. Those with degrees are proficient in English and American Sign Language (ASL), which, according to the U.S. Occupational Outlook Handbook, “has its own grammatical rules, sentence structure, idioms, historical contexts, and cultural nuances.”
Interpreters work as translators in business, industry, education, healthcare, and government, making a median pay of $49,110 annually. Many also have degrees in other areas, such as social work or primary education, giving them a range of skills that make them desirable to hiring managers.
How to Become a Certified Deaf Interpreter
According to the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), to become a Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI), certain qualifications must be met. RID offers several types of certification, including National Interpreter Certification and Certified Deaf Interpreter.
The certification process includes the submission of an audiogram or letter from an audiologist, an exam that the candidate must pass, and, as of 2021, a bachelor’s degree, which can be any major. Applicants must also pass a Deaf Interpreter Performance Exam given by the Center for the Assessment of Sign Language Interpretation, or CASLI.
Why You Should Earn Your Degree Online
Earning your degree online offers many advantages. Perhaps most important is the flexibility that makes it an ideal choice for students who are also working at a full- or part-time job or who have personal or family commitments that make it difficult to spend long days on campus.
Online degrees can be earned from the comfort of your own home or anywhere in the world where you have access to high-speed internet. Many offer asynchronous classes, which means you can take them at times that are convenient for you rather than attending to a strict schedule of class times. They may offer savings opportunities since you don’t need to worry about gas or parking fees or have to pay for on-campus housing. In some cases, you may not need to pay for expensive textbooks since materials will be supplied online.
Many online programs are offered in accelerated form, meaning motivated students can attend more intense, shorter, classes and graduate faster than they would in on-campus programs. And as online programs have become more popular, the technologies used for delivery have become easier to use, allowing students to interact with professors and peers and experience as rich a classroom experience as on-campus students.
Top Online ASL Interpreting Degree Programs
Although most ASL interpreting degree programs are in-person, several feature online components. Here are four of the best:
University of Northern Colorado
University of Northern Colorado’s online bachelor’s degree for ASL and English interpreting is the only online ASL program in the U.S. that is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Interpreter Education. This distinction indicates a robust program of the highest academic standards. The program is 120 credits that can be completed in 11 semesters or less, depending on your previous education. Online courses are held during the fall and spring semesters, while summer sessions feature hybrid courses that require a four-week stay on campus. Years one and two of the program focus on developing your ASL and English skills. If you are already a working interpreter, you may be able to bypass some of this coursework. During years three and four, the focus is on developing interpreting skills. In addition to interpretation coursework, students take courses in liberal arts to help develop their critical thinking, writing, and speaking skills. These can be waived if you already have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.
Utah State University
At Utah State University, the ASL Interpreting track is an associate-to-bachelor degree program in the Communication Disorders and Deaf Education Department. All courses are entirely online. There is no in-person requirement for this program. Students must enter the program having already earned an associate of science, an associate of arts, or an associate of applied science degree in American Sign Language interpreting. At that point, the program will require 40 credit hours, which can be taken either full-time or part-time. Students earning this degree will be prepared to take the National Interpreting Certification (NIC) through the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID). This rigorous program requires students to carry a 3.0 GPA for admission, as well as to graduate.
William Woods University
Located in Fulton, Missouri, William Woods University offers a fully online bachelor of science in interpretation studies in ASL-English degree. The program is designed for working interpreters who hold a valid RID, NIC, or BEI interpreting certificate or have completed an associate’s degree in an interpreting preparation program but are not yet working in the field. Courses are eight weeks long, offering great flexibility for students. The program is designed and taught by the same professors who teach in William Woods’ on-campus program, ensuring a high academic standard. Graduates will be eligible to sit for National Interpreter Certification. In addition to the online classes, students complete two field practicums that require them to serve in an approved work situation. Applicants must have an associate’s degree in interpretation or hold current certification or ASLPI score of 2.0 or higher, with a cumulative GPA of 2.5 or above.
Valdosta State University
Valdosta State University, part of the university system of Georgia, offers a bachelor of science in education ASL/English interpreting program, which can be taken on-campus or via synchronous online classes. Online courses have a low student-to-teacher ratio of 15:1. All students are required to participate in fieldwork, practicums, and internships. The focus of the program is on interpretation in an educational setting, and hands-on activities take place within local public school settings. The total credit hours for the program are 126, meaning you do not need an associate’s degree to apply. Students with no previous experience in ASL are invited to apply as long as they have a cumulative GPA of 2.75. For students who wish to spend some time in the on-campus program, there is a residential community for ASL students and those who are Deaf or hard of hearing, as well as an active ASL Club.