Celebrating Sign Language Mastery: A Historical Perspective on Sign Language Interpreter Certification

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American Sign Language (ASL) certification in the United States has experienced quite the journey since its inception. Rooted in a powerful history that dates back to the early 19th century, the development of ASL has been instrumental in advocating for the rights and inclusivity of the Deaf community. This blog post will delve into the history of national ASL certification in the USA, highlighting the various associations involved, the types of certifications, and the current validity of these certifications. 

The Emergence of ASL and Initial Certification 

American Sign Language has its origins in the early 19th century when Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc established the American School for the Deaf in Connecticut. Despite its earlier beginnings, it took until the mid-20th century for ASL to be recognized as a language in its own right. With this recognition, the need for standardization and certification in ASL teaching and interpreting became apparent. 

One of the earliest systems of certification came from the National Association of the Deaf (NAD). The NAD began providing certificates to interpreters in 1885, and these certificates were later used as a credential for professional interpreters. This early system paved the way for more comprehensive certification processes in the future. 

The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) 

Later, the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), established in 1964, took the baton in providing a national standard for ASL interpretation. The RID developed a series of certification exams to ensure interpreters met certain quality standards. One of the most known was the Comprehensive Skills Certificate (CSC), a generalist certification that verified an interpreter’s proficiency in both ASL and English. 

Over the years, the RID introduced several other types of certifications, such as the Certificate of Interpretation (CI), the Certificate of Transliteration (CT), and the Specialist Certificate: Legal (SC:L). These specific certifications allowed interpreters to demonstrate their expertise in specialized areas. 

As the field evolved, some certifications were retired and replaced with new ones that better reflected the modern demands of ASL interpretation. For instance, in 2011, the RID stopped providing the CI and CT certifications, replacing them with the National Interpreter Certification (NIC) that was first made available in 2005. 

The National Interpreter Certification (NIC) 

Holders of the National Interpreter Certification have demonstrated general knowledge in the field of interpreting, ethical decision-making, and interpreting skills. Candidates earn NIC Certification if they demonstrate professional knowledge and skills that meet or exceed the minimum professional standards necessary to perform in a broad range of interpretation and transliteration assignments. This certification is considered a standard for professional ASL interpreters across the United States. For more details on the process and the requirements, refer to the RID website. 

Board for Evaluation of Interpreters (BEI) Certification 

The BEI, a Texas-based organization, offers another set of certifications that are accepted in many parts of the United States. These include Basic, Advanced, and Master certifications, along with specialty certifications in Legal and Trilingual (English/Spanish/ASL) interpretation. These certifications remain valid and recognized as of the present.  

State Certifications  

Aside from the National ASL Certification mentioned above, some states have their own certification processes for ASL interpreters. State-level certification may be more focused on specific local needs and may include aspects of local sign language dialects or regional Deaf culture. State certification is typically recognized only within that state, so an interpreter who moves to a different state might need to earn a new certification. However, some states may have reciprocity agreements, allowing certifications to be transferred from one state to another. To delve deeper into state-by-state regulations, click here. 

Other Certifications related to the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Communities  

American Sign Language Teachers Association (ASLTA) Certification 

For teaching ASL, the American Sign Language Teachers Association (ASLTA) offers the most widely recognized certification. Since its inception in 1977, the ASLTA has provided certification for ASL teachers at various levels, including Provisional, Qualified, and Professional. 

Each level requires more education and experience than the last, with the Professional certification requiring a Master’s degree and at least five years of teaching experience. The ASLTA certification, much like the NIC, continues to be valid and accepted widely. 

Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI) Certification 

This blog would be incomplete without discussing how the CDI certification is different from the ASL certification. While not an ASL Certification, an important advancement in the field of communication for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing was the introduction of the Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI) certification by the RID in 1998. This particular certification is unique because it’s specifically designed as a path for Deaf community members becoming Certified Deaf Interpreters. The inclusion of CDIs has been a significant step towards achieving effective communication and fostering inclusivity for all members of the Deaf community. ASL certification is about proficiency in the language itself as a prerequisite to mastering interpreting skills, whereas CDI certification is about the ability to interpret the language, with a special emphasis on working within diverse Deaf communities and with individuals who may have unique communication needs. 

The CDI certification process involves completion of training recognized by the RID, passing a knowledge exam that tests understanding of interpretation principles and practices, and successfully undertaking a performance exam that assesses interpreting and transliterating abilities. As with other certifications, CDIs are also required to engage in ongoing professional development to maintain their certification. 

 

Conclusion 

The history of ASL certification in the United States is marked by continual evolution and improvement. As the field grows and changes, so do the systems for ensuring the quality and competence of ASL teachers and interpreters. This commitment to excellence ensures that Deaf individuals have access to effective communication, fostering inclusivity and understanding in every corner of American society. 

“Finding and verifying the certifications of American Sign Language interpreters can be a unique challenge. It’s like piecing together a puzzle where each piece is a blend of professional experience, cultural competency, and proven credentials. We are diligent in ensuring that every ASL interpreter not only holds the required certification from an accredited organization but also embodies the empathy and understanding needed to bridge the communication gap for our Deaf and Hard-of-hearing community members. At Bromberg, we know that finding the right people can truly make all the difference.” – Debbie Crocker, Bromberg & Associates ASL Interpreter & Talent Acquisition Specialist. 

Here is a quick summary of the current valid ASL certifications and those that are no longer offered:  

Valid ASL Certifications: 

  • Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) National Interpreter Certification (NIC): The NIC is a respected certification that is acknowledged across the United States. Candidates must successfully complete a written and performance test to be granted this certification. 
  • Board for Evaluation of Interpreters (BEI) certification: The BEI offers several levels of certification, including Basic, Advanced, and Master, as well as specialty certifications like Court Interpreter Certification and Trilingual Certification. 
  • Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment (EIPA): While the EIPA specifically certifies interpreters who work in educational settings, this certification is also widely recognized in the United States. There are different levels to this certification based on the score achieved. 

As for retired ASL certifications, the RID, which has been one of the main certifying bodies for ASL interpreters in the United States, has phased out several certifications over the years: 

Retired ASL Certifications: 

  • RID Comprehensive Skills Certificate (CSC): This certification, which involved a written test, an interview, and a performance test, was phased out in 1998. 
  • RID Certificate of Interpretation (CI) and Certificate of Transliteration (CT): These certifications were available separately until 2008 when they were replaced by the National Interpreter Certification. 
  • RID Master Comprehensive Skills Certificate (MCSC): This certification was a high-level certification offered by RID until it was retired. 
  • RID Specialist Certificate: Legal (SC:L): This certification, intended for interpreters specializing in legal settings, was retired and replaced by the Specialist Certificate: Legal (SC:L) Exam. 

These certifications are still respected if interpreters have obtained them previously, but they are no longer awarded from RID.   

It’s important to note that anyone seeking certification should check the current standards with the respective bodies, as changes and updates are bound to occur. After all, ASL certification, much like the language itself, is a living, evolving entity. If you are interested in working with Bromberg & Associates as an ASL Interpreter or a CDI if you have questions about our services, to get in touch with our SLI department, click here. 

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