Understanding American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter services

The content on this page was developed in collaboration with Provincial Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services and members of the Deaf community.

On this page:


English vs. American Sign Language

American Sign Language (ASL) and English are not the same. They are two separate languages with their own grammar and syntax. ASL is a visual language expressed through:

  • Hand movements
  • Facial expressions
  • Body movements

The two most common forms of sign language used in Canada are ASL and Langue des Signes Quebecoise (LSQ).

Closed captioning vs. interpreting

Closed captioning is text on a television, video screen or other visual display. It provides a transcription of the audio part of a program. It sometimes includes descriptions of non-speech elements.

Interpreting is converting a spoken language into another. Interpreting eases communication between individuals who do not share a common language. ASL interpreting uses a certified hearing person fluent in ASL to interpret between a Deaf individual and a hearing person.

Certified vs. registered interpreter

B.C.'s interpreter governing association is the Westcoast Association of Visual Language Interpreters (WAVLI). All professional Sign Language Interpreters must be registered members of WAVLI. Using a registered interpreter provides you with recourse if there was a problem with the interpretation.

Canada's interpreter association is the Canadian Association of Sign Language Interpreters (CASLI). The certified interpreter designation is the highest level of certification achievable in Canada. Certified Interpreters (COI) are often used in legal or high-risk specialized appointments. In these instances, a generalist interpreter may not have the same experience or qualification.

Booking interpreters in small communities

Some interpreters live in small communities or are willing to travel to nearby areas. Use one of the booking agencies (www.wavli.com) to find out if there is an interpreter available.

You may be able to have an interpreter join your meeting through video conferencing or web-based technology. This can be especially useful in smaller communities. Consult with the professional interpreter or agency to find out if this is possible in your area.

Giving notice when booking an interpreter

There are less than 300 registered interpreters in B.C. and thousands of Deaf signing individuals. Try to book an interpreter at least three weeks before your meeting. Interpreter services may not be able to fill short notice requests.

Video Relay Services

Video Relay Services (VRS) enables Deaf or Hard of Hearing people to communicate with anyone they choose. It involves using a video interpreter to connect with voice telephone users via video over the Internet.

You can use VRS with your smartphone, tablet, laptop and computer. The service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For more information or to register, visit https://srvcanadavrs.ca/en.

Video calling apps

You may be able to use a one-on-one video calling applications (apps) to communicate with an interpreter. These apps establish a connection between two supported devices. Examples of video calling apps are Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Google Duo.

Most video calling apps are free to download and use. Cellular talk time/minutes are not used during these calls. However, they do use data services, such as data plans or wi-fi networks.