It’s easy to be confused by myriad acronyms that designate certification in the title of an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter, and even more difficult to understand which acronyms indicate national certification and whether the interpreter is medically qualified. We break down the “alphabet soup” of ASL certification acronyms below, and explain which ones set medical interpreters apart from general practitioners as well as describe some of the most common training programs.

  • RID: The Registry Interpreters for the Deaf is the national organization that governs and oversees interpreter certification, maintenance of certification, grievances, professional development and advocacy. When an interpreter says they are “certified,” they are referring to RID certification. The RID began issuing certifications in 1972.

An interpreter with the RID certification demonstrates professional knowledge and skills that meet or exceed the minimum, historically strict, professional standards necessary to perform in a broad range of interpretation and transliteration assignments within three domains: general knowledge of the field, ethical decision making and interpretation skills in both signed and spoken English and knowledge of American Sign Language.

RID’s testing structure has morphed over the last 25 years. Each time a major change has been made, the acronym associated with the testing has changed. Each of the acronyms below are still recognized by RID as being nationally certified.

  1. National Interpreter Certification (NIC):  Test results used to be broken down into three classifications but they no longer exist. However, interpreters still identify their classification if they were awarded any of the NIC levels below:
    • Generalist (2005 – present)
    • Advanced (2005 – 2001)
    • Master (2005 – 2011)
  1. Certificate of Interpretation or Certificate of Transliteration (CI/CT): Prior to the NIC exam, interpreters could earn a Certificate of Interpretation (CI) or a Certificate of Transliteration (CT). These individual tests are no longer offered but the certifications are still honored by RID (1998-2005)
  2. Specialist Certificate: Legal (SC:L): Holders of this specialist certification have demonstrated specialized knowledge of legal settings and greater familiarity with language used in the legal system. (1998 – present)
  3. Certified Deaf Interpreters (CDI): Holders of this certification are deaf or hard of hearing and have demonstrated knowledge and understanding of interpreting, deafness, the Deaf community and Deaf culture. Holders have specialized training and/or experience in the use of gesture, mime, props, drawings and other tools to enhance communication. Holders possess native or near-native fluency in American Sign Language and are recommended for a broad range of assignments where an interpreter who is deaf or hard-of-hearing would be beneficial.
  1. Comprehensive Skills Certificate (CSC): The CSC was offered from 1972 through 1988. Although this test is no longer offered, the certification is still honored by RID (1972-1988).

Beyond certifications awarded by RID, there are training programs, internships, medical intensive workshops and practicums that provide an interpreter with in-depth knowledge of a particular environment. It is important to note that a certificate of completion or participation does not mean “certified” according to RID. Currently, on a nationally-recognized level, a certification does not exist for medical interpreters. The only specialty environment, as noted above, is a legal certificate. RID is currently exploring what it might take to offer a certification in medical interpreting.

A few medical interpreting certificates and programs of note are:

  • Certificate in Healthcare Interpreting (CHI): This is a year-long program taught by the Rochester Institute of Technology and the National Technical Institute of the Deaf in Rochester, NY. There are 160 hours of classroom and online instruction that equip interpreters with extensive medical interpreting knowledge, practice and application strategies.
  • CATIE Center: The CATIE Center is housed at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, MN and they are part of a national consortium that focuses on medical interpreting skill development. Interpreters can participate in several of their workshops, immersions, fellowships and national symposium on healthcare interpreting. While they do not award a certificate, medical interpreters may highlight their participation in the CATIE Center’s programming.
  • Mental Health Interpreter Training (MHIT): Held annually in Montgomery, Alabama, MHIT is week-long, 40-hour intensive mental health interpreter training program. This training helps equip mental health interpreters with tools, strategies and knowledge to make them successful members of the mental health team.
  • University of California, San Diego, Oncology Training: This six-month training program was once offered by the Moore Cancer Center at University of California, San Diego (UCSD), however, they now provide the training modules for free on their website. At one point during the program’s development interpreters were able to participate and receive a certificate.
  • BA, MA, PhD: Interpreters often receive their training in two-year and four-year programs. Additionally, an interpreter can earn a Masters Degree and a PhD in interpreting, but none of these programs are specific to medical interpreting.

As you can see, ASL interpreters can have several letters that follow their name, multiple ways they can strengthen their medical interpreting knowledge and skill, and several collegiate avenues to pursue. An interpreter can be nationally certified by the RID and have certificates in medical interpreting, but those two classifications are not interchangeable. All hiring entities should require interpreters to have national certification in good standing as well as extensive medical interpreting experience and training. Feel free to ask your interpreters about their training and qualifications; your patients will thank you.

Site translation by Certified Deaf Interpreter Steven Stubbs.