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Meeting The Deaf Communities Needs: Sign Language vs Captioning

NYLE event interpreting captioning front cart view 2018

There are many different types of accessibility for the Deaf community. Whether it is best to provide a sign language interpreter or add captions to content is one of the most common questions when booking accommodations. It’s very important to know this: you should always first ask the individual requesting accommodations what type of accommodation they would need. This is not a case of “one size fits all”. Preferences for accommodations include but are not limited to:

Sign language interpreting

Many Deaf people would prefer to receive information via their first language – sign language. Sign language is to Deaf people as English is to those who speak English, or Spanish to those who speak Spanish. It would be a little more difficult to retrieve information in English (captioning) when English was not learned until after they learned sign language. This is why it can’t be assumed that captioning would be the best accommodation to provide for Deaf individuals.

Additionally, there are specific accommodations under the umbrella of sign language interpreting. For example a Deaf individual could request a Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI), an interpreter who signs exact English (SEE), or a tactile sign language interpreter to name a few. For more information on specializations within the interpreting profession, schedule a free consultation with an ICS coordinator.


Not all Deaf people prefer to receive information via an interpreter. One instance would be if the client is late-deafened, which generally means hearing loss that occurs after childhood. Normally, a late-deafened individual would have already had oral communication skills prior to their hearing loss, and can utilize captioning as opposed to sign language interpreter. Some late-deafened individuals do not even know sign language, as they still have some hearing, and rely on captioning, lip-reading and the remaining hearing they have. To learn more about captioning accommodations, check out our previous blog: Accessibility Options: Real-time captioning.

The options listed above are just two of many accommodations available to the Deaf community. To learn more about what kind of accommodations are out there, or if you are still unsure about which accommodation best matches your or your client’s needs, feel free to contact Inclusive Communication Services to speak with a coordinator.

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