The Deaf community often describes itself as a ‘cultural-linguistic minority’ and prefers not to be classified as a disability group. It sees itself as being part of a unique community with similar backgrounds, interests, values, a strong sense of empathy in shared experiences which include; growing up Deaf, educational experiences, barriers they may have faced in being a part of the general community, or as the Deaf community would say; the hearing community.

The Deaf community is made up of Deaf, hard of hearing and deafened people. However they welcome those who are not Deaf too. Being part of the Deaf community means you are able to use, understand and respect Irish Sign Language.

  • D/deaf or Hard of hearing
  • Hearing parents of Deaf children
  • Hearing children of Deaf parents
  • Hearing sibling
  • Friend of a Deaf person
  • Work in the Deaf sector (e.g. ISL interpreters, teachers of the Deaf, advocates for the Deaf community etc…)
The Deaf community sees being Deaf neither as an obstacle nor as a problem that requires to be fixed and they work towards attaining full and equal access in all aspects of life.


The word Deaf with a capital ‘D’, refers to the culturally Deaf person who is a part of a Deaf community.
Using a capital ‘D’ shows pride in being Deaf.


This term is used by the Deaf community, to identify membership of a unique social, cultural and linguistic group.

It is also a culture based on shared community goals rather than what level of hearing loss they may have. Deaf people are members of a community where not being able to hear and/or speak is not seen as a ‘problem’.


The lowercase ‘d’ is used when talking in the audio-logical form or for someone who does not see themselves as being part of a culture or Deaf community.

Hard of hearing

Hard of Hearing refers to a person whose ability to hear has declined (gradually or suddenly) to the level that it causes difficulty when interacting with people.

These efforts can be eased by technical devices such as hearing aids, induction loop, etc. Some Hard of Hearing people may know ISL and some may have good oral speaking abilities.

The World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) and the International Federation of the Hard of Hearing (IFHOH) Joint Declaration (2nd July 1991) agreed to recognise and respect the right of individuals with hearing losses ranging from mild to severe with the differing communication needs and strategies entailed by use of the terms “Deaf” or “Hard of Hearing” in their official terminologies.

Acceptable Terminology

  • Deaf
  • Hard of Hearing
  • Deafened
  • Deafblind
  • Hearing

Unacceptable Terminology

  • Descriptive phrases classifying range of deafness such as “profound” “mild” “moderate” “severe hearing loss”
  • Hearing Impairment / Speech impediment
  • Deaf and Dumb
  • Deaf mute


Irish Sign Language is the main language of the Deaf community in Ireland. ISL is a more natural language for a Deaf person as it uses the entire body, hands and facial expressions.

The reason it is called “Irish Sign Language”, is that it is native to Ireland and the people who use it are Irish, therefore it is called Irish Sign Language.

It has no connection to spoken Gaeilge (or spoken English).

Irish Sign Language, like all signed languages, is not just about the movement of the hands and using hand shapes. It also largely involves using body movement, facial expressions and using the space around you to tell your story.

It is a fundamentally a visual language and has its own complex linguistic features including grammar and syntax.

There are different forms of ISL such as regional variations in the same manner as regional dialects. This is also true of age and gender. In the past, Deaf girls and boys were educated in different schools and due to not mixing with each other, different signs were naturally developed.

Signed English

Signed English is a language support system and is not favoured by the Deaf Community. It in essence replaces English words & grammar with handsigns – this is not the same as ISL and may not be understood by some members of the Deaf community.


  • Some Deaf and Hard of hearing people experience low levels of literacy and educational attainment as English is not their primary language which may make communicating in written English difficult.
  • Communicating effectively is a two-way process and is the responsibility of both parties to be able to understand each other, an Interpreter is necessary for the benefit of both the hearing and Deaf individuals
  • In a professional setting, it falls to the practitioner/service provider to ensure that the correct communication method is used to ensure that the Deaf person receives full information from that meeting.
  • Staff must provide access to the Deaf person in all settings for full & meaningful interactions to take place.
  • Deaf and Hard of Hearing people are often embarrassed to say that they don’t understand what the other person is saying to them
  • In some cases children, family members or members of staff have had to interpret for a Deaf person. This can lead to problems of privacy, confidentiality and accuracy in translation – it is not a practice condoned by SLIS.
  • One barrier to accessing services is a lack of information provided in ISL. All services should be accessible through ISL or with some other communication strategy aids such as maps, pictures, diagrams etc.


What is the role of a Deaf Interpreter?

Deaf Irish Sign Language Interpreters are Deaf or Hard of hearing people who have been recognised as interpreters. They possess fluency in their ISL skills and have recognised skills in the techniques of interpretation/ translation of meaning between languages and cultures.

It is their in-depth knowledge of Deaf culture and the Deaf community that provide supports & skills to a hearing ISL interpreter. Working in tandem with the ISL interpreter they provide supports that bridge a cultural or linguistic barrier that has been recognised within the community particularly in working with Deaf foreign nationals or Deaf individuals who may not be familiar or comfortable working with ISL Interpreters. It is their recognised experience in working with Deaf people in various fields that provide additional supports and clarity in certain situations.

Interpreters facilitate communication between two people, not just for the Deaf person: make sure you have the right one for your assignment.

Health and Safety

For health and safety concerns, an interpreter is required to have a break of 5 minutes every 30-40 minutes. For assignments extending beyond 90 minutes or assignments with a lot of information, a second interpreter may be required.

The video or audio recording of the interpreting service will require the prior permission of the interpreter/s assigned to you.

At the beginning of the assignment, you should discuss with the interpreter how best to set up the session (agree break times, what needs to be interpreted, how the session will be run & how the interpreter will signal their needs to you)

They abide by the same code of ethics and work to the same principles as hearing ISL interpreters and their role should not be confused with an Advocate or caseworker.

When Booking an Interpreter

Allow Two Weeks’s Notice. Please book as far in advance as possible, but allow two weeks minimum notice. Due to low numbers of freelance interpreters, we cannot guarantee that your request will be filled.

Using Two Interpreters

Best practice guidelines promote the use of two interpreters for sessions that are longer than 90 minutes in duration or in assignments with a lot of information. They work in tandem to maintain high quality standards and to allow for rest periods.

Deaf Interpreters

For some assignments relating to Deaf foreign nationals or Deaf individuals who have little knowledge of English, it may be necessary to use the skills of a Deaf Interpreter in tandem with a hearing ISL interpreter. This is particularly relevant for court work & in mental health settings.

Provide As Much Information As You Can

This helps the agency or the interpreter decide if they have the right skill set for the assignment. Information should include who is attending & what it is about—all details are confidential.

Making Changes to assignments

If you wish to make any last minute changes to your booking request, please inform the interpreter at the earliest, in order to facilitate your requirements.

Payments to interpreters

On completion of the assignment, an invoice will be presented to you by the interpreter. Remittance of invoice must comply with customary business practice and be paid within 30 days. Please note that there may be additional charges applicable to cover travel, subsistence and accommodation costs of the interpreter/s.




Do I really need to provide an ISL Interpreter?

Yes, interpreting is between two parties (usually hearing and Deaf) and is the transmission of information & cultural meanings into the primary language of both parties.

It is not simply applying hand-shapes to English words; ISL is a distinctive visual language with its own complex grammatical & linguistic structures.

In order that the correct information is given & received by both parties it is essential to have a trained & experienced, professional interpreter present.

Also it is estimated that up to 80% of the Deaf community have literacy issues which means their understanding of written notes may be limited.

Why should family members, friends or staff not serve as sign language interpreters?

Someone who has only a basic familiarity with sign language or fingerspelling or who does not possess the training and ability to interpret is not a qualified sign language interpreter.

Family members, friends and health care staff are not bound by professional standards, and there is no assurance the interpretation will be complete and reliable or that privacy issues will not be compromised.

Public Service bodies are obliged to ensure that their services are accessible under the following Legislative Acts:

The Employment Equality Act (1998 to 2004)

This act outlaws discrimination in employment, vocational training, advertising, collective agreements, the provision of goods and services and other opportunities to which the public generally have access on nine distinct grounds. The Act also requires employers to do all that is reasonable to ensure that their employees with disabilities can perform capably in their jobs. The Act defines:

Direct discrimination: when a person is treated less favourably than others in the same circumstances on any of the nine grounds mentioned above.

Indirect Discrimination: when a requirement or condition is placed on an activity which has the effect of disadvantaging certain groups.

Victimisation: when someone is further discriminated against because they brought claims or acted as witnesses to those who have brought claims.

Disability Act 2005

Section 26 (1) (B) of the Disability Act 2005 places an obligation on public bodies to make their services accessible to people with disabilities.

Section 28 (1) says that “where a public body communicates with one or more persons, the head of the body shall ensure- that, as far as practicable, the contents of the communication are communicated in a form that is accessible to the person concerned.”

Equal Status Act 2000 to 2004

Section 4 (1) This states that “discrimination (on grounds of disability) includes a refusal or failure by the provider of a service to do all that is reasonable to accommodate the needs of a person with a disability by providing special treatment or facilities, if without such special treatment or facilities it would be impossible or unduly difficult for the person to avail himself or herself of the service”