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10 Tips for Reducing Sign Language Interpreter Costs

Two Deaf women communicate with each other in sign language on an airplane.
Two Deaf women communicate with each other in sign language on an airplane.

Paying for interpreters or speech-to-text providers for an international exchange participant won’t necessarily cost more than it does at home. Save money with these strategies.

1. Request & compare rates from different sign language interpreter agencies.

The University of Missouri’s disability services office requested bids from multiple agencies that provided interpreter services. They discovered that one agency put in a lower bid because the agency wanted its interpreters to get valuable overseas experience. Some freelance interpreters and other support providers may be willing to provide services for a reduced rate, pay their own airfare, or pay for other associated costs in order to be part of such a unique experience.

2. Set a flat daily rate or stipend and negotiate free time as an incentive when writing an interpreter or provider contract.

Interpreters often require a two-hour minimum when contracting services. Setting a flat rate could be more economical for longer programs where there may be a need for interpreters at unusual hours and intervals.

3. Tap into existing sources of funding from disability offices and vocational rehabilitation funds to continue overseas.

A college in New York assisted a Deaf student in getting documentation to use her vocational rehabilitation funds for accommodations. The money was used to send ASL interpreters from the United States to interpret for her semester abroad at the Siena School for Liberal Arts in Italy.

4. Contact organizational partners or disability organizations in the destination country to help locate housing options for interpreters.

Broaden your network of support by connecting with the community where the program will be taking place. The experience of hosting an interpreter may be especially desirable for individuals who are already connected in the disability community or interested in learning about the interpreting profession.

5. Suggest programs that are coordinated by more than one university, or with a third-party provider, since each of these organizations may be able to provide funding.

Setting up a cost-share that all program entities contribute to reduces the budgetary burden for a single organization and also allows the program to be a model for strong inclusive practices. The University of Wisconsin-Madison International Academic Programs (IAP) office worked closely with their campus disability office. Expenses are shared between participating offices and organizations, such as program providers, program consortium members, the campus disability office, and IAP.

6. Hire certified interpreters for formal situations such as orientations and classes, and use note takers, student interpreters, and other types of accommodations for informal situations.

Work with the exchange participant directly to plan for their most critical communication access needs on the exchange program. Find out from the participant what they typically do in unforeseen situations when an interpreter is not available and identify back-up strategies.   

7. Bring an interpreter to the destination country just for the early stages of a program.

Once the Deaf or Hard of Hearing participant learns the sign language of the country, a local interpreter can replace the interpreter from home. This can work if the participant is interested and adept at learning the local sign language, or if the participant will be researching, teaching, or volunteering with the Deaf community and needs interpretation mainly for orientation activities within a mainstream exchange group.
See other tips in Finding Funding to Meet Obligations.

8. Locate an interpreter in the destination country instead of bringing an interpreter with the group.

Cross-Cultural Solutions identified a person in Costa Rica who knew both ASL and Costa Rican sign language (LESCO). The Costa Rican signer worked with a Deaf participant during orientation and also assisted her with learning LESCO for her volunteer placement at a Deaf school in Costa Rica. In another example, the United States International Council on Disabilities researched local sign language interpreters for a Deaf staff person who would be visiting Africa. The staff person was able to work with local interpreters using a combination of American Sign Language and local signs.

9. Include multiple Deaf and Hard of Hearing students on the same program.

Maximize the interpretation services you’ve arranged by allowing more than one Deaf or Hard of Hearing student to participate in the same program. If setting up this type of arrangement, work to ensure that Deaf or Hard of Hearing students are being fully included in the program with their peers without disabilities.

10. Use remote services instead of local services to support accommodation needs.

Staff at Northwestern University realized that C-Print services offered in the Czech Republic wouldn’t be adequate for their exchange participant, so they arranged remote C-Print services with Alternative Communication Services for a student studying abroad in Prague. The price was reasonable in comparison to sending a remote captioner abroad.


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