Fact Sheet: How to book an interpreter

Ensuring accessibility for you and Deaf people

Deaf people have the right to full and equal communication – the consequences of miscommunications can be very serious.


Interpreters have completed university training and are qualified to do various job. They are bound by their Code of Ethics and Conduct, so impartiality and confidentiality is ensured. Professional NZSL interpreters are registered with Sign Language Interpreters Association New Zealand (SLIANZ).

The interpreter is here to interpret only – interpreters do not give advice and are experts only in communication between Deaf and hearing – sometimes that means they may make suggestions about how to make sure everyone can communicate effectively.​ They can adapt to various communication modes – spoken English, NZSL, tactile NZSL (usually for DeafBlind people),

Deaf people who use New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) as their first or preferred language often require NZSL interpreting services for their communication access and participation. NZSL is a key part of Deaf culture and has its own grammatical structure that is very different to English. Interpreters enable communication between two languages and can also help bridge cultural differences.

Sign Language Interpreters work between signed and spoken languages, they interpret concepts and meaning – they do not interpret word for word. They will sign everything you and other say, including interruptions, comments and jokes.

When conversing via an interpreter, you look at the Deaf person, not the interpreter. You are communicating directly with them. If you look at the interpreter, the Deaf person is left out.

Deaf people’s rights:

Deaf people have the right to full and equal communication – the consequences of miscommunication can be very serious.​

There are disadvantages from using non-professional communicators e.g. family members, friends, instead of qualified NZSL interpreters.

Without full access to information, Deaf people cannot make informed decisions.

Confidentiality issues, or sensitive information can be a problem when using family members or friends. It is unethical for organisations to ask hearing family members to interpret as there is a risk that information will not be interpreted correctly, not given fully, or family members can take over and make decisions for the Deaf person without informing them.

Deaf people often have a list of preferred interpreters, so it is important to ask the Deaf person who they would like to have interpreting the interaction. The interpreter may have specific skills required for the work. There may also be an established working relationship and trust, with a particular interpreter.

A Deaf person may also want an interpreter with a specific profile, for example:

  • gender
  • faith
  • ethnicity/cultural heritage

How to book:

To book professional NZSL interpreters, you can contact iSign, the largest national interpreter booking agency. iSign provides on site face-to-face interpreters which is generally the most appropriate way to ensure full access and participation.

The earlier you book an interpreter, the better as this increases the chance that an interpreter will be available. Maybe you need an interpreter tomorrow, still contact iSign anyway – they have a wonderful team who will try their best to find a solution: it may be necessary to change the appointment or meeting time or day, or maybe an interpreter is available.​

In some situations, video remote interpreting may be more appropriate. This is where New Zealand Relay Service can help.

Fully funded interpreting is available for many situations.

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iSign is a service of Deaf Aotearoa and is managed by a team of dedicated staff. We contract over 80 qualified NZSL interpreters and match the appropriate interpreter to the needs of the service user.

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New Zealand Relay

New Zealand Relay is a free, government-funded service that enables people with hearing and speech impairments to use the phone. We provide services for people who are Deaf, deafblind, hard of hearing, and speech impaired.

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