Sign Language for Scouting Events

signingDeaf and hard of hearing Scouts, Scouters and family members present new challenges for many units.  Units, districts and councils aren’t legally obligated to provide a sign language interpreter for deaf participants, and often can’t afford a professional, certified interpreter. Yet we want to include everyone in the Scouting experience. We benefit both deaf and hearing participants when we make accommodations. These can range from pre-printed materials and visual aids to American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters. 

There are ASL interpreters, or interpreters in training, available in many communities. Ask among your volunteers for someone someone skilled in ASL who is willing to interpret.  If not, check your local college for an ASL interpreting program and ask if they have a field experience office.  Like student teaching, interpreters do field work to gain experience. Put a request through their office with the following information:

  • Name of event 
  • Type of event- Include information like “outside regardless of weather”
  • Address and any details related to it
  • Type of sign language being used — do not answer this question yourself unless you are the one requiring ASL. Instead, ask the person who needs the services. Even better, you should include the deaf person in preparing the request.
  • Extra items needed – light in a dark room, seating arrangement. meeting arrangement, and etc.
  • Person in charge before, during and after the event, along with the name of the person(s) who will use the service and their contact information in both email and cell phone number.
  • Length of time – consider feeding them if an all day event.
  • Youth protection – provide a summary of Scouting youth protection requirements if the interpreter will stay overnight or be working directly with youth.
  • Other requirements – indicate appropriate clothing, especially for outdoor or overnight events. Explain sleeping arrangements and make sure the interpreter owns the necessary gear or has it provided. 

Include anything that can help an interpreter prepare – examples: scouting lingo, pdf books, syllabus and so on.

Be aware that in field experience situations, you are not always guaranteed an interpreter. Put your requests in a least a month or two ahead of time and consider the college semester.  You are less likely to get an interpreter over summer or during finals week.

A Different Listening Experience

While ASL is “American” sign language, it is not just English converted to hand signals. ASL is its own language. Some deaf and hard of hearing people learn ASL as their first language and haven’t mastered written English. Preprinted materials are not always the right substitute for ASL.

In ASL, people listen with their eyes. When demonstrating a skill like knot tying, it is important to keep the explanation separate from the demonstration. People using ASL must watch the explanation and demonstration separately.