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Sign Language related certifications:

Frequently people ask me how to become "certified in ASL." Usually what they actually want to know is how to become a "certified ASL interpreter."

Completing an ASL course or an ASL program and obtaining a "certificate of completion" is not the same as becoming a certified interpreter. There is a difference between "having a certificate (of completion)" and "being a certified ASL interpreter."

There are a number of certifications available related to ASL that are issued by various organizations:

Sign Language Interpreter Certification: There are several types of interpreter certification available. Many states have their own system of certifying interpreters. There is also national certification available from the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf and the National Association of the Deaf (RID). There is also the Educational Interpreters Performance Assessment (EIPA).

Teacher of the Deaf Certification: For people who want to teach Deaf children in the public school system or at a residential school for the Deaf. This certification is provided by state departments of education. 

ASLTA Certification: This is a certification for people who want to teach ASL. ASLTA stands for American Sign Language Teachers Association. 

Public School Student Certification: This type of certification is offered by some state systems to their high school students who complete a course of study and pass a comprehensive final.

ASLPI: The American Sign Language Proficiency Interview is a test that many employers use to determine if job applicants are have the ASL skills necessary to do the job for which they are interviewing. It is also used to determine ASL proficiency for placement in some education programs.

SCPI: Sign Communication Proficiency Interview: This test is used by employers and others to determine if job applicants are able to communication in sign language.


State Certification for Teachers of American Sign Language:  This is a type of certification states require for public school teachers of ASL.




Dear Dr. Vicars,
I have two questions: (I know you must be bombarded by lots of questions, if you don't have time, I understand).
Does a person have to be certified to teach sign language classes? If I wanted to teach sign language for babies, must I be certified? I gather from [what you've written elsewhere], some areas you can get away without be certified and in other areas, certification would be required.
Thank you very much,
Heather (rhp6901)


In general you do NOT have to be certified to:
* Teach ASL in most community education settings.
* Open up your own business and invite students to take classes. (But you will likely need a business license.)
* Teach ASL training workshops as a visiting instructor or consultant in a corporate setting.
* Teach classes in your home.

Some circumstances wherein you are likely to need some kind of certification or approval:
* Employment preparation programs:  You may have to get approval from your state if you claim that your ASL program prepares and qualifies your students for employment. Check with your State's division of occupational licensing and or department of Education. For example if you state in your advertising brochures or website that you course prepares someone to "interpret for the Deaf" or that you are offering "interpreter training" you may fall under certain state guidelines that oversee the establishment and management of schools.

* Public K-12 school systems:  If you teach ASL in a public K-12 school setting, it is likely that you will need to be certified by your state's teacher credentialing organization. As time goes on, more and more states are setting up specific certification for public school system ASL educators

* Some state higher education systems require instructors to show proof of certification in ASL in order to teach in state run colleges and universities. But, believe it or not, it is generally easier to get a job teaching part time at a college than it is to get a full time position teaching in a public K-12 school setting. In times past some colleges would actually hire you to be an adjunct instructor with no degree and no certification. I put myself through college that way. I literally taught at the same university at which I was an undergraduate student.   These days community colleges tend to require a minimum of an associates degree and six years of related experience or a bachelors degree and two years of experience or a directly related masters degree.


* Some private schools will require you to produce evidence of a minimum level of ASL familiarity.  That evidence may or may not be in the form of "certification.  It may just be documentation of having successfully completed a certain number of ASL courses.

Dr. Bill


In regard to certification testing:
I've never been a fan of traditional "certification testing." The way certification testing has typically been done is stressful, subjective, opinionated and variable.
I much prefer the idea of "ability documenting" via a process of real-time instant feedback based on objective criteria. For example, suppose we state that we want to know if someone is good enough to "interpret" numbers.  We can objectively state that "good enough" means being able to recognize 7-digit numbers accurately on the first try 9 out of 10 times when those numbers are presented at a speed of 3 digits per second via a pre-recorded video.

That is an objective measure with little opportunity for discrimination or bias. The person can do it or they can't.  Want to make it more valid?  Use a variety of fingerspelling models and increase the amount of numbers. For example, instead of ten 7-digit numbers do a hundred 7-digit numbers. 

A candidate could use a computer program in the privacy of their own home and could practice again and again until they reach a success rate of well over 9 out of 10 times at a speed faster than 3 digits per second. This particular skill would then be documented by the program itself and then the person could simply move on to the next skill that needs to be documented. Some people would move through the "ability documenting" process very quickly, others would take many times longer. When the person feels ready they could take the official test via a testing center.

Candidates would be free to "fail" the test a massive number of times, privately, without embarrassment, or additional expense.

Other people, including those leaders of the "certifying organization" would not know of a candidate's progress until that candidate has already mastered the skill being documented.


Additionally, such leaders would have no say in whether individuals receive documentation. The documentation is automatically achieved when the objective criteria is met. If organizational leaders feel that the quality of current candidates' performance should be higher, then the target criteria for future candidates is raised. For example, from 7 digit numbers to 8 digit numbers.

Critics will say, "Sure, that works for documenting simple number recognition skills, but such an approach wouldn't work for complex grammar structures."

To which I reply that just as some apps or computer programs are now "better at English grammar" than many (perhaps even most) English speakers, there will come a day when gesture recognition software programs will be better at ASL grammar than many ASL signers.  Feel free to scoff or roll your eyes -- but I'm confident that eventually history will prove me on target.  What seems preposterous to people prior to technological advancement later will seem obvious or expected to people living in the future.
Dr. Bill



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