American Sign Language (ASL) is a visual language used by many Deaf and Hard of Hearing people to communicate. ASL is a complete and complex language with unique linguistic elements that are composed of specific body movements, handshapes, and facial expressions.


  • Is NOT universal. As most countries have their own spoken language, they also often have their own signed language  ( example: An ASL interpreter is not effective for a Deaf person who uses Mexican Sign Language (LSM)).

  • ASL has regional variations; some signs used in New Mexico may not be used in other states, and vice versa.

  • Requires users to have the ability to see each other clearly; interpreters may have to rearrange positioning in order to be accessible (Sitting next to a Deaf individual as opposed to across from them is NOT effective).

  • Interpreting from a spoken language to ASL and vice versa is not a word-for-word process; some concepts in ASL may be expressed in more or less signs than the number of spoken words used.

It is important to point out that not all individuals who are D/deaf use ASL.  The communication needs of deaf individuals vary greatly. Upon receiving a request for an ASL interpreter, the language access coordinator may contact your court to obtain information regarding the deaf individual to make sure that their linguistic needs are being met by appropriately staffing the assignment. This is done on a case by case basis. To learn more about sign language, visit the National Association of the Deaf.




Video credit to Kentucky: Ervin Dimeny J.D. Manager, Court Interpreting Services, KY Administrative Office of the Courts.




  • Contact the AOC and request professional interpreting services for Deaf persons needing accommodations

  • Ask the Deaf person what they prefer for communication access

  • Ask the interpreters and language access staff for assistance on accommodations if you suspect they aren’t effective


  • Use family members or persons “who know some sign language” to interpret.  It is not only illegal in New Mexico, but it can impact communication access and result in life-altering misunderstandings. AOC makes ensures that the interpreters that serve in your court are qualified.

Rules 1-103(B)(5) and 5-122(B)(5) Court must appoint an interpreter if the court perceives the need for an interpreter

Oath to the Signed Language Interpreter (Must Administer Prior to all Criminal and Civil Proceedings)

"Do you solemnly swear or affirm that you will make a true interpretation in an understandable manner to the deaf person for whom you are appointed, under penalty of law?" UJI 13-212A

Qualification Requirements for Interpreters. New Mexico requires all signed language interpreters to be licensed in order to protect deaf and hard of hearing consumers. Interpreting is defined as any form of facilitating communication in a visual form, regardless of the individual’s job title or position description. Practicing without a license is a misdemeanor in our state. AOC ensures that all court interpreters are in compliance with NM licensing. In addition to being licensed in the State of New Mexico to interpret, legal interpreters must have, at minimum, National Certification from the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID). For more information visit the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf.



In American Sign Language, the use of nodding is important. When a Deaf person is nodding, it means she or he is listening and sees what you are saying. It does not necessarily mean that person is in agreement with what you are saying.

Video credit to Kentucky: Ervin Dimeny J.D. Manager, Court Interpreting Services, KY Administrative Office of the Courts.



A Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI) is an individual who is deaf or hard of hearing and has been certified by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf as an interpreter. They team with Hearing Interpreters to provide optimal communication access for circumstances that require a CDI’s unique and native language skills.

Specialized Training and/or Experience

In addition to excellent general communication skills and general interpreter training, the CDI may also have specialized training and/or experience in use of gesture, mime, props, drawings and other tools to enhance communication.The CDI has an extensive knowledge and under- standing of deafness, the deaf community, and/or Deaf culture which combined with excellent communication skills, can bring added expertise into both routine and uniquely difficult inter- preting situations.

Meeting Special Communication Challenges

A Certified Deaf Interpreter may be needed when the communication mode of a deaf consumer is so unique that it cannot be adequately accessed by interpreters who are hearing. Some such situations may involve individuals who:

  • use idiosyncratic non-standard signs or gestures such as those commonly referred to as home signs" which are unique to a family
  • use a foreign sign language
  • have minimal or limited communication skills
  • are deaf-blind or deaf with limited vision
  • use signs particular to a given region, ethnic or age group
  • have characteristics reflective of Deaf Culture not familiar to hearing interpreters.

Video credit to Kentucky: Ervin Dimeny J.D. Manager, Court Interpreting Services, KY Administrative Office of the Courts.



The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates the provision of "reasonable accommodations for employees and auxiliary aids and services" to ensure effective communication with people who are deaf or hard of hearing. The U.S. Department of Justice regulations for ADA Title II (state and local governments) and ADA Title III (public accommodations) define the term "auxiliary aids and services" comprehensively:

[q]ualified interpreters, notetakers, computer-aided transcription services, written materials, telephone handset amplifiers, assistive listening devices, assistive listening systems, telephones compatible with hearing aids, closed caption decoders, open and closed captioning, telecommunication devices for deaf persons, videotext displays, or other effective methods of making aurally delivered materials available to individuals with hearing impairments.

28 C.F.R. § 35.104 and 28 C.F.R. § 36.303(b)(1), respectively (emphasis added).



"Computer-aided transcription services" has since become knows as "real-time captioning," a professional service that can be delivered on location or remotely. The National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) describes CART services as "the instant translation of the spoken word into English text using a stenotype machine, notebook computer and realtime software." The text produced by the CART service can be displayed on an individual's computer monitor, projected onto a screen, combined with a video presentation to appear as captions, or otherwise made available using other transmission and display systems. 


Photo: Spanish Court Interpreter Peggy Cadwell interprets the proceeding into Spanish to CART Spanish writer on the phone for Spanish deaf individual who does not sign



Some D/deaf and Hard of Hearing persons rely on lip-reading for comprehension.  For those in need of such services, there are oral transliteration services.  Typically also ASL interpreters, Oral Transliterators are professionals who position themselves across from the D/deaf or Hard of Hearing consumer, close enough for their lips to be watched, as they relay what is being spoken.  They are able to annunciate clearly and are trained to rephrase sentences or make word choices that are equivalent to the language spoken by the English user, but may be more readily understood visually on the mouth.  Only thirty percent of the English language is readily understood through lip reading!