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» NAME: Anne Leahy

» JOB: Freelance American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter

» SALARY: Salaried interpreters are usually paid by the hour. The Department of Labor estimates that interpreters make an average of $18.02 per hour. Freelance interpreters can set their own rates, and the average hourly rate for interpreters in the D.C. area is $36.87.

» WHAT SHE DOES: She interprets speech into ASL, and ASL into speech. Sign language interpreters must be fluent in American Sign Language, which is more than just memorizing finger symbols. Each interpreter will typically establish an area of expertise, Leahy clarified. Her niche is interpreting more abstract subjects such as religion and academics. But she said it’s important for interpreters to have a strong base of general knowledge. “People talk about everything,” she says.

» WOULD YOU WANT THIS JOB?: The ability to translate words into signs is separate from interpreting conversations. Like any language, ASL comes with its own culture and ways of communicating. Leahy compares it to the difference among regions. “It’s not exactly like going to a foreign country,” she said, comparing the culture difference between spoken English and ASL, to the culture differences someone might see when traveling between New York City and Georgia. “Language is more of an art than a science,” she said.

» HOW YOU CAN GET THIS JOB: The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf requires its members to have at least an associate’s degree. Leahy became interested in interpreting after a friend asked her to step in as a substitute for a class he taught for the deaf at a community college in Utah. With only three semesters of ASL under her belt, Leahy was surprised the experience wasn’t as difficult as she had anticipated. “I didn’t die,” she says. After taking classes at Gallaudet University, Leahy went on to work as a full-time freelance interpreter beginning in 1992. There are two-year programs at many community colleges, and in recent years, four-year and post-graduate programs have become more available at institutions such as Gallaudet.

Written by Express contributor Emily Barton
Photo by Regan Kireilis for Express