American Sign Language interpreters, or ASL interpreters, translate between spoken and signed language — or between signed and spoken language. The skills necessary for this position go beyond knowing sign language, since ASL can’t always be translated word-for-word into spoken English, and vice versa. Because of this, certified ASL interpreters can make much more than their spoken-word counterparts.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that interpreters, including those for sign language, earned almost $51,000 per year in 2011. But this figure accounts for all interpreters and translators. American Sign Language interpreters earn closer to $39,000, or $18.85 per hour, according to Bridgerland Applied Technology College. This salary is for Utah, which typically aligns with the national average.
As with many vocations, certifications improve salaries for ASL interpreters. A professional certification from the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, or RID, can increase hourly wages to as much as $30 to $35 per hour, or $62,000 to $73,000 per year. A sign language interpreter at the CIA can earn anywhere from $75,000 to $116,000 per year with an RID and National Interpreter Certification.
Besides certification, location influences pay. Due to the cost of living, certain markets just demand higher salaries to attract qualified candidates. Professionals on Long Island earn 35 percent more per year, so an RID-certified ASL interpreter will likely make $84,000 to $99,000 per year. The same can also be said for Boston, Massachusetts, where workers tend to make 32 percent more per year. In this city, an RID-certified ASL interpreter could make $81,840 to $96,360. But those working in Duluth, Minnesota, don’t fare as well, earning 20 percent less than average. Now, you're looking at salaries from $49,600 to $58,400, even with RID certification.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 42 percent employment growth for interpreters and translators from 2010 to 2020. This is much faster than the growth for all occupations, which is anticipated to reach 14 percent within this same period. The reason is largely the use of video relay services. The hearing-impaired would need ASL interpreters to chat with others over online video relays for business purposes.