How California AB 2257 Impacts Sign Language Interpreters

The California State Senate and Assembly passed AB 2257 to include exemptions for translators, interpreters, and dozens of other professionals under the AB 5 “gig workers” bill. People in exempt occupations can now classify themselves as self-employed as long as they qualify under the pre-AB 5 standards. Although this is great news for most, it’s nothing to celebrate for many sign language interpreters.


Why AB 2257 Fails Sign Language Interpreters 


AB 2257 only recognizes one organization for sign language certification, Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID). By limiting certification options, the bill disproportionately affects interpreters who are Deaf and/or Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC). Below are just three reasons why the bill should be amended to be more inclusive.


Firstly, the current membership of the Maryland-based RID doesn’t reflect California’s diversity, as:


  • Only 4% of members are Deaf.
  • Less than 15% identify as BIPOC.
  • Less than 13% are native ASL signers (people who grew up with Deaf parents).


Secondly, certification through RID is unaffordable for many. Total fees for certification exams and retakes can cost over $1,000. This creates financial barriers for BIPOC and Deaf interpreters in a state that already has an interpreter shortage.


Thirdly, only 14 interpreters received RID certification in California and 20 received it for the 9-state western region in the past 18 months. With just over 1,000 RID- interpreters in the state, they can’t meet the need for interpreting services in schools, hospitals, courts, and other organizations. Limiting certification will create an even greater shortage.


Amending AB 2257 for Sign Language Interpreters


The Coalition of Agencies Serving the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and California Association of the Deaf (CAD) have asked the Assembly to avoid naming a specific organization. They recommend that “Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) be replaced with: “Any local, state or national entity officially recognized to evaluate and determine qualified sign language interpreters.”


This definition also aligns with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which uses the terminology “qualified” interpreters. Under the ADA, qualified interpreter is defined as: able to interpret effectively, accurately, and impartially, both receptively (i.e., understanding what the person with the disability is saying) and expressively (i.e., having the skill needed to convey information back to that person) using any necessary specialized vocabulary.


Representatives from these organizations plan to return to the 2021 legislative session to request these changes be made with Governor Newsom and the California Legislature’s support. We will keep you updated as the story unfolds.