Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Thesis


Genetic Counseling

First Advisor

Andrea Sellers


Professional sign language interpreters are an integral part of genetic counseling with deaf patients whose preferred mode of communication is sign language. The purpose of this study was to assess the extent of understanding of genetics and genetic counseling possessed by sign language interpreters, as well as to elicit the views of interpreters who have interpreted for genetic counseling. One hundred certified sign language interpreters recruited through the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf completed an online survey assessing knowledge and experience with genetics and genetic counseling. Follow-up telephone interviews were subsequently conducted with eight interpreters who had completed the online survey and who had prior experience interpreting for genetic counseling. Eighty-two percent of respondents had heard of genetic counseling before, and 14% had prior experience interpreting for genetic counseling. Participants correctly answered an average of 89% of the factual knowledge questions, suggesting that sign language interpreters in this study have a basic understanding of genetics and genetic counseling. Although the majority of participants did not appear to have inaccurate assumptions about the field of genetic counseling, potential misconceptions and gaps in knowledge were identified regarding the elimination of disability in society and the psychosocial aspect of genetic counseling. Recommendations provided by sign language interpreters highlight what genetic counselors can do to promote effective communication with deaf patients and to facilitate positive professional relationships with sign language interpreters. Suggestions include: providing the interpreter with the indication for the appointment ahead of time, arranging the room appropriately for sign language interpreting, speaking directly to the patient in first person, providing simple and clear explanations, using visual aids when appropriate, and being sensitive to Deaf Culture. The implementation of such guidelines in genetic counseling practice will not only help ensure that the deaf patient gains adequate understanding and quality care but will also integrate sign language interpreters as part of the professional team.