“Not everyday business.” A caseworker perspective on interpreter provision for deaf refugees and cooperation with interpreters

Sonja Pöllabauer


This contribution discusses the communication needs of deaf asylum applicants from the viewpoint of asylum interviewers (caseworkers). The study is based on 13 qualitative interviews with Austrian caseworkers in late 2020, which sought to explore how caseworkers perceive asylum claims involving deaf applicants and how they approach finding and engaging with interpreters in such cases. The results show that both finding interpreters and interviewing deaf applicants are perceived as challenging. Due to lack of knowledge about deaf people’s communicative needs and lack of expertise in working with signed languages (SL) and Deaf or signed language interpreters (SLI), caseworkers trust in the expertise of interpreters and representatives of deaf associations and cooperate with them to determine a suitable arrangement for the interview situation and finding interpreters. There are no institutionalised support structures in place, so caseworkers rely on their subjective perceptions and intuitive ad hoc solutions and feedback from the interpreters. The study also suggests a need for awareness-raising regarding the needs of deaf applicants and the context-inherent risks of perpetuating an ableist perspective, as well as the need for interprofessional training among caseworkers and interpreters.


asylum interpreting; deaf refugees; signed language interpreting; team interpreting; cooperation

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7203/Just.3.27794


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