ASL Interpreters vs. CART

Oh, how our lives are defined by these individuals! (interpreters and captionists, that is) They are the gatekeepers to our education and success. Scary, right? Oh, I could tell stories about bad interpreters and captionists until the cows go home, but I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’ll just look at the general pros and cons of both approaches (for me, at least). 

NOTE: I don’t include cued-speech or oral interpreters because I’ve never used them, so I can’t comment on them. This is not intended to be a comprehensive list of services out there for d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing folks. 
NOTE: I just added on a few things!
  • they are so much more personal. They can convey so much more emotion and substance. This might be a quirk of mine, but I really like to see who is talking during class and an interpreter can tell me who/where that student is. It makes me feel more included in the classroom
  • They are quicker. CART has up to 10 second delay and this proves to be difficult in the classroom. As some of you might know, law schools use ‘Socratic Method,’ which means that a professor randomly calls on students. A bit difficult to follow with a 2-to-10 second delay, no?
  • Looking at an interpreter’s face sure beats looking at a computer screen.
EDIT: in reponse to some comments, I examined the actual time delay for captionists. I realized that I am at fault for much of this delay. I can’t seem to focus on the computer screen for very long so I have a tendency to look away. This results in a bigger time lag for me than there actually is. I would say the actual delay is 1-5 seconds.
  • Interpreters can be downright unprofessional. I have had interpreters show up wearing sweats, stained shirts, and whatnot. It’s embarrassing for the Deaf client because, like it or not, the interpreter is a reflection on that Deaf person. Their behavior can be unprofessional as well – some interpreters tend to be know-it-alls and try to tell the client what to do. However, I do try to minimize this by hiring younger interpreters who seem less prone to this behavior. 
  • They are very public in the sense that everyone can see them. Sometimes, other students and some professors resent them because they “distract” students. I have been approached by some students, complaining about how ASL ‘is too distracting.’ I wish I could tell these people that their mumbling, general unawareness of how to handle d/Deaf people, shifting eyes and beards is quite ‘distracting’ for me. 🙂 
  • Since there is a chronic interpreter shortage almost everywhere, it can be tough finding qualified interpreters. 
  • It’s hard to take notes when you are watching an interpreter. Your eyes can only focus on one thing at a time. I still do it but I use a note-taker as a back-up. 
  • Many of them do not have the educational background to keep up with law school and they cannot handle the vocabulary. 
NOTE: ASL is a conceptual language, which means that it conveys ideas in signs that embody an idea, not necessarily words (as used in English) This means that it can be difficult to adapt to the terminology in law school because lawyers deal with subtle differences in phrasing that ASL cannot capture. I’ll be the first one to say that ASL is the ultimate language to express emotion and spatial concept. However, its weakness is distinguishing between similar concepts. For example, “purpose” and “intent” have the same sign, but subtle differences in written/spoken English.
  • Vocabulary, vocabulary and some more vocabulary. As a law student, it is crucial that you learn how to express yourself as a lawyer. CART gives you a better feel of how to articulate your ideas. Before law school, I would never use the word “distinguish” or “reconcile” or even “adjudicate” but now, I feel confident handling these words because I have seen it in play. 
  • Transcripts are just a god-send during finals. Sometimes I will be looking at my notes and have no idea what I meant. I just go back to the transcript and “get it.” Also, I made a lot of friends by sending them my transcripts when they missed class. 🙂
  • Captionists tend to be very professional people. It also helps that you are not looking at them for hours on end. The lack of visual contact maintains the professional environment much better. 
  • if the particular captionist had worked in court as a stenographer, she/he is more equipped to handle the legal vocabulary that is thrown around willy-nilly  in law schools. 
  • CART gives you the freedom of slacking a bit. I can look away for a bit and daydream, then come back to the screen. Of course, this is a mixed blessing. 
  • It is more anonymous, especially in today’s law classrooms. Everyone has a computer so the captionist is just another face behind a computer. 
  • Captionists are not as good at ‘hearing’ things as interpreters are. I cannot explain this phenomenon but captionists have more difficulties understanding what students say. It is the most irritating thing in the world to read (inaudible)(inaudible)
  • It’s more difficult for captionists to keep up with a fast speaker. Unfortunately,  most law professors are incredibly fast speakers. There is so much information and so little time. 
  • If the professor does not speak in complete sentences, the transcript can be difficult to read. Ever since we were children, we have been trained to read and write in complete sentences, however, spoken English does not work this way. It’s a jarring change because people’s brains (at least mine) are not used to reading sentence fragments. Of course, this really does depend on the professor. 
  • If you have some speech difficulties, like I do, it’s hard with CART. If you don’t know how to pronounce certain words, captionists are no help. With interpreters, you can sign to them and they will voice for you. (I’m too much of a control freak to do this most of the time). 
  • Imagine staring at a computer screen for hours on end….hurts right? 
  • Technology giveth and taketh away. Technical difficulties can really foul things up and cause you to lose a lot of information.
Well, that’s all I can think of right now. Feel free to add onto my list or comment. 
On a side note, I’m so happy to see that so many people have visited my site so far! Welcome and I hope you got something out of this blog! 

14 responses to “ASL Interpreters vs. CART

  1. Thanks for posting about this! I might be heading to grad school in the fall, and am starting to think about the services I may need/want to request.

    Good luck with your studies!

  2. Thanks for discussing the pros and cons of ASL interpreters and CART. My 11-year-old son is mainstreamed and has had the ASL interpreter for a year before switching to CART. Soon he will be entering the middle school in the upcoming fall and we are discussing about them… which classes he’d want to have CART (English, social studies, science) and ASL interpeter (math, science lab) and we are a little confused about foreign language… my son wants to take Latin and we have no idea which support would work better… interpreter or CART? I am more for the interpreter for the Latin class… hmmmm. My son wants the interpreter for “boring” classes and CART for “interesting” classes.

    My son tells me that the ASL interpreter had more delay than CART… it is interesting you said it differently. I guess it depends on the different academic settings?

  3. Good observations! I’d like to add a little bit; I’m surprised to see the CART person being 10 seconds behind the ASL terp. In my (admittedly limited) experience, the CART was only 1-2 seconds behind the ASL terp. Sounds like you’ve got a slow one there. 🙂

    IMO, CART allows you to have a transliteration of content in class. ASL interpreters allows you translation of classroom content. For law school, with its heavily English-dependent usage, CART is the way to go. There’s too many variables that goes into translation that leaves much to be desired.

    It sounds like you’ve got the best of both worlds, utilizing each kind whenever appropriate for your classes. A win-win situation for everybody involved.

  4. This is a fantastic post, and great comments. I’m a designer who is HOH and getting more so. I’m not up to fluency on ASL yet (at all) but (because I’m stubborn) am still looking at going to grad school for an MFA or MA in a design discipline. So as I negotiate with schools about what kind of accommodations I need it’s good to have opinions from others, right now I have not used anything and there may be reluctance to use CART by schools, so its good to have an understanding of why. Thanks.

  5. You don’t have to chose specifically between ASL interpreters or CART. You can combine both as long as you prove it is reasonable accommodation. I’m waiting for law school acceptance letters but I have asked a few schools if they would be open to providing both cart and interpreters at the same time, and some have said yes, they will be willing to do that.

    If I got CART, I still don’t have a voice in class, so this is where an ASL interpreter comes in handy. If the interpreter is not qualified enough, then there is nothing wrong with combining both services. CART folks are not trained to voice for you anyways.

    Also, when you get CART, you are technically not supposed to get a transcript, and if you do get one because the person needed to clean up the english, you are not supposed to give it to other people. It could be a college policy rule, but I was under the impression that this was the “standard.”

    ASL interpreters will have a little delay because they need to convey the correct concept in ASL, while CART just repeats word for word what the person is saying.

    Have you considered recording your interpreters from the laptop camera during lectures? That’s another option you can use, but would depend on the interpreter’s approval.

    I usually get about 3 notetakers per classes just to compensate for the different styles of notes people take. Most colleges won’t verify the quality of notes, since they want you to ask for volunteer notetakers. Colleges that do provide paid notetakers will have people trained to identify good notes from bad notes. I never take notes myself, so I wouldn’t know what counts as good notes or not.

  6. Anonymous Deaf Law Student

    Hello Anonymous,

    Thanks for writing in – and you are absolutely right that IF you can show it is reasonable accommodation (i.e. promotes effective communication,”) you can get both an interpreter and CART. However, my situation is different than yours – I speak clearly enough to be understood by most people. It’s impossible for me to show i need both to have effective communication. Moreover, most classes are long enough that to get effective interpreters, you would have to get 2 interpreters. 2 interpreters AND cart is going to be quite expensive and most schools would never allow that. Of course, you can use CART for most of the lecture and just use the interpreter for voicing, which I assume will be your situation.

    This post was just to provide a generalized pro/con list, not to promote one over the another. The biggest point is to inform people so they will know what will be EFFECTIVE for them.

    Standards for transcripts vary according to providers.

    Also, laptop cameras wouldn’t capture interpreters’ signs very well. Moreover, I would rather spend that time reading casebooks, not looking at the same old lecture again. 🙂

    Different Strokes For Different Folks.

    Hope that helps.

  7. Interesting.

    A point to add: the higher up in the educational system you go, the more difficult it becomes to find qualified interpreters who can interpret at that level.

    I have personally witnessed university policies in which priority was given to graduate students on the premise that graduate students required more “skilled” interpreters. Of course, I was an undergraduate and wouldn’t have any of that – I received the interpreters I wanted for my classes.

    I’ve never tried CART, although I’ve tried (unsuccessfully) to get at least one community college in my home state to provide CART for students – especially in light of the interpreter shortages.

    Thanks for a great and informative article.



  8. Forgive my butting in. I’m a CART provider and I want to thank you for this fascinating discussion. I learn something new every day. While not all CART providers are the same, if you have a properly trained and certified CART provider they are able to voice for the consumer. Some of the students I work with are not oral. They type their response right on my laptop and I can voice for them.
    I also provide texts of the classes to the students and others in certain situations. It depends on the policy of the school, the agreement with the disability resource office, the wishes of the professors. Of course, I delete all confidential exchanges between myself and the consumer.
    I have been very lucky to work with ASL interpreters who are very professional. We help one another all the time. In some areas I understand there is competition between interpreters and CART providers to cover assignments. At least where I live, the choice between sign and CART is made by you, the consumer.
    Good luck in your classes! Karen

  9. Hello, I’m a CART provider, and I don’t know if it is appropriate for me to post here, but I read your descriptions with understanding; wonderful to have this feedback and comparison. I have provided CART and voiced for my consumers, as well, using CaseView (or even Notepad). I open up a second screen and make that the active screen and tile the two windows so my CART user can type in his/her question/comment for me to voice. I’ve also used his/her remarks from a chat window to voice in a teleconference meeting that I provided CART for to an internet site. Ask your CART provider about writing to CaseView Same PC (if they’re on the CaseCATalyst software) or just open that second program that you can type into – and also make notes if you’re so inclined. In CaseView you can just hit a key and the whole line is highlighted for you and you can print a “report” of just your highlighted lines, so you’ll have created your own notes. Just an idea to throw into the mix here.

    I wish you the best in law school!!

  10. Hi everyone!!! I was looking for this type of discussion on and came across the mentioning of TypeWell. While looking that up I came across this page! I have a 13 year old deaf son and he is having a very hard time keeping up in middle school. To start, they did not even provide a note taker in classes that he was mainstreamed in!
    He is a year or two behind in reading, vocab, writing all due to the idiotic educational system that is in place for deaf students. As I say to them repeatedly, he is deaf, NOT stupid!!!
    I am considering a lawsuit, perhaps a class action one. Perhaps our anon law school host would like to jump in on this one!
    I would love to be able to connect with anyone who would like to talk with me about the issues that I am facing as well as continued convos about CART vs interps.
    take care
    Tara in S. California

  11. Hi its Tara again, I should probably post my email address since it does not appear to show up automatically

  12. Tara,

    I am sorry that I took so long to respond – it has been busy around here.

    I just wanted to post this so everyone could see it and perhaps learn from it.

    This might be a heretical thing for a law student/future-lawyer to say, but I still will say it. The threat of a lawsuit is much more powerful than an actual lawsuit. It sounds like you do have a claim, but I’m no expert on the ADA/IDEA/Rehab Act. So I would suggest that you get a lawyer quickly.

    Here’s the caveat, I would suggest that you and your lawyer be open to negotiating with the school district. A lawsuit is long and tedious (not to mention, expensive – that’s why lawyers are paid well!). I always hesitate when a child’s education is involved. Once you lose months (or even years) to a lawsuit, you can’t ever get them back and it’s never a guarantee that you will get a favorable verdict.

    In sum, threatening a lawsuit but still being open for compromise is the best route for our child.

    Best of luck!

  13. First year ASL student here – I really enjoyed reading your contrasting thoughts on these two services!! Thanks

  14. Thanks for posting this. As an interpreter, this is very informative!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s