How to Create a Glossary for Sign Language Interpreters and Captioners

by Lyssa Prince, Digital Accessibility Program Manager at Oklahoma ABLE Tech

In today’s world, there are many fields of expertise, and each of them seems to use a different language. For instance, people in the engineering field may seem to speak completely differently than people in the medical field. Each area of expertise has unique terms and acronyms, and those will likely sound like gibberish to someone outside of that field.

With this in mind, let’s consider sign language interpreters and captioners. Interpreters and captioners help us communicate with those who are D/deaf or Hard of Hearing in meetings, classrooms, and beyond. These folks may be interpreting for any or all fields of expertise! 

A simple way to help interpreters and captioners communicate more easily and effectively at our events is to create a glossary of acronyms and common terms to help them prepare for events.

Step 1: Identify Relevant Terms and Acronyms

The first step in creating a glossary is to identify the common terms and acronyms that speakers at your event will use.

Let’s use our digital accessibility conference, TechAccess Oklahoma as an example. We typically have a wide range of speakers, but all of them talk about digital accessibility. This means they typically use acronyms like “WCAG” (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines), “A11y” (numeronym that means “accessibility”), and “ADA” (Americans with Disabilities Act). Speakers also commonly use long words or terms such as “accessibility,” “accessible,” “assistive technology,” and “accommodation.” While these are common terms to those of us in the accessibility field, not everyone has heard these words or knows how to spell them.

Identifying these acronyms and terms gives your interpreters and captioners a chance to get familiar with these words and how they may be used before your event starts.

Step 2: Define and Describe Terms and Acronyms

Once you've compiled a list of terms and acronyms, the next step is to define and describe each. For acronyms specifically, indicate what the letters mean and give an example of how it might be pronounced. For example, WCAG is pronounced “wuh-cag” by some and “wick-ag” by others. Providing all the ways you know an acronym might be pronounced is going to be important! For other common terms, provide a brief definition.

Examples

  • WCAG – Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
    • Pronunciations: wuh-cag, wick-ag
  • A11y – Numeronym that stands for accessibility
    • Pronunciations: alley, ally, “a”-eleven-“y”

Step 3: Organize the Glossary

The next step is to organize your glossary! This is essential for accessibility and ease of use. You will likely want to alphabetize the acronyms and terms, but you also might find it useful to break the glossary into sections. For example, our glossary for TechAccess Oklahoma may be broken into sections like “general accessibility terms” and “developer-oriented accessibility terms.” This might help your interpreter or captioner know which terms to focus on based on the topic being presented at the time.

Remember, the goal is to create a quickly scannable, easy-to-use guide that can help a captioner or interpreter know what to expect.

Step 4: Keep the Glossary Up to Date!

We live in a fast-paced world where expertise is being added at a mindboggling pace, and the language we use is constantly changing, as a result. This glossary is something you’ll be able to use over and over again, so make sure you’re periodically updating acronyms, terms, pronunciations, and definitions to keep it accurate.

And that’s it! Creating this glossary will go a long way toward ensuring your message is communicated clearly to all. Your captioners and interpreters (and your audience) will thank you!

Oklahoma ABLE Tech is Oklahoma’s Assistive Technology (AT) Act program. As part of the organization’s mission, the digital accessibility team offers training and technical assistance on topics related to digital accessibility, as well as accessibility evaluations of websites, web applications, and other types of digital content. To learn more about digital accessibility, you can visit the Digital Accessibility Program webpage or send an email to abt.a11y@okstate.edu.