ASL Interpreting or CART: Which One Better Suits Your Needs?

American Language Services has been helping businesses and other entities reach the deaf and hard of hearing community for almost 4 decades. While American Sign Language (ASL) interpreting, at one time, was the only option, recent technological advances opened the door to other options through virtual interpreting (VRI). Since we offer both, this article will be comparing In-Person (ASL) interpreting with Communication Access Real-Time Translation (real-time subtitling) known as CART.

Please note that according to the American Disability Act (ADA) that deaf and hard of hearing community have the legal right to receive full access using ASL and or CART services. The ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities and providing ASL interpreters for deaf individuals complies with federal law and promotes equal accessibility.

The Basics of ASL Interpreting

Most people know that ASL stands for American Sign Language. But not everyone knows that it is a distinct language not simply an off shoot of American English. Though its beginnings are murky, many believe that ASL originated from a merger of French Sign Language (SLF) and local U.S. sign languages. While ASL and SLF are distinct languages, there are still some similarities between their signs.

What is ASL?  ASL a complete, natural language that has the same linguistic properties as spoken languages with grammar however that differs from English. ASL is expressed by movements of the hands and face. ASL is a language separate and distinct from English. It contains all the fundamental features of language, with its own rules for pronunciation, word formation, and word order.  Because of the physical nature of ASL, a two-person team of ASL interpreters is required for assignments longer than 1 hour in duration.

The National Center for Health Statistics claims that 28 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss, though only between two and eight percent of them are ASL speakers. Helping these select individuals translate the audible into the understandable is the job of an ASL interpreter. If you have ever been to a play, a concert or watched a government briefing, you have probably seen an ASL interpreter signing just out of view. An interesting side note is that Statista estimates that there are currently around 60,000 active ASL interpreters in the USA.

The Benefits of ASL Interpreting

When it comes to communicating with hard-of-hearing or deaf audiences, there are a few reasons you might want to opt for an ASL interpreter over CART services. These include:

  • A More Personal Connection: A real person has several advantages over a computer screen. First, human interpreters have an easier time conveying emotion. Second, they are better equipped to point out speakers and assist with pronunciation issues. Finally, an interpreter gives a deaf or hard of hearing person a chance to bond with another person.
  • Enhanced Speed: Skilled interpreters can hold pace with even the fastest speakers as this article about Amber Galloway and the world’s fastest rapper shows. The lack of delay makes it easier for deaf and hard of hearing individuals to keep up with the conversation.
  • Cost Effective: While costs range by the type of ASL you need (Legal, medical, business, etc.) and when the assignment is scheduled, the cost off ASL, across the board, is less money than CART.

The Drawbacks of ASL Interpreting

As technology continues to evolve, the weak points of ASL interpreting become more apparent. Below are three reasons you might want to forego the traditional in favor of CART:

  • Less Privacy: Observant people can quickly spot the hard of hearing when an interpreter is in the room. This can make some members of the Deaf community uncomfortable.
  • Lack of Transcripts: While CART often comes with a physical copy of what was said, the same thing does not hold for ASL interpreting. This can limit recall and make long-term communication more difficult. This is one reason to consider combining the two. Alternatively, you can film your event and add captions at a later date.
  • Overall Reach: Though CART is less known then ASL, in reality, it benefits more people in the deaf and hard of hearing community than ASL. So, unless you know your audience is full of fluent signers, CART is often the way to go. Sometimes, for maximum coverage, both ASL & CART are utilized for assignments.

What Is CART?

While the majority of people know what American Sign Language is, the same cannot be said for Communication Access Real-Time Translation. Often referred to as CART, this communication method for the deaf and hard of hearing is best described as subtitling for live discussions. Unlike ASL, which relies on a professional interpreter, CART services are provided by a well-trained stenographer or transcriptionist. They transcribe anything said and then broadcast the resulting text to a phone, computer, or TV screen.

CART is often seen as a cost-effective and efficient way to ensure everybody can follow along. While often used to help deaf students in the classroom, CART captioning benefits anyone that can read.  Much like ASL interpreting, it can be done both onsite with a physical transcriptionist or remotely with an offsite one.

Why You Should Consider CART

Communication Access Real-Time Translation is growing in popularity due to the following characteristics:

  • It Serves a Wider Array of Deaf People: If you do a little math, you will realize that 90 percent of hard-of-hearing people in the USA do not speak ASL fluently. CART makes it so these people can join in on the conversation as well.
  • CART Makes It Scalable: While people in the front rows can easily make out what an interpreter is signing, it gets harder as the distance increases. Since captions can be beamed to multiple screens simultaneously, they do not have to factor speaker distance into the equation.
  • It’s Subtle: Some deaf or hard of hearing people would prefer to keep their condition to themselves. Having an interpreter front and center, one that they’re constantly referring to, makes that difficult. Because it looks a lot like normal note taking, remote CART allows them to maintain their privacy while allowing them to participate.
  • The Text Provides a Written Record: Having a transcript of everything your professor said would be a godsend come finals. Having a record of a meeting can also provide clarity to all those involved as well. The physical nature of CART recording makes that possible. This ability is one reason so many college students opt for CART over traditional ASL interpreting. 

A Few Reasons CART Might Not Be for You

Sometimes, the old ways are the best. When opting for CART services, understand that:

  • CART Is Slower Than Your Average Interpreter: Even the fastest transcriptionist will type slower than the person speaking. CART users report about a 10-second delay from spoken word to transcript. Like old Japanese dubs, this can lead to cognitive dissonance.
  • Reading the Screen Divides Your Attention: Hopefully, your professor doesn’t do too much that needs your eyes. Because you’re constantly moving between your screen and the speaker, a deaf person can miss out on physical cues and demonstrations.
  • Technical Difficulties Can Be Disastrous: One bad connection and your CART session come tumbling down like a house of cards. Because most ASL interpreting is done in person, this is rarely a factor. To lower the chances of technology issues, check all your equipment beforehand. We suggest testing out any meeting 15 or so minutes before showtime.
  • CART Can Be Taxing: Staring at a screen for hours on end can strain your eyes. While wearing certain glasses can mitigate this, it’s not a long-term solution. Furthermore, because you must remain in sight of the screen, CART can make it harder to treat your periodic bursts of restless leg syndromes.

About American Language Services

Founded in 1985, American Language Services was there to help pioneer the rise in remote ASL interpreting options. Our dedication to quality and client satisfaction in interpreting allowed us to shift from a one-woman agency into one of the most successful language agencies in the world. Our language experts provide CART and ASL interpreting services to people all around the world. Because of our 24/7 availability, you’ll never have to worry about us not picking up the phone.

AML-Global has some of the most impressive linguistic talents in the world. These highly skilled language professionals are recruited, screened, and tested to ensure high-quality work.

Contact us by email at or via phone at 1-800-951-5020 for a free estimate on our CART and ASL services.


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