New Biomechanics Research by Dr. Steven Fischer

Biomechanics Researchers Giving Sign Language Interpreters A Helping Hand

A Sign Language Interpreter instrumented with EMG and motion capture sensors during testing.A sign language interpreter performing the simulated interpretation in the lab while the research team measures and monitors her upper arm movements.

Sign language interpreters play a vital role in our society by facilitating communication between mainstream society using spoken language and millions of deaf and hard of hearing individuals who rely on signed languages.  However, the day in, day out production of physical signs can greatly increase an interpreter’s risk of musculoskeletal injury.  To learn more about factors thought to influence interpreters’ injury risks, Steven Fischer and Ron Johnson from Queen’s University teamed up with Kathryn Woodcock and Mohammad Abdoli-Eramaki from Ryerson University to conduct a study titled: “Investigating the effect of experience and duration on kinematics during one hour of sign language interpreting”.


One of the first research studies of interpreter injury involving a deaf researcher, this study used lab simulations that replicated realistic interpretation appointments. It was believed that less experienced interpreters, being less efficient in their signing, might produce more signs while attempting to interpret given content and with more movement would become fatigued earlier.


Experienced and novice interpreters were not different in their movements, at least at the beginning. Novices were not producing more movements; but, all interpreters were signing at a high rate of movement relative to other repetitive hand-arm work. Over 60 minutes of continuous sign production, both groups began to alter their movement patterns, consistent with a reduced ability to keep up with the interpretation.  This reduction was more severe among novice interpreters; however, it is not yet known if interpreters omitted important linguistic content due to this reduction.


Understanding how situational and personal factors can influence an interpreter’s movement profile is critical for supporting evidence-based workplace interventions.  Supported by this evidence, interpreter advocacy bodies such as the Association of Visual Language Interpreters of Canada (AVLIC) or the Registry for Interpreters of the Deaf in the United States can be urged to consider strategies and guidelines that limit the duration of continuous interpretation, considering thresholds that be even lower than current accepted practice of 90 minutes of solo work. Additionally, rather than focussing only on sign technique training for new interpreters, the profession should consider recommending strength training activities to help new interpreters improve their resistance to fatigue.

Find the complete research article here:

Find additional research papers at the links below:

“A cross-sectional survey of reported musculoskeletal pain, disorders, work volume and employment situation among sign language interpreters”

“Musculoskeletal disorders in sign language interpreters: A systematic review and conceptual model of musculoskeletal disorder development”

Contact Info:

Steven Fischer

Assistant Professor, School of Kinesiology and Health Studies

Queen’s University

28 Division St

Kingston, Ontario, Canada

K7L 3N6