How to Request an Interpreter from a Referral Agency

Do you remember the last time you tried to request an interpreter from a referral agency and didn’t have a good experience?

Or maybe you’ve never requested an interpreter before and are looking to learn about the request process.

If either of these cases is applicable to you, continue reading.

I will explain what you should be looking for in a referral agency when it comes to requesting qualified interpreters for your specific setting, as well as how to request interpreters.

Requesting an interpreter should be easy.

And it can be, right?


Whether you’re looking for a spoken language interpreter or one specializing in American Sign Language, the interpreter referral agency you’re working with must have a clear and consistent process in place to take your request.

Before I get into the details of the request process, there are some things you need to keep in mind prior to requesting an interpreter. The more educated you are about requesting interpreters, the better things will be for your organization and consumers.

Before You Request an Interpreter

If you can do anything before you start requesting interpreters, make sure to do these three things.

1. Set up an account with an interpreter referral agency if you don’t have one already.

Try to be proactive before you find yourself urgently in need of an interpreter and establish a relationship with a referral agency when you have some time for such a task. And believe me, I know that time is valuable since I’m a busy professional myself.

But try to carve out some time and get all set up as a customer with a referral agency you would like to work with.

That way you’re not scrambling last minute and not getting the answers you want when the need for an interpreter does arise.

2. Familiarize yourself with the interpreter request process.

If you’re an existing customer of a referral agency, that’s great!

You should be familiar with how to request an interpreter. If not, read on for the suggested methods.

Also, get in touch with the referral agency and ask to be trained on their request process.

3. Give as much lead time as possible when requesting interpreters.

It may not seem like a big deal to you, but placing your request on a Friday for that weekend event you have coming up is a bit last minute.

Interpreters get booked very quickly for other events and assignments, so the more lead time you can give to the referral agency, the better.

It’s all about planning.

Most agencies prefer you give as much lead time as possible. For example, if you know you will need a team of sign language interpreters in April, it’s a good idea to place your request in January or February at the latest.

In some cases that’s not always possible or realistic, but it will set you up for the best chances of getting the interpreter coverage you need. Request in advance and you will be in good shape!

If you’re a new customer with an urgent request and have never done business with the referral agency you contacted, you should expect a quick response to address your request. However, don’t be surprised if the agency cannot fill your request since most agencies prioritize their referrals for existing customers.

By doing the above three things, you will greatly improve your chances of securing the interpreter you need for your event.

Are You Authorized to Request an Interpreter?

This point seems obvious, but it is worth mentioning anyway. Make sure you’re authorized to place interpreter requests on behalf of your organization.

Because by submitting a request, you’re entering into a contract for services with the referral agency, and the referral agency will then invoice your organization for the services.

If you’re not sure you have the authorization to place interpreter requests, check with your supervisor or manager. Here is more information on how interpreter pricing works.

Interpreter Request Process

Now that you know what you need to do ahead of time, here are the essential methods you can use to request interpreters. Make sure the referral agency you’re working with offers you multiple ways to request interpreters.

It’s always good to have multiple options, since people in your organization will have their own preferences.

At the very minimum, you should be able to call the referral agency you’re working with and place your request by phone. However, if you have to place hundreds of requests per week, this may not be a very efficient way to do it.

From my experience, here are four ways you can request interpreters.

1. Request by Phone

When time is of the essence, this is perhaps the best way to request an interpreter. All you have to do is call the referral agency and place your request.

Use this request method only for urgent requests as the other three options described below are probably more efficient and less time consuming.

2. Request by Fax

The referral agency you’re working with should provide you with an interpreter request form template, like the one found here.

You can then fill out all the necessary encounter information and fax it to the agency.

Alternatively, you can create your own interpreter request form and use that instead.

3. Request by E-mail

Very similar to faxing your request, but instead you’re emailing it. Just make sure you’re emailing confidential information, such as HIPAA PHI, over secure email.

If you have confidential information you need to transmit with your request, you’re better off not using email.

4. Request Online

Many referral agencies have their own interpreter request portals. These portals allow you to place a request securely online using a web browser, such as Internet Explorer, Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox.

This is probably the most convenient way to place requests. Just make sure the portal site you’re using is secure.

There might be additional ways to request interpreters, but the above four are the most common ones from my experience. If you know of other ways, please share them in the comments.

Information to Include with Your Request

Be prepared to provide the following information with your request. The more information and details you can provide, the better.

1. Your Information

The referral agency you’re working with will need to know who they are dealing with. Be prepared to provide your first and last name.

It’s also a good idea to provide your direct telephone number and an email address to ensure smooth communication.

2. Encounter/Event Information

Provide all the details about the event and any other special instructions for interpreters. This will help the referral agency determine the interpreter qualifications needed for your event, as well as how many interpreters you will need.

Other event related information such as the place of service, address, city, state, ZIP, date of service, start & end times are needed as well.

3. Consumer Information

Your organization may need to keep track of the Limited English Proficiency (LEP) consumers receiving interpretive services.

If this is the case, provide that information to the referral agency.

This may include consumer’s name, gender, date of birth and language.

If consumer information is not critical for you to keep track of, you don’t need to provide it.

What Happens After You Place Your Request

You placed your request, now what?

The referral agency will confirm interpreter availability and assignment with you, using your preferred method of communication.

Depending on the urgency of the request, the referral agency will let you know whether they can or cannot fill your request within 24 hours of receiving it.

If the referral agency cannot fill your request, they should offer you an option of when the interpreter will be available.

This way you have an opportunity to reschedule the event around the interpreter’s schedule, which is often difficult to do.

Just remember, to get the interpreter you want and ensure availability, schedule the services with as much lead time as possible.

Additional Resources

If you’re thinking about creating your own internal request process, here are some great resources to help you shape it.

Please note that these resources are not limited to American Sign Language interpretive services. You can apply the same concepts to spoken languages.

Need to Request an Interpreter Now?

Let’s discuss your specific needs. Contact us.


Requesting interpreters from interpreter referral agencies doesn’t have to be a difficult process. As long as you understand what’s involved and what you can do to make it smooth, you will be in good position to secure interpreters for your events.

If you don’t currently have an established relationship with a referral agency and anticipate needing interpreters in the near future, I recommend you set something up now. You should also familiarize yourself with the referral agency’s request process.

Follow these recommendations and you will avoid last minute stress and headaches trying to request an interpreter for your event.

What are your experiences with requesting interpreters from referral agencies?

Please share your thoughts and questions in the comments.

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