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Communication Access

Interpreting and Transcribing Services icon

Student Disability Services (SDS) provides sign language interpreters and transcribers for qualified students to ensure communication access to academic courses and academic assignments at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UT). After registering with SDS, accommodation requests can be made through the Student Portal.

Sign Language Interpreting

Enrolled and qualified UT students may request sign language interpreting services after registering with SDS. The sign language interpreters’ role is to ensure communication access in the classroom and course-related meetings and activities.  All SDS interpreters are qualified professionals who adhere to the Code of Professional Conduct issued by the National Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf.

The coordination of interpreting services for courses can take several weeks to complete. Please be mindful that we often work with freelance staff or third-party agencies to cover all assignments. In order to secure enough interpreters, it is recommended students request accommodations at least 4 weeks in advance of the start of each academic term or as soon as their schedule is finalized.  A delay may limit SDS’s ability to provide interpreters during the first few days of class.

Transcribing (Speech-to-Text) Services

UTK students registered with SDS may request speech-to-text transcribing services for their academic courses and related meetings and activities.  SDS Transcribers are qualified professionals placed in the classroom to ensure communication access for the student. With this accommodation, students will read a real-time transcript on a tablet that is being produced by the transcriber. The transcript is uploaded to the Student Portal within 48 hours of the class meeting.

The coordination of transcribing services can take several weeks to complete. Please be mindful that we often work with freelance staff or third-party agencies to cover all the assignments. In order to secure enough transcribers, it is recommended the students request accommodations at least 4 weeks in advance of the start of each academic term or as soon as their schedule is finalized.  Failure to do so may delay SDS’s ability to provide transcribers the first few days of class.

Other Services and Accommodations

Accessible media provides equivalent access to media content. Examples include captioned videos, transcripts for audio-only materials such as podcasts, or voice-overs for PowerPoint. SDS works with classroom instructors to ensure accessible media are used during class. See Captioning FAQs.

An assistive listening device amplifies sound. The system is comprised of a microphone and a transmitter (worn by the speaker), a receiver, and a coupling device (worn by the listener) that transmits sound to the listener’s ear or hearing aid. Although it is not useful for all types of hearing loss, good candidates for the FM system experience an improved ability to hear because the voice of the speaker is amplified, while the majority of the environment sounds are masked. Many of the newer systems will require assistance from an audiologist in order to adjust the hearing aid settings to be compatible with the FM system. Students are responsible for the equipment issued by SDS and will be charged for loss or damage other than normal wear and tear.   Equipment must be returned at the end of the semester.

The accommodation of note taking allows students who utilize sign language interpreters or an FM system the option to request a copy of one of their peer’s notes in order to have full access to lecture notes for study outside of the classroom. Notes are uploaded to a secure site to be downloaded after class.

Priority registration provides students who utilize interpreters/transcribers the option to select their courses for the following semester early. Students should then make a request for accommodations right away or at the very least, four (4) weeks before classes start in order for SDS to initiate the hiring and scheduling of service providers.

Preferential seating may be required for some students. Depending on the student’s needs, this may include seating in the front or side of the classroom.

Getting to Know You

SDS’s goal is to locate the best service provider(s) to work with you in class. To assist us in doing so, students are encouraged to submit a short introduction video using their primary language. The video may be sent to through UT Vault or via email as an mp4.

Suggested Topics:

  • Introduce Yourself
  • What is your major and ideal job when you graduate?
  • One interesting fact about you
  • What do you look for in an interpreter and interpreter team?
  • What communication style does/does not work for you?

Requesting an Interpreter/Transcriber


Students must register with SDS and complete a welcome meeting with a Coordinator. Accommodations must be requested through the Student Portal every semester. Once the request for accommodations is completed and approved, an email notification to the faculty of record will be automatically generated. SDS will initiate the process of assigning an interpreter or transcriber to classes.

Academic and course-related meetings

Students requesting interpreters/transcribers for academic events (meetings with professors, advising appointments, tutoring sessions, orientations, group meetings, and final exams) should complete the Custom Requests form in the Student Portal under the Communication Access tab.

Requests for events shorter than three (3) hours require at least 48 hours advance notice. Requests submitted with less than 48 hours’ notice cannot be guaranteed and will be considered on a case-by-case basis contingent upon the availability of a service provider. Interpreter or Transcriber requests for events lasting longer than three (3) hours (workshops, field trips) require at least two (2) weeks advanced notice in order for SDS to determine appropriate accommodations.

To request an interpreter or transcriber for an event on campus that is not course-related, please complete the Interpreter-Transcriber Request Form.

Department-Sponsored Events and Programs

Requests for transcription services for non-course-related programs or events should be directed to the office or organization sponsoring the event. The sponsoring office or organization should work in conjunction with the Office of Equity and Diversity to provide services.

Assignment/Reassignment of Interpreters and Transcribers

SDS Interpreters are required to treat students with respect; the same is expected of students for their service providers. SDS encourages students with concerns to first express those to their service providers by email or in person at an appropriate time outside of the classroom. Sometimes, it may be as simple as asking them to accept your preference in using one sign over another for a concept or asking them to fingerspell more clearly. The SDS interpreters are qualified professionals with experience working in higher education settings. We find most issues can be easily resolved with direct, transparent communication.

If the meeting with your service provider was not productive or additional support is needed, please get in touch with the Communication Access Coordinator at your earliest convenience.

Removal of a service provider is taken very seriously and is not common. All concerns will be listened to and taken into consideration. Requests for reassignment must be made to the Coordinator and considered on a case-by-case basis in consultation with the Director of SDS.

Student Responsibilities

General Students Rights and Responsibilities are available on the Policies and Procedures page. However, as a student receiving interpreting or transcribing services, you have the responsibility to:

  • Request accommodations at least 4 weeks before the start of each term to allow SDS time to locate and assign service providers.
  • Request accommodations every semester in order to utilize them.
  • Notify SDS immediately of any schedule changes, including class cancellations, room assignment alterations, or class time changes, by emailing
  • Make requests for interpreting or transcribing services for academic-related appointments via the Student Portal.
  • Inform the interpreters and/or transcribers and the Coordinator, Heather Webb, when missing a class. Missing three classes without notification requires an appointment with the Coordinator to discuss the provision of approved accommodations.
  • Notify SDS if you are arriving to class late. SDS will wait 25% of your class time (15 minutes for a 50-minute class, 20 minutes for a 75-minute class).
  • Report any accommodations that do not meet your needs to your Coordinator.
  • Communicate with your classroom interpreter; let them know your preferred mode of communication on the first day of class. Work with the interpreter to establish needed signs in advanced classes and labs.
  • When concerns arise, approach or contact your service provider via email or in person at an appropriate time, but not during class. Communicate with the interpreter/transcriber to try to find a resolution. If the problem is not resolved, contact the Communication Access Coordinator to discuss the issues with your interpreter/transcriber.


We currently have three locations for videophones for student/public use.