NTID alumnus runs interpreting agency with community mindset

Carlos Ortiz

Michael Rizzolo ’78, ’86 MS supports interpreting students at RIT through his interpreting agency Interpretek.

Michael Rizzolo ’78 (social work), ’86 MS (human services management) didn’t plan on learning American Sign Language when he came to RIT as a student, but he grew interested and eventually became an interpreter. Today, he is founder and CEO of the interpreting agency Interpretek.

Over 30 years, the company has grown to serve the entire U.S. Still, Rizzolo has prioritized the close-knit, family feel of the agency. He’s also kept his focus on supporting the development of new interpreters by funding scholarships at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf.

Rizzolo became a student interpreter in 1976, when NTID offered a 10-week basic interpreter training program.

He went on to work as an interpreter manager at NTID for 12 years and completed his master’s degree in 1986. He noticed that Rochester needed a more comprehensive interpreting agency and started his company in 1993.

“It’s not a very complex formula,” Rizzolo said about the agency’s work philosophy. “It’s simply being supportive of the interpreters and supportive of the Deaf community. We try to create a respectful, warm, and caring culture.”

In the early 2000s, Interpretek added ‘tek’ to the end of its name. Rizzolo said they could see that technology was going to play a huge role in ASL communication. Consequently, Interpretek expanded its services to provide remote and virtual interpreting in addition to in-person interpreting. This became especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We quickly determined that sign language interpreters were essential personnel,” Rizzolo said.

Today, the agency has 130 employees in 28 states and more than 500 contractors across the country. Interpretek still maintains its corporate headquarters out of a small office in Henrietta, N.Y., just a short distance from RIT’s campus.

Fostering connections with RIT and NTID remains important to Rizzolo.

Interpretek has funded an endowed scholarship since 2008 to support several students every year in the ASL-English Interpretation Program.

“We have a wall of photographs of all the students that we’ve supported while pursuing their interpreting degrees, and many of them come to work for us. We see them flourish and go off to do other things too,” Rizzolo said. “It’s just great to see that over the years.”

In March of 2021, Rizzolo and his wife, Kate, who is also a sign language interpreter, provided a $25,000 gift for the Randelman Endowment for Interpreter Certification.

The Randelman program supports interpreters of color to better serve and reflect the diversity within the Deaf community. In recognition of his contributions to the interpreting profession and his consistent support of NTID, Rizzolo also received the Distinguished Alumni Award in 2019.

Rizzolo said his most cherished memories come from the people he works with.

“I love what I do. I love the people I do it with. It’s just fun to see the evolution of your teammates and to provide an environment of growth, and to know you’ve played a meaningful role in the team’s journey.”

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