Sign Language Interpreting: Can Self-Interest Lead to Disregard of Industry Stakeholders?

December 2, 2012

Despite best intentions to work harmoniously, sign language interpreters can often be caught in difficult circumstances when working with interpreting agencies. Diana MacDougall shares a situation where seeming logistical roadblocks to an interpreting request may have had self-interest at its roots.

As an Interpreter Educator, I like to use real-life scenarios in my classroom, where one of the courses I teach is Professional Ethics for Interpreters. This one is an excellent teaching tool on what effect self-interest—even at the higher levels with established professionals—can have on everyone involved.

To make sure we are all understanding terms used, I will pull from RID’s CPC on the definitions of consumers and colleagues. The first is defined as “[i]ndividuals and entities who are part of the interpreted situation. This includes individuals who are deaf, deaf-blind, hard of hearing, and hearing”. The second is defined as “other interpreters”.

The Scenario

An interpreter had been approached by a Fortune 500 company to interpret an annual appreciation banquet. It is open to the public, and many famous people also attend. Apparently, there were several Deaf staff, as well as the potential for Deaf individuals from the public attending every year, and historically, the company relied on well-intended “signing staff” to interpret this important, high-profile event. One year, some complaints were launched that certified, qualified interpreters were not being hired to interpret. In wanting to meet the needs of the Deaf community and their Deaf staff, the company sought out interviewing for such an interpreter. It was through professional recommendations that the interpreter mentioned at the beginning of this scenario was approached.

This interpreter came with full RID certifications, as well as many years of interpreting experience. After being interviewed, she was offered this yearly event interpreting assignment with this Fortune 500 company, and eventually through the years other events taking place within this company involving their Deaf staff. They have worked collaboratively and professionally for many years now. Deaf staff members have expressed satisfaction, and through word of mouth, more and more Deaf community members were attending the annual event.

Recently, one of the executives made a phone call to the interpreter. He mentioned that their company was going to be “out-sourcing” to an interpreting agency to cut costs for interpreting services, and gave this interpreter the opportunity to get on board with this agency. Since she enjoyed working with this company the few times a year that she did, she agreed to do just that. The executive was thrilled to know this, as he explained that his company would be able to request this same interpreter for their annual event only if her name was on the roster. He informed the interpreter that the agency rep would be calling her to set things up.

Two to three months later, the interpreting agency’s rep finally called the interpreter. The rep explained to this interpreter that “although [the interpreter] may be interpreting the event this year, things were going to be different” from now on, and that she needed to understand that. She listened patiently, and cordially reminded the rep that it was the company that asked her to apply to this agency so that they could request her every year; she had not solicited the interpreting agency. The conversation soon ended, with the interpreter being instructed to submit a full resume to the agency.

Submitting resumes to various agencies is not new in our field; any time we want to work for a new agency, this is standard. Even the RID CPC states in tenet 6.1 under Business Practices: “Interpreters accurately represent qualifications, such as certification, educational background, and experience, and provide documentation when requested”. The interpreter obliged, submitting a comprehensive resume, as well as evidence of her MA degree and RID certifications. Soon she heard from the agency, stating they were impressed with her qualifications and experience. The agency then requested that she submit a tape doing her best interpreting, to make sure she met expectations for this agency. Again, this is also not entirely unheard of. She chose a text and videotaped herself, burned a DVD and mailed it to the agency. Eventually someone emailed her back, and they raved about the DVD, stating it was a “beautiful job”, and the agency was impressed with her skills.

The interpreter was happy to have obliged by the agency’s requests, and felt she was set to meet the requests of the Fortune 500 company that wanted to employ her interpreting skills for their annual event. With her name on this agency’s roster, the company could request her, and all stakeholders’ needs and requests would be met. This would reflect well on RID’s CPC tenet 4.0 Guiding Principle on Respect for Consumers to “honor consumer preferences in selection of interpreters and interpreting dynamics, while recognizing the realities of qualifications, availability, and situation”. This situation seemed to meet everyone’s needs and desires.

However, in a later email from the interpreting agency, they explained that even though the interpreter met all qualifications and had submitted an impressive professional DVD, their original intention was to reserve this annual event for their in-house staff. This assignment, she was told, was considered “a coveted assignment” by the interpreting agency. Since the interpreter did not work regularly for this agency, she would not be selected to be the interpreter for this event anymore. Surprised, the interpreter reminded the agency that it was one of the consumers (hearing) that had requested that her name be placed on the roster specifically so that they could request her for this event. The agency would not relent, stating that it was their decision not to use this interpreter for any interpreting assignments requested at this company. The interpreter responded that she would be happy to interpret in other settings for them, but was disappointed at their decision not to honor the original intent of allowing the Fortune 500 company to request her. It was out of her hands now. There was no further contact between the interpreter and the agency. She figured her run as the interpreter for the company had passed, and that was that.

About two months prior to the annual event of that same year, the company executive called the interpreter asking her what had happened between her and the contracted agency. When the interpreter enquired as to what the executive meant, he stated that when they requested this interpreter for their annual event, the agency had told the company that the interpreter had “refused to work for that agency under any circumstances”. Wanting to remain as professional as possible, and not present the profession in a negative light, the interpreter carefully explained

that she had emails showing how she was willing to work with them, but that it was the agency who had emailed her and explained that they would not be using her for this company in the future. The executive asked for those emails to be forwarded to him.

Although initially the company was able to show the interpreting agency that they had held up their end of the business relationship by doing as they asked to get the interpreter’s name on the roster, and that the agency had not been up front about their true intentions from the beginning, in the end, the company was forced to follow the legal contract signed by everyone. With the interpreter’s name not on the roster, the company could not request her anymore, even though it was their desire to do so. More significantly, on the night of the annual event, it was none other than the owner of this interpreting agency himself who showed up to interpret this “coveted assignment”.

Upon Review

This story caused me to ponder on the ethics around this situation. While actions that occurred may not have, in themselves, been illegal, they may still be considered unethical. Certainly, agencies have a right to hire whomever they choose. But it seems to me that the requests of the hearing consumers in this situation were ignored over the self interests of an agency that wanted to fill this assignment with their own people. RID CPC tenet 3.0 on Conduct reads: “Interpreters…avoid situations that result in conflicting roles or perceived or actual conflicts of interest.” Further, tenet 3.7 counsels interpreters to “disclose to parties involved any actual or perceived conflicts of interest”, and 3.10 says to “refrain from using confidential interpreted information for the benefit of personal or professional affiliations or entities”.

Intentionality

The actions of this agency, from the beginning when truthful intentions were not expressed clearly to the company, to the end where the owner himself took this assignment for his own benefit, revealed a conflict of interest. It appears the agency members intended to keep this assignment for themselves all along. Honesty from the beginning would have prevented the interpreting agency from appearing self-interested, shedding a negative spotlight on the profession of interpreting. Perhaps, the owner could benefit from reading, A Sign Language Interpreter is a Sidewalk Executive?, by Brandon Arthur. This whole situation left a negative opinion in the eyes of the executive company, which was very unhappy with the decision in the end.

Respect

Also, respect for consumers (CPC tenet 4.0), was also not considered in the decision to not add the interpreter’s name to the roster. The executive company, in good faith, proceeded with a contractual agreement with the agency, under the impression that the certified interpreter they preferred would be added to the interpreting roster. That was not honored on the part of the interpreting agency.

Furthermore, respect for colleagues (“other interpreters”) was also not considered in this action. CPC 5.0 states that “interpreters demonstrate respect for colleagues, interns, and students of the profession”, with the Guiding Principle warning RID members that “interpreters…also understand that the manner in which they relate to colleagues reflects upon the profession in general”. Certainly misrepresenting the integrity and character of one of their own was not showing “respect for [a] colleague”. One of the company’s executives felt an obligation to call the interpreter that they had been working with for the last many years to state how disappointed he was about the outcome of this situation, stating that meetings for the annual event planning committee were “very somber over the pettiness of it all”. This is unfortunate, indeed. And it could have been avoided completely.

Ethical Behavior Models

In aiming to teach ethical behavior to interpreting students, how can we instill such ethics as collegiality, civility, as described by Carolyn Ball in her post, What Role Does Civility Play in the Sign Language Interpreting Profession, and professional conduct, along with adhering to the RID Code of Professional Conduct, if the very leaders we want to emulate do not practice them? Even in the 21st Century, people can act in a less than civil or professional manner, not realizing the impact their behavior has on others, or how it reflects negatively on our profession.

In the End

Although this seems like an extreme case, is it? Do you believe this is a rare occurrence, or does our profession still deal with individuals and agencies conducting themselves in this manner? What do you think? How can we, as a profession and as individuals within the profession, move toward preventing this from happening in the future?

Food for thought…

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39 Comments on "Sign Language Interpreting: Can Self-Interest Lead to Disregard of Industry Stakeholders?"

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[…] Sign Language Interpreting: Can Self-Interest Lead to Disregard of Industry Stakeholders? From http://www.streetleverage.com – Today, 9:47 AM As an Interpreter Educator, I like to use real-life scenarios in my classroom, where one of the courses I teach is Professional Ethics for Interpreters. This one is an excellent teaching tool on what effect self-interest—even at the higher… […]

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donna leshne

Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts, absolutly.

Member
Diana MacDougall

Donna, absolutely.

Member

I have heard this scenario over and over. I believe that there is truly an issue of integrity . However; in some situations I think that I terpreters need to learn that there was a business deal that needed to be in writing. I wish that interpreter had thought to have a contractural agreement. Stuff happens! We need to be business minded! CYA

Member
Oooh La La - Many People Will See Me on Stage
While I appreciate this “parable”, I’ve read it twice to try to find the info about the “agency”. Is this “agency” hearing owned ? Hearing controlled? Where are the Deaf folks? Personally, I’m offended that a “Fortune 500” company seems to be presented as such an important job. I’m so tired of the idea of “Big Jobs” aka Broadway shows, “Fortune 500” jobs being so coveted. Why is this job important enough to warrant an article? Perhaps because it has such a large audience ? Yes, I understand this story states the terp had this job for several years. I’m… Read more »
Member
RE: Oooh La La – Many People Will See Me on Stage I am interpreter and I agree completely with your feelings! Way to much hype put on the glitz and glamor jobs. As I was reading the article I do understand the author’s intent is to discuss how interpreters undermine one another and I feel its a worthy discussion to have, but I also understand your feelings. As interpreters we need to put ourselves in the Deaf consumer’s shoes once and awhile. Try to feel what its like to not have an interpreter or to have one at events… Read more »
Member
Although I do agree with you that it’s pretty silly to even talk about “coveted” or “prestigious” jobs, I do think that was a very minor point of the article. I think you’re missing the larger point. Yes, the author talked about the prestige of the assignment… perhaps that was worded wrong. I think the point is that here is an interpreter who is more than qualified, experienced, and actually requested for a certain job, and the agency is refusing to give the interpreter the work because they want to do it. Replace the assignment with something different like, a… Read more »
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Diana MacDougall

Thank you, Didi70. You hit the nail on the head. Perhaps my wording COULD have been better. But, yes, I was trying to present a scenario on ethics. Thank you for summing that up for me.

Member

I agree that the over all theme of the article is about ethics or lack there of, but I had just choose to respond to “Ooooh La La” because they had brought up a good point that I felt was equally worth discussion and I wanted to respond to their specific point.

Member
Shonna Magee

LOVE your response. It’s not about us, it’s about the clients. (PS: I love your sarcasm!)

Member
I agree that it’s a sad state of affairs when we pay such attention to the high-profile celebrity events instead of those that really have substance. Working with children, the ill, etc., are much more significant and fulfilling than a night hobnobbing with so-called celebs. That said, we have to look around us and admit to ourselves that we are in a fame obsessed society. Many of our youth, and adults alike are tuning in like drones to shows like The Kardashians, The Housewives Franchise, Pop music, Rap, etc. In fact, many of our youth (and even adults) cannot even… Read more »
Member

I noticed that in paragraph 4 where I state “if you were offered an assignment with…. my text was completely deleted. I found out it was because the system viewed it as a bad HTML tag because I made the mistake of putting it arrow brackets > <. What it actually said was, "If you were offered an assignment with (insert your favorite celebrity personality here)…" Thank you for allowing me to correct this. I hope my message makes more sense now.

Member
Shonna Magee
Am I the only one confused here? We need to do a 360-degree look at this situation without assumptions or jumping to conclusions. 1. Why is a freelance interpreter more expensive than an agency? Maybe this interpreter needs to adjust his/her rates in order to be competitive. (6.8- Charge fair and reasonable fees.) If s/he had reasonable fees, the company wouldn’t have gotten a better deal financially with an agency. Agencies typically charge more than freelance interpreters to cover overhead, etc. 2. Where is it acceptable for the interpreter to disclose to the agency that she’s been working for this… Read more »
Member
Maybe you missed the part where the company called the initial interpreter back to ask why she wasn’t coming any more. Seems to indicate that the company DID want her back, and their desires were being thwarted by the agency. Just sayin’… As for prestige jobs, even called here “Broadway” jobs, I can certainly add that after 40 years of interpreting, sometimes in very high-profile, high-pressure, and “prestigious” jobs, that the interpreters with much experience and advanced degrees are really the only ones that CAN provide optimum service for the Deaf clients in such situations. Please don’t deny the fact… Read more »
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Shonna Magee
The company did NOT want her back as freelance. They wanted her back under the agency. And if the agency wasn’t delivering what was expected, the client should have taken it up with the agency, not the interpreter. At that point, it was the agency’s contract, not the interpreters and she should have backed out of the conversation. Just sayin’. As for skill level- I completely agree! The job should always (if possible) be given to the interpreter with the highest skill. The article never says what level the assignment was or even the skill level of the agency owner.… Read more »
Member
I must admit, Shonna, you make some very valid points and have made me look at things somewhat differently. I truly believe that at the end of the day, it was up to the customer to tell the agency that they wanted a specific interpreter. As much as it may have upset this interpreter, it would have been more appropriate for the them to ask the customer to please take up that issue with the agency. At that point the agency would have heard directly from the customer if there was, in fact, an expectation that the specific interpreter was… Read more »
Member

I hate not having the ability to edit or proof before hitting reply! Sorry, my response is a bit repetitive. I keep forgetting to write my replies in Word first! LOL

Member
I am certainly confused by the erstwhile freelancer releasing all their correspondence to the service requestor simply to clear up a he-said/she-said situation. To be fair, though, the agency not only threw the freelancer under the bus, but also told an out-and-out schoolyard lie. This is one reason why we need a Code of Conduct for agencies, and a body with sufficient teeth to enforce it. In that way, conflicts such as this can be handled internally without all the unprofessionalism and laundry-airing as outlined above. Yet another reason — well, this wouldn’t be the first time a coordinator managed… Read more »
Member
Shonna Magee

Dan- There can never be a Code for agencies. Agencies are businesses. RID can’t govern them, take away their right to run, etc. The power lies completely with the interpreters who continue to work for unethical and shoddy agencies. Agencies can’t provide interpreting services without any interpreters. We need to go work for the honest agencies and refuse work from those that are unethical.

Member

While RID cannot regulate a business — and I’m not saying that RID should be the organization involved — they certainly can create a code of conduct for such agencies and the services they provide, providet the means of determining if an agency is in violation, and can publish a directory of agencies that agree to adhere to ethical conduct, as well as those found in violation. How regulators (state commissions, etc.) and individual practitioners choose to use that information is entirely up to them.

Member

Shonna, if you think RID should not promulgate guidelines for interpreter agencies, then maybe you haven’t yet been burned yet by unethical agencies who have been, in fact, committing egregious violations of Deaf people’s rights in the last decade. Some interpreters, especially young ones, have NO power over agencies with exclusive contracts for the jobs that they need. I would love to see other examples of agency abuses in this dialogue. That might help with the drafting of an RID Standard Practice Paper or Code of Conduct for agencies.

Member
Shonna Magee
Bill- I have had my share of very unethical agencies…this is why I refuse to work with them. ALL interpreters, new or old, are the ones that hold the power when it comes to agencies. How can an agency have interpreters to send if none work with them?? It really is that simple! And I’m not saying that it wouldn’t be ideal to have a CPC for agencies. I’m saying that there’s no way to enforce it other than a Rate My Professors equivalency. They are businesses and follow laws. No one can take their right to operate away simply… Read more »
Member
Very true, Shonna. RID would very little power to enforce in any legalistic terms, but having that information out in the public eye can provide a means for interpreters to make wise decisions about who they work for. If we don’t register with unethical agencies, they won’t have the ability to operate any longer. I truly believe the answer lies within each of us and the choices we make every day. We have much more power than we give ourselves credit for. If agencies are violating the “Agency CPC” then a published list in The Views and the NAD Website… Read more »
Member
This is a great article to bring attention what is happening in the field of interpreting. Of course when working as an interpreter, whether freelance or institutional settings, ALL consumers perspectives and the CPC must be adhere to at all times. It saddens me the disregard and disrespect I have witnessed for the profession. I could go on and on with with situations I have encounter but it would be pointless. There was a time when a group of people believed interpreters are vital to the deaf community, who in turn accepted interpreters into their private lives. Its because of… Read more »
Member
Diana MacDougall

Nicely stated, Doris. I am a big advocate for civility in our profession. You worded this beautifully and it mirrors my sentiment.

trackback

[…] Sign Language Interpreting: Can Self-Interest Lead to Disregard of Industry Stakeholders? From http://www.streetleverage.com – Today, 5:35 PM As an Interpreter Educator, I like to use real-life scenarios in my classroom, where one of the courses I teach is Professional Ethics for Interpreters. This one is an excellent teaching tool on what effect self-interest—even at the higher… Via Karen Bontempo […]

Member
David Cowan
I read the article. I went through exactly same scenario as an interpreter. It gave a very bad taste to the hearing community about an interpreting agency. I ve been interpreting for about 10 years for Atlanta Gay & Lesbian Pride Event on the stage. The committee have decided to try different approach by signing a contract with the interpreting agency. They explained to the interpreting agency that they wanted to use me for the Drag Show since I’ve been interpreting for years. And they receive positive comments about my working relationship from the deaf audiences and hearing committee members.… Read more »
Member

Though I can absolutely appreciate your frustration, David, I would suggest that you not provide such details about assignments. Though it is a public event, I believe your points could have been made just as well without listing the location and subject matter. Just my humble two cents.

Thank you for posting.

Member
Diana MacDougall
Sorry, I’ve wanted to respond, but I have had departmental meetings all day then teaching all night. Wow, there are some really good, thought-provoking comments on this thread. I do appreciate them. I like a forum where we can have collegial discussions and model professionalism, civility, and respect for diverse perspectives while still getting our perspective across, and I thank StreetLeverage for allowing a place such as this. Academic discussions are what move us forward as a profession. There can be a lot of assumptions thrown around, and certainly we don’t know all of the details of the scenario, at… Read more »
Member
Diana MacDougall

I’m with you on both of these messages, Bill.

Member
Diana MacDougall

CODATERP22, you’re a very good writer. Well organized and well written. Perhaps you can write something for StreetLeverage in the future??

Thank you for your post.

Member

Thank you, Diana. I may do that. I just need to remind myself that this site does not have a “review” button as I keep hitting reply before realizing my typos. Would you care to share the process with me and who I should contact–or do you just write your posts freely?

Member

Just an observation, a single interpreter must “act right”, comply with the CPC and the request of a party, and a compromise is made to honor that…yet an agency doesn’t. I’m willing to be held accountable, hold my feet to the fire, sadly agencies come up with their own philosophies of honoring requests…hard to know if it’s entirely honest. Where’s the accountablility?

Member
Diana MacDougall

Again, thank to everyone for their comments on his thread.

CODATERP22: you just write whatever article you want on a word doc (prevents any major typos and allows you to edit) to Brandon Arthur from StreetLeverage. He will work with you to edit, etc. I’m glad I did it. Although there are answers to some of the questions being posed, I have promised to honor confidentiality on some of them, so I can’t clarify everything. It would explain LOTS here. The main point: agency accountability, and that came through, based on what I’ve read.

Have a great day.

Member

An agency CPC is a good idea that will be supported by sign language interpreting agencies. And there is an enforcement mechanism.

Most large buyers (universities, states, the Federal government, hospital systems, etc) use procurement contracts that involve a competitive bidding process. It would take a little education and maybe a little stakeholder pressure to induce these buyers to add a condition that the agency must be accredited (and maintain their accreditation) by the RID.

That accreditation process would include a code of professional conduct.

Member
As a former interpreter, and now agency owner, I find the actions of the agency very poor. Not only does it reflect badly on the interpreting profession, but the basic commitment to customer service is missing. Unless there is a specific reason not to use an interpreter (such as they are unqualified to perform the work), it behooves the agency to respect the request of the client (business requesting services) and to build a relationship with the interpreter. As several have mentioned in above comments, interpreters do influence the reputation of an agency. Do not work for agencies that do… Read more »
Member
Marcia Reaver
I have several points to make… 1. As a manager of an interpreting agency I am required to agree to adhere to the CPC on behalf of the agency every year when I renew our organizational membership. I take this seriously and believe it is the CPC for the agency as well as for myself as a working interpreter. Still, I would like to see something codified for agencies. Then the problem remains that most agencies, in this area at least, are not members of RID. Even a CPC for agencies can’t be forced on non-member agencies. RID has seen… Read more »
Member
john hendricks
I may be wrong here, but wasnt RID working on CPC standards for agencies? Either way, I think its a good step even if its not enforceable. Having a list of agencies agreeing to follow this CPC, I think, would encourage others to follow suit. Spoken language agencies in my area are notorious for not vetting the ASL interpreters, either they have no clue or just want a warm body and dont care. Additionally, these agencies tend to go after big contracts with the State or large corporations, who themselves are relying on those agencies with supplying these unqualified terps.… Read more »
Member
This article really got to me. I read it when it first came out and have been drafting my response since. The more I read it the stronger my opinion gets which means the longer my response becomes. In my opinion, interpreting agencies need to start being held accountable for their ethics and standards. We don’t ignore subpar practices by interpreters and so it shouldn’t be any less with agencies that dispatch the interpreters. Business is business with the business of making money. I get that. And yes, if a business doesn’t meet the needs of the consumers then the… Read more »

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