Do Sign Language Interpreters Ever Have “Clients?”

January 22, 2013

Instead of subscribing to assumptions, how can we engage authentically with – and empower – consumers of sign language interpreting services? Xenia Woods unpacks the oppression and power imbalance inherent in the term client.

As a sign language interpreting student about eighteen years ago, I was told that the term client was falling out of use in our profession. If only that dream had come true by now. Sadly, the word is still far too commonly used.

Recently, I was a user of interpreting services, and I heard one of the interpreters talking with her intern during a break. She referred to us as her clients. I was so disturbed by this that I sat up and took notice. Excuse me? I thought. I am not your client!

How is it that interpreters have used this term for so long and not been taken to task? I believe the answer is that consumers of interpreting services rarely, if ever, hear them using it.

 What’s the Big Deal?

If you use this term, you may wonder, “what’s the big deal? I’ve seen it in textbooks!” The fact is: it contributes to oppression in a not-so-subtle way.

Think about the people who use this term. Mostly they are attorneys, counselors, consultants, and the like. They are people who give advice. They are people whose opinions are sought after at work. A simple search of the words “my client” turns up these types of professions: realtor, therapist, executive coach, attorney, editor, broker. And it usually implies that the client is the one who pays for the service. Clearly, this does not describe our work.

The Danger of Presumption

For us to use this term when describing our consumers is presumptuous, for two major reasons:

1.     We use it disproportionately to refer to deaf consumers. This reinforces the notion that many hearing people subscribe to: only deaf people need interpreters. But, as I am so fond of saying to hearing consumers, I don’t just interpret for (as you call them) the “hearing impaired,” but also for you, the signing impaired.

 2.     It suggests a measure of authority we cannot claim. While in some cases we do dispense advice – on matters of interpreting – it is inappropriate to put ourselves in a place of authority. As suggested by Trudy Suggs in her article, A Deaf Perspective: Cultural Respect in Sign Language Interpreting, we must bring deference to every situation we encounter, or risk upsetting the delicate balance of power that the interlocutors work so hard to achieve.

If we ever hope to foster the “full interaction and independence of consumers” (from the Code of Professional Conduct) we must abdicate, as much as possible, the role of arbiter of discourse. We must continue to seek ways to effectively walk the tightrope between managing turn-taking and letting the interactive chips fall where they may. Finding the balance requires a great deal of respect for both deaf and hearing parties, a healthy dose of humility and grace on the part of the sign language interpreter, and an understanding of one’s power and privilege as suggested by Aaron Brace in his article, The Duality of the Sign Language Interpreter.

Maintaining Balance

Part of that careful balance – being humble and walking the fine line that allows us to leave as many decisions as possible to the consumers of our service – requires us to find every opportunity to step back into the wings, and leave the players to be fully on the stage.

In my experience, the following three maxims allow sign language interpreters to engage with people authentically, and avoid the self-assured distance that some interpreters create as a result of having felt powerless in the past.

1.     Be willing to be a little uncomfortable. If you’re always at ease, you’re making too many assumptions. While interpreters can offer suggestions on how to do things (such as placement, procedures, and the like), participants are much better able to bring their ideas to the table when they are actively involved in negotiating communication. This can sometimes be awkward at first, especially when the cultural gap is a large one.

2.     Ask questions. Another way to prevent the problems that arise as a result of faulty assumptions, questions allow us to check in regularly and revisit our standard approaches. Asking a hearing person about their experiences with interpreters, or asking a deaf person for ideas on how to approach a problem, we can engender trust and demonstrate that we truly respect consumers’ experience and knowledge.

3.     Use your powers of observation. Brandon Arthur suggested, in his article, The Goo at the Center of a Sign Language Interpreter, “As artists with a keen sense of observation, sign language interpreters become expert at investing in people. They quickly and efficiently invest small increments of emotional labor (personal, professional, linguistic, and cultural mediating micro-decisions) with those they come in contact with. By doing this, they earn the social currency needed to make adjustments in the work environments, achieve consensus among meeting participants, and to deliver experiences that are truly remarkable.”

In the end, no one is ever our consumer. They are, whether deaf, hearing, or hard of hearing, simply people. Let us never forget it.

I would love to hear how you maintain the careful balance in your work. Care to share?

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75 Comments on "Do Sign Language Interpreters Ever Have “Clients?”"

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Member
Hi! Thanks for post! I use the term client on forms for invoicing because that is often the most neutral way to refer to the user of services. I don’t see any disrespect. Consumer has a connotation that seems inhumane. People don’t consume other people’s services. Client is a more neutral term. It is unbiased so if the person is a criminal defendant, I still use term client on invoices to show that I am interpreting for a person separate from the details of the encounter. Same for medical situations. I do avoid saying “my client”…I use “Client:________” on invoices.… Read more »
Member
Xenia Woods

Your usage of the word makes sense to me. On invoices, and without the “my” attached to it, it doesn’t create the tone issue. And I like the fact that you choose specific terms to fit the situation, like “student,” “patient,” “deaf woman,” etc.
I have also felt ambivalent about the word “consumer” and don’t use it very much myself.
Thanks for weighing in, Shelly.

Member
Vivienne Tran
What you argue about is purely semantic! First, “client” term does NOT always imply an recepient who must seek advice from authoritative sources. “Client” actually refers to someone who receives professional services. For example, if I am an accountant, I am not there to dispense advices to my clients; instead, I listen to them and SERVE their needs for accounting or tax work. Similarly, an sign language interpreter SERVES the needs of information accessibility for both hearing impaired and signing impaired clients. Second, clients are “consumers”. Whenever you receive compensation for the service work you do for others, you establish… Read more »
Member
Linda Parkin

I love the phrase “signing impaired”!

My BSL is Level 2, enough to talk about food, pets and the weather, but not enough to have a business discussion.

awilliamson
Member
Amy Williamson
Hello Xenia, Great to see your thoughts shared here! I have a few reactions to what you have said and would like suss them out a little bit here. You say: “Think about the people who use this term. Mostly they are attorneys, counselors, consultants, and the like. They are people who give advice. They are people whose opinions are sought after at work. A simple search of the words “my client” turns up these types of professions: realtor, therapist, executive coach, attorney, editor, broker. And it usually implies that the client is the one who pays for the service.… Read more »
Member
Kevin Lowery

As an ITP student, finishing up his degree, I can attest that we are taught that the “hearing” person is just as much a client as the Deaf person. In fact, if I am relaying a story to someone about a client, I will refer to them as “the hearing client” or “the Deaf client.” If used unilaterally then what is the problem? I do not, however, use these terms during the interpreted event.

Member
Xenia Woods

I’d be interested to know why you don’t use those terms during the interpreted event. Care to share?

Member
Jennifer Harper
I have to agree with Ms. Williamson. I’ve been interpreting for 25 years and about half of my family is Deaf. Nobody in my family has ever expressed any offense to the term–or if they were bothered by it, they didn’t say anything to me. Certainly we don’t want to oppress–we want to empower. Unless another word is determined, I’m not quite sure what else would be appropriate. I’ve heard several terms used, but I believe that client is the best choice we have. I’m not going to write in my schedule book that John Doe is my “Person” or… Read more »
Member
Xenia Woods

Jennifer,
I’m curious to know what region you live in, and whether other deaf people (outside of your family) are equally comfortable being referred to as clients.
I am merely attempting to question the status quo and suggest that we revisit this habit. It may be a while before we find words we feel more comfortable using. Part of our duty as a profession is to continue revisiting our terminology. After all, there was a time when we called voicing “reverse interpreting!”

Member
Jennifer Harper
Hi Xenia, I’ve been living for the past 9 years in the greater Miami, Florida area. However, I’ve also lived and worked in Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, Colorado Springs, Denver, Columbus and Cincinnati, Ohio. Thus far, I’ve mainly heard the word client used. In earlier times, I noticed consumer being used, though like many others, I prefer client to consumer. Your article certainly brings up a valid question. I agree we should always be evolve our language to coincide with the times we live in. Certainly if anyone who utilizes our services dislikes the term “client”, I would ask them… Read more »
Member
Xenia Woods
Amy, thanks for your candid comments. I agree that we have authority. Sometimes we use more power than we need to use. I like the idea of always looking for ways to include the users of interpreting services in our decisions. There are times, of course, when the interpreter needs to make decisions and use a certain degree of authority. I’m so glad to hear that you don’t find an imbalance among your co-workers in how they refer to deaf people and hearing people. I believe we can be seen as professionals without referring to those we interpret for as… Read more »
Member
Linda Hawthorne
I was little “insulted” by the idea that she assumed that the interpreters were meaning to put the deaf/hh in a sub position. I find the word consumer a little unsettling but would not assume the choice of that word is an insult to the one bring discussed. When I use the word client it is in the same capacity I would use it for my massage therapist or chiropractor. I am her client. I am going to a professional to get my needs met. the D/hh or hearing person does not have the ability to do what is required… Read more »
Member
signingfemme

So what do you suggest we call the Deaf people we serve?

Member
Hi. Thank you for the thought provoking discussion. What do you propose as a term to use? I am not sure there is a one size fits all. I am a generalist who works with Deaf and Hearing adults. I am always trying to ensure both parties are getting the most out of my service. I have to be careful that my presence,demeanor, biases do not intrude or affect outcomes. At the same time, I sometimes need to do cultural mediation for the communication to happen effectively. If I allowed too much uncomfortable miscues and false starts to occur as… Read more »
Member
Xenia Woods

Annette, I haven’t often encountered Deaf people using the word client to describe a user of interpreting services. I like your use of “parties” especially in a legal setting. I often refer to them as participants, or use patient, student, instructor, counselor, caller, or whatever other term describes the role the person(s) are filling in that instance.
In classes and workshops that I teach, I most often use one of the above terms, or simply “deaf person” and “hearing person.”

melliott
Member
Marlene Elliott
I dislike the terms client or consumer. As you note here it implies the wrong kind of relationship, “a measure of authority we cannot claim.” I also find both terms pejorative. As interpreters we are always, first and foremost interlopers IN SOMEONE ELSE’S LIFE. To center ourselves in that fact is not to put ourselves down but to find our proper place. Interpreter education that focuses on the interpreter as the primary performer leads to a skewed vision of our place that I don’t believe feels comfortable for most Deaf people. And after all, it’s their life. I try always… Read more »
Member
Xenia Woods

Marlene, thanks for putting so clearly one of the points I’ve been struggling to articulate. I firmly believe that the pervasive patterns of English discourse are causing us to use words in a particular way (as you say, because of a desire to have a generalized category). I too am troubled by the grouping, labeling, etc., of people we serve in a way that allows us to put a distance between us and them that may not be conducive to the goals and values of the Deaf and interpreting communities.

Member

Marlene, interesting that you use the TITLE for the hearing person, but not for the Deaf person. We have no problem labeling the Deaf as such, so why not do the same for hearing? Calling both parties “client” or “consumer” seems fair since we are serving both parties. Referring to them as the “hearing client” or the “Deaf consumer” is a “po-tay-to” “po-tah-to” argument.

I think we have bigger fish to fry in this profession than this.

Member

I agree with what you said however had I written the article it would have had the words “client” and “consumer” reveresed. I actually prefer the word “client” over “consumer”

Member
Xenia Woods

John –
Perhaps this is a regional thing? Others have commented similarly. My biggest pet peeve is when the phrase sounds proprietary, as in “my client,” which sounds like a lawyer!

Member
Simcha Benami

There are countless other ways to say it, most of them insulting and arrogant. “Hello, I’m the interpreter that the hearing people in the room have paid to talk to you” comes to mind. Client is inoffensive and innocuous by comparison and indicates that I work for everyone with that appellation. It also denotes professionalism and integrity.

Member
Becky Stuckless
I have many thoughts after reading this article. I appreciate your perspective and thanks for putting it out there. The first service-provider/recipeint relationship that comes to mind when I hear the word “client” is my Hair Dresser. I am his client. I make all decisions regarding when I see him, what type of service he provides and what my anticipated goal is. If he messes up, or does not follow my instruction – I will no longer be his client. I don’t feel the word client has a negative connontation at all, but your article is food for thought. Is… Read more »
Member
Xenia Woods
Becky, I don’t claim to have the final answer on this controversial topic. But I do feel that it’s an important conversation to have. Semantics are more important than we appreciate sometimes. They can subtly determine status and influence, so we should be mindful of how we choose our words, especially when not all parties involved have access to the same words. While the hearing people involved may hear the word “client,” the deaf people involved may only see an initialized sign that could mean client, consumer, customer, etc. Do they have equal input into the framing of their position… Read more »
Member
Becky Stuckless
Xenia, I couldn’t agree more that semantics are important. I would hope that given my role as an interpreter, I have the utmost appreciation for semantics! I’m not claiming to be perfect, but I value semantics. I will argue in my home that semantics is everything! (Sometimes frustrating my partner and children!) The more I think about this, I think that I most often use the term “client” when speaking with other interpreters. When actually providing services, I would typically arrive and say, “I’m the interpreter, has John Doe checked in? ” When introducing myself to the people (hearing) I… Read more »
Member
One more thought~ the word client is actually respectful. I see it used as a respectful way to interact with people in a professional manner similar to other professions. It might even add a level of dignity and respect to the D/HH person to be recognized as a client utilizing a professional service. Just throwing that out there. I think the article above takes issue with the interpreter getting upity and wandering around spouting about “my client, my client”. That isn’t the case with interpreters who take their work seriously and are very aware of being deferential while providing a… Read more »
Member
Xenia Woods

Shelly –
Thank you for making the distinction. I agree that the most important thing is the intent with which one speaks.

Member
Thanks for this article but I agree with Shelly – the term is a respectful way to refer to BOTH parties who ‘use’ interpreters. I’d never use the term ‘my student’ or ‘my patient’ – I’m not a teacher nor a doctor – but I AM a professional and professionals have clients. In fact, I would prefer that my doctor refers to me as her client, even though I don’t pay her (I’m lucky to live in Australia where we have Medicare for all). She is providing a professional service and I’m the (often questioning, not submissive) recipient of that… Read more »
Member
Xenia Woods

Dani –
I wonder if you are American or Australian, and whether the usage of the word client is at all different in the two countries.
Do you think of yourself as a consultant when you interpret? Perhaps that is why you use the term? Some interpreters do see themselves that way, and there is certainly a valid perspective there.

Member
Lianne Moccia
It’s interesting to see which labels people embrace or reject. I agree that it’s important to examine labels (of all kinds) for the assumptions or beliefs that they embody or hide. “Customer”, “client”, and, “consumer” have held sway and gone out of fashion in most of the social service agencies where I have interpreted over the years. It is not surprising that the argument is being raised here. I welcome it. I use many different terms to describe situations: the professor (Deaf or hearing, as the case may be), the students, the staff, the committee. I am there for everyone.… Read more »
Member
Xenia Woods
Lianne – I fully agree that we cannot ever be invisible, and I regularly teach my students that they must own and accept the role of communication facilitator. It may be a fine line, but I draw a distinction between this and arbiter of discourse. Merriam-Webster defines arbiter as 1: a person with power to decide a dispute : judge 2: a person or agency whose judgment or opinion is considered authoritative I don’t see being a communication facilitator as conflicting in any way with fostering with the full interaction and independence of consumers. On a regular basis, I look… Read more »
Member
I feel bringing in definitions of words is a sticky subject… I find that our field is a fairly unique one. We are talking about semantics here, as they are indeed vital. But, our field is only just emerging and unique terms have yet to be established. For example, “transliterating” is used through our field in a way that the rest of the world does not see it. For spoken/written language transliterating stays in written form. We use the term fairly differently, correct? Therefore, adhering to such literal definitions might not be the best approach. Perhaps, “client” is a term… Read more »
Member
Xenia Woods
My suggestion to move away from using “client” is in no way whatsoever a suggestion that we are anything less than professionals. The fact that we are professionals was never in question. I believe we can be professionals without calling those we interpret for clients. I want to emphasize that my concern is about how the word is perceived by users of interpreting services. In my experience, they often do not like it. If that feeling is common enough, we owe it to them to consider an alternative. The fact is that at this point in time, users of interpreting… Read more »
abrace
Member
Aaron Brace
Hi Xenia! Great to see you writing for Streetleverage. Maybe we can strip away the label and start with the meaning we intend to convey. For me, I think of the people who use my services as those whose requirements direct the course of my work. Unfortunately, “client” seems to be the closest to capturing that meaning (think “architect”, “interior designer”, “advertiser” other creative fields), even as it can also connote the things you describe in other contexts. Maybe it’s a bit awkward, but perhaps we could get used to saying “the people for whom I work” (or “the people… Read more »
Member
Xenia Woods

Great thoughts, Aaron. Thanks. Part of what I am exploring here is indeed the idea of avoiding the use of catch-all labels. What I reacted to that day when I was being called a client was being labeled.
Several people have pointed out above that it’s just semantics, but if interpreters can’t be expected to be mindful of semantics, who can?

Member
Neither “client” nor “consumer” is inherently pejorative. Client is defined as “A person or organization using the services of a lawyer or other professional person or company.” Consumer is defined as “A person who purchases goods and services for personal use.” Between those definitions, I actually prefer “client.” Both the Deaf and hearing persons with whom I am working are USING my professional services, no matter who is paying for them. “Consumer” implies payment for product or services, and it is really not important to me from whom the payment derives… In addition, Deaf people tend to use “USER” for… Read more »
Member
Xenia Woods

Bill –

Glad to hear from you. I admire your work.
In response to your post, I queried three Deaf people as to how they feel about being referred to as a client. (Note: I spelled client, I did not use the sign you mention above). None of three was comfortable with it. They said it seemed to imply a status differential between deaf person and interpreter.
Do you think this could be a regional thing? I’m reporting from the West coast.

Member
I always struggle with the use of the term ‘interpreting for’ as to me that would mean listing everyone in that booking who had any part in the communication I facilitated. “Interpreting for John Smith” (i.e. the Deaf person) implies that he was the only person using my services, which is rarely the case! I completely regard the hearing people, (as previously mentioned on here) are using my services too. I have played with using the term ‘Interpreting with John Smith’ but this somehow feels misleading. I would be interested to know others’ thoughts on this. In relation to asking… Read more »
Member
Hi Xenia I’m Australian and I’m not sure if there’s a difference in how Aus/US use the term ‘client’ – but as in BSL (see Sophie’s post above), the sign for ‘client’ is usually the same as ‘person’, but with a different mouth pattern. I don’t actually see myself as a consultant, no. I see myself as a language professional providing a service which may or may not be paid for by either or both of the clients/consumers/parties involved in the actual assignment, an assignment which I perform to the best of my ability within the boundaries of my skills… Read more »
Member
Kristen Anderson
We must have a way to talk about our work. We might not always know how the people who use interpreting services want to be referred, so within the parameters of confidentiality we must find language that is appropriate and effective. I have appreciated reading everyone’s responses to this article and am inspired that so many interpreters care about the nuances of our jobs. It seems that in order to be recognized as professionals we have strayed away from common terminology and embraced other professions’ terms for “clients”, “consumers”, “customers” and now maybe we can evolve that into something perfect… Read more »
Member
Xenia Woods

Kristen, I like the way you say it: “maybe we can evolve that into something perfect for interpreting where we are not the center of the dynamic.”
Lovely.
Even though we must accept our power, our influence, our inability to be invisible and completely neutral, we can always endeavor to minimize the impact of our involvement.
Thanks for commenting.

Member
Jocelyn Cunningham
I just wanted to share my experience related to this article. I am an interpreter and in the office I work we use “consumer” to refer to the D/deaf/deafened or hard of hearing participants in any interpreting assignment. Since I am newer to the field, to this particular region,and I can see both perspectives presented on this website,I decided to ask a trusted member of the Deaf community about this issue. I too felt that “client” was a neutral word and I was using it in the region I use to work in. What I found out was that in… Read more »
Member
Xenia Woods

Thank you for sharing about this, Jocelyn. After writing this article and seeing people’s responses, I did a similar thing. I decided I should ask more deaf people for their opinions. In the last two days I have asked three more deaf people, and they all said they were uncomfortable being called “client.”
However, I’m open to the different perspectives shared here, and am interested to hear if others (including CDIs) have gotten different results when asking around.

Member
Emily Graves
Hi Xenia, What a great discussion both in your article and in the comments! I remember a particular conversation when I was going through my ITP a few years ago about terminology. My class was discussing the various labels that were applied to Deaf folks including “client” and “consumer”. I remember thinking that “client” sounded very odd to me. I preferred consumer at the time and still do; I think there is also room to call people by their names instead of to label roles. I would also like to second the other commenter who said that he was taught… Read more »
Member
Xenia Woods

Emily – I’m so glad to hear that so many ITPs have gotten in the habit of emphasizing that we serve both deaf and hearing people.
As for using the names of people we serve, that really makes sense when you’re actually at work. It seems that the situations in which I have heard the word “client” used most were those in which we were discussing tricky scenarios and needed to respect confidentiality.

Member
This is interesting and has really made me think! I agree with an above comment – I’m not sure that the term ‘client’ always implies that there is a consultant relationship. The professions that that came to mind off the top of my head were hairdressers or plumbers. They are providing a services, and refer to the people they are providing the service to as ‘clients.’ I don’t know that there is a perfect term. Perhaps the most neutral way to refer to people using our services in person is ‘the Deaf person using my services’ and ‘the Hearing person… Read more »
Member
Xenia Woods

Customer to me sounds like retail sales. I think you’re right, there probably is no perfect term. Thanks for weighing in, Mindy.

Member
Tim Kinsella

Hi there:

I find that most of the time I use either the word person or people, or the signs person or people. ” I was working with this Deaf person/guy/woman/doctor/ social worker and….”, “And then the hearing person/doctor/social worker said…” In the end, our relationships are not strictly business relationships (leading to client or consumer). They are personal, relational connections with others.

Member
Xenia Woods

Tim, thank you for emphasizing that they are not strictly business relationships. I don’t see my work as a series of transactions, but rather, as you say, a series of personal relational interactions.

Member

Thanks for putting your thoughts out there everyone. From now on I think I’ll use,the Deaf/hearing person. It is interesting thar both CLIENT and CONSUMER seem to be initialized versions of PERSON in ASL. Deaf/hearing individual would work equally as well.
I tried to imagine how I would feel if I were deaf and stuck in traffic and an interpreter texted their agency, “deaf client did not show”, how that would make me feel. In that situation, I think I’d prefer to be called an individual.

Member

Thanks for putting your thoughts out there everyone. From now on I think I’ll use,the Deaf/hearing individual or person. It is interesting that both CLIENT and CONSUMER seem to be initialized versions of PERSON in ASL. I tried to imagine how I would feel if I were deaf and stuck in traffic and an interpreter texted their agency, “deaf client did not show”, how that would make me feel. In that situation, I think I’d prefer to be called an individual.

Member
Jocelyn Cunningham

Thank you Justine for pointing out how some are using the terms in ASL. It made me think that I should clarify my comment above. My Deaf coworkers prefer to use the English word “consumer” and it is not signed as an initialized PERSON. They are using “USER” to mean consumer.

tsuggs
Member

Actually, I sign “user” for consumer, and the initialized version for CLIENT (C down the torso). I’ve seen most people do the same.

Member

Actually, the more I think about it. I probably would rather the interpreter say nothing about me at all and simple text their agency, “interpreter not required at this time, available for next assigment”.
So back to the example you all were discussing in the situation where a mentor and student are debriefing. I think I would prefer to be called a person if it were me.

Member
Jocelyn Cunningham
I feel that not labelling is a good thing when possible, but I do know there are occations when we have to talk about the “client” or “consumer” and have specific terms used to identify them. I am thinking about a recent interaction involving two different agencys that have services for their “clients” or “consumers.” They were discussing how their agencies could work together to provide improved services for the same pool of people they work with. It was helpful to be able to identify them for clarity of the message. One agency used the term “client” as they are… Read more »
Member
I feel as though client is the correct term. We are professionals providing a professional service and that would imply a “client” / “consumer” relationship. A client is just someone that you provide professional services for. A consumer is someone who uses professional services. The clients I work with are of course both deaf and hearing or my services would not be needed. As an interpreter when I have to discuss the clients I work with I would not want to say, student, or doctor or a label as that gives out information that I should not be giving out.… Read more »
Member
Xenia Woods

Laura – Do you think there may be a way to still be seen as professionals even when we’re not using the word client?
Could you discuss the work and use the terms “deaf person” and “hearing person?”
It’s clear that several people in this thread are very accustomed to using the word client and not so interested in changing it. I completely respect that, and am still pushing the question of whether it’s really necessary to use that word. Because several deaf people have told me they don’t like it.

Member
Andrea Medlock
Xenia~ I agree with your emphasis on the term “my”. This reminds me of an article that I have students read in Theory 2. “Whose Student” (Coon & Brumberg, 2007, RID Views) http://files.rid.org/articles/1207_Whose_Student.pdf. The authors suggest that using the term “my” indicates a type of ownership over the person’s behavior or well being. It may also suggest that we are THE only professional the person uses for interpretation when in fact the hearing and deaf people we serve are likely to use many interpreters in many settings. Perhaps if I had a private contract with the purchaser of services I… Read more »
Member
Xenia Woods

I agree that if I had an exclusive contract with a purchaser of services, I might very well refer to that party as the client.

Thanks, Andi, for your contribution to this discussion!

Member
Xenia, Thanks for an interesting and thought-provoking article. It seems to me that none of the terms I’ve been taught to use — client, consumer, customer, requestor — wholly fit any of the parties involved in the transaction, and rôles are further muddied when an agency is involved. As for the power dynamics, they appear to be fairly fluid, as well. There is a difference in status that can’t be denied, but it depends on much more than hearing vs. deaf. Gender (unfortunately) is involved (a 22-year-old young woman interpreting for almost any older adult, for example), education (sometimes the… Read more »
Member
Xenia Woods

Dan – Well put! I like your point that each interpreting situation is unique. So true. And I agree, none of the terms really fits all of them.

Member
Lauren Collette

cli·ent [klahy-uhnt]
noun
1.
a person or group that uses the professional advice or services of a lawyer, accountant, advertising agency, architect, etc.
2.
a person who is receiving the benefits, services, etc., of a social welfare agency, a government bureau, etc.
3.
a customer.
4.
anyone under the patronage of another; a dependent.
5.
Computers. a workstation on a network that gains access to central data files, programs, and peripheral devices through a server.

con·sum·er [kuhn-soo-mer]
noun
1.
a person or thing that consumes.
2.
Economics . a person or organization that uses a commodity or service.
3.
Ecology . an organism, usually an animal, that feeds on plants or other animals.

Member
So, I’m still unclear as to how to refer to “the person I interpret (transcribe) for.” As a transcriber, I could refer to this person as a “reader” or “speaker”… but as an interpreter? Would “observer” or “participant” (as in, a participant in the conversation?) be appropriate? “Deaf man, etc..” seems to be too much information or too identifying to retain privacy. Maybe it depends on the context or purpose for which one is using the terms? Actually, apart from reporting to my supervisor, why would I speak about this person anyway? It seems to me it would be an… Read more »
Member
Xenia Woods

Julie – I like the sound of “participant.” It doesn’t carry any status differential.
We as interpreters do have to discuss our work situations quite a bit, to ensure that we are handling cultural conflicts well, and making ethical decisions. This means case-conferencing with colleagues. So we do need to be able to refer to people without using their names. It’s not the same as gossiping. It’s considered good practice.
I urge you to read this Street Leverage article by Kendra Keller on the topic: http://www.streetleverage.com/2012/02/case-discussion/

Member
George Costa

While the discussion has been fascinating, I’ve seen few proposals of an alternative (more proposals of terms which would be more distasteful).

Despite the potentially Legal/courtroom connotation, what reaction do you (author, readers) have to “party, parties”? For example, ‘…the Deaf party,’ ‘the hearing party,’ ‘the two parties to the interpretation’…

Merriam-Webster offers this (only 3rd) for the word “party”:
3: a person or group participating in an action or affair

Unfortunately, their first definition carries an adversarial flavor:
1: a person or group taking one side of a question, dispute, or contest

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/party

Enjoy… and thank you for your time.

Member
Xenia Woods

George, I agree that does have a bit of an adversarial connotation. I will probably stick to using “parties” when I’m interpreting in legal settings only.
Thanks for furthering the discussion with your post.

Member
Marcia Reaver
I have read with interest this discussion. I think the important distinction for me is if I am doing my work or talking about my work as an interpreter. When I am doing my work I use the terms typically used in the setting or better yet people’s names. Examples of this are: 1. Hello, I am here to interpret for Joe Brown’s meeting with the judge. 2. Good morning I am here to interpret for Dr. Smith’s appointment with Mary Jones. Using names or identifying people by their function avoids the use of vague terms like client, consumer, etc.… Read more »
Member
Xenia Woods

Great analysis, Marcia! Thanks for taking the time to do that! I agree that there is no one-size-fits-all term, and it does vary depending on the situation and the perspective.
It seems to me that many interpreters got in the habit of using the word “client” because it’s gender-neutral and vague, so it can be used when discussing interpreting scenarios with colleagues, mentors, etc., to get some professional input on how to make good decisions. Then it stuck and was applied across the board.
Hopefully we can return to a more precise approach to describing the people we work with and for.

Member

I am curious how spoken language interpreters and the recipients of their services refer to themselves.

Member

Michelle, I’ve only ever heard them refer to BOTH parties as ‘clients’!

Member

a really interesting discussion. just an addendum: i’ll often use the word ‘client’ very deliberately when i’m getting briefed by/briefing the Hearing client (ie say if it’s a solicitor) as a way of drawing attention to the fact that we ‘share’ the client. it’s a good way, i think, of helping the solicitor understand that (a) we’re both professionals (so the deaf person and I aren’t treated like helper and ‘helpee’) and (b) in some ways, we’re working as a team. (obviously this will depend totally on context – wouldn’t be appropriate in an adversarial situation such as court.)

Member

I, too, prefer the word ‘client’, but would never use “my client”. In educational interpreting, we abhor “my student” or “your student”, which should be corrected as quickly as possible . . . s/he is ***the teacher’s*** student. I provide interpreting services.

Member

Professionals working in various fields , use various terms: client, patron , patient , student, consumer, customer… To me client puts you on equal footage with the professional. Lawyers have clients, psychologists work with patients, teachers work with students. I don’agree at all with the author.

Member
Paul Barnes

Thank you for this insight. I’ve been the field for 3 years and have used this word almost daily in that context. I have never thought twice about it because, as you said, it’s in our text books. I have never heard any complaints from the deaf or hearing participants. But in any case, this will serve the profession and the consumers well if we all think this critically about the words we use.

Member
Bruce Wheelock
I am adhering member of the organization to which I belong, and also have a BSL of 2. I was, until recently, responsible for booking interpreters for our group events. Our Deaf members, interpreters, and accessibility committee members have always referred to the Deaf members as the interpreters’ clients. Our rationale for this is that they are the ones being served, which is what the word means to us. However, you make a very good point that the interpreter is serving both the Deaf and the hearing members. I’m not sure that we will change our terminology, but I’m going… Read more »

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