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Sign Language Interpreters: Achieving Authentic Confidence

Can sign language interpreters find equilibrium between humility and confidence? Xenia Woods examines the impact of having too much or too little of either trait, and how this delicate balance can be cultivated and maintained.

Imagine yourself in the restroom while on a break from your work as a sign language interpreter. You look into the mirror as you dry your hands. What do you see? A linguist? An ally of the Deaf community? A wordsmith? Someone who is struggling to prove him or herself?

[Click to view post in ASL]

Most sign language interpreters have dichotomous personalities. However, this split personality can actually be a good thing for us to have. Humility and confidence are the two seemingly contradictory halves of the interpreter personality. But when well-managed, they are ideal manifestations of the dualistic interpreter personality. As Brandon Arthur points out in, Do You Resemble the Sign Language Interpreter in Your Head?, “an appropriate level of self-awareness is critical to finding success in the sign language interpreting profession.”

Escaping Ego-Related Limitations

In their worst forms, humility and confidence swell into fear and arrogance. The fear stems from a lack of hard work on the part of the interpreter to continue to improve his or her skills. When a sign language interpreter is working at learning and doing her best, and only taking on work she can handle well, she has nothing to be afraid of. Those who are most fearful realize at their core that they should be doing more to improve their skills or that they are interpreting in settings that are beyond their skillset.

The key to escaping ego-related limitations, whether they are the kinds that make us too confident, or not confident enough, is an intentional and well-informed practice of reflection. Anna Witter-Merithew explains in, Sign Language Interpreters: Breaking Down Silos Through Reflective Practice, that this is a crucial habit for avoiding professional isolation and for achieving not only growth, but also well-being.

An intentional practice of reflection and development can consist of many possible elements:

  • Balancing Humility and Confidence is the key to professionalismobservation-supervision groups as defined by Robyn Dean
  • mentoring by a more experienced interpreter
  • peer mentoring
  • reviewing videos of one’s work with a Deaf language mentor
  • workshops and conferences in which one has defined goals and out of which one develops new practices
  • independent study in which one tackles specific skills with the help of consultants and research
  • attending intensive trainings with group discussion sessions
  • personal/life coaching
  • researching, writing, and teaching while applying what one learns to one’s own practice

Arrogance Stems From Ignorance

The more experienced a sign language interpreter is, the more he knows how much there is yet to learn. Consumers, whether Deaf or hearing, do not respond well to interpreter arrogance. But they do need interpreters who are confident. When a sign language interpreter is confident, the parties who are using the services of the interpreter trust that what they are saying is being faithfully relayed, whereas a self-conscious or insecure interpreter will cause consumers to be uncertain whether their communications are being conveyed accurately.

Many hearing consumers fan the flames of arrogance by praising interpreters for their “beautiful signing.” “It’s like a dance!” “You did such a wonderful job!” they say. While many of us are uncomfortable with this kind of attention, other interpreters are quite happy to interpret music, comedy, theatre, and the like, despite the fact that it, by definition, places one in the limelight. It has become for some an artistic expression. This is not without controversy. A recent article editorial in the Baltimore Sun by Deaf Gallaudet professor Caroline Solomon and her brother, attorney Jeffrey Archer Miller, expressed the sentiment:

“Sign language is not performance art.”

This tells us that some see highly visible examples of creative interpreting as outside the realm of what is necessary and acceptable.

Most sign language interpreters believe in humility and understand that, in general, interpreters are not performers. If you have a part of your personality that is a performer, you should express that elsewhere by being a musician, an actor, or a dancer, so that you’re not tempted to use your position as an interpreter to express that need. This issue has recently been highlighted by the Deaf Community in Seattle in their protest of the Seattle Men’s Chorus, which has, for many years, used an unqualified interpreter who openly prides himself on performing via sign language.

It is sad and embarrassing that we sometimes let our heads get too big. I will never forget the amazing characterization that Dr. Laurene Simms provided at the California State University Northridge Interpreting Symposium one year. She took on the traits and mannerisms of every know-it-all, self-absorbed, show-off interpreter she’d ever seen, and combined them into one laughably conceited character. The effect was humorous but also sobering.

In recent months, a refreshing trend has appeared in online media: the examination by both sign language interpreters and Deaf consumers of the problems that surround bringing interpreters into focus. We can all agree that interpreters deserve to be acknowledged for excellent service, but what we don’t agree on is what kinds of acknowledgement are acceptable. Negotiating this tightrope cannot be done in a vacuum, which is why all interpreters need to participate in ongoing discussions with interpreters and consumers about what professionalism looks like for our field.

Balancing Humility & Confidence

So what will help sign language interpreters achieve and maintain this balance between humility and confidence? It requires equal parts self-knowledge, education, and participation in the interpreter and Deaf communities.

1. Deaf consumers are not always prone to giving interpreters feedback. Don’t ask for it; it’s not their job to offer critiques. If a Deaf consumer provides you with useful feedback, you are fortunate. However, it is common for Deaf and hearing consumers to have no feedback for the interpreter(s). This can actually be a good thing! It may very well mean that your work was unremarkable and therefore effective.

2. The best interpreting goes mostly unnoticed. If the consumers are focused on the discussion rather than on the interpreter, then the interpreting process will be almost invisible. This is explained eloquently by Theresa Blankmeyer Burke in her editorial, The Costs Incurred: Hearing Non-Signers and Signed Language Interpreters. In this piece, Burke explains why she takes issue with what she calls “Interpreter Basking in the Spotlight Syndrome.” Bottom line: it draws undue attention away from the consumers.

3. When consumers are displeased with an interpreter, it is more likely to be about her attitude than her signing skills. A confident yet humble sign language interpreter is a good ally for any consumer.

In the End

Each of us has a unique blend of personality traits that make us who we are as sign language interpreters. This variation is good, as it allows us each to be suitable for different types of work. What’s crucial is that we are qualified for what we’re doing, and treat everyone with respect. When we remember to always focus on the message more than ourselves, we will be providing our best work. In the end, the work is not about us. It’s about the people we serve, and their communication. When interpreters have developed authentic confidence, they can allow people’s communication to flow unimpeded.

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Beyond Ethics: Rules Versus Values for Sign Language Interpreters

Beyond Ethics: Rules Versus Values for Sign Language Interpreters

Ethical dilemmas rarely have a one-size-fits-all solution. Amy Meckler explores the benefits of a values-based approach to ethical decision making for sign language interpreters.

When asked to consider an ethical quandary, most interpreters will give the same answer: “It depends.” Every situation is unique—a never-before-faced combination of demands and controls situated in a specific setting, among specific consumers and negotiated, possibly, between two or more sign language interpreters. While the NAD-RID Code of Professional Conduct provides guidance, it rarely can give a definitive answer to the question of what actions should be taken in any specific situation.

[View post in ASL]

No written code meant to guide ethical behavior could encompass every situation. What standard, then, do we use to make decisions in the moment, or to examine our behavior in retrospect, and that of our colleagues?

Consider this situation: During a medical appointment, the hearing nurse says, while examining the patient’s ears, “This is kind of pointless, since he’s deaf.  Wait, don’t interpret that.” What do we do? I, and I’m sure many of my colleagues, do interpret that whole statement, and everything else that we hear during the assignment.

Now consider this situation: During a medical appointment, as the nurse walks into the examination room the Deaf patient says, “Oh, not this nurse. She’s never very nice to me. Wait, don’t voice that.” What do we do here?  I, and I’m sure many of my colleagues, do not voice that statement. Why not? The CPC never distinguishes between Deaf and hearing consumers in its tenets; each directive regarding consumers is assumed to apply to all consumers, Deaf and hearing. And yet, I feel that both actions, though they seem conflicting, are the correct ethical responses to each respective situation. Clearly, the CPC is not enough to evaluate our decisions. Adhering to the CPC is necessary, but not sufficient, to truly conduct ourselves in an ethical manner.

The Values of Our Profession

We must ask ourselves, what values do we hold that undergird our work as sign language interpreters? How does our work as interpreters help create the better world we envision? How we determine our ethical duty in any instance must be filtered through these values. The decisions we make must reflect our higher sense of how we serve the greater good with our work.

The values of our profession are expressed in the philosophy and mission statements put forth by RID, and each individual practitioner has her or his own intuition of what values underlie their decisions. It is a worthwhile exercise to articulate what values you uphold as an interpreter. As I considered this question, I came up with this list:

  • Justice
  • Self-determination
  • Transparency
  • Using hearing privilege to benefit those who are marginalized,
  • Never being silent or immobile in the face of audism.

These are the values I strive to uphold with my work. When ethical issues arise for which the Code of Professional Conduct offers no clear guidance, I filter my possible actions through the values I hold, and make decisions that support justice, that resist audist assumptions and actions, and allow the Deaf consumer to make his or her own choices. While value-based ethical decision making is no guarantee of a practice that always leads to complication-free results, without second guessing in retrospect, it is a good basis for justifiable actions and offers direction where no other directive exists.

Value-based Ethical Decision Making

Let’s reconsider the scenarios I posed earlier. While the CPC sees no difference between a Deaf and a hearing consumer, using a values-based approach to these situations can explain why they feel different to me and many of my colleagues. When a hearing nurse speaks in front of a Deaf patient expecting the interpreter not to relay her statement, she is reflecting an audist society, where Deaf people are barred from accessing information on a daily basis, even information spoken right in front of them. When a Deaf patient signs privately to the sign language interpreter, he is building trust between him and the only other person who speaks his language in the room. Are the two consumers being treated exactly the same? No. But are both being treated justly? I believe so.

When a Deaf person sits in the room with a hearing nurse and a hearing interpreter, he can either be one Deaf person in the presence of two members of the hearing majority, or he can be one of two ASL users, sitting with a hearing individual who does not sign. I prefer Deaf consumers to feel the latter is true, that they are not alone, that they are not the only people who recognize the power imbalance that inherently exists in a society that arbitrarily grants one group privilege, and disempowers another. The old models of the interpreter as invisible, neutral and uninvolved have been debunked. The antiquated doctrine of decision making based on the standard of “what if I were not there?” is not only outdated, it denies reality. You are there. Your inaction is not a default but a choice. Inaction has an impact and consequences as surely as actions do.

A realistic view of our work, of ethical practice, is sign language interpreters making conscious decisions based on the required ethical standards put forth by NAD and RID in combination with the values that drew us to the Deaf community and the interpreting profession in the first place. As Dave Coyne states in his Street Leverage article, Social Justice: A New Model of Practice for Sign Language Interpreters, “Interpreters must be able to describe what kind of future they want. Can you describe to your neighbors, friends, and Deaf community members your vision? Can you think how behaviors, specific behaviors, may get you to that vision?”

Regularly Re-examine Our Values

Dennis Cokely wrote in his 2000 article, Exploring Ethics: A Case for Revising the Code of Ethics, “As individuals, and certainly as interpreters/transliterators, we face choices that can have profound effects on other people and their lives, choices of how we will or will not act in certain situations. The choices we make, and the actions that follow from those choices, can uphold or deny the dignity of other people, can advocate or violate the rights of other people, and can affirm or disavow the humanity of other people. Given the potential consequences of our choices and resultant actions, it is reasonable to expect that we constantly re-examine those values, principles, and beliefs which underscore and shape the decisions we make and the actions we undertake.”

Fourteen years, and a complete overhaul of the RID Code of Ethics later, Cokely’s words are still true. It’s worth asking yourself: will the action I take uphold or inhibit justice? Will my actions be transparent or shrouded in secrecy inaccessible to my consumers? Will my actions reinforce hearing privilege or help balance the power in the room?

Novice interpreters, experienced interpreters and students of sign language interpreting alike must ask themselves: What is my vision of the world as it should be, and does my work contribute to that vision becoming a reality?

 

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Power Dynamics: Are Sign Language Interpreters Getting it Right?

The relationship between a deaf professional and a sign language interpreter is as complex and unique as the individuals themselves. Darlene Zangara examines four central relational issues and suggests actions for strengthening this relationship at its core.

I was attending a community fund development event. An unfamiliar interpreter was scheduled to work with me. Unfortunately, I don’t always have the luxury of deciding or learning the identity of my interpreters before events. Nor do I have designated interpreters. However, the interpreter worked diligently at my side as I made my rounds of strategic conversations with attendees. A break was announced. I excused myself to the restroom. I returned to find the interpreter giggling and talking with a gentleman. I tried to nonchalantly assimilate myself into this lively discussion but the interpreter abruptly tells the gentleman, “I have to go back to work.” A very brief awkward moment, the gentleman quickly departs. I asked her who he was and what had transpired. She replied, “Oh, he was just asking about deaf people and sign language.” I wanted to go find a wall and bang my head. I prayed that I didn’t lose out on an opportunity.

[Click to view post in ASL]

Relational Dynamics

Today, designated relationships between deaf professionals and sign language interpreters are being scrutinized on the basis of the interpreters’ linguistic skills and the extent to which their “heart” is culturally deaf. At the same time, deaf professionals are drawing lines against oppressive attitudes and marginalization from the dominant communities. However, many deaf professionals and interpreters feel that the debates have been disheartening, provoking misunderstood divides between the two.

There is limited training regarding relational dynamics between the interpreter and the deaf professional and little is written on the topic. How do we manage the peripheral challenges and values of the dominant culture as a team?  How do we as individuals assimilate the awareness of oppression in our work? Many sign language interpreters and deaf professionals feel that this exclusive relationship requires much more than impartiality, savvy and recognizing imbalanced belief systems. This dilemma has definitely opened doors for endless debates with regard to whose Voice does it really belong? In the eyes of the interpreters, we know that the Voice belongs to the deaf person. Unfortunately, in the eyes of dominant community, it does not always appear that way.

The Fundamentals of Voice

Voice is the vehicle in communicating cultural identity, recognition and justice. Reclaiming or sustaining one’s Voice is to stand up for what one believes, or to preserve one’s identity and place in society. Deaf individuals are expected to proceed through a series of deliberations to determine favorable actions that will be persuasive, with the goal of embracing the voice of their cultural values. The deaf individual’s Voice or meaningful intentions will need to be effectively interpreted into mainstream American society’s language and paradigms. This requires reconstruction of the meanings and mediation of the facts and historical stories through a cultural lens into a language that mainstream society is accustomed to hearing and experiencing. This is a daunting challenge and a burden for those who do not mediate multiple cultures and languages effectively.

Although, the effective leadership of a deaf professional lies in their eloquence and eclecticism of skill in building relationships and influence, developing mutuality and effecting change, and the strategic positioning of themselves in the dominant culture. This also includes their ability to effectively mediate two languages; ASL and the Spoken English language; and two cultures, the mainstream culture and deaf culture with the assistance of the sign language interpreter. The deaf professional also relies on the quality of the language register and cultural fluency; signing skills; content knowledge; physical/mental stamina; and ability to support the leader’s traversing and positioning tactics.

For this piece, I am focusing on interpreters’ challenges. However, I do recognize that the divergence of relationships can easily be attributed to the deaf professional’s failure to lead. The fundamentals of Voice are moot if we do not comprehend the core issues for the divergences between the deaf professional and the interpreter. Looking at the four areas of challenges for interpreters, I will review:  Can’t Decide: An Extension or An Individual; Power Structure: Guilty by Association; Boundaries: Infinite Rubber Band and Total Congruence: Synchronicity.

Can’t Decide: An Extension or Individual?

The first core issue asks the questions, “Do sign language interpreters see themselves as an extension of the deaf professional or a separate individual where their own identity is evident?” Speaking for myself, I utilize the interpreter as an extension of myself. Now, keep in mind, most deaf professionals do not have the luxury of designated interpreters (Hauser, Finch & Hauser, 2008). Designated interpreters and deaf professional partnerships can provide opportunities to strategize and position due to having ongoing working relationship. However, there are times when designated partnerships are not feasible.  This personal incident gives me pause to ponder the potential unconscious paternalism and/or competitive nature.

I had a routine check-up with my primary doctor whom I have seen for a number of years. Initially, I was very purposeful in my communications with the nurse. As we progressed into the appointment, I noticed that the interpreter was increasingly uncomfortable with my positioning tactics. Prior to the physical examination, I instructed the interpreter to wait in the waiting area. She became flustered and insisted on staying until she interpreted the directions from the nurse. At this point, I was perplexed and decided to shrug it off. After the physical examination was completed, a meeting would take place in the doctor’s office. I instructed the nurse to bring the interpreter back. As I was waiting, the doctor and I had a casual chat. The attention shifted abruptly to the door as the interpreter made her entrance with urgency. She announced, “Hello Doctor.  I am the interpreter. We have met previously. I have worked with you.” She sought eye contact, smiled and stood behind the seated doctor in a very close proximity.  I was immediately caught off guard and felt like I was thrown into a popularity contest.

Granted, this is a subjective interpretation. However, my sense of vulnerability amplified as well as feeling underestimated. There are some interpreters who have difficulty embracing this concept – being an extension. In today’s society, individualism and competition are celebrated. Individuals are encouraged to compete and assert their own story. Everyone comes with a personal story and emblematically, a story is meant to be told. This is a value of the dominant culture. My question for this relationship is whose story is it?

Power Structure: Guilty by Association

The second core issue is sign language interpreters do have power. My interpreters are hearing, thus are representatives of the dominant culture. There is no way around it or denying it. Deaf professionals consistently experience unique challenges that are difficult to perceive by the dominant culture—including interpreters. The dominant culture is defined as having various forms of dominance or privilege; including race and ethnicity, gender, socio economic status, sexual orientation, disability, values, worldviews and life experiences. These privilege challenges are pervasive.

Individuals from the deaf community are not perceived as equal members of the dominant culture. The stereotypical perceptions are embedded in the language and social climate in which we live. Even though the deaf community works hard to mainstream within the dominant culture, the cultural and linguistic conflicts create a hierarchical dominance and privilege by the dominant culture—mainstream America. The deaf professional integrates the interpreter as a tool to gain access and position within the dominant culture. As Alex Jackson Nelson shared in his previous article, Sign Language Interpreters: Recognizing & Analyzing Our Power & Privilege, having self-awareness and an intimate understanding of marginalization and oppression is fundamental. Sign language interpreters who recognize privilege and power can begin to dismantle oppression. Ultimately, knowing that the relationships will instinctively have power disequilibrium is critical. Scientifically and naturally, biology and human nature wants to respond to disequilibrium with equilibrium—homeostasis.

Boundaries: The Infinite Rubber Band?

Boundaries and ethical dilemmas are extremely difficult to address and represent the third core issue. It is a continuous grey area. In the world of sign language interpreting, ideally one will consciously stretch the bounds ethically to produce optimal outcomes. A boundary is an invisible circle enclosing the individual. While the role of a sign language interpreter is to maintain professional distance, mediate information and remain focused on the consumer; the interpreter must also realize the “cloak of power and privilege” worn also influences her role. The interpreter’s cloak carries the power of information, dominant culture’s values, and provides the means of bridging communication and cultures. A worn rubber band may lose its elasticity; overuse of stretching the bounds may unconsciously seep in the dominance of the interpreter in the relationship. The interpreter must continuously perform a deliberate assessment of her boundaries both visible and invisible.

Total Congruence:  Synchronicity

The fourth issue is total congruence. When I am dancing with my interpreter, figuratively, we are synchronous. The deaf professional artfully collaborates with the interpreter to interpret messages accurately as well as matching the spirit of the message conveyed. The interpreter maintains appropriate language register, variation and synchronicity with discourse strategies. In addition, they must be able to understand all the cultural nuances and systems motivations of the dominant community. It is truly a joyous feeling knowing my Voice has been heard and I was in charge of the relationship. While this emotion is personal, the observation from the dominant community is that the interpreter did not dominate the dialogue. The focus remains with the deaf professional.

My Thoughts About “Leaning In”

As I approached the closing of this piece, I pondered the assumption of futility in these relationships. I am asserting that futility is perpetuated by ignorance and ego. Not everyone is ignorant or ego-driven nor do they want to be. First, I am not aware of what I am not aware of. Our greatest personal growth challenge is being aware of our own power and privilege. Second, borrowing a popular concept from described by Sheryl Sandberg in her book by the same title, “Lean In”. Sandberg’s book caught the attention of men, women and colleagues around the world, created tremendous social media attention, led to development of Lean In circles, coaching and resources to heighten awareness and support for women in the workplace. Lean In is a multifaceted, interpretative concept of pushing and/or backing off to support opportunities for an individual to succeed. While this concept is not entirely new, we have seen it utilized by many pioneers of the deaf and interpreting communities. Ways for “leaning in”include embracing the four core relational issues between the deaf professional and the sign language interpreter; an interpreter is an extension of the deaf professional; being aware s own privilege and power; being aware of her boundaries; and to dance with total congruence. It is a step towards respecting Voice and definitely a better ending for this scenario.

…I returned to find the interpreter giggling and talking with a gentleman. I tried to nonchalantly assimilate myself into this lively discussion. The interpreter introduces the gentleman to me, “This is John Smith from XYZ. He was just asking me about deaf people.” I smiled at the interpreter and gave her a nod. “Hi I am Darlene…”

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VRS Sign Language Interpreters: An Appropriate Legal Tool?

VRS Sign Language Interpreters - An Appropriate Legal Tool

As municipalities increasingly deal with budget constraints, many are turning to VRI or VRS for interpreting services in legal settings. Tara Potterveld and Nichola Horrell Schmitz explore the cost and efficacy of this approach.

More cities, counties and states deal with budget cuts and economic shortfalls, money designated for courts, District Attorney’s and Public Attorney’s Offices is being reduced. Unintended and often overlooked victims of these financial cutbacks include Deaf persons. Best practice to protect Deaf people’s right to due process in legal interactions is to have Certified Deaf Interpreters (CDIs) work as a team with legally certified hearing interpreters (SC:L).[1] Yet, the expense of providing sign language interpreters to Deaf persons in legal settings clashes with the need of jurisdictions to significantly reduce spending.

[Click to view post in ASL]

Denying communication services to qualified individuals is both illegal and counter-productive. As municipalities look for ways to cut costs, one area they are exploring is reducing interpreting service budgets by resorting to technology. The two predominant technologies are Video Remote Interpreting (VRI), a fee-based interpreting service that usually charges by the minute and Video Relay Services (VRS) provided by the Federal Communication Commission at no cost to users.

Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) is used more often in courts as budget concerns increase. The courts are seeing that they can save money by not paying interpreters to travel to the courthouse. Many court hearings only last 15 minutes so the courts save money by not paying the standard two-hour minimum for a team of two or more interpreters. The court pays the VRI company only for the minutes that the interpreter team is utilized. VRI can be successful if certain parameters are met such as: using a full team of interpreters (CDI and SC:L) for legal work; obtaining preparation materials before a hearing; and establishing communication with the Deaf person involved in the case before commencing. Nikki and Tara (the authors) have tried this system as a team and experienced both positives and negatives.

Video Relay Services (VRS) differ from Video Remote Interpreting (VRI). Using VRS to access interpreters is an attractive option for cash-starved entities because VRS is free of charge for courts or attorneys communicating with a Deaf person. Given this trend we must ask if VRS interactions help or harm Deaf people in legal situations. Many VRS interpreters are competent, but rarely possess legal certification.[2] Some VRS interpreters do not possess any certification[3] and thus there is no way to assess the quality and competency of their interpretations.[4] No large VRS agencies, that we are aware of, have CDIs on staff ready to handle legal calls.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) oversees all VRS companies. The FCC mandates that: “Preferential treatment of calls is prohibited. VRS providers must handle calls in the order in which they are received.” Consequently, a sign language interpreter answering the call may have little or no experience with legal issues. A VRS interpreter can call for a team to witness and assist a legal call, but there is no guarantee that either interpreter will have the skills and knowledge necessary to interpret the call accurately. From informal polling, we found that many VRS call centers do not have any legally certified and trained interpreters on staff. Granted, the FCC does not allow VRS interpreters to swear an oath of accuracy and impartiality for court proceedings, yet courts and attorneys use VRS interpreters to handle a variety of hearings and client-attorney discussions without checking into the skills and qualifications of the interpreters.

Even very good interpreters make mistakes due to a number of uncontrollable factors, including technical difficulties like video transmission problems and poor audio. VRS interpreters have no preparation time before accepting a call. VRS interpreters are not privy to documents related to the case and might not be aware of the nature of the charges. VRS interpreters cannot see the courtroom or evidence presented. The interpreters cannot see people in the court and probably will not be able to distinguish the role or context of the speakers. They only see the Deaf person involved in the case who is in a different location. (FCC rules prohibit Deaf and hearing callers from being in the same room during a call). VRS interpreters often get calls from other states and unlike local sign language interpreters, may not be familiar with the location of the crime or regional signs used by the Deaf person. According to the FCC, VRS interpreters must continually process a call between a Deaf and non-Deaf person for a minimum of 10 minutes before transferring the call to another (possibly more skilled or possibly less skilled) interpreter unless the Deaf consumer asks for a transfer.

It is troubling that VRS providers do not hire CDIs to assist in all legal calls. The FCC allows hiring CDIs, but VRS companies find it costly to have CDIs on site for legal calls. Yet, we know from research how valuable CDIs are to providing a fair and just linguistic experience for Deaf people in the legal system. Carla Mathers eloquently writes: “Undoubtedly, the legal system presents a linguistic minefield and imposes substantial barriers to understanding for most deaf individuals and many court interpreters. Even with a highly skilled legal interpreter, a deaf person may not have the framework to understand the proceedings in a manner sufficient to advise and receive advice from counsel. Deaf interpreters have rich ways of communicating that are generally unavailable even to the most skilled interpreter who can hear.”[5]

We know that legal situations have high stake implications for Deaf people’s lives. It is questionable if VRS interpreters should be allowed to handle legal calls without legal certification and access to a CDI. Balancing a Deaf person’s right to due process and a municipality’s need to reduce costs is a difficult dilemma. We as Deaf persons and sign language interpreters need to work on guidelines and laws that will protect Deaf persons. It is time for a national dialogue on issues of legal justice regarding Deaf people and whether justice is compromised by using VRS without proper safeguards.

 

 

Nichola Horrell Schmitz, MA, CDI, CLIP-R, a freelance interpreter, is fluent in ASL, Mexican and Pakistan Sign Languages and various signed dialects.

References

[1] The Mid-America Regional Interpreter Education (MARIE) Center has current research on this topic on their website, http://www.unco.edu/marie.

[2] Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf published demographics in 2011 showing of 15,617 members, only 263 held a Special Certificate:Legal (SC:L) and only 124 members held Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI) certification.

[3] See Brandon Arthur’s article Will Sign Language Interpreters Remain Silent on FCC VRS Reform? StreetLeverage.com (Dec.21, 2011) for a discussion on the pressure for VRS providers “to seek interpreters who command a lower hourly rate.  Logically, these will be interpreters who have yet to obtain their national certification, have fewer years of experience, don’t have the skill-set to effectively do the work…” http://www.streetleverage.com/2011/12/will-sign-language-interpreters-remain-silent-on-fcc-vrs-reform/#sthash.caWykfxJ.dpuf

[4] The FCC does not mandate that VRS interpreters are certified. Although some VRS providers do intake assessments, the criteria and qualifications for competency are not public information.

[5] Mathers, C, “Deaf Interpreters in Court: An accommodation that is more than reasonable,” Publication of the National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers, (2009), 20.