Civility Within the Interpreting Profession: A Novice’s Perspective

December 29, 2015

Recommitting to the principles of civility aligns sign language interpreters with the Code of Professional Conduct while fostering positive interactions both online and in person.

I have always believed strongly in the school of hard knocks. As a sign language interpreter, I have held the opinion that sensitivity is not a luxury we can afford if we want to make it in this field; if you cannot accept criticism, this is not the job for you. My opinion in the last several weeks has changed.

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According to the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), sign language interpreters are required to “maintain civility towards colleagues, interns and students of the profession.” (RID code of professional conduct, Tenet 5.1, 2009).  Unfortunately, with the proliferation of websites like Facebook, Twitter, personal web pages, public forums, and other forms of social media, this tenet seems to be disappearing into the abyss of the internet faster than you can say “LOL J/K everyone.” I can assure you that not everyone is “laughing out loud,” and commentators are not “just kidding.”

I often find myself bearing witness to those who are using the internet as a platform to discuss their distaste for novice interpreters. Previously, when I would check my usual blogs, forums, and Facebook pages, I would ignore these comments. I did not realize, however, that it was not only novices who were the targets of these comments on the internet; seasoned and certified interpreters were being targeted as well.  Despite the fact that these comments sometimes hurt or have made me doubt myself, I ignored them and kept practicing. After all, criticism comes with the territory – if we are not struggling, we are not growing.

How Far is too Far?

One day, I was shown an interpreter’s personal website which was used to promote their services. However, I noticed that this interpreter also used this website as a platform to discredit other interpreters who were deemed “unfit” by this person. This included sharing an – in their opinion – “unqualified” interpreter’s picture, full name and a detailed account of their interpreting errors. A few weeks later, on a different forum, an interpreter posted an image of a novice interpreting and commented that this novice should not be interpreting. To the credit of the forum’s administrator, this post was later removed with a disclaimer stating that this kind of behavior was unacceptable, but as we all know, the internet is forever. Accepting a job you are not qualified to interpret is most certainly unethical, but there must be a better and more ethical way to resolve the issue of qualification that does not involve potentially slanderous behavior.

Time for Change

Shortly after witnessing these actions on the internet, I attended Street Leverage’s Street Tour along with a diverse group of sign language interpreters ranging from current ITP students to seasoned nationally certified interpreters with more than 20 years of experience. Betty Colonomos stood before us and asked a very profound question: “What are you afraid of ?” We each took turns writing down our interpreting-related fears on posters. The result was astounding. Everyone in the room had the exact same fear: fear of being judged by other sign language interpreters.

After realizing we all were sharing the same fears, Betty encouraged us to dig a little deeper; what came to the surface was some serious interpreter-on-interpreter crime. As it turns out, not only were the novices being treated unfairly, but those with many years of experience felt that they, too, were being looked down upon for not having the training or education that some of the new interpreters had. I listened as interpreter after interpreter shared their own stories of slander. ITP students, novices, certified interpreters, and veterans of our field, at one point or another, had all experienced other interpreters tearing them down. I learned that this issue started long before the internet, and it is having a pervasive impact on our community. After listening to us all weekend, Betty left us with a final thought, “instead of being a victim, become an activist.” This is exactly what I intend to do.

A Case for Civility

P.M. Forni, the author of Choosing Civility and the co-founder of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project, describes civility as

“being aware of others and weaving restraint, respect and consideration into the very fabric of this awareness…It is not just an attitude of benevolent and thoughtful relating to other individuals; it also entails active interest in the well-being of our communities” (2002).

This is a concept that we, as professional sign language interpreters, are quickly losing sight of. This lack of civility is creating a chasm in our community. It needs to stop. Maintaining civility towards one another is the only way to bring us together. Without adopting a civil attitude, we are going to  continue to tear each other apart.  

It Starts With Accountability

In 2012, Carolyn Ball wrote a similar article for Street Leverage asking us what role civility has in the interpreting profession. Civility begins with ourselves. If each sign language interpreter were to promise never to tear down another interpreter, to maintain civility and to keep the best interests of their counterparts in mind; the change would be enormous. We can repair this rift we have created. I still believe in the school of hard knocks, I still believe that you need to struggle in order to grow; I believe in civility, too. It is possible to believe in both. If we promise to support one another and be mindful of our actions, both on and off the internet, we can create an environment that is more conducive to effective interpreting.  

Conclusion

If you find yourself frequently frustrated by other sign language interpreters, reach out, instead of calling them out. I highly recommend Forni’s book, Choosing Civility. As a person who used to think civility was just “being nice” or “sugar coating things,” I learned, after reading this book, that this is not the case at all. You can still have grit and be gracious. You can still be assertive and agreeable. It all starts with a choice to hold ourselves accountable both on and off the internet.

Questions for Consideration:

  1. What are three things you can do to increase the level of civility in your professional life?
  2. How can you hold yourself and others accountable for internet interactions regarding other interpreters?
  3. What can you do to support other interpreters in supporting the concept of civility in the profession?
  4. Can you list several concrete ways we can model civility to our peers both online and in person?

Related Posts:

Accountability: A First Step to Harmony Among Sign Language Interpreters? Sabrina Smith

It Takes a Village to Raise a Sign Language Interpreter by Brian Morrison

The Value of Networking for the Developing Sign Language Interpreter by Stacey Webb

References:

Ball, C. (2012). What Role Does Civility Play in the Sign Language Interpreting Profession. Retrieved October 21st, 2015 from http//:www.StreetLeverage.com.

Forni, P.M (2002). Choosing Civility: The Twenty Five Rules of Considerate Conduct. New York, New York: St. Martin’s Press.

NAD-RID Code of Professional Conduct. (2009) Retrieved October 26th, 2015 from http//:www.rid.org

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33 Comments on "Civility Within the Interpreting Profession: A Novice’s Perspective"

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Member

Sadly civility in our society at large is dwindling at an alarming rate. People hide (so they think) behind the veil of the internet as they disparage others and say things they’d never think to say face to face. Thank you Gina for this timely article; I would hope folks add civility to their New Year’s Resolutions.

gdifioreridolph
Member
Gina DiFiore-Ridolph

Well said Danielle, I agree. Part of this issue is the veil of the internet, we are certainly braver and bolder behind the screen. I am hoping, like you said, interpreters feel encouraged to add civility to their new years resolutions. Thank you for reading!

Member
Stephanie Merchant

Betty Colonomos has established her IMI model of interpreting which is informed by Abe Vygotsky’s theory of the “Zone of Proximal Development.” Imagine a workshop where everyone in the room is valued. If only our profession could unite around this belief. Everyone has skill and insight to bring to the work. Everyone should be safe enough to develop and grow regardless of how many years they have in the field.

gdifioreridolph
Member
Gina DiFiore-Ridolph

Stephanie, I am a big Vygotsky fan myself. You hit the nail right on the head with your comment about interpreters valuing each other. I believe this is achievable, if we are willing to do two things: examine our motives when we are communicating with our peers, and, make an effort to care about each other. I know that none of us are perfect, (I, certainly, am not!) but I think unification of our community is possible. Thanks for reading!

Member

I agree with Danielle that unfortunately we are losing civility in our society. We can create change by starting with ourselves. It’s not easy being different from the “norm” but it can be done. We can be civil. We should be civil. We need to treat others as we would want to be treated. Yes we have problems with the unqualified. I say reach out…

gdifioreridolph
Member
Gina DiFiore-Ridolph

Sharon, you are absolutely right. If we want to see a change, we have to model the kind of behavior we want to see.

dlynch
Member

I agree…let it begin with me.

bcolonomos
Member
Thank you, Gina, for this thoughtful piece. As you point out, most people see civility as merely being polite and considerate. While this external behavior of civility will help us as a field in the short term, not everyone is able to credibly convey civility–especially when their internal frame is one of judgment and negative evaluation. It is much more difficult to change attitudes, no doubt. However, if we can shift the frame of those in our profession, then we do not need to “act with civility”–we genuinely believe in the power of support and honest dialogue. When we understand… Read more »
gdifioreridolph
Member
Gina DiFiore-Ridolph
Hi Betty, Thank you so much for your contribution. To answer your question in regards to what is considered to be civil and what is not, (and this is just my opinion…) I believe civility comes down to intent. If I am told bluntly that I am wrong about something and that I need to change, the effect the comment has on me is based on the corrector’s intent. If their intention is clearly to help me to become a better interpreter, or a better person, because they care about me; that showing of regard, I believe, is civility. I… Read more »
Member
Danny McDougall

Betty Colonomos is an evolving wonder. Her comments here are a tonic to this old goat. Gina, your article is a great reminder to us, and gives me hope for a more civil future in our field. It is perfectly time, as we all consider the changes happening within the profession and at RID.

gdifioreridolph
Member
Gina DiFiore-Ridolph

Thank you Danny! I agree, Betty is always full of wisdom. Every time I talk with her I always learn something new. I am glad this article brings you hope. That was one of my intentions when I wrote this piece. I want to become the kind of interpreter that encourages fellow interpreters. I think we need to model the kind of attitudes we want to see from each other. Thanks for reading.

Member
As a Deaf person I have experienced countless instances of working with interpreters who shouldn’t be interpreters. The lack of feedback in ASL classes and ITP programs is a disservice to the Deaf community. I have had coordinators and agencies tell me that Johnny Inteprreter is “well-respected,” “the best,” or my favorite, “other Deaf people request her!” I have been black-listed by interpreters and agencies alike for demanding professionalism and quality and been shut down for being rude and mean. This oppressive behavior is bullshit. I have been “corrected” by interpreters on the chair, or told that wearing yoga pants… Read more »
Member
I wonder why there has been no response to your questions? This article is about civility and I am expecting to see the art of civility throughout all comments but when someone is being skipped it makes me wonder where is the art of civility when responding to factual instances? How does one become an activist for civility when hearing these instances from a deaf consumer’s experience? Do we really just say nothing at all? Or is there a better way to find a way to respond civility? Gina wrote: “Betty left us with a final thought, “instead of being… Read more »
gdifioreridolph
Member
Gina DiFiore-Ridolph
Allison and Ragan, Thank you both for your passionate comments. Some responses require more time and thought than others. Before responding to Allison, I wanted to confer with some of my close friends whom are deaf, in order to gain some perspective. As a hearing person, I do not know what it is like to require interpreting services, and I wanted to learn about some of my friend’s experiences so I could answer through the appropriate lens. Allison, I admire your zeal and I would encourage you to continue demanding quality interpreting services. After talking with some friends, and asking… Read more »
Member
I have read the book Choosing Civility, approx 2 years ago and learned from it myself. There are not enough instances of actual application of this civility or one of its form in our interpreting field. As a consumer and deaf interpreter I feel it is very difficult to tread carefully. Bear with me on the next part: there are interpreters that should not be in the field and are hurting deaf people and alongside these interpreters are other hearing interpreters scratching their backs in order to keep attention off themselves even though they know injustice is occurring. That particular… Read more »
gdifioreridolph
Member
Gina DiFiore-Ridolph
Hi Regan, I am glad you gave us some background on the idea of cohabitation. Perhaps with cohabitation as the goal in mind, if we spread awareness of this concept we may improve relationships not only with each other but with the deaf community. This may be off topic a little, but as I was reflecting on your response the idea of support groups came to mind. What if interpreters had support groups? Would we see less oppressive behaviors? Would we see better relationships amongst interpreters? Like you mentioned, there are absolutely instances of injustice, oppression and unethical behavior. It… Read more »
dmacdougall
Member

I just gave a presentation at the So. Cal Interpreting Conference on the ethical considerations of Civility in the Interpretibg profession. Certainly it was from an experienced-not novice-perspective, and from the lens of an interpreter educator. Your article encourages me and gives me hope for the future interpreters in our field. Thank you for that.

gdifioreridolph
Member
Gina DiFiore-Ridolph

Diana, I am so happy to hear that this article encouraged you. I have great respect for interpreter educators, and hope to become one myself one day. Thank you also for spreading the message of civility! I would love to discuss more with you. Thanks for reading.

Member

Very well said.

Member

Thank you for contributing to this very important discussion, Gina. I love your encouragement: “If you find yourself frequently frustrated by other sign language interpreters, reach out, instead of calling them out.”, and the emphasis on healing our own hurts in order to be better able to show up in our community in a beneficial and productive (aka: civil) way. This is wonderful.

gdifioreridolph
Member
Gina DiFiore-Ridolph

Hi Breana, Thank you for your comments. I am glad that this article brought you some encouragement.

Member
Liz Beauregard
I appreciate the conversation thus far and wanted to add two things I’ve come across that seem relevant to the discussion. The first is by Dr. Henry Cloud: “To ‘confront’ doesn’t have to be aggressive. It literally means ‘to turn your face towards something or someone,’ i.e. ‘let’s look at this.’” Betty mentioned working toward honest dialogue in an effort to shift the frame within our profession. I concur this is a must if we are going to raise the bar and thereby honor the demand for professionalism and quality within our field. The second is by author and speaker… Read more »
gdifioreridolph
Member
Gina DiFiore-Ridolph

Hi Liz, I completely agree. The first and foremost resposability we have as interpreters is “do no harm” to our clients. I think if we approach with a lense of conscious regard,we can hold eachother accountable. With this small change in approach, I think this can cause problems to be resolved more effectively, resulting in higher quality services for our clients.

Member
Thank you for the article which I completely agreed with you. Now I can speak in a different perspective. It’s no intention of throwing any negative comment on you but, as a counselor, I see many people criticize us for what we did this or that every day. One of many characters is “perfectionist.” He/she had tried to do the civility but he/she tends to criticize us to make him/herself being more “perfect.” However, we see his/her errors as well. They deny them to keep him/herself as a perfect person above all of us. Being a perfectionist is a danger… Read more »
gdifioreridolph
Member
Gina DiFiore-Ridolph
Hello Douglas, Thank you for your comments. I am thankful to have the insights of a counselor added to this discussion. I am sure that mental illness plays a part in some interpreter’s interpersonal skills. It would be interesting to know how many interpreters have underlying illnesses that they struggle with in addition to the demands of interpreting. I am also glad you brought up the subject of “perfectionism”. I think it is a tendency we have as interpreters, to want to make our work perfect. Now that I am thinking of it, Karen Bontempo and Jamina Napier published a… Read more »
skent
Member
Hello Gina and everyone commenting here. I admire this statement from Gina: “I want to become the kind of interpreter that encourages fellow interpreters.” I do, too–but I haven’t always been because I did not know how to balance supporting growth with confronting oppressive behaviors. I have had some concerns about the concept of civility since it was first raised a few years ago by CIT. In principle, I agree with the need for civility, that is not in dispute! My worry has been whether we are using civility in a culturally-conditioned way. Betty addressed this in her comment above,… Read more »
gdifioreridolph
Member
Gina DiFiore-Ridolph
Hi Steph, Thanks for your thoughtful contribution. If you are wanting to learn more about civility as a whole and within the context of specific cultures, I highly recommend P.M. Forni’s book, Choosing Civility. It is very detailed and provides a lot of examples. I too, before reading this book, had similar qualms about what it meant to be civil, especially in the eyes of various cultures. I thought it was just being polite and did not do anyone any REAL good because it wasn’t “honest.” What I learned from the book is that this is not true. Definitely give… Read more »
bcolonomos
Member
Hello all, I am appreciating this discussion and wish it was being held with more people in a larger venue. Reading Allison and Regan’s comments brought to mind many similar conversations with Deaf people. It is very disturbing. I think this problem is so multi-layered and complex, encompassing issues of social justice, psychological and personality traits, economic factors, linguistic and cultural competence, and more. When Deaf people have to suffer with incompetence, lack of respect, and malicious retaliation, there is something seriously wrong with where we are in our (arrested) development. As we examine the root causes, we cannot ignore… Read more »
gdifioreridolph
Member
Gina DiFiore-Ridolph

Thanks for being involved Betty! Every time I talk with you, or attend one of your workshops I always learn something new!

Member
Rebecca Buchan

Betty, while I think that the issue of civility/privilege does need to be investigated and discussed from the consumers’ perspective, this crux behind this article was not focusing on the consumers, it was focused on interpreters. Not every issue that interpreters face has a direct link to our consumers. Some of them are colleague to colleague and need to be discussed as such before we start to layer the discussion with more complexities.

Member
Darcy Smith
This thread has been great. I am grateful to you Gina for your thoughtful article. Your comments about intent perked my curiosity. How do we check our intent? What is the unspoken agreement interpreters enter into when they start a debrief? Are the two or three interpreters focused on their COLLABORATIVE work PRODUCT? Are they brainstorming? For example, while I was working, I was challenged by xyz and I made a decision to abc… Have you tried something else? What are OUR options? Embodying curiosity seems to create so many possibilities. It can be contagious too! Of course, the opposite… Read more »
gdifioreridolph
Member
Gina DiFiore-Ridolph
Hi Darcy, Thanks for joining in. For me, intent (the reason behind what I am saying) as it relates to inter-interpreter relationships is like you said, often pertains to the debrief. Why are we bringing up what happened during the interpreting process? Am I pointing out a mistake because it was harmful to the client, and I don’t want to see it happen again? Am I bringing it up because I want my team to know that I want them to improve and that I care about them? Or, am I bringing up every mistake I saw because it was… Read more »
Member
This article made me think of when I was interpreting in a different place, and there one was specific interpreter that was always causing drama and starting rumors. I had just moved to this town and was new to interpreting. The other interpreters were all trying to protect me from this interpreter, and I had to be very careful what I said to her or other people for fear of her spreading rumors and causing the deaf community to doubt my abilities. I still see her at conferences occasionally, and I treat her with the same respect I always have.… Read more »

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