Posted on

Sign Language Interpreters: Team Interpreting and its Ethical Consequences

Sign Language Interpreter Considering the Ethics of Her Team

Accepting team assignments with sign language interpreters who continually violate the CPC is tantamount to approving and participating in ethical breeches. How can we better hold our colleagues – and ourselves – accountable?

For various reasons we, as interpreters, decline assignments. These reasons may include, but are not limited to: one’s level of familiarity with content, a conflict of interest, a lack of availability, gaps in training, and a respect for the interpreter preference of the communities we serve. How many times is it that we decline work based on the ethics and integrity of our team?

We are all accountable for ourselves and for the ethical challenges we are faced with while working. Within this accountability is discretion about teaming – discretion that employs itself when we accept or decline work.

When an interpreter continually violates the NAD-RID Code of Professional Conduct (CPC) (1), that interpreter blatantly oppresses the communities we serve and is harming peoples’ lives; we are all affected. I have often heard “I work with ‘so-and-so’ interpreter, and even though I know and have seen these behaviors that interpreter has done nothing to me.”

These are comments I do not understand.

The rationale behind the comment, “ . . . that interpreter has done nothing to me,” is astounding. When interpreters are destructive on the job and breach the ethics they are bound to uphold, they are directly affecting our profession and, consequently, the communities we serve. These behaviors imply to all parties involved that this is what interpreters do and should be doing.

Doing Nothing is Doing Something

To do nothing is to passively accept unethical actions.

To do nothing is to shirk the responsibility of holding each other accountable.

Unethical behavior takes all shapes and sizes: fraudulent business practices, threats of retaliation, withholding information from the parties involved, stealing information from the parties involved, disregarding professional boundaries while on the job, disclosing confidential information, accepting work continuously in a setting for which one is unqualified… the list goes go on and on.

While the above-mentioned acts all violate the current rules-based (2) CPC, I would like to go one step further, to acts where one asserts their power and privilege while interpreting. This unethical behavior is audism. Examples of audist behavior could include, but are not limited to: using spoken English to co-opt an interpreted interaction for the interpreter’s benefit, making side comments to the hearing participants unbeknownst to the Deaf individual(s), having rudimentary language fluency, ignoring the request for a Deaf interpreter, and possessing minimal Deaf world cultural context, all of which are tactics of disempowerment (3).

As Lewis Merkin points out in his recent vlog (4), audism can be experienced in many forms, some even covert. As we take a deeper look into why and when we turn down work, we also need to consider that accepting assignments with an unethical interpreter as your team is a form covert audism.

While working in a teamed situation we are seen as one. When we choose to work with unethical interpreters we are clearly showing, to all parties involved, that we have consented to work with these individuals and that we support each other. This consent condones past behaviors, supports current ones, and perpetuates the opportunity for further occurrences. When we accept work with unethical teams we are complicit in the infractions; what’s more, we are reinforcing the offers of work available on teamed assignments.

The Current Frame for Ethical Guidance

During the 2012 RID Region I Conference in Atlantic City, NJ, RID Ethical Practices System (EPS) (5) representatives gave an overview of EPS policies and procedures, as well as the occurrences of grievances filed within the past few years. The number of accepted complaints was in the single digits.

These representatives explained that, though they receive dozens of grievances, many grievances are not accepted due to the following: time lapse since the occurrence, complaints against working, but not RID-certified interpreters, and/or complaints against interpreter agencies.

In my mind, the EPS procedure is inordinately lengthy. In order for any person to file a complaint, one must have a comprehensive understanding of the 37 page handbook, and trust the system from which it originated.

Could this be the reason the number of grievances are in the single digits?

Case in Point

A couple of examples.

Example One

(reference at approximately 3:04 and 5:20 into video)

As is indicated in example one (6), RID’s response to the grievance was that the 90-day time limit was up, and that “This case will now be dismissed and she [the interpreter] will not be notified of this.” What is the rationale for not notifying the interpreter that a grievance had been filed against her? Notification would make the interpreter aware that the decisions she is making are causing harm and, albeit past the 90-day limit, a grievance has been filed against her. Instead, by doing nothing, her behavior has been endorsed.

Example Two

As we see in example two (7), the grievance was filed and a request was made for expediency due to the severity of the situation and extenuating circumstances. Even so, the process took two years for a final decision. Within this final decision the interpreter was cited to have violated four of the seven tenets within the CPC. The resolution to the matter – the interpreter is to take an online course.

Unfortunately, this system sends a clear message that the Deaf experience of prolonged encounters with egregious and oppressive interpreter behavior, two years of costly waiting, and four serious violations of the CPC, all amounts to a measly slap on the wrist and an online course.

To me, this is hardly a resolution.

While the number of public grievances may be small, unethical behavior is still running rampant. As it stands, RID is the sole vehicle to certification. Revoking someone’s certification as a sanction for unethical behavior is critical to protecting the value of certification.

What Should be Done?

As interpreters, we have the duty to make decisions based on discretion. This discretion is powerful. We have the ability to choose where, when, and with whom we team and work. If the people with whom we work create discord in our ethical conscience, it is time to reevaluate.

Suppose we were to reframe the ways in which we accept work? What if we all stood on the grounds of doing the most good and upholding the linguistic rights of the communities we serve and ultimately are a part of, (8) each and every time?

We may be faced with discomfort in telling an agency or a requestor: “I am available, but I have an ethical conflict with this interpreter. Therefore I am unable to accept this assignment.” In doing so, we are taking the initiative to create change (9) and shift the paradigm.

We may be met with resistance since we are “that interpreter” who questions teaming decisions made by the gatekeepers in our profession. The beauty of that resistance is the opportunity for dialogue and deeper exploration as to why ethical teams and practices matter.

I invite you to be the catalyst for an ethical support community and delve into this idea of declining work based upon the unethical history of our potential team. In this ethical support community, let’s talk about how this idea and practice affect us as individual practitioners, affect the communities we serve, affect our overall working rapport, and ultimately, reflect our accountability.

What lasting impression will you create?

 

Works Cited

(1) Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, NAD-RID Code of Professional Conduct, May 2013

(2) Kidder, Rushworth How Good People Make Tough Choices New York: Harper, 2009. Print.

(3) Suggs,Trudy Street Leverage, Deaf Disempowerment and Today’s Interpreter, Posted December 11, 2012 Retrieved May 2013

(4) Lewis Merkin You Tube personal vlog, Posted April 24, 2013 Retrieved May 2013 https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=XIeSlSmOyIg_

(5) Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Ethical Practice Systems Policy Manual, May 2013

(6) Dottie Stafford Griffith personal vlog, Posted April 22, 2013 Retrieved May 2013

(7) Paul Shreeman You Tube personal vlog, Posted January 14, 2013 Retrieved May 2013

(8) Cokely, Dennis “Exploring Ethics: A Case for Revisiting the Code of Ethics”, 2000

(9) Street Leverage, Sign Language Interpreters Embody the Change You Want to See, Posted May 8, 2013 Retrieved May 2013

Posted on

RID: Retraction Leaves Interpreters with Deaf Parents in Doubt

Sign Language Interpreters With Deaf Parents Stunned

Brandon Arthur interviews Laurie Nash, Vice Chair of the Interpreters with Deaf Parents (IDP) Member Section of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), on the stunning  retraction of the referendum, that if passed, would have established a designated position on the RID Board of Directors for an IDP Member at Large position.

Highlights

“Many of us felt that the passage of this referendum was important in order to help RID reconnect with the deaf community and the values that were the foundation of the establishment of RID 50 years ago.”

“I am here to talk about IDP but I do want to acknowledge that other members feel disenfranchised by RID as well. I cannot speak for them but they do have similar feelings of not being involved in the decision making process. IDP believed that if we had a position on the board then that would guarantee a place at the decision making table.”

“The president somehow misunderstood that a 2/3 majority of the vote was required as opposed to the a simple majority she used to determine the initial passage of the referendum.”

“We were told this late on Wednesday night and the announcement from the board was made Thursday. Obviously the RID board had already prepared their announcement and video and were ready to announce this to the membership.”

“I think for many IDP members there is a desire for our organization and our members to recognize that indeed many interpreters with deaf parents bring something unique to our field.”

“I think it is important to emphasize that respectful dialogue is the key to moving forward. I encourage all members of RID be mindful of respecting each other as we move forward.”

Interview Transcript

Brandon: Hello everyone. I am Brandon Arthur from StreetLeverage.com. I am here with Laurie Nash, Vice-Chair of RID’s Interpreters with Deaf Parents Member Section. Welcome Laurie.

Laurie: Hello. Thank you for hosting this dialogue and inviting me.

Brandon: We are here to discuss RID’s announcement from last week about Motion E, the referendum that if passed, would have established a designated position on the RID board of directors for an IDP member at large.  With the announcement that the referendum did not pass, I imagine there to be a lot of emotional responses to the announcement. Before we get into the retraction and the response from IDP, I’d like to back up a little bit to the beginning of March when RID announced the historic passage of a bylaws referendum that would establish an IDP seat on the Board of Directors.  Can you share with us the feeling and thoughts that the IDP membership had when they learned of the referendum’s passage?

Laurie: Clearly many people, including IDP members, who supported this motion, felt that after a long time we would be getting some change in the direction of RID. Many of us felt that the passage of this referendum was important in order to help RID reconnect with the deaf community and the values that were the foundation of the establishment of RID 50 years ago.  So yes, many people were relieved and happy. I know for myself, I felt that after many years, I now have a way to reconnect with RID.  The passage of the referendum gave me faith in RID again.  Learning that the referendum has passed in the first week of March left people feeling positive and pleased with all of the hard work done to get the referendum to vote

Brandon: You mention “having faith”’ in RID again. So, describe for us what the leadership of IDP, members of RID, and allies feel that this position represents for the future of RID.

Laurie: I believe that IDP members are not unique in feeling that they are underrepresented within RID. There are other groups of interpreters that feel the same way. We have all felt frustrated at some of the decisions made by the RID Board of Directors. These decisions show again a divergence from the communities we serve; their culture, their norms, their values. We have strayed away from that. So an IDP position on the board, we felt, would guarantee that along with the Deaf member at large that is already a part of the board, there would be a stronger connection to native language users and deaf-world natives  and those board members would be involved with the decisions of RID from this point forward. Historically there have been a lot of frustrations among many groups. I am here to talk about IDP but I do want to acknowledge that other members feel disenfranchised by RID as well. I cannot speak for them but they do have similar feelings of not being involved in the decision making process. IDP believed that if we had a position on the board then that would guarantee a place at the decision making table. This motion was initially made taking into consideration the current structure of RID. Many people have brought up different ideas for a restructuring of the board and changing the composition of the board.   I think that re-evaluating the board is a good idea but that’s not our current reality.  The current board composition is what was in mind when the motion was made. Let me clarify, the motion came out of the 2010 Region II conference. The motion carried and was then brought to the floor of the national conference in 2011. A lot of people were involved in the discussions to ensure that the position would work within the current board structure.  Members were both in support and opposition for various reasons but for the collective IDP membership was in support of this motion and the concept behind it: that our voice was missing from the board. Our current board has 3 people who are interpreters with deaf parents. 2 are deaf and 1 is hearing but that was not always the case. For many, many years there were no native voices on the rid board.

Brandon: You have recognized that IDP is not the only group within RID who may not feel that they have access to the decision making tables of the organization and by extension our field. That being said, to be told that you had a place at the table and then for that place to be taken away with the retraction must create an environment where there is little to no trust in the leadership of RID.  How did the news that the referendum did not pass actually unfold for IDP? How were you notified?

Laurie:  Well the announcement came out last Thursday. On Wednesday at 9pm, the 4 members of the IDP executive council, participated in a video conference call with President Prudhom and many members of the board of directors. On that call, we were told that there was a mistake made in determining the required number of votes needed to pass the referendum. The president somehow misunderstood that a 2/3 majority of the vote was required as opposed to the a simple majority she used to determine the initial passage of the referendum. Now you should know that during the drafting of this referendum it was clearly understood by everyone involved that a 2/3 majority vote was needed to pass. This referendum was a change in our bylaws and required a higher standard than other referendums. So, she seemingly made a mistake and erroneously informed Shane Feldman, the Executive Director of RID, and others that the referendum passed.  We were told this late on Wednesday night and the announcement from the board was made Thursday. Obviously the RID board had already prepared their announcement and video and were ready to announce this to the membership. Hearing this news, we were floored and were at a loss on how were we to respond and we wondered how our members would respond to this announcement.  We asked President Prudhom for some time to organize and coordinate a respond. They gave us a little time but by 3pm on Thursday, the announcement went out to the general membership. As a result, the IDP council was unable to prepare a coordinated response right away. Unfortunately RID went ahead with their announcement.

Brandon: So what would IDP like to have seen done differently in a situation like this in the future. If we as an organization have learned anything from this, it won’t happen again but if you could advise the board on how better to handle something like this, what would you ask them to do?

Laurie: Well…when we learned that the referendum did not in fact pass we were of course disappointed. Many people worked very hard on this referendum, however; it was compounded by the lack of checks and balances and the realization that RID made a mistake.  We were left wondering,  How could something like this happen? Is it possible that only one person is counting the vote? It was very hard to understand how this could have happened. We are collecting a vote on a referendum that impacts the bylaws of our organization. Not a business as usual item.  These are the guiding rules of our organization, our bylaws.  We were disappointed that the referendum did not pass but we could move on from there. Our disappointment was further exacerbated by this mishandling of the vote and our experience that this was also one more example in a series of blunders the membership has experienced from the RID board. We believe that the IDP membership should have received a personal apology. The president of RID made a general public apology to the membership; however, this motion held great significance to many people connected to IDP. This general apology did not recognize the significance of the referendum and did not recognize that many members had very strong connections to it.  This fact seemed to be overlooked by the board of directors and I think that is just another example of perhaps a cultural disconnect from the membership. RID does have members of diverse backgrounds. President Prudhom’s manner of apology and announcement did not give enough attention to the significance of this referendum to members of IDP.

Brandon: Thank you. What do you hope the membership, the RID board of directors, and even the national office staff can learn from this situation?

Laurie: I wish they didn’t have to learn anything at all. I wish this didn’t have to be a learning experience for them to begin with. However, I think all members of RID, after seeing this; can agree that mistakes are consistently made within RID. This is not an isolated instance.  I am not sure what kind of oversight may be needed and I am unsure how the board functions. For vote counting, do they work together? Who is responsible for vote collecting? How does it work when voting happens through the internet? There need to be safeguards in place to make sure this kind of thing ever happens.  With a mistake of this magnitude, we all have to question how it came to be. I believe RID members have a right to know how this kind of mistake happened. It certainly shouldn’t have happened on such a large issue as the bylaws and leads us to wonder if this kind of mistake is allowed to happen, then what other mistakes are happening? I don’t want to get off the point here but we do need to wonder what is going on. I think the mistakes issue is not simply an IDP complaint. It is a systemic organizational and leadership problem that all of us have to be very concerned about.

Brandon: Clearly, you have said that representation at the decision making tables of our field is important to interpreters with deaf parents and other underserved groups. In considering the future of RID and perhaps the perspective of people seeing this interview, people who will see the passion that IDP has about this issue, what do you want them to know about your collective desire for more representation and collective diversity at the decision making tables of RID?

Laurie: I think for many IDP members there is a desire for our organization and our members to recognize that indeed many interpreters with deaf parents bring something unique to our field. We have a variety of deaf-world experiences that many if not most of our members within RID do not have.  Each interpreter brings their unique set of life experiences to their work.  The experiences of an someone who grew up in a deaf parented home instills the values and norms of the community in their work. Interpreters with deaf parents possess the ability to broker meaning in culturally appropriate ways. That is the value we need to have on the board. I think many of our members historically have felt those inherent skills have been negated in a systematic way within RID.  On an individual level, interpreters with deaf parents have certainly felt valued by many colleagues but we feel this must be a integral part of the board. During the national conference in Atlanta in 2011, Dennis Cokely commented on the logo for the conference. The logo was a tree. On the stage at the business meeting, he pointed out that the tree was missing its roots.  The roots have been missing for a very long time and It’s not just interpreters with deaf parents who feel this way. There are many people in our field, including leaders in our field, who believe that interpreters with deaf parents have something unique to offer. We recognize a unique skill at play but we believe that recognition of this skill needs to be an integral part of our national organization, RID. There may be talk about restructuring  and changing the composition of the board. I think that may be a great idea but let’s work together to make it happen if the membership agrees that to be our goal.  For now, the board structure is the way it is. We can work toward improvements but again with the kind of mistake that took place we have slipped back and the membership has lost faith once again.

Brandon: If you had the opportunity to send a message to the general membership and to IDP members what  would you say about the desire to again reconnect with our roots?

Laurie: To the general membership, I think it is important for us to consider why we do what we do. If we claim to value the deaf community and value their norms and culture, if that indeed is what we are saying, then great.  Let’s move on and do it in our actions and in our words. Live it. Show it. Prove it. And if not, then if people do not want to achieve that then why are we here talking about this? Why does RID even exist?   We need to figure out our organizational purpose, values and goals. What we do is not just collecting a paycheck. For many of us our profession is not simply a job. Unfortunately for some it appears that they are here only to collect a paycheck and there is no authentic connection to the deaf community and certainly no investment.  For those of us vested, it feels exploitative of those interpreters. We really need to figure out why we do the work we do. To IDP members, I think it is important to say that your hard work bringing this referendum forward and the progress that we made was successful in many ways. The discussion we are having now is also housed within a broader context. We have all had our individual discussions and experiences with each other and with our colleagues. We have also had our experiences discounted and shunned.  It is time to move forward. We are now having a bigger discussion and this process is necessary in order for us to recover from the last 50 years.

Brandon: I really appreciate you being here with me today to lay out the issues. I hope this dialogue will help create some perspective for the people who are seeing all of the thoughts, emotion, and dissention on this issue.    At the end of the day, I hope that as an organization we can keep our eyes on the mission of service. If we can dialogue with respect then we can move forward. Thank you for taking the time to be here today.

Laurie: I am happy to be here but I do want to add something if you don’t mind. I think it is important to emphasize that respectful dialogue is the key to moving forward. I encourage all members of RID be mindful of respecting each other as we move forward.  Unfortunately, some public comments have been made that were not respectful and for many were insulting.  If we truly want our field and our organization to recover we have to maintain a respectful dialogue. I hope we can all remember the person receiving the message when posting comments via any open forum. Keep it honest and respectful.

Brandon: StretLeverage.com we try to create an environment where people feel comfortable expressing themselves so I can appreciate you bringing respect up. Laurie, thank you for your time. I appreciate you making time in your schedule for this discussion.  I hope that this dialogue will help others who have wondered about the debate and differing opinions surrounding this referendum so that we can all move forward to a successful future. Thanks again.

Laurie: Thank you.

Posted on

RID Increases Dues: An Interview with President Brenda Walker-Prudhom

Brandon Arthur interviews the President of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), Brenda Walker-Prudhom, on the increase in dues and fees announced on March 30, 2012.

In the interview Brenda reiterates the 4 driving priorities of RID, the reasoning behind the priorities, and how she and the Board plan to develop greater transparency throughout the organization.

RID Priorities

  1. Search for Executive Director
  2. Certification of NIC, CDI, SC:L and Oral
  3. Technology in the delivery of certification tests and communication
  4. Relationships with Stake holders, affiliate chapters and members

Notable Quotes by Brenda

“As we got together we realized we had a strategic plan, but that we needed to examine and determine our priorities..”

“One thing that I want the members to realize is that, yes, the $260,000 deficit is significant but some of that is a result of unexpected things like the fraud that was discovered and the budget necessary in order to investigate and make it right..”

“What makes it appear so significant is the CMP fees and EPS fees which haven’t been increased since their inception. So, we are talking about 15 to 20 years of the same fees for those two programs.”

“..the Board knows and is confident that they [National Office Staff] are working in our best interests to prevent a deficit and restore our finances for the future.”

“..what I saw was the management or mismanagement of funds, it’s really not mismanagement at all. It’s attempting to manage through years of constrained resources to support the membership’s needs, wants, and desires..”

“I would request that members recognize that we are a huge organization of diverse members with diverse needs. As much as we want to please all of them daily, we have to budget and we have to plan…”

[Speaking of outsourcing certification testing] “As of right now, I don’t see that going away or giving it to another organization to run. As President, I don’t see that happening any time soon. But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.”

“I am hoping the members will see that we want each member to have a complete picture of RID.”

 

Posted on

Sign Language Interpreters – Complicit in a Devil’s Bargain?

Are Sign Language Interpreters Complicit in a Devil's Bargin?

When sign language interpreting shifted from “social service” to “business”, a chasm developed between the Deaf community & sign language interpreters. How do we regain and retain connection to the community that we serve?

Five decades ago those of us who functioned as sign language interpreters were allies of Deaf people, united with them in fighting for communicative access to the various services and opportunities offered to society at large. Working to overcome the daily attitudinal and communicative oppression that confronted Deaf people was a force that served to unite interpreters and Deaf people. Then the communicative access needs of Deaf people were provided by the mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, relatives, teachers, ministers, VR counselors and friends of Deaf people. Indeed, the interpreting scene for Deaf people then was in many ways like it is today for individuals needing spoken language access to society’s services and opportunities.

Communicative Oppression

The communicative oppression Deaf people experienced enabled them to define the work of sign language interpreters in many ways – they vetted interpreters (there were no Interpreter Training Programs or credentialing procedures), they arranged for interpreters (there were no laws requiring provision of interpreters), and they shared their language (there were no formal sign language classes except perhaps in churches) and their “Deaf grapevine” made known to the Community who could be trusted as an interpreter and who could not (there were no referral agencies). For interpreters, supporting the struggle for communicative access was an “other-centered” activity that focused on issues of justice for Deaf people and their rights.

Fifty years later, while audism still persists, the right to communicative access for Deaf people has been ensured by three federal laws (PL 93-112, PL 94-142 and PL 101-336). However, the cost to Deaf people and to sign language interpreters has been quite significant. For Deaf people who, beginning in the seventies and eighties, sought to be viewed as a linguistic and cultural minority, the price of legislatively mandated communicative access was that they were to be labeled as “disabled”; the price of legislatively mandated communicative access was that they would quickly lose the ability to define the work of interpreters; the price of legislatively mandated communicative access was that they would soon no longer be the primary source from which non-Deaf people would learn their language; the price of legislatively mandated communicative access was that reputation within the Community mattered less and less. To be sure, this was a true devil’s bargain, one whose terms may not have been fully made clear to, understood nor foreseen by Deaf people. Nevertheless, the cost to interpreters and to our standing as allies of Deaf people may have been even more severe.

The Consequences

Certainly one consequence of the three federal laws was to create an “interpreter for hire” environment in which the overwhelming majority of hiring entities (school principals, interpreter coordinators, conference coordinators, etc.) would not be Deaf. Thus while we, as sign language interpreters, might hold certification from RID, a non-Deaf dominated certifying or credentialing entity, that fact alone does not mean that we have been vetted by Deaf people or had our skills honed in the crucible of the Community. Additionally these federal laws created the “business model” of interpreting which was a decided shift from the “service model” of interpreting according to which we operated fifty years ago. Among other things, the “business model” has lead to interpreters earning a national average of $38.00 per hour (with a two hour minimum) and referral agencies billing on average twice that amount – a 100% surcharge. And when we consider that 51% of interpreters work full-time and 54% of Deaf people are unemployed, one wonders whether interpreters have materially benefited more from this legislated “Devil’s bargain” than have Deaf people.

Another consequence is that an enormous interpreter supply demand gap was legislatively created. While Deaf people used to arrange for and negotiate for the provision of sign language interpreting services according to their schedules, Deaf people are now forced to live their lives according to interpreters’ schedules and work availability. For example, it is worth noting that, according to national surveys, 78% of Deaf people report that medical settings are the most important situations in which they need interpreting services and yet those are the very settings for which they report it is most difficult to be provided with interpreting services. Little wonder since only 30% of sign language interpreters nationwide work in medical settings more than 30% of the time. Our work choices now dictate the rhythm of Deaf people’s lives. Our work choices constrain the life decisions of Deaf people. Our work choices either uphold or deny human rights and avow or disavow human dignity.

Our Roots

Deaf people used to be the primary source of helping us learn their language and they did so by teaching it to us from birth, or because we had familial ties or because they extended opportunities for us to socialize with them. But now according to a national survey 49% of nationally credentialed sign language interpreters spend less than 10% of their time socializing with Deaf people; only 20% of us are members of NAD and only 8% of us are members of their state association of the Deaf. How then do we keep abreast of changes in the language or changes in the attitudes/perspectives of Deaf people? How do we justify learning their language and profiting from it without giving back? In becoming a “profession” have we simply become parasites?

If, as a group, we interpreters are no longer as tightly bound to Deaf people as we were before, if there is no common uniting cause that binds us to Deaf people, if we have begun to view interpreting as a business rather than a response to personal connections, if we have materially benefited from laws mandating the presence of interpreters more than Deaf people, then the questions must be asked – what are we willing to do as individuals to become reconnected with Deaf people? Are we willing to adjust our work choices to accommodate the rhythm of Deaf people’s lives?

What should we be doing as a field/profession to give back to the Community?

Posted on

How Sign Language Interpreters Survive a Professional Shakedown

Sign language interpreters are faced with regular challenges to pay rate, employment terms, and changing work conditions. Brandon Arthur suggests that remaining calm and prioritizing values will lead to successful negotiations.

You’re traveling along, like you do on any given day when suddenly you feel the muzzle of a gun pressed against the back of your head and hear, “give me your high rate of pay, all your premium workplace perks, and don’t forget your abounding opportunity.”

It’s a sign language interpreter shakedown. What do you do?

Before you do anything drastic, consider that survival, or in other words maintaining your professional reputation, is most important.

Don’t Panic

When faced with someone grabbing at your rate of pay, industry standard practices, or incidental reimbursement, don’t panic.  There is nothing worse than an inconsiderate, emotional reaction.  In this circumstance, to react with something like, “Seriously, this offer is an absolute insult to me and my profession…”, will do little to help you survive.  It certainly doesn’t position you to rescue your hourly rate, standard practices, incidental reimbursement and/or the potential opportunity.

In fact, it puts your survival and any hope of reaching an agreement at risk.

It’s a Negotiation

After all, at the center of any professional shakedown attempt is a negotiation—albeit a difficult one.  What follows are a few key things for sign language interpreters, Sidewalk-Executives, to remember when negotiating.

Don’t Move First

Always remember when negotiating in a high stakes environment—and a person’s livelihood is considered high stakes in my mind—never make the first move.  It is critically important that you understand all of the demands of the other party first.  To ignore this caution puts you at a significant disadvantage.

What’s Important

Upon understanding the demands of the other party, you have to quickly assess what is most important to you.  Is it rate of pay?  Work environment?  Frequency of the opportunity?  Whatever it is, its important that you be reasonable and cognizant of how it impacts the other party and their proposal.

Counter Offer

After you have determined what is important to you, you have to calmly and respectfully reframe their demands and clearly offer an alternative proposal.  Do this in priority order (most important points first).   Be sure to counter with all that is important to you because attempting to add to these terms later will erode the trust of the other party, which is clearly a no-no.

Done Means Done

Unless something substantive in the agreement changes, once the two parties have agreed on terms there is no more negotiating.  A fatal mistake people make is attempting to revisit aspects of the agreement.  Don’t do it.  Should you attempt, you won’t live to tell the tale and neither will your reputation.

Remember

To act on emotion, move first, or handle the negotiation carelessly will put your professional reputation at risk.  If you can’t make it work in the first couple of exchanges, respectfully decline and walk away.  Don’t force it or continue to negotiate; its professionally reckless and doesn’t leverage the karma of gratitude to your benefit.

Lastly, remember that negotiating a shakedown successfully takes practice.  As you gain practical experience, remember that to error by walking away too early is a preferential outcome to death by way of professional shakedown.

Posted on

Why Not a Sign Language Interpreter Bill of Rights?

Bill of Rights

 

As outside forces seek to control sign language interpreter rates of pay, professional standards, and hiring practices, Brandon Arthur drafts a Sign Language Interpreter’s Bill of Rights.

If you haven’t seen it, you soon will.  Due to economic pressures, businesses and individuals hiring interpreters are challenging (and attempting to redefine) our rates, standard practices, and national credentials.

In my view, if we handle these challenges poorly we will be putting the foundation of our industry at risk.

So, what do we do?  Why not an Interpreter Bill of Rights?  I know it may seem a little crazy, but service providers in other industries have them, why not sign language interpreters?

What comes next certainly isn’t perfect, but it’s a start.  Care to add?

Sign Language Interpreter Bill of Rights

Statement of Rights

An interpreter accepting an assignment to deliver sign language interpreting services has the right to:

  1. Be treated with respect and dignity, regardless of their race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, disability or sexual orientation.
  2. Receive, in advance, sufficient information about the D/deaf customer and the terms of the assignment in order to determine suitability.
  3. Know the name(s), if any, of any other interpreter(s) already engaged for the assignment, and to decline the assignment based on such information.
  4. Deliver services in a manner that honors customer preference, complies with industry standard practices, and allows for active support of team interpreter(s).
  5. Be told, in advance, of any changes to the terms of an assignment and to have the opportunity to confirm agreement to these changes.
  6. Decline an offer to provide services for any reason or no reason.
  7. Have personal, compensation, and credentialing information kept confidential, and to be advised of the disclosure of such information.
  8. Request the information and methodology used to determine rate of compensation.
  9. Request prompt payment for services rendered.
  10. Work in an environment free from physical and verbal abuse.
  11. Seek replacement on an assignment where:
    • Customer or co-interpreter’s conduct alters the terms or conditions of an assignment, or creates an abusive or unsafe environment; or
    • An emergency or a significant change in the interpreter’s health has resulted in an inability to provide effective services
  12. Voice concerns and/or grievances to the coordinating entity regarding the provision of service in connection with the assignment, or regarding a lack of courtesy or respect for the interpreter.
  13. Assert these rights personally, without retaliation.
Posted on

It’s Ugly, Uncomfortable and Can Damage Your Reputation

Its ugly and can damage your career

Navigating the professional world of sign language interpreters requires a level of flexibility and approachability, but at what cost? Rather than avoiding conflict, Brandon Arthur suggests resolving issues in professional and timely ways.

You know the drill… Smile. Make eye contact. Offer a reinforcing head nod. Appear confident and interested.

As interpreters, we work hard to internalize the behaviors that help us appear approachable. This is a necessary and required skill in order to accommodate the myriad of personalities we encounter on the job.  Though it hasn’t been statistically proven, at least to my knowledge, we intuitively understand that interpreters who master this skill are busier than those who haven’t.

Being an expert does have its side effects.

The Side Effects

While it can be completely exhausting to be “on” day-after-day for extended periods, I believe there is a more harmful side effect to this internalization. We have trained ourselves to be conflict adverse. By working to be uber approachable, we have simultaneously internalized a conflict avoidance strategy. What I will call the “if I do nothing, this issue will go away” approach. We know it works because when the assignment ends we are done, and may not be back there for a number of months. Problem solved!

The Ugly Head of Avoided Conflict

Inevitably though, we get hired for a long-term assignment or as a staff interpreter, and suddenly a strategy that has worked like a charm is now working against us. By avoiding conflict in these environments it only intensifies, and when addressed—and at some point it will be—it’s ugly and uncomfortable. It can result in people losing or prematurely abandoning work opportunities.  Worse, it can significantly damage reputations and destroy an otherwise healthy environment.

Address Conflict Quickly

Because most people have had no formal instruction on resolving conflict, we use strategies we have learned by example or draw from our own experience.  The considerations and strategies offered below are a few that have served me well.

  • Recognize that conflict is inevitable
  • Remember that conflict is not inherently bad
  • Address conflict immediately (in most cases while its minor)
  • Address the person directly before seeking assistance
  • Be honest about your role in the conflict
  • Consider the mood of the person prior to addressing
  • Appearing emotionally distant serves no one
  • Ask yourself, “is the approach I am about to use the best one to resolve this situation?”

Remember, while you may never find conflict comfortable, you can learn to effectively navigate through it.

Posted on

Should the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf Sue?

As the professional organization representing sign language interpreters in the United States, RID is in a unique position to champion working conditions and legislation impacting the industry. Brandon Arthur considers how litigation might impact RID and its members.

Is there any merit to the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) litigating to advance the rights of sign language interpreters to reasonable working conditions and employment practices, and laws that defend their eligibility to work? Clearly, litigating has both a financial and a political cost and these costs should not be underestimated.

As it occurs to me, the pros and cons of RID taking a more offensive position in advocating for our rights are:

Pros of Litigation

  • Cases will lead to a body of information related to appropriate working conditions and practices when employing interpreters.
  • Publicly exposes organizations for interpreter abuse.
  • Creates an opportunity for industry stakeholders to work together to seek accountability for business practices and working conditions.
  • Imposes a financial hardship on offending organizations/individuals.
  • Uncovers the facts, which assists in identifying the people that can legitimately deliver solutions.
  • A demonstration that RID has a no non-sense approach to fulfilling its charge to protect and promote the interests of sign language interpreters.

Cons of Litigation

  • Establishes an adversarial relationship with the private businesses and government entities that employ interpreters.
  • The financial cost.
  • A lost case can create a damaging precedent, which makes it more difficult to defend our interests.
  • Increased scrutiny of interpreter conduct and practices.
  • Heightened conflict within the industry.
  • Strains collaboration between RID, private business and government entities on shared interests.
  • May have to pay court costs for the other side.

Which Situations?

Endeavoring to hold individuals and/or organizations accountable for unsatisfactory working conditions is—and has been—a difficult proposition. While I am not—and I don’t believe many would be—in favor of the concept of litigating for the sake of litigating, I do believe that there are situations where we would greatly benefit should RID take a more offensive position. You may be thinking, “Well, what situations exactly, Brandon!?”

To name a couple, I believe RID should evaluate the merits of any case where an interpreter is being tried in a court of law related to their role, work product and/or or ethical practices, and get involved based on the merits of each particular case. Further, it is my view that RID should take a more offensive role when legislation is being crafted that will adversely impact an interpreter’s ability to perform their work and earn a livable wage.

In the End

RID occupies an important role, representing the voice of the sign language interpreter, and if necessary should throw a little weight around to ensure we are heard. It is one thing to inherently understand that poor working conditions or deflationary practices render an interpreter unable to deliver their art and quite another to do something about it.  As interpreters, we should leverage all the resources we have to ensure we are able to do our work effectively.  RID is one of those resources.

Posted on

What Characteristics Should the New RID Executive Director Have?

Someone Pondering

The search is on for a new Executive Director of RID. Brandon Arthur provides his perspective on some of the critical skills the new ED should possess.

The removal of longtime Executive Director, Clay Nettles, on the eve of the 2011 RID National conference came as quite a surprise.  See the official information release here.  A change in leadership at the top of any organization has many considerations.  It is my hope that—in the end—both RID and Clay can find a mutually agreeable way through the transition.

During the conference Cheryl Moose, outgoing RID President, stated, “it’s a new day at RID and we look forward to moving things along with the hiring of a new Executive Director.”  Clearly, this position is important to the success of RID and its representation of the sign language interpreter community.  In my mind, because this position is so important, the Search Committee should be seeking specific characteristics.

Specific Characteristics

  1. Keep the organization in sync with its members, and work with the Board to get ahead of the issues confronting the industry.
  2. Passionately tell the story of our industry.
  3. Recognize that both the organization’s success and their success—ushering in a new day—depends on their ability to identify patterns of change and position RID accordingly.
  4. Reshape the way the organization, its members, and industry businesses/organizations work together.
  5. Work with the Board to mold a future group of leaders in order to multiply RID’s ability to make better decisions and get things done.
  6. Anticipate external forces that may limit the forward movement of the organization.
  7. Insist on accountability throughout all facets of RID.
  8. Consistently recognize the contributions of the current and past artists within our field.

While this isn’t an exhaustive list, I believe—based on my purview of the industry—RID would be well served by someone with these skills.

Roll-up your sleeves Search Committee; you’re going to need to get dirty on this one.