Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Awesome...The Medicore....& The BAD: Interpreters


I was 12 years old. I had an interpreter that lasted only a day. You see, she came in the room with a very loud presentation. Her hair was big and curly on a small body frame. She plopped her behind on the chair in front of me, popping a purple gum in a jaws full of shocking white teeth, and she fluffed her hair with her rake-long claws that were painted in vibrant purple. She grinned, popped her gum, and crossed her legs in a shocking purple spandex pants. I squinted my eyes. As it was a huge fad back in the nineties, she wore a hideous black-and-white stripped duster shirt that blended, reflected, and caused something similar to strobe-like effect as she fanatically moved her fingers. To my shock, she was not even signing. With her purple claws clicking against each other in front of her strobe-like shirt, she F-I-N-G-E-R-S-P-E-L-L-E-D  E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G W-H-A-T M-Y T-E-A-C-H-E-R S-A-I-D. I crossed my arms against my chest, rubbing my head with a brewing headache, and signed, "do you understand what I am saying?" The interpreter smiled at me with that lost look in her eyes. I decided to gamble. "You really smell, I hate your shirt, and you are a horrible interpreter." The interpreter continued to look at me with a smile. My friend, whom was sitting next to me, finally voiced, "You don't understand what she is signing?" The interpreter tried to play it cool ,but she was busted. It was when I finally decided, well, it's time for you to go home because going big ain't happening. 


Heck I even had a hard time fingerspelling since my fingers were cramping up. Oy. 

I was 14 years old. I had an substitute interpreter since my regular one was out sick. She refused to interpret environmental sounds, what other students said, and only "worked" when my teacher was speaking. I tried to explain to the interpreter that she was my voice, and my ears. If other students were able to hear what was being said, yes that included nasty talk with cussing, sex talk, or what not then I had EVERY right to hear that as well. If a hearing student can hear that then I should be able to as well. Nope, not to this interpreter. It violated her religious values. I understood that it was important to be who she was, and respected that. At the same time....she was working, and she had to be professional by doing her job, which was to interpret what may violate her beliefs. The last time I checked, even students with varying values still had working ears, and heard those stuff anyway.... Needless to say, I put in a request not to have her again.


This is an issue I have with some interpreters, that does not understand the appropriateness of using eye contact, and it is what I call "eyefucking". I apologize for the language, by the way, and it is a "IN" slang among teens nowadays that happens to fit this perfectly. Bear with me, okay. Some interpreters are very much so like LOOK AT ME, DO NOT BREAK EYE CONTACT, I NEED YOU TO LOOK AT ME SO I KNOW YOU ARE PAYING ATTENTION, LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME!

Eye contact is so vital to our language. It is part of our communication. However, looking around is also part of our communication, and language development. We look around to make up what we aren't hearing in the room. The minute I look away does not mean I'm losing interest or not paying attention. Sometimes, excessive staring is awkward for even us.



I was a freshman in high school. I had a student interpreter, who was a male, and he was really eager to jump into the job. He was very well-dressed, very limber, and focused. He had a great flow with signing, and translating what I had to say. However, he fell somewhat flat in one area. His face was very flat--matter of face, the only thing that was actively moving was his hands and blinking eyes. Imagine talking with someone who talked only in a monotone voice even about something that excited that person? I dubbed him Nicolas Cage. 

I have no beef with interpreters, who are operating under agency rules, and adhere to professionalism. I understand, and recognize the boundaries that interpreters have. However, what I'm not a fan of is having an interpreter come in for my appointment, and act very professional to the point of being perceived as cold. Hello, this is Deaf culture. Talk a bit. Laugh. Chill. Tell me a bit about yourself (within appropriate context). Don't stand there like a statue, and not speak until the doctor comes in. I want to have a working relationship established. I need that comfort with an interpreter. For an interpreter to stand there, and not speak or react while operating under the strictest literal term of being my ears, and my voice is a bit irritating. 

I was twenty-four. I accompanied several good friends to at an event, and there was a student team interpreter (two interpreters that took turns to interpret due to its lengthy event from avoiding burnt-out). They did an excellent job. I was impressed at their overall team-work. However, what made me shake my head internally was when an interpreter asked me if any of one of us were gay so they can appropriately voice a "gay" voice. I was offended, not by the are-you-gay question, but by the fact that they even created a "gay" voice. I replied, Why, are you straight because you are acting pretty square. They got the hint it was an inappropriate question to ask, and tried to explain it off by saying it was high gay traffic community therefore they wanted to be culturally sensitive. Oh, still my heart. Stop digging yourselves into graves, please, and be yourselves, really, unless if your client requested differently.


As I have my share of bad and mediocre interpreters, I also have plenty of interpreters I LOVE, and request for all of the time! What makes them so lovable is their skill, personable personality, and quick to act as an ally in a way that is not so rude in your face type, but tactful enough to get their point across without making the guilt party without feeling bad (or bad if they deserve it). 

An interpreter friend I have and I were out and about. We were signing, and carrying on our conversation--having a good time. A hearing person came up to us, absolutely fascinated, yet slightly intimidated, and asked rather tenatively...erm, how do, um, you...uh..say hello in sign language? We look at each other, and do this: 

I had an interpreter that I clicked with so well during my pregnancy, and we worked together closely throughout the whole experience. When it approached to my labor and delivery, I was a hormonal mess, and made it clear that I only wanted her, nobody else, to interpret for us. Without pregnancy hormones, I understood that sometimes stuff happened, and that there were other obligations to be met. I had no idea how long my labor, and delivery were going to be. Of course, my interpreter needed to go out to do other jobs while that was happening. With pregnancy hormones, NO freaking way. I did not want any other interpreter. Just this one I was working with for my whole pregnancy, period. Thankfully, she was cool about it, and yes, she did leave while I was in labor, and while I was in recovery after birth. It all worked out in the end. But this only goes to show you that some Deaf clients can be very particular with who they work with.....

One of things I love about my long-working relationship with my favorite interpreters is that we have a good relationship already established to the point where we are able to communicate without needing to sign.

When I was a transfer student, I developed a crush on my back-then boyfriend, now my husband, Stu, and every time he entered the room, my interpreter looked at me with a smile on her face, and I always looked back at her like.......


Sometimes, I get along with my favorite interpreters so well that we do become friends. It is inevitable not to especially if someone is working in a human service field. When we are working, I am cognizant enough to respect the working boundaries, and keep friendship outside the work. At the same time, when the job is "over", we do fall back into friends role.

Being an interpreter requires one to wear so many hats at once. There are multiple roles to play at once, and at separate times. A good interpreter has mastered this. A mediocre interpreter has some grasp on this, and bad interpreters have no clue how to shuffle those tasking roles. It does show.

I am not an easy client to deal with especially in school system because I am nonsense, no bullshit, and hands-off drama type of deal. If I receive an interpreter that is less than satisfactory, then I do say something, and have that interpreter leave. My education is too important to be played around with. That is back in the school days. At the same time, I am pretty flexible. When I receive a student interpreter wanting to learn how to become interpreter, and want to learn about how to work with Deaf people. I am cool with it (barring crazy pregnancy hormones, ha ha), and find it great that they want to learn. They need to learn somewhere, right?

These days, when I request an interpreter, it is typically for doctor appointments, or events that I will be attending. My standard still stands. I don't tolerate bad interpreters at all especially when it comes to my son's health. Mediocre interpreters, that I can handle, because I still understand them just fine, and they do their job. When I get great interpreters, especially my favorite ones, it's an extra bonus because they know my quirks, preferences, and style/personality.

Overall, being an interpreter is a hard job even if you are really really really really good at it. We, Deaf people, owe them a huge round of applause. They are truly our bridge to the hearing world seeing that they are our ears, and voices. 


  1. I got a chuckle out of this. I went to high school with students in the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing community, so I very often saw interpreters at school-wide events and sometimes in the classroom. Though I didn't pay much attention to them, I still noticed that they all had different styles, and tended to fall into the categories you've outlined above. We also had Cued Speech Transliterators (of which my mother was one), who varied in their level of engagement, personality, and interest as well. Thankfully for the students (though it limited my mother's work wardrobe substantially) they had a dress code and were not allowed to wear patterned shirts on the job. I'm not sure whether there were rules about hair, earrings, and/or nails as well, though I realize now that there probably should be.

  2. Practical discussion - I learned a lot from the facts . Does someone know where my company might be able to locate a template 1999 CMS-2567 form to fill in ?

  3. Hi Jerick ! I filled in a sample 1999 CMS-2567 form with this link i hope this helps! :)