Monday, September 16, 2013

Why Does "TELL HER' Phrase Irritates Me?

You are standing with two people in the room, and one of them starts signing exactly at the same time when you start speaking. You realize that the third person in the room is Deaf, and rely on the signer, who happens to be an interpreter. You continue to speak. Then you stop. The person, who is Deaf, starts signing at the interpreter, and the interpreter translates the signing into a spoken language. You catch on the process pretty quick. It is fairly no-brainer. Suddenly, you turn to the interpreter, and start speaking directly to the interpreter, and say, "tell her...."

What a Faux Pas. A mistake. A blunder. Oops. A snafu. A misapplication. A slip-up. You messed up! Why? 

The interpreter is essentially just a voice and ears for a Deaf person. When there is an interpreter with a Deaf person, you are expected to speak directly to a Deaf person, and "pretend" that the interpreter is not in the room. It does not offend the interpreter to be "ignored". It is a job for the interpreter. The interpreter understands how the process works. Matter of fact, when you turn to the interpreter, and not address the Deaf person directly then you are making an offense. Usually, if it is your first time working with an interpreter, and a Deaf person then it is okay to make a blunder seeing you never had an experience with this before. Once you are corrected, then make sure you don't slip up again.

Unfortunately, this has happened to me so many times when people seem NOT to get it the first time. 

I had recently given birth to my son, Forrest, at a hospital. C, the interpreter that was working with me, stood by the edge of my bed when an older nurse walked in the room, and started interpreting when the nurse started speaking. Suddenly, C signed, "Make sure YOU TELL HER that I am here to check on her.......TELL her to turn over so I can listen to her heart.....TELL HER please that she needs to bend over a bit more." 

C looked at me, and widened her eyes. Her message silently conveyed to me, I can't do this anymore. I have to interrupt this to educate the nurse how to speak directly to you. C stopped interpreting then turned to the nurse, and began explaining to the nurse to pretend that C was not in the room, and that she was simply my ears. All the nurse had to do was to say  my name or speak to me directly and ignore C. The nurse gave C a very strange look then mumbled, alright. Not a minute later, the nurse said, TELL HER.....

C and I looked at each other in exasperation.

Of course, this is nothing new in a life of a Deaf person. I have had to deal with this on a very frequent basis. Either my interpreter, or I will gently correct the hearing person, and explain the role of interpreting then ask the person to speak directly to me instead of to the interpreter. 9 times out of 10, the person picks up quickly on it, and talks directly to me. I understand that it is a bit strange to be speaking directly to me especially if I am not looking at him/her, but at an interpreter next to the speaker. I get it. Unfortunately, that one person, the #10 out of 9 people, does not seem to get 

In my experience, it is usually an older person. Why? I have no idea. Now, I am not saying ALL older people ignore the correction. I have had plenty of older people, whom I have worked with, picked up on the correction, and go from there without any problem. But once in every while, the older person just does not get it. Let me tell you another example.

I was pregnant, and showed up for an appointment. The ultrasound room was still being used so a nurse put me in another waiting room with C. No problem. The nurse decided to go ahead and start the quick routine physical exam while waiting for the ultrasound room to be freed up. The nurse was talking then all of the sudden, she went, TELL HER.....

C stopped interpreting, and turned to the nurse, and gently corrected the nurse to speak directly to me. It was a quick correction within a minute timetable frame. The nurse must either have not heard C or idea...but the nurse said, TELL HER once again. C sighed, and corrected the nurse quickly once again. The nurse opted to ignore C, and did it again by not addressing me directly.

C continued to sign literally signed exact word to word, and in every beginning of sentence, the nurse said TELL HER....

I could not take it.

I addressed the nurse, and said, "look, I'm here. Can you please not say TELL HER, and address me directly?"

Nope. Didn't solve anything. The nurse STILL said TELL HER....C and I gave up at that point, and rendered the nurse to be a massive idiot. Oh Why...........why!!

How irritating.......I have no clue why people don't just get it. I wish I have an answer. I don't. If you do have an answer then feel free to share......

In the meanwhile for the love of god, please do address a Deaf person directly while working with an interpreter!!! We always appreciate that when you don't ignore us Deaf folks, and make us feel invisible.


  1. I had same problem. ... my solution? I politely requested for either supervisor or different nurse. Yes it delays things but it usually happened only once. After that either nurse picked up or avoiding working with me by switching patients. I simply will not tolerate 4th, 5th, 6th offense. I do tolerate first time and several times after that because sometimes they do have hard time adapt. One doctor kept saying "tell her ERRR!.... Sorry! I mean umm ok gloria I need blood sample." I'm cool with that because I can see she is making efforts. But anybody who won't bother trying. ...I see no point wasting my energy nor time and I'll make it in a way that it will hit in their face.... so that they most likely won't do it to other deaf people ahead of me. Which means I simply refuse to work with that person or call someone with higher position.

    1. Exactly, Gloria! In those cases especially with my doctor appointment for pregnancy check ups, the nurse that was unable to adapt within reasonable time frame was fortunately not my regular RN, and I knew I did not have to deal with her again. However, if she was my regular RN then you bet I'd have requested for a different nurse!

  2. I wonder if I've done this? I don't know. When I was working with my deaf student there was a lot to accomplish in our time together and I don't think I would have wasted words like that. I did just talk directly to my student, but I also couldn't afford to "ignore" the interpreter. We had a different one each week and some were much better than others. One in particular worried me because she was like a bad set of subtitles in a movie where you watch the characters prattle on for five minutes and there are only two words on the screen. I would explain some concept at length and then the interpreter with just use the sign for "slow" (which I could have done myself) and it was frustrating. Plus since we were discussing violin performance we had to constantly invent new signs and had to teach those to the interpreters as we went.

    I think for most people the problem would be in shaking the sense that the interpreter should be involved in the conversation. I have trouble not engaging people in the room for fear of being rude. I always chatted directly with the interpreters and learned about their lives, and one of them even went on to take violin lessons herself because she was so inspired during her sessions with my deaf student.

    But that crazy nurse? There's no explanation for that. We all have crazy nurse stories.

    1. I understand your point, and usually, it is alright to establish a relationship with an interpreter by engaging in a conversation with her/him because it shows that you are building a working relationship. If there is no previous establishment in a relationship then the working relationship will somewhat suffer. The role of an interpreter requires many "hats" (roles) to exchange, or be worked at the same time, and it can be a difficult job.

      It is hard to have a different interpreter weekly especially when it is through a freelancing agency. It can be frustrating when you don't have a regular interpreter to have a previous established relationship, and I completely understand your frustration. I've been there, and done that. It is frustrating when you get an interpreter that is less than ideal, and can cause more trouble in a working relationship between you and Deaf client. It is when it is okay for you to step in, and explain what is to be expected--that is part of establishing that relationship, and advocating for Deaf client. Not all interpreters are that amazing to work with just like not all hearing folks or even Deaf clients/patients/people are great to work with.