Friday, November 22, 2013

Interpreters Are People Too

Yesterday I had a doctor appointment for my son's 15 months check-up, and saw one of the "regulars" waiting to interpret for us. I was pleased to see John (mind you, the name is false, totally made it up for his privacy). He was one of my favorite interpreters because he was amicable, personable, and very good at his job. We had a small-talk about how some Deaf people treat their interpreters. John had a recent situation that bugged him.

John was interpreting for a group setting for a Deaf client since the client had requested for a qualified male interpreter. During a break, the client, and John had a small talk. The client turned to John, stared at him, and asked him if he was interpreting in the afternoon. John explained that he won't be around in the afternoon due to another appointment. The client signed rather exasperatedly, thank god you won't be interpreting this afternoon.


This had hurt John. The client had specifically requested for a qualified male interpreter. Now, everybody knows that needing male interpreters is quite high, and there is not enough men interested to become interpreters or not enough qualified men to interpret for male clients...especially in the Midwest. 

Now I can vouch for John. He's a pretty good interpreter. I mean, really good at his job. And I am not saying it just because I like him, and he happens to be one of the interpreters I enjoy to work with. 

A few minutes later, other Deaf client joined the conversation, and asked John if he would be around in the afternoon. John turned to other man, who had signed thank god rudely to him, and looked at him while answering other man's question. John said, No, I can't interpret this afternoon because I have other appointment...thank god. The man was offended that John said that, and went on a tirade how John worked for him, should be respectful to him, and should not have said that to a client.

I nodded my head rather sympathetically as I listened to John's story. Of course, John felt bad that he lost his temper, and his professionalism for a minute there. He did notify his boss about the incident, and the boss was cool about it. After John was done venting, I explained to John what he had done was right. 

You see, interpreters are people, too. They are not robots going around, moving their arms, and speaking for us without feelings, thoughts, and reactions to what is going on. Interpreters, especially damn good ones, are hard to find...again especially so in the Midwest. I am fortunately to have high adaptive skills. I am okay with any type of interpreters; new, and inexperienced or regular, and experienced. I am flexible with what kind of signing is used. I am able to work with interpreters I'm not so crazy about if I am in a pinch. I roll with the punches. I know when it is appropriate to speak up, what words to be used, and who to contact if I am not comfortable speaking directly to the interpreter.


Unfortunately, there are some Deaf people that don't quite understand the role of an interpreter, and abuse that. I have met some Deaf people that think that interpreters work for them. In reality, it is not true. We don't pay our interpreters. We don't set their hours. We don't have them at our every beck, and call. Interpreters are there to WORK WITH us. 

Yes, we do have a right to request not to work with a particular interpreter again if the working relationship between us don't work out. We can put in a request for our "regulars" or preference for an interpreter for certain appointments. For example, for my OB-GYN appointment, I always request for a female interpreter, because I don't want a man interpreter for that type of appointment! I would imagine it would be uncomfortable for a male interpreter as well! Even if the first choice doesn't work out, then I usually get a second female choice to interpret for that appointment. 

At the same time, we also need to understand that sometimes it doesn't always work out at last minute, or a particular Deaf client need more experienced interpreter compared to the other Deaf client, or a setting to the appointment doesn't require a highly experienced interpreter because the Deaf client going there is pretty flexible with whoever he/she ends up with. 

Sometimes, it is not the agency's fault, but the place that put in request for an interpreter. For example, a doctor's office rescheduled the appointment at the last minute, and because it is at the last minute, securing an interpreter can be harder. Then the Deaf client ends up with a different interpreter because the first interpreter booked for the previously re-scheduled appointment can't make it due to another appointment that is put down for that day, and time. 

To totally blow up at an interpreter just because of changed circumstance, or for not getting the right interpreter, or because you don't like him/her is not fair especially if you are an adult. Interpreters have many roles to carry out. It is not always easy to interpret while carrying out those roles. Once in while, when I have a regular coming in to interpret for any of my appointment, I can tell when they have had a previous bad appointment, and it does affect their mood even though they remain very professional, and great at working with me. 

In a very rare instance, when I do get a really terrible interpreter that is very unprofessional, I do speak up, and contact the agency because I don't tolerate that bullshit. At the same time, I don't go out of my way to hurt or be rude.  


Sometimes, I believe that some of us have a tendency to forget that interpreters are also people with thoughts, and feelings. Be sure to thank an interpreter next time you see them.