Thursday, June 12, 2014

Accountability: Clean Your House

I wonder sometimes what it is like to be an interpreter.  For a very specific reason; I wonder what it is like to see someone in your own field take jobs they're not qualified for, again and again.  I wonder what it is like to team with them.  I wonder what it is like to interact with them.

It must be hard.

And I want to know, would if I was one of you, would I hold them accountable?

Because here is the thing, when I have left my doctor appointment, my meeting, my conference... I don't know how you act with one another. I really don't.  I don't know the inner workings, the intrigues, the political back channels.

I know what it is like to be your client, but I don't have the slightest clue what it is like to be among you when you are among yourselves.

Do you guys hold one another accountable? Do you approach folks and let them know they are out of line? And if that person-to-person feedback does not work, what do you do? Not what can you do. Nor what should you do. But what do you ACTUALLY do.

Because if I have not made it clear, if Deaf folks have not made it clear to you . . . we expect you to hold one another accountable. We expect that if personal one-on-one feedback is not effective, that something more is done.

I suspect, because it is your job, you know far more interpreters than I do. And you come across far more bad interpreters than I do.  Most Deaf folks are alone in the room with one or two interpreters and hearing non-signers.  But we're not using interpreters every day.  You however, are working several times a week, if not almost every day.

Sometimes I see a really wonderful interpreter, someone I admire, paired with an interpreter who is terrible.  And afterwards a conversation occurs:

Good Interpreter: So. How did that go for you?
Me: Okay. You were fine. They were not.
Good Intepreter: Yes. I noticed.  I am sorry.
Me: I will let the (whoever) know not to hire them again.
Good Interpreter: That's a good idea. I encourage you to do that.

But they do get hired again. Just (hopefully!!!) not for me.

 And while I appreciate the check-in I do wonder... why are you not saying something to your team? Or maybe you do?  Do you do it later when I am not around?   Do you let the agency know? They hearing folks who were in the room with me know?  Or is it just on me, always? Because it shouldn't be.  This is your profession.  I would hope, and I do expect that you maintain oversight over quality control too.  That you hold one another accountable.

Because it would be really nice to see you call out your team when they suck, in front of me and the hearing non signers. It would be nice for me to see this conversation play out:

Good Interpreter: So how did you get this job?
Bad Interpreter: They agency sent me.
Good Interpreter: I think you were not qualified and not a good fit to take this job. I encourage you not to take these kind of (medical/theater/legal) jobs again.  It's unethical. I will not work with you again.

And this conversation:

Good Interpreter: Excuse me every one. My team is unable to do their job properly right now and is not qualified for this job.

I know right? WHOA.  That sounds hard. It really does. But Deaf folks can't be the only ones policing the interpreting field.  We all need to hold one another accountable, together.  Otherwise it's just really hard and accountability becomes a buzz word we say but don't practice in the real world.

I am tired of being the "angry" Deaf client. The one who is always complaining about their access or lack thereof. I would like you to be the angry interpreters and hold one another accountable, in the moment, in front of us so we know it is happening. And keep doing it when we are not around.

Because no matter how much I respect you personally, no matter how much I may regard you as a potential ally... if you are not visibly and diligently holding folks in your profession accountable, it makes it difficult for me when I do go to the agency and when I do let hearing folks know. I wish my word was enough, but often it is not. I need your help too.

You need to clean your house.  Get rid of the cobwebs and dust, and haul out the trash.  I
t's long overdue.  Someone needs to open up the windows and air the stench out. You've collected too many bad interpreters in your profession. They need to go.


  1. Wow. Thanks for this. It's a real eye-opener. I agree, we interpreters need to and often do hold each other accountable. I have done what you say. I have called an agency and told them that Interpreter B was not qualified. I have panicked in the middle of a job when I and Interpreter B had to switch off and they are now doing the actual interpreting. The fine line here is the humiliation factor. When I have approached another interpreter, it has been private. I needed them to HEAR what I was telling them; not feel the humiliation of it. Offering to mentor them or offer a critique is beneficial and I will do that if I see that they geniunely want to improve and be better. I have even approached another interpreter about humiliating another interpreter in front of other interpreters after a job. We were all debriefing and Mean Interpreter looked at Terrified Interpreter (they knew on arrival that they were not qualified and wanted to leave) and asked them pointblank, "Why are you even here?" I about died. Humiliation is not a teaching tool. There is no benefit in this setting. Perhaps, after an interpreter has approached another after a job, it would be good to inform the Deaf person. I feel confident that many agencies will communicate that with a Deaf person. I just don't know if I could have that conversation in front of the Deaf client. Unless we 3 debriefed together and the Deaf client provided feedback. Maybe that is the way to do it. Then the "bad" interpreter can see for themselves from a Deaf perspective.

  2. As a long time interpreter, yes, I have seen and worked with interpreters or teams that are exactly what frustrates you enough to write this article. I often am approached (before, during or after) and asked why "Lacking Somehow" interpreter was selected to be there or was under the misconception that they were qualified enough to remain. Usually, I agree and can only assume that it falls on a couple of generic reasons. One, that they were certified (my state usually seeks to provide certified interpreters and there are, by nature, more interpreters holding the lower certifications (and experience) higher levels) or two, they were available. I can understand that in this growing demand for interpreters (especially skilled ones) that it is becoming more of a "supply and demand" situation for agencies. An agency in the past would "know their local interpreters" and more often have the flexibility to choose from their pool of locals who would be the best "fit" for which clients. This has changed dramatically and further promulgates filling assignments by availability as MOST of my job offers are the result of an email blast from some unfamiliar out-of-state agency and most of them are not "Deaf" centered as they offer some "100 languages." That being said, do I call this agency and speak to some unknown voice and tell them that they people they are sending are not qualified for the level of this "class or job" and somehow narrate that for a college level course over several months, that sending 12 different interpreters on varying nights is NOT the same as sending the same team of 2 or 3 interpreters who will learn the "style" of the class and do a much better job of assisting in providing the educational goals for the student/s?
    Whether I have conversations with them, my employer, my team, my colleagues, my friends, my clients (who are also my friends) about working with them as a mentor, a consultant, a service provider, a contractor... each step of the way I MUST remain ethically professional in each of these relationships (Code of Professional Conduct) and seek to mediate these conflicts AS an ally, rather than a "frienemy." Many conversations have led to some good observations and tips but years ago when I saw a client "dramatically" dismiss my team and ask them to leave or later speaking with clients who stand in front of me wiping tears in frustration of endless hours of homework because they get "nothing" from watching their interpreters all week...I think it boils down to Deaf people not only speaking up for themselves (because they already do!) and for "lead" interpreters to take more action (I agree) but also ITP/IPPs demanding more than graduating kids with some skill.. but substituting some of those "observation hours" with more interactions that let THEM be on the receiving end of pitiful interpretation and getting smacked in the face with unclear messages, poor, uncaring attitudes, and feeling rush along. LET the ITP kids coming thru make VRS calls (not promoting fraudulent calls at all!) but let them try to call their lawyers, banks, friends, and college advisors and let them find out how truly frustrating it is to live through a third person and see the difference in their conversations when they get a "good interpreter" vs a "lacking" one, One last thought to share is please don't feel like you're alone. There are those of us in the interpreting world that DO what we can, when we can to make some positive push upwards. Thank you.

  3. As a person well past middle age and who, as a deaf person, NEVER had interpreters in my day, I can just say that I am THRILLED to have a terp, good or bad. The only gripe I have is all the mix up about the "new" signs (countries, etc.). These new signs are not true ASL. It all disgusts me!

    1. The county signs are not for us, it's for other countries. They have a right to pick with name sign they want to call themselves that because otherwise, the old signs for China, Japan, etc are racist. New signs are true ASL. Language always changes. If you want to stick with racist signs, then so be it, but those are not true ASL anymore.

  4. This is extremely frustrating, and I totally relate as a former full-time interpreter (I am still certified but only interpret occasionally now). The problem is that: there are not enough good interpreters, that interpreters don't always have all the info they need to make decisions when accepting jobs, that agencies sometimes push under-qualified interpreters to take work to fill assignments, and ultimately that mediocre interpreters can become great interpreters and sometimes that requires them to take jobs slightly beyond their reach. I think formal mentoring can help a lot, where the more experienced team person can be responsible for the quality of the work, but all interpreters have to "practice" on live Deaf clients at some point, and this will result in a Deaf person not having full access as their interpreter struggles to improve. I certainly did this in the educational setting while in my ITP and beyond. I shudder when I think about the first legal interpreting job I ever did ('yes, honor me' instead of 'yes, your honor'). I have quit on-going jobs where I felt the team wasn't qualified, I talked to her, and she refused to leave even knowing and agreeing she was under-qualified. Sometimes it just means those of us who are more concerned about ethics when accepting jobs end up working less, which I have seen again and again. Recent grads sometimes take lots of work they shouldn't and tell me that the job wouldn't be there if someone better than them was taking it, but at the same time they are sitting by their smart phone clicking immediately when a job pops up. Agencies need to call the better interpreters first and then WAIT and see if they can do the job before panicking and doing the warm-body fill-seat thing. Of course money is also a factor as an interpreter with 30 years of experience should charge and earn more per hour; sometimes companies and agencies want to go with the cheapest terp.

    I think the most helpful thing a Deaf consumer can do is: know your boundaries and what you can and cannot accept. In the most high priority jobs, let agencies know your short list of acceptable interpreters for those jobs. In other jobs, work with newer interpreters and give them very specific feedback if you can (I know it's not your job to train interpreters but frankly if you don't and they have already graduated ITP, then they won't get the feedback they need). I always appreciated comments and feedback from Deaf clients and took them very seriously, more so than those from other interpreters. The frustration I think for Deaf people is that this is a never-ending process as there are - and hopefully always will be - new baby interpreters learning the ropes. Patience and support are everything in growing your own personal cadre of favorite terps.

    1. Yeah even I was tired of cleaning my home daily. It took me 3-4 hours daily to clean it. My husband now hired affordable house cleaners who use only green cleaning products, and sometimes I gave them White Vinegar to clean tiles of my kitchen.

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