A client wanting you to take their side in a disagreement during an appointment is just a stranger standing by a van offering you candy.
Ethics is not about right and wrong; that is morality.
Ethical decisions are figuring between more wrong and less wrong when those are the only two choices you’ve got.
Every interpreter has had this conversation.
Have you ever heard of…
Um… I can’t tell you?
A graduate of my program and I were talking a few days ago when she reminded me of a lesson I taught her in a class called “Professional Issues in Interpreting.” A lesson that she has used as a mentor.
(How I know that this happened is not important… ahem.)
On the first day of an undergraduate course in Gross Anatomy (for those who have never had the pleasure, is the class where pre-med, nursing and other medical field students study the human body using cadavers) the Professor, who looked exactly like you would imagine a professor of Gross Anatomy would look, divided the class into teams of four, assigned each team to a body and passed out a thick packet of papers to each team.
The Professor then told them to read the entire packet of instructions, then pick up a cutting blade and follow what the written instructions dictated to the letter!
The teams began to pour over the pages of instructions. While they were reading the Professor began to walk around the tables and stare at each team. She looked at each of the individual team members a little longer than was comfortable. She would frequently look at her watch.
She began to look at her watch more often and frown.
Some of the groups began to elect a person on the team to begin cutting (the first instruction). Others were still reading and the Professor began to tap her watch, frown and sigh.
Soon every group, while still reading, was through the process of electing a team member to begin cutting and every team was prepping their cadaver for the first incision.
Suddenly the Professor yelled “STOP!”
She looked around the room at the students who were reading the packets with blade in hand and poised to cut.
“How many of you have completed the reading?” She asked.
No one had.
“Why,” her voice as sharp as any of the cutting tools, “do ANY of you have a knife in your hand?”
Now remember, these are pre-med students. God complexes in training.
One of them stepped up to the challenge and said, “I don’t appreciate you setting us up like that!”
“Like what?” The Professor’s voice was a little too sweet.
The student charged ahead, “You told us to read the whole thing and then you stared at us and looked at your watch and frowned and sighed.”
“And so,” her voice was pure patience with a razors edge, “you were fully prepared to cut into a human body, without fully understanding why, nor with any actual plan in mind, because I looked at you?”
There was an uncomfortable shuffling of feet.
The Professor was now at the lectern. “Someday you hope to be doctors or nurses and someday you will have a sick child in front of you and you will have no idea what is causing it. But you will have that child’s parents staring, frowning, or worse crying and begging or screaming and demanding that you ‘DO SOMETHING.” The Professor paused. It was dead silent in the room (no pun intended). “At that moment I want you to think of how much regret you feel right now for your pride and arrogance making you pick up a blade and telling you that it was ok to blindly cut into a human-being’s body, with no real plan in mind, because I stared at you.” She paused again to the choking silence in the room.
“I believe you all need some time to think. We will try this again next time. Class dismissed.”
I think about this every time I am working with a young interpreter and their hands start to fly before the second syllable of Hel-lo has left the speakers mouth.
I ask, “why didn’t you wait for a full idea?”
The student usually humms and haws a little and the braver soul says, “I got nervous because you were watching me…”.
“Someday you will have a Deaf Client in front of you and they will be looking at you and wanting you to start interpreting before you have the complete meaning processed in your head.”
Maybe it’s the doctor telling them the test results.
Maybe the boss giving them their evaluation upon which their raise depends.
Maybe it’s a cop telling them he is sorry but there has been an accident.
“The most important job you have at that moment is to deliver the interpretation accurately and completely,” I explain.
I then look them in the eyes, “never be pressured to start moving your hands before YOU are ready, having processed the interpretation and prepared the interpretation. Never sacrifice the process because the Client is looking at you.”
Professionalism means you can absolutely love or absolutely hate a Client without it impacting the quality of your work.
I am Uncle Dale. I don’t mean to state the obvious, but the gender pronoun I use to identify myself, I think, sets of alarms in the heads of many of my colleagues. I work in a profession where my gender identity is in the minority.
In other words I sometimes say “man crap.”
I know that for a fact (shout out to Cameo who pointed this out beautifully in a graduation speech in Pheonix: see https://uncledalesrulesforinterpreters.wordpress.com/2017/05/12/note-from-uncle-dale-language-illuminati/)
As an academic in the field of Language and Culture the impact of inborn ethnocentrism (and gendercentrism) is fascinating and sometimes terrifying. As the Broadway hit Avenue Q says:
“everyone’s a little bit racist sometimes, that doesn’t mean we go around committing hate crimes… stereotypes may upset you but we laugh because we know they’re true.”
I was in a discussion about racism recently with a friend who is brilliant, witty and shares NO similar political views with me. He said he could not possibly be a racist because he had adopted several (personal note, ADORABLE) children of widely varying racial backgrounds. I interjected that having a racially diverse family is not an inoculation against racism any more than my having a daughter means I couldn’t be sexist. I went on the explain that I’m not talking about being a racist or a sexist, I’m talking about being racist or sexist. Action not identity.
“Well,” he asked, “are you saying that you are a sexist?”
“Every time I do something sexist,” I replied, “for that event I am, including the whole time that that act, and the thinking that brought the act about, is left uncorrected. For that whole time I am being a sexist by reason of my engaging in sexist behavior without correction.”
Please know that I try to stop that behavior before it happens, or learn from my mistakes as quickly as possible when it does (there is no “if”). I try to guard against acting in a sexist way lest I actually live as a sexist more than I don’t.
Aunt SuperTam is an able, if weary, teacher in this area. She is always more than willing to make observations on my behavior when I suffer from the symptoms of Y chromosome poisoning (an affliction I was born with, hopefully asymptomatic, but it builds up).
For example, I recently walked into the office of the Department of Language and Culture at the university where I am an Associate Professor and asked the Administrative Assistant how to get a travel card. Our fantastic and hard working Admin (bless her heart) looked at me and said, “that was supposed to have been done months ago!”
I said, “I remember something about it, but I was not traveling anywhere.”
She sighed, “but I sent follow-up e-mails!”
I said, “as my lovely bride says, as much as she loves me she had to admit long ago that I go through life very much like every other man, if I can’t eat it, pee on it, or have sex with it, I tend to ignore it.”
She told me she had known me long enough (and men in general) to see the truth in that. So she kindly agreed to send me the instruction e-mail again.
When she moved her mouse the screen on her computer lit up. The picture on the screen said ADMINISTRATIVE STAFF. There were four pictures, the two Admins, the academic counselor that works with my students and… some guy.
I asked, “who is that?”
Her jaw dropped, “Kyle? that’s Kyle.”
I stared blankly.
“KYLE! You’ve met him! He is the academic advisor over all the languages but ASL (my language).”
“Sally?” I replied, “what did I just tell you 5 seconds ago? Not my language. Has he brought me cookies? No? Then I don’t care.”
Not saying it’s ok the act like this. I’m just saying I prove Aunt SuperTam’s observation to be the truth on an uncomfortably consistent number of occasions (see Avenue Q on stereotypes quoted above).
That is what I mean by Y Chromosome poisoning. When it builds up it causes temporary blindness (to clothes dumped on the floor). Y chromosome poisoning causes temporary amnesia (regarding important dates that she “told you three times and marked on your calendar,” but you accepted an appointment at the same time as your own mother’s birthday party).
Y chromosome poisoning makes men want to fix things instead of just listen, (but in our defense https://youtu.be/-4EDhdAHrOg).
What does this have to do with interpreting you ask? Well, everything. When I am interpreting for a person who is a different gender than I am, I must never forget that I am a male and check and mediate for the level of Y Chromosomes in my blood stream.
I must always remember not to “man-fix” the question “how much longer do you think it will be until the doctor will come I’m only asking because it feels like we have been waiting a long time…” by interpreting it as “we have been waiting a long time, please get the doctor.” I must self-mediate to the question that was asked and not phase it as a demand (even though my Y chromosomes are screaming that the demand will be more effective). It’s not my question. If it’s not mine, I have no business messing with it.
Now. With that introduction I am about to swing this conversation in what appears to be a wildly different direction; but it not. I am also about to risk the accusation of “mansplaining.” I am monitoring my levels of Y chromosome, so here’s hoping.
We have, as a profession, what I call a “humility problem.” We are terrified to take pride in ourselves and our work. We eat our own if our own makes a comment that sounds… prideful (I’m not talking about the sin of Pride, I’m taking about the feeling that comes from doing your job and doing it well). We poke at each other on social media for perceived sins of self-aggrandizement. The biggest of all “sins” being posting about your work on social media. We will get there in a minute.
As interpreters we tend to deprecate ourselves and our work fairly often. Like at the end of interpreting a public event:
Random Hearing Person: “I loved watching you, you seem so good at that.”
Interpreter: “oh, well, if you knew ASL you would see how many mistakes I made.”
We need to stop that. We need to stop making ourselves, our profession and the Deaf community seem… less accomplished, less important, and less like a profession by doing this. We must stop making ourselves “just the interpreter.”
Might I suggest:
Interpreter (more effective answer): Thank you, I enjoy my work and I’m glad it showed.
And, if you are feeling it, you could add “access for people who are Deaf is important and I enjoy being a part of that access.”
Random Person-hearing or Deaf: “You [seem/are] very good at this.”
Interpreter (more effective answer): “Thank you, I’ve worked hard to be so.”
I see students squirm in their seats during this discussion in my Professional Issues in Interpreting class.
I got into a long discussion on a Facebook group when I said I have no problem with interpreters posting pictures of themselves interpreting at public events or even being interviewed. I have no problem at all with interpreting being in the spotlight. It’s not ego, it’s not vanity, it’s advertising.
Hearing people don’t know what quality, skilled professional interpreting looks like. Nor can they differentiate competent interpreting from incompetent interpreting. They need to see it, quality interpreting. As many hearing people as possible need to see it.
By the way, I can hear all y’all screaming at your computers “CPC!! Confidentiality!!! The CPC does not say that public events are different from doctor appointments!!!! Confidentiality!!!”
Deep breath. CPC 1.0 Guiding Principle, second paragraph:
Each interpreting situation (e.g. elementary, secondary and post-secondary has a standard of confidentiality. Under the reasonable interpreter standard, professional interpreters are expected to know the general requirements any applicability of various levels of confidentiality.
Each of the examples cited has an attached legal or policy requirement of confidentiality. Education has FERPA, Legal has Privilege, medical has HIPAA. Wheezer and the Pixies have… none. The standard of confidentiality for this event is no expectation of confidentiality. Except for the client. Their confidentiality is sacred and it belongs to them.
So, if I post a video of myself interpreting “Indie Cindy” by the Pixie with the caption “love this song! That was awesome!” who’s confidentiality have I infringed on? Let’s walk it through. The band has been advertising for months so they have no expectation of privacy. The venue is a public place that sold tickets to this event, no expectation of privacy. I am not included in the expectation of confidentiality as I am the one who is burdened by the code, so I’m out. That leaves the client. Who is… you don’t know.
The video doesn’t show the client (I was careful to make sure) and I never said their name. Their confidentiality is not damaged.
“Ah,” you say, “but what if this video is seen by another person and they comment on the video and mention the name of the Deaf client?”
I did not have any part in that “outing”. The CPC burdens me. I cannot confirm nor deny the presence of that Deaf Client, that is my requirement.
“But!” I hear it out there, “you posted the video!!!” Yes I did. But I did not make any comment on the presence of the client.
I am offering and opinion not making a pronouncement. Maybe we need to reconvene the “Grand and Holy NAD/RID counsel of CPC” to deal with the new realities of social media. But until then I offer this thought (more “man-thought” so it’s stabs like a blunt knife) if that posting is by its very existence unethical or unprofessional then good quality interpreters will never do it-because good quality interpreters are faithful ethical and professional interpreters.
So the only people who will post pictures and videos will be “unethical and unprofessional” signers. When hearing people type into google “ASL interpreter” or “signing at Muse concerts” the images and names they will see will be limited to examples of unethical and unprofessional interpreters. How does that benefit the interpreting profession or the Deaf community?
So, if, let’s say Imagine Dragons comes to town and the tour manager heard that Chance the Rapper is having an interpreter at all his shows. The Tour Manager thinks “we should do that too!” So he looks at his staff and says “does anyone know how to get a sign language interpreter?”
There is a shrug. Then the sound tech says, “my sister lives here. She is always talking about how much my niece liked this signing class she took after school.”
“Let’s stick a pin in that,” says the Tour Manager. “No idea is a bad one let’s go!”
“Got it!” says the advertising coordinator, “let’s google it!”
And they do and the only videos and names they get are by definition unethical and unprofessional interpreters.
Or we stop with the pearl clutching and keyboard stabbing at each other and make Social Media our tool to show what real interpreting looks like. We post videos of our competent and professional work. We post videos of CDI teams and show what “access” really means. We ask the Deaf community to comment and critique our work so when the clueless hearing people who are usually the gate keepers for access can see if what is being produced is actual quality work. We join with the Deaf community in creating a world wide forum where we open ourselves and the Deaf community has control of what is or is not competent work. The Deaf community educates the hearing world on their expectation, needs and wants! And when the hearing promoter googles “interpreters at concerts” what they get is a market place of quality and community vetted interpreters.
But we have to get past this hang-up about posting pictures or video of your our work being about ego or vanity. It’s about the next appointment. It’s about showing quality work now so they next appointment will be staffed by quality interpreters.
By the way. Imagine a dentist office where the dentist says, “we just got a call though a video thing and the person made an appointment for someone who is Deaf and so I guess we need a sign translator or something. Does anybody know where we can get one?”
The hygienist says, “Oh oh my niece is taking this community ed sign class…”
The dentist says, “I think we need some one with more experience, maybe.”
The receptions says to the dentist, “oh oh I went to a Tim McGraw concert a couple of weeks ago and there was this signer there and she looked awesome.” So the dentist goes to her office and googles “Tim McGraw, interpreter.”
It’s not vanity.
It’s not about how great you are at this one appointment. It’s about making sure people see what is great work and choose that level of work for all the subsequent appointments.
But if we label the act of posting on-line “unethical and unprofessional” then only unethical and unprofessional interpreters will appear in the search window.
One last example of the “humility issue.”
I was in court one time and it was obvious we needed a CDI (it was needed even before I got involved (There should always be a CDI, discussion for another time).
I asked to approach the bench and made the request.
Judge: “so you want to fix the communication problem by bringing in another Deaf person? That doesn’t make sense. Are you saying you two (referring to my team) don’t have the skills for this and I need to get better interpreters?”
What would you answer?
Here was my answer: “your honor there are no better interpreters than us. We are awesome at what we do. There is no question that if I was sitting in your seat the person I want interpreting is me and the other one you want is her. But even with our prodigious skills there is a gap between the top of our game, which is impressive, and the legal standard of “effective communication. If you replaced us with interpreters who told you that no CDI is needed that is your first indication that you have chosen the WORNG interpreters. Now according to the Rules Of Evidence Rule 604 an interpreter is subject to qualification as an expert. You have appointed us and given us the oath so you have qualified us as experts and in my expert opinion, which I can defend if subjected to examination in a hearing (it’s called a Daubert hearing by the way. I’m saying that to you, I didn’t say that to him.) In my expert opinion to reach the legal requirements of “effective communication” and “linguistic presence” (shout out to Carla Mathers! TAKE A WORKSHOP FROM HER OR AT LEAST READ HER BOOK!) at a level which I would feel comfortable testifying on appeal preserved the defendants access to his constitutional rights to confront witnesses, access his counsel and participate in his own defense, we need the highly skilled services of my team and I as well as a CDI.”
Ahem. I am a lawyer. So the legal jargon was easier for me. I’m not saying that is THE answer or even the right answer; but it worked, and the defendant got a CDI and it made all the difference.
The point is if I had told that judge I was, “very good at interpreting,” or worse agreed with her that we needed help to do our job the conversation, my appointment as the interpreter, my team’s appointment as the interpreter and any chance the defendant would ever have to access a CDI would be over. Done. Gone. (Unless, hopefully the next team she hired said the same thing).
I started this Note by saying I am a man and I stumble through life making “manstakes.” I don’t believe this Note is one of them. But I fear my ham-fisted approach may be perceived as such.
I am not making a pronouncement. I am inviting a discussion. Deaf community, CDIs, hearing interpreters. Discussing confidentiality is treated in much the same way as racism or sexism; fraught with accusation and defensiveness. Knock it off.
Knock it off please.
I am not saying that this is a gender issue by the way. I am saying that I fear the way I present the question may cause irritation along gender lines and I am owning it now.
Let’s have this discussion. Social media is here and it seems it’s here to stay. I have thrown out one perspective. Let’s hear other solutions. No calling each other to repentance for differing interpretations of the CPC or starting with YOU CAN’T! Let’s talk about what we hearing, Deaf, east, west, north, south, liberal, conservative and any gender identifier you choose, can do to make this work. What are the edges and parameters? What benefits the Deaf community and interpreters and makes Social Media work?
If I have said anything in a way that it offends I am sorry. I have tried to self-mediate my message but sometimes it’s just beyond me. Because, sometimes Y Chromosome poisoning sneaks up on us.
When the moment arrives, and it will, remember-we are interpreters, we use our words.