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Interpreters and the whole set up scaring me

Warning, this post is long but it raises some serious questions around the nature of interpreting, specifically in the UK. I don't even want to be typing this, I've got other things I want to do, and I'm completely irritated that it has to be flagged. Blogging this, simply because people need to get it, an education needs to happen and more importantly open conversational dialogue that is involved.

Before I get to the point I want to mention a situation I once observed at school, just to illustrate why I can't stomach this sort of stuff, and how it all ties in:

Back in the 1980s, when I was a teenager, another deaf kid at school was naughty. I don't even remember what he did, but something within the school grounds. As a way of dealing with it, the Teacher of the Deaf basically said to the deaf child, if, "I will take your hearing aids off as punishment". And they did. This deeply disturbed me at the time, and I've never forgotten it to the point it haunts me. Apart from the arguments around it played on not just an imbalance of power, but on the fact the majority can oppress. The fact that they had enforced the need for hearing aids in the first place (through an oral environment, and no other support), then used a person's basic functions as a bargaining tool. Reminds me of a form of torture.

Moving on. A decade ago I witnessed an interpreter do a similar thing to a Deaf person. Nothing to do with hearing aids, but playing with power. In a nutshell, the interpreter wanted the Deaf person to do something. In the same breath they used a situation they had interpreted, (where the Deaf person as a participant), as a subtle form of blackmail to get the Deaf person to do what they wanted. To the point where the Deaf person complied, as in doing something else was not an option. You do this, otherwise I will tell scenario. It made my blood run cold, I had flashbacks over what had happened at school. It still freaks me out each time I think about it.

I've witnessed exactly the same kind of bullying and threats many in deaf organisations too, where Deaf people are bullied into agreeing to something. I'm not even going to go there, right now.

These experiences are important, in terms of where I'm coming from with what I'm about to say below.

A few weeks back I did an analysis of VeeSee over at Noesis. I did this, as a person really interested in online space and more specifically 'social software' and its application to Deaf people. The post attracted comments, some of which were the run of the mill attacks, which can be ignored and not important in the grand scheme of things. There's interpreting issues in those comments, but these are rather academic or practical in nature, which I'm not going to address in this post.

However, one comment disturbed me:

You are playing with fire Alison .....interpreters know a lot about who they interpret for and your are exposing the deaf community by what you do and what you wish to provoke by your own shortcomings. You are a very very silly young woman in thinking you can do that.

Just the sort of comment to make me stop completely in my tracks and not forget about it.

For the boring record here, I'm imperfect. Big deal. Comes with being human. Also, noone knows me from interpreting, you just see how I interacted in a given situation from your perspective not knowing the full dynamics. The situations were bog standard work ones: team meetings, and interviewing other people. Nothing outrageous happened, and there's nothing to know. However, that's not the point.

This kind of stuff, just as a witnessed that interpreter a decade ago, brings the profession into disrepute, and makes me never to want to use an interpreter again. Except I don't have a lot of choice. Guess what, I'm Deaf and at some point need to interact with people who use spoken English! Yes I do know that there's great interpreters, but that's not the point here.

That comment comes across as something like this: Be careful what you say: as in do what you are told, please me, because I know all about you. If you don't do what I say, then you are stupid. You are a powerless Deaf person, and can't do without interpreters. Remember interpreters control you.

Makes me to the back teeth sick, and down the toilet goes my respect for the profession. It doesn't matter if I'm capable of taking the attitude of along the lines no way are you going to manipulate me in this manner, I'm still freaked.

What happens if for example a Deaf person let an interpreter into a mental health situation, exposed their innermost stuff. Then a few months or years later, they start coming out with the line: remember we know all about you.


Okay. So this terrifies me, but I'm not going to sit back into submission. However, there's more vulnerable people who might not be in a position to fight back, what about them? A bit like alleged abuse that never gets reported, easier to sweep under the carpet. So it happens to someone else.

I wanted to flag this issue up with IRP or ASLI, just to ensure the issue is being addressed.

So I go to the ASLI directory, name not there. I contact ASLI, reply I get: "if a name doesn't appear there, then you can reliably conclude that they are not a member." This was double checked, to ensure there was no gap between joining and the membership pages being updated.

Next stop CACDP directory. Not there. E mail CACDP, just for clarification. I get the reply, "Only people who appear on the Online Directory are registered".

Great. No redress.

Now I have yet more questions in my head than answers. This is why I'm blogging about this, because there's nowhere I can go.

- Is a person allowed to use MRSLI after their name, if they are not on the register? MRSLI - Member of the Register of Sign Language Interpreters. I asked someone at CACDP this, and I'm waiting for a reply.


(Click onto the image to enlarge).

- If someone uses MRSLI and they are not supposed to, what happens? Anyone got any clout?

- Who is policing the letters thing? What happens if no-one has any clout, as above?

- What about retrospective membership, and using a situation at a later date. For example, say if I used an interpreter in 2001, when they were registered, thus thinking I had something to fall back on. By 2007, they have come off the IRP register or not an ASLI member, and for argument's sake, broke confidentiality a few years later. Do the bodies actually have any power to call on a member to be accountable?

- Incidentally, the interpreter in the above situations was never booked by me but my employer and/or my employer's interpreting agency. It brings so many questions into my head around the power Deaf people have over access. You'd get the interpreter you were booked by an agency, and agencies here basically call the shots. There is a kind of mentality that goes on within deaf organisations that Deaf people themselves cannot be experts at interpreting issues, because they don't hold some qualification or other.

- Statutory registration of interpreters, would it be a good thing? Voluntary registration and regulation just by the sector scares the hell out of me right this second.

Right now I see a situation where unregistered interpreters can be booked (as a consumer how much choice do you really have)? Secondly, if someone was registered, then later come off the register, subsequently behaving in whatever manner using knowledge they've attained from assignments (perhaps years ago). Guess what, there appears to be no redress. That's apart from blogging about it.

Update: CACDP said, "People who are not on the register should not be using MRSLI after their name as this would be misrepresentation. If someone is not currently registered it does not necessarily mean that they are not qualified to be an MRSLI (although that could be the case) but they have made a choice not to register so should not be using the title.".

My comments: qualification is not the real issue here, since the core of my comments is redress and accountability, however I asked CACDP for clarification around the use of MRSLI which they gave.

In relation to misrepresentation, this is to be found in the law of contract. The issue here, is that for this to be enforced someone who has entered into a contract, to book the interpreter's services needs to flag it. Will they?

The second point is that a contract is often between the service provider e.g. conference organiser, Employer, even Access to Work and the interpreter. Not with the Deaf person themselves, who would need to bring a separate action against say the service provider. Will service providers actually get the issue, and really be bothered?

There is still a lack of power by a body to police things like this, and relies unorganised individuals to flag such things. For example, if someone calls themselves a solicitor and is not, the Law Society can follow it up, and has the necessary powers to enforce this. However, as far as I can see, noone has any real power here?

Just highlighting the weakness in relation to a potential redress or remedy on offer. Misrepresentation still does not address other issues though, and the scenario above, I fail to see how it could even be subject to contract law, and belongs to professional ethics. Only there's no statutory or case law obligation?


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Comments (12)

That's a profound observation(s) on confidentiality front. I thought they would need your permission/consent before imparting with information belonging to you - on the basis that confidentiality would be maintained and thereon, at the time the service was provided.

Good for you to stand up to bullying. I couldn't believe it either but did not know how to respond to it. Nonetheless, it should not be condoned.

It seems to me you can encounter this type of situation in many places. Even though, for the most part, many of the people you would divulge confidential/personal information too are required by law to keep your secrets, it's not always the case, and even then they don't always do it.

There are always going to be people who do the wrong thing, in whatever situation. You need, it seems, to find somebody you can trust, or develop trust with. Use references of others you know. This is usually the best method.

You cannot condemn the whole profession because of the acts of one, or even a few of its members.

There are bad cops, bad doctors, and bad bus drivers. We don't generally blame them all (although some people do, I know not why) for what a few do. If you could, all deaf could be blamed for anything one does. And just as much as I know there are some horrible hearing, you know not all deaf are great either.


Dennis - I agree, and as I said in this post there's some great interpreters out there. A bad experience and question of disrepute though, does make me ask some serious questions and comes back to re-examining trust.

Just as a point, I didn't book this interpreter myself, my employer or my employer's interpreting agency did, thus the autonomy was removed in respect of booking. A lot of Deaf people go through this over here.

However, my major question, has the dropping out of regulation bodies been addressed by the profession? What happens if someone is no longer a member, and perhaps was before? How does enforcement happen?

In the UK we don't have any legal requirement for registration. What's the situation like in other countries?

I am one of the lucky ones that don't have to rely on interpreters.
But I have seen on one occasion where the interpreters don’t always fully tell them what’s been said they interpret where they see fit.
But of course they are not all like that. Although I can’t sign most tend to ask me what’s been said and to confirm their suspicions.

That was shocking what you said about hearing aids. I had once teacher who insist on fixing my hearing aids and she is not qualified to do so. Luckily my mum put a stop to that by complaining to authorities.

BSL/ASL Interpreters could blacklist any of us if we do not comply with their requests, etc.

Robert L. Mason (RLM)

RLM - I agree.

However, a question. How many Deaf people book interpreters though (and often the people who get subjected to this crap)? The service provider often carries the responsibility of booking.

E.g. I'm doing a university course, the interpreter was booked before I even knew who. What happens if you attend a conference, a meeting, a group meeting, etc.

Blacklisting only works to a point.

What sort of demands do interpreters make of you?

You bring up some very disturbing points. I can't imagine having anyone present in a mental health situation who later I might see socially, or who interacted regularaly with my friends. You just have to trust that most interpreters would never ever break the Code. Geez. This is such a difficult issue, I'm interested to see what other people say.

This reminds me of a lip speaker I used about 7 years ago. When I spoke to the supporting lip speaker during the coffee break (just being friendly), she told me off, laughed at me and made fun of me, for 'being such a baby' because I was talking to the supporting interpreter, and why didn't I talk to the (hearing) people in my lecture group instead? She also blatantly got pissed off when I couldn't lip read her during the lecture, and would then over exaggerate those lip patterns. How dare she patronise me like this?! I was so angry that I have not used a lip speaker since. I contacted CACDP and ALS, and discovered she wasn't registered, so no redress. She is still working though - my employer booked her last year and I was told she was extremely offensive and rude - no surprise there then!

What truly shocks me is the breach of confidentiality and the totally unprofessional attitude.

You can notify your employer that you do not wish to use that interpreter again. And if that interpreter shows up, you can simply walk out of the meeting.

It's not just the confidentiality and power games that bug me, it's also terpreters who use people to get what they want - I've been a victim of. I've had this discussion with Alison months ago, about a certain person, whom I warned her off.

Suffice to say, the person in question will never, ever work with me or for me.

Just wanted to clarify, confidentiality wasn't broken in this situation. I just used confidentiality as an example in my bullet points, as part of a questioning process re the current set up, as a result of this learning experience:

For example, say if I used an interpreter in 2001, when they were registered, thus thinking I had something to fall back on. By 2007, they have come off the IRP register or not an ASLI member, and for argument's sake, broke confidentiality a few years later. Do the bodies actually have any power to call on a member to be accountable?

Directly relating to the situation I blogged about (if you read the comments) I was told I didn't use sign language, and secondly was suggested that I wasn't allowed to make a passing reference to.

The whole interpreting thing came about as Susie initially said:

when you have openly said on another blog that you are not a sign language user!

I had responded with this:

Please let me know which blog I have said I am not a sign language user, so can iron this out. Just see it as weird to bring up, since you've interpreted for me a few times in the past (professional situations: interviews, meetings).

I've never received an answer to this question, and I don't even know where I'm meant to have said it. It would be a very odd thing for me to type.

Susie went onto say this:

PS Alison ...you should not be revealing when an interpreter has worked for you ...it goes against the ethic of interpreting and leaves you exposed to say WHY they were interpreting for you - in order to defend themselves!!! Be careful about what you say online!!

There was only one other comment from me, relating to spam control on blogs, and unrelated to interpreting.

Susie then added to this in another comment (amongst many others):

You are playing with fire Alison .....interpreters know a lot about who they interpret for and your are exposing the deaf community by what you do and what you wish to provoke by your own shortcomings. You are a very very silly young woman in thinking you can do that.

It was this end comment that I was specifically flagging here.

For the record, don't particularly like doing the above as it comes across as they said, you said scenario. However, in the interests of transparency I needed to clarify this.

What I had intended to flag in this post was specifically on power and the abuse of it. Through examination of this process, I found I was asking a series of other questions on accountability, including where someone is not registered or has subsequently come off the register.

So far, I've come away thinking the current set up doesn't safeguard consumers, in the way it should be doing. As for the power thing, I want to know what is included in interpreter training, including CPD.

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