ON HAND: Interpreters in the Deaf community

This originally appeared in The Tactile Mind Weekly in Trudy’s ON HAND column. This issue was a “topic issue” with articles answering this question: Interpreters: What is Their Place in Our Community?

Earlier this year when I was still living in Chicago, my mother and I had individual appointments with the same accountant. When we arrived at the accountant’s office, a woman greeted us, saying she was our interpreter. I looked at Mom with puzzlement. “Did you ask for an interpreter?” I asked, because we both didn’t want one for our appointments.

It turned out that the accountant had asked her friend from church to “sign” as a favor. The interpreter said that she interpreted at a local school “helping hearing-impaired children.”

Obviously unqualified in her choppy signing and poor receptive skills (and voicing throughout the entire conversation, even though there wasn’t anyone nearby that needed the voicing), I asked if she was certified.

The interpreter said with a defiant look on her face, “No, I am not.” That solved the situation. In Illinois, freelance interpreters are not to interpret without having successfully passed an evaluation (http://www.legis.state.il.us/legislation/ilcs/ch225/ch225act442.htm ), as prescribed by the state of Illinois (although there are quite a few loopholes in this act, which is currently being re-evaluated).

I reported it to the Illinois Deaf and Hard of Hearing Commission the next day. I had taken the appropriate steps in reporting her, and the interpreter was subsequently penalized for her illegal action, right?

Wrong.

In Illinois, interpreters working without certification are not penalized if they get caught. In fact, all the commission does is send them a warning letter, and that’s only if the commission knows where to find the interpreter. In this situation, the commission had only a first name, and no further information. The interpreter basically got away scot-free, and is still illegally interpreting for all I know.

How can we tell interpreters they are to go through training, certification processes, and much more, when deaf agencies or watchdog groups don’t even help enforce the law in many situations? How can interpreters know what their places in the deaf community are when there isn’t even a standardized concept among deaf people of what interpreters’ roles within the community are? How can Illinois deaf citizens assert their rights when the state commission doesn’t even enforce one of its own laws?

Before the deaf community starts assigning places and roles, we better get our act together.

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