This weekend a group of youth organizers here held a meeting for a conference we are hosting this summer. As is the standard, we hired two sign language interpreters to work from 11-4 and having worked out fees beforehand, expected no problems…but we were in for a surprise.
After 15 minutes into the meeting, one interpreter (terp) asked my friend if she wanted her to leave. My friend, who has been doing a lot of work to bring the Deaf community and disability community together, was confused. Afterall, why would she want the terp to leave when we were just getting started? The terp continued to sign but when breaktime came along, the terp told my friend that because my friend was sharing notes with her boyfriend, the terp was embarrassed, didn’t feel needed, and wanted to leave. Later, the terp would disappear randomly at times, again saying she didn’t feel needed. Through out the meeting, she refused to sign for my friend claiming that my friend could lip read and didn’t need her.
There were many points about this story that made my want to get in my van, go to Raleigh (where the meeting was), and raise some hell. It is a part of interpreting ethics that when you are terping for someone, you are there for THEM. You are not supposed to be the center of attention; in fact it should be the exact opposite. When you do your job wrong, not only is it unprofessional but the person is not able to fully participate.
There were two particular parts about this incident that really hit me to the core—-
This whole situation was 100% about power and ableism (called disablism in the UK). My friend was not supposed to be independent. The terp wanted my friend to beg her to save her and be appreciative for her “help”. When my friend refused to take this position by living her life as she normally would, the terp refused service. By refusing service, she was acting out her power over my friend in a way that left my friend not only feeling very angry but vulnerable (although these may be my feelings projected on to her because this is how I felt when she told me). Kay at the Gimp Parade recently wrote about being in a rehab place where the nurse refused to help her for the same reasons (said Kay could damn well help herself). Perhaps ableism sometimes sounds vague or unclear (often because people like to look at things like racism and ableism as discrimination or dislike instead of power) but this is what ableism is. It is not a person being just unprofessional, it is a person using what they have against another.
The second part of this that hit me was the fact that I was one of the main people organizing the meeting and I was completely oblivious to this the whole time (my deaf friend took care of it). In fact I didn’t even know this happened until one hour ago— exactly 6 days later. When my friend and I had a chance to talk and she told me, so many emotions came up—times where I had been mistreated or when friends have been taken advantage of and left in a place of vulnerability—but how did I not know what was going on when sitting in the same room (of only 11 people)? How was my friend having all these feelings while my biggest concern was having to pee? How was I NOT there for my friend? I think this is an example of some of the problems we have in the disability community, sometimes it feels like we have no idea what is going on with each other, maybe because we already assume we know.
Needless to say, we are all filing complaints with the licensure board as we should be. I’m glad my friend is doing something about it and not letting it go (I love that about her). I know if she didn’t, this terp would be continuing to misuse her position in this way.