the terp from helllll

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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.

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17 Comments

Filed under ableism, disability

17 responses to “the terp from helllll

  1. Stunningly bad behavior from the terp. Good on you for reporting her.

    I’ve encountered quite a few people in the disability community who don’t “get” the issues for people with impairments that are different from their own. But there are a lot of things to get. Staying open to attending to others needs is crucial.

    Happily, I’ve also worked with some cross-disability folks who really do get it, and that’s a source of fabulous power.

    Harriet McBryde Johnson’s Freaks of Nature is a lovely YA novel about a “special” summer camp which captures that strength in community.

  2. i LOVE freaks of nature and definitely agree with you on everything you’ve said. thanks for stopping by so i can check out your lj!

  3. Sometimes it hits me just how much work there is to do.

    “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.”

    I think this is relevant to other communities too. Thank you. This post really struck a chord.

    I read your blog daily but I don’t think I’ve ever commented. I am asking myself why. I really love your writing and I am learning so much from you.

    So I ask myself why. I suppose I am scared in the same way as white people are when they comment on poc blogs, that they might appear or in fact be racist. Sometimes as a woc I think that I forget that I have things I need to examine. My own ableism (“called disablism in the UK”. I didn’t know that) for example. And I’m sure ageism and other discriminations that remain buried because I am not forced to look at them.

    Sorry to ramble on. I really don’t want to make this about me. It’s not. I just wanted to let you know that you got me thinking and that’s a great thing. So thank you.

  4. Aaminah

    CC, I think we’ve talked about this before, so you know I work for an interpreting agency. I am so glad that you point out the ethics issue, and that you and your friend are taking this to the licensing board. The role of the interpreter is to be a tool and nothing more. The person they are interpreting for has their own voice and should be using it and the interpreter is just there to help facilitate the conversation AS IF THERE WERE NO BARRIER. Granted, my agency deals specifically in health care, social services and education. So we are serving hospitals, doctor’s offices of all kinds, counselors, and teachers. In those cases, it is very important for the provider (the doctor, the nurse, the counselor/therapist, the teacher or administrator) to build a relationship with their patient/student/parent just as they would with any other person they are serving. The point of the interpreter is to allow full communication for the patient/student (whatever) who either does not speak/understand sufficient English (called “LEP” or Limited English Proficient) or is deaf to build that relationship with their provider and vice versa as if there were no such barrier at all. The interpreter is NEVER the center of the action.

    And heck, she was getting PAID to be there. So she wasn’t doing your friend a favor. She just needs to do her job… Grr!

  5. DD—thank you for stopping by, your comment means a lot to me. i’m glad to be getting to know you in the blogosphere. i think what i love most about woc spaces is that we’re all coming from places that are really different but it’s with the understanding that there is a shared history and much to learn, love, and appreciate about each other. it’s not in a “teach me everything you know” but rather one of recognizing privilege in a way that is NOT all about that individual person. AND something i’ve noticed about my blog is how many times i’ve said stupid shit and looking back, want to erase it or hide my face. but blogging is a great way to learn about communities we aren’t involved with and how our oppressions are linked. i’m glad to have space to say stupid shit, be called out on it, and continue life at a new place. and glad to have you here, too.

    Aaminah—and after all that, she tried to charge us $10 more an hour than what was agreed beforehand!! can you believe this person?

  6. I had a carer recently who was 45 minutes late to me without letting me know – I suggested to her that I have a life to live and she needs to let me know if shes late. Particularly as she was only going to be with me one hour! I did snap at her a bit and apologised for that but reiterated that if she was gonna be more than maybe 15 minutes (which is what my contract with the agency says) I need to be told. She went back to her manager and claimed that she was too uncomfortable with me to come back. She specifically stated she was only five minutes late (which was disproved when her timesheet went in and they saw the discrepancy) and my picking her up on it was why she was uncomfortable. then she wondered why my response was to ask the manager if she was joking and then to half laugh and go “fine in that case i don’t want her again.” If it wasn’t for the fact that I think enabler sounds like something drug related I’d almost say that would be a better title for an interpreter or a carer or whatever.

    Sorry to hijack your comments! And sorry you and your friend had this experience.

  7. “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.”

    Nice. Yes. And it’s so confusing to run into it in people who supposedly have engaged in *service* professions.

    (Of course, every profession is a service profession, but that’s another rant for another time and place.)

  8. There’s a real confusion in the area of those who work for people with disabilities about the fact that 1. they are paid and 2. it’s a job with rules like any other job. I’ve seen this time after time with my own experiences – cancelling without calling, as Emma points out being late without letting me know and asking “where are you going anyway?” ; watching TV when I need hands on help, etc. I’m glad there is follow-through with this- I’ve become careful to follow through on this kind of behavior too, knowing that if I don’t, the next person they “help” will be treated in the same, unprofessional manner.

  9. Name! This interpreter has a name, and either through this blog or through blog carnivals, you can put this person’s name and unsatisfactory performance out where a substantrial fraction of the people who could hire this interpreter will know about it.

    This may top your story: we had a Russian/English interpreter a few years ago when the company I worked for was exploring a collaboration with a company in Russia. Instead of translatring, the interpreter spent most of her time trying to get somebody in the room to give her a job and ended up alienating everybody. We kicked her out and the Russian engineer and a couple of us ended up drawing graphs and equations and scoped out the requirements The interpretrer solved a major problem for us: we neded to do some relationship building, since were about to trade some proprietary technologies. And we all agreed on one thing: we all hated her.

    Maybe you and your colleagues can use this terp from hell to aid some relationship building of your own. 😉

  10. Thanks for responding to my comment cripchick. Really appreciate that.

    I am interested to know what training people get for becoming interpreters and do they have regular follow-up training ?

    Aaminah said
    “The role of the interpreter is to be a tool and nothing more. The person they are interpreting for has their own voice and should be using it and the interpreter is just there to help facilitate the conversation AS IF THERE WERE NO BARRIER…

    the interpreter is NEVER the center of the action”

    This seems very obvious to me. Like rule number one. How is it possible for someone to become an interpretor without even this basic understanding of the work. Is it because there is no value put on the position because people with disabilities are considered less important?

    I worked as a “caregiver” for Elaine, a severely disabled woman, when I was just 17 years old. I was given no training at all. I had just left home, had no experience of the world. I could barely look after myself, let alone a grown woman who needed round the clock care. Looking back I am appalled that I was given the job (even though we became great friends). Perhaps nowadays I would not have been given the job, I’m not sure.

    I am really glad that I had the opportunity to meet Elaine but I really have to question the ethics of my getting that job. Well, just to say I am appalled that you have to put up with this level of incompetence and stupidity. It’s just wrong and I wonder what the agencies who are (supposedly) in control, are doing about it?

  11. Aaminah

    To answer your question, Devious Diva, it varies. For spoken languages there are no “legal” required courses/training, but most agecies do offer a significant amount of training. That said, there are certainly agencies that do not and that will take anyone who just barely speaks two languages. There is no certification process at the present time, though it is being worked on on a national level. There is a national set of standards and a code of ethics that most agencies do provide to their interpreters. Whether agencies expect their interpreters to uphold them varies right now, and there are many unqualified interpreters who offer their services without going through an agency and have no idea what the word ethics even means, much less being familiar with the standard code. The reality is that if you want to be a professional interpreter, you should take serious the requirements of the job and obtain the appropriate training and resources for yourself. The fact that agencies offer this is a bonus; but interpreters should care enough about their profession to seek out the training they need.

    For sign language interpreters, however, it is a completely different situation. They do have certification processes and are required to maintain a minimum certification level and are required to have gone through extensive training to obtain that certification. They are also required, in order to maintain certification, to show a good amount of annual continuing education. There is a very clear Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice that they do not have the luxury of ignoring. In short, the interpreter in this case should be reported because there are definite repercussions for such behavior. Certifications for ASL come in different levels, and people should ask what level an ASL interpreter currently holds and if it has been maintained, then you can decide if they even have the level of skills you require. For example, my agency will not work with anyone under a QA3 certification. Other agencies will accept lower levels, we do not. Which means that our interpreters have tougher standards and a greater degree of training. But even a QA2 certification IS a certification and required a great deal of training. So there is no excuse for such unprofessional behavior as Crip Chick’s friend dealt with.

  12. AAGH!!! I’m in the kind of mood where I feel like braining people with heavy rocks. Would you like to point me towards her???

    That just annoys the piss out of me that she could be like that!!!

  13. Thank you for your comprehensive answer Aaminah. I wonder what the situation is in England. I dread to think…

  14. I’ve been flipping back to this post since you put it up, hoping that at some point I’d have a more constructive comment than “AAAAGH!!!” Still haven’t found one.

    (Though, as someone who occasionally gets pulled in to interpret but is most emphatically not an interpreter, I will say that deviousdiva is right on the money. It’s pretty darn obvious – even without an ITP, even without certification – that interpreting should not be about pleasing the interpreter. Providing what the interpreter needs to do a good job and be treated fairly as a worker and a person, yes – but providing gratification for the interpreter’s ego, not so much.)

  15. DeviousDiva: It may depend a bit on what exactly you did at age 17 as an assistant for this disabled woman, but my general opinion from personal experience is that the real job requirement is respect, not age, maturity or some sort of health care expertise. I say that as someone required to have nurses help me in order for the money to go round. Despite that requirement, I end up training everyone on specific tasks like suctioning my windpipe (I have a trach and use a vent) because even the licensed nurses have no real life experience with it. The nurses may be more likely to apply to work for me, but they aren’t significantly more skilled, which galls me as the trainer of an already very limited pool of possible workers here in the rural Midwest.

    Also, CripChick: YES, to this:

    AND something i’ve noticed about my blog is how many times i’ve said stupid shit and looking back, want to erase it or hide my face. but blogging is a great way to learn about communities we aren’t involved with and how our oppressions are linked. i’m glad to have space to say stupid shit, be called out on it, and continue life at a new place.

  16. Great post and comments, CC.

    I’d like to hear some discussion from the “other end”… like, what about being put in the position of caregiving and you know the person is borderline-harming themselves? Example: I once witnessed someone habitually insist that his aide facilitate his drinking/drugging himself into oblivion. The aide (actually several of them), ended up quitting because they just couldn’t deal.

    Yes, I suppose we could say it was his “choice”–but really, as an ex-addict, I recognized it more as his simple inability to stop. I tried to haphazardly intervene, but you know how that goes.

    Discussions of these types of knotty caregiving issues are necessary to facilitate full social inclusion for disabled people, IMHO.

  17. Wonderful post–what you said about “isms” being about power rather than dislike has given me tons to think about.

    There are those who go into caring professions because they really like the power and they do think their power is the central purpose of the caring relationship. I have seen this in nursing. Thankfully, these folks are in the minority.

    The problem is that it often presents as a subtle undercurrent that is difficult to quantify or recognize from the outside (or even from the inside at times), which is why you didn’t see it with your friend. This makes it really hard to make a credible complaint about it and get action.

    I am glad you and your friends are all reporting (or reported, by this time!) I think she needs a different career.

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