Interpreter Appreciation Day: The Holiday So Nice, We (Sort Of) Celebrated It Twice

Posted by: Staff Writer on May 7, 2014

“There are no mistakes, just happy accidents” – Bob Ross (The Joy of Painting) If there ever was an example of serendipity, this is it: We all get to celebrate the Second Annual Interpreter Appreciation Day this year … again.

Through a scheduling mix-up amongst the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) and a few deaf agencies, many in the deaf community began expressing appreciative statuses, stories, and digital shout-outs on Facebook last Thursday. In reality, Joshua Jones, the deaf-blind Californian who started the Official Interpreter Appreciation Day Facebook page last year, reminded us that Interpreter Appreciation Day is scheduled for the first Wednesday of every May, which in 2014 is today, May 7th.

Premature? Maybe, but lest anyone call it a faux pas, we’ll put on our Bob Ross optimism and paint this whole thing as a double-blessing (with trees and butterflies) instead. Because every day is a good day to appreciate interpreters. Not just for the reasons we explored in Have You Thanked the “Terps” In Your Life?

Shane Feldman, the Executive Director of RID, posted a YouTube vlog last week describing the priceless contributions that sign language interpreters have made to his life from Pre-K to his professional development years.

“Now, back in my role as Executive Director, I want to recognize that interpreters work very hard in ways that the Deaf Community does not see,” Feldman signed.

Behind the scenes: The Terp Life

Thanks to the media, we all know that being a teacher in America is hard. Scrubbing toilets is hard. Laboring in coal mines is, without a doubt, hard. Sign language interpreting is, like nursing or teaching, a calling. But did you know that this career is also hard?

It’s not just the carpal tunnel, aching feet, and the mental strain of quickly composing classifiers that describe biochemistry or math jargon. It’s not just the relentless advocacy for clients. The little-known truth is, that the politics and business model of interpreting is sending many into a tailspin.

Here in deafREVIEW's flagship city of Seattle, a new Interpreters for a Living Wage movement (captured in interpreter Whitney Hill's new blog here) has sprung up over the weekend. Ironically, just after the $15 minimum wage deal took effect in the city, the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) is proposing some concerning changes on how much interpreters should be paid and whether or not certification requirements will be imposed. 

NIC-certified for the past eight years, Hill has seen the dangerous trend in the career: "One of the reasons we cannot simply set an hourly rate (or fee) for our interpreting work and keep it the same for years is that the cost of living keeps going up.”

The trend is literally hazardous to interpreters’ health: “I don’t qualify for Medicaid" said Hill. “I make sacrifices like not going to the doctor when I am sick and I have to continue working through injury and illness because freelance interpreters don’t have any paid leave.”

The problem is not endemic to Seattle. 

As Street Leverage pointed out in “Why Do Qualified Sign Language Interpreters Get Less Work?”, the incentives have changed. Instead of rewarding the highly qualified, seasoned interpreters with more work, many interpreters report that the “Bypass Model” is beginning to take precedence. Hindered by budgetary shortfalls, some agencies offer the first assignments to interpreters who (due to less experience), charge less. As federal and state governments begin to streamline the contracting process, it often looks to general language agencies first – leaving out the veteran interpreters who have spent years crafting and RID-certifying their skills.

As a result, service providers (such as hospitals) have taken to the troublesome trend of utilizing spoken language interpreting agencies or “in-house” interpreters whose credentials may be less-than-qualified.

As Jones described his experiences over the years, “Some sign language interpreters who work from general interpreter agencies aren’t 100% fluent in ASL, or familiar with Deaf Culture, or ASL grammar and facial expressions.”

Of course, he added, not all ASL interpreters from general interpreter agencies are sub-par.

“I understand these agencies that specialize in many different languages than just sign languages want to help build a bridge between people with different languages. I give them props for that. But I would like to see them provide their (sign language) interpreters with more workshops to gain knowledge of the culture, get involved in their (deaf) communities, and understand the language itself.”

Budget-oriented one-stop shopping is no way to serve the deaf community’s unique needs at large. That’s why it’s important to realize that you, the deaf consumer, have more power to than you realize.

Changing the fate of the interpreting field

The Internet has given deaf and hard of hearing people so much more access than in previous generations: We can order a pizza through online delivery. We can email a business, instead of call.

We can also gently steer our deaf friends into deaf-friendly businesses. Jones has reviewed his favorite interpreting agency in Seattle, but recently moved to California. “I know that I will need an interpreter in the near future,” he said. “It is hard to figure out which (interpreting agency) is good or bad for me because I don't know many people that live in my area”. 

But do you realize that you can also shape the fate of the interpreting field? It doesn’t have to happen from the top-down (government encroachment) or within (interpreters themselves), but also at a grassroots level (you!):

Provide a ‘preferred interpreter’ list. Got a sensitive meeting and don’t want to leave it up to chance (or an inexperienced interpreter)? “I have a preferred interpreter list on file with them and they always do their best to give my preferred list priority,” one of our Expert Reviewers wrote about Seattle-based SignOn ASL Interpreting Services.

“Whenever they cannot fill my preferred interpreter list, they tend to contact me and give me options.”

Review your favorite sign language interpreting agencies. You can shape public opinion by five-starring your favorite coffee shop or scribing your displeasure against a sub-par teacher on RateMyProfessor.com. While deafREVIEW’s platform does not allow for rating and reviewing individual interpreters, you can review interpreting agencies (both sign language interpreting agencies and general language agencies) by searching for and reviewing them in your city.

REVIEWER TIP: If you cannot find an interpreting agency on deafREVIEW, try searching a variation of the business name. If that doesn't work, please suggest we add the agency to our business listing and we will let you know when it has been added. 

Tell your service provider which agency you prefer. From the get-go, take control of the accommodations process: Whether you’re fixing to attend your favorite band’s live concert or have a dentist appointment, be proactive. “Please contact this sign language agency – I’ve had the best experiences with them in the past 15 years,” you can say (or email) as you hand over contact information for your preferred agency.  

Join the Interpreters for Living Wage movement. You can contribute, digitally or in-person! For the Seattle-area Community, there’s a forum happening this Friday.

Doing all the above helps reinforce your consumer voice in the hiring of qualified interpreters while also cultivating our interpreter talent and improving experiences. Your input is important, especially as deaf families move from city to city to pursue new jobs, or send their deaf children to better deaf schools.

Interpreters have tirelessly advocated for us throughout their careers. Now, it’s time to stand up for them (and in turn, ourselves). Give your favorite interpreting agency a shout out and start reviewing interpreter agencies here!

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