Sunday, November 11, 2007

Who is responsible, the interpreter or the patient?

Barb DiGi describes her experience about clarifying how to communicate with the Deaf when a speaker uses an interpreter. Looking back, she is questioning about who should be responsible to explain the roles.


Deaf Pixie said...

Hi, Barb DiGi

I have so similiar with your situation.

Funny, I told Seekgeo few month ago about the MRI clinic. The front desk told me to wait for interpreter to fill out the forms for you. I wrote a pen and paper and told her It is not their responsible for me. I am take care of that. My mind, I was so pissed off.
Until ASL interpreter show up and told the front desk . she say I can see Margaret is my client that I am her interpreter for appointment. The front desk say Margaret is so smart! she say Oh, I see.
she sat next to me and I explained to her about fill out the forms for insurance, etc. she say Many people have no idea what is meaning the ASL interpreter.
When I was in MRI for processing .. but MRI person notifity interpreter cannot enter the room. I said I cannot see without glasses. Interpreter was 15 to 20 feet. After MRI done. Interpreter and I went to front desk. and told her Why not you give me a note to fill out so I can go with her to allow me to interpreter. I was mad and Same thing Interpreter was also mad, too.. She asked me to permission to talk with her boss at ASLIN Agencies about my situation.

So, I wrote a letter to MRI office manager and explained the situation. I explained her that I have been in MRI before about 4 time for little over 10 years ago. It was unsual brought up by front desk were not cooperated with me and interperter.
A week later I recieved a letter from the MRI clinic. They sent me an apologized and gift card up to 50 dollars. I was surprised that they realized the front desk were inapproriated to refused to allowing the interpreter go with me MRI when she can signed the permission as her job to interpreter for me when I cannot see without glasses because of MRI can hurt skin if I'm wearing wire glasses. The reason I cannot use it in MRI processing. I was mad and upset what you say. Say again. Interpreter told MRI person that my vision is 20/60 it is my eye sight is very very poor.

How rudeness with the front desk refused.. but I emailed to the office manager. I am accpeted of your apologized for us. I think Front desk get troubled. because I thought she think I am mental retarted. I am not retarted and just not able to see far interpeter. the reason why the lady refused allow interpreter to with me. MRI person failed to tell her.

I really thank the office manager for allowed us to spend Olive Gardner resturant that it was gift card. ;)

Deaf Pixie said...


I mean to say "Best topic " I love your best topic about interpreter and front desk. I love your vlogger so much! I am forward to getting know you are .. I know many front desk or people were trained for medical field knew nothing about deaf or ASL interpreter meaning?


B.A.D. said...

Hey Barb!

Of course the interpreter has to tell the other party their role. Like for example, you see VRS/when making the call for you and the other party answers the VRS tell them who they are and the call is between made you and the caller.

I've had interpreters, and each of the interpreter met with the doctors/meetings/lawyers/etc...told them the role "talk to the person" I'm just interpreting between the two of you.
The interpreter has a responsibility to tell them what THEIR role is.

LaRonda said...

Hi Barb.

Good to see you again.

In my opinion, it could go either way, but I always explain this myself. I'm an assertive and outgoing person so I always take responsibility for teaching the hearing person that they should talk directly to me.

If the Deaf person is timid, introverted or shy, the interpreter might pick up this responsibility. However, I'm a pretty big advocate of empowering Deaf people to do this themselves. If they depend on the terp to explain, the terp still has the authority in the setting from the hearing person's eyes. But when the Deaf person explains their needs to the hearing person, then the authority shifts back to the Deaf person - as it should be.

But still, it could go either way.

~ LaRonda

Davy said...

Really it not interpreter responsible to explain the role ....... we are to challege tell them with our knowledge to explain what we need as standby one by one ... not interpreter. Several time to us so I say loud "HEY" look at me my eye humm then Doctor or other person is shock. From there whoooa ok ok ..... it wake them up. It work for us. I told Interpreter stand behind side Doctor . So Doctor is stuck as I have the power to make them focus on me.
"Best way make interpreter stand behind doctor or any person period". Because you can control the interpreter to do it!
you're important .. not interpreter!


Deaf Pixie said...


I agree with you that deaf patient need to empowering to educating to doctor or any medical field.

I think ADA lawsuit getting worsen?
I have go though over and over. Need to stop passive by hearing staff or doctor want to use interpreter from the medical insurance.
The reason why I notice some deaf doesnt have aware how to be empowering to hearing people or any medical office.

Seek Geo said...

Hey Barb DiGi!

Good topic!! That is something what we all need to be aware of how to handle this whether if it's OUR responsibility or if it's THEIR responsibility.

I'm pretty much the same with LaRonda, it could have gone either way but for most part that is anything bother you, say it right away. Because it depends on interpreting service policies, some of them can be even stricter than others is what I heard.

Some of them do not allow interpreters to correct hearing people since we don't know where or which interpreter comes from, better off just take your position to correct and explain how it works.

Most of time, I do that to explain on my own and I can tell by seeing interpreters' face, they'd be like.. oh yes, thank you! Cuz they get tired of signing "tell her/him...ask him/her." He he :-D

Sometimes, hearing people tend to forget that we are the patient/client/customer so we have to make it clear that we are here/there.


mishkazena said...

That's a good question, Barb. Sometimes the interpreters educated the doctors/nurses, but now to think of it, most of the time I explained to them. Of course, with a smile as they honestly don't know the protocols.

Anonymous said...

Hi Barb,

First of all, your background on blog is so cute!!!

I usually explain the roles between interpreter, client/patient and another person (3rd--such as lawyer, doctor, front desk, etc) IF another person-3rd person does not act properly like you said. Even I do on video phone and TDD if 3rd person says tell her or hangs up on me. I must say that I see interpreters did same thing when I was there but it does not happen very often. It is up to interpreters if they feel uncomfortable with the situations like this, they can tell/explain.
Also they do answer to 3rd persons' questions regarding to court, hospital with their experiences, etc. Also, sometimes my children interpret for me just for small things, they end up giving forms or money to them instead of me and I have to stop them from doing and ask to give me, not kids. I know that it is not kids' jobs but just for small things in last minute such as school, stores and restaurants when no certified interpreters being there.

Karen Mayes said...

I believe it is the interpreter's responsibility to explain the roles (same idea as VRS relay operators who'd ask the hearing callers if they experienced the relay calls before and if not, they'd explain briefly...) I will never forget when my husband had to spend a week at the hospital last spring and one specialist came and the interpreter was there. I asked a question and the doctor answered, looking straightly at the interpreter. I said, please talk straight to me and he did not respond. Then the doctor told my husband that his wife was an excellent interpreter! The interpreter did not bother to correct the doctor, so I had to speak up, using my voice, saying that I was the wife, not the interpreter. Gawk! I was not pleased with the interpreter for her failure to correct the doctor.

So I believe the interpreters should take responsibility to remind the hearing people of their interpreting roles (I am sure it is unnerving to watch a male person while listening to a female interpreter's voice...but still...)

Karen M.

Patty said...

I never thought of that...I use an intepreter in my medical appts all the time...though I think it should be done, we often don't set up ground rules prior to consult. I always ask my intepreter to sit/stand right...literally to my doctor. This setup "forces" my doctor to look at me during our consults. I recall one appt when my doctor kept looking at my intepreter until my interpreter put a stop to it and told my doctor to look at me, not her, saying I'm the patient, not her.

The rule of thumb is to just speak out your mind any time you notice anything amiss when using an intepreter.

John Lestina --- said...

Response to CLICK HERE

DE said...

Um... like LaRonda says, it could go either way. However, I'm thrilled for this vlog- why? Because it's another good example of Deaf educating other Deaf! So... I like this kind of discussion where we all come together and try to agree on what is acceptable.

Me- I prefer to take charge right at the first moment. I like to set expectations clear from the first minute. Guess that's the teacher in me. :)

Deaf Pixie said...

Karen Mayes,

Appuaded to you about interpreter often not want to tell doctor for you. I know Doctor embrassed you. It is actually he is kind of know better. I dont think interpreter feel that she is not duty to speaking out for you. You did tell doctor. I think it is confusion and twisted by doctor. You did right thing to speak out!

michele said...

Hi Barb,

I was surprised at what you said about your interpreter, he/she didn't even bother to step out of their role and explain to the doctor how to use the interpreter?? Duh! What was wrong with this interpreter? If I was an interpreter and I saw that the person didn't know how to use the interpreter, of course, I would step out of my role and explain to them how to use my services. Obviously the interpreter didn't do a good job right there.

Anonymous said...

It is client/patient's responsible to explain hearing consumers. Due to empowerment.

Anonymous said...

I would sign, "Tell him" with my response that where will get doctor's attention on who is he? Ha!

C said...

The interpreter should have explained the role and done so immediately when it happened.

I rarely have it happen to me but when it does, I stop everything and ask the terp to explain the role. Really, it's their job, not ours.

Anonymous said...

Interpreters are VERY CAREFUL not to overstep their bounds. It might be seen as oppressive to step out of role and explain how to use an interpreter, especially because usually the first time an interpreter sees your doctor (or anyone else) is when the appointment has already started and they are expected to interpret. How would you feel if the interpreter started talking to the doctor without your permission? That's why they give you the information and see what you do with it. You can then take it from there. The last thing a terp wants is to be viewed as an oppressor.

Robert Walker said...


I have enjoyed your vlogs in the past and also that of the Deaf Hope Tea Party (made me wish I was there!)...

anyway.. I digress :)

Good topic here.. and this brings to mind of using the relay service - need I say more? (talking about the 'traditionl' rely via IP relay.

for whatever that's worth, I usually tell the CA operator to please not explain the relay service and to just cue me with a GA when I need to respond. Also, depending on the situation, I also ask for a male voice (since many are female operators) Providing the operator follows through on the request, this works very well especially when calling a business (who are apt to hang up on being told this was a relay call and/or being given the explanation.

Left with a choice in this, I would just as soon they did away with the relay explaination. There is not even a need to inform them that this is a relay call. It would make life so much easier for us deafies in the long run..


Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion. As an interpreter, I think it is the Deaf persons responsibility to ask the hearing person for direct eye contact and to speak directly you. But I would say that 95% of the people I have worked with don't care. They are there to get their business taken care of and could careless about dealing with these issues. It is interesting it seems several of the people say "of course it is the terps role" but some Deaf people would say "of course not, they are there to facilitate communication, that is it!" Now you can see why our job isn't easy! :)

Jean Boutcher said...

Are the rules for interpreters and translators different? Daddy was an international foreign language translator. He always sat or stood between two persons in all places in Europe from France, Italy, Spain, Czech Republic. He was trained in Switzerland. I learned from Daddy that interpreters should do the same. It is of utmost importance for the doctor and the patient to see one another's facial expressions and body languages. Deaf people have a gift of seeing "with four eyes", so to speak.

Deb Ann said...

I am with LaRhonda, Geo, and John the ABC.

deafk said...

Yeah, yeah, right...our job is to educate those hearing people. BUT, isn't it getting tiresome? Only us doing the job all the time! I am not in favor for teaching them all the time, sorry. I got my own life!

Once a while, I was not even in the mood to educate those hearing people. Then I slowly correct them when necessary. Sheesh.

Also, I am concerned how the interpreters would say to hearing people from deaf people, any improper words that we were not aware of??? I always watch interpreter's lips to make sure she or he follows properly... Once a while, I had to correct the interpreters, yuck.


Barb DiGi said...

Wow, very interesting comments you all just threw in and I could see varying opinions about it.

While I understand that we are to be empowered to express what we think it is not right, I still feel that it is the interpreter's job to clarify the roles especially that they get paid a handsome amount. I feel that in the very beginning before any conversation, the interpreter should simply explain her role and how it works. That will take less than one minute and I don't see any harm in that.

One more thing, not all interpreters interpret everything even leaving out "tell her..." so how could Deaf clients possibly know if they didn't get this? When the secretary handed the paperwork to the interpreter, he did not even say anything! So that's when I had to take up the educating role so it made me wonder if this interpreter should have clarified his role in the first place.

I guess there is no simple answer to this but allow me to summarize from some of the comments. We as Deaf clients should take the initiative to explain the procedure whenever it is not going right but again we are getting tired of it and thought the terps should have make this effort as well. Like Patty had suggested, we could have requested the terp to stand a bit behind the speaker. The speaker would only see me that this arrangement will allow her to look at me instead. That's a good idea, Patty. And to the rest of you making great suggestions!

David said...

Hi Barb,

It is interpreter's responsibility to explain interpreter's role. We the consumers, should not explain interpeter's role.

The interpreter you mentioned last Friday should have explained his or her role to your specialist. Unfortunately, the interpreter made specialist think you were dependent of the interpeter. Thank God you interfered and straightened it out. You are not paid to explain, The interpeter is paid to do that. You should charge the interpreter for your time to explain to the doctor.

I am surprised that it happened. I am really disappointed about it.

Hope this helps


deafk said...

Hi, Barb, and DE,

I am surprised that you are surprised at this situation? Tell me, is that real good out there in Califorina?? That interpreters??

Mine happened too often here, smile.


deafk said...


I will make sure the terps stand next to the person. I did that a few times recently, and it was much better, tho.


Anonymous said...

Hey Barb!

Change the subject.

I was working in the library at the elementary school and I found an interesting book...I have thought about you and the bilingualism issue. Just thought you'd be interested to read the book. It's a bilingual book.

"The Musician's of Bremen" adaptation by Roser Ros, illustrated by Pep Montserrat

English and Spanish

So, it would be nice if we have the bilingual book with the english and ASL.


White Ghost

OCDAC said...

A CART system would cure a lot of the problems our sweet Barbi had with interpreting. Most doctors have computer systems in each of their examination rooms so why not install a simple CART system on them?

Dianrez said...

Barb, wonderful that you brought this up. Davy had an excellent suggestion: put the interpreter behind the doctor.

This is great because it removes the interpreter from the doctor's sight and forces him to look at you. If he is dumb enough to turn around to look at the interpreter, he will have to realize he is "leaving the situation" so that a simple "please look at the patient" or "look at me" will only be necessary once.

Doctors are used to language translators who often step in and take over the process, especially if they are family members. Some foreign cultures accept this willingly, so Deaf people have to fight it.

In some countries, public officials and clerks sometimes refuse to deal with Deaf people or people who don't speak the local language and request that they "bring someone" to deal for them. Again, this is acceptable to some cultures.

Jean Boutcher said...

A deaf person can quietly ask an interpreter to leave if he finds him incapable to interpret equivalently and explain that to the doctor. He would understand. I did that myself once several years ago. Complaining about a crab shell being hooked in my throat, I went to Emergency Room. An interpreter asked me, "Can you pronounce /e/ ?" Puzzled, I turned to the doctor and pronounced /e/ and wrote on pad, "Doctor, I do not understand why you asked me to pronounce
/e/. You know that I am deaf and cannot hear whether I can properly
pronounce /e/ or not.

The doctor was equally puzzled and wrote on the pad, "I want to know if you can scream to see if your throat hurts." I turned to the interpreter and signed, "You were supposed to inerpret equivalently instead of literally. You should have signed "'Can you scream?' instead of 'Can you pronounce /e/'". Thereafter, I told to please leave. The doctor uttered no objection! The rest is history.

Deaf people should learn to be assertive instead of being passive.

mishkazena said...

I've encountered an interpreter who cannot understand what I said. After few tries, I told her I don't need her services and started talking to the doctor directly. The poor doctor was so confused by the incompetence of that interpreter. Afterwards, I filed a complaint with the interpreting agency. I also told the doctor office not to use that interpreting agency again.

Yes, the deaf consumers does have the right to request the departure of the interpreter if the job isn't being done. If the interpreter is allowed to continue, misinformation can occur which may harm the deaf consumer seriously. It is best to get rid the interpreter and salvage what one can afterwards or reschedule for another appt with a different interpreter.

Deaf Pixie said...


Exactly I have similiar with bad interpreter from forgien language. It is really so confusion for me to communicate.. sometime interpreter did not tell my doctor the specifically medical vocubaulary..
I just talked to my sister through VRS about the agencies.

I agreed with your comment is very serious. I agree.
I am sure you remember me? Now it slowly processing with ADA lawyer with Hosptial situation,too.


Nicole Montagna said...

As an interpreter, when I hear "tell him/her" I interpret that information to let the Deaf person know how the hearing person is communicating. Deaf people who are more assertive and experienced with interpreters will take the cue and redirect the hearing person to refer to them directly. I find this to be most effective. Ideally, the interpreter would be able to do a quick “how to” and then we’d be all set but the reality is that often this kind of advocacy and direction is best coming from the Deaf person. Sometimes, depending on the situation, the Deaf person just wants the information and to get on with their day and not make a big deal about the proper protocol. When there is a break or a moment when I can ask the Deaf person “They keep saying ‘tell him/her,’ do you want me to remind them or do you?” then the Deaf person can decide for themselves how they would like to handle the situation (since all d/Deaf are different and one formula doesn’t fit all).

Maybe instruction from the interpreter is confusing for hearing people? First they are hearing the interpreter talk and give an explanation, then they are supposed to ignore the interpreter and treat her like a ghost? That seems to throw them off.

When hearing people try to hand me a prescription or paperwork that should go to the Deaf person I don’t lift my hands to take it but rather step back away from them and look at the Deaf person. With stubborn hearing people like this I try not to make eye contact with them. As another commenter suggested I tend to stand behind the hearing person so that they would have to turn around to look at me. These “tricks” usually work.

Many people commented here that they believe it's the interpreter's responsibility to explain how interpreting works. This seems to work with VRS because the hearing person can’t see what is going on. Hearing people still don't get it after the VRS explanation either.
In a face-to-face situation the hearing person can see the interpreter and Deaf person there in front of them so one would think less information is needed.

I made a video about this very issue. You can view it here.

Patty said...

I've done the same thing on VP or TTY relay as you did assuming the responsibility of telling the hearing person to "talk directly to me"; if he/she continues to say "tell her, etc" I would say "who is she you are you referring to, I'm confused". The interpreter won't say anything unless I bring it up myself. I hate being the 3rd person so I understand perfectly well what you're going through. You did excellent job explaining to the receptionist, nurse, or doctor.

Davy said...

Patty 6:23pm Nov 11, 2007

Lol ha ha lol .... that is alright.... you got it from my idea part of it what I said. "Stand behind side Doctor"
That is ok ..... I let it go haha lol.


Barb DiGi said...

Oh Davy, it's my bad that I didn't give you credit for making this similar excellent suggestion before Patty did.

So the bottom line is that we need to step up the plate when things are not going right and that the interpreter has not taken the time to clarify the roles.

RR, CART? Not a bad idea but keep in mind that it is not everyone' s preference. It is a matter of choice.

Davy said...

Hi Barb,

Yes that is true of matter preference thier choice.
Once again that Hearing people out there giving hard time with pressure on what Deaf need also that include interpreter can do control on Deaf life. That is why I must control interpreter with my power my Deaf need. Ok Barb .... thank you for your time and your good thought about this subject.
Have A G@@d Day.


Anonymous said...

Hi Barb,
After watching your video on who should be responsible, interpreters or patient. I have worked as a client advocate for the deaf, and I have encountered that several times and I would say that the deaf consumer/patient is responsible since they are the victim, interpreters are supposed to be "invisible". They are only there just to pass the message on and assist the deaf/hard of hearing consumer/patient with information. Interpreters are NOT to correct the doctor/dentist/speakers (etc.) since they are just there. But interpreters should mention to the deaf consumer that those things are happening at the moment and interprete such sayings, so we as a deaf person could take action and correct the hearing person and educate right away. There are of course a lot of obstacles but at the same time, if you smile and educate the hearing, the result would be outstanding and quick.

deafk said...

to 12:44 pm Anonymous,

Well, then we need to be trained how to deal this such situation. Supposed this Deaf customer is a ten years old, how can he or she do that? Then ailing Deaf customer that is confused? Then Deaf customer that is unfamiliar or uneducated to this situation?

You cannot expect too much of the Deaf customers that use interpreters..... What now?


Deaf Pixie said...

I agree with DeafK.

That's depend on what they would say to kids. I often end up mess up with doctor or nurse neglected my directly to person. The interpreter did not tell what I am explained to them. They would not listen Interpreter. Because of forgein agencies often use cheaper and bad role as Interpreter. I am struggle for long time. I am still file complaint .. Long process.

BAD Agencies from forgien language service use ASL .