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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Deaf Professionals and Designated Interpreters: A New Paradigm

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The Deaf Professional–Designated Interpreter Model described here is broad because there is no “one size fits all” set of standards. Describing the deaf professional–designated interpreter working relationship is almost like describing the concept of marriage with only a few couples to use as examples. Designated interpreting, here, represents the marriage between the field of interpreting and the deaf professional’s discipline or work environment. In this chapter, we review and discuss existing literature on this topic to bring to the forefront the characteristics and practices of designated interpreters. It was necessary for us to rely heavily on the chapters in this volume because this collection is the first of such writings on this topic.

The number of deaf professionals appears to be growing worldwide. In this volume, the term deaf professionals refers to any deaf or hard of hearing employees, trainees, or interns who require interpreting services to access the level of communication needed for them to learn, perform their job responsibilities, or both. The principles and practices discussed here are often relevant regardless of the type of interpreting provided. There are common features in this new discipline that must have emerged as the result of two factors: (a) the advancement of the field of sign language interpreting and (b) more deaf individuals achieving professional positions where their contributions outweigh the cost of interpreting services. The situations discussed here are the ones in which a designated interpreter is a reasonable accommodation and is necessary for the deaf professional to perform his or her job duties.

Interpreting done through a traditional nondesignated means requires fluency in a sign language or a specific communication mode (e.g., cued speech). The many individuals hired as “interpreters” need to be extremely skilled and competent (Napier, McKee, and Goswell 2005) to provide fully accurate interpreting. Designated interpreting requires additional skills on top of excellent interpreting skills. Designated interpreting is not possible if an interpreter embraces the philosophy that he or she is a neutral conduit (see Metzger 1999). Many of the actions that designated interpreters need to perform are in conflict with the Neutral Conduit Model (Napier, Carmichael, and Wiltshire this volume). Some (Roy 1993; Metzger 1999) have argued that interpreters in almost any given situation cannot adequately perform their job if they wish to assume the position of a neutral conduit; however, this discussion is beyond the scope of this chapter. The differences between the Deaf Professional–Designated Interpreter Model and other interpreting models are discussed in depth in Campbell, Rohan, and Woodcock’s chapter in this volume. Generally, existing models of sign language interpreting work inexactly for the situations in which designated interpreters find themselves because existing models are based on a different power distribution wherein the deaf person is the client and the hearing person is the professional.

Cook (2004) wrote about designated interpreting, which she termed “diplomatic interpreting,” and described that “the highly technical nature of such work, the status of the Deaf individual and the daily interactions the Deaf professional has with hearing colleagues differentiates this form of interpreting from interpreting in the general public” (58). Cook believes that one of the key components of this form of interpreting is the mutual trust between the deaf professional and designated interpreter as well as the designated interpreter’s “intense interest in and commitment to the work of the DP [deaf professional]” (58–59). Cook explains that the “Deaf professional’s goals become the interpreter’s goals” (64) and that being impartial or neutral is not one of the designated interpreter’s goals.

The designated interpreter is a dynamic and active participant in the deaf professional’s environment, and his or her actions influence communication outcomes and the deaf professional’s work performance. The designated interpreter has a thorough understanding of the deaf professional’s role, the roles of others in the workplace and those who have a relationship with the workplace (contractors, customers, etc.), the work culture, and the jargon used. The knowledge and skills that designated interpreters need to learn depends on the deaf professional with whom they work and the environment in which they work. Hence, the designated interpreter for a specific deaf professional might not be the appropriate designated interpreter for another deaf professional, although common features and methods can be generalized to most deaf professional–designated interpreter relationships.

Designated interpreting involves specialized knowledge of content, vocabulary, and social roles (Campbell, Rohan, and Woodcock this volume). The designated interpreter needs to function on an equal footing with the deaf professional’s colleagues and be able to communicate with them with ease (Kurlander this volume) because this ability enables the designated interpreter to deal with urgent issues immediately. An assigned interpreter who does not know the names, roles, and workplace practices of the deaf professional’s colleagues would not be able to jump into the assignment and work effectively and seamlessly as a member of the work team or work culture. In most settings, the designated interpreter needs to be available at all times and is always on call, even during down time.

The deaf individual who works with a designated interpreter needs to spend a portion of his or her work hours training and continuously updating the designated interpreter. In the beginning of a deaf professional–designated interpreter relationship, the deaf professional needs to take a significant amount of time to train the designated interpreter. The deaf professional needs to have patience with the designated interpreter’s limitations and learning curve. Gold Brunson, Molner, and Lerner illustrate this process in one chapter of this volume. They discuss how the insertion of a third person in a psychotherapist-patient relationship causes some dynamic issues that hearing therapists do not have to face. Before hearing psychotherapists can practice on their own, they receive at least several years of training and supervision on how to use their voice and carefully select what to say when working with mentally ill patients. There is no way to provide an interpreter with all of this information fifteen minutes or even one hour before a therapy session. The process of becoming a designated interpreter can be a challenge for some interpreters because it requires them to acknowledge that they do not initially have the skills or knowledge necessary for optimal performance. It also can be a challenge for deaf professionals, especially those who are new to working with a designated interpreter.

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