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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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Designated interpreters interpret not only the deaf professional’s work conversations but also social conversations in informal and formal social settings. The importance of social interpreting (see Clark and Finch this volume for discussion) as a part of the designated interpreter’s role cannot be minimized. Campbell, Rohan, and Woodcock (this volume) further explain why gossip is important in the academic setting and why this incidental information must be passed to the deaf professional. Consider, for example, that a new academic professors’ work performance over a period of up to seven years or more, is evaluated by his or her peers when that professor is up for tenure. Thus, for a deaf professional in this position, his or her peers decide whether they want to recommend that the deaf professional stay employed based on whether the deaf professional contributes appropriately and fits well into the department. Campbell, Rohan, and Woodcock (this volume) discuss the peer assessment process, the importance of social interpreting, and how the designated interpreter can easily harm the deaf professional’s ability to achieve tenure.

A good deaf professional–designated interpreter relationship allows the deaf professional to socialize fully in the workplace. Having a designated interpreter around helps others to become comfortable with the interpreting process (Pouliot and Stern this volume). The designated interpreter must remain in the role of an interpreter in social situations, which can pose a challenge (see Clark and Finch this volume). One designated interpreter described that “the trick was to accept his role and preserve the position yet develop a sense of how little of oneself should be spread into the outcomes, implications, and dynamics of the situation” (Pouliot and Stern this volume, p. 138). Another designated interpreter suggested that it is necessary to stay unobtrusively in the background as much as possible (Gold Brunson, Molner, and Lerner this volume). The designated interpreter must make decisions that would maximize, and not harm, the deaf professional–designated interpreter relationship and would maximize the deaf professional’s ability to immerse him- or herself into the workplace.

The level of personal involvement the designated interpreter has in social situations depends on not only a lot of external factors but also the designated interpreter’s ability to handle having two or more roles with the same individuals. Those who know they do not do well in dual relationships might prefer to stay in the background whereas those who are comfortable and skilled at dual relationships could be more involved while protecting the boundaries of their role. Many hearing individuals in the deaf professional’s work environment may wish to socialize with the designated interpreter. The designated interpreter needs to remember the he or she is always on duty (see Earhart and Hauser this volume for discussion). Kurlander (this volume) suggests that “interpreters who have a need to be seen and heard, to prove themselves . . . , or to overshadow the deaf professional are not suitable for [a designated interpreter position]” (Kurlander this volume, p. 110).

The designated interpreter must be conscious of the representation of the deaf professional at all times (Kurlander this volume). He or she needs to socialize with others to become recognized as a member of the deaf professional’s work team. As Kurlander explains, “the more comfortable the coworkers are with the interpreter, the easier it is for the deaf professional to assimilate into the workplace” (p. 121). Initially, hearing individuals will most likely ask a lot of role-, language-, and deafness-related questions when the deaf professional is not around. Some deaf professionals believe that it is the designated interpreter’s role to answer these questions (see Campbell, Rohan, and Woodcock this volume for discussion) to get past that level of social interaction and to satisfy the curiosity of the deaf professional’s coworkers. The more people who know the answers, the more people who will be available to answer those types of questions. When the designated interpreter’s role is clear and the deaf professional’s coworkers work with the deaf professional–designated interpreter team, such questions will occur less frequently and, often, the coworkers can even answer similar questions for the deaf professional and designated interpreter when asked by others. There are possible negative consequences if the deaf professional’s colleagues do not understand the boundaries of the designated interpreter’s role or feel uncomfortable around the designated interpreter. Kurlander (this volume) explains that this misunderstanding of role can cause tension between the designated interpreter and coworkers. In some situations, this kind of misunderstanding could mean that the designated interpreter is causing tension at the workplace in which case the deaf professional may need to put forth more social effort in establishing and maintaining relationships with coworkers. Thus, it is clear that the designated interpreter must walk a very fine line between being an integral, natural part of the environment and not being the deaf professional’s representative but, rather, realizing that it is the deaf professional’s position to represent herself or himself.


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