Is it Time to Certify Sign Language Interpreter Referral Agencies?

Sign Language Interpreter Thinking Really HardAlarmingly, sign language referral agencies are sending increasing numbers of unqualified signers to interpret for Deaf consumers, causing harm to the communities we serve and to the interpreting field. Friends, consumers and colleagues around the US have been sharing their local horror stories for years. As this is a national issue it cannot solely be resolved at the local level. It requires a coordinated national response.

I believe that the RID membership should collaborate with Deaf leaders to establish standards for agencies that refer sign language interpreters in order to ensure that the Deaf community receives the best possible service. If an agency does not measure up to the standard, then there should be some public acknowledgment of this fact, so that when they bid for work it is clear that these agencies provide no guarantee of quality service.

No Standards

Currently, there are no standards for being a member organization of RID. Any agency can join RID, no questions asked. It enhances an agency’s status to have the RID brand on their letterhead and helps them bid for contracts – while it simultaneously compromises RID’s name, as it appears we support substandard sign language interpreting services. Why don’t agency members have the same standards and obligations that interpreters have? Why are agencies that have no connection to the Deaf community allowed to earn a profit by providing “signers” instead of qualified interpreters, and still benefit from the privilege of being affiliated with RID? What steps can we as professionals take?

Responsibility for Quality Services

When I began interpreting in the ‘70s, referral agencies were housed in Deaf service organizations (such as NYSD in NYC, GLAD in LA, DCARA in San Francisco) and in religious organizations (e.g.; Catholic Charities in Brooklyn and St. Benedict’s in San Francisco).  They provided community interpreters for medical, legal and social service needs.

The agencies I worked for had CODAs and/or Deaf referral specialists who had years of experience in the field. From my observations, they made every effort to assign newer interpreters (like me) only to assignments that we were qualified for. That was true for both certified and non-certified interpreters. Agencies understood that certification signified only entry-level skills and that they needed to assess the skill level of novice interpreters. They did not assign us to highly sensitive work, but often teamed us with more seasoned interpreters in lower risk environments, providing us support for our growth as professionals and providing reassurance to Deaf consumers that we would not compromise their lives.

Sign Language – A Profitable Afterthought

Over the last several years, however, we have seen the entrance of “language service” agencies into the arena of sign language interpreting.  Most of them tack on ASL in addition to the other languages they provide.  Most of their spoken language interpreters are born bilinguals, whereas many of the sign language interpreters on their rosters are self-professed “interpreters,” who have passed no screening or certification exams. While some of these language agencies may have a commitment to providing quality services to the Deaf community, most have no idea how to evaluate the skills of sign language interpreters or the needs of Deaf consumers. Their knowledge base is in bidding for and maintaining contracts.

Although ethical referral agencies do exist, there has been a marked increase in contracts being awarded to agencies that have no background knowledge of our field or the Deaf world, and no ability to evaluate the quality of the services of the interpreters they send to work. For all appearances, it seems that profit, rather than service, is the overweening motive.

(Recent Street Leverage posts on the impact of working for agencies with questionable standards are Self-Talk: A Sign Language Interpreter’s Inner Warning System by Anna Mindess and The Duality of the Sign Language Interpreter by Aaron Brace.

The Human Cost

Sending unskilled workers is a common practice in agencies that provide “interpreting as a business” rather than as a service, but that practice has serious repercussions. Recently in NYC, a call went out from a language agency needing interpreters for an “end of life” situation in a hospital.  A few weeks later, I spoke with friends of the family. They said that throughout the entire weekend the Deaf parents thought their child was “sleeping,” even after all the “interpreters” sent by that agency had “interpreted” the words of the doctors. This is not the only incident. Locally, I have seen language agencies with city contracts send basic signers to evaluations of the fitness of Deaf parents and uncertified interpreters to court, threatening the legal status of Deaf claimants, defendants, and the integrity of the court itself.

The decisions these agencies are making have a negative impact on all parties present: Deaf, hearing, and interpreters. Sign language interpreters who are not appropriate misrepresent themselves and the Deaf parties. Deaf people often do not get their message across; neither do the hearing participants. The only ones guaranteed to succeed in attaining their goals are the agencies, which get paid regardless of the caliber of the interpreting work.  This is not just happening in New York City, but also around the country.

Stephanie Feyne

Stephanie Feyne

An Ethical Quandary

Professional interpreters are left with an ethical quandary… Do I stop interpreting for an unethical agency and leave Deaf people with poor interpreters? Do I spend hours educating the agency, only to see them ignore the advice and go with lesser skilled interpreters? Do I develop relationships with these agencies? Do I accept lower fees in order to ensure quality interpretation?

Can sign language interpreters solve this problem alone? Clearly, the Deaf communities have been left out of the decision-making process. Local interpreting chapters or collectives that work in tandem with Deaf individuals and associations may be able to make some headway in certain locations, but I believe we should use the power of our national association to address this issue.

Agency Certification

RID certifies interpreters, why not certify agencies? This would imply an ethical practice mandate for agencies that refer sign language interpreters, and an obligation for RID to monitor complaints and de-certify agencies that are not behaving ethically. This could then be written into local and state contracts. There should be consequences if an agency sends inappropriate “signers” to jobs.

We, the members of RID, need to take the first step by developing stringent requirements for the business practices of referral agencies, with consequences for those agencies that are not following best practices. The requirements should state that agencies must:

  • abide by an ethical business model – that would include sending the most highly qualified interpreter, not just a warm body;
  • utilize a valid evaluation mechanism for non-certified interpreters;
  • provide sign language interpreters with relevant information prior to the assignment;
  • protect confidential information, by not including it in the emailed call for interpreters;
  • respect the communicative norms, rights and personhood of the Deaf individuals  by presenting them with the most appropriate qualified interpreters for their needs (which means seeing the Deaf individuals as their clients, not just the hearing contract holders).

If agencies do not live up to such standards they should lose the privilege of being a member of RID, and that information should be publicly available for any potential clients to view.

Let’s Get Started

Let us begin now to discuss the standards and the consequences. Let us engage both locally and nationally. Let us not allow agencies in their pursuit of profits to harm Deaf people.

What other requirements should be included when considering the certification of referral agencies?



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About the Author

Stephanie Feyne has been a certified member of RID since 1978. She interpreters in community, conference, educational and theatre venues. She teaches workshops in New York as well as around the country and is affiliated with the LaGuardia Community College Interpreter Education Projects. She was one of the four interpreting instructors for the annual TDF "Interpreting for the Theatre" Seminar housed at the Juilliard School. She is currently pursuing her MA in linguistic anthropology at Hunter College in New York City.

53 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Hilary says:

    I agree, I agree, I agree!
    When agencies & interpreters are bound by the same ethical standards, interpreters won’t have to work at cross-purposes with employers to abide by our CPC. I have the good fortune of working with an agency that does have interpreters & Deaf people at the top, from screening to scheduling, and it makes a huge difference. Where do we start?
    Sign me up.

    • Stephanie Feyne says:


      Thanks for your enthusiasm!

      I think that we can all benefit from the discussion. Places to start are with local chapters and with discussion groups already in existence.

      One that I’m involved with is the National Interpreter Discussion Group. This group has collectively created motions that were passed at RID.

      To join in click on the link below. Once you’re approved, join in the discussion.

      Thanks for your support!


      • Other Hilary says:

        Steph, I just saw Hilary’s comment and wanted to make sure you knew it wasn’t me. I thought I was the only “Hilary one one L” out there!

        That being said, you already know I agree with you. *grins*

  2. July 24, 2012

    HI… I am a deaf advocate and I am in favor of having agencies that serve the Deaf Community hire qualified or certified interpreters to work with deaf clients in community situations.

    At the NAD Conference held in Louisville, Kentucky two weeks ago, my association proposed a bill on Interpreter Licensure Requirements for Federal Court Interpreting during a meeting of the Council of Representatives. Reason: A few former deaf students from our
    Deaf Program were incarcerated in the county jail several years ago
    and they were provided with ill-trained interpreters sent by local interpreting agencies. Communication breakdown was observed and deaf individuals who were locked up were not aware of their rights under ADA.

    Sad to say that my association’s proposal on Interpreter Licensure requirements for Federal Court Interpreting did not receive endorsement from the majority of the delegates after a 30-second discussion on the bill. I did not feel that 30 seconds is enough time to make my point on the bill. I am sorry to say that the voting majority did not see this as an important bill to help judges and those in law enforcement understand the significance of using a qualified or certified interpreter in a court setting.

    Ill-trained interpreters usually come from community classes in ASL or have had experience interpreting in the public schools. Problem is that most agencies are managed by hearing individuals who have little or NO background in ASL and many hire inadequately-trained interpreters for a minimal fee and larger portion of the payment are kept by the agency. Is this fair?

    • Stephanie Feyne says:


      That’s such a sad story – and one that occurs too often around the country.
      It certainly was not fair.

      What was your association’s proposal? I’m wondering what the licensure requirements looked like.

      Unfortunately, the requirements for interpreters in the courts vary from state to state.
      Some states require qualified, some don’t.

      The federal courts require certification unless they can’t find anyone – then they go down to “qualified.”
      This link is to the law on interpreters in federal courts:

      I’m wondering how Deaf associations – local and national – can work with interpreters on this issue. Partly, it’s lack of information on both the court’s part and the so-called interpreter’s part.

      But I also agree that the agencies that send these people out to interpret in places that they do not have the skills for should be held accountable.

      How can we work together to make our complaints heard by those that hire the agencies?



  3. Sophie says:

    Apart from the problems of agencies sending underqualified people to jobs there is also the serious issue of agencies and commission. I was told yesterday that an agency was going to charge PER HOUR what I charge PER DAY.

    That’s here in the UK, and it’s a growing problem – people aren’t willing to name and shame the agencies in case of loss of bookings and because some of these agencies behaving this way are Deaf-led.

    • Stephanie Feyne says:


      Hope you are having a good summer between the golden jubilee and the Olympics.

      So sorry to hear it’s the same situation on your side of “the pond.”

      Yes, agencies do make a tremendous profit – and that has been the incentive for those outside of our field who want to cash in.

      I have seen the issue with both Deaf and non-Deaf agencies. It is difficult.
      I am happy to say that most of the Deaf- and interpreter-led agencies I know of have instituted procedures to ensure quality work.

      I’d love to see them recognized with either a “stamp of approval” or “certification” – so that when their competition comes in with a lower bid but lesser skilled interpreters, that someone would take notice.

      Thanks for your thoughts!


      • Stephanie,

        I am Deaf and own an interpreting agency…this does not happen with my agency. I instill procedure with the interpreters who work with us to ensure we are providing quality interpreting work to the Deaf consumers. It is sad to see how other agencies do not do this and is driven by money instead of quality of service to the Deaf. I have been there! :-( which is why I set this agency up as I got fed up with all the stuff that comes up.

        As for the lower-bid with lessor skilled interpreters, trust that what goes around, comes around. Someone is starting to take notice that we are in town and see a huge difference between our agency and theirs. Sadly, they still continue to use the other agency due to cost and not willing to see the difference or so. It’s a process..but you get what you paid for! I get an “earful” from the Deaf and educate them to file a grievance or complaint with the agency or provider and the agency does not care. When I get a grievance or complaint, I follow through with it.

        Again, its all a process…. but we could go on and on how interpreters take on jobs because of this or of that vs quality over quantity.


  4. Deb says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Your second paragraph talks about acknowledging unethical agencies. Perhaps we also should recognize the unethical interpreters who endorse and represent those agencies.

  5. Jo says:

    I support the comments in the article too. There does need to be some accountability but I am not sure RID is the place for it. I feel they have a hard time enforcing/supporting the CPC now for interpreters. I feel that RID is a weak professional organization. We can not turn to them for guidance currently when we see interpreting standards being violated. We can not trust them to do what they say regarding moving forward with various committees they say they are going to establish for various purposes. How would we ever be able to feel confident that they were going to enforce/support the accreditation of agencies who provide sign language interpreters?

    I feel that it is going to come down to interpreters being the ones who “make or break” this cycle. When less ethical agencies, those who are what I call “cookie cutter” agencies (have a heart beat, good, go sign type of agencies) start to have a hard time getting jobs covered then things will change internally for the agency. They will have to evaluate why they can’t get their jobs filled. Interpreters are partially to blame for creating this monster. Interpreters who just want a job and do not adhere to our own CPC when accepting assignments, that they may not be qualified for, are supporting the unethical behaviors of those agencies. Why dont interpreters ask more questions of the hiring agency about what the agency knows of our profession before they get on their list? Why do interpreters get on lists of agencies who have no ability to evaluate sign language interpreters? If interpreters are going to get on their list, why don’t they ask have their interpreting skills evaluated? Is their ego in the way? Do they think that just because RID certified them that they no longer need to be evaluated?

    Is it not better sometimes to have no one than a warm body? Which does more harm to a deaf person,no one or warm body? Wouldn’t an ethical agency, inform the customer and/or deaf person that there is no one qualified for that job available? Wouldn’t that be more appreciated by all parties rather than sending the warm body and risking harm to the deaf person?

    So while I pose alot of questions I do feel that it needs to happen. I can not support RID being the place to do it. I know RID is all interpreters have right now but hopefully some day, some where, there will become another National certifying body, who is stronger in supporting the interpreting profession then I could see them taking on this task. In the meantime, I think interpreters have to make the change happen.

    • Stephanie Feyne says:


      You make some important comments here. Thanks for this perspective.

      I agree that interpreters do have to make it happen. How united are we? And do we share the same values enough to make change?

      I wanted to share some interpreting history:

      During the early 1980s in Northern California the main provider of interpreting services shifted its policies and sent out lesser skilled interpreters to critical locations such as hospitals and Social Security hearings. Certified interpreters gathered together, refusing to work for that agency until it reformed its policies and agreed to contact only the most skilled interpreters first before looking for partial- or non-certified interpreters.

      We created an ongoing committee comprised of interpreters and agency employees to address the issues to which both interpreters and the Deaf community objected. We felt our integrity and service to the community were at stake. This was possible because the interpreting community was cohesive and adamant. Not all interpreting communities were able to collectively confront such business practices but the lesson was clear – a united front made an impact.

      The lesson here was that we were a collective whole, working from the same set of values and strong enough to leverage our position.

      The situation now is that, magically, agencies find people who have taken a few sign language classes and plunk them down as interpreters. I’m sure we could spend days sharing “frighteningly bad partner” stories.

      Now that we are not all coming from the community-developed values, how do we convince “have-a-pulse” signers from accepting jobs? If ethical and certified interpreters don’t work for X agency, but X agency continues to find people to fill jobs with, how do we deal with it?

      If there is some way to convince agencies not to hire inept people, I’m all for it.

      How do we go about it? Where does enough power lie to make agencies change?

      I agree that RID has not been diligent in monitoring quality – and I am concerned about many of the directions RID but I don’t know where else a monitoring center should be. I’d love to hear more thoughts on this.

      Thanks for bringing the reality of today into this discussion,


      • Windy says:

        I feel some of my responsibility is educating the agency as well. It is easy to not work for an agency, but, harder to dig your heels in and expect them to adhere to industry standards. I feel I am teaching them as opposed to leaving them to their own misguided information.

      • Joanne says:

        Interesting story and one I think hits home. Change in numbers. BUT in this day and age, I am not so sure that the almight dollar is not driving this bus.

        Your story reminds me of the stories I have heard regarding the evolution of labor unions, the hows and whys they came to be. Not exactly unfair labor practices here but the need for some cohesion and strength in numbers.

        A strong voice from the Deaf community is a must too.

        PS- I just realized I never finished typing my name out in the previous post…LOL Senior moment! :)

      • Dear Stephanie,

        Once again, you have brought a needed discussion to the table. Thank you for your dedication to the field and your thoughtful pieces,

        I read all the posts and feel the pain. I believe we must have a published document that takes a strong stand on how agencies should operate their businesses with integrity. We need something in print with respectable endorsement to help us with our local/national battles. It’s people like you who change our world.

        Some of the questions that need answering are:
        Who will publish this? Given the low “approval rating” of RID right now, I don’t think this is the best route. Besides, as someone pointed out, agencies can be organizational members just by paying the dues…period.

        How can these standards be monitored and enforced? We can’t even do very well with uncertified people passing themselves off as certified (usually with the help of agencies that promise certified interpreters but deliver much less.)

        I think we would be able to come to a meeting of the minds about agencies by engaging with consumers (Deaf and hearing), interpreters and respected agencies as to what we see as responsible, ethical policies and making sensible decisions about placement, interpreting contracts, and the like. Under whose “umbrella would this take place?
        Deciding on the best fit for the standards and the “sponsor” for this might be our biggest challenge.

        Finally, as I was pondering my take on this question I had a moment of insight from the perspective of American for-profit business. It is not surprising that most deaf people wok for large corporations and government agencies. When seeking vendors to provide products and services, they must be competitive. I am now becoming increasingly aware of the fact that spoken-language agencies are getting more and more involved in placing interpreters all over the country. One of the reasons for this is that these large entities compete for language interpretations services and they often get these contracts because it is more attractive and easier for employers to have one company take care of all their interpretation/translation needs. This is a fact of the business world.

        We are outraged…why? Because they don’t know what they are doing? Because they will take business away from our “Deaf Community – connections with agencies that specialize in Sign Language services?

        I believe it is naive for us to expect that large employers and government divisions will chose to have contracts with multiple agencies because a few Deaf people complain. When I put myself in that managerial position and I don’t have “deaf heart”, using one agency with competitive prices is a plus for my job performance. Can we take on the entire commercial structure of this country and expect to get what we want?

        My pragmatic self tells me that one way to control the quality and not put our agencies out of business by losing large national contracts is to take a radical step. What if the best agencies that abide by our standards were to enter into some business relationship with an all-purpose language agency we could take care of their Sign Language customers and have some type of sub-contractor or partnership role.

        Is this what I personally prefer? Definitely not. However we may need to look at the big picture and do something proactively to have some oversight of ASL/English services to our communities.

        Something to think about and maybe chew on through discussion. I also welcome any other innovative ideas for how to improve this situation that doesn’t rely on ineffective approaches such as “educating everyone about Deafness and interpreters”, setting up a type of certification/accreditation that we cannot enforce and monitor, or just venting our frustrations to each other while we try to apply ineffective solutions to new problems.


        • Hilary says:

          I agree that an innovative solution that takes effectiveness into consideration and considers the current business structures we’re operating under is really important. In fact, I know of agencies taking this approach (partnering with spoken language agencies), and think it’s an important, realistic step to ensure everyone gets quality services. I’ve also seen how our emphasis on cultural awareness & quality control can positively impact the spoken language interpreting side of the house.

          Given that RID does certify organization members, it seems a concrete place to start to at least pass a resolution which would require organizational members use certified interpreters, or have a screening process in place. I agree that enforcement would be an issue, and that hollow requirements do not get us where we ultimately want to go; at the same time, it might be a first step in raising the issue with the membership & getting organizational members to start paying attention. Thoughts?

          • Jennifer says:

            Just a small nit: RID does not “certify” organizational members. They are just a level of membership, support for the goals and mission of RID, much like supporting and student memberships are. Non-voting, to boot.

            Interesting discussion, though. The permissible extent of the authority RID could have over agencies (as opposed to individuals) is definitely something to look into as you think about this issue – after all, is RID dictating how a business should be run crossing some unseen line into “regulating commerce”?

    • Bill Moody says:

      RID may not, helas, be the place. As, indeed, it may not even be the place for certifying interpreters at all… RID is a professional organizaton probably more correctly concerned with working conditions for its professional members.

      But it is difficult to think that experienced ethical interpreters individually can change the current situation when unethical agencies, concerned only with the bottom line, can simply hire the cheaper inexperienced interpreters to fill any jobs that the better interpreters refuse because the agency is incompetent.


  6. Windy says:

    I live in Dallas and this is a constant struggle in our area and I am not sure how to fix it. Interpreters are going on assignments and they are not qualified, they say it is okay because the agency sent them. The agency says they sent them because they could not find a higher level Interpreter and the hearing client said “they will take anyone”. Most deaf clients are thankful to have any Interpreter, they do not speak up when they think the Interpreter is not qualified. It is a cycle where every part of the process has an excuse. As a result, unqualified Interpreters are showing up for assignments. I feel if requiring agencies to be certified/licensed would stop this cycle, it makes someone responsible. I would never take a job that I was unqualified for, but, there are many Interpreters who do. I think, in my opinion, it is a money driven decision, on the part of some agencies and some Interpreters.

  7. Julie Gould Marothy says:

    Great points. We need all the involved parties to be accountable to the same high standards. There is a different, but related problem I see, however, which is the lack of qualified interpreters to meet the demand. I know there are some agencies that send out “warm body” interpreters, but other well meaning, Deaf-centered agencies that cannot always find a qualified interpreter to fill a request. So the larger problem of supply v demand needs to be included in this problem solving.

  8. Joe Lucas says:

    Amen! This is happening more and more here in DC and is scary and not ok.

  9. Mark Hardway says:

    I agree there need to be standards that interpreting agencies should follow. There is a group within the Interpreter Service Managers (ISM) member section working on a draft of a Standard Practice Paper for agencies providing interpreting services. We have seen far too many enterprises who have no knowledge or connection to the deaf community or to the sign language interpreting profession insert themselves into our profession. These organizations typically don’t know about the CPC or any of the standard practices that have been set for our profession. In addition to the ethical practice of assigning intepreters with the appropriate skills and language match for the deaf consumer, all agencies need to operate in accordance with the CPC and the standard practice papers that have been set up to cover our entire profession. We really need to officially establish these standards for agencies to follow. At that point, it will be a lot easier to objectively show where so many organizations are going astray.

    • Stephanie Feyne says:


      So good to know that the ISM is working on standards.

      I look forward to seeing your work as it unfolds!

      I am very eager to hear what plans are to enforce agencies abiding by them. Perhaps we can all team up to write motions for the next RID conference.

      Thanks for all you are doing,


      • A better question may be, is it in everyone’s best interest to have RID be the regulatory body? It may be a better idea to form a third party organization that regulates the agencies. Especially if you consider that there are other non-RID certifications that exist and are valid.

        • Becky Stuckless says:

          I ablsolutely agree with Emory’s line of thinking. I still question if it is in the best interest of our profession for our membership organization to be certifying ANYONE.

          Stephanie, I loved your article. The one thing that hit me, is this is a problem EVERYWHERE. I recently had an interpreter tell me that the agency had been shorting her pay many times. I asked if she had ever thought of a service agreement with the agency (which would allow her to charge late fees, etc…) and her reply was sadly enough, she would probably just keep the status quo because she’s hoping to move soon, and just need to keep the income flowing in the meantime.

          I think often, in areas where work is either feast or famine, we find ourselves challenged with making decisions on fees, interpreters etc.. based on what agencies around us might do. I will admit, in my area, the agency (a provincial agency) is pretty good but at the end of the day, the requests don’t go to the actual intepreters and it’s not always easy for someone who doesn’t have the actual interpreting experience to ask the right questions, to best determine what skill set is needed.

  10. Jean says:

    I am a consumer of interpreter agencies and have experienced some wonderful agencies and some well… not so great agencies. Through my questioning, I was able to realize that the agency the provider seems to prefer does not have the understanding of a Deaf consumer’s needs to send out quality interpreters, nor do they always have quality terps on hand. Fortunately for me, I have advocated for myself and gotten my preferred agency. It takes knowing how the system works to do this successfully. I am a proponent of some kind of label that allows providers to know the quality of the agency they are considering hiring and yet I loathe more government involvement. Who will regulate these agencies? RID? Our federal government? State agencies that provide services to Deaf/Hard of Hearing consumers? Thank you Stephanie, for this discussion.

  11. Sarah says:

    Stephanie, this article really hits home and reminds me of my recent experience attending a birthing class at a local hospital. I requested a professional, certified ASL interpreter; the agency with the contract sent me a mother of a child with cerebral palsy and some hearing loss (the mother’s words). She knew some sign but I ended up sending her home before the class was over as it was just embarrassing to both her and to me.

    Thank you for writing this article and for bringing this pressing need to attention.

    Sarah Martin

  12. Paul Belmonte says:

    The Scottish Association of Sign Language Interpreters (SASLI) already has a register of agencies, which has published standards that agencies are bound to keep to. It’s not hard and ensured only ethical agencies are able to gain the credibility that comes with the SASLI chartermark.

    • Stephanie Feyne says:


      This is GREAT to know. I’d love to get as much info on this as possible. I’m sure it would help us.

      I’d love to see the standards.

      Are they online? How were they developed? What happens when an agency falls short of these standards?

      My email is

      I’d love to learn from you – how it was accomplished and how we can use your good work as a model!

      Thanks so much for this info!


  13. Jasmine says:

    I agree with your article and think a proposal should be made at our next business meeting to start the process of establishing some quality control.

  14. This is very well-said, Stephanie! It is a scourge on the profession and the Deaf community when unethical or at the very least, uncaring agencies engage in such practices.

  15. Peggy Huber says:

    Yes!!! Absolutely! Even as a certified interpreter with years of experience I’ve been sent to assignments without accurate information about the setting, the purpose or other important factors I would need to determine if I were appropriate for the assignment. Sign me up! I’m there!

  16. As the Director of an Interpreting Agency for 18 years, I have witnessed the watering down of the commitment of Agencies to the Deaf Communities needs. I am thankful and fortunate to work for an Organization that doesn’t operate on financial benefit but on the SERVICE component. We do have to be able to survive, but to charge for an hour what an interpreter is paid for the day, is a sad state of affairs. I am behind some standards for having the RID affiliation connected to our Agency. It could be as simple as specific requirements of Best Practices or Standards of Excellence for Agencies to receive the RID stamp of approval. (kind of like the Better Business Bureau of Interpreter Services). Agencies should be required to submit themselves to an AUDIT to make sure they are following those Standards, as well. If it is too complicated, it will be difficult for RID to uphold and enforce. With a complaint process for consumers and interpreters the consequence of having the “stamp of RID approval” removed for failure to meet the Standards might be a good starting point.

  17. Anna says:

    Please, how to we, as freelance interpreters initiate the process to make this a reality? So many of my ethical conflicts stem directly as a result of various agencies’ policies. How nice would it be to have agencies in line with our best practices and the needs of those we serve back at the top of the priority list.

  18. Mary says:

    I totally agree with you. Agencies are not required to follow the CPC and send unqualified interpreters or worse, stab an interpreter in the back by removing them from an assignment when that interpreter was the preferred interpreter for the client. Sadly, RID shows very little support for individual interpreters and this is the main reason for me leaving the profession.

    I also feel that ITPs are churning out more interpreters, flooding the market, and reducing the amount of freelance work for more seasoned interpreters. This drives rates down to a point where interpreters can’t pay their bills. Higher standards need to be made for entry into ITPs as well.

  19. As a practicing director of an agency in LA, as a certified interpreter, and as an ethicist, I actually would be very interested in a conversation about what kind of CPC could be established for agencies. I think a national dialogue about this issue is very important and would love to be involved in that dialogue.

  20. Patricia says:

    Hi, I am in favor of certifying an interpreter referral agency. I am the CEO of GLAD that oversees LIFESIGNS. From my professional and personal experiences, I often wish that there are ways to eliminate unqualified interpreter referral agencies. Nowadays there are many more IRS that are for other spoken languages and they grab ASL as one of the languages and end up sending a student studying to be an interpreter. I have asked Emory to set up a plan of action for us to be certified as we have strong pride and ethics in sending qualified interpreters to various assignments. GO for it.

  21. Marcia Reaver, Manager of Interpreter Services for Lifespan says:

    As a manager of interpreter services and a certified, working interpreter, I am thrilled to see your post Stephanie. The response is phenomenal! I received this yesterday from Street Leverage and two other cross posts. I also cross posted on the ISM list yesterday where the response was, “Let’s use this opportunity and our Regional Conferences to try to get this ball rolling!!” ISM was working on this issue before your post. Now we feel like there is an opportunity to work with the interpreters to make this a reality.

    Now is the time. RID is only as strong as our members. If we are willing to do the work to make this happen it can become a reality.

  22. Natalie says:

    This is a major issue in my area. I am one of a dwindling number of practitioners who will not work for agencies that don’t have a service-oriented philosophy. This does not mean I don’t work for agencies – I do! There is one in particular that I am happy to work with, because they continue to make their highest priority interpreter/consumer match, and would prefer to have an assignment go unfilled than place an interpreter who is not qualified. They’re ethical. A few years ago, I made a decision not to work for another local agency that engages in unethical practices. I knew I would miss out on work opportunities, but you can’t buy a good night’s sleep. A number of my colleagues tried to make changes there from the inside out, were unsuccessful, and ultimately chose not to continue to work for them. This has in no way effected the agency’s “success.” They are highly profitable, and have taken much of the work that used to be in the hands of freelancers. As a direct result, there are many days where I sit at home with my credentials and experience, twiddling my thumbs while unqualified people stay busy.

  23. Hi,

    This is a very insightful article and well said! I am Deaf and owner of an interpreting agency in Florida. With my previous experience as a Deaf consumer using interpreters in the past and took stand for myself in many areas, I saw a great need to educate people. This is when I quit my full time job and set up my own agency and established a strong ethical guideline that interpreters have to follow. We only hire state credential or nationally certified interpreters. As far as state credentialed interpreters, I carefully monitor them to ensure they are on the right path and encourage them to prepare for the RID exam. That is my goal to put interpreters on the right path. As for consumers/providers, when we get calls, we educate them. I give presentations on how to work with interpreters: know your rights which involves all aspects to educate people. It’s a challenge but its a passion of mine.

    Thanks for writing this…I love to chat with you more on how we can improve this for the Deaf and interpreters in the community.


  24. Upon more reflection, I think it may be a good idea to consider whether or not RID should/shouldn’t be in charge of this process. Considering various state licenses, EIPA, RID, BEI, etc., would it make sense to give RID certification over their interpreters as well as agencies? It may be too much for one organization to handle. Food for thought.

    • Stephanie Feyne says:


      It is a good point that RID has a lot on its plate. And I know that others are concerned that it should be some other organization that responds to this.

      I’m wondering what organization has the national recognition to have clout in this matter. Currently, RID certification is written into state laws and regulations, which is the reason I think this move should come from RID.

      Granted, our organization is overwhelmed with what it needs to do – and our office staff is small. Perhaps we need some more volunteers to work on this.

      And it shouldn’t just be RID – it could appear to be a conflict of interest. I’m hopeful that some connection between NAD and RID could be forged for this purpose.

      Another friend suggested “accreditation” rather than certification. Great idea – but not an accreditation that could be bought, but one that has to be earned.

      What do you think?

  25. Bud Schrader says:

    I believe it’s time to certify agencies.

  26. Tamara Moxham says:

    At the 2003 RID conference in Chicago I brought a motion that agencies – who are organizational members – should be held to the same ethical code that any other member is responsible to. The motion was resoundingly defeated. I was dismayed to watch some very well-known interpreters stand up and speak against it. Since they are popular, the masses went along with it. Isn’t it interesting that – to a person – each of these were agency owners?

    Why don’t agencies want this same responsibility?

  27. john hendricks says:

    I think that VRS companies should also be held to the same standard. Though I no longer work in this field, I began to see a decline (just before leaving) in the quality of ASL skills and many cases non cert terps being hired to save money at the detriment of the consumers. Meanwhile, RID takes big money from these folks! Something has got to change and fast.

  28. Pearl Swan Youth says:

    I noticed that more and more interpreting agencies sneaked sending lesser qualified but still certified interpreters to even a court to interpret when they had not been gone through legal interpreting training for courts yet. Some interpreters from some “highly reputatable” agencies have bad paternalistic attitudes even though they are qualified interpreters. The practice of those negative, paternalistic attitudes among those interpreters allowed by those agencies, would affect their ways of interpreting whatever any born-Deaf clients sign into some kinds of negative impressions without their awareness,that leave naive, innocent or ignorant Deaf clients in bad situations with hearing ignorant authorities and giving those authorities more advantages and reinforcing those paternalistic attitudes against born Deaf clients and also negative practices of oppressing born-Deaf clients further to be continued. What bug me mostly are absences of (1) any client’s paper evaluation on any of his or her interpreter and list of whereabouts of interpreting agencies like that of DVR’s agency of interpreters and (3) their certificate backgrounds. All agencies keeping everything secretively, smell fishy because they compete against each other for more services for more money.

  29. Toni Padilla says:

    This is a definite problem. I am not sure the most appropriate way to remedy this problem and am not sure that RID is the agency/entity to do so — at leat not at this time. Seems to me that agencies should be held to the same code of professional conduct that interpreters are to adhere.

    Interpreters adhere to standards of confidential communication.
    Interpreters possess the professional skills and knowledge required for the specific interpreting situation.
    ** If an agency is not assigning the appropriately skilled interpreter for the interpreting situation then they are not following tenet number 2. Plain and simple. When I coordinated interpreting services this was always at the forefront of my mind. How did we get away from this? To me it’s a simple as this.

    Interpreters conduct themselves in a manner appropriate to the specific interpreting situation.
    ** Agencies should assign interpreters who can conduct themselves in an appropriate manner.
    Interpreters demonstrate respect for consumers.
    ** Assigning ill-equipped interpreters for assignments shows a complete disrpespect for consumers (deaf and hearing) by not caring that effective communication occurs.

    Interpreters demonstrate respect for colleagues, interns, and students of the profession.
    ** Assigning underqualified interpreters or interns or students is not respecting the skill and knowledge of the more experienced interpreters, is lacking in respect for the interns and students by putting them in situations for which they are not prepared and possibly causing irreparable harm to the communication that occured, the the psyche of those involved and to the profession.

    Interpreters maintain ethical business practices.
    ** Probably don’t need to say anything about the lack of ethics demonstrated when assigning inappropriate individuals to assignments.

    Interpreters engage in professional development.
    ** Not enough agencies provide professional development or demand a certain number of hours of professional development to bring novice interpreters up to a level skilled enough to handle some of the assignments.

    I know interpreters are scarce everywhere. That should be enough impetus to make one want to deliberately practice and improve their skill enough that they are the in demand interpreter in their area. Agencies should only want to assign appropriately qualified interpreters for each assignment. If that means turning down assignments or asking that certain appointments be rescheduled when possible then that is the professional and ethical thing to do. AND we, interpreters, have to STOP accepting assignments for which we are not qualified or in which we may have some conflict.
    We (interpreters and agencies) have to get back to the basics of following our own standards of professional conduct.

  30. Laurie Meyer says:

    Many of the comments here assume ill-intentioned agencies or money-driven, you-fill-in-the-blank interpreters.

    That characterization leaves us with nothing to offer well meaning, ill-informed agencies and well meaning, unaware interpreters. Who among us can’t look back on our careers and realize how unprepared we were to do work. And, given the influence of VRS providers and the assumption that any VI can interpret for any caller, I think the field, in general, has lost track of the importance of matching interpreter skills with community needs.

    Can a foreign language agency without culturally competent staff adequately serve ASL users? I suspect not. If, after a great deal of vetting, we determine that’s true, then perhaps it’s time for RID and NAD to collaborate in making that clear.

  31. Lola says:

    Fantastic article. Fantastic idea! Perhaps a letter-writing campaign to RID could get the ball rolling.

  32. Dwight Godwin says:

    Wowzer – I love this topic Stephanie, and the number of responses show this is a “hot” topic for sure.

    I want to echo and add to the Fabulous Ms. Colonomos’ statements.

    Folks, this is a topic that needs to be approached from a business world perspective.

    1.) We already have an organization called The Better Business Bureau. Agencies are businesses after all. I would encourage the Deaf consumers to use it to post complaints if you are getting bad results from an agency regardless of who is paying for it. A business does not have to be a member of the BBB to be able to post complaints. It is difficult to get multimillion dollar contracts when one has a C or less rating with the BBB.

    2.) In this age of the internet, there are a gazillion websites that monitor consumer reviews for everything from vacations, to Contractor / Handy people. Why not a pseudo Angie’s list for all things interpreter? (I would even venture to say spoken and signed)

    3.) I have spent countless wasted hours trying to educate agencies that are, shall we say, less than qualified to understand why and how Sign Language Interpreters are similar yet very different than spoken language interpreters and how we have different standards, different ethics, etc… All I can say is that I will never get that time back. But one lesson that I learned is that many (not all) of the agencies that have “Tacked on” sign language interpreting, is that they also tend to send un / under qualified spoken language interpreters as well. So maybe it is more systemic to the agency than just one language.

    So I try to focus my efforts on educating the Deaf consumers I come in contact with that they truly have the power to make the changes. It can be a long hard road, but it ultimately is they who suffer. Until they put their foot down and say, “This agency consistently send lousy interpreters, stop using them”, it will go on.

    Some times we, as interpreters, have to realize that a different perspective is needed when approaching a situation / issue. The world does not revolve around our CPC – Shoot, it isn’t even a legal document and does not hold up in a court of law.

  33. Thank you for a great article on such an important subject! My impression is that in addition to the issue of language service agencies trying to corner the market on the cheap, the current status of the economy doesn’t encourage agencies (spoken language or otherwise) to respect the professionalism of the field, and encourages less scrupulous agencies to engage in undercutting the competition and reimbursing interpreters poorly. It is terribly frustrating. Thanks for providing the information about the National Interpreter Discussion group – I;ll be sure to sign up!


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