Sign Language Interpreting: Can Self-Interest Lead to Disregard of Industry Stakeholders?

Sign Language Interpreter Considering Impact of Self-InterestAs an Interpreter Educator, I like to use real-life scenarios in my classroom, where one of the courses I teach is Professional Ethics for Interpreters. This one is an excellent teaching tool on what effect self-interest—even at the higher levels with established professionals—can have on everyone involved.

To make sure we are all understanding terms used, I will pull from RID’s CPC on the definitions of consumers and colleagues. The first is defined as “[i]ndividuals and entities who are part of the interpreted situation. This includes individuals who are deaf, deaf-blind, hard of hearing, and hearing”. The second is defined as “other interpreters”.

The Scenario

An interpreter had been approached by a Fortune 500 company to interpret an annual appreciation banquet. It is open to the public, and many famous people also attend. Apparently, there were several Deaf staff, as well as the potential for Deaf individuals from the public attending every year, and historically, the company relied on well-intended “signing staff” to interpret this important, high-profile event. One year, some complaints were launched that certified, qualified interpreters were not being hired to interpret. In wanting to meet the needs of the Deaf community and their Deaf staff, the company sought out interviewing for such an interpreter. It was through professional recommendations that the interpreter mentioned at the beginning of this scenario was approached.

This interpreter came with full RID certifications, as well as many years of interpreting experience. After being interviewed, she was offered this yearly event interpreting assignment with this Fortune 500 company, and eventually through the years other events taking place within this company involving their Deaf staff. They have worked collaboratively and professionally for many years now. Deaf staff members have expressed satisfaction, and through word of mouth, more and more Deaf community members were attending the annual event.

Recently, one of the executives made a phone call to the interpreter. He mentioned that their company was going to be “out-sourcing” to an interpreting agency to cut costs for interpreting services, and gave this interpreter the opportunity to get on board with this agency. Since she enjoyed working with this company the few times a year that she did, she agreed to do just that. The executive was thrilled to know this, as he explained that his company would be able to request this same interpreter for their annual event only if her name was on the roster. He informed the interpreter that the agency rep would be calling her to set things up.

Two to three months later, the interpreting agency’s rep finally called the interpreter. The rep explained to this interpreter that “although [the interpreter] may be interpreting the event this year, things were going to be different” from now on, and that she needed to understand that. She listened patiently, and cordially reminded the rep that it was the company that asked her to apply to this agency so that they could request her every year; she had not solicited the interpreting agency. The conversation soon ended, with the interpreter being instructed to submit a full resume to the agency.

Submitting resumes to various agencies is not new in our field; any time we want to work for a new agency, this is standard. Even the RID CPC states in tenet 6.1 under Business Practices: “Interpreters accurately represent qualifications, such as certification, educational background, and experience, and provide documentation when requested”. The interpreter obliged, submitting a comprehensive resume, as well as evidence of her MA degree and RID certifications. Soon she heard from the agency, stating they were impressed with her qualifications and experience. The agency then requested that she submit a tape doing her best interpreting, to make sure she met expectations for this agency. Again, this is also not entirely unheard of. She chose a text and videotaped herself, burned a DVD and mailed it to the agency. Eventually someone emailed her back, and they raved about the DVD, stating it was a “beautiful job”, and the agency was impressed with her skills.

Diana MacDougall

Diana MacDougall

The interpreter was happy to have obliged by the agency’s requests, and felt she was set to meet the requests of the Fortune 500 company that wanted to employ her interpreting skills for their annual event. With her name on this agency’s roster, the company could request her, and all stakeholders’ needs and requests would be met. This would reflect well on RID’s CPC tenet 4.0 Guiding Principle on Respect for Consumers to “honor consumer preferences in selection of interpreters and interpreting dynamics, while recognizing the realities of qualifications, availability, and situation”. This situation seemed to meet everyone’s needs and desires.

However, in a later email from the interpreting agency, they explained that even though the interpreter met all qualifications and had submitted an impressive professional DVD, their original intention was to reserve this annual event for their in-house staff. This assignment, she was told, was considered “a coveted assignment” by the interpreting agency. Since the interpreter did not work regularly for this agency, she would not be selected to be the interpreter for this event anymore. Surprised, the interpreter reminded the agency that it was one of the consumers (hearing) that had requested that her name be placed on the roster specifically so that they could request her for this event. The agency would not relent, stating that it was their decision not to use this interpreter for any interpreting assignments requested at this company. The interpreter responded that she would be happy to interpret in other settings for them, but was disappointed at their decision not to honor the original intent of allowing the Fortune 500 company to request her. It was out of her hands now. There was no further contact between the interpreter and the agency. She figured her run as the interpreter for the company had passed, and that was that.

About two months prior to the annual event of that same year, the company executive called the interpreter asking her what had happened between her and the contracted agency. When the interpreter enquired as to what the executive meant, he stated that when they requested this interpreter for their annual event, the agency had told the company that the interpreter had “refused to work for that agency under any circumstances”. Wanting to remain as professional as possible, and not present the profession in a negative light, the interpreter carefully explained

that she had emails showing how she was willing to work with them, but that it was the agency who had emailed her and explained that they would not be using her for this company in the future. The executive asked for those emails to be forwarded to him.

Although initially the company was able to show the interpreting agency that they had held up their end of the business relationship by doing as they asked to get the interpreter’s name on the roster, and that the agency had not been up front about their true intentions from the beginning, in the end, the company was forced to follow the legal contract signed by everyone. With the interpreter’s name not on the roster, the company could not request her anymore, even though it was their desire to do so. More significantly, on the night of the annual event, it was none other than the owner of this interpreting agency himself who showed up to interpret this “coveted assignment”.

Upon Review

This story caused me to ponder on the ethics around this situation. While actions that occurred may not have, in themselves, been illegal, they may still be considered unethical. Certainly, agencies have a right to hire whomever they choose. But it seems to me that the requests of the hearing consumers in this situation were ignored over the self interests of an agency that wanted to fill this assignment with their own people. RID CPC tenet 3.0 on Conduct reads: “Interpreters…avoid situations that result in conflicting roles or perceived or actual conflicts of interest.” Further, tenet 3.7 counsels interpreters to “disclose to parties involved any actual or perceived conflicts of interest”, and 3.10 says to “refrain from using confidential interpreted information for the benefit of personal or professional affiliations or entities”.


The actions of this agency, from the beginning when truthful intentions were not expressed clearly to the company, to the end where the owner himself took this assignment for his own benefit, revealed a conflict of interest. It appears the agency members intended to keep this assignment for themselves all along. Honesty from the beginning would have prevented the interpreting agency from appearing self-interested, shedding a negative spotlight on the profession of interpreting. Perhaps, the owner could benefit from reading, A Sign Language Interpreter is a Sidewalk Executive?, by Brandon Arthur. This whole situation left a negative opinion in the eyes of the executive company, which was very unhappy with the decision in the end.


Also, respect for consumers (CPC tenet 4.0), was also not considered in the decision to not add the interpreter’s name to the roster. The executive company, in good faith, proceeded with a contractual agreement with the agency, under the impression that the certified interpreter they preferred would be added to the interpreting roster. That was not honored on the part of the interpreting agency.

Furthermore, respect for colleagues (“other interpreters”) was also not considered in this action. CPC 5.0 states that “interpreters demonstrate respect for colleagues, interns, and students of the profession”, with the Guiding Principle warning RID members that “interpreters…also understand that the manner in which they relate to colleagues reflects upon the profession in general”. Certainly misrepresenting the integrity and character of one of their own was not showing “respect for [a] colleague”. One of the company’s executives felt an obligation to call the interpreter that they had been working with for the last many years to state how disappointed he was about the outcome of this situation, stating that meetings for the annual event planning committee were “very somber over the pettiness of it all”. This is unfortunate, indeed. And it could have been avoided completely.

Ethical Behavior Models

In aiming to teach ethical behavior to interpreting students, how can we instill such ethics as collegiality, civility, as described by Carolyn Ball in her post, What Role Does Civility Play in the Sign Language Interpreting Profession, and professional conduct, along with adhering to the RID Code of Professional Conduct, if the very leaders we want to emulate do not practice them? Even in the 21st Century, people can act in a less than civil or professional manner, not realizing the impact their behavior has on others, or how it reflects negatively on our profession.

In the End

Although this seems like an extreme case, is it? Do you believe this is a rare occurrence, or does our profession still deal with individuals and agencies conducting themselves in this manner? What do you think? How can we, as a profession and as individuals within the profession, move toward preventing this from happening in the future?

Food for thought…


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About the Author

Diana E. MacDougall is a nationally certified interpreter through the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), and has been working as a professional interpreter for over 30 years. She holds a Certificate of Interpretation (CI) and a Certificate of Transliteration (CT). She has a BA in Anthropology and Women’s Studies, and an MA in Sociology, both from the University of California at Riverside. She is an Associate Professor at Riverside City College, Coordinator of the ASL/Interpreter Education Program, and currently the Department Chair of World Languages. Her experience as a Performing Arts interpreter spans almost 20 years, interpreting in settings such as live plays (Shakespeare, drama, comedy), stand-up comedy, concerts (pop, county, heavy metal, alternative, music and comedy festivals), film and television (interpreting for Deaf actors), and live performances for Disney Productions. Her experience as a freelance interpreter spans over 30 years, interpreting in settings, including but not limited to, medical appoints, educational settings (K-12 and post-secondary), employment settings, Department of Social Services, Department of Rehabilitation, religious, platform/conference interpreting at the national and international levels, and for 7 years as a legal interpreter.

39 Enlightened Replies

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  1. donna leshne says:

    Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts, absolutly.

  2. Pam says:

    I have heard this scenario over and over. I believe that there is truly an issue of integrity . However; in some situations I think that I terpreters need to learn that there was a business deal that needed to be in writing. I wish that interpreter had thought to have a contractural agreement. Stuff happens! We need to be business minded! CYA

  3. Oooh La La - Many People Will See Me on Stage says:

    While I appreciate this “parable”, I’ve read it twice to try to find the info about the “agency”. Is this “agency” hearing owned ? Hearing controlled? Where are the Deaf folks?

    Personally, I’m offended that a “Fortune 500″ company seems to be presented as such an important job.

    I’m so tired of the idea of “Big Jobs” aka Broadway shows, “Fortune 500″ jobs being so coveted.

    Why is this job important enough to warrant an article? Perhaps because it has such a large audience ? Yes, I understand this story states the terp had this job for several years.

    I’m so tired of the so called VIP Jobs being so coveted, so important, so much oooh la lah ? is it the pay rate ? seems to me its about the apparent esteem, the chance to be seen at a Fortune 500 event? Would we be reading this article if it was about a regular terp job with a hospital or a child? If the job is about the work, the importance of doing a good service, then why so much attention about a Fortune 500 job?

    I understand most people – Deaf or Hearing, enjoy the fame and the glitz.
    But honestly, I can’t imagine a regular terp job at a school or a small business or hospital being the focus of this example. Maybe I’m just irritated about reading comment after comment about the illustrious job during Hurricane Sandy. Hearing people posting their ignorant feedback, “oh I could just watch this signer for hours she is so expressive!” I’m just tired of it.

    Can’t have it both ways: I’ve heard many terps say, “clearly I don’t do this for the money”. Clearly that’s true in this story. It’s about the prestige of this fancy Fortune 500 job. Now maybe the Deaf attendees feel this is such an important job, but for me, I care more about all Deaf people getting great service regardless of how fancy the job is.

    I would have much more respect for this poor “replaceable” terp if the story was honest. The terp was upset because the job has so much prestige (and mostly from hearing people). Would this poor replaced terp have gone thru all these hoops for a regular classroom terp job or a SSI appointment at the same pay rate? I doubt it.

    I wish we cld have an honest discussion about “recognition” for terps. What that means for terps and what it means for Deaf people. I’ve put up with lousy interpreters at jobs they probably thought weren’t important but for me, that situation was very important.

    My condolences the poor terp didn’t get the fancy job. And I’m sorry they’ve probably worked jobs that weren’t a big deal for them. The next time this poor disenfranchised terp works a piddly job – maybe that is a situation that is very important for me. My apologies that situation didn’t get them in front of so many “important” people. I’m sorry you didn’t get so many accolades from people about how wonderful your work was. I’m sorry my “non-VIP” job wasn’t a chance to wear your red bottom heals and peek into the world of the oh-so-important people. If hanging out with the Fortune 500 movers and shakers- may I suggest you get an MBA or do the work that allows you to be with the big boys. Because the Deaf people who actually work at the Fortune 500 company did do the work to be there. And I’d love to include you, but not if you’re there because its such a prestigious job. I expect to work WITH terps who care about there work no matter how many BMW cars sit in the parking lot.

    • Jawz says:

      RE: Oooh La La – Many People Will See Me on Stage

      I am interpreter and I agree completely with your feelings! Way to much hype put on the glitz and glamor jobs. As I was reading the article I do understand the author’s intent is to discuss how interpreters undermine one another and I feel its a worthy discussion to have, but I also understand your feelings.

      As interpreters we need to put ourselves in the Deaf consumer’s shoes once and awhile. Try to feel what its like to not have an interpreter or to have one at events in our lives which might not be deemed important or glamourous by interpreters, but is very much important for the Deaf individual. How can we take it apon ourselves to judge and decide that a Dr’s appointment(for example) is low on our importance scale compared to the “Fortune 500″ company. We need to put as much effort, enthusiasm and good service for the everyday Dr’s appointment as we do for the “Broadway Shows” and “coveted” jobs.

      Thank you,Oooh La La – Many People Will See Me on Stage, for being bold enough to say what you needed to say and I hope that enough of us interpreters get a chance to view it and reflect. I truely appreciate your honest feedback!

    • Didi70 says:

      Although I do agree with you that it’s pretty silly to even talk about “coveted” or “prestigious” jobs, I do think that was a very minor point of the article.
      I think you’re missing the larger point. Yes, the author talked about the prestige of the assignment… perhaps that was worded wrong. I think the point is that here is an interpreter who is more than qualified, experienced, and actually requested for a certain job, and the agency is refusing to give the interpreter the work because they want to do it.
      Replace the assignment with something different like, a investment workshop/course. There’s an interpreter who specializes in finances, or is really skilled in math, but the agency owner wants to interpret that workshop so that he/she can take that knowledge and use it for personal gain.
      The scenario is about ethics, and making sure that we are the best interpreters for the job, not undermining each other, and that we also make sure that the Deaf consumers’ best interest/needs are a top priority.

      • Diana MacDougall says:

        Thank you, Didi70. You hit the nail on the head. Perhaps my wording COULD have been better. But, yes, I was trying to present a scenario on ethics. Thank you for summing that up for me.

      • Jawz says:

        I agree that the over all theme of the article is about ethics or lack there of, but I had just choose to respond to “Ooooh La La” because they had brought up a good point that I felt was equally worth discussion and I wanted to respond to their specific point.

    • Shonna Magee says:

      LOVE your response. It’s not about us, it’s about the clients. (PS: I love your sarcasm!)

    • CODATERP22 says:

      I agree that it’s a sad state of affairs when we pay such attention to the high-profile celebrity events instead of those that really have substance. Working with children, the ill, etc., are much more significant and fulfilling than a night hobnobbing with so-called celebs.

      That said, we have to look around us and admit to ourselves that we are in a fame obsessed society. Many of our youth, and adults alike are tuning in like drones to shows like The Kardashians, The Housewives Franchise, Pop music, Rap, etc. In fact, many of our youth (and even adults) cannot even name their congressman/woman, state representative or know where the nearest homeless shelter is. The TV has put blinders on many of us to the point where we are like puppets having our strings controlled by this silly box in our living rooms. Understand, I don’t mean EVERYONE. I do mean MANY of us and that is truly sad.

      I believe, that in our profession, it takes a certain personality type, to truly be successful. Those who are greedy, demand the spotlight, or have this inherent need to feed their egos as a result of their lack of self-esteem, have no business in this line of work. Yet, if you look around, many of our colleagues are just that–mismatched to the profession. Many are here with the false belief that learning sign language and thus, being able to communicate with the Deaf will put them in a position of control. There are those who truly relish in that. Others are constantly in competition with their colleagues to the point of sabotaging the assignment, profession and the needs of the consumers that we should be honored to serve. The need to be “better than” or to have the ability to spout off their impressive “high profile” resume is something I’ve seen time and time again in my 25 years in this profession. At the end of the day, I don’t care how many letters you have after your name (though I truly support certification). The most important aspect of who we are as professionals lies mainly in the true reason of why we decided to become interpreters in the first place.

      Test yourself. If you were offered an assignment with that you would be working with for, let’s say a 4 hour stretch, what would you do if you could not find a team? Would you do it alone? Keeping in mind that this would be an ongoing presentation. Would your need to be a part of this assignment override your ability to make sound judgements? If you had to relinquish the job to some other agency, for example, because it would be the only way to get a team for the client, would you do it or would you sacrifice quality and the needs of the consumer out of your desire to be a part of this assignment?

      Time and time again I have seen people take things like depositions, high profile assignments, etc., alone, even though it would be nearly impossible to do a quality job without a team. To me, THAT is the kind of person I want to avoid and hope will not enter this profession. Sadly, they are around us every day. I think our job as interpreters is to keep people honest and do what we can to “police” each other, see that we are all operating above board and for the right reasons. At the end of the day, the number one priority is that our d/Deaf consumers receive the services they are entitled to without having to be a victim of petty interpreter drama.

      Lastly, with regard to the agency that usurped this interpreter’s client. This happens much more often than we might think. I’ve had it happen to me twice. I let it go because they were able to serve the needs of the client better than I could at the time though I was concerned about the ethics of the agency. In the situation above, this is a case of pure greed and misconduct. This agency blatantly stole this contact from this interpreter. In my opinion, anyone who holds their moral compass this low, is not someone I’d want interpreting for my mother, father or sister. I wouldn’t trust them with my dog or even my pet hamster for that matter. Sad indeed.

      Great post! I look forward to reading more from others. Thank you for taking the time to read my reply.

      • CODATERP22 says:

        I noticed that in paragraph 4 where I state “if you were offered an assignment with…. my text was completely deleted. I found out it was because the system viewed it as a bad HTML tag because I made the mistake of putting it arrow brackets > <. What it actually said was, "If you were offered an assignment with (insert your favorite celebrity personality here)…" Thank you for allowing me to correct this. I hope my message makes more sense now.

  4. Shonna Magee says:

    Am I the only one confused here? We need to do a 360-degree look at this situation without assumptions or jumping to conclusions.

    1. Why is a freelance interpreter more expensive than an agency? Maybe this interpreter needs to adjust his/her rates in order to be competitive. (6.8- Charge fair and reasonable fees.) If s/he had reasonable fees, the company wouldn’t have gotten a better deal financially with an agency. Agencies typically charge more than freelance interpreters to cover overhead, etc.

    2. Where is it acceptable for the interpreter to disclose to the agency that she’s been working for this company? (1.1 Confidentiality) This is not an “as-needed” case. The interpreter simply wanted dibs on the job while working under the agency. If anyone has self-interest here, it’s the interpreter.

    3. Where is the civility in the interpreter hanging the agency out to dry in front of a paying client? Providing copies of emails and otherwise “dogging them out” to a client is highly unprofessional. Regardless of the agency’s behavior, the interpreter is still expected to maintain professional decorum. Simply stating, “I’m sorry but I have not been contacted with regards to this assignment,” is much more professional than, “Here! Let me show you these emails and prove that they are liars, etc.” (5.1- civility, 2.0- Professionalism)

    4. I do not see where there is a conflict of interest. It’s a job. The agency has the right to send whomever they choose. They’ve made no commitments to this interpreter. It’s a freelance interpreter which means they have ZERO obligation. Now, their arrangement with the company is a different story. Did they “guarantee” the requested interpreter? Does the paperwork say that if a company requests a specific interpreter then it is a “guarantee” that said interpreter will be provided? Doubtful.

    5. The conclusion I’ve seen everyone jumping to is that the agency owner is doing this job himself because it is a prestigious. What if that wasn’t the reason the owner took that job himself at all? What if he is highly skilled and wanted to make sure that there was excellent service delivery since it’s a new client? Maybe the owner is more qualified or better skilled than the original freelance interpreter? Come to think of it, with the lack of professionalism on the part of the interpreter throughout the situation, I’m not surprised that the agency wouldn’t want to work with him/her.

    Anyone else see it from this perspective? Let’s talk!!!

    • Bill Moody says:

      Maybe you missed the part where the company called the initial interpreter back to ask why she wasn’t coming any more. Seems to indicate that the company DID want her back, and their desires were being thwarted by the agency. Just sayin’…

      As for prestige jobs, even called here “Broadway” jobs, I can certainly add that after 40 years of interpreting, sometimes in very high-profile, high-pressure, and “prestigious” jobs, that the interpreters with much experience and advanced degrees are really the only ones that CAN provide optimum service for the Deaf clients in such situations. Please don’t deny the fact that some jobs should only be assigned to the interpreters who have the experience and qualifications. This company benefit might or might not be that high-level; we don’t really know from the facts of this case.

      Broadway, in particular, tends to be cited as a prestige job, and I can tell you that it takes so much rehearsal as to not be lucrative at all, and while it is satisfying to be recognized by the New York audience when meeting them in the community, those very audience members are some of the most demanding consumers we have! They would definitely not be happy with a forced balancing of high- and low-level jobs among ALL interpreters when they are paying $100 for a seat and not getting the full enjoyment from the professional interpreters they are used to…

      • Shonna Magee says:

        The company did NOT want her back as freelance. They wanted her back under the agency. And if the agency wasn’t delivering what was expected, the client should have taken it up with the agency, not the interpreter. At that point, it was the agency’s contract, not the interpreters and she should have backed out of the conversation. Just sayin’.

        As for skill level- I completely agree! The job should always (if possible) be given to the interpreter with the highest skill. The article never says what level the assignment was or even the skill level of the agency owner. We need to start looking at things from perspectives other than our own! Imagine you are a very skilled agency owner. You just get a new contract. Wouldn’t you want to handle that account yourself to make sure it is done right, representing the professionalism of your agency, rather than hand it off to an interpreter who is BRAND NEW to your team?? You may want to feel out that interpreter first before trust is given. Wow, different view, huh?

        I am simply asking everyone here to stop assuming ALL the facts of this case when there are CLEARLY many things that are left out. The situation is ambiguous, at best, and interpreters are historically ready to grab pitchforks and torches first and think later when it comes to agencies.

        • CODATERP22 says:

          I must admit, Shonna, you make some very valid points and have made me look at things somewhat differently. I truly believe that at the end of the day, it was up to the customer to tell the agency that they wanted a specific interpreter. As much as it may have upset this interpreter, it would have been more appropriate for the them to ask the customer to please take up that issue with the agency. At that point the agency would have heard directly from the customer if there was, in fact, an expectation that the specific interpreter was expected. At that point, the issue would have been resolved immediately.

          The most important point here is that the customer did make the decision to go to an agency instead of continuing to use this particular interpreter. As you questioned, why is the interpreter charging more than the agency? Did the agency undercut standard interpreter rates or was the interpreter charging a rate that was not comfortable for the client, thus prompting them to look elsewhere? It raises many questions that we don’t quite have answers to in the article.

          Most importantly, the fact that the customer made the decision to hire an agency instead of using the interpreter directly would then make them responsible for telling the agency their requirements. The interpreter would also need to disclose this prior relationship with the agency prior to accepting any work. All in all, this is a classic case of why conflicts of interest, prior relationships and professionalism are so important in our profession.

          Great discussions everybody!

          • CODATERP22 says:

            I hate not having the ability to edit or proof before hitting reply! Sorry, my response is a bit repetitive. I keep forgetting to write my replies in Word first! LOL

  5. Dan Parvaz says:

    I am certainly confused by the erstwhile freelancer releasing all their correspondence to the service requestor simply to clear up a he-said/she-said situation. To be fair, though, the agency not only threw the freelancer under the bus, but also told an out-and-out schoolyard lie.

    This is one reason why we need a Code of Conduct for agencies, and a body with sufficient teeth to enforce it. In that way, conflicts such as this can be handled internally without all the unprofessionalism and laundry-airing as outlined above. Yet another reason — well, this wouldn’t be the first time a coordinator managed to schedule high-profile assignments for themselves, would it? There should be something in an agency’s Code about load-balancing, taking the client’s wishes into account, and eschewing favoritism (how else to parse reserving a “coveted assignment” for “their in-house staff”?).

    And some assignments are simply more visible than others. No-one brags that they’ve landed the lunch-time employee meeting at the local Post Office. A popular rock band or political figure… and that ends up on social media. I’m not sure how to ensure that we view all assignments equally. But agencies are supposed to provide a layer of abstraction, allowing more objective placement of interpreters in assignments. Would that this were so.

    Petty, indeed. One can have all the training in the world… unless one also has a little class, it isn’t terribly helpful.

    • Shonna Magee says:

      Dan- There can never be a Code for agencies. Agencies are businesses. RID can’t govern them, take away their right to run, etc. The power lies completely with the interpreters who continue to work for unethical and shoddy agencies. Agencies can’t provide interpreting services without any interpreters. We need to go work for the honest agencies and refuse work from those that are unethical.

      • Dan Parvaz says:

        While RID cannot regulate a business — and I’m not saying that RID should be the organization involved — they certainly can create a code of conduct for such agencies and the services they provide, providet the means of determining if an agency is in violation, and can publish a directory of agencies that agree to adhere to ethical conduct, as well as those found in violation. How regulators (state commissions, etc.) and individual practitioners choose to use that information is entirely up to them.

        • Bill Moody says:

          Shonna, if you think RID should not promulgate guidelines for interpreter agencies, then maybe you haven’t yet been burned yet by unethical agencies who have been, in fact, committing egregious violations of Deaf people’s rights in the last decade. Some interpreters, especially young ones, have NO power over agencies with exclusive contracts for the jobs that they need. I would love to see other examples of agency abuses in this dialogue. That might help with the drafting of an RID Standard Practice Paper or Code of Conduct for agencies.

          • Shonna Magee says:

            Bill- I have had my share of very unethical agencies…this is why I refuse to work with them. ALL interpreters, new or old, are the ones that hold the power when it comes to agencies. How can an agency have interpreters to send if none work with them?? It really is that simple! And I’m not saying that it wouldn’t be ideal to have a CPC for agencies. I’m saying that there’s no way to enforce it other than a Rate My Professors equivalency. They are businesses and follow laws. No one can take their right to operate away simply because they violated a tenet that they have no legal requirement to follow. See what I’m saying? Again, it’s the interpreters and Deaf consumers who hold the power here.

            • CODATERP22 says:

              Very true, Shonna. RID would very little power to enforce in any legalistic terms, but having that information out in the public eye can provide a means for interpreters to make wise decisions about who they work for. If we don’t register with unethical agencies, they won’t have the ability to operate any longer. I truly believe the answer lies within each of us and the choices we make every day. We have much more power than we give ourselves credit for. If agencies are violating the “Agency CPC” then a published list in The Views and the NAD Website could be very effective. I’m a firm believer in karma and the fact that those that do wrong will eventually hang themselves.

              Thanks everybody!

  6. Doris says:

    This is a great article to bring attention what is happening in the field of interpreting. Of course when working as an interpreter, whether freelance or institutional settings, ALL consumers perspectives and the CPC must be adhere to at all times. It saddens me the disregard and disrespect I have witnessed for the profession. I could go on and on with with situations I have encounter but it would be pointless. There was a time when a group of people believed interpreters are vital to the deaf community, who in turn accepted interpreters into their private lives. Its because of this relationship, the profession was recognized as a legitimate paid profession. I for one, am truly blessed to have a skill, in which I can provide a service to a group of people I have the utmost respect for and lucky enough to be compensated for it. Let’s all just show compassion, kindness and respect for ALL consumers and each other.

    • Diana MacDougall says:

      Nicely stated, Doris. I am a big advocate for civility in our profession. You worded this beautifully and it mirrors my sentiment.

  7. David Cowan says:

    I read the article. I went through exactly same scenario as an interpreter. It gave a very bad taste to the hearing community about an interpreting agency. I ve been interpreting for about 10 years for Atlanta Gay & Lesbian Pride Event on the stage. The committee have decided to try different approach by signing a contract with the interpreting agency. They explained to the interpreting agency that they wanted to use me for the Drag Show since I’ve been interpreting for years. And they receive positive comments about my working relationship from the deaf audiences and hearing committee members. The interpreting agency lady (interpreter), refused to use me as an interpreter for the event because I’m not a contractual employee with her agency. She has never contacted me to sign the contract. I was unaware of the whole situation. I received a call from a committee member of Atlanta Gay & Lesbian Pride. They explained to me that they tried to convince the interpreting agency to use me. She just flatly refused. So the committee made a decision to take the money back for one evening only and allow to use me as an interpreter for the Drag Show. I was unaware of this situation. I arrived there. The committee people came up to me and expressed their disgust with the interpreting agency. They said that they refused to use her interpreting services in the future. There were lots of angry and negative comments. It’s so embarrassing for me as an interpreter to stand on the stage, knowing about those fights/arguments. In my opinion, the owner of the interpreting agency are more concerned about herself. She doesn’t care what the deaf audiences want. She doesn’t care what the Atlanta Gay & Lesbian Pride committee people want. She only wants it for herself. In my opinion, that’s purely unethical ! In the long run, she lost the contract to work with Atlanta Gay & Lesbian Pride Committee forever.

    • CODATERP22 says:

      Though I can absolutely appreciate your frustration, David, I would suggest that you not provide such details about assignments. Though it is a public event, I believe your points could have been made just as well without listing the location and subject matter. Just my humble two cents.

      Thank you for posting.

  8. Diana MacDougall says:

    Sorry, I’ve wanted to respond, but I have had departmental meetings all day then teaching all night.

    Wow, there are some really good, thought-provoking comments on this thread. I do appreciate them. I like a forum where we can have collegial discussions and model professionalism, civility, and respect for diverse perspectives while still getting our perspective across, and I thank StreetLeverage for allowing a place such as this. Academic discussions are what move us forward as a profession. There can be a lot of assumptions thrown around, and certainly we don’t know all of the details of the scenario, at least not without revealing too much information. I could go point by point, but I prefer not to, again to maintain some confidentiality as we discuss a scenario.

    The issue of getting the Deaf perspective, is as always, a most valid one. My point in this article was also to include the hearing consumer perspective, as well. So, while I don’t want to ignore that perspective, my point of the article was to talk about ethical conduct within our profession. Ooh La La, thank you for your input, and for the reminder to us the value of the Deaf consumer perspective. More than a few times in my profession as an interpreter I have benefitted from that perspective.

    I like Dan’s contribution of agency Code of Conduct. I know that is being tossed around in our profession. It will be interesting to see what happens with this in the future. Several people have shared with me–here on this website and in private emails–similar experiences as this scenario. That was my suspicion; hence, the concept of some kind of Code of Conduct for agencies may be more in need than I thought. Who does that or oversees it? I have no idea. THAT will be an interesting–and I’m sure volatile–process!

  9. Diana MacDougall says:

    I’m with you on both of these messages, Bill.

  10. Diana MacDougall says:

    CODATERP22, you’re a very good writer. Well organized and well written. Perhaps you can write something for StreetLeverage in the future??

    Thank you for your post.

    • CODATERP22 says:

      Thank you, Diana. I may do that. I just need to remind myself that this site does not have a “review” button as I keep hitting reply before realizing my typos. Would you care to share the process with me and who I should contact–or do you just write your posts freely?

  11. Tina says:

    Just an observation, a single interpreter must “act right”, comply with the CPC and the request of a party, and a compromise is made to honor that…yet an agency doesn’t. I’m willing to be held accountable, hold my feet to the fire, sadly agencies come up with their own philosophies of honoring requests…hard to know if it’s entirely honest. Where’s the accountablility?

  12. Diana MacDougall says:

    Again, thank to everyone for their comments on his thread.

    CODATERP22: you just write whatever article you want on a word doc (prevents any major typos and allows you to edit) to Brandon Arthur from StreetLeverage. He will work with you to edit, etc. I’m glad I did it. Although there are answers to some of the questions being posed, I have promised to honor confidentiality on some of them, so I can’t clarify everything. It would explain LOTS here. The main point: agency accountability, and that came through, based on what I’ve read.

    Have a great day.

  13. David says:

    An agency CPC is a good idea that will be supported by sign language interpreting agencies. And there is an enforcement mechanism.

    Most large buyers (universities, states, the Federal government, hospital systems, etc) use procurement contracts that involve a competitive bidding process. It would take a little education and maybe a little stakeholder pressure to induce these buyers to add a condition that the agency must be accredited (and maintain their accreditation) by the RID.

    That accreditation process would include a code of professional conduct.

  14. As a former interpreter, and now agency owner, I find the actions of the agency very poor. Not only does it reflect badly on the interpreting profession, but the basic commitment to customer service is missing. Unless there is a specific reason not to use an interpreter (such as they are unqualified to perform the work), it behooves the agency to respect the request of the client (business requesting services) and to build a relationship with the interpreter.

    As several have mentioned in above comments, interpreters do influence the reputation of an agency. Do not work for agencies that do not use best practices, or that place unqualified interpreters. If they have no interpreters to place, or their reputation gets bad enough, they may eventually go out of business altogether. Work for and promote agencies that are striving to do what’s right.

    The work of interpreting and coordinating such services is, in my opinion, always about what is best for the client and consumer. And while agencies are businesses and need to operate as such, operating out of self interest of the business or the owner is never a viable model. Be assured that not all agencies operate as described in this scenario. Certifying agencies, while something I totally agree with, will not completely eliminate these types of practices.

    It is unfortunate that greed and ego get in the way of doing good work.

  15. Marcia Reaver says:

    I have several points to make…

    1. As a manager of an interpreting agency I am required to agree to adhere to the CPC on behalf of the agency every year when I renew our organizational membership. I take this seriously and believe it is the CPC for the agency as well as for myself as a working interpreter. Still, I would like to see something codified for agencies. Then the problem remains that most agencies, in this area at least, are not members of RID. Even a CPC for agencies can’t be forced on non-member agencies. RID has seen a decrease in organizational membership since they stopped giving them away to CMP sponsors and testing sites.

    2. It amazes me that any agency would refuse to send an interpreter that is requested for an assignment. I think those are the easiest assignments there are to fill. If the individual requested doesn’t already contract with our agency, I reach out to them. I have two new contractors on board now thanks to the request of one deaf individual and an interpreter who requested another interpreter as her team. I don’t understand why anyone would intentionally create a situation where your customers are not satisfied. They will take their business elsewhere.

    3. I too was replaced by an agency owner on an interpreting assignment. It was an in patient mental health setting so I don’t think she took me out of the assignment because of the visibility she would gain by replacing me. In essence she had recently gotten the husband of a friend to switch the hospital’s interpreting services to her agency from a competitor. Since I had been performing services through the other agency she didn’t want me there through her agency even though I did contract with her agency at that time.

    I heard nothing more about the situation and considered the assignment to have ended. I knew of the contract change, but didn’t learn the rest of the story until much later.

    Eventually the hospital got fed up with her inability to understand the deaf patient and his inability to understand her. They called the agency, not realizing she was the owner, and asked that I replace her at the hospital. Apparently they were told I had moved out of town, which was news to me.

    Ultimately, the hospital so upset with the quality of services they were receiving and the behaviors of the deaf person that they went back to the original agency. The first day I was back at the hospital for an assignment I was greeted with, “Oh wonderful! When did you move back to Rochester?” Not being aware of what had transpired I innocently said, “I never left. Who told you that?”

    Now you might think that is the end of the story, but it is not. The other agency owner went back to her friend’s husband to complain that she had been replaced at the hospital. The friend’s husband went to the unit director and told him that they would use the agency he told them to use. He forced them to terminate services again with their preferred agency.

    The story goes on, but I think you get the point. This practice happens with unethical agencies, that fact that the original post was about a high profile situation was almost moot in my mind as I was reading.

    I agree with those of you who posted that the only recourse we have is to not work with the type of agency mentioned in the original post. Will that change the agencies’ behavior? Probably not, but at the end of each day I have to go home with myself. I want to be happy with my own actions during each day. I cannot control other people, I can’t change other people. I often times can’t control much more than my own attitude. And karma does suck.

  16. john hendricks says:

    I may be wrong here, but wasnt RID working on CPC standards for agencies? Either way, I think its a good step even if its not enforceable. Having a list of agencies agreeing to follow this CPC, I think, would encourage others to follow suit. Spoken language agencies in my area are notorious for not vetting the ASL interpreters, either they have no clue or just want a warm body and dont care. Additionally, these agencies tend to go after big contracts with the State or large corporations, who themselves are relying on those agencies with supplying these unqualified terps. While I agree to avoid certain unethical agencies which may weed them out, these others might not feel such an impact and keep on keeping on though these large contracts.

  17. Michael K says:

    This article really got to me. I read it when it first came out and have been drafting my response since. The more I read it the stronger my opinion gets which means the longer my response becomes.

    In my opinion, interpreting agencies need to start being held accountable for their ethics and standards. We don’t ignore subpar practices by interpreters and so it shouldn’t be any less with agencies that dispatch the interpreters.

    Business is business with the business of making money. I get that. And yes, if a business doesn’t meet the needs of the consumers then the consumer goes elsewhere. That’s a fact. However, in this scenario this is not a restaurant manager looking for the cheapest wholesale price on rice. In part, the consumer of the business is requesting a specific product: the interpreter. Not just ANY INTERPRETER but a SPECIFIC interpreter who, per the email from the interpreting agency, fits the criteria of the agency. So why not just send the interpreter for the “coveted” job? Well, we’ve all hashed this out so here I digress.

    In the scenario it reads there is a contract between the interlreting agency and the Fortune 500 company. Given the ultimate outcome of the scenario it appears the agency was in its right not to hire the interpreter without reprisal from the Fortune 500 company during the current contract. However, I wonder if this would all be worth it to the agency if the Fortune 500 company went elsewhere for services when the contract comes up for renewal? In the end it doesn’t matter and again I digress.

    Here’s what matters: just as we can not accept interpreters with subpar standards we can not accept agencies with subpar standards. Trudy Suggs mentions in her recent article on deaf disempowerment, “when people make money off deaf people, deaf culture, and ASL, this can easily lead to disempowerment and have ripple effects.”

    The author of this article poses the following questions:
    1) Do you believe this is a rare occurrence, or does our profession still deal with individuals and agencies conducting themselves in this manner?

    2) How can we, as a profession and as individuals within the profession, move toward preventing this from happening in the future?

    My response: Sadly, more and more I observe or hear of these ripple effects. I see and hear of interpreting agencies being strictly out for money and without concern for the actual purpose – equal access to communication. I witness “interpreters” (notice the quotes) that have no business interpreting certain assignments yet they’ve been deployed by interpreting agencies making bank off of the assignment because of not having to pay the “interpreter” the going rate. (Yes, the interpreter has a responsibility to decline the assignment…not point)

    What can we do? As allies we need to partner with the Deaf community and partner with ourselves. Over the years, I’ve read in various articles and heard the dialogue at national & regional conferences on the thought of a certain criteria being set for interpreting agencies to become RID members at the organization level. It seems from the posts I’ve read by agency owners/managers this is already in practice.

    This makes me slightly calmer.

    Then we, along with RID, support those agencies that comply with expected ethics and standards to send the message: ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. Otherwise the agencies answer to no one, “coveted” events remain coveted and the ripple effect continues.

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