You work hard. Put in the proverbial elbow grease. Pull teeth in order to get what you want or need, and you got the bite marks to prove it. And then… someone else comes along and shamelessly lays claim to the fruits of your labor.
Sounds like a typical cutthroat workday, right? Wrong. I’m talking about making arrangements for an interpreter.
Throughout the years, I’ve noticed two different types of people who ride on the coattails of other people’s efforts. There are those people who realize you have first dibs and follow your lead because, if not for your efforts, the interpreter wouldn’t have been there in the first place.
One time, I secured an interpreter for an event that was hosted by the county public school system. It just so happened that a deaf couple showed up, and they were not aware of the procedure for obtaining an interpreter. During the event, while we all were utilizing the interpreter’s services, the deaf couple respectfully yielded. “GO AHEAD YOU FIRST PERSON ASK,” they would sign in fluent American Sign Language (ASL).*
I’ve also been on the other side of the fence. There were occasions where someone else had already snagged an interpreter, and I have deferred to the person. In situations like these, the interpreter usually does his/her best to evaluate the situation, and makes sure we get equal treatment. However, it’s an unwritten rule that the person who made the request first gets first dibs.
An interpreter friend of mine recounted the time when four interpreters from two different agencies showed up for the same job. It turned out that the two deaf clients each requested interpreter services without being aware of the other’s actions. They all came up with an agreeable solution, which was that one interpreter from each agency stayed. This was to ensure that both agencies get reimbursed properly.
Then there are those people who need to consult Aretha Franklin and learn about “R-E-S-P-E-C-T/find out what it means to me.” To put it bluntly, they are just plain selfish, rude, and inconsiderate.
A colleague of mine requested a cued speech transliterator for a workshop. An unfamiliar deaf person showed up. Upon seeing the cued speech transliterator, the person nearly threw a fit in demanding to know where the sign language interpreter was. Turned out the person didn’t bother to log in an accommodation request. Tough cookies.
An experience took place a few years ago that left a sour taste in my mouth. I had finally secured an interpreter for a personal event, after battling the famously ubiquitous line spouted by the organizers: “You need to bring your own interpreter.” Upon arriving at the venue that night, I was enjoying myself until I noticed a man slowly slithering his way to where I was. “DEAF YOU?” he inquired. After affirming that I was, he declared, “SAME SAME.”
After a short period of time making small meaningless chit-chat, his ulterior motives became clear. He attempted to whisk the interpreter that I fought hard for away from me for whatever communication purposes that suited him. Even the interpreter darted a questioning glance towards me regarding his shenanigans.
“WAIT WAIT WAIT! DO DO?” I signed to him in an urgent manner.
“WRONG WRONG WRONG?” he responded, repeating that sign in rapid succession that is the loose ASL glossy* version of the phrase: “Whatsamatterwithcha?”
“STOP PLAY. ME SERIOUS. WHAT-DOING?” I demanded.
“NOTHING TAKE EASY. NO BIG D-E-A-L.” The last word he fingerspelled each letter with a flourish.
“YES BIG D-E-A-L! NOT RIGHT TAKE INTERPRETER WITHOUT CHECK WITH ME FIRST!”
Then he said something that took the interpreter and me by surprise. “FOR FOR ASK YOU? ME HAVE RIGHT USE INTERPRETER. YOU MUST LEARN SHARE.”
Then the interpreter, who generally did not like confrontations, was becoming slightly alarmed at the turn of events. She then stepped in and informed him that she could not just pick up and leave with him without checking with me first since I made the request for an interpreter, and not him.
“ME NOT ACCEPT. SHOULD SHARE PERIOD.”
“EXPECT ME ACCEPT ACCEPT LET YOU GO?” I shot back. “NO NOT ACCEPT! INSULT ME.” I glared back at him. I then motioned for the interpreter to come with me, and we left him in the dust. Of all the nerve! Needless to say, I did not see him the rest of the evening.
“There are deaf people who feel an automatic entitlement to things without actively making some kind of effort,” confessed an interpreter I contacted. “This is true in other demographics, but especially predominant in the Deaf community.” This interpreter requested anonymity due to the potential backlash from clients, who are a part of the Deaf culture, an extremely small world indeed.
Sometimes, unique situations arise and you stand up to the occasion– simply because its the right thing to do morally, even so it may not be legal. There was that time I participated in an intensive all-day seminar. A Latina woman happened to be the half of the interpreting duo. Early on, it was discovered that one of the deaf participants’ mother did not have a strong command of English as Spanish was her native tongue. We all felt bad for the mother because she was struggling to understand what was going on.
Evidently, the ball was dropped somewhere, and a Spanish translator was not available. The interpreter asked her partner and us if it was OK that she step down from her role as a sign language interpreter and provide translation services for the mother. All of the participants unanimously agreed, much to the relief of the mother. A short time later, the agency sent over another sign language interpreter, and the company that organized the seminar agreed to take on the extra expenses for their oversight.
My general philosophy is that if you put in the elbow grease, you should be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor. However, the fruits of your labor would be sweeter if you share them with someone respectful of your efforts. Have you experience any horror stories about obtaining an interpreter only to have someone waltz in and think s/he is entitled to their services?
* Important note: Because ASL does not have a true written format, glossies are American Sign Language (ASL) signs transcribed into English, sign for sign. It’s a common misconception that ASL glossies are “broken English,” but that is not true. ASL is a language in its own right. I do not profess to be a linguistic expert in ASL, and the above glossies are derived from my particular experience.