Often people in the education, law and medical fields prefer deaf people to bring their family members along believing that someone who can sign can interpret. While it is a noble idea and a cost saving one – there is a major issue with this approach, lack of quality information. Quality information is critical when there is information that needs to be exchanged from one language to another.
A signer can range from a recent or current ASL student to a CODA (Child(ren) of Deaf Adults). The difference is how language is applied in a communication manner, especially in professions where professionalism is a necessity rather than the norm.
Interpreters receive academic and practical training in colleges and universities. They learn the art of ensuring that there is full communication understanding in two languages (or three if you’re a native Spanish speaker – NEAT!), requesting clarification, being knowledgeable about the type of job, whether it be education, law or medical and impart a neutrality to the situation that signers do not have.
Let me give you a story: A father goes into a hospital for a planned surgery. He requests his son to interpret despite his wife’s objection that this is making this too personal for the family. The son consents to interpret. Then came the hard part, the doctor requests to speak to the father with the son, while the other half waits outside the room. The doctor went into detail about the procedure, including the potential, side effects and what ifs that could happen on the slab. Afterwards, the son spoke with the mother and admitted that he should not have been interpreting, even though he had experience and skill, because of the weight of responsibility as a son and as an interpreter. He was nearly unable to control his emotions.
That is why CODAs need not be interpreting for their family members; not only is it emotional, it also can be a cause of misunderstanding due to missing critical information (intentional or not) or the terminology of the profession is unfamiliar to the signer.
Don’t get me wrong about CODAs, I have met some who are professional and attended college to gain more academic experience and training to become better interpreters – I applaud CODAs who do that.
Just because one knows a language and uses it socially or learns it academically does not qualify that person to become an interpreter. Everyone hurts from unqualified interpretation – from deaf/hard of hearing to businesses. Miscommunication that can cost a life, create mental health issues or produce malpractice events for businesses.
It is not only legal that the education, medical and legal systems must hire professional interpreters, not family members or signers – it also protects all parties from potential infractions leading to malpractices, misconceptions and future barriers in communication and partnership.