The following summarizes focus group findings on issues of Deaf Interpreter employment.

Limited Opportunities

It was noted in the focus groups that few Deaf Interpreters are interpreting full-time. Deaf consumers are seen as becoming more accepting of Deaf Interpreters in many area, but many places that it was thought should have them do not (e.g. police stations, lawyer’s offices, courts). It was reported that highly motivated Deaf Interpreters must move to get work. Two primary issues appear to be:

  • When hiring interpreters, the default is to hire the familiar, which is hearing interpreters.
  • Hiring a Deaf Interpreter seems to be redundant to many hiring entities.

It was suggested that even if people would like to hire Deaf Interpreters the decision to not hire is often strictly financial, as it is seen as an additional cost. Participants stressed that often it is more cost effective to use a Deaf Interpreter, as that more likely assures high quality comprehension and participation by the Deaf consumer, allowing the needed communication exchange to be completed in one session. If the hearing interpreter is having a difficult time meeting the needs of the Deaf consumer several sessions might be necessary.

Strategies for Expansion
Several ideas for expanding the employment opportunities of Deaf Interpreters were offered:

  • Interpreting agencies can help educate consumers about the purpose of Deaf Interpreters and what they add to effective communication for Deaf clients.
  • Once Deaf consumers are empowered to request Deaf Interpreters to work in tandem with hearing interpreters, market expansion is anticipated and opportunities increased.
  • People hiring, or assigning, interpreters need to consider if the job can be filled by Deaf Interpreters.
  • Deaf Interpreters can work in well-established areas such as Deaf-Blind, legal, and medical interpreting.
  • With the knowledge and skills they have, Deaf Interpreters can do more than just interpreting, such as providing language consultation and translation.
  • Mentorship can help expand the opportunities for Deaf Interpreters. They have in-depth knowledge and ability to discuss Deaf language and communication modes, interpreting, and terminology. Mentoring is being used far more in ITPs because of the gap between skills at graduation and those needed for RID certification. VRS and the Deaf center are also setting up mentorship programs. Deaf Interpreters can nicely fill the need for mentorship.

There appeared to be consensus among focus group participants that compensation for Deaf Interpreters is poor, and many factors are involved. Participants expressed thoughts such as:

  • Deaf Interpreters have so little opportunity for work they earn a fraction of what hearing interpreters do (which compounds the challenge to obtaining useful formal credentialing, both related to education and certification in that Deaf Interpreters must pay the same amount for tuition, workshop registrations fees, RID test preparation, and certification fees as hearing interpreters).
  • A suggestion for addressing the inequities was to restate the contribution made by Deaf Interpreters by identifying them as “language specialists.” Deaf Interpreters often catch communications, nuance, and meaning beyond what hearing interpreters can, especially in asides. Using the “language specialist” terminology would help policy-makers understand the nature of what Deaf Interpreters do, and enable them to elevate the professional status and pay levels.
  • Considering the depth provided by their formative experiences with the language and communication processes, the addition of professional interpreting education, and the specialized comprehension and language contribution Deaf Interpreters can make, it would appear that those who do assemble professional credentials should be eligible for an even higher pay scale than hearing interpreters.

Working Relationships with Hearing Interpreters
Perceptions of Deaf Interpreters’ qualification and status relative to hearing interpreters appear to be mixed. Generally, it was observed that hearing interpreters have more experience and credentials, so have more formal status, and interpreters who have years of experience also tend to be more set in how they approach the work and assume more authority. Much of the discussion about this relationship appears to deal with thoughts about hearing interpreters’ perceptions and attitudes, such as the following:

  • The Deaf Interpreter holds the leadership role on the interpreting team because of the specialized knowledge and skills s/he brings to the effort, and because the Deaf Interpreter is the one directly engaged in ensuring the Deaf consumer’s comprehension and participation in the communication event.
  • If an interpreting agency has assigned a Deaf Interpreter to a job after interpreting skills screening, hearing interpreters should accept that the Deaf Interpreter has appropriate skills and welcome them as team members.
  • Hearing interpreters need to become more conscious about their own thinking regarding Deaf Interpreters and what they can do.
  • To help hearing interpreters know how to play a part in supporting the use of Deaf/hearing interpreting teams, they need to be educated to know how to request a Deaf Interpreter team member; and how to how to respond when told by the hiring organization they cannot afford the extra interpreter.
  • The Deaf Interpreter has a challenging role in that s/he is ultimately responsible and accountable for the message conveyed to the Deaf consumer, so must act with that in mind, making sure accuracy and comprehension is attained at every step.
  • To create a supportive interpreting team, and avoid appearing to be taking over, it is suggested that Deaf Interpreters train hearing interpreter team members regarding how both interpreters can fulfill their obligation, and establish protocols for the process, including stopping communication if necessary to gain personal comprehension before continuing, and how they will correct each others’ errors.
  • With VRS creating such a demand for interpreters, hearing interpreters, who have so many options for work, could support Deaf Interpreters by limiting the amount of interpreting work they take, and be conscious of not taking work Deaf Interpreters should be hired to do.

Read Full Report: Analysis of Deaf Interpreter focus group discussions conducted April-July 2007