Author, Activist, and Mother

Opening Our Eyes

But It’s Not Cancer…

A few days ago I was at the doctors for a sinus infection and they scheduled an interpreter. I met her in the waiting room, introduced myself and we started chatting. Within thirty seconds of that conversation I knew immediately that she did not have the skill set I require for my interpreting needs. I asked her what her certification level was and she was proud to tell me she had her “basic” certification and was waiting on results from her recent Texas BEI test. (this is a test that gives ASL interpreters different levels of certification to qualify them for assignments)

She was a nice girl- young and passionate about her work. She had relocated to Austin and graduated from an Interpreter Training Program the year before. She was just starting out and was enthusiastic about her profession and the opportunities it offered her.

I debated for a while about what to do. I really had two choices. I could keep her or send her home and do my appointment without an interpreter.

While I debated this, my first thoughts were to give her the opportunity to grow in her profession. While I knew she was not qualified, she was also young and I wanted to give her the chance to develop her skills. I also reasoned that I was there for a sinus infection, not a cancer diagnosis- so I wanted to give the girl a chance. I’m also educated and I can communicate pretty well on my own so together she and I could make it work- and perhaps make her a better interpreter for her next assignment.

However, that’s not what I did. Instead I told her in the nicest way I could that I would not be using her because I was not comfortable with her skill level. She was shocked. Probably hurt. Her face got red and she lost eye contact with me picked up her purse and left the waiting room before I could say much else.

The softie in me felt bad for her. Yet, I was confident I did then right thing because I believed what I had taught her was far more important than anything she would have gained by some “practice” with me: quality communication should never be a sacrifice for any deaf person.  A good interpreter needs to know their abilities and their limitations. A good interpreter will know the kind of assignments to accept and which to turn down. And while my appointment was just for a sinus infection and not a cancer diagnosis, her next assignment may very well be one of cancer. I would be doing my deaf fellow man a disservice by not teaching this lesson to her now.

In fairness to her, the agency she worked for should never have sent her. The agency was just as wrong. But, to each their own. Accountability always starts with you and me.