Interpreters show up.


One of the best things I learned as an interpreter was the importance of being there.

Interpreters help people who can’t communicate with each other to communicated with each other. Bilingualism is a scarce resource, and when communication is important – in a doctor’s office, between teachers and students, in a job safety training – interpreters make a difference.

But you can’t make a difference if you’re not there. No one can do the job of an interpreter except the interpreter.

In jobs where you specialize in a task that is part of a larger project, other team members often know more or less how to do your task. It’s just that you might do it a little better or spend more time on it than they do.

Not true for interpreters. There is no winging – I mean really winging it – it when it comes to whether you know two languages and can negotiate a productive conversation.

All this means that interpreters need to show up and be present. It’s the hallmark of the profession. Every interpreter has stories about how one ran the last mile to their assignment after her car broke down, or how another sprained their ankle but went to their assignment before going to the ER.

I’d like to think that everyone, not just interpreters, has this responsibility to show up. To take our own being-present as important interpreters do. But even if everyone doesn’t, I try to. That’s one of the lessons I learned from being an interpreter: interpreters show up.


4 thoughts on “Interpreters show up.”

  1. Do true, so true. – The Deaf consumer showing up i s as important as the interpreter showing up. Take a medical appointment for example – As an interpreter I can not tell you the number of times I show up, the Deaf patient does not and I hear some one in the office ask “Why are we paying for the interpreter when the patient almost never shows up?” It may be easy to blow off a doctor visit, but it is costing them more money than they make off the insurance. And when a patient does not show up the Dr. can’t bill the insurance company.

    Thank you Austin for bringing this up.

    1. Thanks, Dwight. I agree – many Deaf patients who have appointments don’t show up, too. One response is to say that they have the right not to show up just like hearing people. But the other is that I think there might be higher rates of no-show among Deaf patients. I wonder if this is true and what the reason is. Thoughts?

  2. Certainly anyone has the right to not show up to a medical appointment, or any thing else for that matter. It is no different than a Deaf / HoH student who has the right to skip class or fall asleep during a lecture.

    With HIPAA I doubt it would be possible to come close to learning the number of no shows Hearing vs. Deaf / HoH.

    This goes far beyond Deaf, Hard of Hearing… Let’s take it away from just being Deaf or HoH and look at it from any one who needs an interpreter for any language.

    What I am saying is a that a private medical practice suffers financially when an interpreter has been hired and the patient does not show up. The Dr. still has to pay the interpreter. I hear the comments the staff make sometimes when this happens and I have seen Dr.s want to drop a non- English speaking patient after so many no shows.

    Most people do not realize that a Dr. in private practice or a small group is maybe getting $60 to $80 from the insurance company to see a patient – Hearing or Deaf or spoken language from another couuntry. The resistance in the medical community to seeing patients who need an interpreter (ASL, Spanish, Polish, etc.) is because they know they will lose money even if the patient shows up. When the patient does not show it is a total loss, financially, for them

    Our society sees Doctors as wealthy, but the truth is that they struggle greatly to stay in business. Malpractice insurance rates are very expensive, paying staff for the office, including the nurses is not cheap. The insurance companies fight the doctor’s office to cut payments to a bare minimum. All of this is leading to a shortage of General Practice doctors and Family doctors. Simply put, you will see less and less doctors who want to go into family practice. It just does not pay.

    More and more hospitals are switching over to Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) for the same reasons. I have never met a Deaf or Hard of Hearing person who likes VRI in an emergency room or hospital stay. But the bottom line is that the hospital can pay a VRI interpreter by the minute instead of paying an interpreter to drive to the hospital at 2:00 am and sit and wait for hours just to interpret for 15 or 20 minutes. Is that right to use VRI instead of a live interpreter? No, I do not think that it is. But respecting the cost of access is important for anyone who needs it. I refuse to work as a VRI interpreter because the Deaf / HoH community does not like it. But there are many interpreters out there willing to do this work. As long as that is true and it is less expensive, more and more businesses are going to use VRI.

    If you are lucky enough to find a family doctor who is willing to hire an interpreter, it helps everyone who needs an interpreter if you show up for your appointments. This way the doctor does not have a reason to not want to see patients who need an interpreter for any language.

    I hope this is read the way I intend, to be of help and with respect. Of course I support all medical practices hiring interpreters – It is the law, it is the right thing to do. Just understand the impact that not showing up for an appointment has on the view a medical office has of you and others who need / want an interpreter for not showing up.

    1. Dwight – I think I hear you the way you are intending. There’s a false antagonism towards doctors that doesn’t appreciate the simple economics of that work. And the economics are driving more use of technology to reduce costs. Interpreters and Deaf consumers often don’t understand or appreciate these institutional challenges. I’m totally with you on this. I’m glad you’re saying this out loud. Not enough people are.

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