Interpreters as Advocates?

On and off, I’ve read discussions about the interpreter’s role as an advocate or ally for their deaf and hard of hearing clients. Sometimes the discussion veers into a direction that leaves me a bit cold, because then I remember the story that Tony Wright told me last year:

One deaf cuer, as a child, had a transliterator who was originally a sign language interpreter. She’d taken up Cued Speech in order to transliterate for him. However, at some point, she switched from Cued Speech transliteration to sign language interpreting in classes because she thought Cued Speech wasn’t working for him. She did this without his parents’ knowledge or consent, and in breach of his IEP. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the interpreting world, that is a massive, massive breach of ethics. The interpreter does not get to make that call; the client does (or in the case of minors, their legal guardians do).

At the time, the student accepted it without complaint, not really being aware of interpreter ethics–children typically aren’t. But years later, when he looked back on his experience, he realized just how out of line it was.

The thing is, the interpreter/transliterator is ultimately an intermediary, a go-between. Her primary job is to relay information, not advocate for or protect her clients. While there are definitely some situations that I think would reasonably warrant the interpreter to step out of that strictly-defined role (for example, a medical discussion that could be life-altering), in general, I’m leery of adding advocacy to an interpreter’s role. This is especially true with minors since generally their parents and educators are the ones who call the shots, not necessarily the minor child himself.

Too many questions come to mind, and my most pressing one is: is the would-be “advocacy” what the client really needs, or what the interpreter thinks the client needs?

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