A Conversation with Deaf Consumers

Cliff and I just attended the Idaho Association of the Deaf conference in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. The conference focus this year was on interpreting. I presented to several different stakeholder groups about interpreting. In my interactions with Deaf people over the years, I have heard the same story about how they did not know they had a voice pertaining to their own interpreting services. In my workshop with Deaf consumers at this conference, my goal was to remind them that they do, indeed, have a voice.

The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) was originally established for maintaining a registry of American Sign Language-English interpreters. RID’s purpose has evolved to include testing, certification, and ongoing training of interpreters (Fant, 1990). Professionalization of sign language interpreting within the United States began with the founding of RID. Typically, the process of developing a profession becomes dominated by those within the majority group, disregarding insights from the population they intend to serve, namely the Deaf community, and this practice further promotes political and cultural tensions between the Deaf and interpreting communities (Kent, 2007). One result of the professionalization of sign language interpreting in the United States was the exclusion of Deaf perspectives in the testing and training of interpreters (Cokely, 2005) as well as in interpreter education programs (Cokely, 2005; Witter-Merithew & Johnson, 2005; Forestal, 2013; Shaw, 2013). It is important to note, however, that this is not only happening nationally. The Deaf voice is minimized in other countries as well (Leeson & Foley-Cave, 2007). While some Deaf people continue to fight for participation in the profession (Kent, 2007), many Deaf people have accepted the status quo.

When interpreters do not receive feedback from Deaf consumers about their services, they may make the erroneous assumption that Deaf consumers are satisfied with services received. It is very common for Deaf people to discuss amongst themselves their own assessments of interpreters’ hard and soft skills, as well as their level of involvement in the Deaf community (Bienvenu, 1987; Corker, 1987; Napier & Rohan, 2007).

In my conversation with the Deaf consumers at the Idaho Association of the Deaf conference, many of them did not realize they could offer feedback directly to the interpreters and/or communicate their feedback to organizations scheduling interpreters. In addition, many were unaware of the RID’s Ethical Practices System (EPS) that allows them to file grievances against RID members for any violation of the Code of Professional Conduct. Regardless, the RID EPS does not have the teeth to push for appropriate consequences. The establishment of the interpreter license law makes the quality of interpreting services legally binding, which could mean a future that will entail stricter consequences (Andrew & Snow, 2017).

I emphasized to those present that if they want interpreting standards to improve, they have to speak up; otherwise interpreters will continue doing what they have been doing. I also believe that interpreters need to begin asking Deaf consumers for feedback and checking for their preferences. If interpreters are proactive in this manner, it will help the Deaf community understand that they do have a voice in the provision of interpreting services.

Be sure to check out our conversation with Deaf Youth posting here.   We talk about the ideal interpreter. 


Andrew, L. & Snow, S. (2017, August). HB46 Interpreter Law: What is it. Presentation at the

Idaho Association of the Deaf Conference, Post Falls, ID.

Bienvenu, M.J. (1987). Third culture: Working together. Journal of Interpretation 4, 1-12.

Corker, M. (1987) Deaf people and interpreting: The struggle in language. Deaf Worlds


Cokely, D. (2005). Shifting positionality: A critical examination of the turning point in

the relationship of interpreters and the Deaf community In. M. Marschark, R. Peterson & E.A. Winston (Eds.). Sign language interpreting and interpreter education: Directions for research and practice (p. 3-28). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Fant, L. (1990). Silver threads: A personal look at the first twenty-five years of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. Silver Spring, MD: RID Publications.

Forestal, E. (2013). Foreword. In S. Shaw Service learning in interpreter education: Strategies for extending student involvement in the Deaf community (p. ix-x). Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.

Kent, S. J. (2007). “Why bother?” Institutionalization, interpreter decisions, and power relations. In C. Wadensjö, B. E. Dimitrova, & A. Nilsson (Eds.), The Critical Link 4: Professionalisation of interpreting in the community. International Conference on Interpreting in Legal, Health and Social Service Settings (p. 193-204). Amsterdam, The Netherlands: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Leeson, L. & Foley-Cave, S. (2007). Deep and meaningful conversation: Challenging interpreter impartiality in the semantics and pragmatics Classroom. In M. Metzger & E. Fleetwood (Eds.) Translation, Sociolinguistic, and Consumer Issues in Interpreting, (p. 45-68). Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.

Napier, J. & Rohan, M.J. (2007) An invitation to dance: Deaf consumers’ perceptions of signed language interpreters and interpreting. In M. Metzger & E. Fleetwood (Eds.) Translation, Sociolinguistic, and Consumer Issues in Interpreting, (p. 159-203). Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.

Shaw, S. (2013). Service learning in interpreter education: Strategies for extending student involvement in the Deaf community. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.

Witter-Merithew, A. & Johnson, L.J. (2005). Toward competent practice: Conversations with stakeholders. Alexandria, VA: RID Press.


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