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Andrea interpreting for Former President, Bill Clinton
Andrea interpreting for Former President, Bill Clinton

Today was another new milestone for me. I interpreted for a fashion show to benefit a charity cause that is near and dear to me. Anyone who knows me will understand how ridiculous it is for me to do such a job. It's not that I'm ignorant about fashion per se, but I truly consider myself lucky to make it out of the house every day with all the socially required pieces of clothing properly in place.


There is also nothing quite like being on stage with a traipsing parade of gazelles to underscore that special feeling of being caught in a spotlight where you don't belong. As I am given to accessorizing with cat hair and seek outfits that can do justice to what can only be described as a Botticelli figure, I find dressing for these types of work occasions particularly challenging. Here are a few tips that I find invaluable for the work:


1 - They told you to wear black in school. Please stop complaining and just do it. Unless you really do look like the Corpse Bride. In which case, throw on some bright red lipstick and embrace your inner zombie.


2 - They never told you to run that black outfit under some seriously bright lighting though, did they? Black is SEE THROUGH with the right material under strong lighting (you know, like when you're on stage or rocking the red carpet), so make sure you check that before you go public with the goods.


3 - Do NOT sacrifice comfort for fashion. There is nothing more unattractive and distracting in this world than a girl tugging at a hem line or hauling her neck line back into place repeatedly. Keep your outfit modest and comfortable.


4 - Tank tops are NEVER okay. I don't care what the assignment is. Unless you are interpreting somewhere in the desert and, even then, I'm sure you'd do better with a nice wicking material. Our job requires us to wave our hands in the air while our clients stare at us intently. No one wants to see your sweaty pits.


5 - Pockets. I really can't stress this enough. You will get caught at work with your cellphone, car keys, Chapstick, or some other small object that you can't/won't/don't want to get rid of. Either you run the risk of setting it down to be stolen or forgotten or you stash it somewhere. The bra is a bad choice (sweaty and insecure). Your waistband won't work either (guns seem to fit without slithering down your backside, but smaller objects can and will find the exact vector to travel at maximum velocity to the floor at the most awkward moment). Buy work clothes with pockets.


6 - Take a look around. See what the clients are wearing. You shouldn't be the best or worst-dressed person in the room. Keep some neutral jewelry in your bag. It's a quick fix to bling your outfit if you find yourself looking like a hobo in a room full of well-dressed people. Layers with more casual shells and underpinnings are an easy way to dress it down if you accidentally wear a power suit to someone's non-profit retreat where hemp fiber is the dress code. Think about ways you can manipulate your outfit so that your car doesn't wind up looking like a poorly organized hamper.


That reminds me. It's Sunday night. Time to go rotate laundry and sort my blacks from my.....who am I kidding? Everything goes is the darks cycle. 😀

One of the projects I have been working on is on licensing interpreters practicing in DC (and, hopefully, MD and VA). I have been embroiled in this controversy for several months now and I have fought my way through pounds of rhetoric, hours of arguments, and the piranha pool that is any political struggle. The Deaf consumers have a perspective, the hearing consumers (DC agencies, in this case) have their interests, and the poor interpreter is getting ground between the mortar and pestle of these opposing factions. I generally support the cause of licensing and the reasons are legion. Last night, I had a classic example of why I feel this way.
I am frequently called out to respond to police calls overnight. Last night I was called to a hospital to interpret for a detective investigating allegations of a sexual assault. I arrived on the scene to find an interpreter present for the hospital (this is normal). I introduced myself and explained my role, but I could tell she had no clue what I was talking about. I asked her name and the name of the company that sent her. A quick internet search revealed:
  • This "interpreter" is not even a member of RID, much less certified.
  • The company that sent her has three employees listed on the web, none of whom are certified interpreters in any way or have any kind of professional presence in this field beyond this company.
  • Neither the interpreter nor the company members are members of PCRID.
The doctor on staff gave the detective the run down on the information that had been given to her via the interpreter. When the detective and I tried to enter room, the interpreter (we'll call her SS, short for "Sunday Signer") followed us in. She proceeded to comment and respond to the detectives questions of the patient before I even had a chance to finish the interpretations. She was trying to communicate with the patient to add her own interpretations to the process. I finally had to kick her out of the room since she clearly didn't understand what was going on.
As the investigation proceeded, I discovered a multitude of factual errors from this interpreter's original work. To wit:
  • The name of the deaf patient was wrong (wrong first name).
  • The patient's birthdate was wrong (wrong month and year).
  • The patient's address was wrong (wrong street name and wrong apt number).
  • The location of the alleged attacker was wrong (wrong state).
  • The age of the attacker was wrong (30, not 70!!).
  • The date of the allegation was wrong (4, not 18).
And, most importantly, the basis of the complaint was WRONG. She never made an allegation of sexual assault. What she did sign could (maybe, possibly, if you were slightly drunk and had recently had a stick poked in you eye) have been misunderstood, but the Deaf gal was clear, repetitious and adamant about what had happened. I just don't know how SS could have messed that up so badly.
The tragedy of this is that there was a huge waste of resources to respond to this imaginary report. Since SS has no professional credentials, I have no one to go to and file a complaint. I have contacted the company who sent her to the hospital and I am hoping to find a resolution there. If not, I will escalate the issue with the hospital and the police department. I don't think it is fair that the DC government had to pay me and the detective to respond to that situation because a company failed to employ appropriate quality controls in staffing their assignments. I think it's horrifying that the patient had to undergo unnecessary examination, treatment, and extremely extended wait times because of these errors. Licensing of interpreters to practice would, hopefully, go a long way to regulating these fly-by-night interlopers. I have no problem with Sunday Signers learning the language and working in their local churches to support their communities. I have huge issues with these charlatans putting their shingle out to act as a professional interpreter, a career to which I devote an inordinate amount of time, money, and effort.

It's been a million years (okay, two) since I posted here, but I am trying to get my act together on this. I continue to feel like one of the luckiest fools on the planet with the nature of my work. Here are some recent highlights of my days:


Andrea interpreting at a music concert
Andrea interpreting at a music concert

- Interpreting for a dear old friend as she entered the final stages of her pregnancy. I don't do a great deal of medical interpreting anymore, so this was a particular treat!


- Having an excellent, although difficult, conversation with a couple of colleagues who found themselves desperately over their heads in a legal interpreting situation. I am particularly proud of this work because I could have really made their days suck and the situation be horrible if I had chosen to go that route. I was inspired by a colleague who was telling me recently that we have a choice when confronted with other practitioners doing it "wrong". She told me that we could keep our frustrations to ourselves and then engage in a smear campaign or we could address our feelings in the moment and take a risk that a learning moment might happen. I am pleased to say that this was the first time that this worked out well for me.


- Working with an amazing scientific demonstration that involved projections on a spherical surface as a way to display the fantastic data that our satellites produce.


Of course, there are other amazing things, but I have to abide by my confidentiality mandates. All of these experiences mean that I clearly was NOT in Atlanta last week attending the biannual RID conference. Due to some health issues, I chose not to go. I can't say I was at all excited to go in the first place. I mean, who chooses JULY?!? 2013 will be in Indianapolis, so I will likely attend that one. However, 2015 is going down to New Orleans. As tempted as I might be to visit the Big Easy, I've already been there twice and will have to seriously consider what that might be like in August. Ugh.


I've considered adding a regular feature to this blog to talk about some of the news around $$$. The most obvious fact that interpreters should be aware of at this point in time is the IRS change to the mileage reimbursement rates. We get a whopping 51 cents/mile right now, so don't be afraid to accept those far-flung gigs. For more information, visit the IRS's page on the subject.


Happy Trails!

Yesterday's shooting at the Holocaust Museum was a solemn reminder to us all that hate is still alive and thriving in this "enlightened" age. For the interpreting community, another reminder was broadcast: You are responsible for your own safety.

A colleague of mine was working at the museum where the shootings occurred and was, fortunately, safely ensconced in a bathroom when the shots were being fired. However, it drives home an important point that many interpreters do not consider as we flit from location to location. No one knows where we are. Our loved ones do not know where we are working on almost an given day and even the buildings we enter are frequently unable to account for our presences in the even of an emergency. The fact remains, no one will miss us at roll call when the head counters are going down the lists.

What this means for us is that we have to manage our own safety. That begins with having a plan for contacting your loved ones in the event of an emergency. Did you know that the local phone lines were burdened to the point of uselessness during Katrina and 9/11, but that long distance calls could still be made? Authorities recommend that you plan to touch base with someone outside of the local area and make it known to those who care about you that they should call that designated person if they can't get ahold of you directly.

When entering any facility you should, of course, make yourself aware of the evacuation plan. In DC, many of those buildings are a virtual rat maze and we are usually escorted around the premises. Stop and make sure you know where you are in the building and that you can get out, if necessary. Don't rely on your mental trail of breadcrumbs. Know the exit routes or where the building maps are on the walls. In addition, be on the lookout for any rooms labeled "Shelter in Place". This is where you'll need to go in the event that something is going on outside that makes it unsafe to be on the street (think "chemical attack" or "zombie invasion"). Also, keep an eye out for an AEDs and fire extinguisher. The AED (automatic electrical defribillator) is your best friend in emergencies involving people not breathing. It will help walk you through CPR.

There is a great deal more to think about with emergency planning and I can't emphasize how important this is to do for yourself. Most employees have the luxury of relying on their place of employment to have a well-developed plan for emergency situations. Outside of the DC area, I would be surprised if those places really DO have good plans. Even if they do, you are still an unknown quantity.

Take care of yourself.

A recent case of mine involved a client locked up for assault. Said client carries a diagnosis of mental retardation, severe epilepsy, and psychotic tendencies. A recent outburst of the aforementioned psychotic tendencies is what landed his butt in jail.

These cases are always a challenge for an interpreter. The trick of the matter is to be confident enough in your skills to know that you aren't missing nuances because of a lack of linguistic ability. I was rather impressed at the client's comprehension of his condition and location. When I asked him if he knew where he was and what a jail was, he responded that "jail is where they put you when they are not happy with you." A simple explanation, but pretty darned accurate. In asking if he understood what a judge does, I learned that a judge "listens to your story and lets you go if he likes the story, but keeps you in jail if he doesn't like your story".

As an interpreter, these answers were a bit revelatory. We get so caught up in trying to explain all of the details that go along with whatever we're trying to explain in a legal setting, that we often forget that simplicity is really the best answer. It forces me to re-examine the interpretations I have been rendering. The tendency is to expand upon the concepts being presented either for purposes of clarity or in some vain attempt to level the balance of power in a legal setting. Understanding that this might just be another form of oppression in that providing too MUCH information to a client, helps me to be a better practitioner.

Everyday is a practice and sometimes that reminder comes from surprising places.

Andrea interpreting at a music concert
Andrea interpreting at a music concert
As I embark upon keeping a public record of my work, I have been asked by colleagues about the issue of confidentiality. One of the tenets of my profession is that we have to maintain a certain degree of secrecy about our work. This helps folks trust us in our work and know that we won't be blabbering the juicy tidbits about their nose job around town.

With that being said, a lot of the work that I do is a matter of public record and, to a certain extent, open to analysis and comment. Much of the court work I am involved with is open to the public. The exceptions being juvenile court or otherwise closed proceedings. I also do quite a bit of platform and performance work, which is also open to the public. I will maintain the cloak of confidentiality as much as possible and still share some of the trials and tribulations of my work.

The photo featured on this page is a photo of a gig I did late last year at the Sarah Brightman concert at the Verizon Center. Enjoy!