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.