Ethics When Working with a Sign Language Interpreter
Ethics is a top consideration in every ASL sign language interpretation. The role of a sign language interpreter is to provide equal access to communication between D/deaf and Hard of Hearing (HOH) patients and medical staff. It is also to support D/deaf-HOH medical staff to communicate with patients who can hear. The interpretation requires careful consideration of ethics before it is delivered. Once a sign language interpreter arrives at the job location, they should be available to provide equal access to communication without other distractions or responsibilities. This means the ASL/sign language interpreter should deny any requests to do anything except ASL/sign language interpreting.
Ethics for Contract Sign Language Interpreters
They are NOT medical staff
The contract sign language interpreter’s professional insurance is likely vastly different from that of medical staff or a physician. Sign language interpreters who take on additional duties they were not hired to perform could be violating ethics.
Medical sign language interpreters should not be forced to take on any liability by walking a client around in a wheelchair or assisting with their personal needs (using the restroom or bathing). They should not physically touch or handle patients in any way. Not only are insurance and ethics a concern, but medical staff likely have training on how to physically handle patients. Sign language interpreters are not provided updated or ongoing training with your medical facility. Your staff, on the other hand, most likely are. Without such training, your office could face liability. Aside from legal and liability concerns, no medical office or hospital would want the ASL/sign language interpreter to injure themselves or a patient. Procedures could be done incorrectly.
Equal Access to Communication ONLY
Since ASL/sign language interpreters are there to provide equal access to communication, they should only be present when communication occurs. This means when ASL/sign language interpreting is not being rendered the ASL/sign language interpreter should be in a nearby hallway, at a nurse’s station, or at a location where they can be easily accessed.
Filing a Complaint
Lastly, licensure laws are set in place to protect D/deaf consumers. Therefore, any consumer who feels that a sign language interpreter has not performed under their code of ethics can file a complaint with the state.
In closing, medical ASL sign language interpreters are human. From time to time they will need to step away for a snack, go to the bathroom, take a break from work, or make a call. This may vary if the sign language interpreting is taking longer than expected. This allows them to refresh and keep a better edge on decisions they make that effect ethics.
If you’d like more information why ASL/sign language interpreters wait in the hallway (which is similar with foreign language interpreter protocols) check our blog on why ASL/sign language interpreters do not wait in a room with a patient.