Sign Language Interpreters and Power Positions

Sign language interpreters and power positions are talked about often though the phrase “power positions” may be replaced with an equivalent description.

What are Power Positions?

sign language interpreters and power positionsThe term “power positions” is used to explain who has more power in a specific setting.  Some of these positions are obvious, such as a supervisor over an employee, a judge over an attorney, or an attorney over their client.  This power position may also appear when someone who is financially wealthy interacts with someone who is financially poor.  The general public is often under the impression the wealthier person has more power because they have more resources. This merely affects which individual demonstrates more power or authority in a given situation.

Who Holds the Power?

Consider this: sign language interpreters know both the Deaf and hearing person’s language.  This puts them in a position of power.  It is also common for the professional (ie: physician, attorney, etc.), as the expert adviser, to have more power than the interpreter.  Lastly, a Deaf consumer desires to have control over their personal lives.  This may mean they are in the position of power.  Regardless of who holds the power, how it is used is critical and greatly effects the outcome.

The sign language interpretation will be affected if power or power struggles are at the based of the interaction.  Power struggles do not allow for an accurate interpretation because the focus is not on equal communication.  Instead, it is on who can control the situation.

How a Push for Power Affects the Interpretation

Sign language interpreters and power positions are highlighted in our community because interpreters at times abuse or take advantage of Deaf consumers and interpreting situations.  As mentioned above, anyone who controls or holds the power may skew the interpretation.  The accusation of “abuse” may be considered valid.  It is also, however, true of professionals or Deaf consumers who push for power positions.  In fact, it may not be well known, but it is common for sign language interpreters to feel “abused” while interpreting.  It is likely professionals, interpreters, and Deaf consumers do not have the intention of “abuse” when they act in a power position.  It may feel that way, though, if an individual is on the receiving end.

In closing, power struggles or assumptions of power positions skew sign language interpretations and may result in an abuse of participants in the communication.  See examples of how power positions affect collaboration in sign language interpretations.  Less energy should be spent on “power” and should be funneled to the Deaf and sign language interpreter collaboration and partnerships.


Additional Resources:

The Power Differential and Why it Matters so Much in Therapy

Good Therapy: Power

In Favor of Positive Use of Power


Photo Credit:

MT & Associates | Sign Language Interpreting Practice BBB Business Review