Effects of Power Positions in Sign Language Interpretation

The effects of power positions in sign language interpretation are not often considered even though they can be detrimental.  As referred to in sign language interpreters and power positions, it is crucial to understand how power positions affect participant collaboration when in an interpreted situation.

Disclaimer:  Examples are provided for reflection purposes only and may be “extreme” examples for that purpose.  Examples are not real life scenarios, and any similarities to real persons or scenarios should not be inferred.

Example: A Deaf Employee Presentation at Work

Position 1: Interpreter in a Power Position

The Deaf employee greets the sign language interpreter in the lobby.  The interpreter may say hello but ultimately does not speak much with the Deaf employee.  Then the employee does whatever they choose to at the time (check messages, talk with other hearing staff).  When they arrive in the presentation room, the interpreter tells the Deaf person, rather than asking, what they will or will not do and where they will sit or stand.  The Deaf employee is focused on their important presentation which may affect a promotion and/or pay raise.  With a dictating interpreter, the employee may now be worried that the interpreter will not be willing to work with them to ensure an accurate presentation.Effects of Power Positions in Sign Language Interpretation

Position 2: Deaf Employee in a Power Position

The Deaf employee greets the sign language interpreter in the lobby.  The Deaf employee lists demands and expectations of the sign language interpreter instead of meeting with the interpreter to talk about their presentation.  Some of these demands may include what the sign language interpreter may or may not do.  The demands may also include terms that the interpreter must use in their voiced interpretation and emphasize that no other voiced equivalent will be acceptable.  If the interpreter follows up with questions, the Deaf employee is brief and not willing to share additional information.  The interpreter now feels unsure about whether they can satisfy the Deaf employee.  They are likely worried about how they will disappoint the Deaf client rather than how they will produce an accurate interpretation.

Position 3: Colleagues/Managers in a Power Position

A Deaf employee’s colleague or manager greets the sign language interpreter in the lobby.  The colleague or boss either makes small talk or tells the interpreter the Deaf person will give a presentation in the meeting.  The colleague or manager guides the interpreter directly to the room so they are not able to meet the Deaf employee in advance.  They may tell the sign language interpreter what they should do or where to sit or stand.  During the presentation, the colleague or manager may attempt to take control of the presentation.  They either add additional overpowering comments or take over the presentation completely.  Now the Deaf employees feels disappointment and oppressed.  The sign language interpreter can see it in the expression of the Deaf employee but knows it is not their role or responsibility to resolve the issue.

In the above examples, a successful collaboration will likely not occur due to the effects of power positions in sign language interpretation.  You may find similar examples in Power Position Effects on Educational Interpretation.  We encourage continued learning and reading in the Outcomes of Power Positions in Sign Language Interpreting and in how power positions affect medical interpreting.


Additional Resources:

Power without status can lead to to rudeness, even abuse

Photo Credit:


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