Outcomes of Power Positions in Sign Language Interpreting

Most people push for some sort of power in all human interactions because this is human nature.  Sometimes the long-term effects can be hurtful though the original intent of the vie for power may not be.  We will consider possible outcomes of power positions in sign language interpreting settings.outcomes of power positions in sign language interpreting

We often see power battles in romantic relationships, but they are also common in work relationships.  Perhaps an employee wants to be seen in a better light.  So they willingly throw coworkers under the bus in order to get ahead at work.  Deaf consumers and sign language interpreters need to consider outcomes of power positions in sign language interpreting, focus on diminishing power struggles, and focus on a collaborative partnership.

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.

A Deaf Employee at Work

Position 1: Sign Language Interpreter

Interpreters are taught to work alone, and in most cases, they work solo. This means they usually lack advice or mentoring from informed colleagues on their behavior in the workplace.  Interpreters may establish their own power to manage each interpreting assignment effectively.  If power is at the forefront of interpretations and is not managed properly, interpreters may appear to dictate sign language interpreting outcomes over time.  Ultimately, they may appear to abuse or oppress relationships between the Deaf and Hearing.  Interpreters could be viewed as bossy, self-serving, and/or unethical.

Position 2: Deaf Employee

Let’s consider the position of Deaf employees.  Humans by nature are autonomous, but Deaf employees often must be in the presence of a third-party sign language interpreter even for the most sensitive or pressing needs.  Imagine having someone speak on your behalf in an important meeting even though they are a stranger to you.  Most Deaf employees are understanding of this need.  Consider, though, how it may be uncomfortable, scary, and/or frustrating to need to collaborate for autonomy.  Deaf employees are often treated as if they cannot do anything in the workplace (as in other settings) because of their deafness.  In this case, it would not be surprising if a Deaf employee vied for power to display their abilities.  In fact, Deaf employees may fight for power so that they can gain control in their lives.  If not managed over time, Deaf consumers may not be taken seriously and appear picky or dictatorial.  They may also be seen as unpleasant to work with.

Position 3: Colleague or Manager

Most colleagues or managers do not have a common language with Deaf employees.  They often lack the ability to fully understand the Deaf employee or the need for sign language interpreting services.  They often take power away from Deaf employees in business related meetings.  For example, colleagues or managers essentially take the power away from Deaf employees and control the outcomes in an effort to remove a Deaf employee’s authority.  Ultimately, taking power from Deaf employees will lead to oppression.  Colleagues or managers may appear to be controlling, uncaring, or selfish.


The push for power positions in sign language interpreting will vary from person to person.  However, it is generally developed over a strong need for inclusion.  It becomes clear that power does not allow for effective communication as we consider the outcomes of power positions in sign language interpreting.  Perhaps we can stop the power struggles before they begin or work to reverse the damage already incurred. We must work together with one goal in mind: effective communication and advocacy for equal access.


Additional Resources:

The Interpersonal Nature of Power and Status


Photo Credit:


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