Power Positions Affect Medical Sign Language Interpretation
As reviewed in Outcomes of Power Positions in Sign Language Interpreting, it is also true that power positions affect medical sign language interpretation. Collaboration and partnerships should occur in all sign language interpretation settings including medical. In most cases, power positions affect medical sign language interpretation negatively and, therefore, should be carefully reviewed.
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 Patient in a Doctor’s Office
Position 1: Sign Language Interpreter in the Power Position
The sign language interpreter arrives at the doctor’s office, checks in at the front desk, and visually seeks out the Deaf client. When they are not located, the interpreter sits in the corner to wait for the Deaf patient’s name to be called. They acknowledge the Deaf patient and say hello when the Deaf patient’s name is called.
The Deaf patient and the sign language interpreter proceed with the medical assistant or nurse to take the vitals of the Deaf patient and get detailed information from the Deaf patient as to why they need to see the doctor. During this time, the interpreter periodically speaks with the assistant without interpreting what is being said to the Deaf patient. The interpreter follows the assistant when they leave the room. They do not inform the Deaf patient where they are going.
Later, the Doctor opens the door and enters with the interpreter. They greet the Deaf patient. The Doctor performs the exam, the sign language interpreter interprets what is communicated, and the Deaf patient is excused with instructions for home care.
Ultimately, the sign language interpreter acted in a self-serving manner by not including the Deaf patient. They appeared rude and unwilling to provide equal access to communication, and they were borderline unethical.
Position 2: Deaf Patient in the Power Position
The sign language interpreter arrives at the doctor’s office, checks in at the front desk, and visually seeks out the Deaf client. When they are not located, the interpreter sits in the corner to wait for the Deaf patient’s name to be called. The sign language interpreter later locates the Deaf patient who proceeds to direct the interpreter on what they should do or say. The medical assistant is ready to take the Deaf patient’s vitals, so the Deaf patient tells the interpreter where to stand and what to do.
The sign language interpreter stops and asks a clarifying question while the assistant gathers information as to why the Deaf patient is seeing the doctor. The Deaf patient becomes visually upset before the interpreter is able to interpret the recent communication. The patient complains that the sign language interpreter is not signing everything being said.
Interpreters are trained on where to stand and what to do to meet equal access for all parties. This is not solely to benefit the Deaf patient but rather all people involved. When power is shifted to one party, then equal access to all parties is almost impossible. Ultimately the Deaf patient could be labeled as difficult or unpleasant to work with by either the sign language interpreter, doctor, or medical assistant. Over time, this behavior may limit sign language interpreters or medical professionals who are unwilling to provide the Deaf patient services.
Position 3: Doctor/Medical Assistant/Nurse in the Power Position
The doctor or medical assistant only wants to speak with the interpreter and not with the Deaf client. This may include small talk or information regarding the Deaf patient’s health condition. This information should be considered on a “need to know” basis. Ultimately, this oppresses the Deaf patient and ruins the professional relationship with medical professionals.
The doctor or medical assistant may try to intervene in the sign language interpreter’s role and attempt to manage their job when they do not understand every aspect of the interpreting process. If interpreters are unsure what to do in these situations, they may end up breaking their code of professional conduct. Interpreters who feel uncomfortable working in these settings will ultimately refuse to take future assignments which could limit qualified sign language interpreters in the practice.
It is clear where power positions affect medical sign language interpretation. Collaboration, partnership, and neutrality should be the focus of all sign language interpreting to ensure effective communication. The focus should be on the well-being of the Deaf patient.