As an ASL instructor at HardcoreASL.com, and as co-author of books on American Sign Language and as co-sponsor of the sosASL.com emergency communication website and, most importantly — as the Hearing husband of a Deaf Wife — I was shocked to learn a major hospital interpreter teaching program in the New York City area is instructing its students that the role of an interpreter in the patient/doctor dyad is one of a “clarifier.”
I vehemently argue today, an interpreter is an interpreter — just an expresser only of only what is being said. An interpreter is never to elaborate or extend ideas or concepts beyond the narrow niche of the actual communication — and an interpreter must NEVER be a “clarifier.”
The danger in being a “clarifier” instead of an interpreter — especially in a medical situation — is the risk that the interpreter will incorrectly “clarify” for a patient what the interpreter has no business knowing.
The communication dyad between patient and interpreter must be one of transparency.
The interpreter is merely a tool, not a person, for the Deaf to use to communicate. When that middling role becomes more obtuse and vague, fuzziness in which person is actually providing the healthcare becomes an issue.
If a Deaf person does not understand what the doctor is saying, it is the responsibility of the doctor to re-explain, clarify, say again, repeat and even “act out” the issue at hand if necessary.
It is not the role of the interpreter to do those things because interpreters are passive modes of communication between the Hearing and the Deaf. For the interpreter to even try to take an explanatory or instructive role is a violation of any moral code of ethics.
If a doctor notices an interpreter is explaining and “clarifying” — it is the responsibility of the doctor or nurse or healthcare provider — to actively stop the interpreter from crossing inappropriate boundaries by saying, “Let me explain it to my patient, not you.”
That abruptness of concern must also be active on the Deaf side. If the Deaf person is lost in the conversation, the Deaf must demand that the health professional explain it and not the interpreter. “Let the doctor clarify for me, not you.”
Interpreters love to take control and manage situations that they should really not be so deeply involved in — their role is necessarily passive.
Interpreters are not helpers or enablers or communication experts or clarifiers or teachers or doctors. Interpreters, like it or not, are just there to provide an unemotional and bland even exchange between modes of communication. Interpreters are mechanisms and computers, not leaders or performers.
Interpreters do not determine intention.
The value of having a knowledgeable healthcare professional actually taking charge of the health of the Deaf patient is paramount and now, I hope, you can see the inherent danger in having hospitals teach interpreters they must “clarify” instead of remaining invisible, inactive, and appropriately passive.