Deaf-Blind interpreting pay differential

David Bar-Tzur, Abie Abrams, and Bob Barrett

Created October 22, 2001

[The following letter was written to the interpreting agencies in Rochester, NY to militate for a pay differential when interpreting for Deaf-Blind people.]

In cities with a large population of Deaf-Blind people, there is a pay differential between interpreting for them and deaf sighted people. The purpose of this document is to validate the aforementioned pay differential and to propose it be adopted in Rochester, NY. The added responsibilities can be divided into the following categories: guiding, setting up the environment, knowing and using a variety of communication options/methods, providing visual information, knowing Deaf-Blind culture and making appropriate adaptations, dealing with fatigue, and preventing injury.

GUIDING: Although Deaf-Blind people are used to negotiating terrain on their own, when an interpreter is working with a Deaf-Blind client, it is expected that the interpreter assist with orientation and mobility during the assignment to save precious time during an interpreting assignment. This function can be described as being an SSP (Support Service Person or Provider) and in some communities there are people that do this alone as a paid service. If the client needs to go to the bathroom, the interpreter will lead them to it and (if they are both of the same gender,) lead them to a urinal or commode, direct them to the sink, and show them where to dry their hands. There are special ways to lead clients up and down stairs, through doors (revolving and hinged), into elevators, onto escalators and mobile walkways, around obstacles, seat them (fixed, mobile, and booths), and help guide them into and out of cars. If there will be a lunch break or snacks, the interpreter will need to bring them to the food area, describe what is available, assist them in carrying it, and guide them to the proper area to pay and eat. The client may wish to meet specific people during the meal and will need to be guided to them.

SETTING UP THE ENVIRONMENT: Before the interpreting assignment, the interpreter will need to work with the client to agree on the best seating for the interpreter to hear, for the client to see if s/he has some vision, so that the client and interpreter are seated for maximum ease of communication and minimal fatigue. Lighting should be good but not bother sensitive eyes or distract from the two seeing each other.

KNOWING COMMUNICATION OPTIONS: Deaf-Blind people use a great variety of communication methods: tactile ASL (hand-on-hand), tracking (hands on wrists to keep the interpreter from signing outside of the clients visual envelope and to assist in seeing/feeling the movement of the hands), print on palm, close visual, distant signing (because the visual field is so small the interpreter must be seen in a small space), limited space/tunnel vision (where the interpreter must avoid certain dead areas in the person's visual field), Tadoma (rare, the clients hands are placed on the interpreter's jaws for Speech reading), and tactile fingerspelling. The interpreter needs to know how and when to use any of these and be flexible in communicating. ASL is a visual language and must be modified for people with limited or no vision. Subtle movements that accompany facial grammar must be accentuated for clarity or have signs added. Tactile fingerspelling must be clear, slow, and paused to separate words.

PROVIDING VISUAL INFORMATION: A great deal of information comes to any one (especially a Deaf person) through sight. This information must be supplied to the Deaf-Blind person by the interpreter who needs to decide what is important and how to interpret body language and other actions that are seen. Another example of visual information would be graphics that are shown on overheads or in handouts. If the lecturer continues to speak while the audience must examine the graphics, the interpreter must do double duty by including the visual information between what is being said. The environment where the communication event will occur should be described to the client as well as the people, what they look like, their number, and other relevant features. During the communication, the interpreter must add who is talking, what they are doing if it is relevant, additions to and subtractions from the group if this will have an impact on how things are proceeding, the speaker's mood as seen by non-verbal behavior.

Deaf-Blind CULTURE: Just as Deaf people have often been left out of what is happening about them linguistically, Deaf-Blind people miss a great deal of visual information. The interpreter needs to supply this as part of Deaf-Blind culture. They must be informed of why you need to leave, when you will meet them, leave them in a place where they will be oriented and safe while you are gone, and tell them who you are when you return. Independence is also a matter of etiquette and the interpreter needs to enable the client, such as bringing their hand to where the utensils are instead of putting it on their tray in a food line; most people would prefer the former. Tell the Deaf-Blind person where things are on the table and on their plate ("your peas are at 3 o'clock"). The SSP should ideally introduce the Deaf-Blind person to everyone at the table, but if this is not possible or the other people are engrossed in conversation, the SSP can describe who's sitting there. The Deaf-Blind person may recognize them from your description or from interpreting their conversation. They may state a preference before they are seated. Let them know if you move anything. Show them the guide rail for the trays. If there is a menu posted, begin to tell them their options, especially if there is a line of people waiting, for the smoothest service. These are the sorts of things that make up Deaf-Blind "etiquette".

FATIGUE AND PREVENTING INJURY: Having listed so many categories that merely touch on the responsibilities of a Deaf-Blind interpreter, there is little wonder that such an interpreter may experience fatigue. It comes from added responsibilities, the stress of trying to keep up in a communication mode that is decidedly slower, and possibly due to the heavy hands of the client in doing tactile or tracking. Deaf-Blind communication takes longer because it's harder to receive and visual information is being provided as well as interpreting the message. "According to Charlotte Reed and colleagues the natural speed of tactile communication - Tadoma, finger spelling, and sign language - ranges from one fourth to three fourths that of normal speech and visually received sign language." (Mortensen, O. E. (June 1999) A guided tour of the research on Deaf-Blind communication in 45 min.) The fact that Deaf-Blind communication is slower means the interpreter must work harder at editing, summarizing, and picking out the main points. Non-manual grammar and markers must be put on the hands or shown more emphatically by body movement. The interpreter may also need to recap the information after the fact, if s/he felt rushed during the interpretation. All of these factors show why it would be reasonable to charge more for Deaf-Blind interpreting. This list is by no means exhaustive. Thank you for your consideration of this matter.