Sign Language Interpreter for Hire: Ethics of Direct-Pay ADA Violations9 min read
Proposal to standardize RID Certified ASL interpreter response to surcharges to Deaf/Hard of Hearing or Deafblind clients for auxiliary aids by places of public accommodation in compliance with ADA law.
What motivates interpreters to continue in this field for decades? Lately, I have been reflecting on how integral and motivating social justice is to an ongoing passion for interpreting. Long days, solo days…days when you really do a good job and days when there is much room for improvement.
With both hands on the ruby frame of social justice, I would like to posit a question to our sign language interpreting community, in the hopes of challenging tacit understanding and stimulating dialogue that leads to change at the national RID-NAD CPC level.
(Note: The scenario below is offered as a case study, and is not representative of any particular encounter.)
You arrive to interpret for a client in a court-ordered setting. The per-session rates for the one-on-one and group meetings are posted on the treatment center lobby wall. The client informs you upon arrival that the cost was excessive, more than double the rate paid by the general public, and had to be made in cash. You respond by offering to interpret for the client and office staff to sort out the perplexing payment issue. The office staff confirms that payments include a substantial surcharge for the interpreting costs including the agency referral fee and cannot be adjusted. In sinking “Oh no…” shock, you interpret the remainder of the appointment and are left to drive home and ponder what actions can be taken as a RID certified sign language interpreter with a duty to conduct your practice in an ethical manner. A vision of Anna Witter-Merithew gently invoking the mantra “Do No Harm” comes to mind. Your considerations are within the framework of an ADA violation that is unwelcomed by the D/HH/DB client who vehemently does not want to be paying more than the general public for a public accommodation service.
How is an RID certified interpreter to respond?
(Note: the scenario below is offered as a case study, and is not representative of any particular encounter.)
Interpreter A – Response
My job is to interpret. The payment situation is not my issue to address. While I may not agree with it, it is between the D/HH/DB person and the treatment center to work out the financial details. I can encourage the person to contact the local advocacy agency, provide information on the ADA and resources such as the NAD website, and provide contact information for the state Administrative Office of the Courts. To withdraw from the situation would be presumptuous and a demonstration of audism because I would be taking away the D/HH/DB person’s right to pay for services, which would be condescending, a form of advocacy, an interjection of my personal opinion, and inappropriate. I cite the CPC…tenets 2.5, 2.6 and 3.3 as the basis of my ethical decision making process. I continue to interpret weekly meetings for many months, until the treatment is completed, receiving payment for my interpreting services via paychecks from an interpreter referral agency. I am confident other RID certified sign language interpreters would respond similarly.
2.5 Refrain from providing counsel, advice, or personal opinions.
2.6 Judiciously provide information or referral regarding available interpreting or community resources without infringing upon consumers’ rights.
3.3 Avoid performing dual or conflicting roles in interdisciplinary (e.g. educational or mental health teams) or other settings.
Interpreter B – Response
It is unethical for me to collect a paycheck that includes payment in violation of the federal ADA laws prohibiting discriminatory treatment of people with disabilities. I contact the interpreter referral agency and inform them I cannot continue to interpret because the D/HH/DB person is paying out of pocket for interpreting costs in violation of federal ADA law, and it is unethical for me to continue interpreting under the CPC as an RID certified sign language interpreter. I emphasize that when payments are confirmed to be ADA compliant, I will be happy to resume interpreting, but cannot in good conscience accept payment and so must reluctantly withdraw my services. I recognize this puts the D/HH/DB person in a difficult situation, but see my continued interpreting as complicit in discriminatory practices. I approach the board of the local interpreter referral agency and ask them to put a policy in place, if one does not already exist, that requires ADA compliant payment arrangements consistent with federal law, in order to protect sign language interpreters from being replaced and in support of the right to equal access for the Deaf community. I provide a slate of resources to the Deaf client, including state laws regulating court-ordered treatment. I cite the CPC including tenets 2.6, 3.7, 4.4, 6.3, 6.5, 6.8, 7.2 and Applicability B. I am confident other RID certified sign language interpreters will respond similarly.
2.6 Judiciously provide information or referral regarding available interpreting or community resources without infringing upon consumer’s rights.
3.7 Disclose to parties involved any actual or perceived conflicts of interest.
4.4 Facilitate communication access and equality, and support the full interaction and independence of consumers.
6.3 Promote conditions that are conducive to effective communication, inform the parties involved if such conditions do not exist, and seek appropriate remedies.
6.5 Reserve the option to decline or discontinue assignments if working conditions are not safe, healthy or conducive to interpreting.
6.8 Charge fair and reasonable fees for the performance of interpreting services and arrange for payment in a professional and judicious manner.
7.2 Keep abreast of laws, policies, rules, and regulations that affect the profession.
Applicability B: Federal, state or other statutes or regulations may supersede this Code of Professional Conduct. When there is a conflict between this code and local, state, or federal laws and regulations, the interpreter obeys the rule of law.
ADA law: CFR 28 Section 36.301(c) Charges. A public accommodation may not impose a surcharge on a particular individual with a disability or any group of individuals with disabilities to cover the costs of measures, such as provision of auxiliary aids, barrier removal, alternatives to barrier removal, and reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures, that are required to provide that individual or group with the nondiscriminatory treatment required by the Act or this part.
Sign Language Interpreter for Hire: Accepting Self-pay Terms
While this is a sample case study, it is not an isolated scenario. Most sign language interpreters, at some point in their career, will be approached by a D/HH/DB client wanting to direct-pay, and will need to make a determination to accept or decline those payment terms. For example, an interpreter may accept direct payment for a private family event such as a bridal shower or family reunion, but decline payment for a funeral, offering to interpret pro-bono. Neither of those situations are “places of public accommodation” under the ADA. However, there are situations that are blatant ADA violations. For example, an interpreter may decline to interpret for a driver’s education course as a direct-pay situation, knowing that the private driving instructional school has the duty to provide auxiliary aids including sign language interpreting services for education access, and is repeatedly discriminating by expecting the Deaf person to “bring a friend” to interpret the 8 week course. Or perhaps an attorney refuses to provide a sign language interpreter in a civil case, insisting that the Deaf witness self-hire an interpreter directly or depend on family members to interpret in order to participate alongside co-petitioners.
Profiting From Discrimination
Is it appropriate for one RID certified interpreter to recognize discriminatory practices and decline to participate, only to be replaced by other RID certified interpreters who believe it is outside the scope of practice for an interpreter to take a stand against direct discrimination from which the interpreter profits? What about referral agency responsibility to support equal access for the Deaf Community and ethical business practices of sub-contracting interpreters? Shouldn’t sign language interpreters and referral agencies be the first to recognize and reject profit from overtly discriminatory practices, modeling the daily efforts to educate the public on the requirements of the ADA law and equal access?
Input from an Attorney Interpreter Ally
Daryl Crouse is a well-respected, dedicated sign language interpreter and practicing attorney in Long Beach, California. He graciously agreed to provide his perspective on this issue. Here is an excerpt from his response:
I appreciate my colleagues’ initiative of this much needed discussion. Her work adds to and improves the profession. I believe we agree: it is wrong for a public accommodation to coerce a Deaf person into paying for our service in circumvention of the law.
Such that the Deaf person is coerced into paying for interpreting services; the Department of Justice has stated unequivocally a “public accommodation cannot coerce or attempt to persuade another adult to provide effective communication for the individual with a disability.”1 Thus, an ally would not stand silently while someone is coerced against their will to do something. Similarly, an ally takes their cue from others, careful to stand with and not in front of.
An alternate statement of the illustrative behavior may be: “An interpreter may refuse to accept an assignment when reasonably certain a public accommodation is passing on the cost of interpreting services to Deaf individuals as a surcharge. The interpreter should consult with the Deaf person to confirm their decision to self-pay is made [free of coercion.]” The expected behavior is directly linked to a specific fact. Linking to a specific fact provides clarity and would likely survive an enforcement challenge. Also, a dialogue with the Deaf person as to coercion and not the reason for their choice to self-pay the interpreter respects their right to privacy.
Standardizing Our Response
I would like to propose addressing this issue directly in our NAD-RID Code of Professional Conduct, and remove any ambiguity for RID certified sign language interpreters. It would be a very simple fix. Add a Business Practices Illustrative Behavior 6.9 Support ADA compliant payment and remove oneself from assignments in which a consumer is being directly charged for interpreting services in places of public accommodation, in compliance with CFR 28 Section 36.301(c).
Share your thoughts. What is a professional, ethical response to a known, verified ADA payment violation? What actions best support a social justice framework and outcomes?
Questions to Consider
1. Why is it important that as sign language interpreters we standardize our responses? How does this benefit the Deaf Community? The public? The interpreting community? What harm is done when we do not standardize our responses?
2. Why is being complicit in discriminatory coercive practices incompatible with RID professional standards?
3. Under what circumstances would you agree to direct payment arrangements with the D/HH/DB individual or group?
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1 http://www.ada.gove/regs2010/titleIII_2010_regulations.htm#subpartc (last visited January 15, 2015)