The truth on interpreters for deaf at WordCamp Phoenix 2011

I was “the interpreter” who offered to coordinate interpreters for WordCamp Phoenix 2011. I wish I could remain silent, but the blog post I’m responding to has been viewed almost 900 times already and has already been sanctioned by a famous deaf blogger who I believe would think otherwise if he read my side of the story. So, before anyone else is misled, allow me to set the record straight.

I first spoke with Amanda, the conference organizer, on Thursday afternoon, January 14, and offered to interpret and coordinate. She told me the budget was $2,000 for a four–track conference which would need a maximum of eight interpreters. I figured I could get four professional interpreters to earn $50 an hour, get four students to volunteer their services pro bono, and that would still leave $400, half of which might go toward compensating me for coordinating services, and half of which might go toward gift cards for students.

That same night, I found out that Amanda had un–registered a deaf registrant because she didn’t like her attitude. I advocated for the ousted registrant, emailing Amanda, “Deaf people routinely face discrimination and have to fight for their rights. In light of this, I find the registrant’s demands assertive rather than aggressive.” I even followed this up another day and asked Amanda if she would please consider reinstating her. Amanda was immovable.

I should mention that the first deaf registrant had approached me around Thanksgiving about interpreting for WordCamp. I had said I would be interested and asked him to send me more information, but the holidays came and went before I saw an announcement from Amanda on the Arizona RID Yahoo Group. I knew how important it was for this deaf person to attend WordCamp, so I decided to provide for him even though I was not happy with Amanda’s handling of the other deaf registrant.

By the end of the week, I had offers from two other professionals and at least four other students. At this point, all I needed was one more professional if (and that’s a big “if”) there were deaf attendees in all four tracks on Saturday.

In the meantime, I wondered whether there were any deaf attendees registered for Friday. Amanda had not told me it was overbooked, only that she didn’t have the budget for it. I figured if we didn’t need eight interpreters on Saturday, we could provide services on Friday as well. On Friday the 14th, I emailed the attendee I knew was going Saturday and asked him if he were going Friday. Note that I didn’t “offer” to interpret Friday; I merely asked him if he had registered. I heard back from the Tuesday after the MLK weekend, and he verified that he had registered for Friday and Saturday both. He knew that interpreting services had not been promised for Friday, and I did not promise them.

Later that morning, I told Amanda that she did indeed have a deaf person registered for Friday, and I proposed that we leverage the budget designed to employ four professionals and four students for one day and instead employ two professionals for two days. Two pros working for $50 an hour for eight hours on Friday and nine hours on Saturday would cost $1700. I could take an honorarium of $200 for coordinating and still come in at $100 under budget.

At the very mention of providing interpreting services on Friday, however, Amanda blamed me for encouraging the deaf attendee to register for Friday and then accused me of promising him interpreting services. I assured her that I had promised nothing, and for all I knew he had registered long before I asked him if he were going (later he confirmed that he had registered for Friday way back around Thanksgiving). She told me the room was too small, was overbooked, and there would be no room for interpreters.

What’s more, she told me she was considering un–registering the deaf attendee for Friday because she would not be able to provide him with interpreters. I told her that we interpreters often fit into cramped spaces, that one of us could stand while interpreting, and the other could sit on the floor. I reasoned with her that it would be a shame to tell a deaf person he couldn’t attend a conference because there wasn’t enough room for his interpreters. She relented. She adamantly refused to let me work with another professional, but she would allow me to provide services on Friday as long as I worked with a student both Friday and Saturday. I relented. Such is the nature of negotiation and compromise.

Yet I was not satisfied, and it wasn’t about the money. I was unsatisfied with giving the client less than the best. This sort of “highly technical” conference is best suited to seasoned interpreters, so I didn’t want to use a student volunteer if I didn’t have to. We weren’t talking about an eight-interpreter deal anymore. We were talking about two interpreters working work two days. I had agreed with Amanda that I would provide all this for a total of $1050, so I was in a quandary: do I earn a normal wage and work with a student or do I see if I could get a pro to split the money with me so that we both made only about $30 per hour? I negotiated with one of the pros who had offered to work on the conference. We were each certified, licensed, experienced interpreters who had worked many “highly technical” events before. We were, if I may say so myself, a “dream team” for WordCamp. I offered to sacrifice my coordinator fee to supplement the two of us to work for 60% of our normal rate. I gave up a job Friday morning and s/he gave up a job Saturday afternoon so we could provide continuous coverage all day on both days. We were in it for the service to the deaf consumer, not for the money. I thought we had arrived at a great solution.

Then I read Amanda’s blog post.

This is what I wrote to her:

I am more interested in providing the *most* service and the *best* service to the deaf attendees than I am in making money. The way I saw it, if you could afford to give less than the best for one day, you could afford to give the best for two days. If I had “taken direction,” I would have made $650 in one day, the deaf attendees would have gotten less than the best, and they would have gotten no service on Friday. Since I advocated for *more* and *better*, I am earning only $525 for two days, the deaf get the best, and they get Friday as well as Saturday.

Call me greedy.

I thought over what a mess this had become. How uncomfortable I had felt ever since finding out that Amanda had un–registered a deaf attendee because she didn’t like her attitude. How Amanda had almost un–registered another deaf attendee because the room was too small. And, finally, how she had let loose upon the world this gross misrepresentation of what actually happened. I talked it over with colleagues. I slept on it. I discussed it with my team interpreter. We decided it would be best to remove ourselves before things got any worse.

Please, hearing readers, do not let Amanda dissuade you from providing interpreting services to the deaf. It doesn’t have to be this hard. And please, deaf readers, consider both sides of the story before you lay the blame on interpreters. (I only wrote that because ridor9th was the first commenter on Amanda’s blog post, and he said, “It is not your fault, the interpreters in Phoenix are to blame. Lately they are intimidating Deaf ppl all over Phoenix on many things” (I have no idea why he said what he said about interpreters in Phoenix, but I was hoping that other deaf people would not blame interpreters without at least hearing my side of the story first). There’s a lot we can all learn from this and still respect each other.

Author: Daniel Greene

I facilitate communication between Deaf and hearing people, and I teach people American Sign Language (ASL) and interpreting. Apart from doing the work I love, my greatest joys are family & friends, entertainment, food, photography, and travel.

6 thoughts on “The truth on interpreters for deaf at WordCamp Phoenix 2011”

  1. I’ve attended many conferences and have never had “students” or “volunteers” interpret at a conference. Conference interpreting is extremely advanced interpreting, so is a student or volunteer qualified for this kind of interpreting? Perhaps Amanda will now think she can always just have volunteers at future conferences and not pay for qualified interpreters?

    When was this conference? By my math, you did not have adequate time to fill this request. Yes, this is the fault of the coordinator, however, it is your job to educate people about how early interpreters are needed, especially for large events. In this case, you should have either charged extra for the late notice, or politely declined, and allowed Amanda to find someone else.

    As an interpreter, it isn’t your place to say who and who should not attend. You were basically telling Amanda how to do her job. Despite her inadequacies in her work, this was not your place.

    By my math, the minimum that should have been charged for this conference is 8+9 hours x 8 interpreters x $50 = $6,800 – bulk discount. If Amanda didn’t have this in her budget, too bad. She should have either contacted another agency or planned a bit better. I understand some people are in a bind and want to help out, but really, this doesn’t help. Now I am afraid that Amanda or others will balk when someone gives her an accurate quote and won’t want to pay because “last year they could do it for only $2,000.”

    Like

    1. Good points, Rox, thanks— and I am taking them to heart. The conference isn’t actually until next Friday and Saturday, so when I first saw the organizer’s announcement it was a bit more than two weeks before the conference. She described it as an all-volunteer, non-profit-making conference, so I was willing to work within those parameters at first, given that she thought there might possibly be deaf people attending all four tracks. I did tell her that normally she would have to pay $50 per interpreter at the very least if she hired them directly, and way more if she went through an agency, so she knew she was getting a huge discount. That is why it shouldn’t have been a problem to pay $2000 for two interpreters for two days, which I reckoned was neither too much nor too little.

      Like

    2. To follow up with you, Rox, someone else commented (this time on the conference organizer’s blog post) with sentiments and arguments that reminded me of yours. As I said, I do take such comments to heart, although I may only agree with some of them. Here’s what I wrote on Amanda’s blog post. I’m adding it here just in case she deletes it (she did delete it, even though she had allowed the previous comment that was critical of me. Before she allowed the critical comment, she had said she was going to close down the discussion thread to further comments. She had also said she did not allow anonymous comments on her blog, yet she allowed this supposedly deaf person to post anonymously.) I followed the link to the commenter’s Posterous blog, and it was empty. No posts, not even an About page. I Googled kinston deaf, k. inston deaf, etc., and found nothing. I will also amend this comment by including this unknown person’s comment:


      kinston said…
      Accommodation is a Deaf issue, not an interpreter issue. Either an interpreter is a business professional or a community advocate. An interpreter cannot be both. Mr. Greene’s conduct crosses the line of professionalism. He was probably unethical as well. Greene’s employer in this instance was WordCamp, not the Deaf community. Once he began attempting to negotiate accommodation he stepped out of his role as an interpreter and began to confuse the issue. He does the Deaf community no favors. To Amanda Blum it appeared as if Greene was attempting to get more hours, employ other interpreters and in general generate more money for interpreters. In fairness to Greene, that may not have been the case, however, his unprofessional actions put his behavior in question. Amanda was paying Greene as a contract employee to interpret. Greene went far beyond that and in doing so bring his actions into question.

      As a business professional Greene was paid to perform a service for the camp. I doubt that his involved advocacy was in his contract. One wonders what Greene’s professional qualifications are for advocating ADA compliance and if Amanda paid for that service.

      Reviewing the facts as given it appears that the camp was a non-profit effort produced largely by volunteers. If so, it may be that Ms. Blum’s efforts to accommodate Deaf applicants were “reasonable and appropriate”. Regardless, interpreters are NOT arbiters of compliance. Interpreters are not paid to arbitrate or negotiate compliance.

      It seems that Greene’s behavior dis-ables the Deaf community. Deaf people can advocate for themselves. If a Deaf person has an issue with compliance it is the Deaf person’s responsibility to attempt to resolve the issue. When an interpreter steps into the role of advocacy, as Greene appears to have done, that interpreter does a disservice to Deaf people by attempting to create a relationship of dependency with the interpreter. Deaf people are fully capable of being independent. Deaf people want to be independent. Deaf people want interpreters to interpret. Deaf people can advocate for themselves.

      If there are issues of compliance here those issues are between Ms. Blum and the one or two Deaf people who were involved. If I have an issue of compliance I do not want the interpreter involved until such time that it is a legal necessity. I am perfectly able to advocate for myself.

      I responded thus, though Amanda disallowed my response:

      “I’m willing to learn from this experience and admit that my action may have been unethical or perceived to be. Illustrative Behavior 6.6 of the NAD–RID (National Association of the Deaf in conjunction with the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf) Code of Professional Conduct (CPC) states that interpreters “refrain from harassment or coercion before, during, or after the provision of interpreting services.” I would not consider my dealings with the organizer to be coercive or harassing, but apparently she did. I was not about to “render pro bono services in a fair and reasonable manner” (CPC 6.7) by interpreting free for a public event that charged admission, but the agreement I reached with the other interpreter was more than fair and reasonable, and we did it “for the good” (the meaning of “pro bono”).

      CPC 6.8 says that interpreters “charge fair and reasonable fees for the performance of interpreting services and arrange for payment in a professional and judicious manner.” Honestly, $50 an hour for a weekend assignment is more than reasonable, and $33 is bending over backwards. If the conference organizer persists in calling interpreter rates “offensively high” and “obscenely high” then that is her perception and it won’t be changed. It is what it is, and in the future, if a prospective hearing requestor thinks my fair and reasonable rates are offensive and obscene, I will not work with them. In fact, if someone came to me today and said they wanted to hire four professionals and four students to interpret a technical event, I would simply decline. It wouldn’t even be ethical for me to “judiciously provide information or referral regarding available interpreting or community resources without infringing upon consumers’ rights” because it would infringe upon consumers’ rights and it would not be judicious.

      Another point that you bring up, kinston, is addressed by CPC 3.8 which states that interpreters “avoid actual or perceived conflicts of interest that might cause harm or interfere with the effectiveness of interpreting services.” Unfortunately, though it was never my intention, the conference organizer perceived a conflict of interest. In retrospect, I suppose I could have avoided that actual or perceived conflict of interest by backing out as soon as I heard that she had un–registered a deaf registrant, an action that I found to be obscene and offensive.”

      I will also point out that, while the anonymous commenter said, “One wonders what Greene’s professional qualifications are for advocating ADA compliance,” they don’t disclose their qualifications for determining that, “Reviewing the facts as given it appears that the camp was a non-profit effort produced largely by volunteers. If so, it may be that Ms. Blum’s efforts to accommodate Deaf applicants were “reasonable and appropriate”.” Is this unknown person really deaf? Are they an attorney specializing in the ADA? They claim to be deaf, and they don’t claim to be a lawyer, but since they posted anonymously, we have no proof of their qualifications for making such comments.

      Also, although the commenter says they can advocate for themselves, I can tell you that the two clients I advocated for appreciated what I did, and one of them thanked me twice in writing, once publicly on Facebook and once in a personal message in which they said, “from the bottom of my heart, thank you.” Also, as another interpreter whose comment was disallowed so eloquently wrote, “deciding not to use your power generally defaults to empowering the hearing client.”

      Like

      1. Hey Daniel! You are also into WordPress! Great! I had been dabbling with WordPress CMS since 2008 and I introduced it to our deaf teachers who are also into web designing. They loved it. When Matt gave his lecture WordCamp Philippines in 2010, we were there and was truly excited. We even took a photo with him. I asked him if he knew of deaf web designers in the US, he said none. So I introduced him to my two companions. He was pleasantly surprised.🙂
        Here is the news article I made: http://www.mccid.edu.ph/2010/seminarsworkshops/deaf-web-designers-attend-wordcamp-philippines

        Like

Comments welcome

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s