The stigma of “signer” upon ASL-English interpreters

Doctor to patient: “Hi, I’m Dr. Y.” Doctor to me: “Oh, the patient’s deaf! So this isn’t interpreting; you’re a signer.” Meanwhile, I’m interpreting.

It seems there’s a stigma that an interpreter who works between a spoken language and a signed language is a “signer” while an interpreter who works between two spoken languages is an “interpreter” (not a “speaker”). I actually try to impress upon people that I am an “interpreter” by introducing myself as an “interpreter,” not a “sign language interpreter.” I want them to perceive me and treat me just as they would a spoken-spoken language interpreter. At this appointment, I introduced myself to the front desk as “the interpreter for your [x-o’clock] appointment with [Patient Y.]” I saw the receptionist tell the nurse I was the interpreter, and I saw the nurse tell the doctor I was the interpreter. So it should be! I know doctors are busy, so I don’t want to take too much time introducing myself and explaining the situation. I simply met the doctor where I was waiting for them outside the patient’s exam room saying, “Hi, I’m Daniel Greene, and I’ll be interpreting for you.” At the moment the doctor said this wasn’t interpreting and I was a signer I didn’t feel it was the right time to correct them. I didn’t even feel like it was the right time to correct them after the appointment, so I let it go.

Now I’m reconsidering my introductions to consumers. I wonder if spoken-spoken language interpreters tell doctors what language the patient speaks. I could say, “I’ll be interpreting for you and Patient Y, who uses American Sign Language,” but one problem with that is that some d/Deaf people mouth or speak English with or without signing, and this can be a surprising change from the way they communicated with me in the waiting room before seeing the doctor. I also hesitate to say a consumer is “Deaf” because some consumers call themselves “hard-of-hearing.” I honestly don’t know if any amount of introduction or explanation would have dispelled this doctor’s perception of me as a “signer.” Still, it makes me rethink how I introduce myself to consumers. Just about every interpreting job I do leaves me with questions… isn’t what we do fascinating?

P.S. (January 5, 2013 7:21 PM) I thought about how the appointment went, and really the fact that the doctor did not recognize what I was doing as “interpreting” did not affect the interpretation or the interpreted event. If I had made an issue of it, it might have had an effect on the dynamic. The doctor’s statement wasn’t a snag in the communication between doctor and patient; it just gave me a micro moment of pause and a lingering thought about how people could think what we do is not interpreting. Very interesting… ’tis a puzzlement.

7 thoughts on “The stigma of “signer” upon ASL-English interpreters

  1. Pingback: Your Brain on ASL « deafinprison

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  4. I just had a somewhat frustrating experience as well. I am a VRS interpreter and I was sick last week. I was talking with my uncle about having to go to work despite being sick and his response was “well, that shouldn’t be too hard. All you do is move your hands around, so being sick shouldn’t pose too much of a problem”.
    I think there’s just some people that will never get it. And all that does is just help us become masters of art of patience. Haha..
    Btw love your blog, read it all the time.


    1. Welcome to the club, Ben, both in terms of being sick recently and being told all you’re doing is moving your hands around. Does anyone tell spoken-spoken language interpreters all they do is flap their lips? And, incidentally, signed-spoken language interpreters flap their lips too. I mean, we’re “spoken language interpreters” too. Hmph.

      Thanks for commenting and being a regular reader. 🙂


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