Interpreting in Medical Settings:
Synthesis of Effective Practices Focus Group Discussions
Developed by Marty Taylor, Ph.D., Project Consultant
Background | Data Collection/Process | (1) Requisite Skills | (2) Advocacy/Support | (3) Cultural Differences | (4) Diversity | (5) Deaf Interpreters | (6) Sight Translations | (7) Patient Charts | (8) Conveying Meaning | (9) Crossover to Legal | (10) Job Description | Summary/Implications | Appendices | Download PDF of Report | Download PDF of Focus Group Survey Results
There was agreement that it is a judgment call as to when to use Deaf Interpreters (DIs), or a signing support staff who is used to working with certain deaf individuals. This decision is most often the responsibility of the non-deaf interpreter.
Working collaboratively with DIs made the communication process “smoother and less stressful”. “Being able to combine medical language and knowledge with DIs ability to use language (e.g., classifiers, etc.)” was beneficial. In many instances using DIs was often the best way to ensure that the communication process was accurate and complete. It provided the opportunity for a successful outcome without which the communication may have broken down. In addition deaf patients felt comfortable. When a DI was present an increased level of trust was observed in the deaf patient. On the other hand one participant with limited experience working with DIs stated that the DI simply copied what she already signed. Therefore, the use of a DI was not useful or effective in this situation.
Health care professionals need to be educated as to the purposes of using DIs and the likelihood of more effective communication resulting than communicating with some deaf patients without a DI. In addition, some deaf people also need to understand the role of DIs because some deaf people feel insulted that a DI is present and providing the interpretation rather that the non-deaf interpreter.
Non-deaf interpreters working with DIs appreciate the opportunity to team. DIs tend to be very knowledgeable about resources and feel comfortable sharing this knowledge with the parties involved, whereas the non-deaf interpreter may wonder if she/he was overstepping the boundaries of the interpreter’s role. In some instances DIs have more conversation with deaf people than non-deaf interpreters. For example, with a deaf immigrant a great deal of conversation occurred between the DI and the new immigrant putting the deaf immigrant at ease. “Dynamics were more colloquial. Like a big party!” At other times when a DI is present it “becomes a much more relaxed atmosphere.” These examples, according to the focus group participants, show that the boundaries are different between DIs and non-deaf interpreters. Another participant mentioned, “the dynamics are very similar to two non-deaf interpreters working together”. The comments related to how the DI affects the situation were not consistent.Several of the participants in the focus group discussions had no experience working with DIs. One interpreter had an experience working with an advocate who reinterpreted the information and the interpreter found this to be very effective. Other times deaf family members acted as interpreters and made cultural adjustments to the information so that it was more understandable to the deaf patient. Deaf community health workers were another source of assistance in communicating information to deaf patients. “In some situations there were deaf individuals present and the interpreter was unaware of their role, either as a DI or an advocate, which made the situation unclear.” These latter examples were not DIs but functioned similarly to that of a DI. According to the participants these roles are different and should not be confused with that of the professional DI. Roles should be made clear at the beginning of the interaction. Also, it was noted that it was confusing to the health care professionals when DIs and/or advocates were used. The health care professionals were not clear what the roles were, what they should be and how they were the same or different from what they were used to experiencing with non-deaf interpreters. Thus, education of when and how to use DIs is important for all parties involved in the interaction.