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Info on Codes of Professional Ethics for Captioners and Interpreters

Signs with arrows in opposite directions saying right and wrong

Are you hosting or attending an event where captioners and interpreters are provided? Please get familiarized with the codes of professional conduct for captioners and interpreters.

The role of captioners and interpreters is to facilitate communication for deaf and hard of hearing people with hearing people and to provide aural information to them via captions, sign language, cued speech, lipreading, and other visual methods. They should stay professional, abide by the code of ethics, and should not take the role to get undue attention to themselves.

To ensure that communication access providers maintain professional conduct, codes of professional conduct (CPC) were created by the following organizations:

As per the CPC, communication access providers are refrained from offering counsel, advice, or personal opinions and from stepping out of their roles as providers – in order to bring about accountability, responsibility, and trust to those they serve.

An excerpt from Guidelines for CART captioners (page 12) – based on tenets of NAD-RID CPC:

“The ethical tenets that guide sign language interpreters also apply to CART captioners. These tenets include CART captioners who:

  • Keep communication and job information confidential
  • Develop and maintain professional skills and knowledge
  • Conduct themselves in a professional manner at all times
  • Demonstrate respect for consumers, colleagues, interns, and students of the profession
  • Maintain ethical business practices
  • Engage in continued professional development

To explore a little further how to work with a sign language interpreter, the most important thing to remember is that you and the sign language interpreter are both on the same team and have the same goal of communication access for the consumers who are deaf and hard of hearing. Your role is not one of advocacy, but rather one of empowerment of the consumer to speak up for themselves and be heard.

As per NCRA’s CART Captioner’s Manual, captioners need to be sensitive to deaf and hard of hearing folks, to stay in role, and to keep all information confidential – among other things:

  • “A CART captioner’s role is to facilitate communication . The CART captioner will always stay in role and perform in a manner appropriate to the situation . A CART captioner should decline any invitation or suggestion by participants and the consumer to comment, interject, advise, or respond to inquiries or to in any way become involved in the assignment outside the role of CART captioner. If necessary, the CART captioner should politely explain the necessity to stay in role.”
  • “The CART captioner must be discrete in situations that require interrupting the proceedings to ensure the integrity of the CART translation . CART captioners must take care not to call undue attention to the consumer or themselves.”
  • Courtesy and discretion are required of the CART captioner at all times. A casual word or action may betray a consumer’s confidences or violate a client’s privacy. The CART captioner must keep the consumer’s information confidential and private.”

The CPCs are subject to regular updates to ensure their validity through the changing circumstances over time.

There are concerns in the deaf and hard of hearing community about the behavior of interpreters and captioners.

A deaf person tweeted the following:

  • “Time for a tweet storm. While #Deaf folks have been watching @RID_Inc and @NAD1880 discussing the Code of Professional Conduct, a significant issue is being overlooked. We need to update the CPC for all communication facilitators, including captioners. @NCRA”
  • “Specifically, I’m seeing a lot of captioners and captioning agencies behaving in ways that interpreters are expressly prohibited from doing. We’ve seen what happens when interpreters self-promote : “OMG I just interpreted for !!! with a pic.”
  • “Generally, other interpreters and Deaf consumers will quietly (or not) remind the offending interpreter re: confidentiality and other related aspects of the CPC. Captioners, on the other hand, don’t seem to share this.”
  • “I’m seeing several captioners and captioning agencies posting about specific work they’re doing for specific customers and specific events. In addition to violating confidentiality (they’re disclosing details about content and customers)…”
  • I’m also concerned they’ve decided to make it about THEMSELVES, not about the person they are actually there for: the #Deaf consumer. @NAD1880 – consider adding @NCRA to the CPC as well for CART services provided.”

A child of deaf adults (CODA) wrote an article for CNN about issues with events that put a lot of focus on interpreters and explained why. Below are excerpts:

  • “Sign language interpreters do not exist for the amusement of hearing people. They exist to translate for deaf and hard of hearing people. That’s it. Period.”
  • “Seeing ASL as something cool to watch instead of as a vital service also gives us a peek into why we still have so much work to do in this country around accessibility.”
  • “As long as we continue to praise interpreters for being fun enjoyment for hearing people, we will not put Deaf communities and their needs above the value of potentially having a video of an event go viral.”

Another article for Slate explains why we need to talk about deaf people, not interpreters:

  • “But what are we really doing when we label ASL with words like “epic” or “cool”? We are exoticizing and trivializing it.”
  • “Too often, media coverage circumvents the Deaf narrative around deaf people and spins it into a story about a hearing person’s translation for the deaf.”
  • “The point of interpreting is to mediate dialogue, and if that means that the interpreter can fade away, that’s okay.”
  • “Let the voices of actual deaf people be heard.”

A deaf person posted in Facebook about issues with interpreters. Below is the the excerpt:

It’s a fine line. The moment you start injecting yourself and saying that your needs take precedence over that of the Deaf consumer, you’ve crossed the line. Seeking rationale does not make it better. We are already at a disadvantage, and you are at an advantage because of our disadvantage. If you feel that your needs take precedence over that of the Deaf consumer, then you are in the wrong field. I get that you love interpreting, and that you love the Deaf community, but when you cross that line, you create a wall of distrust. You are no longer providing a service. Instead, you are consuming.”

An interpreter wrote the article, “Erosion of Trust: Sign Language Interpreters and Hearing Privilege“. Below are excerpts:

  • “The lack of trust between the Deaf community and hearing interpreters is rooted in privilege. Examination of our own privilege is difficult but necessary work if we hope to address the impacts of that privilege on the community we exist to serve.”
  • Deaf people risk a great deal in speaking out about hearing interpreters who fail to provide adequate services. They risk being labeled as ‘difficult’ by the interpreting community, making it harder to find interpreters to work with them.”
  • “Addressing the deep lack of trust between hearing interpreters and the Deaf community requires us to listen deeply to the marginalized community we are privileged to enter on a daily basis. Learning about privilege in other contexts and training that lens on our interactions with the Deaf community, we can support each other in confronting hearing interpreter privilege in order to raise the level of accountability of the entire field. Listening to Deaf people without being defensive, apologizing when called for, taking responsibility for our actions, and learning from mistakes will go far to rebuild the delicate trust necessary for hearing interpreters to work effectively with the Deaf community.
  • “We have the opportunity and the responsibility to examine our privilege and alter our thinking and our actions to truly ally ourselves with the Deaf community.”

A deaf person mentions in their article about interpreters:

  • “Often, you’ll see these people glorified on Facebook or in the news for interpreting the latest concert performed by titans of the music industry, all while stealing the spotlight – projected as saviors of the deaf while grandstanding as performers.”
  • “ASL interpreters walk the fine line between the hearing and deaf communities and, as such, must remain culturally sensitive.”

4 core relationship issues between the deaf professional and the sign language interpreter discussed by a deaf person in their article can be resolved  if  an interpreter is:

  • “an extension of the deaf professional;
  • being aware of one’s own privilege and power;
  • being aware of her boundaries; and
  • to dance with total congruence.”

NAD wrote the page about why code of professional conduct needs to be updated (please read that page in detail to better understand the issues):

  • Public advocacy: “It is one thing for interpreters to advocate for improvements in interpreting, but that does not mean they should be advocating for the rights of deaf and hard of hearing people.”
  • Self promotion: “Anger and resentment has begun building within the deaf community when some interpreters engage in extravagant self-promotion including, but not limited to, videos going viral of the interpreters signing songs. Deaf and hard of hearing individuals have begun wondering why they are unemployed or underemployed while interpreters are gaining recognition and appearing to derive income from such promotions. Such conduct, if left uncontrolled, will contribute to the growing distrust and divide between the deaf community and interpreters.”
  • Employment competition: “While interpreters are certainly entitled to seek employment opportunities, deaf and hard of hearing individuals are experiencing abysmal rates of unemployment and underemployment.”
  • Adverse Expert Witness Testimony: “The CPC should add strict guidelines that guards against any adverse expert witness testimony that may harm the civil rights of the deaf and hard of hearing community.”
  • Adverse Consultations & Business Practices: “Not only should the CPC apply to adverse witness testimony, but it should also apply to any consultations that are adverse to the interests of deaf and hard of hearing individuals.”

If you host an event, please ask captioners and interpreters to abide by the CPC. The code of ethics is generally not known to event organizers and to many people in general. Even not all deaf people know about the CPC – that’s why not all of them speak up, but it doesn’t mean that improper behavior does not happen or is acceptable.

Allyship is “an active, consistent, and challenging practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person of privilege seeks to work in solidarity with a marginalized group.” Some examples of responsibilities by hearing people who want to be allies to deaf and hard of hearing people:

  • Actively acknowledging their hearing privileges and openly discussing them;
  • Listening more and speaking less by avoiding the urge to be “saviors” of deaf people;
  • Accepting criticism and recognizing that being called out is to have an opportunity to be a better person;
  • Not expecting awards or recognition and instead giving away the spotlight from themselves towards the voices of deaf people;
  • And many more.

Accessibility is not about focusing on communication access providers, but about ensuring full inclusion of deaf and hard of hearing people, meeting their needs, and empowering them.

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