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On religious grounds

As an interpreter I’ve encountered issues related to the above topic and it’s one that is very contentious. Some interpreters are adamant in some areas and there is absolutely nothing you can do to get them to change their minds.

The real issue though is whether or not rules are adhered to by interpreters and if so, exactly what rules they live by. As sign language interpreters, the rules which govern us in this Western Hemisphere are the NAD-RID Code of Professional Conduct.

The scope of these rules state: “The National Association of the Deaf and the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc. uphold high standards of professionalism and ethical conduct for interpreters. Embodied in this Code of Professional Conduct (formerly known as the Code of Ethics) are seven tenets setting forth guiding principles, followed by illustrative behaviours.

The tenets of this Code of Professional Conduct are to be viewed holistically and as a guide to professional behaviour. This document provides assistance in complying with the code. The guiding principles offer the basis upon which the tenets are articulated. The illustrative behaviours are not exhaustive, but are indicative of the conduct that may either conform to or violate a specific tenet or the code as a whole.

When in doubt, the reader should refer to the explicit language of the tenet. If further clarification is needed, questions may be directed to the national office of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc.

This Code of Professional Conduct is sufficient to encompass interpreter roles and responsibilities in every type of situation (e.g., educational, legal, medical). A separate code for each area of interpreting is neither necessary nor advisable.”

However, there are those who are either not aware of such rules or just do what they feel is the best thing to do in their particular circumstance. At the core of this thinking is the fact that persons are not accountable or held accountable since there is no governing body for interpreters in Barbados, which is why the problem is at times encountered.

The greatest problem is when interpreters (not necessarily in Barbados) who are Christians are asked to interpret in a scenario which they find to be in direct conflict with their faith or belief. This can get pretty tricky. Everything from refusing to interpret for deaf individuals if they need the service delivered on a day which clashes with their church meeting times, to interpreting for a gay deaf individual at a gay-sanctioned event.

I know that everyone thinks it’s pretty clear cut and people should be allowed to do what they feel is in their best interest…, but what about the people we are supposed to serve? Do they not have a part to play in the equation? Do we not work for them?

According to this same Code of Professional Conduct it states under Illustrative Behaviour, that interpreters:

2.1 “Provide service delivery regardless of race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, or any other factor.”

That’s what it says. However how do you argue with the man who says that homosexuality is a sin and as a Christian wants no part to play in any activity surrounding it? Also, there have been interpreters who have even refused to continue interpreting once it starts to go down a certain road which they deem to be a religious conflict of interest.

It’s one thing to refuse a job or service to a deaf individual but it’s another thing to quit during an assignment. That is simply not good enough and should never even be a consideration.

What we really need to understand and what I see as the defining factor is how seriously we take our profession. Is a doctor supposed to refuse treatment to a patient based on any religious or sexual orientation grounds? Well, I don’t know what their oath says but I doubt it gives way to anything of the sort.

However, under the heading of Conduct of the same code, it says that


3.2 Decline assignments or withdraw from the interpreting profession when not competent due to physical, mental, or emotional factors.” Special note should be made of the “withdrawing from the interpreting profession” part.

When you live in a small community and resources are few, it isn’t that easy to refuse to serve a deaf individual who really needs an interpreter and is lost without one. I think in many instances persons are afraid that they are associated with the assignment as opposed to just doing their job.

This distinction must be made clear. Does God hold it against you if you miss church once or you interpret for someone who has the AIDS virus? While I’m sure some of you would make an easy choice of the above, would you interpret for a gay wedding?

These are tough questions but we must at the end of the day be guided accordingly and put the deaf first. I know of what I speak since I have been in a scenario where the person I was interpreting for started to curse. What was I supposed to do? Start substituting curse words by saying “bleep”? Absolutely not! I rendered the message faithfully because I was the person’s mouthpiece!

We all have choices. We just need to remember to act professionally and in line with the code. We of course have personal belief systems which we bow to, but at the end of the day, never forget that we serve a people who depend on us to get their message across, and we in no way become contaminated by it!

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