“The role of the interpreter is to facilitate the communication between those who do not share the same form of language.  It is to help those who are participating in an exchange of communication, but not to become a participant in that process.  Because communication is facilitated, the service is hightly valued.  But because a non-participant is inserted into the process, this service is also highly intrusive.  Interpreters who work with Deaf people need to understand the dichotomy of this double-edged sword they wield.  Deaf people want interpreters.  They fight for their right to have interpreters.  But they clearly have mixed feelings about interpreters.  They resent the intrusiveness of the interpreting process.  They often resent being shadowed by this non-participant and they often resent the fact that they have to depend on interpreters in the first place.  They resent the fact that their privacy is breached by the mere fact of using an interpreter, and they resent the many situations in which interpreters make mistakes, are inadequately prepared for the subject material they are dealing with , and especially when interpreters violate the Code of Ethics, especially when violating their confidentiality.  Interpreters often try to assure Deaf consumers that they can open up and share personal or private matters with an assurance of confidentiality, but often the very fact of sharing the information to the interpreter (who is not actually a participant in the situation) feels like a breach of privacy.  Perhaps a Deaf person does not want an interpreter who is also a friend to know about private matters or that the Deaf person was involved in a particular situation.  Maybe a Deaf person doesn’t want the interpreter to know about being arrested, or filing for bankruptcy, or having an abortion;  after all, if the hearing interpreter were involven in any of those situations, the Deaf person wouldn’t have an equal opportunity to know about it.  And sadly, too many Deaf consumers have had direct experience with having confidential information spread by the interpreter in what is truly an unforgivable breach of ethics.  Interpreters must be absolutely vigilant in resisting any temptation to share other people’s private information, and must remind others of their important duty to respect privacy. 

“Interpreters must remember that, when communication barriers arise, we are part of the solution.  But we are also part of the problem.  We need to maintain the highest ethical and professional standards to ensure that we expand the ways in which we solve problems, and minimize the extent to which we make things worse and actually detract from communication.”

aslt1he above is an excerpt from a long page of advice for people thinking about becoming an interpreter, written by Douglas Dunn:

To rely on someone you barely know to give you information incredibly important to your life and well-being must be so hard.  Even harder, I would imagine, is when you know that person is part of the community you’re a part of and knows many people that you know.  Are they going to be ethical and keep their mouth shut?  You don’t know, you just have to trust that things will be OK, because you really have no other option. 

I’ve decided that I’m starting classes towards an interpreting certificate next fall, and I want to be the best interpreter I can be.  So here’s a question:  In potentially embarrassing or sensitive situations, would it help if the interpreter shared something embarrassing or sensitive about themselves with their client, or would it just be weird? 

Think about the pros really quickly.  It might create a shared understanding or bond between the interpreter and the client that would lead to more trust.  It might say to the client, “Look, I know this situation isn’t ideal and I want to put us on an equally personal playing field.”  At the very least, the client would know that if the interpreter did, for some reason, blab to someone they shouldn’t, they had an equal opportunity for embarrassing the interpreter right back.   OK, so that last one is pretty silly, but you get what I’m trying to say.

Then again, it might be really weird.  As a hearing person, I don’t want the person I just met to come up and start telling me about the scandalous details of their life, and I would be very uncomfortable if they tried.  Especially if we were working together.  The last thing a sticky situation needs is more awkwardness.

To be honest, I don’t know if anything could make a personal situation like that any better, and maybe it’s ridiculous to try in such an untraditional way.   It was a thought I had that I felt I’d like to share, though.  An exchange of information for an exchange of information… seems fair to me.