Hints for Setting Up Interpreters for a Mother or Father who is Deaf
who has a child in a School Setting
Published with permission from an experienced Boston interpreter with a degree in interpreting written as if to a person trying to coordinate interpreters for the first time in a setting such as a school or college or religious education program for a deaf mother or father of a child in that program. Adapted with permission by Fr. Jeremy St. Martin
Start by looking at the schedule for the upcoming year (for the next four years if you are just starting with a new family...) and figure out which things the mother or father is required to come to and which are optional. This will help you know (for budgeting purposes as well as requesting interpreters) how many events you need interpreters for. You should put requests in for the required dates asap.
It would be a good idea to decide who's responsibility it is to request interpreters so the [mom or dad has one person to communicate with]. Also, have a back up in case that person gets sick or is out on vacation. The persons need for interpreters persists even though you may be out for some reason.
Waiting until the last minute to request an interpreter decreases the likelihood that you'll find one. The further in advance you know you need one, the more lead time it will give you. Put the request in as early as possible. A request put in with at least 6 weeks advanced notice is best.
When you request an interpreter, you will need to include key information like time, date, location and the language use and preference of the Deaf person. [Ask the deaf person what kind of access they would like for the different events, this will change based on the deaf person and the nature of the event] Dress code (is it a formal event or an informal one?), will there be a meal served? Will there be a plate for the interpreter, etc... Much like hiring a photographer or band for a wedding. Different deaf people use different languages. Some use American Sign Language, others read lips and need an oral interpreter and others use Signed English. Deaf blind people use tactile or close vision interpreters.
If you can provide any information such as scripture readings for a mass, lyrics to songs or a copy of a poem that might be read at an event, that will help the interpreter prepare ahead of time, and can do her job more effectively. This is especially true of any technical jargon that may be used that the average person may be unfamiliar with. This will require more effort on your part, but will make a big difference in the work that the interpreter can do [and greatly improve the access to the Deaf person].
Any job more than an hour will require a team of interpreters. This will cost you more, but doing a job for more than an hour is difficult to do accurately. Linguistic research indicates that after 20-30 minutes of interpreting, the brain needs a break and starts to make mistakes in the interpreting process. Consequently, the quality of the work goes down because of these mistakes. This puts the deaf person at a disadvantage, obviously! If you are unable to find a team of interpreters for something that lasts more than an hour, the request may go unfilled. Most professional interpreters won't take a job that is over an hour without a team. Normally, we trade off every 20-30 minutes. Also, while one is "up" the other is monitoring the quality of interpreting going on. We help each other out by feeding each other information if the one who is "up" misses something. If you absolutely cannot find a team but can find only one interpreter, you can negotiate breaks, especially if there is a handout the deaf person can look at while the one interpreter you could find takes a break (they may need to use the rest room!).
Professional interpreters charge a two-hour minimum, mileage and travel time. The rates vary, depending on credentials. State screened interpreters can charge between $30-$50 an hour and nationally certified ones between $40-$60. This is a generalization. Sometimes you will see invoices with more or less, so it is a good idea to find out what their rate is ahead of time so you don't suffer from "sticker shock" when you get the invoice.
You should negotiate what to do if the deaf person does not make it and the interpreter is there. Do you want them to sign anyway or can they leave after a certain amount of time if it's clear that the deaf person is not coming (like if they page you and tell you they can't make it for some reason). Most of the time, interpreters will charge an "appearance fee" for the first two hours, even if no deaf people are there. Also, you'll need to come up with a policy as an institution, as to what to do for inclement weather, acts of God, etc... If the event is taking place anyway and the interpreter makes it through the rain, but the deaf person decides to stay home, what will you do?
It's a good idea to get these policies in place sooner than later as interpreters will be asking you about it as the weather gets worse. If you don't give it any thought, you won't have an answer for them when they ask and it may leave you in a difficult situation. It's best to be pro-active. Don't wait until there is a problem to develop a policy.
There is a 48-business hour cancellation policy that interpreters adhere to. This means that if you book them to come interpret at your parish and you find that you don't need them but do not cancel within 48 business hours, the interpreter has the legal right to charge anyway and you are responsible to pay them. That means if there is an event on a Saturday that you've booked an interpreter for and it turns out that deaf person can't make it, you need to cancel the interpreter by the time that event is supposed to start, on Thursday, not Saturday or Friday.
There are a few different ways you can coordinate interpreters. One is through the Archdiocese of Boston Deaf Apostolate, which will provide you with either Catholic interpreters or interpreters who are not Catholic but are willing to interpret in Catholic settings. Some are professional, some are not. Some of the ones who are not professional are quite capable of the work required, but some are more on the beginner end of the scale regarding their skill level and experience. You may ask the deaf person if they prefer a professional interpreter (state screened or nationally certified) or if they will accept a person who can do the job. Professionals will cost you more, but if they do an unsatisfactory job, you have recourse to complain to the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, which they are all members of. You do not have this recourse with an interpreter who is not a member. Also, there is no guarantee of quality with someone who has no credentials. Non-professional interpreters are not obligated to follow the Code of Professional Conduct either. Finally, interpreters who are not professional are not required to participate in professional development and may either stagnate in their skill development or regress in it a time goes on. The professionals are required to earn a certain amount of CEU's each year to maintain their credentials, which means they will be constantly learning and improving as the year goes on.
Another way is to contact the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. You can call them with your requests and they will work to fill them. The Commission is a state funded agency that provides a number of services for Deaf and hard of hearing people. They are only open during business hours, Monday-Friday and have state and city holidays off, so it may be harder to get in touch with an interpreter referral specialist and they often cannot fill last minute requests. They only refer interpreters who are either state screened or certified, so what these interpreters charge may be higher than the non-professionals. You may want to give some thought to any standard you want to set for skill level and credentialing of interpreters.
Finally, you can contact the interpreters yourself, directly, but this is more time consuming for you and less efficient. If you are going to do this and you have hired them before, I strongly suggest you run it by the Deaf person to see if she finds that particular interpreter acceptable. If the Deaf person being served can't understand them or want them, you should respect those wishes. It is not a good idea to line up an interpreter the Deaf person has a problem with. This of course, can only be decided after you have a number of different interpreters come and do work. I would check in with the Deaf person after you have a new one come to see how she or he likes them. If the Deaf person gives good feedback, you can request that person again, if not, I recommend you avoid hiring them again.
From an interpreter on the ground in Boston addapted for general use by Fr. Jeremy St. Martin with permission from said interpreter.