An Interpreters Story

Photo is of a woman in a hospital bed. She is wearing a white hospital gown and you can see an identity bracelet on her wrist. She is covering her face in obvious distress.

Last weeks REBUTTAL certainly hit a few raw nerves, particularly among our interpreters and even ex interpreters. Several have posted on my social media or gotten in touch with me to express their frustrations. Some of them are CODAs who have been in similar situations such as Claudia described in the article. Others just shared their own stories of working with the health system. I could come to only one conclusion, access to the health system for people who are Deaf and hard of hearing in Australia is broken. If it was ever working.

In the past, the Deaf and hard of hearing communities have had a number of advocacy challenges and confronted them head on. Telecommunications, captioning, interpreter access; these are just a few. Our Deaf and hard of hearing communities have had great success in these areas. The next great challenge is improving access to the health system. It is long overdue and it will be a long hard battle. The examples I present here demonstrate why it is such a priority.

The following quotes were posted on my Linkedin account in response to last weeks Rebuttal. The quotes paint a vivid picture of what people who are Deaf or hard of hearing, their families and interpreters are confronting every day as they try to access Australia’s health system.

“It is a disgrace. Many times I’ve had to interpret for my Mum when she was very ill at ED. It’s a rock and a hard place as a child of deaf parents, you just have to step up when interpreters are N/A. Unfortunately in regional centres the situation is much worse. VRI has helped but usually it’s “broken” “we can’t find it” “no one is available anyway” or “can’t you just do it”

And this:

“As I write this comment, I am actually afraid to share – but it is partly this constant disregard for the Deaf that influenced my decision to stop interpreting as my main employment. I know if all interpreters made this decision, it would be so much worse – but after so many years of watching the abuse, and advocating as best I could, and experiencing vicarious trauma through it, I couldn’t take it anymore. I would come home so angry and would stay worked up for days. And of course, when I saw it happening with my family it was worse. And it was only third party for me; I wasn’t even the Deaf person experiencing it. I can only imagine what it must be like, so constantly encountering it.

There were other factors in my decision as well, but this was definitely one of them.

The stories of these two interpreters are examples of what happens to people who are Deaf and hard of hearing everyday as they try to access Australia’s health system. What follows is a story shared with me by an interpreter. They have provided me with permission to share on the condition that they remain anonymous. Something has to change, and soon!

This story happened several years ago. I was booked to do a regular job with a client and had been working with them for months. One day, unfortunately, the client became very unwell and an ambulance had to be called. I agreed to go in the ambulance with them so that the paramedics could communicate with the client. On the journey in the ambulance I begged the paramedics to call forward for a health care interpreter. At the time I felt I did not have the skills to interpret medical scenarios and felt ethically challenged.

Of course, they didn’t do as I asked. On arrival I interpreted between the deaf client and the staff. I made it very clear, again, that they needed to book a health care interpreter. As I said, I felt ethically challenged and also felt I did not have the skills at the time to interpret to the level required.

Instead of booking an interpreter, the hospital contacted a relative of the deaf person. I presume that they had these contact details on file. I do not recall interpreting any questions around contacting any relatives.

After a time the person’s relative arrived. I, and the deaf client, had made it very clear that a qualified Auslan interpreter who had experience interpreting in the health system was essential. As the deaf client and myself were arguing the case for an interpreter, the relative stood between me and the deaf client so that the client could no longer see and communicate with me.

The deaf client was very unwell. Despite this they persisted, along with myself, to request a qualified health care interpreter. Their pleas were ignored.

The hospital simply refused to book an interpreter. I was made to leave and the client was forced to communicate with the medical professionals without support, apart from minimal assistance from the relative, who had no Auslan skills.

In the end the deaf client gave in. They later confessed to me that when discharged they were still unclear as to what was wrong with them or the purpose of the treatment that had been prescribed. At the time what happened to the client was completely contradictory to our States health policy, as it is now.

Honestly, I wish now that I had made a formal complaint to the hospital. I did not because I thought that it was up to the deaf person to do that. Looking back, they were in no position to make a complaint, they were very unwell. The client expressed to me later their extreme frustration and fear about not knowing what was happening. The anger and trauma that they experienced, particularly because they had no idea what was going on, remains with the client, and indeed myself, to this day!

This is Australia’s health system today. This is what many Deaf and hard of hearing people are experiencing. Something has got to give. As I said, it is the next big challenge for advocates of the Deaf and hard of hearing communities. Can they meet the challenge?

Phillip Debs is an experienced translator who has been translating among the deaf community his entire life. With a natural talent for translating from English to Auslan, he has recently embarked on a new journey as an Auslan Translator. His dedication and expertise make him a reliable and effective communicator for the deaf community. Trust Phillip to bridge the language gap and ensure clear and accurate communication for all. Please leave a comment at The Rebuttal if you would like to get in touch with Phillip for any Auslan translations.

2 thoughts on “An Interpreters Story

  1. If you google resources about Cancer in Auslan you find one video on the Cervical Screening Test. One video about one preventative test. ONE VIDEO. Thats it.
    I worked as a support worker/mental health worker in the Deaf community before I was an interpreter. My advocacy skills are really good. The battle to get hospitals to book interpreters was, and is, really hard. I have actually stood in Emergency Departments (and other wards) next to a poster on the wall that talks about patients having the right to an interpreter and pointed at the poster saying this Deaf person wants and needs an interpreter now and it is their legal right and still they were denied. Nothing much has changed in the last 15 years.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.