Presented by Anna Witter-Merrithew and Brenda Nicodemus
English with ASL

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In our presentation we make the claim that relational autonomy is a paradigm with crucial implications for guiding the decision-making of interpreters and suggest that developing awareness of the various manifestations of autonomous decision-making could affect how interpreters view and analyze their own decisions. This presentation will introduce a conceptual framework for relational autonomy and focus on its application to ethical decision making by interpreters working in healthcare settings.

Professional autonomy is a condition that results from a profession’s deep conceptualization of the professional acts and professional practices of its members and the agreement of its members to behave and act in a manner that is similar to each other. However, adhering to such a paradigm is challenging. Interpreter autonomy is in reality relational as a result of the very social structures upon which it depends for its existence—legislative mandates, system-based policy, procedures and practices, and a unique bond to the language communities served.

Appreciating relational autonomy requires an understanding of the conditions which foster informed and transparent decision-making and those that restrict it. For example, interpreters in the healthcare setting are afforded a high degree of autonomy due to the context in which their work occurs. Conversely, interpreters working in the VRS industry experience restrictions in the degree of decision latitude they can apply due to industry/system standards. The degree of decision latitude afforded to interpreters working in various settings is also impacted by a wide range of factors. These differences in the professional standing and decision latitude of practitioners in different work settings have significant implications for the work of interpreters. Understanding relational autonomy, its application to the work of interpreters in healthcare settings and its implications for decision latitude, can contribute to our ongoing efforts to achieve professionalization as a field.