The Clothes Make the Interpreter?

English Translation by Jeanna Couillard and Doug Bowen-Bailey

I have gone to many eye doctor appointments and medical doctor appointments where I have had an interpreter present. At one appointment, the interpreter showed up wearing a bright yellow shirt. I am DeafBlind, so when she signed, all that I saw was one big blur. When the interpreter realized that I am DeafBlind, she said she hadn’t know that.

At another doctor appointment, the same thing happened. An interpreter showed up wearing a shirt with a black and white zigzag pattern. Again, it was difficult to see the interpreter’s hands, and once again, the interpreter didn’t know that I was DeafBlind and so didn’t realize that shirt was inappropriate to wear.

There was another incident where the interpreter who showed up for my appointment wore a plain white top. It was difficult for me to see that interpreter’s hands as well. Like the other incidents, the interpreter was unaware of which colors of clothing are most effective to wear when working with a DeafBlind consumer.

These occurrences had me thinking.  Interpreter training programs teach students to wear colors that are opposite of their skin color so that it is easy to differentiate the hands from the shirt. Also, when interpreters take the NIC test (National Interpreter Certification test), they know enough to wear the opposite color from their skin tone. But they seem to ignore that knowledge once they get out in practice and are surprised when they encounter DeafBlind consumers..

It seems as though interpreters’ clothing choices get worse as they spend more time in the field. Interpreters must remember that color choices in clothing are essential for a successful interpreting assignment, especially when a DeafBlind consumer is involved.