The Importance of Explaining How to Work with Interpreters

by Jimmy Beldon

I want to share a story with you that illustrates the importance of having a pre-appointment discussion with health care providers to make sure they know how to work with interpreters.

In many doctors’ offices, a variety of people come in and out of rooms to interact with the patient. In the situation I am going to share, the interpreter did not connect with everyone to make an introduction and explain about how to work with an interpreter.

What happened in this situation is that a nurse came into the room of a Deaf woman. The nurse noticed the interpreter, and proceeded to ask some questions of the patient. The interpreter moved into position just behind the nurse to establish an effective sight line, as is standard practice. The nurse was not comfortable with this proximity and moved away from the interpreter to establish some personal space. The interpreter again moved into a similar position, causing the nurse to move again. This was repeated until the nurse was finally forced into the wall.

All of this took place because the interpreter didn’t recognize the need to explain to the nurse how to work effectively with an interpreter. This simple act of politeness would have allowed the nurse to be more comfortable and thereby stay in position without being pinned against the wall.

Imagine the consequences of this omission on the part of the interpreter.

English Translation by Doug Bowen-Bailey