Working with a CDI

by Trudy Suggs

As a Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI), one of the most common questions I am asked, by both deaf and hearing people, is if being a CDI means I am skilled with gestural communication, or work with DeafBlind people. I always clarify that I don’t necessarily specialize in gestural communication. I do work with DeafBlind individuals occasionally, but my real specialty and interest is with everyday situations. I’ll explain what I mean by that.

I find it interesting that, in my many years as a Deaf interpreter, the interpreters who typically request or want a CDI tend to be among the top interpreters in the field. Those who may be new interpreters or not necessarily the best interpreters almost never call me. Maybe this is because they’re intimidated by having a Deaf Interpreter there, or they feel like having a Deaf interpreter suggests that they are lousy interpreters. The truth is actually the opposite: having a CDI there means they are better interpreters because they are willing to work with any resource available.

So I’m always interested in how the process works when people, or I, arrive at a job in a medical setting, such as a doctor’s appointment. Upon arrival, of course both interpreters should meet and discuss what the process is, how to feed, how to work together, and what the seating arrangement should be – because having a CDI means the room will be set up differently than for general interpreting situations. So, after we’ve discussed the details and have everything figured out, we then approach the consumer and explain what’s going on. Some consumers might be skeptical but accept it, and some consumers will be offended. I address their concerns by explaining the process, how the hearing and deaf interpreter will be working together, and then they typically become comfortable. When we go into the job, sometimes it’s necessary to explain the situation to the hearing consumer as well. I tell them that I am Deaf, I don’t hear or speak, and explain how the hearing interpreter and I will work together, and so forth.

It’s interesting that, in every job I’ve worked at, one thing never fails to happen. At the beginning of the appointment, even though we may have already discussed the process, the deaf consumer will start by looking back and forth between me and the hearing interpreter, but then gradually only watch me or only occasionally glance at the hearing interpreter. That’s because the consumer trusts me at this point, given our connection based on our using the same language. Of course, I adjust my native language style to the consumer’s.

The hearing interpreter tends to begin the job with some apprehension, maybe wondering what’s going to happen, not knowing what to expect. But as the process goes on for a few minutes, relief usually becomes apparent on the interpreter’s face because we have formed a bond, just like the one I share with the deaf consumer.

The experience of working with a deaf interpreter answers the question of why it’s so important to bring in a Deaf Interpreter. This applies to any situation, no matter how simple or complex, especially because language levels can vary so much. Having a CDI is important for teamwork, taking advantage of available resources and having a Deaf person who is fluent in ASL and has language training, interpreting training and experience. This truly makes it a win-win solution for all situations, especially in medical settings.