Video Relay Interpreting

I have a confession.

I am not a huge fan of using video relay interpreters.

This (usually) has nothing to do with their skill, and more to do with the whole set-up. Unlike an in-person interpreting appointment, the interpreter gets no context whatsoever. For standard calls to doctors’ offices, the DMV, department stores, and the like, this isn’t an issue. You can get up to speed quickly by explaining “I’m calling the doctor to schedule an appointment for back pain” or somesuch. (Although I have had a couple instances in which that wasn’t even enough, as it turned out the interpreter just nodded along without asking me to clarify my signs.)

But for anything more intensive, often names, terminology, and concepts will come up that the interpreter is not familiar with. This was actually a pretty big issue when I was looking for jobs after graduation and the hiring manager would ask for a phone interview first. That’s probably a blog for another time, but suffice to say, when I secured a phone interview, I’d call the interpreter five minutes beforehand to fill her in on the hiring manger’s name, the company name, the job description, my past places of employment, what I did there…

It was a lot of names to fingerspell, is what I’m saying. And fingerspelling is notoriously a weak suit for many interpreters. More than that, I was seeking a career in writing and editing, and that’s a field where you really, really need to be precise and have as much background knowledge on the topic as possible. For example, my previous work included editing and writing for a laboratory firm that specialized in thermal analysis of polymers and materials. In addition to standard industry terms like dilatometer, thermoplastics, and viscoelasticity, we had names like Dynamic Mechanical Analysis (DMA), Differential Thermal Analysis (DTA), Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometer (FTIR), and Thermogravimetric Analysis (TGA)– and yes, all those words need to be capitalized and arranged in that exact order; it’s not exactly something that an unfamiliar interpreter can conceptualize in sign language on the spot.

There’s also, in my opinion, the increased spectrum in interpreter quality. At least with a local agency, you can specifically request an interpreter that you’ve worked with before, who has proven herself to be a good fit for your signing style. You don’t get that option with video relay interpreting; you take whoever picks up your call. You can request to be switched in the middle of a call if you find that it’s not working out, but that’s a bit awkward.

Despite these issues, I do find video relay interpreting to be one of the better options out there for d/hh telecommunications. In the meantime, I’m hoping/watching for the day that a video relay service finally adds Cued Speech transliteration. Because so many of my issues with video relay interpreting (really, interpreting in general) relate to language and context, I’m hopeful that Cued Speech transliteration would mitigate some of them.

Transitions, Part II

One thing to understand: my parents had clashed with the local school district for years to ensure that I got cued language transliteration instead of sign language interpretation, as well as speech therapy services– particularly since there was no way they could have afforded those services on their own. From what I gather, there were several reasons for the district’s resistance:

  • I went to school in another district (first, the one near Chicago, then the ones in Racine while we lived in a neighboring district).
  • I attended private instead of public schools.
  • Possible underfunding and understaffing in the district, from what local educators told me years later.

I’m not saying these reasons were right or wrong; that’s just what we had to work with. Ultimately, it came down to this: as residents of our particular district, we were legally entitled to the best services for me, whether we got it directly from the district, or elsewhere. This did not stop them from throwing my parents curveballs, though. I think at least a couple times, it came down to hiring a lawyer and having him send mean letters to city hall.

So, when I enrolled in University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, my parents and I were expecting another similar fight. Much to our pleasant surprise, they just asked if we knew of any transliterators in the area whom they could hire. We gave them Rosie’s number, and they hired her immediately. Over that next year, they would proceed to train four or five of their staff– interpreters and captionists– in cued language transliteration. By the end of my second year or so, UWM had three transliterators who could cue fluently.