VRS Interpreters

Yet again today a VRS (video relay service) interpreter botched a call with my MIL. This happens more often than not. Often in small ways that aren’t particularly problematic. But more than a few times, they have botched more significant details. Today’s substantial interpreting mistake? My MIL was calling me to say she was sick with diarrhea and cannot watch the girls. But I only figured that out after a few texts with my SIL. Because, you see, the interpreter said that MIL wasn’t feeling well after surgery and needed to rest. My only assumption is that the interpreter somehow confused “diarrhea” and “surgery”…which, for those of you unfamiliar, are not particularly similar at all (only same motion, different handshapes).

The only reason I was pretty sure that the interpreter was incorrect is because we are in very regular contact with my MIL and SIL since they help watch the girls. So I was pretty sure that MIL hadn’t had any surgery I hadn’t heard about. If she was not someone who I was in regular contact with, I’d have had no idea about the misinterpretation.

As I said, this isn’t the first time this has happened. It has happened in other calls with my MIL. It has also happened in a call for Jessi’s IEP meeting…with 2 different interpreters. The first interpreter was making so many mistakes, that we had to ask for a new one. Thankfully, I had a direct video line to the Deaf woman who was helping us out as our advocate so that I could tell that the interpreter was incorrectly interpreting what our advocate was saying.

Don’t get me wrong…I get it. Interpreting is a tough job. No one will be 100%. (It’s one of the main reasons I have no desire to get into the field.) And it’s made even harder as a video interpreter who doesn’t have as much context as an in-person interpreter might. So I understand some degree of minor mistakes. But when the mistakes are so numerous as they were for Jessi’s IEP meeting or so serious so as to confuse diarrhea and surgery…come on!!

VRS companies need to be hiring better quality interpreters. Deaf callers deserve better quality access in their phone calls, personal and professional.

Hearing people talking to Deaf people through VRS, keep this in mind. Here’s 3 major tips:

  1. Make sure you confirm important information, especially if something sounds weird…just to make sure interpreters aren’t misinterpreting things. I have caught numerous errors by repeating back details of the conversation to confirm (ex: “ok, so I’ll pick the girls up at 4 at your house?”) or even straight up asking if something was interpreted right.
  2. If you’re about to begin on a more involved or more important conversation than simple social calls, you may find it highly beneficial to give a quick summary of context or backstory for the interpreter. Just so they know. Having some idea of the context will definitely improve your chances for a more accurate interpretation.
  3. If you get a particularly awful interpreter, one who makes more than minor understandable mistakes, please make a complaint about them to their VRS company. It’ll only change if the companies get complaints.
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