Interpreters in the Federal Workplace
Where can I find a sign language interpreter?
The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) maintains a database of interpreter agencies and interpreting referral services at: https://myaccount.rid.org/Public/Search/Interpreter.aspx.
What is the Interpreter Code of Professional Conduct?
- Interpreters adhere to standards of confidential communication.
- Interpreters possess the professional skills and knowledge required for the specific interpreting situation.
- Interpreters conduct themselves in a manner appropriate to the specific interpreting situation.
- Interpreters demonstrate respect for consumers.
- Interpreters demonstrate respect for colleagues, interns, and students of the profession.
- Interpreters maintain ethical business practices.
- Interpreters engage in professional development.
For more information, visit: RID Code of Professional Conduct (CPC). The CPC is explained in ASL at this link: youtu.be/zoWZh_XAxyc
How to prep my ASL interpreter?
Download the Interpreter Prep template below for Deaf federal employees to complete:
What if I need interpreting services off-site?
Generally, your request for off-site interpreting services should be accommodated by your federal agency and possibly the event host. As a federal employee, you are protected by Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act. At this link: www.eeoc.gov/laws/regulations/qanda-ada-disabilities-final-rule.cfm, the EEOC clarifies the following:
- Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act is a federal civil rights law that prohibits federal agencies from discriminating against job applicants and employees based on disability, and requires agencies to engage in affirmative action for individuals with disabilities. Section 501 continues to prohibit discrimination on the basis of any disability, and the standards for determining whether a federal agency has discriminated on the basis of disability are the same ones that apply under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. The ADA covers employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies and to labor organizations. The ADA's nondiscrimination standards also apply to federal sector employees under section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act, as amended, and its implementing rules.
The employer's obligations include the provision of reasonable accommodation any change or adjustment to a job or work environment that permits a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the job application process, to perform the essential functions of a job, or to enjoy benefits and privileges of employment equal to those enjoyed by employees without disabilities.
Should the staff interpreter telework?
DIG's position on telework for permanently employed federal sign language interpreters
Deaf in Government (DIG) is a national nonprofit organization that empowers deaf and hard of hearing 1 federal employees by helping resolve accessibility issues and promoting an inclusive work environment. DIG collaborates with external entities, including the Office of Personnel Management, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Congress, the White House, the Hearing Loss Association of America, and the National Association of the Deaf (NAD).
This position statement has been developed to guide federal employers in establishing administrative telework policies that preserve and promote the highest standards of communication accessibility and reasonable accommodations for deaf employees, specifically in regards to sign language interpreters.
Teleworking offers significant advantages within the federal sector, such as saving costs and being conducive to employee work-life balance. At the same time, it poses significant challenges for agencies, such as adapting their operations to accommodate teleworking. This is especially true for provisions of sign language interpreting for deaf employees. DIG has learned that increasing numbers of sign language interpreters employed full-time by the government are requesting to work remotely, using video conferencing technology to provide interpreting services.
DIG's position is that telework is generally not a viable option for permanently employed federal sign language interpreters and can lead to serious limitations on the ability of federal employees who are deaf to perform their job duties.
Challenges Posed by Video Remote Interpreting (VRI)
Sign language interpreting, by its nature, requires interpreters to be present in a communication setting. With the advent of video networking technology, video remote interpreting may initially seem like a cost-effective alternative to on-site, in-person interpreting; however, it has major drawbacks.
According to the NAD website:
While there are many benefits to using VRI services, there are limits to the effectiveness of VRI in some settings including but not limited to medical, legal, and court situations. In such settings, the NAD strongly believes that VRI services should be provided only if on-site interpreter services are unavailable.
The NAD also states that the following must be considered when determining if video interpreting services are acceptable:
- The number of people actively talking or participating (which affects the interpreter's sight line and therefore the deaf individual's access to environmental and auditory information)
- Whether the situation or matter can be discussed in a two-dimensional manner
Furthermore, the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) has a standard practice on video remote interpreting that states:
While providing a viable option for interpreting services, VRI is not a comprehensive replacement for onsite interpreting. In order to [ensure] that equal access is achieved, the decision to utilize VRI should be made with input from all participants. VRI may not be appropriate for:
- Situations involving high interactivity, such as multiple participants with less structured turn-taking protocols;
- Situations with complex dialogic exchange, such as abstract philosophical interchange or dialogue with veiled intentions or multiple meanings;
- Situations involving communications of a sensitive nature;
- Situations involving individuals with a secondary disability (e.g. low vision) that impedes their ability to utilize the technology.
When an interpreter, employed by the government to perform sign language interpreting duties on a full-time or part-time basis, provides such services remotely via video, challenges are numerous:
- Limits the range of available communication settings. Because of the complex technology requirements needed to facilitate VRI, it is only available in select situations where the deaf employee has access to a video-streaming capable device, high quality audio input, and a high-speed Internet connection.
- Not having assurance of quality interpreting.One of the challenges of interpreting services provided via video is the susceptibility of video quality, which depends on numerous factors including Internet speeds, firewalls, connectivity, the lack of seeing (or the interpreter hearing) environmental information
Impact on Interpreting Quality
- Interpreter's access to information is restricted. When an interpreter is not physically present in a communication setting, they miss non-verbal communication information, thus limiting the amount of information they can transfer to the deaf employee. This is especially problematic for conference calls, where an interpreter may only be able to listen in on a conversation and not be able to identify who is talking and/or follow along with on-screen presentations, which degrades the quality of interpreting.
- Interpreter's quality is restricted. Oftentimes, Internet access and technological problems can hinder, or even prevent, the interpreting process from happening successfully. This is among the most common complaints of using VRI. This subsequently affects the quality of interpreting, and oftentimes creates a domino effect in access to information.
Impact on Deaf Employee(s)
- Being forced to focus on a screen and not the live action and speakers in the room. With VRI, deaf employees are forced to focus completely on a single screen, limiting their peripheral vision. This creates a plethora of disadvantages, including difficulty in looking back and forth from the interpreter to the PowerPoint presentations or visual aids, not having a sense of connection to the participants, and missing out on visual cues.
- Being unable to participate in ad-hoc situations.The interpreter not being physically present eliminates the ability to participate in impromptu interactions, such as conversations in passing, face-to-face meetings in the hallways or offices, and even work get-togethers. These significant but overlooked communication situations facilitate team-building and camaraderie.
- Experiencing degradation of communication medium. Receiving signs through a two-dimensional screen can be difficult and straining, especially for extended periods of time. This is exacerbated for people who also have vision issues, such as deaf-blind individuals. This then leads to greater opportunities for misunderstandings and errors.
A number of resources, including the U.S. General Service Administration website, clearly dictate that those ineligible for teleworking are those who have "daily on-site duties or daily handle secure materials" — which includes interpreters.
Telework Enhancement Act of 2010
The Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, Section 6502, "PARTICIPATION," states that if an employee wishes to telework, the agency must "ensure that telework does not diminish employee performance or agency operations." If a sign language interpreter attempts to provide interpreting services via telecommuting, this does affect employee performances for both the interpreter and the deaf employee(s) who need the interpreting services. This, in turn, can potentially diminish agency operations—violating the Telework Enhancement Act.
DIG recommends that federal agencies require full-time staff interpreters to interpret in person and on site for deaf employees during all normal business hours. DIG further recommends that staff interpreter positions be excluded from teleworking by default, with any exceptions made on a case-by-case basis and only after careful consideration of the possible impact on deaf employees. Any telework privileges granted to interpreters should be reviewed regularly to assess if they are still compatible with deaf employee needs and preferences.
Additionally, DIG recommends that agencies adopt a perspective wherein the accessibility needs and preferences of deaf employees are prioritized, as a matter of ensuring sound business operations.DIG recommends that agencies include deaf employees in decision-making processes regarding administrative policy that directly impacts their accommodations and access to communication.
National Association of the Deaf and Deaf Senior Citizens, Minimum Standards for Video Remote Interpreting Services in Medical Settings, www.nad.org/about-us/position-statements/minimum-standards-for-video-remote-interpreting-services-in-medical-settings/, last visited Dec. 30, 2019.
Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Standard Practice Paper: Video Remote Interpreting, drive.google.com/file/d/0B3DKvZMflFLdTkk4QnM3T1JRR1U/view?usp=sharing, last visited Dec. 30, 2019.
Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, 5 U.S.C. § 6502 (2010). www.telework.gov/guidance-legislation/telework-legislation/telework-enhancement-act/, last visited Dec. 30, 2019.
U.S. General Services Administration, Chapter 6: Telework Eligibility, www.gsa.gov/portal/content/121955, last visited Dec. 30, 2019.
1 DIG uses the term "deaf" to reference to individuals who are deaf, deaf-blind, hard of hearing or late-deafened.
What if the staff interpreter has multiple/collateral duties?
See this link: RID Standard Practice Paper: Multiple Roles in Interpreting.
The National Association of the Deaf has guidance on accommodations for deaf and hard of hearing federal employees:
The National Technical Institute for the Deaf has guidance on working with Deaf employees: