Building a Pathway for Skilled Interpreters to Enter Specialization
by Richard Laurion and Anna Witter-Merithew
According to the July 2009 report by the Brennan Center for Justice, “Language Access in State Courts” (http://www.brennancenter.org/publication/language-access-state-courts), nearly 25 million people in the United States have limited proficiency in English (LEP) and cannot protect their rights in court without the assistance of an interpreter. This includes individuals who are deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing and are native-born or foreign-born using sign language. As well, there is an increasing number of individuals who are deaf working in law-related professional positions.
In March 2012, the final report of the Task Force on Health Care Careers for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community was published. This report offered recommendations for building pathways to health care careers for the Deaf and hard of hearing community (http://www.rit.edu/ntid/hccd/about). Throughout the report were profiles of individuals who represent the increasing numbers of Deaf and hard of hearing professionals entering healthcare careers.
These reports highlight the need for adequate numbers of interpreters qualified to work in healthcare and legal settings to meet the increasing demand. The breadth and depth of subject matter being addressed in many legal and healthcare settings requires greater degrees of specialized competence on the part of interpreter practitioners.
Further, advocacy and litigation efforts by Deaf individuals, advocacy organizations and their allies within the Deaf community and general society are resulting in more consistent enforcement of civil rights laws pertaining to linguistic access within the legal and healthcare systems.
Specialization is the intentional narrowing of practice requiring didactic and experiential preparation that provides the basis for competent service delivery with respect to distinctive patterns of practice in essential domains (Kasher, 2005). Typically, specialists narrow practice towards the goal of working exclusively or semi-exclusively in a specific setting, with a specific population, or within a unique function. Further, a specialist is defined as a certified generalist practitioner who through advanced training, acquisition of specialized skills and knowledge, and experience distinguishes her/himself as being uniquely qualified for the specialized work. And where available, specialists typically pursue specialized certification in addition to generalist certification (Witter-Merithew, 2010).
Specialist competence in interpreting has been a topic of exploration by various workgroups within the National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers (NCIEC). The exploration has focused primarily on defining competencies of specialist practitioners and/or documenting best and effective practice in specialized settings such as legal, healthcare, video, and Deaf interpreter practice. The NCIEC is continuing its commitment to increasing the number and quality of specialized practitioners by launching two parallel program focused on providing supervised work experience in either courtroom or healthcare settings. Both of these programs are opened to Deaf and non-deaf, certified practitioners who meet other admissions requirements specified for each area of specialization.
Two of the NCIEC regional centers are taking lead roles sponsoring interpreters in building competence in specialized settings. In the legal or courtroom setting, the MARIE Center has stepped forward to take the lead. Through MARIE’s collaboration with five administrative offices of the courts, commissions for the Deaf, and interpreting agencies, five induction portals have been established around the county. Sites have been established in Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, Maryland and New Jersey. Supervision will be provided by experienced SC:L interpreters who are staff or contract interpreters working for the court system. As a result, these supervisors have unique access to system personnel and resources, making it easier to navigate for the inclusion of aspiring specialists as they gain direct work experience within the system. As well, those certified practitioners who apply and are accepted into the program will receive payment for their work during the supervised 60-65 hour induction period.
On the healthcare side, the CATIE Center is working with multiple medical healthcare systems to create a similar supervised work experience. The CATIE Center, has partnered with experienced interpreters working within medical systems to create pilot fellowship sites in several locations around the United States. As part of the partnership, the fellowship sites will typically provide the supervision and the CATIE Center will provide the program management, including the screening and selection of applicants. Practitioners and supervisors will also be offered ongoing access to discussion groups and training materials while they are part of the program. These groups will be supported via web interface. Some training will be mandatory for the participants while other training will be optional. There will be an expectation of participation in an online community group consisting of all current supervisors, practitioners and the fellowship coordinator. The fellowship will provide 50 hours of supervised work.
Selected applicants for either program will be matched with a specific site and supervisor—ideally at a location near them. It is estimated that it will take an average of 6-8 weeks for the hours to be completed; an average of 10-15 hours per week. The actual amount of time it will take the practitioner to complete the hours depends on several factors; primarily the degree of flexibility the selected practitioner has in being scheduled, and the demand for interpreting services at any given time at the site to which they are assigned.
Once the match of a selected practitioner and site/supervisor occurs, an agreement is signed that specifies the procedures and responsibilities of each party involved in the process. At that time, the supervisor will begin working with the selected practitioner and the host site to arrange for assignments. The supervisor, or their designated representative (who must also be an experienced and certified interpreter), will accompany the selected practitioner to all of their court dates or medical assignments. An interpreting event may involve the practitioner interpreting the assignment alone, with a team interpreter (which can include a CDI interpreter for non-Deaf interpreters), or in collaboration with the supervisor. To a limited degree, it may also involve observing the work of more experienced interpreters. The distribution of hours is spelled out in the program agreement.
The supervisor will complete an observation form for each assignment. This form will serve as the foundation for review and discussion about the interpreting performance. The supervisor and practitioner will periodically discuss the interpreting performance, and suggestions for how to improve performance will be offered. The practitioner can work to incorporate the feedback in future assignments and in this fashion, as appropriate, increase their competence interpreting in their chosen specialized setting.
In summary, the purpose of the NCIEC field induction program is to provide supervised work experiences for certified interpreters that will lead to increasing the quality and quantity of interpreters specializing in legal and healthcare settings. This NCIEC pilot project will provide supervised work experience designed to:
1) increase one’s practical experience,
2) provide individual opportunities to reflect on interpreting performance under the supervision of an experienced practitioner, and
3) improve one’s confidence applying the skills, knowledge and attributes associated with the specific setting.
Supervision is an essential part of this program because of the high-risk nature of courtroom or healthcare interpreting. It is also an essential part of assisting new practitioners with learning how to navigate the system in which they work.
In order to provide an incentive to applicants to participate in this program, the program will pay a nominal amount for each hour of approved induction (interpreting services) in which accepted practitioners participate. This fee will allow practitioners to forgo other interpreting assignments in order to be available to accept their setting-specific assignments. The fee may not cover all associated costs, but will reflect a substantial contribution towards costs. As well, practitioners participating in the program will have the rare benefit of working under the supervision of a qualified interpreter and receiving regular and ongoing feedback.
Priority will be given to individuals who, in addition to meeting the admissions criteria associated with their chosen program, demonstrate an interest in making interpreting in that setting part of their primary practice.
For further information about the legal program, go to unco.edu/marie/ and click on Court Induction Program or contact the Court Interpreting Induction Coordinator, Carla Mathers at Carla.firstname.lastname@example.org or the MARIE Center director, Anna Witter-Merithew at email@example.com.
For further information about the healthcare program, go to stkate.edu/catie/ and choose Healthcare Interpreting Fellowship from the Program menu. You may also contact the Fellowship Coordinator, Patty Gordon at firstname.lastname@example.org, or the CATIE Center director, Richard Laurion at email@example.com.