The Right to NOT Have an Interpreter

Ok, I would like to make it clear that I’m thankful for the ADA. I’m also thankful for several situations where I’ve found myself in the ER or the doctor’s office able to understand 100% what’s going on because an interpreter was present.

However, I have also found myself in situations where I simply do not want an interpreter present. I have had an ongoing debate with my PCP office because I do not always want an interpreter present when I come in for appointments.
Sometimes interpreters do not have the appropriate medical background training to do well at their job (this is not fair to them either). This results in more misunderstanding than necessary.
Sometimes I know these interpreters from other aspects of my life and just am not comfortable with them there (they’re not comfortable either). It’s something similar to having one of your high school teachers from 10 years ago present for a “lady check-up” appointment. Yeah, awkward.
Sometimes I’m not comfortable sharing all significant medical information during an appointment with certain interpreters present. I may know them on a more personal basis (e.g. they might be a friend of mine).
ASL is not my first language. English is. However, I’m always having to constantly translate from ASL into English when I’m at a doctor’s appointment. I know I don’t catch everything that was translated (not the interpreter’s fault). Sometimes I use English signs because I don’t know the ASL signs. This once again leads to a dangerous situation.
A pet peeve is when I have to adjust my whole day schedule just to get an appointment at a time when an interpreter is available just to get a flu shot or something. I often end up pigbacking on another deaf person’s appointment which means I get squeezed in…..resulting in a very rushed appointment after an 1-2 hour wait.
Another pet peeve is when I can’t see the doctor right away because the doctor office is so afraid of getting sued for not providing an interpreter. Well, erhm, shouldn’t they be more concerned about making sure I don’t end up in the ER or something?
I guess I sometimes I want the right to NOT have an interpreter rather than being forced to have one in every single situation. Heck, I even had to wait to get a PPD skin test recently because an interpreter had to be present….even though I explained thoroughly that I knew what PPD skin tests were.
I always want to have the right to have an interpreter but I also want to have the right to not have an interpreter. Only I can assess the situation the best and only I can make the best decision for myself in terms of communication. I do not like that decision being left up to doctors who don’t even know me.
Doctors will sometimes refuse to write things down because they have the whole “deaf people can’t read above 4th grade” stereotype drilled into their head. English is my first language…not ASL. Doesn’t anyone think it’s a bit ironic that I’m forced to use a language that is not my native language to try to avoid miscommunication issues?
So that I’m not all negative. I love that I live in an area where emergency personnel and doctors are generally very well educated about the deaf community. I live near hospitals with on-call interpreter staffs. I ended up in the ER a few years ago when I was home from on break from graduate school and an interpreter was called. I could have hugged that interpreter to death when she walked in.
All I want is the ability to make communication decisions that I feel are the most appropriate for me. Situations vary all the time. What works in one situation may not work in another. Only I can judge this.
I had a recent situation that I thought was handled perfectly. I have had a severe ear infection for the past few days and ended up going to the clinic on Sunday. Basically they were surprised I didn’t go to the ER and was told that if it got worse at all to go directly to the ER. Anyways, I arrived with a typed up note of my symptoms and let the check-in person know I was deaf.
I was asked if I wanted an interpreter.
I said I didn’t. I didn’t see the need to sit in the waiting room for an hour waiting for an interpreter to show up when all I wanted was to be told that my ear wasn’t going to fall off and get some antibiotics. After all this wasn’t a life threatening situation or anything really odd.
They accepted that and I loved that they asked.
I was able to lipread and communicate perfectly fine. It was recorded in my file that I declined an interpreter. Which was perfectly fine also. This protects them.
Please don’t think I’m ungrateful for all the hard work interpreters do. I absolutely love living close to hospitals that have on staff interpreters present, it puts me at ease. When my mom was in the hospital for an out-patient surgery when I was in high school, I was amazed at the fact that I knew what was going on because they provided an interpreter for me.
I sometimes think to myself that if I ever find myself in a car accident (*knocks on wood*), I hope it happens near hospitals I know have on-staff interpreters. If I break a bone (*knocks on wood*), I would rather suffer in pain for an additional 20 minutes if it meant getting me to an ER with on-call/staff interpreters. I can’t lipread when I’m in pain, confused, or feeling really sick.
There’s a reason why I made all of my health appointments whenever I was at home on break from graduate school. I was not comfortable with the accessibility of NY’s health care system. It made me nervous to even think that I might end up in one of those hospital ERs.
All I want is to have the right to make my own communication preference decisions. There are times when it’s the best to have an interpreter present. There are times where unqualified or strictly ASL interpreters can result in a very dangerous situation for me.

3 thoughts on “The Right to NOT Have an Interpreter

  1. Kelly, thank you for writing about this important subject. I, too, wonder how to communicate what I need hearing-wise. Should I: 1) tell the physician I have hearing loss, 2) pretend I don't and bluff, or 3) skip the appointment? You might read my blog piece, "Advocacy Begins at the Walk-In Clinic" on my Lip Reader blog. Hope you are feeling better today.

  2. Well said. No one knows your communication needs better than you. Just wish everyone else understood that. You are wise beyond your years. I should probably go to bed now if i were wise at all. 🙂

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