Ethical Decision making in Sign Language Interpretation

William Woods ASL

Sign Language interpreters often face complex ethical dilemmas and sensitive issues that require urgent application of critical thinking skills and professional ethical decision-making. This is one of the reasons interpreting is a complex job.

Interpreter Karen Carlson explains in her article, “Ethical Boundaries for Interpreters,” that there are several areas where ethical decision-making can come into question: things like the content you’re interpreting and possible conflicts of interest; the vested opinions in the outcome of an event; adhering to confidentiality and more:

“Before an assignment begins, we ask ourselves whether or not we are the appropriate interpreter for the job; whether we can linguistically and emotionally handle the content; and how to manage what we know or don’t know about the client’s needs,” Carlson says, “We need to properly serve our consumers.”

The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) Code of Professional Conduct (CPC) outlines seven tenets of ethical decision-making interpreters adhere to such as, “standards of confidential communication, respect for consumers, ethical business practice” and others.

These tenets are fluid and, as often in ethics, can bring gray areas that call for the interpreter to decide for him or herself what to do.

In her Street Leverage article, “Beyond Ethics: Rules Versus Values for Sign Language Interpreters”, Interpreter Amy Meckler says that ethical decisions must be made based on values, too – not just rules.

“How we determine our ethical duty in the instance must be filtered through these values. The decisions we make must reflect our higher sense of how we serve the greater good with our work,” Meckler said.

Codes of ethics change depending on the area of practice –ethical issues in a classroom differ from those in a courtroom—but interpreters need to think about issues and hold these kinds of tools for making quick ethical decisions. Every situation is unique, Meckler says.

Ultimately, it comes down to the combination of practice, values and listed guidelines to help us, like the CPC’s ethical standards.

“A realistic view of our work, of ethical practice, is sing language interpreters making conscious decisions based on required ethical standards put forth by NAD and RID in combination with the values that drew us to the Deaf community and the interpreting profession in the first place.”

Ethics and Decision Making is an important requirement taken by all students enrolled in the William Woods University Bachelor of Science in Interpretation Studies. Ethical understanding and the ability to apply values-based ethics to a variety of settings is crucial to an ASL interpreter’s success and certification process.  This course explores scenarios of ethical decision-making through reading, discussion, case studies and role playing.