Thursday, January 6, 2011

TELL ME YOUR SECRETS -- A Deaf Person's Lack of Privacy

The Deaf Community is a tight-knit group in which deaf and hearing alike can get together and socialize. The hearies in this group consist of many different people, not the least of which are the interpreters in any given area. 

As a member of the Deaf Community, I often find myself friends with the very people who provide interpretation for my appointments, entertainment, education, etc. That, in and of itself, is great! Any person I can get to tolerate me enough to have a conversation, is more than welcome to come my way! And there are some awesome interpreters around here. Oh, don’t get me wrong; there are a few doozies….

I once went to see a doctor and the interpreter couldn’t understand my signing or keep up with the doctor’s speaking. The doc and me ended up writing back and forth while the ‘terp sat there and watched/read. Wow! And she got paid for that?? But that’s another blog entry all together….

Anyway, it seems to me a little unfair and awkward that interpreters in my area know so much about my private life via ‘terping for my appointments. And, believe me, my private life is frightening at times. Heck, I’m frightening at times.

But there’s one particular aspect of my life that I don’t really want to share. But, because this is a blog of my experiences, I’m just going to open myself up here to say that I am disabled because of a severe mental illness. Yes, I’m stone deaf, too, but that doesn’t strike me as a disability when compared to what I have to go through because of a brain disorder.

So, this morning, I wasn’t doing very well. OK. I was doing terribly! I had an emergency appointment to see my psychiatrist and there was, of course, an interpreter scheduled. I definitely have a first choice in interpreters, but sometimes that person isn’t available and, today, that was the case.

One of the effects of my condition is that it becomes difficult for me to show expression in my face. My voice becomes monotone and quiet (so I’m told), too. It’s a total 180 from what people usually see in me. Usually I’m full of zest and friendly and chatty. I usually take care of my appearance, wear clean clothes, and put on make up when I have an appointment. But, because I’m relapsing, I did none of that today—well, this week, in fact.

I shuffled (literally) into the office lobby, registered, and sat down.  My interpreter arrived about two minutes after I did and I could tell she was in a good mood and ready to talk about our latest adventures. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t even look at her. I just sat there, husband beside me, staring into space. Barbie (the ‘terp) was a little put back. However, I will say she was totally professional and kind about the situation.

When it came time for me to talk with my doctor for a medicine change, I had to relay information about my condition and recent experiences to him. This is something very personal and that holds a great amount of stigma. I haven’t shared my disorder with anyone except my immediate family (husband and children). And I certainly didn’t want someone whom I love hanging out with at Deaf events, finding out how sick I am by listening to me ramble on to my doctor.

It just doesn’t seem right for an interpreter to know everything personal about me, because they’ve been at the appointments; and yet I only know what they’ve felt comfortable opening up and telling me about them. Why do they get to know it all?

I guess it’s a dilemma that will go on forever. We deafies need interpreters and, in order to understand, someone has to sit in and listen to our private thoughts and problems. Professionally, I have yet to meet an interpreter who has taken that knowledge and done something disrespectful (that I know of). Actually, that’s not true. But I’ll save that for another post, too.

However, interpreters are only human. You sit in and listen to someone talk psychotically and it’s going to affect you. You’re going to have feelings about what you’re hearing. I’m not saying everyone will harbor those feelings, but everyone will have some. ‘Terps included.

So, here I sit in my living room. After spilling my beans, my life, and my secrets, I sit here naked (metaphorically—the other option is just plain old creepy), knowing that Barbie knows my soul is warped. I’m not afraid she’ll go off and tell people. I know she won’t. But I hate the fact that she knows now and there weren’t a lot of options to stop her (or someone who was called to interpret) from knowing.

Perhaps video interpreting will become popular and I’ll have ‘terps from around the country—not people down the street that have a potluck on Memorial Day. But until then, I need to figure out how to accept that my secrets won’t always be my secrets. If I get an STD (I won’t—don’t worry), there’s going to be at least one person out there in the Deaf Community who knows, because they interpreted the appointment. And if I’m crazy, there’s going to be someone out there who knows that, too.  Check.


  1. In my area at least one hospital has a full-time on-staff interpreter that gives the Deaf patient reassurance that this intetrpreter has seen it all and that it will stay in the hospital. It works out well except when the hospital calls in outside (relief) interpreters and the same problems you mention come into play.

    Your eloquence and clarity of expression about this serious concern in the Deaf community bodes well for your personal prognosis. I'm not sure of the prognosis for the situation of initerant medical interpreters, however.

  2. This is very common. I've witnessed interpreters violating confidentiality. The Deaf Community protected the interpreters by refusing to inform RID along with the complainants. They also condoned the interpreter's breaches of confidentiality by encouraging them to share more personal information.. Then later on they complained about the interpreters breaking their confidentiality.

    Use interpreters at your own risk.

  3. Diane this wasn't at a hospital. Where I go, they use the local interpreting referral service, so it will be someone from the community. It's not that they haven't heard stuff before, but they haven't heard it from ME. :v)

    Anon, I've encountered the same thing.

  4. Thank you for sharing. It is a relief to know I am not the only deaf person feeling this way about whatever reason I go to see a doctor. However I sometimes feel my situation a little more sticky since I am also a Certified Deaf Interpreter and having all these interpreters in town interpreting for me at doctors appt and then socializing or attendng functions for interpreters and seeing those interpreters there I cant help but wonder what are they thinking about me... are they pitying me now etc. But again thank you for sharing your experience.

  5. You are very welcome. I have always wanted to be a CDI, but don't have the money for the testing and such. Anyway, I'm sorry you are put in that messy situation. I empathize immensely. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Being a private person, I would take issue with this as well. I may know from some of the symptoms you described what your illness is, and I understand what you mean about stigma. I am sorry that in this day and age people still have to feel that way, it really should be like this. I was wondering though - just for your own comfort level and privacy, couldn't you use an interpreter that you don't really know for these types of appointments, or even go without and write what you need to say to the doctor?

    Also, I am wondering if interpreters are bound by any of the privacy laws that health care workers are. Because of this, there should be specific interpreters for medical situations, and they should be legally bound to not violate anyone's privacy, such as with the HIPPA laws, etc. that drs and nurses must abide by. Fines are strict, there can be loss of license and jail time even. Though it wouldn't make you feel any better if you knew the interpreter socially, at least you would at least feel secure in knowing that she or he wasn't blabbing your business all over the place.

  7. Hi, Deanne

    Yes, interpreters have a confidentiality requirement, but not all follow it. I am thinking more along the lines of how those people will feel around me in a personal level.

    For me, I can request which interpreter I want, but I have to take who they can find. My first choice is not always available.

  8. Ma'am,
    I am currently in college and this essay was one that I chose to do a paper on. Thank you for your essay. It gave me a view point into a world I don't normally get to understand. Thank you for your amazing insight.

    1. Kira,

      I'm so happy this post helped you out and would love to read your paper when it is completed. Thank you for the nice review.