COVID-19 Interpreting: The New Normal

Mar 12, 2021 | Interpreter Education

by: Sandy Mahoney, CSC, MBA, BSBA - NIR Interpreter Coordinator

COVID-19 Interpreting: The New Normal

You studied and practiced and became a nationally certified Professional Sign Language Interpreter or you have an EIPA. Maybe, you have been interpreting for 30 years or perhaps you just graduated from an Interpreter Training Program a few years ago and you expected your career to last. And then one year ago, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global pandemic. Is your career over? Yes and No, perhaps your career as you once planned it and/or practiced it has changed. There are new risks and fears that have impacted you personally and professionally. Is it possible to live your life and your career the way you did in the past? Obviously, not…

  • 1. Are there strategies for making decisions that protect you and your loved ones, if you decide to continue working in this field that you know and love and intended to do for most of your working years? Nothing about the pandemic feels familiar to our generation and this creates fear. One strategy is insisting on the use of Personal Protective equipment (PPE) above and beyond a mask. When it comes to PPE, it is not a one size fits all situation. Are you working in a hospital? A school? The Doctor’s office? Have you taken on one of the many new available remote assignments and do you have the appropriate space and equipment? Is it time to examine your choices in the short run and then reevaluate as time goes on? For example, when working in a hospital, you may choose to wear a shield and a face mask and to take your clothes off and launder them before approaching anyone else in your home. You might make a choice to work in a school and wear a face mask which enables your lips to be read. You may take on only remote assignments and wear PPE when you leave the house. The choices and recommendations are many, but in the end, (except for remote assignments) you must wear significant PPE, shower frequently, wash your hands often, and apply hand sanitizer regularly. You must socially distance from your clients as much as possible and you must avoid touching unfamiliar surfaces. In general, it is not luck that protects people from getting the disease, it is careful planning, PPE and social distancing that makes the difference.

  • 2. In the end, if you are a qualified, experienced professional interpreter, you will still have many options for work and you will need to make choices about where and when to work. We all feel an obligation to a variety of people and institutions in our personal and professional lives. Carefully examine what makes you and your loved ones comfortable for now and make your choices based on the science. Perhaps, you have decided that you are not comfortable working in any medical situation because of the possible increased risks, but you are willing to work in a school? Or maybe you have decided remote interpreting is your best option for now because of your concerns for family members who are at greater risk…. Any decisions you make for now are likely to evolve along with the Pandemic and you need to honor the choices that make you feel comfortable. What is your obligation to be there for the Deaf community? Your family and friends? Does that obligation mean you must continue to work in hospitals? Schools? Doctors’ offices? Remotely? Or In Person? You will have to examine your personal and professional obligations to determine what works best for you, but know, there are ways to reduce your risks by choosing to get vaccinated, wearing appropriate PPE, showering after a workday before seeing your family and/or working remotely.
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