By Milena Calderari-Waldron
How would you like to vacation in Scotland?” is how I ended up attending this Public Service Interpreting (PSI) international conference held from June 28th to July 1st at Heriot Watt University in the outskirts of Edinburgh. Attendees were lodged on campus in very modern upscale dorms. Presenters were, for the most part, academics and graduate students, some who also work as interpreters. Recurrent themes were the low pay for public service interpreting, the lack of laws and regulations mandating the use of credentialed interpreters, the UK Ministry of Justice court interpreting fiasco, the pervasive anti-immigrant sentiment, globalization and Brexit. Sound familiar?
Heriot-Watt’s professor emeritus Ian Mason opened the conference by speaking about the turmoil surrounding the UK Ministry of Justice court interpreting contract and the plight of credentialed public service interpreters. Presentations with titles such as “The New Barrier to Language Access: The Language of Money” by Anders & Wolfe and “The Public Services Interpreting & Translation Network (PSIT)” by Tripton, set the tone for the entire conference.
The 90 minute panel presentation by Wolfe, Fowler, Straker, Woll, Ezdi & Stone titled “Shaping the future of PSI: Influencing Policy and Practice” delved deeply into the 2011 UK Ministry of Justice ill-advised outsourcing of court interpreting to Applied Language Solutions/Capita and the subsequent boycott by public service interpreters. Last year, Capita was ordered to pay £16,000 for its failure to provide interpreters seven times in the course of a single adoption case. It has been reported that, “more than 2,600 court cases have been adjourned over the past five years because of failures in the interpreting service”. In June 2016, the UK Ministry of Justice announced that the Capita contract is now divided into four lots: 1) legal interpreting and 2) translation, both awarded to Thebigword, a privately owned UK company; 3) signed language interpreting awarded to Clarion Interpreting Limited, a publicly traded UK signed language company; and 4) independent quality assurance awarded to The Language Shop, a London based company.
Despite these recent changes, UK public service interpreters don’t see how their plight of low wages and deplorable working conditions will improve under a business model that continues to rely on language companies outbidding each other by slashing interpreters’ pay. Many are contemplating leaving the profession entirely. Procurement reform relying heavily on online scheduling and automated invoicing, similar to the system in Washington State in the US, is sorely needed in the UK. More to the point, Washington resident Cindy Roat’s presentation titled “Integrating Technology into Language Services: Why, Which and How” extolled the benefits of online scheduling, among other advances.
My own presentation was on Washington State’s various “Centralized Interpreter Management Systems (CIMS).” Between 2010 and 2015, Washington State saw a 50% increase in the demand for Medicaid Interpreter Services going from 199,761 to 301,862 paid appointments. By implementing a Software as a Service (SaaS) business model that separates administrative costs (language company) from direct service costs (interpreter pay), the state paid 14% less per appointment in 2015 than it did in 2010 ($49.66 down from $57.50) while interpreters saw their hourly rate climb from $21/hr. to $37.10/hr., a 43% increase. Better pay has helped retain credentialed interpreters directly influencing the quality of interpreting.
Ethics was another popular topic at this conference. The many roles (cultural broker, traitor, slave, and concubine) of one of the best-documented European contact interpreters was the topic of the presentation by Zimányi titled “Shall I wear my hair down or braided? Picturing (im)partiality: la Malinche in contemporary sources.” Far from impartial, her interpreting services were viewed back then and even now as a mixture of survival skills, revenge, and an instrument for European oppression. La Malinche is an example of the dangers and murky waters all conflict zone interpreters navigate.
The 2-hour panel presentation by Bancroft, Allen and Carriero-Contreras titled “Sex, Blood and Heartbreak: To Advocate or Not to Advocate?” showed through role playing and group discussions that the pendulum is finally reaching the center. The days of meddling interpreters inserting their own patronizing attitudes and biased opinions are coming to an end while inflexible non-interventionist postures collide with Good Samaritan laws. There is now an understanding that advocating is necessary when the interpreter reasonably believes that somebody’s life is in immediate danger and the interpreter is the only source of help. No interpreter should blindly follow orders (Nuremberg defense) or not intervene if a crime is being committed during an interpreting assignment lest s/he become an accomplice or at the very least a witness to the crime. Under these exceptional circumstances, the interpreter may choose to violate the code of professional conduct by abandoning impartiality because there is a moral imperative and frequently laws that either mandate it and/or protect those who act in the public interest. The interpreter will most likely face disciplinary sanctions, though ultimately the sanctions might be dismissed.
Another 2-hour panel presentation was a preview of the book “Ethics in Community and Public Service Interpreting” by Rudvin, Phelan and Skaaden. A review of interpreters’ codes of ethics around the world shows that only three espouse advocacy and cultural brokerage: IMIA, CHIA and NCIHC. These outliers are somewhat joined at the hip since they were at the forefront of the US national healthcare interpreter certification effort. In some countries, such as Australia and Canada, advocacy is explicitly forbidden. Therefore, the presentation “Public Service Interpreters in Health Settings – the case for a care ethic approach” by Mason, a monolingual nurse in the UK, was a startling surprise. She posited that interpreters would stop worrying about advocating or not if they adopt the impartiality tenets of nurses. Caring for the patient is the main driver of nurses. To better care for their patients, nurses must step back and embrace impartiality to render their nursing services free from emotions that can cloud professional judgment.
The conference ended with a plenary panel chaired by Professor Franz Pöchhaker for the University of Vienna on “Future-proofing Interpreting and Translating: The Road Ahead” during which panelists answered questions from the audience as well as some submitted remotely. Unsurprisingly, most questions were about the low pay, the race to the bottom, the possibilities for unionization, as well as the lack of laws and regulations mandating the use of credentialed interpreters.
I left the conference having accumulated an incredible amount of knowledge and with the certainty that we live in a global world in which interpreters play a huge role. Scotland awaited me to start my well-deserved vacation. Slàinte agad-sa!
 Public Service Interpreting, also known as Community Interpreting, includes interpreting in healthcare, legal and educational settings. Here is the plenary session described in this article: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=yRYZvRljbm4&feature=youtu.be
 Public Service Interpreting and Translation Network https://www.nationalnetworkfortranslation.ac.uk/resources/public-service-interpreting-and-translation-psit
 2010 data from the Department of Social and Health Services’ Fact Sheet for the Legislature on Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 6726
 2015 data from Health Care Authority Medicaid Interpreter Services Report, Paid Interpreter Services https://www.hca.wa.gov/medicaid/interpreterservices/pages/index.aspx
 International Medical Interpreters Association, Code of Ethics, 1987 (Revised 2006). Tenet #7 Interpreters will engage in patient advocacy and in the intercultural mediation role of explaining cultural differences/practices to health care providers and patients only when appropriate and necessary for communication purposes, using professional judgment https://www.imiaweb.org/code/
 California Healthcare Interpreters Association, California Standards for Healthcare Interpreters: Ethical Principles, Protocols, and Guidance on Roles & Intervention, 2002. Healthcare interpreters’ “most frequent roles are those of: message converter, message clarifier, cultural clarifier, and patient advocate.”
 To your health! toast in Gaelic
Image kindly provided by the author