Viewing Yourself As A Professional
By definition a professional is:
- a person who belongs to one of the professions, especially one of the learned professions
- a person who is expert at his or her work
- a person who engages in an activity with great competence
As interpreters, I would say that we fit that definition. We may not be doctors or lawyers, but we have learned our profession and have skills that set us apart from others. Without us they would be at a loss to communicate effectively and in a timely manner. We are experts at our work and hopefully, we engage in that activity with great competence.
Despite these facts, we struggle to be recognized by others as professionals. Using family members to “interpret” for doctor’s appointments or other situations has helped to encourage this view that anyone who can “sign”, can interpret. But that is a whole other topic for another day. But my question is: Are you doing things that undervalue yourself as a professional and devalue our profession? Do you view yourself as the professional that you are? What can you do to elevate our profession and the view that others have of us?
First of all, are you a member of RID and if not, why not? Since its inception, Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf has promoted our profession. It is the national professional association for interpreters and transliterators. Quoting from the RID website:
RID has played a leading role in establishing a national standard of quality for interpreters and transliterators. We encourage the growth of the profession, educate the public about the vital role of interpreters and transliterators and work to ensure equal opportunity and access for all individuals.
Mission: “Support the Continued Growth and Development of the Profession”
It is the mission of RID to provide international, national, regional, state and local forums and an organizational structure for the continued growth and development of the profession of interpretation and transliteration of American Sign Language and English.
Philosophy: “Ensure Effective Communication”
The philosophy of RID is that excellence in the delivery of interpretation and transliteration services between people who are deaf or hard of hearing and people who are hearing, will ensure effective communication. As the national professional association for interpreters and transliterators, RID serves as an essential arena for its members in their pursuit of excellence.
Goal: “Promote the Profession”
It is the goal of RID to promote the profession of interpreting and transliterating American Sign Language and English.
You don’t need to be certified to be a member of RID. You can join on a Student, Supporting, or Associate Member. Supporting our profession in this way is the first step.
Striving to reach higher than state certification or EIPA and going for the NIC is another way to promote our profession. Teachers must be certified, lawyers must pass the Bar and good doctors take the extra step to be Board Certified. Why should we expect any less from ourselves? Your consumers will have more faith in you if they know that you are certified and thus qualified. Many agencies that operate on a national scale won’t even consider hiring you unless you are nationally certified. For more on this, see the previous article, Why You Should Take the NIC Exam.
As professionals, we adhere to the Code Professional of Conduct. Sadly, some interpreters do not follow some of the tenets and thus undermine our profession. Are you doing your best to follow the CPC? Are you taking on assignments that you are not qualified for? Do you show respect for your colleagues and consumers? Are you dressing professionally? Taking a hard look at ourselves and where we can improve will help us all to act more professionally and promote our profession.
Another problem that I see is the touchy subject of pay rates. Do you set your rates or do you take what others will give you? I see too many freelance interpreters accepting low rates just for the sake of getting work from the agencies. If we all demand higher rates according to our skill level and experience, they will have to comply or they won’t have anyone to provide quality interpreting services and you know they are charging their clients a lot more than they are willing to give us. Let me tell you a story of what happened to me a few years ago. I was living in the Midwest, an area that has pretty low rates in comparison to other parts of the country. I had several jobs booked with this one agency when I received my NIC: Advanced certification. I decided this would be a good opportunity to push the envelope a little and so I announced that I would be raising my rates (by about $5/hr) to reflect my new certification. (Mind you, I was still asking for less than I was making at my full-time VRS job, where they take out taxes etc. In my opinion, rates for contract work should be higher because we have to pay our own taxes and have other expenses.) The agency then promptly cancelled all my jobs, saying they couldn’t afford to pay my new rate. I held my ground and waited them out. Within a month, this same agency was calling me back and was willing to pay my rate. What would have happened if I had caved and accepted what they were willing to pay me? Would compromising for the sake of a few jobs promoted my professionalism and my profession? I don’t think so. I am happy I stood my ground. I am not saying that everyone should go out and raise their rates, but I am saying that if you have the skills and experience, why are you accepting the same rates that newer interpreters coming right out of the programs are getting? I don’t mean to stir up a pot of worms here, but it is something to think about.
Let’s open this up for discussion. What are your thoughts on this? What other way do you think we can promote our profession and view ourselves more as professionals? Please post your comments. I would love to hear your viewpoint and what you have to say.
~ Teresa V. Ford