Welcome to the Communication Access Ninja post on RIDIR. This is part three in a series. It’s really important to read the first two (preferably in order) before you read this one:

  1. An introduction to ethics for professional interpreters
  2. Ethical tests, rights-based ethics and maxims

Thanks!

Introduction

I created the RIDIR framework based on a training I took to prepare for my RID certification that was taught by David Evans, the ethical training I received from Barbara Garrett at university, my graduate studies on theology, philosophy, the ethics of communication, and the trainings and consultations I gave as a professional interpreter. I think it’s important to give credit to people who helped build our understanding on any topic.
RIDIR – my decision-making tool that I used to pass the ethical portion of the RID test at “mastery” level and how I walk through colleagues and employees when they ask the, “what if…?” questions that seem so frequent. It’s not perfect, but I think it works very well.

What is RIDIR?

Recognize the conflict.
Identify involved (or impacted) parties.
Decide what options you have.
Identify consequences.
Review. Did I make the right choice?

Recognizing the conflict. Does this fit into one of the four dilemma categories, or is this one of those right versus wrong conflicts? Remember, if it’s hard to do the right thing, you still acknowledge that you know the right thing to do.
Identify involved (or impacted) parties. In other words, who are the stakeholders? Here are some obvious ones: immediate consumers in my workplace or on my job site, the agency, the requestor, and the payee (if it’s separate from the other people). Here are less obvious impacted people: the next interpreter that may work in this assignment, the next deaf consumer you work with. The long term impacts of decisions are the least recognized parties and consequences. This is where you find depth in the RIDIR test.
Decide what options you have. Think through all your choices. Now, think harder. There is almost always more choices than you initially realized. This is like brainstorming, they don’t have to be great ideas, you just need to identify as many possible ideas that you can think of. The longer this list, the more likely you are to identify the best options.
Identify consequences. Let me let you in on a secret. Interpreters rarely think of consequences beyond themselves. Their future employability, their personal reputation, how it affects their ability to be paid for a specific job. The long-term impacts are rarely considered. Make sure for each choice you identified in step 3, you identify the short term and long term consequences. To do this part justice, put on the lens of each of the impacted parties, and think through the immediate and long term implications for each party. Most people I speak with dramatically underestimate the impacts of their choices, this is the step where most people fail in the process. This process should result in you identifying the choice that has the best short term and long term consequences. Remember, use the three ethical tests discussed in the previous post. Now, as a professional, you have to do it!
Review; did I (or you) make the right choice? Hindsight is not 20/20 (whoever made that up didn’t think it through very well), but it does give you distance from your situation, possibly more experience and wisdom. What went well? Were you naïve to anything? Did you really do well and nail it, or did you try your best, but you didn’t think it through very well? Identify the step where you dropped the ball. That’s the area you need to focus on.

RIDIR in action!

Let’s test it out with a real-life situation. You are an independent contractor, dispatched to a hospital by an agency. You are interpreting for a deaf consumer who is the patient and the medical staff can hear and do not know American Sign Language. You are interpreting for the patient as they do the initial health screenings and background questions. It’s you, the nurse, and the deaf patient. As usual, when the questions are complete, the nurse is ready to leave. You were already informed that interpreters are not to stay in the room along with the patient. Do you stay in the room or do you leave with the nurse?

  1. Recognize the conflict – The rules for this job state that I need to leave the room, but I know the deaf consumer would prefer for me to stay in the room with them.
  2. Identify impacted parties – The deaf patient, the nurse, the physician, the hospital as a whole, the agency, the requestor, the interpreter. You could go further and add: the next interpreter to work at that location, the future deaf consumers who will visit as friends, family, or patients.
  3. Decide what choices I have. I can stay and break the rules (but, it will probably make the deaf consumer happy), or I can leave and follow the rules (and, possibly upset the deaf consumer). There are nuances of how I communicate my decisions, but these are the two primary options I have.
  4. Identify consequences.
    1. If I leave the room with the nurse: possibly upset the deaf patient, set an expectation for the medical staff and the deaf patient that the interpreter will leave, I might get a reputation by that consumer (and others that they might share the story with) that I am not as personable or warm as they would like, the consumer may think that I aligned myself with the hearing community and possibly could have access to confidential information about the patient – it can create a suspicious situation.
    2. If I stay in the room: the deaf consumer might be happy to be with a companion, you set the expectation (or broke expectations set previously) that interpreters may/will stay in the room, it might make the interpreter appear more like a friend or family member than as an independent professional, the boundaries may become blurred for the deaf consumer or the medical staff. Unexpected consequences (but, are all true things that I’ve had to deal with) are that you might be exposed to confidential health information about the patient which is a HIPAA violation. Also, with no other witnesses in the room, accusations by the interpreter or consumer against the other can take place and give the hospital and agency no real way of identifying the truth – the infamous “he said, he said” conflict.
    3. Tests:
      1. Utilitarianism, what helped the most people? Leaving the room. It has a positive or neutral impact on everyone except for the deaf consumer who may dislike it.
      2. Pragmaticism, what choice is practical and useful? I think the “least resistance” would probably be to stay in the room. It avoids immediate conflict. But, I think test 2 is mostly neutral between my choices. This is also a good test to use when looking back on your choice.
      3. Universalizability – what if every did it, every time? If everyone stayed in the room, all the time. We would violate our contract with our agency, and the agency might be violating their contract with the hospital. If everyone left, every time, then the Deaf community would get used to it after an adjustment period, the hospital and the agency would be neutral or happy that their policies are followed as expected.
  5. What did I come up with? In my view, the substantive negative consequence of leaving the room is that you may upset the deaf consumer. This can be mitigated fairly easily by explaining the situation to the deaf consumer. Also, if all interpreters did it, it would quickly become the norm, and no interpreter would look better or worse than the other. The biggest test impact here is Test 3, Universalizability, regarding staying in the room. What if we all did that all the time? I think the choice to stay fails that test.

You will notice that test 3 is the most impactful and useful test. You might ask, “Well, we don’t always have to make the same decision, and it’s unlikely everyone will do the same thing all the time.” And, that is true. The point though, is that interpreters are the face of the business (e.g., hospital, business, school) and the face of the interpreting agency, and the face of the interpreting profession. Each time we make a decision, we are setting a precedent and most of our consumers use interpreters infrequently. What does that mean? Our impacted parties, our consumers, will expect the choices you made to become the norm, the expected behavior, and will judge other interpreters against that measurement.

What if your decisions became the normative, expected behavior? This test reveals the depth of the consequences of our choices.

Have another ethical scenario that you would want me to walk through? Leave a comment below, on Twitter, or on Facebook, and I can do a write-up about it

Emory David Dively

Emory is an NIC: Master ASL interpreter, has operated small and large agencies, and consulted with agencies across the US. He has an MA in Communication & Leadership from Gonzaga University.