One of the Nation’s Top Certified Deaf Interpreters Brings Rich Experience to InDemand


Our interpreters are among the most qualified in the healthcare market, setting the highest standard for credentials, experience and training. This month we celebrate the skill and dedication of our diverse interpreter team and their commitment to ensuring all patients have access to safe, high quality care.

Shawn has been interpreting professionally since 2008 and is nationally certified as a Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI) and additionally certified as a Qualified Mental Health Interpreter (QMHI). There are approximately 250 CDIs in the United States, and of those 250, only five of those CDIs hold both certifications as a CDI and a QMHI. In fact, two InDemand CDIs recently became QMHI certified. Currently, InDemand employs three out of those five CDIs who hold both certifications.

“Employing 60 percent of the nation’s CDI’s that also hold QMHI certifications demonstrates InDemand’s commitment to quality and diligence in medical and mental health interpreting,” said Shawn.

Shawn’s interest in interpreting began organically. Because he has many family members who are also Deaf, interpreters have been a constant throughout not only his life, but also his family’s. He also attended a state residential school for the Deaf where it was normal for him to reiterate information that fellow students were attempting to grasp in class. Eventually he decided to take up an intensive workshop on interpreting and began taking small jobs and working his way up.

“I worked for years as an uncertified Deaf interpreter, but eventually I prioritized certification because I yearned to travel,” he said. “After speaking with a fellow colleague, I learned that many of the jobs I wanted were not an option for me until I achieved certification.”

After Shawn completed his certification, he freelanced in the community for several years before joining InDemand as a CDI when an employee that he trusted referred him to the opportunity.

Among the Deaf community, VRI can be particularly difficult to embrace due to past difficulties Deaf patients may have experienced with VRI vendors that are not as stringent with supporting a three-dimensional visual language on a two-dimensional screen that is much smaller in view than an on-site interpreter, he explained.

“When I first joined InDemand, I decided I wanted to give VRI a chance by just taking on a few hours,” he said. “But instead of taking on only a few hours, I ended up working near maximum hours as I discovered the ASL team was extremely supportive of the usage of CDIs and placed an emphasis on quality. As a CDI, I am not just an interpreter, but also a patient who uses the services, so I constantly see things not just from a perspective of an interpreter, but rather how it would affect me if our roles were reversed.”

ASL Interpreting has similarities to spoken language interpreting, but there are several key differences. With spoken languages, quite often interpreters in their field are natives of their prospective languages and cultures. Conversely, ASL Interpreters are not Deaf themselves and often learn the language academically in either high school or college. There are also interpreters who have Deaf parents that also grew up in Deaf culture, but lack the personal experience of navigating the world as a Deaf person. This is where the value of a Deaf interpreter comes in. When the cultural and linguistic experiences of an ASL Interpreter begin to test their abilities, then a CDI is able to connect from a Deaf to Deaf perspective. Whether it is modulating the flow of conversation or interpreting cultural nuance, the role of a CDI fluctuates based on the situation at hand.

“We are ASL interpreters, but as CDIs we are akin to surgeons or specialists when using medical metaphors, and we are called in to navigate complex interpreting situations,” said Shawn. “With CDIs embedded into the ASL team, I have seen many instances where our protocol has enhanced communication between healthcare practitioners and patients themselves.”

For example, Shawn was called in to interpret for a patient who adamantly refused a procedure thinking they had already had it done. When he joined the call, he introduced himself and had the patient express their concerns after getting caught up with his team. After listening to the reasoning of why they were upset, he learned it was because the patient thought they were having the same procedure done twice. Shawn had the doctor brief him on the background of both procedures, including the differences and how they function, and he had the ASL interpreter brief his explanation to the doctor so that they could correct him in case any of the information was incorrect. Shawn was able to break things up into a culturally acceptable exchange that included the function of both procedures and the reasoning behind the necessity. In this instance, having the second procedure done was a proactive way to keep the patient’s heart functioning.

Quite often, Deaf patients experience some form of language deprivation. Deaf people as a whole are more susceptible to a lack of incidental learning. When a child can hear, they are constantly surrounded by language. They hear conversations in the background, whether it’s on TV, among friends and family, or at school. Whether or not they are involved with these conversations, they are accumulating awareness of information on how the world works.

Often this means that when a CDI is called in for an interpreter encounter, they are tasked with filling in these gaps of information. There are times when Shawn finds that a Deaf patient was never explained the purpose of past procedures. Sometimes the reasoning for this is due to a lack of interpreters, using a family member to interpret for them, or previously receiving interpreting services without a CDI. According to Shawn, message equivalence is important when it comes to interpretation, especially when remaining true to both the goals and intent of the healthcare practitioner.

“Otherwise, if we interpret without ensuring the patient understands, then what is our purpose other than to throw words without ensuring comprehension?” said Shawn.

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