Interpreters are “Expensive”

cliff_small_headshotOver the years I have witnessed people refer to American Sign Language Interpreters as “expensive.” I would like to suggest that this label is, at most, unjustified, or at least, not helpful.

It is of course quite rare for a Deaf individual to pay for interpreting services out of their own pocket. The cost of service is almost always paid for by the organizations with whom they are engaging. Perhaps it is a little ironic, or only coincidental, that it is often Deaf consumers who throw the word “expensive” into the discussion. Depending on their role or involvement, a Deaf consumer may or may not know how affordable the services are for the organization actually securing the service.

An unanticipated cost does not, by definition, equal “expensive”. For most organizations, ASL interpreting expenses are rare. Because of this, they are often forgotten during the budgeting process and end up surprising those in charge. An unanticipated expense may be painful but that does not necessarily mean the services being paid for are expensive. If, for example, a large convention, thinking ahead, added a few cents or dollars to the cost of general registration to prepare for the rare but possible cost of communication access requests, the expense would be easily managed and the label of “expensive” may not be tossed around so freely, stigmatizing communication access.

There is no right or wrong when it comes to the price of interpreters. They are, in my opinion, neither expensive nor cheap. Their price ranges fluctuate according to the cities where they live, work, play, raise families and make contributions. Each city or region has a certain cost of living, a certain number of qualified interpreters available in the pool, and a certain volume and style of demand. These dynamics, along with costs associated with securing and then maintaining professional certification, year round workshop attendance, professional liability insurance, vehicle maintenance and travel costs, ultimately determine the price. That being said, it has been my observation that interpreting services are still perfectly and completely affordable by practically every organization that is asked or required to secure them. Therefore there is no reason, in my opinion, to intentionally or unintentionally shame interpreters by throwing the word “expensive” into the mix. If we want to attract and keep a talented, highly qualified pool of interpreters who are available 24/7/365, along with related support systems, then we should hope and pray they are well and fairly compensated; perhaps even close to “expensive”.

Cliff Hanks
Network Interpreting Service Inc.

(This originally appeared in the Idaho Council for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing August 2014 Newsletter)