4. Role definition: A perspective on forty years of professionalism in Sign Language interpreting

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Since 1965, Sign Language interpreters in the United States have had a code of ethical behavior that has been published and promulgated by the RID, the national professional organization of Sign Language interpreters. The code has undergone three major revisions, and in each iteration the role of the interpreter has been addressed. This chapter looks at the forces behind these changes, and the lack of agreed upon best practices related to role, from a systems approach. The analysis includes an overview of the various ways interpreters have been viewed in the field including helper, conduit, communication facilitator, bilingual-bicultural specialist and co-participant. (Witter-Merithew 1986; Roy 1996; Metzger 1999). From there, legislative influences are discussed, followed by the influence of professional organizations and ethical codes/codes of conduct on role definition. An overview of interpreter education is given, related to the teaching of role to students in interpreter education programs. Implications for the systems approach are discussed and the chapter concludes by raising questions about the impact of technology on the role of Sign Language interpreters and the ability of interpreter practitioners and stakeholders to influence policy-making regarding role and best practices.


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