My client asked if it would be OK to have an interpreter sign my talk for her hearing-impaired client. I readily agreed, recalling times I’ve seen this service performed by interpreters who position themselves off to the side with their clients gathered nearby.
As I began my presentation to about thirty people, “Alice-the-interpreter” and “Eileen-the-client” were not yet present. They arrived ten minutes later. Eileen took a seat in the center of the second row. Alice walked to the front of the room, stood a couple of feet next to me, and began signing to Eileen.
Whoa! She was way too close! She was cramping my style. I move a lot when I speak and I can’t be tripping over someone who is in my way. I gently gestured to her to please move away from me, and she did, with ill-concealed displeasure.
At the break, the two of them approached me. Alice accused me of being “insensitive to the hearing-impaired community.” She explained that in order for Eileen to learn, the speaker and the interpreter must stand close together so Eileen can easily see both people at the same time. I said, “And in order for me to be a good speaker, I need space and freedom to move, and you were too close to me.” They huffed off.
Afterwards, I was nervous that there might be trouble. I contacted the CEO and told her about it. She said, “Don’t worry. We have liability insurance.” (Somehow, that wasn’t reassuring.)
Nothing came of it, but I learned a valuable lesson: I should have enquired about their requirements. I had assumed the interpreter would be off to the side. Had I known that she would need to stand close to me, I would have recommended another option—perhaps a one-on-one session for the two of them.