The VRS Industry is Abusing Interpreters

The Deaf Report did two interpreter targeted surveys. One survey was distributed recently inquiring about privacy issues at VRS call centers. This survey did not present any indicators that consumers were at risk for information distribution by interpreters themselves. The other survey was distributed a year ago that focused on the treatment of VRS interpreters. The second survey has been inquired about over the past year and the results are in.

The demographics of both surveys were very similar at more than 50% Sorenson, more than 35% Purple/ZVRS and 10% Convo Relay. There was a small percentage that responded with “other”.

It has been brought to light that none of the VRS providers in the survey are hiring certified interpreters only and the one VRS provider that has stated that they do not encourage certification, is Purple Communications. There were concerns about consumer confidentiality in both Purple and Sorenson call centers, however Convo had none. There are concerns of the ripple effect of hiring non-certified interpreters in call centers and this has had an impact on some interpreters. Another issue is the depreciation of the professionalization of the interpreting industry due to the high volume demand in VRS. They are hiring people right out of college with zero experience interpreting.

“When I started, I was not certified but I was experienced, skilled and had significantly more life experience. Now, the people that are being hired are fresh out of college, inexperienced, unknowledgeable and abhorrently unprofessional. But all the company cares about is warm butts in the station that can muddle their way through a call. I used to love going in to work because it meant I could be around professionals that shared ideas and skills and passion for their career. Now when I got to work I dread it. It feels like I’m walking into a daycare.” (Survey response)

Stated concerns included fatigue, concern about break tracking, and the ability to hand off calls to other interpreters when either unqualified or incapable of interpreting the call. Quality of service has been decreasing due to fatigue and high log time required. Interpreters that filled out the previous survey, 82 out of 100 interpreters reported a 80-90 percent login time requirement. “The stress of meeting the expected numbers/percentages while trying to balance self-care and cope with vicarious trauma” (Survey response) is not an ideal situation.

Other issues reported had to do with no extra compensation for working shifts that are high demand and low supply. “At any given point (8am on a weekday, 8pm on a weekend, etc.) we are in red, meaning there are significantly more calls than interpreters available. There is NO compensation for the intensity of work volume during these times. The only compensation is sometimes our manager feels bad and buys us coffee or subs or something.” (Survey response) Another concern about shifts had to do with being documented for taking a shift you are unable to fulfill even if you find a replacement. “Once you take a shift it is yours no matter if you find a sub for 100% or not. Every-time we sub out a shift, it is documented and we are talked to if there is too much subbing out. Even though we may pick up tons of hours, only the bad is recognized. So much focus on stats. Log in times etc. Sometimes it feels like its overkill” (Survey response)

The morals of an interpreter on the job was also discussed as an area of concern. “We have to interpret scam calls and be a party to our community being taken advantage of.” (Survey response)

Each provider had flaws pointed out in some of the responses. “I worked for Sorenson for 2 years full-time and 1 year for Z part-time. The hardest at Sorenson was inflexible, abusive policies despite the constant influx of calls and inconsistent technology. The hardest at Z was the inadequate training and constant lies from management.”

However the one issue pointed out by multiple interpreters in the open ended answers portion of the survey was that their biggest dread at work were the abusive customers. There are customers that will yell, scream, swear, and mistreat interpreters. “Deaf people don't "get" the limitations of the process (they can't hold a cell phone up to their face and sign outside the camera boundaries, etc.)” (Survey response)