The vocabulary available to community interpreters regarding professional ethics is typically limited to a set of prohibitions—what interpreters should not do. These prohibitions are disproportionately more prevalent in ethical documents and discourse than guidance on what interpreters should do. Both types of guidance are examples of normative ethical messages. However, when interpreters are asked to justify decisions which lead to them taking action rather than refraining from action, they are left with insufficient vocabulary to do so. Without a broader normative vocabulary allowing conversation regarding action-taking, interpreters tend to rely on unhelpful, non-normative language such as metaphors which fail to advance professional dialogue and development of the field. Ethics scholars link such discourse deficiencies with underdeveloped reasoning abilities, often citing the need to ground normative discourse within the principles and values of a profession. “Principled-reasoning” in part involves the ability to weigh the import of conflicting ethical obligations, such as principles that compel action versus inaction. Ethicists consider principled-reasoning to be the highest order of ethical reasoning. While there are theoretical and pedagogical developments in community interpreting that can further principled-reasoning skills, there remain significant barriers. One is the profession’s failure to incorporate widely recognised ethical principles such as non-maleficence, beneficence, justice, and autonomy in its normative messaging and discourse. Another is the profession’s lack of normative terms to convey intermediate ethical concepts. A third is the still-limited adoption of structured reflective practices, such as case analysis and supervision, to impart principled-reasoning skills both during and after interpreters’ formal education years.

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American Sign Language and Interpreting Education (NTID)


RIT – Main Campus