There's an art to requesting an interpreter. The larger societal macro-issue is that businesses should--both morally and legally--be providing interpreters. However, the actual request is handled at the micro-level. It's placed in the hands of individuals; usually a Deaf caller and a receptionist. The process can be loaded with emotion and anxiety and too often goes awry before it ever comes to fruition.
If we lived a society that was familiar with interpreters, accommodations, and Deaf people's rights, it would be as easy as "Please schedule me an interpreter." The response would be "Ok, sure!" Unfortunately, the more common responses are, "We don't pay for that," "You have to bring your own," "Nobody in the office does that," or "Will your insurance cover that?"
We--the interpreter and Deaf communities--can predict with relative certainty that if we don't get a "Ok, sure!" that we will probably get one of the standard responses above. So what do we do? Often, we get angry... how can this be happening AGAIN?? Now, the negotiation has reached a breaking point, and often goes south. The requesting party then demands an interpreter and will use language such as, "it's my right," "ADA!," "You are responsible" and so on.
Right or not, law or not, requesting an interpreter is entering into a business transaction. One is asking for an accommodation (that we know the law says Deaf people are entitled to) but that costs money. When anyone in America pays money for something, we know they want something in return. They often perceive that they are losing money by hiring an interpreter.
At this point, there is great potential for a standoff: both parties are defensive, and one natural human reaction is, "I am going to win this one. You aren't going to tell me what to do. I know my job, and I've never heard of this before, so you must be mistaken." The receptionist or scheduler is the customer service person that deals with the public and mostly routine matters. They filter only top-level concerns to the doctor or business owner. As one who filters, it is their job to say no--to make things easier for the higher-ups.
If we know the "please schedule me an interpreter" doesn't always work, and we know the ways in which it doesn't work, we must strategize to our advantage. If we say "ADA! My right!" they can, and often will say "No!" without any immediate recourse. Sure, they are in violation of ADA, but very few individuals take legal action against ADA violations. So at this point-like it or not--the customer/patient needs to become a savvy business person. Here are some suggested ways to steer the conversation:
"This is a medical procedure that is very important to me and my family. I would hate for there to be any misunderstandings down the road that could become a liability for your office."
"I understand that this is extra work for you. I appreciate you meeting my communication needs. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help set this up."
"I really need to be able to fully participate in the communication that goes on during our session."
"Is this your first time taking an interpreter request? Don't worry.. it's easy! I can provide you with resources."
"Interpreters are a public accommodation for people with disabilities, like wheelchair ramp. It's my right under the law. Would you like more information?"
More and more, businesses and medical facilities are providing sign language interpreters to Deaf customers and patients. This is due in part to grassroots advocacy efforts, in part to education and outreach, and in part to legal action. The Deaf community has been "vocal" in their demands for equal access under the law, and in part the business community is listening. But here is where the old adage comes in, "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar."
This isn't just a Deaf problem--it's an interpreter problem, and a society problem. Unfortunately, many Deaf people do not know how to effectively ask for an interpreter. Likewise, most Hearing people don't know how to effectively respond to the request for an interpreter. The stage is set for a no-win situation, and a lifetime of frustration for Deaf people and their loved ones.
Interpreters rely on Deaf people to request our services--a service that we both very much need. We career interpreters can not turn a blind eye to this and go about our merry way; this is a community problem and we must be a part of the solution.