Uncertified Interpreters: A risk to the deaf?

Posted at 9:30 AM, Oct 02, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-02 11:30:50-04

If any couple is used to overcoming obstacles, it's Nikki and Kris Runge.

"I was deaf since birth, growing up," said Nikki Runge.

She and her husband had always wanted children, and after five years of trying to get pregnant, they decided to go through fertility treatments last year.

The doctor's office brought in a "sign language interpreter" for Nikki, and that is when she felt the real obstacles began.

"First time I've experienced anybody like this -- worst interpreter ever," she said.

The Runges soon realized that the interpreter wasn't saying what Nikki was, in part, because Kris isn't deaf.

"I had to step in two or three times," said Kris Runge. "And this is an emotional process for me, too, and I've been trying to be involved and it's very hard to at the same time be the interpreter."

Over a few meetings, the problems escalated, the Runges said, until finally during a group therapy session, the interpreter simply stopped talking and left.

They weren't the only ones struggling to be heard.

"Unfortunately, I had a bad experience as well," said Avi Haimowitz, who is also deaf. 

She was in a critical meeting with Jefferson County Human Services when she said she realized the hired interpreter was misinterpreting.

"I would ask, 'Is this what you said?' No. This is what she is saying," said Haimowitz.

It turns out, in both cases they said the interpreters were sent by the same translation service, A&A Languages, based out of a Centennial home.

The owner has repeatedly refused our requests for comment, and when we went to the house, the person answering the door said he would be in touch.

"I don't want that camera filming anything, OK?" that person said.

An attorney for A&A Languages said the company denies violating the Colorado Consumer Protection Act but would not comment for the story, citing pending litigation.

Amy Robertson, an attorney with the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center in Denver is now representing the Runges and Haimowitz in a lawsuit against A&A Languages, claiming the company is breaking the law sending interpreters who don't have the certification required under the Colorado Consumer Protection Act.

"This provision is extremely clear," said Robertson.

Why would a company hire uncertified interpreters?

"I believe, just to be blunt, because it's cheaper," said Robertson.

Robertson said A&A had contracts with Denver Health, Jefferson County Social Services and Adams County, records show, charging significantly less than sign-language only agencies.

"Unfortunately, I'm not surprised," said Jennifer Pfau with the Colorado Association for the Deaf. "This has been going on for a long time."

She said it is a potentially dangerous issue, comparing uncertified interpreters to unlicensed doctors or lawyers who haven't passed the bar and suggests setting up licensure boards for the state.

Several states do require licensing for sign language interpreters, but Colorado does not.

In the meantime, the Runges said they will fight the legal battle.

Overcoming obstacles is nothing new to them.

"We are now announcing my pregnancy!" said Nikki Runge with a smile.

After everything they have been through, they said the end result will be worth it.

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