Using a Young CODA as A Sign Language Interpreter: Never a Right Decision

Consider this scenario. During a domestic dispute, a husband who is deaf hits his wife who is also deaf. This occurs in the couple’s kitchen with their young seven-year-old hearing daughter watching such a horrible incident. The assaulting husband flees out the door. The mother, badly bleeding from a mouth cut, calls 911 on video relay and informs the dispatcher through the relay interpreter that she was beaten up by her husband. She requests a sign language interpreter to accompany the police when they come to her home so she could press charges. Within 15 minutes, the police arrive, but without calling for a sign language interpreter even though they were informed by the telephone dispatcher that a deaf person had called.  When the police officers begin to question the mother, they discover they could not understand her. Instead they turn to her young hearing daughter. The young girl, crying through the situation, tries to answer the police officers’ questions with signs and speech. As a CODA (child of deaf adults), she was used to being cast in this role at a restaurant or at a grocery store where she would naturally let her mother and father know what kinds of questions hearing people might ask.  However, during more serious situations with severe consequences such as at the doctor’s office or during a police interrogation after a crime has been committed, this practice of using a young hearing child as a sign language interpreter is ethnically wrong.  For one, the child does not have the sign language proficiency nor does she have the interpreter skills to carry out his task.  Moreover, she is emotionally involved having witnessed her mother being physically hurt by her father and needs to be comforted by her mother rather than called into a professional service of interpreting. This was traumatizing for her. The police officers should not have continued to question the young girl. Police departments should have a list of qualified sign language interpreters available 24/7 whom the arresting police can rely on. The practice of using hearing children in deaf families as sign language interpreters goes against policy statements of the National Association for the deaf (NAD) and also violates policies for sign language interpreters set up by the Department of Justice. See ( It is never the right decision to use a young CODA as a sign language interpreter during medical or police interactions.

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