November 21, 2016

Since the election, various people have raised questions regarding whether medical interpreting and the WCMS Interpreter Network, otherwise known as WIN, will be relevant in the coming years. The president elect’s comments that he will deport undocumented immigrants, will not allow Syrian refugees into the US and about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) raise concern in many people about the future of language access in healthcare.  Those goals (and whether or not he achieves them) won’t change anyone’s right to medical interpreters.

Your rights to a medical interpreter are guaranteed by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Executive Order 13166 of 2000 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and Executive Order 13166 ban any organizations receiving funding from federal sources, like Medicaid, from discrimination on the basis of national origin and limited English proficiency (LEP). This means that LEP people from Moldova or Mexico, or LEP people from a US territory where the lingua franca isn’t English, like Puerto Rico, have the right to interpreters during medical encounters. The Civil Rights Act applies to anyone who is in the United States. This means that undocumented immigrants have the right to interpreters in medical encounters, as would someone here on a tourist visa who gets hurt and overstays their visa due to hospitalization. Just as the ADA requires that medical facilities have ramps for people with mobility impairments, it requires that medical facilities provide Sign Language interpreters for Deaf people. The ACA’s reach does not extend into language access. Even if the entire ACA is overturned, Deaf and LEP patients will still have the right to have medical interpreters at no extra cost to them.  The most important thing is that the Civil Rights Act, the ADA and Executive Order 13166 have already survived many presidential administrations. 

Why is it so vital to have trained medical interpreters?  A skilled interpreter empowers a patient and provider to talk as if there is no language barrier at all. While some patients do bring in a family member to help with interpretation during visits with doctors, this situation is not ideal. Often times, the family member is a child, which can create awkward situations where the child is forced to interpret personal adult issues. If the family member is an adult, there are still severe miscommunication issues that can arise, as most people, regardless of age, do not know the precise terms for all medical conditions. By eliminating all the risks associated with miscommunication in the medical field, medical interpreters limit the number of misdiagnoses and even deaths that would otherwise occur.

WIN and the medical interpreting field are committed to being a vital part of the care team and helping providers give patients the best care possible, in any language. Thus, we are confident that medical interpreting and WIN will be relevant for many years to come.

Written by Gulnara Akbarova and Andi Smith, WIN staff
WCMS Interpreter Network

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