Sign language interpreters’ ethical discourse and moral reasoning patterns
Dean, Robyn K.
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This study investigates the ethical reasoning abilities of sign language interpreters in the US using two data sources, one that is qualitative and one that is quantitative. The twenty-five participants involved in this study were recruited after their completion of an online training session on interpreting ethics (unrelated to this study or the author). Their responses to six ethical scenarios (e.g., what would you do and why) were analysed through the lens of James Rest’s three tacit moral schemas: personal interest schema, maintaining norms schema, and post-conventional schema. These data were then compared to the results of Rest’s standardised instrument of moral reasoning, the Defining Issues Test, also based on these three schema preferences. These data show that the interpreter participants have a preference for a maintaining norms schema on both qualitative and quantitative data sources. This moral reasoning pattern found in the interpreter cohort is more typical of adolescent reasoning – a much younger profile than the actual age and education level of the participant pool. Furthermore, this reasoning preference does not coincide with the justice claims often made in the profession (e.g. the ally model). Justice as defined by collaboration by both moral psychologists and translation scholars is only weakly evident in the ethical discourse of the interpreter participants. These reasoning patterns that reveal an adolescent and non-collaborative approach are also evident in ethical documents and literature of the sign language interpreting profession. How the profession has come to conceive of and articulate ethics is explored as a potential limiting factor on the study participant’s abilities to express more sophisticated reasoning. In addition to moral judgement patterns evident in the quantitative and qualitative data, the study cohort’s qualitative data are examined for other psychological aspects of Rest’s Four Component Model (FCM). Findings indicate that sign language interpreters make many assumptions about service users’ needs, actions, and intentions. Further, they are more concerned for how decisions might impact them than the potential impact on service users. As a result, education interventions are indicated particularly for moral sensitivity and moral judgement.