An interview with Lorena Ortiz-Schneider

ATA once again urges the CDC to include interpreters in Phase 1 vaccinations.

In December, following the release of the U.S. COVID-19 Vaccination Program recommendations, ATA and 20 other language organizations and associations petitioned the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to explicitly include onsite medical interpreters in Phase 1 vaccinations. Read ATA’s December 17 letter to the CDC.

The CDC has responded that its guidelines are recommendations only and that local jurisdictions have the authority to set their own vaccination priorities and schedules. Read the CDC’s January 20 response.

On January 22, ATA contacted the CDC again to request that all onsite interpreters be listed among the examples of frontline essential workers eligible for Phase 1 vaccinations. ATA also asked that onsite court interpreters be moved from the 1c level to the 1b level, after receiving reports that they were being exposed to unsafe working conditions. Read ATA’s January 22 letter to the CDC.

The Spanish Language Division (SPD) contacted Lorena Ortiz-Schneider, Chair of the ATA Advocacy Committee, to ask her a few questions regarding these efforts. Here are her answers and some steps that you may use to assist with the ATA advocacy efforts.

 

How and why did the ATA collaborate in the letter sent to the Director of the CDC “to explicitly include on-site medical interpreters among the listed examples of health care personnel eligible for Phase 1 vaccinations”?

This all started with Advocacy Committee member Jennifer Santiagos putting her constituent-driven advocacy to work in early December 2020.

[Jennifer Santiagos after getting the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Picture courtesy of Jennifer Santiagos.]

Jennifer, a medical interpreter who dedicated a good part of last year to helping earn an exemption for translators and interpreters from AB 5 California, discovered that the county health authorities where she lives had included healthcare interpreters among the populations qualified to receive Phase 1a vaccinations due to exposure in their “non-clinical” roles.

This led her to want to e-mail her county’s taskforce to get the vaccine for herself and her freelance healthcare interpreter colleagues in Orange County. She then thought it would be great for ATA to be able to get the word out on a national level so folks could reach out to their local task forces regarding this.

Dr. Bill Rivers, who is also on our committee and is an official lobbyist for the Association of Language Companies (ALC), said their members were concerned about this exact issue. He suggested we write a concise open letter, from ATA, ALC, and as many other interested organizations as possible to the COVID task forces in the Administration and Biden transition team, pointing out why onsite interpreters must be considered medical personnel who need to be vaccinated.

The rest of the committee members contributed with their own personal stories, and I decided this was something we needed to do, not just for healthcare interpreters, but all interpreters performing on-site services. The goal was to raise awareness around what language professionals can do to advocate for their health.


We understand that there is a new ATA effort to include not only medical but also court interpreters in Phase 1. Can you explain?

It is not a new effort. We strive to advocate for the betterment of working conditions for all interpreters.

We have written a second letter reiterating that unless the CDC explicitly names interpreters — like they did court reporters — as essential workers in their guidelines, interpreters delivering their services on-site at legal events may be left out of consideration for receiving the vaccine at local and state levels.

The second letter was prompted by the tragic situation that occurred in a Los Angeles court facility that led to the COVID-19 related deaths of at least two court interpreter colleagues and by a boilerplate response to our initial letter that we received from Dr. Walensky’s predecessor.


“Everyone can be proactive and participate in constituent driven advocacy by following Jennifer’s example — get in touch with local public health authorities and share ATA’s letters to the CDC with them. Engage with local hospitals, clinics, and court systems; ask what they are doing to include interpreters in the vaccination process.”

What are the next steps and how can the ATA community support the efforts of the ATA Advocacy Committee?  

Thanks for asking!

The Advocacy Committee will remain vigilant and eagerly awaits revision to the current guidelines. We continue to guide members, as well as non-members, whenever they reach out for help, whether on ATA listserves, on social media, or emails to advocacy@atanet.org.

[Lorena Ortiz-Schneider getting her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in early January. Picture courtesy of Lorena Ortiz-Schneider.]

The ATA community can support these advocacy efforts by alerting us to situations that need attention. Everyone can be proactive and participate in constituent driven advocacy by following Jennifer’s example — get in touch with local public health authorities and share ATA’s letters to the CDC with them. Engage with local hospitals, clinics, and court systems; ask what they are doing to include interpreters in the vaccination process.

The CDC guidelines are just that: guidelines. Every jurisdiction is different; they prioritize their vaccine rollout according to their populations’ needs. If they don’t know interpreters are in need of protection, they won’t consider us!

Last year, during the campaign to earn an exemption from AB 5 in California, we learned that the general public doesn’t really understand what interpreters (or translators) do or how we do it; and the policymakers and legislators know even less.

Education is king. So, get your “me” on, speak up, and make a difference! And remember to share your success stories with us at advocacy@atanet.org and on social media with the hashtag #ataadvocacy.


If anyone wants to volunteer with the ATA Advocacy Committee, whom do they need to contact?

Then can contact me or any other committee member directly, or by emailing advocacy@atanet.org.

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[Proofreaders of this article: Paul Merriam and Danielle Maxson, SPD Website Committee members. Collaborators: Edna Santizo, SPD Administrator, and Marco Díaz, SPD Website Committee Chair and webmaster.]


Lorena Ortiz Schneider earned her MA in Translation and Conference Interpreting from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey (MIIS) in 1992. She is an American Translators Association (ATA) Certified Translator and Credentialed Interpreter (Legal and Healthcare), California State Certified Administrative Hearing Interpreter, has worked for the US Department of State as Liaison and Seminar Interpreter, as conference interpreter for private industry and community-based programs, for Worker’s Compensation, Social Security Administration, EDD, mental health departments, and the courts. Lorena is a licensed interpreter trainer and was on the Board of Directors of the California Workers’ Compensation Interpreters Association (CWCIA), is the current chair of the ATA’s Advocacy Committee, and is CoPTIC’s founder. Contact: Advocacy@atanet.org