Looking Forward More than Backward

The president’s column in this edition of The ATA Chronicle often reflects on the year just ended and recaps the highlights for ATA and its members. As I look back on 2020, “The Year of COVID,” I see that ATA and its members faced and overcame some severe challenges. But if you’re as tired of COVID as I am, I hope you’ll forgive me for looking forward more than backward.

But COVID is still with us and can’t be ignored. As the country turns to vaccination to end the pandemic, ATA will continue to advocate for in-person interpreters to be classified as high-priority vaccine recipients. The decentralized structure for getting needles in arms has resulted in disparity at the local and state levels, despite clear guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that in-person interpreters qualify as health care providers or a high-risk group.

We continue to grapple with uncertainty regarding in-person events as we plan for the Annual Conference and other events, including ATA Board meetings. I remain optimistic that the situation will be much closer to the “old normal” by this summer or the fall at the latest, and that ATA62 can and will be at least a hybrid event—in person with remote access.

I also hope that the Board will be able to hold its annual Strategy Day, an informal meeting that allows the Board to discuss big-picture items and take a longer-term, strategic look at ATA’s future.

Looking forward, ATA has also made lemonade out of the pandemic lemons. We increased our online professional development offerings substantially with new and timely webinars, including a free monthly webinar. The Professional Development, Membership, and Business Practices Education Committees have all worked to provide new remote opportunities for continuing education and to recruit and welcome new members to the Association.

The pandemic also accelerated the Certification Committee’s efforts to find a way to offer true remote, at-home certification exams. At the January Board meeting, the committee reported that they believe they have now found a likely solution and hope to offer a test run sometime this summer. If successful, this will be a sea of change for our Certification Program, as candidates will no longer have to travel to take the exam. It won’t allow a shift to a 100% “pull” or on-demand system, as proctors are still required, but it will bring certification testing into the candidate’s home office. On-site exam sittings will continue to be offered.

Also at the January Board meeting, the Board approved the members of two ad hoc committees, both tasked with investigating and making recommendations on the establishment of two new potential offerings by ATA.

One is a national registry of freelance translators and interpreters in the U.S. This is in response to legislative proposals in California regarding exemptions from the automatic classification of translators and interpreters as employees under California Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5). State legislators in California have focused on recognition by a translator or interpreter association as de facto evidence of being a professional service provider. If established, the sole purpose of the registry would be to provide such evidence of independent contractor status for individual freelance translators and interpreters for worker classification purposes only. In no way would it represent any kind of recognition of the “capabilities” or “qualifications” of those registered.

“Sons of AB 5” legislation is certain to appear in other states (one has already been reintroduced in New Jersey), so the battle over worker classification is not over. Such a registry could be a great help in gaining exemptions for practitioners where such legislation is enacted, possibly at the federal level as well.

The second potential offering under investigation is the establishment of a “basic” credential, which would be of particular interest to those who work in languages for which ATA does not offer certification. This is an extremely difficult nut to crack and it’s entirely possible that the committee will report that it’s not feasible or practical. But even if that’s the case, ATA will at least have taken a serious look at the issue and can have an answer to those practitioners working in other languages who ask: “Why can’t you offer me some kind of recognition?”

Finally, as I look at the second half of my term, I look forward to seeing many of the projects and initiatives launched in the past three years either coming to fruition or maturing. I especially look forward to attending ATA62 in Minneapolis in person. I miss seeing my ATA friends and colleagues. I even miss being buttonholed in the hallway or elevator! But I’ll admit I don’t miss all the hugging. But after a year of lockdowns and video-only interactions, odds are good I’ll dislike having my personal space invaded far less than pre-COVID.

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