Using the COPM with an Interpreter

Giuseppe is a 58-year old man who emigrated from Italy 30 years ago with his wife and two children. He experiences persistent back pain following a fall at work. He is a carpenter and framer for a small construction firm. Since his injury, Giuseppe has been on disability benefits, but would like to return to work. Giuseppe speaks little English, and is accompanied for his OT assessment by his teenage son, who is fluent in English.

The situation outlined here represents one where a third party is needed in order to be able to communicate with the client. In this case, the third party is Giuseppe’s son, whose job is to translate verbatim what Giuseppe and the therapist say to each other. There are a number of issues to consider when using an interpreter to complete any assessment, but particularly one as subjective as the COPM.

Who is the Ideal Interpreter?

The ideal interpreter is someone who is fluent in both languages, impartial to the outcome of the assessment, with no pre-conceived notions about the client, and a good listener. Furthermore, he is someone in front of whom the client can tell the whole truth. How does Giuseppe’s son stack up on those criteria? He clearly fulfills some, but he is probably not ideal on others. A teenage son can be imagined to have a number of issues that might influence the accuracy of his translation of his father’s wishes, or the completeness of his father’s answers.

The usual situation, if a family interpreter is not available, is to find a community or institutional volunteer who can translate on behalf of the client. This type of translator has the advantage of impartiality and neutrality, but often is not as fluent or sensitive to the client’s issues as a family member might be. Assessing the degree to which someone can act as an interpreter, knowing his or her relationship to the client, and ensuring that the interpreter is not editorializing are all important issues in obtaining the best possible information on the COPM. Further, it may be useful to try to discover and take account of the interpreter’s bias, if one is suspected.

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