Since founding Preferred Interpreters Inc. in 2004, Susi Bolender has emerged as one of Canada’s premiere advocates for the deaf community. With her Vancouver-based company, Bolender has bridged the communication gap between deaf and hearing people through the innovative use of technology and experience interpreters. “Deaf people make up a small population overall, but their needs are quite significant in terms of just accessing regular day-to-day services, because they can’t hear,” Bolender says. “I worked for other companies, and I found that they weren’t really taking consumer preference into consideration; they just would send interpreters first come, first serve. I wanted to make it more of a customized approach.”
with Susi Bolender
1. What does innovation mean to your company?
It means listening to what people want and responding to that desire and need, rather than sticking with what works.
2. Is there a technology, trend, or idea that drives your company forward?
Mac and the new programs they’ve come up with over the past few years—iPhones with FaceTime, in particular—are far and above other smartphones like BlackBerrys.
3. Where do you hope this innovation will lead you in the next five years?
If we have the funding to get video relay interpreting off the ground, then a deaf person has truly equal access to the rest of the citizens in the country. They can just pick up the phone and make a call, and that would be fantastic.
4. How do you believe that the notion of innovation has changed over the past decade in the business world?
In the past, the ability to be innovative was squashed—if you had an idea, you passed it onto someone else. Now we’re encouraged to become small-business owners and entrepreneurial.
5. How do you believe a company can encourage innovation without breaking the bank?
Trying to source out what services and programs are already existing rather than reinventing the wheel, so that the innovation is really building on someone else’s innovation.
Through her services, Bolender allows deaf people to select which interpreter they would prefer to work with—“Often deaf people are disadvantaged because they don’t like the interpreter or their style of signing,” she says—and then book the time that they would like to have the interpretation done through media. The interpreters and the clients are then put into contact through the use of video chat, and the desired third party is connected via conference call, so the interpreter provides a three-way interpretation.
“With the use of technology, we can connect remotely through whatever programs offer video services—Skype, for example, or even FaceTime on your iPhone—so accessibility dramatically increases,” Bolender says. “If you live in a remote northern area, you can now have access to an interpreter, whereas without it you would be stuck. Having that technology is a fantastic opportunity for people to connect more frequently with ease and access.”
Preferred Interpreters, at its inception, was the first company in Canada to provide such a customized, technologically advanced approach. “Our industry in Canada is slow to change because it’s a newer field,” Bolender explains. “In terms of changing the industry nationally, I’m now able to provide interpreting services coast to coast, whereas previously it was more concentrated to British Columbia. I provide interpreting for parties through conference calling in Toronto, for example.”
However, she points out, the Canadian interpretation industry is currently 10–15 years behind its American counterparts, primarily due to financial restrictions. Bolender has been working towards adding video relay interpreting—a faster, more convenient service that is commonplace in the American hearing field—as one of her company’s services but has found it to be an uphill battle. “Video relay interpreting is not something that we have funding for at this time, but it’s definitely a future goal for Canadians because it’s already established in the US and has been for years,” Bolender says. “Unfortunately, that money and funding probably has to come from our government, but there seems to be so much red tape that it’s not accessible at this time.”
Yet, despite the roadblocks, she is hopeful that she’ll be able to offer video relay services in the coming years. “I think that we’re getting there in terms of making the needs known to the powers that be, who hold the funding, or the funders, who maybe are interested in the project,” she says.
But whether or not that comes to fruition anytime soon, Bolender hopes to be able to continue to offer Preferred Interpreters’ services to deaf people across the country. “The deaf community is quite oppressed, and through my work, I’m able to marry my passions for advocacy and entrepreneurship,” she says. “I really put all my motivation and energy and drive to expanding services so that people have more fair access.”