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Meet James Wiggins

Interpreter Services, Interpreter

James Wiggins

How did you happen to become an interpreter?

Both of my adopted parents are deaf, and since I was the oldest child living at home, I served as their interpreter. It started when my father felt he didn't get a job because of his deafness, and filed a civil case that he believed he lost because he had an incompetent interpreter. After that, my dad always wanted me to serve in that role because he knew he could trust me.

Seeing the challenges he and my mother faced motivated me to pursue this as a career, and I earned certifications in interpretation and transliteration that are each equivalent to four years of college.

What brought you to Dana-Farber?

I worked for the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing for seven years, and they sent me to hospitals all around the Boston area, including Dana-Farber, as an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter. When I started working for Brigham and Women's Hospital full-time four years ago, it seemed natural to help out at Dana-Farber more often. Now I'm on call here.

Can you explain your job?

I meet hard-of-hearing or deaf patients when they come in, help them register, and then stay with them as they get their vital signs checked, meet with their caregivers, and, if necessary, wait with them while they get chemotherapy, radiation, or other treatments. Sometimes I can be with one patient from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m.; I'm needed every step of the way.

What's the biggest challenge that deaf patients face?

Providers have good intentions, but they don't necessarily understand the culture or the language. Once a doctor made a “thumbs down” gesture to a deaf patient, which the patient took to mean he was dying. All the doctor meant was that the patient wasn't doing so well that day.

What's your proudest achievement?

Being able to be there for patients, advocate on their behalf, and make sure their voices are heard. It's great to break down barriers and help people be on an equal playing field. They feel a sense of trust with me, because I literally speak their language.

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