The Riverside community has reported several cases of failed emergency preparedness in terms of interpreter accessibility for life/death scenarios. It has been suspected that AB5 played a significant role in the decline of access to interpreters in these situations. It has also been cited that there is a shortage of interpreters due to the increase of population in the Deaf community. Riverside has a sizable Deaf* community with over 327,000 residents. CSD Riverside has over 350 students. A strong number of interpreters work and live in the Riverside area; however, they work at call centers for Sorenson or Purple Communications on top of service requests for school district students and/or community members.

One of the situations made public recently involved a Deaf couple where the man’s wife tried to communicate with the paramedics after using video relay service (VRS) to call 911. During this time, an unqualified interpreter showed up and it caused additional issues for the wife.

Effective January 1, 2020, for California, AB 5 puts limitations on independent contractors and there are some exceptions; ASL and Deaf interpreters, however, are not exempt. While AB5 is very confusing and difficult to understand, it is a law that puts extreme restrictions on the classification of “independent contractors.” Most interpreting agencies have historically hired a small pool of staff interpreters with independent contractors to fulfill their peak needs

Several more states plan on passing laws similar to AB 5, and it could cause further damage to the already scarce pool of available interpreting services in the community. According to Insider NJ, AB 5 has become so disastrous across the state of California that other state legislators are now reconsidering their ideas of passing similar laws with the ABC test. Created during the Great Depression, the ABC test is based on a “series of factors…and no longer fits how millions of people choose to work today,” Maressa Brown of CAFWU commented. “We look forward to more state- and federal-level lawmakers hearing and addressing the concerns of today’s independent contractors as we continue to work with them to find better solutions.”

“AB5 is killing careers and forcing us to consider leaving this state we love,” says Randy Dotinga, board member and former president of the American Society of Journalists & Authors. The American Society of Journalists & Authors has joined the National Press Photographers Association in suing California (Association of Health Care Journalists).

Some interpreting agencies across the state of California that provide services have been forced to choose between hiring more staff members or cutting back on the number of service requests accepted. Demand is not always guaranteed, so it is not feasible to hire staff members from an economic sense, and this can lead to a higher number of service requests turned down and an overall decrease in availability for the community.

A December 2019 poll by Contently found:

  • 88 percent of independent contractors oppose the law
  • 75 percent say they prefer freelancing over a full-time job
  • 87 percent say they do not trust lawmakers to represent their best interests

The irony is that the very same people who established the need for AB 5 ended up seeing some drastic changes in the Uber driver app as a pushback. The initial goal was for Uber to hire their independent contractors as employees.

What will the state of California do to fix this problem, especially now that the community has been affected and this can lead to a rise in lack of access for communities who use American Sign Language and other languages as their primary language?