Every once in a while I have a situation where something happens and it requires a meeting or other encounter in a power imbalanced situation. It might be an emergency room, it might be a meeting because someone doesn't understand that the ADA does apply to them, whatever. I don't like to let shit slide, and I don't.
This is a problem, though, because power imbalanced situations make me profoundly anxious. And things that happen when I am anxious? I get even worse at moderating my 'tone' (seriously screw 'tone'), I get worse at understanding content-free speech-if you have ever been in an office setting ever you know what content free speech is, and I eventually lose all ability to speak coherently. What happens instead is an exciting mix of ASL, K sign, noises, and the occasional word. People don't understand that, and they see it as a reason to not treat me as a person. I can't play by their rules, so I am not a real person, you know? And text based communication is right out with these people.
So what do I do in these situations? I bring an allistic, of course! This person's job is to be my Cognitive Interpreter-that is, they (in my case, usually he) translates whatever it is I am saying or flapgrunting or what have you into somewhat palatable language for these people. And he translates "we need to come to the table and dialogue for synergy" into "they want you to go away after they tell you that you're wrong but don't tell you why". And when I ask, "did they just tell me to fuck off?" he says "why yes they did!" as the nurse is protesting that she is sincere.
A cognitive interpreter is not someone who speaks over me. One of the reasons I get flustered in such situations is because I don't have time to translate thought to English to socially acceptable English before people start talking over me. A key thing my cogint does is tell those people to shush and let me finish (or start). I am spending less energy fighting for my communicative space if someone else is doing it for me. He is also backup when it comes to the repetitive "but why are you right?" circle that happens in any adversarial conversation ever. Those meetings tend to get very gaslighty very quickly, and the backup of someone seen as a real person is grounding-it dumps a bit of water on the lamp, knowing that I am right, look, someone I actually respect agrees.
That's a lot of what it comes down to in most situations: a 'real person' is lending his support to the things I say. Sometimes he is voicing what I mean but can't make my mouth say. Sometimes he repeats absolutely verbatim exactly what I said and, like magic, they listen (which is annoying, but it happens). If I say I hurt, medical people don't believe me, but if a real person does? Suddenly they listen. He's a reminder sometimes, I think, that real people care what happens to me. One time I was in the ER with an adrenal crisis after a fairly minor accident in which I got jostled. I was very, very still and sedate-which is not like me. The doctors did not believe me that I was really not doing well at all. They listened to cogint, though, when he told them I don't sit still like that. My pulse was 40 and my blood pressure was something like 66/38. That's not conducive to staying alive-but they apparently needed a real person to tell them.
This cannot be said enough: a good cognitive interpreter does not speak over me. They do not try to make themselves the center of attention, they don't volunteer extraneous information in any situation. They do not put words in my mouth. They are almost but not quite a form of AAC and they are a drawbridge to communication with allistic society. I say drawbridge because the bridge goes up when it's not needed as a tool.
A good cognitive interpreter knows and respects the person they are helping. They know which flaps are happy and which are not so happy-I may not have standard facial expressions, but everything you could possibly need to know can be read from my hands. They know distress signals and happy and they know how to shut up when told to let me stand on my own until shit goes south again. They provide moral support in addition to communication support. Sometimes they're just called an advocate, but they're different, because they do not speak for in the traditional sense. They just make sure everyone is actually understood.