Sign Language Interpreters: Stepping Out of the Shadow of Invisibility

January 17, 2012

 

Sign language Interpreter presence vs. interpreter invisibility represent two sides of the same coin. Anna Witter-Merithew encourages practitioners to recommit to more culturally-aware practices.

Some time ago some Deaf colleagues were talking about a familiar topic of conversations with and about interpreters, interpreter attitude.  As has typically been my experience, their use of this phrase carried a negative connotation.  Essentially, they perceived the interpreters who interpreted an event they attended as aloof, detached and largely disinterested.

What Happened?

When I inquired about specific behaviors, they described how the interpreters arrived for the event, let the event coordinator know they had arrived, briefly introduced themselves to the Deaf consumers, and then isolated themselves at the front of the room where they began texting and chatting while waiting for the event to start.

During the event, there was little if any effort by the interpreters to check-in with the consumers to verify whether things were working well or not.  During breaks the interpreters disappeared or were observed in the front of the room texting, talking on the phone or chatting with each other.  There was no initial interaction to break-the-ice and allow the consumers and interpreters to become acquainted or to explore logistical considerations and preferences. There was no inquiry into consumer preferences or the effectiveness of the services that were delivered.

At the end of the event, the interpreters said a quick good-bye and left. These behaviors—or lack thereof—were perceived as culturally rude and representative of a poor attitude.  Further, these Deaf individuals reported being distracted by these perceptions during the event being interpreted.  Their thoughts were on the challenge of working through versus with interpreters instead of the subject matter being interpreted.

This one specific example of interpreter attitude has really stuck with me. I find myself paying close attention to how we as sign language interpreters establish our presence and relate to consumers prior to, during and after interpreting assignments.  As a result, I have become increasing aware of just how deep the roots of the interpreter as invisible remain embedded in some of our professional acts and practices.  Even though we strive to move forward theoretically and philosophically in deepening our relationship with Deaf people, some of our professional acts and practices demonstrate that we are still working in the shadow of invisibility.  And, what these professional acts and practices communicate to Deaf people may be counter to our intentions.

Interpreter as Invisible

Historically, in an effort to minimize the potential for the sign language interpreter to step outside their role and take-over a communication event, the field-at-large has encouraged practitioners to perform their duties in the least obtrusive ways possible—even to the extreme of behaving as if they were invisible; merely a conduit for transmitting information from one language into another.  Interpreters may assume they must be detached to be impartial and/or appear professional. Interpreters might instruct speakers to proceed, “as if I am not even here.”  Unfortunately, such a restricted view of the role of an interpreter has proved fraught with misconceptions—the presence of an interpreter in the midst of what would otherwise be a direct human interaction will always have inherent implications.  There have been studies in the field of spoken and sign language interpreting that illustrate the degree to which interpreter presence impacts the outcome of communication events—often in unexpected and unintended ways.

In reality, the view of sign language interpreters as merely conduits has always been faulty primarily because the interpreter must be physically and intellectually present in the interaction to be successful. The interpreter cannot behave as if invisible because there are clearly times when there is a need for the interpreter to manage the flow of communication and facilitate or seek clarification of messages, as well conduct more active interventions when appropriate. Further, facilitation of and access to communication is at the heart of interpreting and is dependent on forming rapport and relationship as part of the interpreting process.

Nevertheless, assumptions that perpetuate the interpreter behaving as if invisible still exist and are evident in the experience of the Deaf colleagues when confronted with an interpreter team who is detached and functioning as disengaged. We still have work to do in terms of stepping out of the shadow of invisibility—focusing on how we establish our presence is just one opportunity.

Interpreter Presence

Interpreter presence relates to the manner and conduct of a sign language interpreter in the midst of interaction with consumers.  Ideally, this presence is evident in the quality of poise and effectiveness that enables the interpreter to achieve a productive and collaborative relationship with consumers.  This quality is much like a spirit or a manner that is felt and received by consumers as genuine engagement, attentiveness, readiness, acceptance, respect.  It is predicated on the desire to offer performance that facilitates a successful outcome—where consumers are able to achieve their goals for the communication event.  It should be evident in all phases of an interpreted assignment—pre, during and post.

Interpreter presence involves the state of mind and level of attention a sign language interpreter brings to his or her work—the state of being closely focused on the relationships and communication at hand, not distracted by irrelevant thoughts or external events.  This clarity of thinking and attention to the task at hand is an important part of the interpreter’s ability to deliver accurate and meaning-based interpretation. Establishing presence is central to creating rapport and establishing trust with consumers.

To illustrate, consider the importance of establishing presence in the healthcare setting where a strong rapport between the healthcare professional, patient and sign language interpreter will enhance the amount and quality of information about the patient’s illness transferred in both directions.  This can enhance the accuracy of diagnosis and increase the patient’s knowledge about the status of their health, thus leading to greater compliance with the proposed treatment plan.  Where such a relationship is compromised because the interpreter fails to create a functional presence, the potential for misunderstanding and risk increase.

Let’s Make the Commitment

It is important to acknowledge that consistently creating an effective presence requires a conscious and deliberate commitment—something that is not always easy to attain in the busy and fast-paced world in which we live.  There are many demands that compete for our attention. The intersection between the linguistic tasks associated with interpreting and the interpersonal dynamics involved in an interpreted interaction are indeed challenging to manage. However, if our intention is create and sustain meaningful relationships with Deaf consumers, this is one way we can make a difference.

Where do we begin?  A first step is self-assessment—we all benefit from a personal check-in with ourselves to examine and monitor our interpersonal behaviors.

  • Do I take time to meet Deaf consumers before assignments to become acquainted and discuss logistical considerations?
  • Do I touch base with Deaf consumers regularly throughout the assignment to make sure things are progressing effectively?
  • Do I make myself available to Deaf consumers during breaks to see if I can be of assistance?
  • Do I avoid using technology during assignments so I remain open, available, and approachable should I be needed?
  • Does my affect and demeanor reflect attentiveness, alertness, engagement and readiness?
  • Do I make myself available at the conclusion of assignments to connect with Deaf consumers should they be interested?
  • If I must leave immediately after an assignment, do I touch base with the Deaf consumer first, letting them know I need to leave and extending my appreciation for the opportunity to work with them?
  • Do I regularly talk with Deaf individuals, outside of interpreting assignments, about their perceptions and expectations of interpreters?  If I do, am I a good listener?

This is one practical way in which we can work to improve the experiences of Deaf consumers with sign language interpreters—and thereby improve our relationship with Deaf people. Let’s make the commitment to continue to step out of the shadows of invisibility and demonstrate our respect for the interactional and cultural norms of the Deaf Community.  Might this lead to less discussion of interpreter attitude and more discussion of Deaf-heart?

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61 Comments on "Sign Language Interpreters: Stepping Out of the Shadow of Invisibility"

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Member
Elvire Roberts

This chimes with much of the research done recently in sign language interpreting in the UK. I’d particularly recommend that you look at the research done by Dr Jules Dickinson on the role of the interpreter in workplace interpreting, examining role conflicts and precisely that issue of the ‘Invisibility Cloak’ that some of us still don. A cloak that both protects and hinders us in the interpreted interaction. Despite the research and a change in interpreter training, there still seems to persist a perception amongst some interpreters and clients that the ideal interpreter is the invisible one.

awitter
Member
Hi Elvire! Thanks for getting the conversation started! Do you have a citation for Dr. Dickinson’s work? It seems like important reading for all of us. You are right…consumers are diverse and have a variety of expectations and assumptions about interpreters. For sure, there are some consumers who prefer the interpreter to be as invisible/non-intrusive as possible. And, when we are engaged with such a consumer, we may have to adapt our behavior accordingly. However, even then, we still have a duty to be fully present in terms of our readiness, attentiveness, accessibility and engagement to the process at hand,… Read more »
Member
Jules Dickinson
Hi Anna I like your statement with regards to the importance of the interpreter establishing their presence, and the fact that this a vital element in creating rapport and establishing trust with consumers. As Elv has mentioned (I will pay her later for publicising my work ;-)), my study focused on the role of the interpreter in the workplace, specifically looking at how they can be part of a ‘community of practice’ or workgroup. Establishing a maintaining a visible presence is definitely an advantage in certain settings, as it can remind all participants that ‘this is an interpreted event’ and… Read more »
awitter
Member
Hi Jules. Thank you for providing this link. I imagine that there are many of us interested in the user friendly summary. Would you be open to sharing an email address where we can reach you? And, since the articles here at Street Leverage are archived, would you be willing to come back and post the electronic link when it becomes available? Your study is an important one and having broader access to it will be helpful! Thanks. I appreciate the reminder embedded in your comments that our approach to “presence” is not a one size fits all. This has… Read more »
Member
Jules Dickinson
Hi Anna No problem, I will revisit in a couple of weeks and post the electronic link. In the meantime I can be contacted at julesdickinson@hotmail.com and I am more than happy to forward the summary plus any relevant other publications. In terms of my work the focus has been on how the interpreter can emphasise their presence to make a positive impact on turn-taking in multi-party events, such as team meetings (where deaf people are in the minority), and how it can maintain their participation in the collaborative floor. Really interested in your thoughts around adjusting from ASL to… Read more »
jemmart
Member
Thank you for sharing this, and for creating a new opportunity for self-reflection, along with your checklist. You state above that, “Even though we strive to move forward theoretically and philosophically in deepening our relationship with Deaf people, some of our professional acts and practices demonstrate that we are still working in the shadow of invisibility.” One of the ways that we continue to work in this shadow of invisibility is through our choices of attire. I’d like to respectfully propose an addition to your assessment questions. This concept may already be implied in some of your questions listed, however,… Read more »
awitter
Member

Hi Jackie! Thanks for your post. Absolutely–attire is another important consideration and one that an entire article could be devoted.
I appreciate your reminder that there are multiple aspects to showing up and being present.
Anna

Member

Anna,

Thanks for the interesting article. I wonder how the increased physical and psychic distance introduced by VRS/VRI might exacerbate this problem. The solutions are largely the same (although I hope no-one is texting while working VRS!), but there is the additional lack of physical immediacy which I personally find unnerving.

-Dan.

awitter
Member
Hi Dan. Hope all is well for you! It has been awhile since I interpreted in a VRS setting, but I certainly recall the period of adjustment I had to make while learning new ways of creating relationship with Deaf callers through the use of technology. Because it was so different from face-to-face interactions, and there were restrictions regarding how engagement could occur, it was–as you indicate–unnerving. But, with experience and exposure to a broad range of Deaf callers, I discovered there were ways to quickly communicate my interest, attentiveness, readiness and engagement. And for the few years that I… Read more »
Member
Hi Anna! VRS really isn’t my speed. I’m more of an old-school, in-the-room interpreter, although I’d consider doing VRI at some point. I am glad to hear that in your experience, engaging the consumers is not only possible, but fun. This does appear to be a tightrope that we are required, as professionals, to walk. On the one hand, we are not to inject ourselves into the interaction; on the other, this is a profession where human contact is high, and each culture we work with has its own protocols for such encounters. In fact, I’ve found that establishing rapport… Read more »
Member
Janice Cagan-Teuber
Dan, I understand what you mean. What concerns me is that usually, when I see a VRS interpreter interpreting for my husband, they appear wooden. Almost no facial expression, let along grammar. When I interpret for the VRS company, I make it a point to always smile and greet the caller the same way I greet them in person. I usually get appreciative comments from the callers, before they hang up. It is important, regardless of the distance between the interpreter and the consumer, to provide a warm and pleasant demeanor. If the caller is calling because of some issue… Read more »
awitter
Member

Hey Janice–great seeing you here. It seems so simple, doesn’t it? Greet consumers with a smile and a warm affect that says, I am here to serve. Sad that it is often the opposite of what consumers get from us. And, maintaining that openness and attentiveness throughout the assignment seems to be even more difficult. We just keep working on it, right?!

Hope all is well in your world.
Warmly,
Anna

Member
Hi Anna (and Janice), I agree wholeheartedly, with the article and with the comments regarding establishing a relationship with VRS consumers. I, too, greet each caller with a smile and interest which serves not only to let them know I am engaged and ready to “work,” it also clarifies that the “attitude” they may see during a call is NOT that of the interpreter and they can direct their comments accordingly. I have tools and strategies for conveying this to both deaf and hearing callers in a VRS setting and find it is very do-able without crossing boundaries or blurring… Read more »
awitter
Member

Hello Babetta! Thanks for adding your experience to this discussion. Would you be willing to share a few of the tools and strategies you use and have found successful. For the purpose of this article, we are most interested in those that relate to the deaf caller. Many thanks!
Anna

Member
Catherine Heckel
Thank you for this article. We were told in our ITP that we must not be “familiar” with the Deaf client. I always thought that it was an insult to Deaf to act as if I weren’t human myself. Where I live there are a large number of people who speak a different language. Yet interpreter/translators enjoy a relationship with their clients that seems to be non-existent in the interpreting community here. Deaf may be a linguistic minority but they are still people and so am I. Trying to keep a balance between being “present” and being professional is difficult… Read more »
awitter
Member
Hi Catherine. Thanks for joining the conversation. Likely, there are some differences in expectations within Deaf Communities across the United States, so I can only speak to my experience. What my experience tells me is that it is in fact part of Deaf Community norms for interpreters and Deaf consumers to sufficiently connect/engage to become familiar with each other and to allow for a discussion of expectations and/or preferences. Perhaps what your ITP instructor(s) was talking about is avoid becoming personal. Certainly, there is a difference between being personable (open, attentive, accessible, alert, interested) and personal (sharing too much unrelated… Read more »
Member

In the situation described above, the interpreter is perceived to be aloof. Sometimes, the exact opposite occurs when the Deaf participant is looking for a more seamless experience, and the interpreter’s mere presence feels like an intrusion. We interpreters walk a tightrope, trying to gauge our clients’ needs and preferences. Sharpening your customer service skills and taking your ego out of the situation helps. It takes a true professional to be able to “read” a client, but you can never be all things to all people.

Member
Kitty LaFountain
AMEN! @ Jon’s posting, “…you can never be all things to all people”. I started out in 1968 as a “helper”, do,do,do, and save all the deaf people’s souls. Onward to the ’70s, robot,invisible,and bowl on the weekends with the Deaf. Then the ’80s, ASL! yeah! show expression, body language, gestures (I grew up that way),still bowling on the weekends and also church interpreting. The ’90s,good grief was I confused, still had robots around, but now many terps were dating, marrying and interpreting for their boyfriend, husband, family member. I, on the other hand, being well trained by my ITP… Read more »
awitter
Member

Hi Kitty! Thanks for your kind remark. So glad to know that you are out and doing well. Thanks for the addition of some humor and for reinforcing that our field continues to evolve and change! Right, we cannot be all things to all people…to try is senseless. But, we can bring to each situation a genuine interest in our work and the task at hand. As Jackie E. said earlier…it is about how we show up in our work!
Warmly,
Anna

Member

Oh wow Kitty, You just summed up my entire career except for the bowling part! Love it! Perfect chronicle.

awitter
Member
Hi Jon! Thanks for your comments. Your encouragement for us to keep tabs on our egos is appreciated! In addition to the customer service skills you mention, cultural competence is also necessary. Understanding the cultural norms for interactions within the Deaf Community will guide our application of customer service skills. And right…we can never be all things to all people. We can however, bring the same intention to each and every interpreting assignment–to be fully present and engaged in the task at hand, to project a spirit of openness, respect, gratitude and accessibility, and to provide the most competent service… Read more »
Member
I have a quick comment and also a question. When we have new interpreters start their practicum with us, the first thing I tell them is,” remember, you are still a human being and not an interpreting robot”. It feels like that invisible robot mentality has been ingrained in them, and to interact on a personal level is hard to do. The second thing I tell them is,” pay just as much attention to how I interact with everyone involved, not just what signs I use” My question is this. You focused mainly on the interpreters interaction with the Deaf… Read more »
Member
Kitty LaFountain
Thanks Anna! When you wrote about observing interpreters that the Deaf community viewed as “… the most well respected practitioners”. I thought of Debbie Gunter, from Houston,TX (Sign Shares). Sadly Debbie passed away on 12/15/11 at the age of 58. I had the honor of meeting her and working for her company while I was living in Houston. My husband Wayne was receiving cancer treatments at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Debbie was so caring, thoughtful, loving, and found me work. I had so many restrictions: must be near my apt (I feared Houston’s traffic), must be during hours that my… Read more »
awitter
Member

You are so right Kitty! Debbie was well loved and respected…and will certainly be missed. Our hearts and thoughts go out to her family and the community there in Houston. Thanks for taking time to remember her important contributions to our field.
Warmly,
Anna

awitter
Member
Hi Blake. So great to hear that you are focusing on both the technical and”soft” skills as part of the practicum experience. And, I agree, the interpreter as invisible/conduit/robot mentality is still prevalent–even in ways we as interpreters don’t recognize! I am reminded of an interaction with a highly competent interpreter who had a bit of a melt-down in the midst of an assignment and did nothing to stop and talk about it/straighten it out with either consumer. Later, when he and I discussed the incident, I asked him why he didn’t stop, negotiate some changes in his working conditions,… Read more »
Member
Medical interpreting in my area seems to consist of the great divide of interpreters who are way to personal and overly accessable, and interpreters who in reaction to that are not personable nor accessable no matter what the client’s communication needs. Thankfully, there are interpreters who maintain the discipline and balance of “interpreter presence” as defined in this wonderful article! Hospitals and interpreting agencies sometimes make the mistake of having no policy about this or establishing an overly rigid policy. It is a professional interpreter indeed who can navigate through this and “engage” in a balanced and effective way without… Read more »
awitter
Member
Meg- Thanks so much for sharing your experience. This approach to role implementation that is manifested by practitioners as either too rigid or too involved is symptomatic of our extreme philosophical differences. We still struggle to define who we are and what that looks like in terms of our actions and practices. We need more open discussion about these kind of differences. It is great that you can identify interpreters in your community who reflect the necessary balance–I hope they are in the majority! Your point about agency policies is an important one. I was talking with a colleague this… Read more »
Member
It feels weird to write this, as I have always felt like the way I approach my job as a freelance interpreter doesn’t fit in well with “normal” way most interpreters do their job…but here it goes. I have always thought of myself being part of the team( I do 85% medical work, so this is where I am coming from). I talk with the new interpreters about not being afraid to talk to someone if they speak to you. I have seen the dr ask the interpreter where they leaned ASL, and the interpreter KNEW they were asking her,… Read more »
Member
Blake, I found your response very interesting. When my girlfriend read it (also an interpreter), she asked when I changed my name to Blake. Even down to the 85% medical work! It took me years to figure this out, but now I’m always in at least a shirt and tie, if not a suit. I can walk down a hall and watch physicians I’ve never met walk towards me, passing 10 people, but smiling and saying hi when they pass me. Which is even better if they’re the physician working with the deaf patient. I don’t have to describe what… Read more »
awitter
Member

Hi David. Thanks for joining the conversation we are having here! You have peaked my interest. Tell us a bit more about how you perceive the interpreter in the lobby (I assume interacting with the consumer) interfering with the therapeutic relationship between the provider and the patient. And, does this then extend to the interpreter being a participant in the patient care team? In other words, does the interpreter joining in as part of the patient care team impact that therapeutic relationship? How do the two types of interaction differ? Thanks!
Anna

Member
Kevin Mills
Anna – Blake’s comment about being whisked into the back when he arrives at an assignment piques my interest as well. As a consumer I much appreciate interpreters, especially those in the medical setting, who sit down with me prior to my appt to become familiar with my communication preference and to learn from me what I expect from them in their work for me. As a professional working with deaf consumers for many years and now acting as supervisor to a staff interpreter who goes into the field, his remark also concerns me because I have always urged consumers… Read more »
awitter
Member
Hi Kevin Your perceptions and experiences as a consumer and supervisor of interpreting services are a very important part of this conversation. Your remarks reinforce the sentiments expressed by the Deaf colleagues I referenced at the beginning of the article. And, they reinforce similar comments and experiences Deaf consumers have generously expressed over the years. Given that more and more interpreters come to the profession by way of programs (versus by way of relationship within the Deaf Community), it is important for Deaf consumers to continue educating us about their expectations and experiences. It is this open exchange that can… Read more »
awitter
Member

Your comments about striving to be part of the team when interpreting in medical situations is an example of an striving to be more system-savvy/system-oriented. And, your comment about the interpreter who ignores a direct question ties in beautifully with the extremes Meg was talking about.

You remind us again that how we dress does impact on how we are perceived AND how deaf people are perceived. As you have reminded us, dressing according to the system norms is one way to improve how we are perceived within that system.

Thanks for continuing to contribute to the conversation.
Anna

Member
Millie Stansfield
Hello there Anna ! It’s been so many years… It is great to have this discussion out in the open. I think this may be a contributing force to the ‘attitude’ that seems to prevail between coda and hearing terps. And. We need to go back to the source of this…cit training. Perhaps the ‘aloof’/neutral view led to over exaggeration and now appearing disengaged, from our early days of being TOO involved. In any case I see younger terps struggling with this. Also, the change in deaf politics and feeling more empowered, deaf sometimes themselves not want the connection. So… Read more »
awitter
Member
Hello Millie! So nice to reconnect with you here. Yes, I absolutely remember your article and for others interested in this important read, here is the citation. Stansfield, M. (1981). Psychological Issues in Mental Health Interpreting. In Edgar Shroyer, Ed., RID Interpreting Journal., Vol.1, No. 1, September.,RID Publications: Silver Spring, MD. And, here some 30+ years later, we are still working through the residue of our early assumptions about the interpreter as a machine or as invisible. Conceptually, the intention was to create a paradigm shift from the era where interpreters were typically volunteers and often caretakers. The goal was… Read more »
Member
Having used interpreters often during my working life and in other appointments, let me mention the issue of “interpreter abandonment”. This happens during lengthy seminars with luncheons or activities outside of the meetings. As the sole Deaf participant, I find myself cut off during these breaks. The interpreters usually sit on the opposite side of the room by themselves or exit altogether. This is a situation that is detrimental because of the loss of professional interaction with other meeting attenders or loss of the opportunity to process such as “Did the speaker say there was a signup sheet?” The interpreter… Read more »
awitter
Member
Dianrez- Thanks for your post! Your insights as a Deaf consumer of interpreting services are essential to this discussion! You make many important points. One in particular that struck me is what transpires during the breaks–the interpreters isolate themselves or disappear and the Deaf person is left without communication access. Because these types of events typically involve a team or teams of interpreters, this practice can be easily corrected. To ensure that the interpreters get the periodic breaks they need, they can alternate interpreting for the Deaf consumer(s) during breaks. One of the selling points for using teams of interpreters… Read more »
Member
Susan R. Stange
Hello Anna and Thank You! This is just the sort of conversation about professional vs present that I need. I am fortunate that the lion’s share of my work is medical; I am a staff interpreter at a large teaching hospital. I think you have hit gold when you consider the interpreter as a member of the clinical team, whose engagement and involvement is integral to the doctor, the Deaf patient, the hospital system, and ancillary services such as labs, radiology… I know for certain that most clinicians see me as a member of the team, and for me to… Read more »
drussell
Member
Deb Russell
Thanks so much, Anna, for such a well crafted piece. This is such an important issue and one being discussed around the world as interpreters take on more of a professional role that seems to create such distance between us and the people we serve. There will be a 3 hour panel at AVLIC 2012 this year on exactly this topic! and it would be lovely to see something at CIT that helps us as educators to examine our curricula and teaching practices to ensure that we are helping new interpreters to understand the importance of the commitments you have… Read more »
awitter
Member

Hello Deb!
How can we learn more about the AVLIC convention and the panel? Any chance it will be broadcast or filmed for archival purposes? Might you and some of your AVLIC colleagues submit just such a presentation proposal to CIT? I feel certain the program committee would love to review it! Smiles…

Thanks for joining the conversation and warmest wishes to you up there in Alberta!

Anna

awitter
Member
Hello Susan! So great to connect with you here. And, so great to get your insight as someone who has stepped out of the shadows of invisibility to work collaboratively with the consumers and professionals toward a successful outcome, and can report that it consistently works and improves the level of respect for all concerned. I agree with you that we need more conversation about this topic on both a conceptual/philosophical and practical level. We need to talk more about what it means to be a Sign Language interpreter working with Deaf people in the American society. We need to… Read more »
Member
This is a wonderful article. First of all, I wish to apologise for my terrible english. It’s not my first language. To me, I do’nt see any contradiction between an Interpreter interacting with the consumers (d/Deaf) before and after interpreting, and being invisible while interpreting, as the Acts states. With my experience,here in Zambia, Africa, I’m able to interact with my Deaf clients before and after interpreting, even establishing fiendships, as long as I’m not touching the subject which they will discuss. That way, they feel comfortable and able to follow the discussion easily, when I begin interpreting. If an… Read more »
awitter
Member
Hi Obed! Thank you for joining the conversation! Warm wishes to you there in Zambia, Africa. You have brought up another important point about personal relationships between interpreters and Deaf consumers. For many of us, the source of our involvement in the Deaf Community and interpreting is rooted in a personal relationship with one or more Deaf people. In many ways, I think for some of us, it is this deeper connection to Deaf people that sparks our motivation as interpreters. It certainly has in my case. These personal relationships have helped me appreciate the experiences of Deaf people in… Read more »
abrace
Member
Aaron Brace
Hi Anna! Thanks to you for opening such an important discussion, and again to Brandon for providing the forum. There are so many factors that drive the choices we make when in engaging (or not) with our consumers, and I think that many of them attach to our insecurities or our expectation of damning judgement from consumers or – perhaps more daunting – from each other. Colleagues do often draw lines between themselves and others based on how much/how appropriately they engage with consumers. I don’t think that we generally have ready language at our disposal to discuss these issues… Read more »
awitter
Member
Hi Aaron. So wonderful to see you here. It has been way too long since seeing you! I hope all is well in your world. You raise some very salient points. I agree that we continue to struggle with figuring out our professional acts and practices…and sometimes cling to what we have been taught. Doing what is familiar is part of our human nature. In part, I think we have failed to recognize that as we learn more, as more scholarship becomes available, as more of us gain specialized skills in specific settings (enabling us to appreciate our acts and… Read more »
abrace
Member
Aaron Brace

Thanks for the vote of confidence, Anna! I want to take a little while to think of examples that I might most accurately reflect how I’ve pointed myself in the direction of point B (not sure I’ll ever completely get there, but try to keep it in my sights).

Cheers,
Aaron

abrace
Member
Aaron Brace
Hi again, Anna, I apologize in advance for the length of what I’m posting now. No offense taken if anyone just wants to skip it : ) In recent years I’ve found myself frequently wondering, “What do you think you’re doing?”, both as an indignant challenge to a questionable behavior (“… you’re doing?!!!???!!), and as a genuine inquiry into my beliefs about the choices I make. Specific to “visibility”, I think I fall short when what I “think I’m doing” is pursuing a version of … for lack of a better term.. “work life” that’s consistent with what I vaguely… Read more »
awitter
Member
Aaron Thank you for your thoughtful, candid and insightful remarks! I am both humbled by and appreciative of this important glimpse into your experiences as someone coming into the Deaf World from the general society. You have nothing to apologize for as your remarks are invaluable. There is much that can come of willingness to share your insights. First, hopefully others will be willing to share their expereinces and our awareness of motivating factors impacting our acts of “invisibility” will increase. Second, such openness can allow us to begin considering the implications of the losses you identify on what it… Read more »
abrace
Member
Aaron Brace

Thanks, Anna. I didn’t want to over-think or sit on it too long for fear I’d never hit “submit”. I’ve dealt with most of the issues I mentioned long ago, of course, though I never stop asking myself what it is “I think I’m doing” in the choices I make. If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s this- doing this work in honesty, integrity, and alliance with Deaf people requires a level of self-awareness that I won’t ever be able to say I’ve fully achieved.

Thanks again, Anna,
Aaron

Member
Nancy Riley

Thank you again for sharing your scholarship with us. You continue to help foster a dialogue of ideas that go beyond the surface levels we often focus on. I especially liked in this article you gave us some very specific examples of what “presence” might look like (or not).

awitter
Member

Hi Nancy–glad you found the article useful. Yes, Brandon has offered us a great forum for going beyond the surface level here in this Street Leverage site. Hats off to him for starting this community!
Anna

Member

Anna! I really appreciate this discussion. Deaf signlanguage interpreters should always be ready to adjust to d varying attitudes of the consumers(deaf). The interpreters are there to serve if not to help the consumer. The Deaf folks too should try as much as possible to make d atmosphere conducive enough for the interpreters to serve better. The Deaf people has diverse expectations from interpreters thus making interpreters finding it hard to adjust frequently. with this important discussion, i think it has serve as an eye opener to both parties.

Member
This has been a very insightful discourse, Anna! Thank you for writing this. I really am enjoying the flow of “Street Leverage” issues. I think your article links very well into the recent articles by Wing Butler, “Does Social Networking Impair Sign Language Interpreter Ethics?” and Brandon Arthur, “How do Sign Language Interpreters Increase Opportunity in a Weak Economy.” These articles tie into the concept that interpreters you see with their noses into their Blackberries are possibly doing one of two things. They are responding to scheduler’s requests for availability, thus keeping themselves employed, or they are busy posting on… Read more »
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[…] of invisibility that is deeply rooted in our field.  If you haven’t read my previous post, Sign Language Interpreters: Stepping Out of the Shadows of Invisibility, consider it a prequel to this […]

Member
Anna, Bless your heart for this great article! As a staff interpreter for the state, I work with the same clientele- both Deaf and hearing all day, everyday. I have not run into difficulties regarding my role when I am actually interpreting. However, during “down time”, when I am in the office and working on other projects, the staff in the office will stop by to say hello and chat briefly. We acknowledge each other and have developed a relationship of trust. Questions about navigating these relationships have come up and I have found that it creates a wall of… Read more »
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Hi!
Something a Deaf person said to me long ago stuck with me: They would rather work with a “so-so” interpreter who was friendly and invested, than a top of the line certified interpreter who was like a machine. I really enjoyed this article, thank you!!

Member
Nancy Riley

Ana, I am still being fed by this article a year later. I share it often and use it in a class I teach. Thank you.

Today I attended a webinar about the “Concept of Role Space” ( Conducted by Robert G Lee), The frameworks he and his colleague Peter Llewelynn Jones present give additional useful vocabulary to this discussion. This link takes you to it:

http://whz-cms-10.zw.fh-zwickau.de/els100oh/Keynote_speakers.pdf

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[…] Sign Language Interpreters: Stepping Out of the Shadow of Invisibility, Anna Witter-Merithew asks us to examine the human side of the […]

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