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Interprenomics: A Decoder Ring for Sign Language Interpreters

Do interpreters understand the business side of service provision as well as they should? Wing Butler gives a step by step for sign language interpreters to reevaluate and reposition themselves in a competitive market.

At some point every sign language interpreter is faced with the task of valuing and selling their art. As a craftsperson, the value of a sign language interpreter’s work is not found in the dollars and cents of a transaction, but in the impact their work has on the person receiving it.

Faced with the challenging task of valuing their art when compared to their peers, it is easy to see why sign language interpreters often possess business related skills that are underdeveloped or worse, non-existent.

To successfully decode the conflict–real or perceived–of balancing the art and the business sides of sign language interpreting industry, interpreters need to be familiar with the concepts and exercises that offer context and insight into the value of their work.

Enter, interprenomics.

Big Bang Theory – The Interpreting Economy

In order to understand interprenomics, it is important to consider the zone of primary events that are responsible for the foundations of the sign language interpreting economy—the formation of the sign language interpreting industry.

  • Founding of Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID): The beginning of professional standards, practices, and certification for sign language interpreters.
  • Enacting of Federal Laws: The Education of the Deaf Act (1986), The Rehabilitation Act (1973), Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (Reauthorization 1997), Americans with Disabilities Act (1990). These laws embedded the role of the sign language interpreter in mainstream America.
  • Reimbursement of Video Relay Services: In 2002 the U.S. FCC begins the reimbursement of interstate VRS providers via the interstate TRS fund.

Without the resulting reaction and expansion of these events coming together, the economic disposition of the sign language interpreter would be less of an explosion of opportunity and more of a slow creep toward legitimacy.

Interprenomics

There is power in using timely and relevant information to act. Interprenomics is the examination of the availability, compensation and purchasing of sign language interpreting services.  Like decoding sudoku, understanding interprenomics assists sign language interpreters in decoding the challenges of placing value on their art and making sound business decisions.

Components of Interprenomics:

  • Availability: the number of sign language interpreters, the availability of the various types of credentialed interpreters, how and why certain interpreters are selected for the work.
  • Compensation: how the income and the opportunity (short and long-term) to earn it is distributed among sign language interpreters and/or the agencies that hire them.
  • Purchasing: the transaction between individuals and/or organizations to buy sign language interpreting services.

             * More detail on the components/application of interprenomics can be found below.

Simply, interprenomics is the examination of the buying and selling of sign language interpreting services.

Availability

The Big Bang that created the sign language interpreting economy has traditionally afforded interpreters the advantage in the supply vs. demand equation–known as availability.

Availability, as defined in interprenomics, is the single greatest factor impacting economic opportunities for sign language interpreters. To understand availability positions an interpreter to be more successful in representing themselves and their rate of pay within their local interpreting economy.  There are four inescapable drivers of availability and only one can be true at any given moment:

1.  If demand increases and interpreter supply remains unchanged, it leads to higher interpreter wages and more opportunity.

2.  If demand decreases and interpreter supply remains unchanged, it leads to lower interpreter wages and less opportunity.

3.  If interpreter supply increases and demand remains unchanged, it leads to lower interpreter wages and less opportunity.

4.  If interpreter supply decreases and demand remains unchanged, it leads to higher interpreter wages and more opportunity.

As mentioned, in large part sign language interpreters have experienced Availability driver #1.  This scarcity of supply driven by legislation has ensured interpreters a rich wage and abounding opportunity. Consequently, sign language interpreters have, until recently, enjoyed an above the average median wage.

Compensation

Compensations is the flow of greenbacks that support the local sign language interpreting economy. For the purpose of interprenomics, compensation is the total revenues (i.e. monies) generated in a local interpreting economy and its distribution among sign language interpreters and the agencies that hire them.

Understanding how this compensation is divvied up between these local interpreting economy stakeholders can do four things for a sign language interpreter:

  • Determine if the amount of work accessed by an interpreter is appropriate given the total amount of work being performed in a local area.
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  • Determine where work is most readily available and who is receiving it.
  • Identify which opportunities are most financially beneficial given the time investment.
  • Gain insight into the appropriateness of a rate being paid or charged by an interpreter.

There is power in the context provided by understanding the compensation dynamics of a local interpreting economy. Particularly, if what Brandon Arthur stated in his article, Will Sign Language Interpreters Remain Silent of VRS Reform, regarding falling compensation, under valued credentials, and supply exceeding demand holds true.

To apply interprenomics to your work be sure to read the Use Interprenomics section below.

Purchasing

The temperature gauge of any local interpreting economy is Purchasing. The act of customers buying validates the true value of an interpreter’s availability and the compensation that is distributed as a result.  Measuring the trends associated with purchasing provides an interpreter with a general indication of the health of their local interpreting economy.

Purchasing trends give sign language interpreters insight into:

  • The competitiveness of the service offering made by individual interpreters and agencies.
  • The frequency, volume, and costs at which services are bought and sold.
  • What customers find compelling about the service delivery experience.

The value of this type of information to the local sign language interpreter is that it assists them in aligning their service offerings with the core values of their paying customer.

Using Interprenomics

The power of interprenomics is contained in its application. While some sign language interpreters remain content with a “wait and see” approach, others are compelled to seek opportunities to act and in so doing improve their position in their local sign language interpreting economy.

For those sign language interpreters seeking to improve their position, the following two-step process will assist them in leveraging interprenomics to more effectively navigate their local interpreting economy to better ends.

Step One: Gather Information to Create Context

In order for sign language interpreters to align themselves more effectively with their customer’s core values, they must first gain an understanding of their current position in their local marketplace. In order to do this, one must gather sufficient and detailed information to answer the following questions:

In relation to Availability:

  • How many interpreters and agencies am I competing with?
  • How many hours per week am I working?
  • How many hours on average are interpreters in the area working per week?
  • What is the total number of hours worked throughout the local area?
  • What is the range and average rate of pay for interpreters and agencies in the area?

In relation to Compensation:

  • How much money is spent annually on sign language interpreting in your local area?
  • What credentials and skillsets do interpreters/agencies have who get the most of the work?
  • Calculate Compensation using the following formula below:

Total Number of Interpreters x Hours of Interpreter Availability = Local Economy Compensation

Example: 30 interpreters x  32 hrs/wk = 960 hrs/week

In relation to Purchasing:

  • What are the core values of my customers?
  • Do I embody the core values of my customer and meet their skillset expectations?
  • What do customers and interpreting agencies want in a sign language interpreters?
  • Is what I offer competitive? Is my rate of pay competitive?
  • Do I have as much works as my fellow colleagues?

While challenging, the genuine examination of the information gathered will assist a sign language interpreter to use interprenomics and reposition themselves within their local interpreting economy.

Step Two: The Evaluation & Repositioning Process

An examination of the information gathered will identify a baseline of competitive points among local interpreters. This baseline will provide an interpreter with the ability to evaluate their competitive position on the various aspects of their service offering.

If a sign language interpreter determines their service offering is not competitive, it becomes necessary to begin the repositioning process.  In addition to challenging the assumptions on the various points of competition, sign language interpreters also have to confront the assumptions on their skillset, personal brand, rates and practices, and the current value of certification.

This confrontation is essential in order to enhance their competitive edge.

Additional areas worthy of challenging assumption:

  • Hourly rate competitiveness
  • Level of professionalism
  • Likability and soft-skills
  • Strength of reputation
  • Impact on team dynamics
  • Level of flexibility
  • Supporting industry standard practices

The process of evaluating and repositioning is difficult work. It requires a sign language interpreter to step outside their comfort zone, challenge their personal perceptions, and confront the need to change. With that said, it is the most impactful work that an interpreter can do to position themselves for success long-term.

How Are You Positioned?

In most cases, the career path tread by sign language interpreters begins with a journey of discovery, and unfortunately the school of hard knocks when it comes to positioning themselves successfully within the local sign language interpreting economy. For some interpreters a quick study on foundational interprenomics could have helped them to avoid career bankruptcy and provide a basis for successful integration into their local interpreting community.

What changes in your local market have you concerned?
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Educational Interpreters: Buck the Low Wage, No Credential Status Quo

 

A major challenge of educational interpreting is quality assurance. Shelly Hansen outlines how those in and around the educational setting can actively drive change to support higher minimum requirements for educational interpreters on a state by state basis.

Most sign language interpreters at some juncture in their career will provide interpreting services in an educational setting.  As mainstreaming with an interpreter has become a commonplace approach to educating deaf and hard of hearing kids, there is a consistent demand for educational interpreters.

While more common, twenty-two years after the ADA and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (both signed into law by President George H. W. Bush in 1990), there are still challenges faced by deaf children and their families in securing a Free and Appropriate Public Education.

One of these challenges is having access to a qualified, competent sign language interpreter.

Legislated Interpreter Standards

In the state of Washington, more than once in years past, bills have been put forward to establish standards for educational interpreters which would be phased in over time and require these sign language interpreters to demonstrate their proficiency thru national credentialing ie: NAD/RID/EIPA.   These bills historically have not been taken past committee.  This spring, during the recent 2012 WA legislative session, a group of three Deaf seniors from Snohomish High School successfully submitted HB 2765 for consideration.

WA HB 2765

Essentially this bill would have established a requirement for educational interpreters employed by school districts to successfully achieve minimum performance standards (as set by a professional educator standards board),  on one national written and performance assessment by the 2015-16 school year, and national interpreter certification (either RID or NAD certification) by the fall of 2018.  The full bill can be reviewed here.

The Challenge is Fiscal

Unfortunately, HB 2765 failed to reach the House floor.  Among the reasons cited for not taking it past committee was…budgetary.  WA state is currently experiencing a budgetary crisis, like many states in the aftermath of the Great Recession.   To put it bluntly, if you raise standards for educational interpreters, the cost for those professional services will most likely increase.

I saw a posting three weeks ago for an educational interpreter position in my area.  The qualification requirements include: HS diploma, proficiency in variety of sign systems and ASL with desired bilingual/bicultural Spanish skills.  The hourly rate is $13.78/hr.  In WA state the 2012 minimum wage is $9.04.  This is in dramatic contrast to the hourly rate of $85.08 which a freelance interpreter would need to be commensurate with the earnings of a public school teacher, as suggested by Theresa B. Smith, Ph.D in, Thinking About Money – Pulling Back the Curtain, 2009.

 Duty to Act

I would like to challenge educational interpreters in states that lack standard requirements for employment that include national credentialing to consider some kind of collective action.  Imagine a “Stay Home Tuesday.”  Promote utilizing available assessment tools (EIPA, RID).  Find your way to your legislators and state capitol.  Reject the status quo, work through your resistance and recognize the value of competency standards. Don’t ignore student efforts to secure a quality education.  Dialogue and join hands with colleagues on ways to expedite the establishment of professional standards in your state consistent with national credentialing trends.  Many sign language interpreters working in educational settings are already certified and their dedication and commitment to professionalism is to be commended. The students deserve to have qualified competent sign language interpreters commensurate with credentialed administrators, teaching staff, speech therapists, counseling staff etc…

Educational Interpreter Angst

Gina Oliva provides insight into the perspectives of educational interpreters in her recent Street Leverage article: Sign Language Interpreters in Mainstream Settings: Heartbroken and Gagged. In her post Gina suggests that  the collective voice of educational interpreters is the only hope deaf children have in remedying the many issues they confront in the classroom.  She suggests that sign language interpreters working in educational settings can do two very important things, one is to advocate for their students and the other is to bring a collective voice to the forefront in Deaf Education.  Advocating educational interpreter standards is a critical first step in support of positive student outcomes in mainstream settings.

State Requirements

Below is a listing of state requirements for educational interpreters.  It is difficult to find current information for each state and I would welcome updates from readers for missing or erroneous information on this listing compiled from various websites including the DOIT Center in Colorado.

Educational Interpreter Requirements

Alabama:  EIPA 3.5, RID Cert

Alaska: EIPA 4.0

Arizona: EIPA 3.5, RID Cert, NAD 3.0+

Arkansas: QAST 3/2 or 2/3, and written exam

California: EIPA 4.0, RID Cert, NAD 4+

Colorado: EIPA 3.5

Florida: RID Certification

Georgia: RID Certification, NAD 3+

Idaho: EIPA 3.5

Illinois: EIPA 3.0 (Note: 3.0 = Initial license, 3.5 = Standard License)

Indiana: EIPA 3.5, RID Certification, NAD 4+

Iowa: EIPA 3.5

Kansas: EIPA 4.0, QAST 4+,

Louisiana: EIPA 3.0

Maine: EIPA 3.5+

Michigan: EIPA 3.5 (may be upgraded to 4.0 pending review)

Minnesota: RID Certification, NAD 3+

Nebraska: EIPA 3.5, RID Certification, NAD 4+, QAST 4+

Nevada: EIPA 4.0, RID Certification, NAD 3+

New Jersey: EIPA 3.0, RID/NAD Certification

New Mexico: EIPA 4.0, RID Certification, NAD 3+

North Carolina: EIPA 3.5

North Dakota: EIPA 3.5, RID/NAD Certification

Ohio: RID Certification

Oklahoma: EIPA 3.5, RID Certification, NAD 4+

Pennsylvania: EIPA 3.5

South Dakota: RID Certification, NAD 3+

Texas: RID Certification/QAST

Utah: EIPA 3.5, RID/NAD Certification, QAST

Virginia: QAST 3+

Wisconsin: EIPA 3.5, RID Certification

Wyoming: EIPA 3.5+

At the End of the Day

I would like to encourage a collegial dialogue to assess whether sign language interpreters are complicit in keeping pay scales below professional wages by continuing to work without professional standards. Raising standards of interpreter competence has a direct impact on kids’ educational opportunities and access to academic and social content, which in turn affects their future opportunities as fulfilled, contributing citizens in a global market.

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FCC VRS Reform Part II – Sign Language Interpreters File Public Comment

Censored Sign Language Interpreter Working in Video Relay

When there is an opportunity for sign language interpreters and stakeholders to participate in creating the direction of the VRS industry, participation is critical. Brandon Arthur suggests that even more importantly, that participation should be well-informed, well-framed, and professionally presented. 

The charge of emotion sign language interpreters received at the hand of VRS Reform, while important in prompting us to action, can be detrimental if not checked when filing comment with the FCC. Though appreciative of the sign language interpreter who overcame the inertia of apathy and filed this comment with the FCC, I believe their filing would be taken more seriously were they to have checked their emotion and considered what follows prior to submitting comment.

When Filing FCC Comment

First Things First

When filing comment with the FCC, remember you are submitting comment in a public forum. To dispense with formalities is poor form and a demonstration of one’s lack of competency related to public proceedings. Consequently, please be sure to address your comment to:

Ms. Marlene H. Dortch
Secretary
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20554

Further, it is important to reference the docket number for which you are filing comment. The FCC and the general public need to be able to quickly reference the matter upon which you are responding. Yes, this should be a given. In this instance the docket number for the Structure and Practices of the Video Relay Service Program is:

CG Docket No. 1051

Be Specific

When crafting your comment, please be cognizant that the readers of your submission will not have the reference points found in your head (crazy I know). Therefore, be specific in your comments and recommendations. Comment without sufficient context and specificity are of no use to FCC when considering the impact and development of their proposed rule-making.

The No-No

It is critical to remember when filing a comment that to villainize the FCC, VRS providers, your employer or any organizations is inappropriate and frankly misguided. While we may feel justified in doing so due to the negative impact a proposed rule may have on sign language interpreters, it is important that we refrain.

Callout the Benefits

It works to the merit of your comment to specifically point out the public and stakeholder benefits—which includes the FCC—in all recommendations offered. Further, it is important to consider that recommendations must work on a broad scale, which means any recommendation will inherently work to the exclusion of some.

How to File Comment

To file a formal comment via letter, you need to use the ECFS Expert Form.

The following is required:

  1. Proceeding Number (already entered if you click on the link above, if not enter 10-51)
  2. Name of Filer (your name if filing personal comments)
  3. Type of filing (‘Comment’ should already be selected)
  4. Address
  5. Upload document
  6. Review & Confirm your submission

FCC tips on how to file can be found by clicking here.

Will You Join Me?

In most grassroots attempts to persuade a public entity to adopt a certain perspective, people talk a tough game, but fail to support the effort with their time and/or resources. Well, here goes less talk and more walk.

I have drafted a both a comment to file with the FCC and talking points (at the end) that you can freely incorporate into your own FCC filing.  You can find them both here.

I am hopeful that you will join with me in filing comment on this important issue.  Remember, we only have approximately 35 days to get our comments in.

Let’s not let our careers be victimized by our own apathy.

 

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Sign Language Interpreting, Leadership, and Messy Relationships; What They Have in Common

Leadership and relationships for sign language interpreters

Sign language interpreters regularly perform complex interpersonal tasks which require presence and energy. Amy Seiberlich suggests self-awareness and openness are required to achieve personal and professional success.

Sign language interpreting and Leading are alike – the success of each is largely dependent on one’s quality of character and ability to navigate complex interpersonal dynamics. Yet when we talk about either we generally focus our attention on the technical skills required to accomplish the task ahead. Technical skills aside, there is much to learn about improving the quality of our interpreting if we simply turn our attention towards matters of leadership.

Worldview

Leadership involves managing people, and people are messy. Each person is a system of individual experiences, memories, belief systems and values that form a viewing window for the world. No two people combine these elements in the same manner. Even siblings who grew up in the same family of origin and who share these elements have formed different windows. We are each a unique expression of how our journey has unfolded and that impacts our work as sign language interpreters. At its core then, leadership is about managing complicated and messy relationships – with others, and with self.

Developing a Relationship with Self

A teacher once told me that you must first be able to lead self before you can lead others. I later realized what he meant was that I needed to understand and develop a strong relationship with myself before I could expect to do the same with others. So the authentic leadership journey begins at our own front door!

Starting with these simple tips is a first step towards deepening your relationship with, and successfully leading self.

  • Attend to matters of the heart. The heart is where we carry our wounds, and our joy. Identify, work through and clear your being of emotional wounds, then consciously choose to fill the space with joy. Bring this joy into every sign language interpreting event and observe the quality of your interactions and work improve!
  • Spend time in reflection. Take time during the day to reflect upon how you are feeling about the life you have created, and how you participate in that life. Do your daily activities generate or deplete your energy? Be honest about how living in a depleted state affects your ability to be present in sign language interpreting interactions. Then take measures to eliminate or restructure activities that deplete your life force.
  • Tap into your inner five year old. View the world around you with childlike curiosity and wonder. Enter interpreting situations with an “I wonder why I have been placed here today, in this situation…what am I here to learn?” mindset.

Cultivating the ability to successfully lead self gently flows into becoming fully present in each moment, and a clearer channel of communication for others.

Do for Yourself

If you neglect self, you will neglect others – you cannot do for others what you refuse to do for yourself. Leadership efforts may result in some work being done, but the process will be painful rather than joyful. Interpreting assignments will be the same. We must own the quality of our character, and be self and other aware, in order to develop into the leader or sign language interpreter we aspire to be, and the Deaf community expects us to be.

Now is the time to stop focusing our attention outside of self to learn to be a better leader or interpreter…to be either, take an honest look inside.

Your journey begins within, start today.