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Crossing Borders: Sign Language Interpreter Identity at Home & Abroad

Crossing Borders: Sign Language Interpreter Identity at Home & Abroad

International participation by sign language interpreters presents a valuable opportunity for self-reflection and identity exploration which enhances work and relationships at home and abroad.

 

When I was talking about getting ready to go to two international conferences this past summer, I heard several different reactions from my colleagues- everything from affirmation to indifference to slight surprise. As I thought about these reactions, several questions came to mind:

  • What motivates sign language interpreters to engage in our profession on an international level?
  • Why do we choose to expend or conserve our resources to do so?
  • What benefit can sign language interpreters gain from thinking outside their own borders to see how we fit into the larger world of interpreting?

While some may question the relevance of connecting to the larger interpreting community, I believe that participation in the world arena informs and runs parallel to our daily work. Interpreters are afforded new levels of insight if we show up with awareness, investment and humility.

[Click to view post in ASL]

Renewal of Self-Awareness

One of my favorite aspects of travel is the opportunity and challenge to examine my reflexive thoughts and behaviors when encountering something novel. These manifestations revolve around identity. How we enact our identities shapes the perceptions of those around us and reinforces our affiliation and membership in certain categories, and they are mutable: I’m used to having certain aspects of my identity felt or perceived as primary, such as female or White, but it wasn’t until moving to another region of the United States that my home region became primary more often, and it wasn’t until I traveled internationally that my national identity took center stage in both inner and outer perception.

When we’re in places where we feel like the majority in some aspect, those identities can temporarily take a back seat from having to enact and defend, especially when those traits have power in the larger society. When identities that are yet unexamined suddenly surface as primary, the result can be destabilizing. We must find a way to understand and integrate what it means to be this new identity in relation to those who share it and those who may not. Dissecting what it is to be American, for example, requires the same kind of work as understanding what it means to hold any kind of identity with power. And like any kind of unconscious power, there is the potential for harm.

Power, whether we are cognizant of it or not, can give a sense of legitimacy on a personal and systemic level. The cycle to perpetuate some power hierarchies is firmly in place: wealth and resources are more concentrated within certain nations and racial groups, and infrastructure supporting Deaf community values and interests (for example, official recognition of a signed language, ADA legislation mandating reasonable accommodation) gives a leg up to some groups while others face more barriers without these as a foundation. These factors all can favor a group to have a strong presence in research and activism. Individuals and groups with this power become leaders internationally, and gain more decision making power and legitimacy as a result.

Information sharing in this context is most powerful when done in collaboration and with an eye toward impact and application. Some of the most meaningful sessions I attended at the last World Federation of the Deaf Congress involved partnerships between a researcher and a local community to address salient issues like language endangerment. To consider research on all levels as a form of service learning requires us to go beyond tokenism and elevate communities of interest as full partners in the trajectory of the research process.

Investment, Presence and Impact

When we are self-aware, we can better see those around us and the overarching structure and systems at work. I’m brought back to discussions and decisions within RID to add the Deaf Advisory Council and the position of Deaf Member at Large, as well as the aftermath of the failed vote to create an Interpreter with Deaf Parents position in the organizational structure. We must continually call into question who occupies the seats of power, who historically has been included, and what stakeholders are missing or silent. (2014 RID Demographics listed under “Membership Services.”) Once we have done that work, we must ask ourselves why, what the impact is, and if that impact aligns with where we want to go.

Organizational decisions can’t be made wisely until we know who we are and why we act in the ways we do. It takes emotional and intellectual buy-in. In the hundreds of decisions we make every day in our work, we have to take a pause for a power, privilege and identity check-in. If we came to a signing community later on in life, we need to look at our language skills and cultural internalizations and seriously examine how and if we fit into the Deaf and ASL-using community paradigm. As David Coyne wrote in his article “Social Justice: An Obligation for Sign Language Interpreters,” “When interpreters lack personal understanding—experience with and knowledge of Deaf culture—they tend to perpetuate, normalize, and widen the divide between hearing and Deaf communities.” Our global community is subject to similar pitfalls.

When considering the intersectionality of identity combined with privilege, personal understanding is crucial on an international level to ensure that divisions of all kinds are not tacitly or unknowingly sustained. The language we choose to use daily is an enactment of identity, and as a sign language interpreter’s language shifts, identity does too (Hunt, in press). Using languages of power internationally like English and ASL is an act of inherent privilege. Although International Sign is widely used, and IS interpreters are prevalent at international conferences, research suggests it is not accessible to all participants (Whynot, 2014). There is no easy or economical solution to bridging language gaps and making costly and/or time intensive events accessible for all stakeholders, yet it remains a priority and challenge. I’ve seen thoughtful leadership and action at many levels, and I’ve also witnessed divisive behavior based on assumptions. As always, there is more work to be done by all of us.

Show Up – The Right Way

It can be easy to congregate with others who share our identities, language preferences, backgrounds, etc., especially when traveling. We may rarely have to confront negative stereotypes or question our way of being in homogenous groups. Alex Jackson-Nelson, in his article “Sign Language Interpreters: Recognizing and Analyzing our Power and Privilege,” suggests that dismantling systems of power depends on making connections to those historically marginalized in order to harness our collective passion for the field while at the same time fighting the status quo systems of oppression. When norms established by a majority permeate the entire group, barriers arise- not only for access, but also to leveraging the kind of open, collective thought and action that embodies the spirit of coming together.

In his essay “I am where I think: Globalization, epistemic disobedience and the de-colonial option,” author Walter Mignolo (in press) discusses the need to think decolonially in politics, where minority identity traditionally has been constructed by imperial, racial and patriarchal systems. He quotes the intellectual and activist Fausto Reinaga, who said in the 1960s “I am not Indian, dammit, I’m Aymara. But you made me Indian and as Indian I will fight for liberation.” As a community of diverse identities, how do we work as allies to recognize, decry and dismantle the chokehold of systemic oppression?

Final Thoughts

Whether or not we participate in the international interpreting sphere, the process is akin to the effort we make to understand the privileges and impact we have in our daily work at home. How do we, literally and figuratively, show up?  At interpreter and signed language-themed conferences, nationally and around the world, we must be aware of who we are as interpreters and how our choices shape our environment. Debra Russell in her StreetLeverage – Live 2013 talk posited that before changing the world, our organizations and our field, we must turn inward. Becoming a more introspective sign language interpreter at home will make one a wiser interpreter abroad and a better agent of social change.

Questions for Consideration:

  1. How has your awareness of your identities changed over time? Why, and in what context?
  2. Where in our field do you see missing or silent stakeholders? What can be done to create an environment where all can feel represented?
  3. Think back to a recent conflict you experienced in interpreting. Where could identity enactment have impacted the situation?

Related Posts:

Identity Presentation: How Sign Language Interpreters Do it With Integrity by Robert Lee

International Collaboration: Should Sign Language Interpreters Do More? by Debra Russell

StreetLeverage’s 2015 WASLI Coverage

References:

Coyne, D. (2014, May 20). Social Justice: An Obligation for Sign Language Interpreters? Retrieved December 1, 2015, from http://www.streetleverage.com/2014/05/social-justice-an-obligation-for-sign-language-interpreters/

Hunt, D. (2015). “The work is you”: Professional identity development of second-language learner American Sign Language-English interpreters. (Doctoral dissertation, Gallaudet University, Washington, D.C.)

Jackson Nelson, A. (2012, August 1). Sign Language Interpreters: Recognizing & Analyzing Our Power & Privilege. Retrieved December 1, 2015, from http://www.streetleverage.com/2012/08/sign-language-interpreters-recognizing-analyzing-our-power-privilege/

Mignolo, W. (in press). I am where I think: Globalization, epistemic disobedience and the de-colonial option. Duke University Press.

Russell, D. (2013, July 16). Sign Language Interpreters: Discover & Recover an Enduring Legacy. Retrieved December 1, 2015, from http://www.streetleverage.com/2013/07/debra-russell-sign-language-interpreters-discover-recover-an-enduring-legacy/

Whynot, L. A. (2014). Assessing comprehension of international sign lectures: Linguistic and sociolinguistic factors.  (Doctoral dissertation, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia).

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International Collaboration: Should Sign Language Interpreters Do More?

How can sign language interpreters in the United States help to improve the quality of sign language interpreting services internationally? Debra Russell provides information and suggestions for getting involved locally to have a global impact.

What is the role of sign language interpreters in supporting other interpreters in other countries, and what strategies can reinforce Deaf community and interpreter collaborative work?

As President of the World Association of Sign Language Interpreters (WASLI), I am often asked these questions, as well as why I chose to be part of an international organization.  Being part of the development of WASLI has been an incredible experience filled with opportunities to work with, and learn from, other volunteer board members from every region of the world. The association in its short six years has been able to create a network of interpreters throughout many countries, and we have tried to model collaboration between Deaf associations and sign language interpreters, at every step of the way.

Collaboration

Our work with WASLI is supported by the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD), solidified by one of our most important milestones – the signing of the Joint Statement between our organizations. The agreement was signed at the WASLI 2007 conference in Segovia, and every interpreter attending the conference placed his or her signature on the historic statement. I encourage all sign language interpreters to review the document, as it is an explicit statement that guides us in order to reach our common goals.  In that agreement, we identified that we would work towards the establishment of sign language interpreter associations in countries where there are none, and establish regional networks of interpreters.  The statement stresses the importance of joint working, close liaison and transparent communication between interpreter and Deaf organizations, at the local, national, regional and international levels.  Finally, it also states we will share resources with emerging countries.

That important step then led to similar agreements being reached between national association of interpreters and Deaf people, including the National Association of the Deaf and the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf , signing an MOU at the RID conference in Philadelphia.  But, while the agreements are a wonderful step forwards, they must translate into positive action among associations.

How Can I support International Development Work?

One:  Creating Positive Relationships

The agreements apply to the local level, and so one of the first things we can do is ensure that we are continually contributing to positive relationships among the interpreters with whom we work, and within the Deaf community we serve. These positive relationships start and are sustained by:  regular participation at Deaf community events, acting as an ally on issues of importance (example: interpreters attending public rallies in Canada about the closure of VRS services and the impact on Deaf people), volunteering your skills for Deaf community projects (example: translation of ASL letters, committee work, fundraising), and knowing your local Deaf community.

By knowing your local Deaf community, I mean understanding the issues impacting them, their hopes and dreams for their community, and where they stand on interpreting issues.  What do they expect of interpreters?  Allowing yourself to be known as a person not just a service provider. We cannot model the nature of collaboration between Deaf people and sign language interpreters to others at the regional or international levels if we don’t practice those behaviours in our home communities.

The theme of the 2011 WASLI conference in Durban was Think Globally, Act Locally, exemplified this notion.  Our keynote speaker, Colin Allen, now the President of WFD, asked delegates to pay attention to both global developments and local contexts to result in action that betters our communities.   An example he cited was the international policy milestone of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).  This global policy provides the best guide for people seeking to improve the quality of sign language interpreting services and satisfy the needs of the Deaf communities in local contexts.  By extension then, each of us could take the step to become familiar with this document, as it is a document that impacts Deaf people as they advocate for their human rights and services.

Many countries around the world are now using the UNCRPD to work with governments and institutions in order to recognize national sign languages and to support linguistic research about these minority languages, and the Deaf communities that use them. When interpreters are familiar with the language and the power of the UN Convention they are in a better place to support others who are advocating for positive change in emerging countries.

Two:  Become Familiar

The second action sign language interpreters can take is to become familiar with the work of the WASLI Educational Task Force.  One of the most common requests WASLI receives from countries that do not have interpreter programs is for curricula and resources.  Our joint statement with WFD indicates we will share resources with emerging countries.  This begs the questions of what and how, which led to the Educational Task Force that worked for the past three years to create guidelines.  The guidelines stress the need to recognize the crucial role of local Deaf communities in preserving their sign language(s), and for all program development to occur with the Deaf community. By reviewing these guidelines, interpreters interested in international development can think carefully about the training they will offer in other countries, in order to involve local Deaf communities and interpreters, ultimately with the goal of building capacity within the local context.

The document begins with a philosophical statement:

“…Interpreter educators from countries with established interpreter education will collaborate with educators from countries where interpreter training is not available or is newly developing.  Educators will work together to design effective practices and deliver quality education.  They will do so in a manner that incorporates local expertise in the cultural, linguistic, social and political conditions that affect teaching and practising signed language interpreting in that country. The goal of collaboration is to ensure accessibility, relevance and effectiveness of training in diverse contexts while maintaining the integrity of national signed languages, customs and norms.”

The aim of these collaborative efforts with local Deaf and hearing community members, Deaf and hearing interpreters, and national Deaf and Deaf-Blind representatives is the development of expertise and empowerment of local personnel to lead the establishment of interpreter education in their respective countries and to support existing and developing national associations of signed language interpreters.

Three:  Model International Collaboration

There are several models where sign language interpreters from abroad have collaborated effectively with other regions in order to offer training that is consistent with these “do with, not do for” guidelines created by the WASLI Educational Task Force, and the document highlights examples from Kosovo, Mexico, Colombia and Kenya. By learning about these ways of interacting in other countries, we can lessen the “footprint” of North American ways, ensuring that ASL does not become the default language of use.  Philemon Akach, an interpreter and linguist from Kenya, speaks to language colonization in his paper published in the first WASLI conference proceedings, and all of us can learn a great deal from his perspectives on this crucial issue.

If you don’t own the conference proceedings, they are available through the WASLI website.

How Can I Change the World?

Individual Membership

North America is fortunate to have interpreter programs, researchers contributing to the knowledge about interpreting, and organizations that support the development of the profession.  By purchasing an individual membership in WASLI you support the many projects in our strategic plan, for example, the task group that are developing communicating protocols for countries that are dealing with natural disasters.  Chilean Deaf associations and sign language interpreters had to take governments to court in order to gain access to sign language interpreters on television during an earthquake, while other countries have been able to work effectively with media during these times.  By collecting effective practices from the global community, they will produce guidelines that can be used proactively so that Deaf people have access to information, the most basic of human rights.

Donate

Did you know that you could also donate membership fees for sign language interpreters in another country?  I choose to support a group of interpreters from Ukraine and it costs me less than five cups of tea.  The result is that we are now building a network of interpreters in former Soviet countries and providing them access to materials and documents.  Our membership fees are based on GDP formulas, similar to WFD, so while your membership will be less than $50 a year, you can cover the fees for an interpreter from an emerging country for as little as $6.00.  What if RID donated $1.00 of every member’s dues to WASLI or your local affiliate chapter did the same?

Sponsor Delegates

Or you as a group of sign language interpreters could choose to start raising funds to sponsor a delegate to our next conference in 2015.  Sponsoring delegates from emerging countries is an amazing gift that has a ripple effect. Over the years we have seen interpreters return to their communities with energy, ideas, networks of colleagues, and tools to further develop interpreting in their country, resulting in over 40 new interpreter associations in just 6 years.  One of our 2011 sponsored delegates in South Africa spoke of it being a week of “firsts” for him – the first time to see the ocean, to be on an airplane, to see a Deaf interpreter working, to attend a conference about interpreting, and his first time to know that sign language interpreting was a profession.

You can contribute to that kind of life-changing experience.

Attend Conference

In short, there are so many things that North American interpreters can, and I would argue, should do to support the development of sign language interpreting at the global level.  One of the most powerful ways that you can learn from others is to attend a WASLI conference and listen to the heart felt stories of interpreters as they present their country report.  We have heard about sign language interpreters who walk 2 hours to do an interpreting assignment, and never expect to be remunerated, to the challenges of working as an interpreter amidst the Israeli/Palestine conflict, to the training partnerships between interpreter associations from Colombia and an Ontario chapter of the Canadian national organization, AVLIC.

Volunteer

Finally, WASLI has a devoted group of translators, thanks to Rafael Trevino.  He has been a tireless volunteer, bringing together people who donate their time to provide translation in Arabic, Spanish, French, Russian, and so on. Recently, Christopher Stone and Robert Adam, from the UK, accepted the role of translation coordinators for International Sign (IS).  Our goal is to be able to get many of our documents into IS which will again increase the knowledge sharing with others for whom English is not their first language.  If you are able to offer translation support, be it in a written language or in IS, that is a huge contribution to international development.

Be Part of the Movement

Having a global focus in our changing world is an opportunity awaiting all of us, and I hope that you will embrace the ways in which you can be part of the movement to shape sign language interpreting internationally, and be shaped by experiences of others around the world.

Will you be part of the movement?

 

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Sign Language Interpreters in Mainstream Classrooms: Heartbroken and Gagged

Can the collective voices of sign language interpreters working in K12 educational settings be the catalyst for a national conversation about the failures of the “system”? Gina Oliva suggests it is our responsibility to take action.

I am sure that most readers are well aware, that the entire “system” for educating hard of hearing and deaf children in mainstream settings is generally a mess, the kids are suffering, and no one person or entity is really in control.  Included in this “system” is the  entire state of affairs with regards to sign language interpreters in K-12 classrooms, across the United States as well as elsewhere around the globe. Let’s call it the “illusion of inclusion” as Debra Russell has so aptly put it.

Alone in the Mainstream

My K-12 experiences, along with the things I learned in my 37-year long career at Gallaudet and during my 46-year long relationship with my “deaf” (e.g. “hearing on the forehead”) father came together to prompt me to write “Alone in the Mainstream: A Deaf Woman Remembers Public School” (Gallaudet University Press, 2004).  I am now working on a second volume of that book with Linda Lytle, from Gallaudet’s Department of Counseling, which will focus on the experiences of younger adults (currently age 18 – 35) as they look back on their mainstream years.   Naturally, this book will include comments and probably whole chapters about Educational Interpreting and the role sign language interpreters play in the lives of deaf children.

Interpreter on a Megaphone

This sense of the need for a second edition had been with me for a while when I found in my inbox the most recent of many letters received. The one quoted below was a serious gem that convicted me of the need for an entire new volume rather than simply a second edition.  It was a megaphone so to speak of the dire straits America’s (and the world’s) hard of hearing and deaf children are finding themselves in.  It is used with permission, and serves as the basis for this post.

Dear Gina,

      Hello!  My name is ________________ and I am a Sign Language Interpreter.  I do some freelance work but mainly I have been an Educational Interpreter in ________________ for eight years.  I attended your book presentation several years ago and am finally getting around to reading your book “Alone in the Mainstream.”    So far I am only on Chapter 6 but am already greatly impacted by what I have read.  I have worked with all ages from Kindergarten up to high school.  In all those settings with all different students I have used ASL, PSE, and/or Cued Speech.  Some of the kids I have worked with have had mild hearing losses, some profound.  These children come from hearing families who sign, hearing families who cue, hearing families who do neither, and a couple of families where the parents are deaf themselves.  One thing remains the same with each child I have worked with.  I feel inadequate. 

      Even though I am a highly skilled interpreter, I wonder if the mainstream setting is ever a social success, even with an interpreter, and everyday that I see the kids struggling I feel just awful.  It is very hard to watch day in and day out. 

      True, I have witnessed a few hard of hearing students who can speak clearly for themselves and are able to follow conversations quite successfully using their hearing alone.  I have seen them flourish, feel included, and have high self-esteem.  What is much more common however, and is so heartbreaking, is witnessing my students having the “dinner table syndrome” (as you put it), where they fake interest in some task to avoid looking lost.  I see a lot of “superficial participation” where onlookers think the d/hoh student is “just fine” (as you also put it) but really they need to look deeper.  My point is, this stuff still happens EVEN WITH AN INTERPRETER PRESENT! 

      In fact, what really kills me is how awkward it is when I am in a “social situation”– it’s just a no win kind of thing.  For example, I am sure you realize that kids will alter their talk if there is an adult around.  So it’s really not “normal kid talk” when I am around.  And if some brave kid attempts to “talk normal” when I am there (such as swearing or saying something they would never say in front of another adult), then the rest of the kids are uncomfortably giggling.  Then, I, the interpreter and the deaf kid by association is in the spotlight – and it is just so ICKY for all involved — it is not authentic at all!  It is tainted and altered by the mere presence of the interpreter.

      More often than not, the Deaf student only wants to chat WITH the interpreter; not with their peers THROUGH the interpreter.  For years I’ve heard educational interpreters talk about trying to encourage their students to ask the other kids in class what their weekend plans are, or what good movies they’ve seen lately, but then the D/hoh student either says “no that’s fine” and looks crushed as if no one wants to be their friend, not even the interpreter OR they go and ask their classmates a few engaging questions, but the conversation quickly fizzles and nothing comes of it.  I think an entire book could be written on the subject of Interpreter/deaf student relationships and how complicated it can get.

      It never fails that every year I work in education, I say to myself “I can no longer support this.  I need to quit and do only freelance and Sorenson work.”  I especially feel this way after reading your book, but then I remember that a lot of participants [for that book] did not have the “luxury” of an interpreter.  Another voice inside me says, “_____, you need to stay working in the schools. Parents will always mainstream their kids, so it may as well be someone skilled and competent working with them. ”

      That voice always wins out, and I stay. 

      But today I am not satisfied.  I want to do something about this.  I think people will read your book and then pause and be reflective, but then resume life thinking “nowadays schools provide more [and] better services than ever before.”  Well, I firmly believe MORE AND BETTER IS NOT ENOUGH!  Right, your subjects didn’t have interpreters (except one I think) and today many or most do have interpreters.  We need to push forward to ensure a better quality of life for tomorrow’s d/hoh students.   We need to ask the right questions, find the right people to share their stories, and make suggestions for making things better.

Heartbroken and Gagged

And so, this is from a “heartbroken and gagged” educational interpreter.  I am sure most of you readers have heard similar or perhaps even felt “heartbroken and gagged” yourself.  Heartbroken from watching the kids you are “working for” miss this, miss that, day in and day out.  Gagged because the dysfunctional system declares you are not to say anything about this to anyone.  Perhaps the latter is an exaggeration — perhaps you can talk to a teacher or some other school personnel.   Brenda Schick’s work on professional conduct guidelines state that as “related service providers” interpreters DO have a responsibility to be more than just a conduit of talking.

The Road Ahead

How do we get the school districts to accept this, to recognize the great value of the interpreter’s observations, and take these into serious consideration?  And perhaps more importantly, how can Educational Interpreters provide not just in-school support to their individual student(s), but how can they “report to the authorities” meaning the professionals who are concerned nationally and globally about the education of deaf and hard of hearing children.  It may take a village to educate a child but the villages ought to share information with other villages.

First, please find a way to get your collective observations into print, the media, to the Deaf Education arena, to parents, and to Deaf Professionals who are working to impact the “system.”  Secondly, think about the Devil’s Bargain, as suggested by Dennis Cokely, and consider giving back through local level advocacy work – in the EHDI system and in local or regional weekend/summer programs that bring your students together so that their social network can include others who face the same issues.

Should Interpreters Address Inadequacy and Neutrality?

Why is it that sign language interpreters working in mainstream settings feel inadequate?  Is it the expectation that h/she be “invisible” as discussed by Anna Witter-Merithew in, Sign Language Interpreters: Are Acts of Omission a Failure of Duty?  Is this “invisibility” what h/she was taught in the ITP attended?  Related might be a feeling that she is expected to be “neutral”?  I wonder how much of this feeling of inadequacy and or “neutrality” is from some academic knowledge or industry bias and how much is just plain old being a human being and not liking what they see?

If Educational Interpreters could come together to discuss how as a profession they might address this and related issues in K-12 settings, it would do much to boost the confidence and effectiveness of those working in the isolation of educational settings.  The collective voice of Educational Interpreters could hold much promise for alleviating the suffering of the children for whom we are concerned. The interpreter who wrote to me has become a colleague and we have exchanged many emails.  It is obvious that she is trying her best in her own setting, but there seems to be a dearth of support for taking these concerns and the solutions to a higher level.  What should that higher level be and who can lead this effort?

Should Interpreters Address the “Diffusion of Responsibility?”

In the above letter, the writer refers to the concept of “dinner table syndrome,” which I refer to in my book, where the hard of hearing or deaf student fakes interest in some task to avoid looking lost. This was my life day in and day out in my K-12 years and several of the 60 adults who wrote essays for Alone in the Mainstream extended this concept to another phenomenon I dubbed the “everything is fine” syndrome.   Together these two “syndromes” constitute the concept of “incidental learning,” which is the topic of a yet-to-be-published but complete dissertation by a fellow “AITM survivor,” Mindy Hopper.  In our day, the fact of this missing information was in itself invisible to all except the student.  But now, in the modern classroom, the student’s interpreter is a daily witness.  Not only does the classroom interpreter know the student is missing stuff, h/she knows what the student is missing.  This is so much more than any hearing parent of a deaf child has known unless she also spent all day in her child’s classroom.  Talk about power.

As potential partners with teachers and parents, I wonder if the sign language interpreters working in K-12 settings should have as part of their job description to keep a log of conversations or information that they suspect their “charges” (clients) missed. Wouldn’t this help the teacher and the parents determine if their student/child is missing so much as to warrant some kind of action?  Clearly, this would involve taking to heart Witter-Merithew’s lesson in bystander mentality and the “diffusion of responsibility”.   I wonder if these concepts can find their way into interpreter training programs and standards of practice, and how such could come about?

Advocate and Report

That children in general, especially when they reach adolescence, want and need space to discuss their lives without the presence of adults, is a developmental fact. That an interpreter’s presence in K-12 social environments works against the deaf child is an example of how you just can’t change city hall.  The hard of hearing or deaf child has obviously learned from experience that the “quickly fizzling and nothing comes of it” from conversations with their peers is what “always happens” and they have decided they don’t want to experience that again.   But, now, here is an adult (the sign language interpreter) actually witnessing and understanding what it might feel like.  Now the sign language interpreter is also witnessing the stilted social interactions of their deaf or hard of hearing “charge”. How can the interpreter not be expected to be an advocate/reporter?

In my educated and experienced opinion, the collective voice of Educational Interpreters is our only hope that the issues addressed herein could be remedied.  We, the Deaf Adults who are concerned for these children, need your involvement.  Two areas where you can help, beyond your in-school advocacy and the already suggested work to bring your collective voice to the forefront in Deaf Education, are in the EHDI arena (early hearing detection and intervention) and in the establishment/management of weekend and summer programs that bring the solitaires together.

Elevate Your Voice

Perhaps you are the heartbroken and feeling like you are under a gag rule, smart and articulate, educational interpreter in the Heartland.  Or you know someone who is.  If yes, what are your thoughts on this?  What do you think would bring about change?  What would lead to the day that your insights, observations, and suggestions as sign language interpreters would be taken more seriously?  What would elevate the status of interpreters working in educational settings? Your ideas might be simple, complex, seemingly impossible, step-by-step (we like step-by-step), or philosophical.  Bring ’em on.