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K-12: A Call to Arms for Sign Language Interpreter Training Programs

A K-12 Call to Arms for Sign Language Interpreter Training Programs

How can ITPs better prepare sign language interpreters to work in mainstreamed K-12 settings? Specific steps are proposed to help educational interpreters become advocates for their students – and for change.

K-12 interpreting* has been around for quite some time, at least since the precursor of today’s IDEA was passed in 1975.  In the early years after this law was passed, we saw the development of what were called “self-contained classrooms,” where Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing (DHH) students attended a mainstream school, but congregated in special classes with a teacher of the deaf (TOD).  As years and decades passed, the percentage of DHH students in self-contained classrooms slowly decreased and the percentage placed in regular classrooms for at least part of the school day increased.

It is no secret that professionals schooled in the overall needs of DHH children, including numerous sign language interpreting professionals, have felt that this trend has not been in the best interests of DHH children.  Many such individuals learned about those overall needs in teacher training programs, from Deaf individuals themselves, and from CODAs.  Much effort has been expended over the years to stem this tide, unsuccessfully.

Yes, concerned individuals, groups, and organizations have been working against the wholesale mainstreaming of DHH children for the last 4 decades.  Yes, they have been researching, writing, publishing, presenting — attempting to educate the powers that be of the pitfalls in general education settings for DHH children.  Gina Oliva and Linda Lytle’s book, Turning the Tide: Making Life Better for Deaf and Hard of Hearing School Children (published by Gallaudet University Press in February 2014), includes two chapters uniquely highlighting the efforts of these scholar-advocates. Sadly, despite the clamoring of knowledgeable and passionate individuals and groups, the push towards “full inclusion” of DHH children has continued. With each passing year we find more and more of these children in their neighborhood schools, separated from each other.  And that is why this phenomenon has become an issue for the sign language interpreting community.

The Impact is Important

The increasing numbers of DHH children in general education settings has coincided with a related trend in how much experience educational interpreters have.  Many, if not most, interpreters fresh out of their training find initial work in K-12 settings.  Interpreters with limited training find work in these settings, also, though this fact may be slowly changing as a result of the development of the EIPA and its subsequent adoption in numerous states.  The EIPA and the people behind it, both as an instrument and as a requirement, is but one example of the work of advocates for DHH children.  At the same time, however, the fact that so many new interpreters work in K-12 settings is all the more reason for Interpreter Preparation Programs (IPPs) to develop more focus on preparing students for this kind of work.

Dr. Oliva’s February 2012 article, “Sign Language Interpreters in Mainstream Classrooms: Heartbroken and Gagged,” spoke to the issue of K-12 interpreters being actual eyewitnesses of the exclusion that results from “full inclusion.”  Ironic, yes.  Doug Bowen-Bailey, in “Ethical Choices: Educational Sign Language Interpreters as Change Agents,” says that “for interpreters working in schools, we clearly need to find new role space to lead to more success.”  He offers several suggestions for how K-12 interpreters can find this new role space in their K-12 workplaces.

One way to address issues raised by Oliva, Bowen-Bailey, and others is for IPPs to solicit input from working K-12 interpreters and from DHH adults who have used interpreters in K-12 settings in recent years.  Since things are changing so rapidly (economics, cochlear implants, to name a few influences), we suggest that this be done at least every 3-5 years.  Oliva and Lytle’s book also reports what their research participants (in focus groups and an online survey) conveyed about their K-12 years.  Not surprisingly, even without direct prompting, they had a lot to say about their interpreter(s).

Did these focus groups and survey participants, all between the ages of 18 and 34 in 2012, talk about their sign language interpreter’s interpreting skills?  To a point, yes.  In one glaring example, a then 9 year old’s interpreter was using the sign for a coin, a 25-cent piece, in conveying to the young deaf child that she could work on her assignment until “quarter to 12” (as in the time on a clock).  Chaos ensued, admittedly.  But significantly more frequent were remarks about the behavior, misbehavior, and overall cultural knowledge of the interpreters.  As such, in the remainder of this article we describe four learning targets and associated projects that we suggest for IPPs.  The topics are based on both the experience of Petri and her fellow working K-12 interpreters and on the reports from Oliva and Lytle’s research participants.  These suggested projects should result in providing interpreting students with knowledge, options, and confidence to explore the “new role space,” as Bowen-Bailey suggests.

Where to Start

We recognize that IPPs may already be assigning projects similar to these.   We also recognize that IPP coursework, particularly for K-12 interpreter specialization, necessarily follows any and all policy guidelines provided by the respective states to which they are responsible.  We wish to set forth an opinion that, where such policy dictates for coursework do not reflect the real life experiences of working K-12 sign language interpreters and their now-grown consumers, IPPs have a responsibility to do whatever is needed to educate state-level personnel about this conundrum.  Interpreters and interpreter trainers are uniquely positioned to educate everyone one concerned about the unique needs of DHH children.  Dave Coyne’s recent Street Leverage article, “Social Justice: A New Model of Practice for Sign Language Interpreters,” certainly is aligned with the need for sign language interpreters to employ leadership tactics in partnership with DHH adults/professionals.

Everyone knows that something needs to change vis a vis the experience of DHH students in general K-12 educational settings.  Maybe more than something: much needs to change.   Let’s all take part and be the change – let’s share, collaborate, and grow a new role, turning the tide together.

Recommendations

Here are some specific recommendations for Interpreter Training Programs to consider adopting:

Learning Target 1

Understand Incidental Learning – how it informs and empowers all humans, how Deaf students in a hearing school are at risk for limited access to incidental learning, and a variety of ways interpreters can respond to this risk.

Instructor to lecture on the dissertation “Positioned as Bystanders: Deaf Students’ Experiences and Perceptions of Informal Learning Phenomena” (Hopper, M. 2012) – her methods, findings, and recommendations.

1. Students to consider where and how incidental learning has occurred in their own lives – through reflection and discussion on how they acquired language, knowledge, and insight by overhearing peers – slang, obscenities, vicarious learning.

2. Students to spend time in public spaces (coffee shops, bars, gyms, etc.) listening and (unobtrusively) taking notes on what is learned incidentally (e.g. overheard).  Students to report on how what was overheard did or could inform their decisions or other elements of life, and on the potential impact of not overhearing particular bits of information.

3. Students to observe at the local school for the Deaf and report on how incidental learning naturally occurs in this environment.

4. Students to observe in a regular education setting with DHH student(s), list the incidental learning opportunities they witness (before class, in the hall, in the cafeteria), and make estimations about whether or not the information was accessible to and/or absorbed by the DHH student(s).

5. Students discuss the above observations and reports with classmates and develop ideas for strategies that sign language interpreters can employ to reduce the lack of access to incidental learning.  Students should consider strategies aimed at all levels – hearing peers, the DHH student(s), teachers, administrators.

Learning Target 2

Have a solid understanding of the nebulous issues regarding the role of a sign language interpreter in general education settings.

1. Students to investigate and report on various sources for information on interpreting ethics in general education settings.

2. Students to interview working K-12 interpreters to learn about various situations that have challenged thinking about ethical behavior for interpreters in K-12 settings.

3. Students to prepare a report on situations where the interpreter’s role may be blurry and debatable.  For each of these, students should report varying responses and the repercussions of each.  Some examples might be:

a. Interpreters monitoring behavior or performing disciplinary actions:  Give examples of why this is an issue, give numerous examples of situations where other adults might expect an interpreter to take some kind of action, and identify the options open to interpreters in each example.

b. Interpreters are bound by safety policies (“life, limb, or liability”) that apply to all adults in the school settings.  Give examples of student actions that would clearly require interpreter intervention, student actions that would clearly not be bound by safety policies, and student actions that would fall into a gray area.  Discuss various options for responding to the latter.

c. In matters of instruction, sign language interpreters have some flexibility.  Students should come up with numerous situations that typically need to be decided case by case.  Students should include extreme situations to illustrate flexibility within certain boundaries.

4. Teachers and other school personnel often expect and/or request an interpreter to assist with instruction.  Students should give examples of requests for assistance from teachers/staff that they deem reasonable, unreasonable, and ambiguous.

Learning Target 3

Understand how DHH youth and adults feel about their experiences in general education classrooms.

1. Develop questions and interview DHH adults about sign language interpreting services during the K-12 years.

a. Which of their interpreters’ practices were/weren’t empowering?

b. What recommendations do they have for K-12 interpreters?

2. Develop questions and interview currently working K-12 interpreters and/or former working K-12 interpreters about interpreting services during the K-12 years.

a. In what ways did they empower and advocate for their students?

b. What insights do they have for you?

3. Discuss findings with classmates.

a. What were common problems/issues cited by the Deaf adults/Interpreters?

b. What solutions were commonly deemed effective?

c. What recommendations do they have for currently working K-12 interpreters and for IPPs?

4. Use this information to develop fact sheets for general education settings – develop one fact sheet for adult staff, and one for hearing classmates.

Learning Target 4

Be able to function as an effective advocate for DHH students in general education settings – learn how to establish oneself as an approachable, trustworthy, and knowledgeable ‘local expert’ on issues related to DHH students.

1. Students to compose a one-page letter introducing him/herself and explaining the sign language interpreter’s role.  Include a brief description of the interpreting process, your training and experience, and what services you provide.

2. Students to prepare an in-depth inservice presentation for general education staff members.

3. Provide a practice inservice session by doing one of the following:

a. Do a ‘mock inservice’ with current educators in local school.

b. Present to a college class of future K-12 educators.

In the end

We have offered some specific student learning objectives and associated assignments or projects that will provide interpreters-in-training an opportunity to learn about and discuss issues regarding interpreting in K-12 settings.  This is particularly important because so many newly-trained interpreters find themselves working in such settings for at least a few years.  We further emphasize the responsibility that IPPs have for considering the impact of the “end product” of their programs, which is the education of deaf and hard of hearing children, for better or for worse.  In particular, they must be involved in educating state-level officials about the kind of training these children deserve their interpreters to have.

Do you have Learning Target that you might suggest?

 

Co-Author – Jenee Petri

Jenee worked as a K-12 Interpreter for 10 years.  She is currently a staff interpreter at the University of Minnesota. In addition to freelance work, she has been a Video Interpreter at Sorenson Communications for 5 years.  Jenee has been nationally certified since 2003.  She is also a national certified Cued Language Transliterator.  Growing up in Faribault, Minn., Jenee studied ASL in high school, which lead her to pursue a degree from Saint Paul College’s Interpreter Training Program in 2001.  She currently lives in Minneapolis with her boyfriend, Steve, and their dog, a 9 y/o English Springer Spaniel, Henry.

 

*We use the term “K-12 interpreting” for the sake of precision.  Issues involved with interpreting for K-12 students differ from those involving college students and adults.  We think that the term K-12 interpreting allows us (and other writers) to be more precise.

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Sign Language Interpreters and the Quest for a Deaf Heart

Sign Language Interpreters and the Quest for a Deaf Heart

“Deaf-Heart” has been a hotly debated but ambiguous topic for many sign language interpreters. Betty Colonomos poses critical questions and provides hope that sign language interpreters can begin to embody this elusive quality.

A recurrent phrase that has been appearing in frequent discussions is “Deaf heart.”  Our national interpreter organization, RID, has long been characterized as needing a Deaf heart.  Recently, changes have been made to move RID to a more Deaf-centered perspective on the field of interpretation. The most recent evidence of this is the addition of Shane Feldman, who is Deaf, as the new Executive Director.  Although institutional shifts are possible with changes in policies and practices, there is much misunderstanding of the concept as it applies to practicing interpreters.

Early Discovery

In the 1990’s there were many efforts to address this concern.  New England states held a series of Ally Conferences that focused on the Deaf view of interpreters and their behaviors.  This resulted in many discussions and workshops to clarify the meaning of an interpreter-as-ally. There was–and still is—debate about the fine line between ethical practices and ally responses.  Today, it is considered acceptable and even desirable to provide information to hearing and Deaf consumers regarding accommodations, cultural differences, and resources. The emergence of Deaf Interpreters in our profession has contributed  to the dissemination of information about accessibility and Deaf people, and has helped to educate the Deaf Community about their own power.

Deaf Activists & Social Dynamics

In the 21st century we looked to models from minority groups that view societal privilege and oppression to explain and understand the relationship between interpreters and the Deaf Community. Deaf activists are helping the community of interpreters and Deaf people to understand the social dynamics that create marginalization, audism, and racial/ethnic prejudices.

These robust and healthy discussions about privilege are paving the way for a change in the way we think about minority communities and cultures that goes beyond the medical and pathological view of Deaf people.

Internalization of Deaf Heart

But what about ‘Deaf heart’?  In my travels and conversations with many interpreters, codas, and members of the Deaf Community it has become clearer that we still are not adequately capturing the qualities and behaviors of Deaf-heart interpreters. It is not about laws, services, ethics (at least from majority/privilege perspective), or training.  It is something that can’t be taught. It is difficult to explain, yet palpably absent.

The internalization of a Deaf heart must come from the interpreter’s own sense of justice and morality.  

A number of contributors to StreetLeverage have expressed this quality in different ways.

Dennis Cokely, in his article, Sign Language Interpreters: Complicit in a Devil’s Bargain?, provides a historical context that demonstrates the shift from earlier times when having ‘Deaf heart’ was intrinsic for interpreters to the indicators that this has significantly diminished. He explains:

How do we justify learning their language and profiting from it without giving back? In becoming a “profession” have we simply become parasites?”

and

What are we willing to do as individuals to become reconnected with Deaf people? Are we willing to adjust our work choices to accommodate the rhythm of Deaf people’s lives?”

Trudy Suggs illustrates this clearly in, A Deaf Perspective: Cultural Respect in Sign Language Interpreting

This type of knowledge (schools for the deaf) is an important element of Deaf culture for many people. Not recognizing its importance, or dismissing it when someone shares this information speaks volumes to cultural (il) literacy.

A participant from that group suddenly said with an incredulous look, “I don’t understand why you’re so upset that video interpreters don’t know city names? That’s really ridiculous. It’s such a small thing.” I was momentarily caught off-guard by her flippant response. I quickly clarified that I wasn’t upset, saying, “Quite the contrary. It’s just one of those things that Deaf people have to live with. It does become cumbersome if you have to make several calls a day and each video interpreter you encounter doesn’t know a city sign or town where a deaf school is.”

In Sign Language Interpreters: Stepping Out of the Shadow of Invisibility, Anna Witter-Merithew asks us to examine the human side of the interpreter.

Do we think of ourselves as bystanders—present from a distance, and therefore, not involved?  Have we internalized the neutrality we are to bring to our task as non-involvement and disinterest [versus objectivity and emotional maturity]?  

What do we believe about ourselves, our work and our contribution to the good of the Deaf society? As we explore the answer to this and other hard questions, we must consider the implications of our history of behaving as if invisible and its potential contribution to the diffusion of responsibility.”

Overcoming Inertia

Part of having a Deaf heart is caring enough about the well being of Deaf people and their communities to put them above ego, pride, and unwillingness to fight for what is right.  For example, I have interpreted in Juvenile Court many times and have come across several instances when parents/guardians should have the services of Deaf interpreters.  It is obvious at the first meeting that the consumers have limited education, cognitive deficits, idiosyncratic language, or some combination of these. I inform their attorneys of this and find out that this case has been ongoing (sometimes up to three years) and the attorneys had no idea about this. Often these lawyers and social service personnel indicate that they “felt that something was not right” about their interactions with clients.  Numerous interpreters have been working on these cases. They are deemed qualified to work in court; they are certified; all have had some degree of legal training. Why didn’t they recognize this? Intervene? Advocate for Deaf Interpreters?

Absence of Context

My professional experiences are replete with markers of the lack of  “Deaf heart.” I have heard English interpretations of texts where Deaf people are proudly sharing their generational Deafness (e.g. fifth generation Deaf) conveyed as a matter-of-fact piece of information about having deaf children in each generation.  The critical meaning of Deaf “royalty” is absent, leaving the possibility that the non-deaf audience might see this as a genetic flaw or “problem.”

In workshops I see many interpreters–student and experienced alike—who do not recognize ASL discourse that is representing a community’s point of view. For example, Deaf people often convey narrative that on the surface seems to be about them (an “I” Deaf text) when in fact the message is about the “We” Deaf story. The consequence is that the Deaf person appears to be discussing an isolated event, when the issue is really about a community with shared experiences. Which do you think has a greater impact on the audience?  Being around Deaf people often allows interpreters to know how to distinguish “I” from “We” Deaf texts.

Interpreters who have no interactions with Deaf people outside of work miss much of the collective history and current burning issues that show up in interpreted interactions and collegial discussions. How can interpreters who hide behind their interpretation of the Code of Professional Conduct–instead of taking responsibility to intervene–employ strategies that are culturally appropriate to solve problems?

Accountability is the Beginning

Interpreters who demonstrate the qualities of Deaf heart are those who reflect on how their choices and decisions affect the Deaf Community; they question their practices that seem to be oppressive or damaging to the lives of Deaf people; they own their mistakes and share them with others. Most importantly, they seek input and advice from Deaf people and are not afraid to be uncomfortable with Deaf people’s responses and viewpoint.

A number of authors on Street Leverage have also shared what it is to have a Deaf heart. In Aaron Brace’s piece, The Duality of the Sign Language Interpreter, he digs deep and exposes some of the demons we face.

“…my customers are not well served by a quasi-messianic philosophy that valorizes my role far above theirs. It’s also simply inaccurate; customers often communicate effectively despite my excellent service rather than because of it.”

 “I’m not sure I’ll ever fully understand my duality as both ally and enemy in the lives of Deaf people without some measure of guilt. Like many members of privileged groups, I hope to learn the right way to behave toward an oppressed group—once— and never again have to feel unsure of myself or guilty about my privilege. 

When I demonstrate a fuller understanding of both what I give and what I take, it is returned by Deaf people, not with a sneering pleasure at my knowing my place, but with greater trust, friendship, and welcome.”

Gina Oliva, in her challenge to us in, Sign Language Interpreters in Mainstream Classrooms: Heartbroken and Gagged, boldly brings forth the role played by sign language interpreters in mainstream education and the significant impact this has on future generations of Deaf people. We have remained silent for too long about our part in harming deaf children and their potential for successful lives. We have allowed interpreters to present themselves as adequate language models and carriers of negative views of Deaf people. We have done little to admit to this injustice and have put our needs for employment above the lives of innocent children.

There are things we can do to correct this major injustice in our field. Anna Witter-Merithew in, Sign Language Interpreters: Breaking Down Silos Through Reflective Practice, emphasizes the need for us to look inside and seek guidance from our consumers:

“ It is important to find opportunities to talk with Deaf consumers about our work as sign language interpreters and to ask them to help us consider the implications of role implementation for their experiences.”

And in Deaf Disempowerment and Today’s Interpreter by Trudy Suggs, we see a Deaf view on how we can move forward.

“…remember that if a deaf person expresses frustration at disempowerment, it doesn’t necessarily mean she or he is angry, divisive or separatist. Rather, take a look at the situation, and figure out how, if at all, you or other interpreters might have contributed to the situation. “

Important Enough to Act?

The only question that remains is whether or not the practitioners in our field care enough about this to want to do something about it.  Do we need to bring these discussions to the forefront of our public professional discourse?  Should we insist that our programs for training interpreters address this issue and involve Deaf people much more in educating future interpreters?  When will we uphold the integrity of our profession by supporting novices and by renouncing those who cast a pall over us?

When will we appreciate the valuable insights of codas to help us nurture the Deaf heart in us? Why do we vigorously debate whether a permanent seat on RID’s Board for an IDP (interpreter with Deaf Parents) is necessary when we know how much it will enhance the Deaf heart perspective in the organization?   When will we acknowledge that Deaf Studies courses and programs are helpful in understanding, but they do not replace the need for feeling the stories?

We have a wonderful opportunity before us. Deaf people and codas are more aware of their own Deaf hearts and they are willing to talk about it and to help others recognize their own unconscious anti-Deaf heart actions. Why aren’t we eagerly seeking their input and guidance?  Why aren’t we thankful for how they enrich us?

It is hard to walk in another’s shoes, but our work depends on the ability to see the world through the lenses of our consumers and clients. Without this, how can we become the noble profession we envision?

There is always room for a Deaf Heart…you are invited.

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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.