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Replenishing Sign Language Interpreting: Extraction Exchange

Sandra Maloney - StreetLeverage - X

Sandra Maloney presented Replenishing Sign Language Interpreting: Extraction Exchange at StreetLeverage – X | RID Conference 2015.  Her presentation explores the concept of the “extraction mindset,” applications to the field of sign language interpreting, and how to combat this thinking.

You can find the PPT deck for her presentation here.

[Note from StreetLeverage: What follows is an English rendition of Sandra’s talk from StreetLeverage – X | RID Conference 2015.  We would encourage each of you to watch the video and access Sandra’s talk directly.]

Replenishing Sign Language Interpreting: Extraction Exchange

Good morning.

It’s amazing to see so many of you here.

When Brandon Arthur asked me to participate in this morning’s event, I was honored to be asked, particularly in light of previous StreetLeverage presenters. Then I thought, “What will I talk about?” I’m interested and passionate about any number of subjects. I could talk about RID but since this morning comes towards the end of the conference, I decided I didn’t want to focus on RID. I could talk about my graduate research, but that didn’t feel right. Then someone sent me a link to a blog by a person who is not an interpreter nor a member of the Deaf Community. The blog is written by a man named Seth Godin. As I read, I realized I had found my topic – I knew I had to talk about this today. Seth’s post topic was the “Extraction Mindset.” I read the post- I’ll explain more about the blog later on, but first, I want to talk about this idea. As I read, I wondered about the meaning of the term “extraction mindset,” and, being a graduate student, I did my research to gather more information.

Defining the “Extraction Mindset”

The concept of extraction mindset can be applied to various circumstances. For example, consider the rainforest. A person identifies the need for wood and proceeds to clearcut an area, extract all the useful wood, and burns the ground, leaving nothing behind. All resources have been depleted, leaving a barren, useless landscape. Another version of this mindset can be illustrated in sign language interpreters’ addiction to their smartphones, for example, the iPhone. Whenever a new version is released, everyone rushes to buy the latest device in an effort to be the first to have it.The length of the line demonstrates the drive, the hurry to get the latest version. So that idea, that mindset that is “I must get it before others can” is a part of the “extraction mindset.”

Now, I’ll show you a paragraph taken from Seth’s blog and how I envision how it applies to our field.

When I read that, I got goosebumps and my mind started racing with the many potential applications to our field. There are so many ways we can apply this theory. And the results of this “take it now before someone else gets it” mindset…the results are depleted resources. So I started thinking about applications to the field of interpreting – perhaps your minds are working on the possibilities, as well.

Applications to the Field of Sign Language Interpreting

For me, one area that immediately came to mind was freelance interpreting. Wouldn’t you agree? Freelance Interpreting has no set schedule. We don’t know when the next job will come. What that means is that when an assignment is presented to us, we have to decide whether to accept or decline. In the ideal world, before we accept a job, we would consider things like, “Am I the right person for this assignment? Is this assignment at the right time? What is my next assignment after this one?” There numerous other considerations. But often, in the real world, we think about the medical appointment we have the following week, that our child’s schedule is also busy, so we go ahead and accept the job. Often, I see my colleagues accept assignments. They know that they have an 8:00 am meeting to interpret the next morning. When they get a last minute emergency call to the hospital that may mean working through the night, they still accept the job even knowing they will have to interpret in the morning. That’s a prime example of that “take it now” mindset without considering the repercussions. Because we don’t know what is coming next, we focus on immediate things like our income, our bills. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but what is the ultimate impact?

I had another thought about this on an organizational level. Often, we find a good volunteer. Once we find out that they are willing to serve, we get very excited about giving them multiple jobs because it benefits our organization, but what about the benefits to the volunteer? They started out wanting to give back, but how are they benefiting in the long run? As organizations, we need to consider the benefits to volunteers as well as ways to train future generations of volunteers. I think we’ve lost the concept of “training behind” a bit. So now, when we task someone with a project, we don’t provide the necessary resources. We don’t have individuals who can support that next generation person in taking over. That concept has been lost.

Results of the Extraction Mindset

We see this at work in the Deaf community, as well. We want language models; we want people to participate and get involved. We take advantage of their resources.  The Deaf community does want to help interpreters, to help improve the community, to work in partnership with interpreters. But often, people say things like, “I’m done. Let someone else take that on. Let them do it. I’m done.” That response is really a result of the extraction mindset. That type of thinking results in burnout.

results mindset pic

So the result of the extraction mindset is burnout. I’ve noticed recently on several Facebook pages – I’ve joined a number of pages as a participant. I don’t often comment, but I do watch the discussions. I’ve noticed we have a problem in that interpreters are leaving the field to pursue other careers. They no longer work as interpreters. They get tired and become social workers, psychologists, nurses, something other than interpreters. They aren’t continuing to work as full-time interpreters. My thought is that this is due to the “take it all now” mentality and the depletion of our resources. There’s nothing left for them, and we aren’t providing appropriate supports.

On an organizational level…. I often work with affiliate chapters (of RID) who talk about the apathy of the members. “They don’t want to be involved. They aren’t volunteering.” Okay, but what are we providing for them? “They” are tired. “They” don’t know the benefits of volunteering. This has to be a partnership. It has to be. If not, this is what happens – we have problems. We aren’t able to do what is needed. We feel paralyzed because there is no partnership.

The Path Forward: Extraction Exchange

So, how can we succeed? If we are stuck in this short-sighted mentality and solely focused on looking out for ourselves without considering how our decisions impact future outcomes, the problems will only persist, and our successes will be few and far between.

If you’ve focused on that extraction mindset, if you’ve focused on your own gains, don’t be discouraged or disheartened. There is still hope. Any time we identify a problem, it is important that we come up with ideas to create solutions or alternative ways to approach an issue.

the path forward pic

As I researched “extraction mindset,”I also found a concept called “extraction exchange”. That business model requires interaction. Extraction exchange always considers the future – not only for the self, but for the organization and the community. Thinking about the future allows us to examine decisions and their effects on the present and the future and all parties involved.

Preparing the Soil

This week, I’ve gone into numerous workshops where people have said, “You must plant the seed.” Plant the seed. My challenge to you is to go back even further and prepare the soil. That means each of us looking at ourselves and asking, “What can I contribute? What can I give back…to my community? to my local affiliate chapter? to my organization?” We can’t opt out and expect that “they” will fix it. We can’t. We have to act. I’ve seen some examples this week [at the 2015 RID Conference]. For example, at the Business Meeting, someone mentioned that we have to take action on our own and partner with organizations to determine how we can work together. We can’t just set our expectations and hand them off to our organizations and say, “You do it.” We have to figure out how to work together to succeed. We can work together with trust, with information, by determining where the value is and by exchanging ideas.

So, what will your contribution be? I ask you to think about how you can contribute on an individual level, a community level and on a systemic level. How will you contribute?

Thank you.

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Missing Narratives in Interpreting and Interpreter Education

Erica West Oyedele at StreetLeverage - X

Erica West Oyedele presented Missing Narratives in Interpreting and Interpreter Education at StreetLeverage – X | RID Conference 2015.  Her presentation explores the lack of diversity within the predominantly White, female field of sign language interpreting and provides a call to action for potential allies.

You can find the PPT deck for her presentation here.

[Note from StreetLeverage: What follows is an English rendition of Erica’s talk from StreetLeverage – X | RID Conference 2015.  We would encourage each of you to watch the video and access Erica’s talk directly.]

Missing Narratives in Interpreting and Interpreter Education

Thank you, StreetLeverage, for giving me the opportunity to be here with all of you. This presentation is based on the research I conducted during graduate school that looked into the experiences of African American/Black interpreters, and took into consideration African American/Black Deaf consumers and their experiences with interpreting services. However, my comments today are not just for them. Rather, they are for all of you. Additionally, it is important for me to thank all of the interpreters of color and all of the Deaf people of color who participated in my research study.

Today I want to talk with you about the narratives that I believe are missing from the field of interpreting and interpreter education. Initially, I planned to show a slide that included the demographics of the field of interpreting. Two days ago, I changed that slide because every day this week there has been a presentation that has shown us the demographics of the RID membership. Hopefully, you’ve paid attention as those numbers have been presented. If you were paying attention to the statistics, then you know that approximately 88% of the RID membership is made up of White interpreters. Therefore, the remaining 12% of RID’s membership are interpreters of color. This slide is a representation of our 12%.

ITOC forum 2015
Photo by Bill Millios

If you attended the ITOC (Interpreters and Transliterators of Color) Member Section forum, then you also would have seen as a part of the presentation a slideshow of various interpreters of color. We make up a diverse population. We are from a wide range of backgrounds. We are hearing, Deaf, straight, gay, lesbian, Codas, and so much more. For interpreters of color in our organization there is a wealth of diversity beyond race.

As I mentioned, we’ve already seen the numbers presented to us throughout the conference so that will not be the focus of this presentation. To be quite honest, for those of you who have seen those numbers presented (88% White interpreters and 12% interpreters of color) and responded with surprise, I ask, why? I can tell you that these numbers are of no surprise to the 12% of interpreters of color within RID. The numbers have been the same for many years! Of course there is some small fluctuation in these numbers from year to year, but the percentages have been consistent. So instead of talking again about the numbers, let’s talk about the impact of these numbers. The impact to interpreters of color, consumers of color, and the impact to all of you, our White allies. You notice that it is my hope that you will become our allies.

True Story

I want to begin with a story. This story comes from one interpreter who participated in my research study. I have to warn you that this story contains language that will be uncomfortable for you and that’s okay! When you start to notice your own discomfort, breathe in, and then analyze the source of your discomfort. Then we’ll discuss some more.


True Story - Erica West Oyedele Presentation at StreetLeverage - XOne of the reasons we are challenged to engage in these types of discussions is because of the fear we hold around this type of topic. I want to let you know that the fear I am referring to extends to me too. Again, that is normal. Right now, my fear has to do with how I will be perceived by my colleagues as a hearing interpreter of color, who has just been sworn in to the RID board. All of those thoughts I recognize right now are a part of who I am. Furthermore, this topic is not easy, yet it is easy for me to become a target when bringing forward this type of discussion. I’ve made the decision that the discussion is important enough that it needs to be addressed.

When you read this story, I want you to recognize that this is the experience of interpreters of color. Although this particular story took place after the interpreter had completed their work, we have to acknowledge that interpreters of color confront systems of oppression before, after, and during their work. What is most unfortunate is that while they are working they often face this discrimination from consumers and colleagues alike. That is the impact of the numbers we have seen but that we have failed to discuss. Perhaps if we have these candid discussions we might come to a place where we would see the number of interpreters of color rise.

When I look at this story, I also recognize the interpreter’s emotional response. Again, it is a normal emotional response, yet I am personally often aware of not wanting to be labeled as the angry (fill in the blank) person: the angry Black person, Deaf person…the angry something! But if we look at what happened, you notice that the interpreter experienced a range of emotions that included confusion and fear, in addition to anger. This is because having to confront systems of oppression becomes an additional demand for interpreters of color. When I speak of demands I am referring to the Demand-Control Schema as presented by Dean and Pollard. Taking into consideration their theory, I think it’s fair to say that interpreters of color have additional demands they have to confront when they go to work. Why isn’t this discussion taking place in interpreter education programs and in workshops in our field? If we truly want to see an increase in the number (or percentage)  of interpreters of color, we need to consider what doable actions we might take to acknowledge this reality in our field.

Why Should You Care?

My aim is not for you to read this story and then leave here today feeling sorry for interpreters of color. We don’t want your pity. We want action. Because these stories are not shared in workshops, and because these stories are not shared in interpreter education programs, interpreters of color are not being prepared for the field of interpreting that they will actually face. It also means that the 88% of White interpreters are not learning how to become allies.

Impacts of Power and Privilege


Are interpreters of color really being prepared for the field of interpreting? Are White interpreters prepared to work with us as allies? I don’t know. I think we would be more prepared if we figured out ways to work together. We have to acknowledge the impacts of power, privilege and oppression within this field. The number of African American/Black study participants in my research was 116. 72% shared that they experienced overt acts of discrimination and oppression while they were working. I am no longer talking about before or after work. The majority of Black interpreters experienced oppression from consumers and colleagues at some point while they were working.


Participants in the Black Deaf focus group that I conducted also shared their concerns regarding the field of interpreting. We have long discussed in this field the relationship between language and culture. We have acknowledged that for a complete understanding of language to be present, we must first understand the underlying influences of culture. This is not a new discussion for us. Yet, most of the Black Deaf participants in my focus group felt that interpreters did not have an understanding of their culture. Let’s consider what that means for consumers of color. It means they are working overtime to assimilate to the needs of interpreters, instead of interpreters working to accommodate their needs. Interestingly, for the Black Deaf focus group in particular, they overwhelmingly shared that they felt a sense of relief when they had access to interpreters of color. They felt understood.  They perceived interpreters of color to be both linguistically and culturally competent. I of course followed up by asking how often they had access to interpreters of color. Every Black Deaf focus group participant said that it was rare for them to have access to interpreters of color.


For those of you who are mentors or educators in this field, the majority of interpreters in my study (around 63%) felt that their mentors and educators were ineffective when it came to discussing multicultural issues or addressing issues of cultural competency. 86 of the participants who were in my study completed a formal interpreter education program. So again, 63% to 64% felt that their instructors were ineffective at addressing issues of multiculturalism or cultural competency. An additional 14% stated that they could not respond to my question because there was no discussion of multiculturalism or cultural competency in their programs at all. Frequently, research participants shared that when discussions of multiculturalism or cultural competency took place, those discussions were limited to Deaf and hearing cultures only. They addressed a Deaf-hearing binary that oversimplifies the two cultural groups, because we know that Deaf and hearing individuals come from a multitude of diverse backgrounds. People of color can be trilingual interpreters, they can be Codas, etc. They have a whole host of identities beyond being hearing or Deaf that impact who they are. That is intersectionality. So when we are not discussing culture beyond the Deaf and hearing binary, we are marginalizing the communities that we serve, we are dismissing who they are, and we are not doing good work.

What Can You Do?

So, perhaps we can’t stop situations like the one I shared with you at the beginning of this talk with the interpreter of color who was innocently walking to her car and confronted discrimination. There is no expectation that we will change the system overnight. But we can start with ourselves. We can start at home!

Allyship Skills

This message is for all of you, the 88%. Develop your allyship skills. Often we use the word ally as a badge, as though it is who we are. I mentioned briefly during the community forum a few nights back a range of different skillsets for allies. On one side, we have avoidance. That’s a skill. You can see oppression happening around you and choose to do nothing. On the other side, we have allyship, which means actively doing anti-oppression work.

Build Cultural Competence

Develop your cultural competence. I realize many people don’t know what that means. I’ve seen many different frameworks that help to describe cultural competency. I have not included that information in this presentation for the sake of time but if you contact me, I am happy to share resources with you. The point is, if you are working with interpreters of color, think about how you are going to connect those interpreters with communities of color. If you are an educator and you are working with interpreters of color, what types of resources are you utilizing in your interpreting program? There are resources out there for you. Are you utilizing the NMIP (National Multicultural Interpreter Project) curriculum to supplement your instruction and as a part of your mentoring resources?  

The NCIEC (National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers) recently released their social justice module for infusion within interpreter preparation programs. Are you incorporating those messages into your curriculum? When you require students to read articles or books, who are the authors? When you invite people of color to come to your classes and workshops to present, do you invite them to discuss race only or do you invite them to talk about the whole of their experiences and who they are? When you extend invitations to people of color, and you only ask them to talk about race, that looks like tokenism to me.

Invest in Social Capital

My closing comment is this.  Invest in social capital for interpreters of color. In short, social capital is a term used to describe the quality of relationships people have within a particular group. If you have good, strong, relationships, and you have a large network within your community to interact with, then your social capital is strong. However, if your relationship ties are weak or your network is small, then your social capital is weak. So in your interpreting programs and in the workshops you teach, when you name RID or NAD, make sure you also name NAOBI, name Mano a Mano, name NBDA, name the Asian Deaf Congress, and the many other organizations of color that are out there. Connect interpreters of color with organizations and communities of color, and while you’re at it, check these organizations out for yourself, too. That is a way for you, the 88%, to partner with us.

Thank you.