In an ever-changing field of engagement, sign language interpreters seem to have lost their collective voices. Brandon Arthur explores the factors which inhibit practitioners and gives hope for regaining agency and confidence.
It is often said that the anonymity of living in a big city and the effort to avoid feeling imposed on by the crush of humanity, makes people hard and unfeeling. After all, it’s only in the big city that a person can be attacked 3 times in a 30 minute period—as 38 witnesses look on—without single person placing a call to 911 that would save their life, right?
As I consider the staggering pace of change the sign language interpreting industry is experiencing and the magnitude of the challenges we confront, what is striking to me is what appears to be a sense of indifference and a dismissal of our need to be responsible industry citizens.
Why Do We Just Look On?
Why do we standby as our practices and standards are attacked by short-sighted colleagues, industry business and associations, and local and national regulating bodies? Why do we look on as the quality of life that has taken decades to achieve erodes as regulation after regulation is legislated without us? Why do we willingly sit quiet as our credentials and professional organization are increasingly viewed as unnecessary or irrelevant?
Is it because we have grown complacent under the 3 squares a day provided by staff employment? Is it because we believe someone who better understands the issues will take the time to file a comment? Is it that the part-time Government Affairs Program at RID is sufficient to ensure interpreters interests are represented in every city and every state and that every piece of legislation is crafted so we remain eligible to do the work? Or, maybe it is that the hundreds of our colleagues who are recently underemployed/unemployed—as a result of industry regulation and change—is really someone else’s problem. While these maybe true for some, I believe it is something more alarming.
We have lost our confidence.
The Confidence Crisis
For the first time in our collective history, the bigger challenges facing our industry are not directly related to moving the act of interpreting from an occupation to a profession; so we find ourselves feeling unprepared. This feeling of being unprepared has given us an awareness of some sizable blind-spots in our field of vision. We no longer intuitively understand the rules of engagement. We don’t have direct access, in most cases, to the decision makers and people of influence. We are unfamiliar with proper protocol and the process to meaningfully get things done. We don’t know where to go to understand the issues or stay informed in real-time.
In short, we are unsure what to do.
So, we look on questioning our ability to help, believing someone else will make the call that will stop the attack. We look on fearful that to act may result in our being numbered among the unemployed/underemployed. So, we ignore the reflex to act and begin the internal chase for justification.
Simple, we commit to stare down our discomfort and act.
We recondition our reflex to sit out by recognizing that the choice not to act is an action itself and only perpetuates the conspicuous absence of our collective voice in shaping the future. We seek out information to understand the implications and consequences of the actions being taken by us and around us. We conduct ourselves in a way that we are counted among the artists in our communities creating positive change.
Like the responsible citizen who hears the plea of a person being attacked, we endeavor to make the situation better. Like this responsible citizen, each of us has a valid contribution to make. So, let commit to make it and remove the perception that we are indifferent to the outcomes of the actions swirling around us.
We do care and we are not past feeling.