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Sign Language Interpreters and the Karma of Gratitude

It is easy to be disheartened by industry and economic challenges. By recognizing mentors and teachers, Brandon Arthur believes the karma of gratitude can lead sign language interpreters through difficult times.

Unemployment, wage reductions, and scant opportunity are just a few things that can describe the last year for sign language interpreters.  I believe it easy, given the industry turmoil, for interpreters to stumble into the trappings of ingratitude.

Who could blame us, its been rough out there.

Calling On Karma

While the industry has been a bit of a roller coaster this year, I wonder if we can improve our circumstances and avoid the pitfall of ingratitude by inviting karma to help us.  It’s worth a try, no?  Let’s try it by expressing our gratitude for a colleague or leader that has made a difference in our career.  To know them is to have been changed for the better.

I’ll start.

Paul Christie

With the exception of my life partner Tara (who is the most amazing person I have ever met and an incredible interpreter to boot), Paul Christie has had a tremendous impact on my career.  He took me under his wing when I was a young and new to the field.  You could say I was more than a little green behind the ears.

During our time working together in the Washington, DC metro area (DC, MD and VA), Paul regularly emphasized:

  • The importance of balancing one’s Deaf heritage with the standards of the industry.
  • That an artist creates the experience and the receiver determines the impact.
  • The importance of balancing family and career.

In addition to the above, and sharing his life experience, Paul was very encouraging when I had the entrepreneurial seizure that later became Visual Language Interpreting (VLI) and was supportive throughout its tenure.

Thank You, Mr. Christie

Paul—thanks for being an incredible human being and an amazing interpreter.  My career and journey in the field has been better because of your personal interest in me.  Thanks for the invitations to your home, and for listening to a young man while he attempted to figure out his career path and life in general—the goo inside.  Lastly, thanks for always being supportive first and constructively critical second.

Take A Turn

I am sure that each of you has at least one person who has had a dramatic impact on your career.  Again, let’s invite karma to help us through these industry challenges by publicly expressing our thanks for those who have given us the push we needed, when we needed it.

Your turn!

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A Sign Language Interpreter is a Sidewalk-Executive?

Every successful sign language interpreting business has at least one “sidewalk executive.” Brandon Arthur defines these well-connected, insightful practitioners and shines a light on the value they bring to the industry.

The sign language interpreting marketplace is peppered with interpreting companies big and small; some are uber successful and others not so much.  Let’s be honest, they are telling a similar story and selling nearly the same thing—whether it is Community or Video Relay services.  So, what makes one successful and another fizzle?

The answer is simple.

Successful companies have a sidewalk-executive sitting at decision making tables.

A sidewalk-executive is better known in our world as the extremely well connected, highly qualified, in demand, culturally sensitive, professional sign language interpreter.

Why is a sidewalk-executive a substantive advantage?

Lead From the Front

Sidewalk-executives lead from the front.  They are not afraid to get their hands dirty in order to get a job done.   Their “do what it takes” attitude allows them to operate with the speed of trust when working with customers and colleagues.   Sidewalk-executives are relationally oriented and understand the value of effectively managing the intersection where customers and practitioners come together.

The street credit of these professionals enables companies to gain traction quickly with paying customers, Deaf community players, and other sign language interpreters.

Feedback Loop

The connectivity that a sidewalk-executive has to the sign language interpreting marketplace runs deep and wide.  They are a critical feedback loop that assists a new company as they navigate the unfamiliar landscape and allows them to quickly correct any missteps or misperception.  This loop also helps a company stay abreast of the latest developments in the marketplace and position itself to capitalize on opportunities.

The feedback loop offered by a sidewalk-executive is central to a company receiving timely and unfiltered information.

Magic Maker

The biggest challenge in any enterprise is effectively executing its business strategy—making the magic happen.  Because a sidewalk-executive has their finger on the pulse of the interpreting marketplace, they are uniquely positioned to bring these strategies to life.  Their leadership has a tremendous impact on the motivation of colleagues and customers, and as a result they can garner the buy-in needed to make things happen.

The ability of a sidewalk-executive to successfully solicit support to implement strategy makes the difference between success and failure.

To: The Forgetful Decision Maker

To those decision makers who may have forgotten the importance of incorporating a sidewalk-executive into the decision making process, I would encourage you to remember what follows.

When you needed:

  • A guide to navigate the sign language interpreting marketplace, you reached for a sidewalk-executive.
  • An introduction to key community players and sign language interpreter leaders, you looked to a sidewalk-executive.
  • Perspective on industry practices, compensation, and trends, you looked to the sidewalk-executive.
  • An understanding of how to find customers and qualified practitioners, you looked to a sidewalk-executive.
  • Perspective on the worldview of those who generate revenue for the company, you looked to a sidewalk-executive.
  • Guidance on how to get buy-in around the company and with your customers, you looked to a sidewalk-executive.

A Hint

If you own or operate an interpreting related business—and things appear to be going sideways—ask yourself if you have enough sidewalk-executive representation at your table.  I might suggest you don’t.  After all, it was a sidewalk-executive—a sign language interpreter—that helped get the whole thing started.

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The Goo at the Center of a Sign Language Interpreter


Complex, reflective and passionate, sign language interpreters consider themselves artists. Understanding the creative & humanitarian forces that create the goo at their center enriches the experience of knowing one.

If a sign language interpreter could reach inside and scoop out the goo that makes them who they are, a mixture of artistic judgment, emotional labor, and organic creativity would drip from their fingers.  This genuine house blend is the very essence of who they are and why they’ve chosen to do what they do.

To those who work with, play or love a sign language interpreter, it is important that you not underestimate the power of the goo because, at times, it can rival Yoda’s “force!”

So, what are you in for if you find yourself connected to a sign language interpreter?  Let’s examine the goo and find out!

Artistic Judgment

Always remember that a sign language interpreter sees themselves as a craftsperson, an artist.  They spend hours—even years—honing their skills of observation in order to understand how to most effectively deliver their art.  So, they are a quick read of people and are pros at identifying a person’s motivation.  As a result of this artistic judgment, interpreters easily make connections with the people they come in contact with.

Emotional Labor

As artists with a keen sense of observation, sign language interpreters become expert at investing in people.  They quickly and efficiently invest small increments of emotional labor (personal, professional, linguistic, and cultural mediating micro-decisions) with those they come in contact with.  By doing this, they earn the social currency needed to make adjustments in work environments, achieve consensus among meeting participants, and to deliver experiences that are truly remarkable.

Organic Creativity

Sign language interpreters are among the naturally creative.  After spending significant time with one, you’ll note they have a high general intelligence and uncanny ability to adapt to nearly every situation.  This is possible because after working long hours in new environments, they follow with periods of reflection.  These moments of creative exploration give interpreters insight into how to better deliver their art and make connections with people in the world.  An interpreter’s inherent creativity is at the root of how and why they are able to comfortably operate in unfamiliar environments.

Goo Ignites Passion

This mixture at the center of an interpreter makes them determined and extremely passionate about their work.  This passion and raw determination serves them well most of the time.  Note, it can be a double edged sword.  On the one hand, a sticktoitiveness sense of being is essential when honing their craft and is critically necessary to survive in their profession.  On the other, it can lead them into advocacy roles that may put their reputation and relationships at risk.  This due to a belief, and perhaps a naïve one, that the interests of humanity will, and should, prevail.

The Take Away

Sign language interpreters come in all shapes and sizes; most of them are passionate and extremely committed to their craft and the community they serve.  Always remember, it is the goo that makes them compassionate, highly self-aware and work to possess a high level of intelligence.  It is also this goo that drives a passion that can be misinterpreted or misunderstood.

All-in-all, to know a sign language interpreter is to know someone who cares deeply about humanity in its many forms.

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Why Not a Sign Language Interpreter Bill of Rights?

Bill of Rights


As outside forces seek to control sign language interpreter rates of pay, professional standards, and hiring practices, Brandon Arthur drafts a Sign Language Interpreter’s Bill of Rights.

If you haven’t seen it, you soon will.  Due to economic pressures, businesses and individuals hiring interpreters are challenging (and attempting to redefine) our rates, standard practices, and national credentials.

In my view, if we handle these challenges poorly we will be putting the foundation of our industry at risk.

So, what do we do?  Why not an Interpreter Bill of Rights?  I know it may seem a little crazy, but service providers in other industries have them, why not sign language interpreters?

What comes next certainly isn’t perfect, but it’s a start.  Care to add?

Sign Language Interpreter Bill of Rights

Statement of Rights

An interpreter accepting an assignment to deliver sign language interpreting services has the right to:

  1. Be treated with respect and dignity, regardless of their race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, disability or sexual orientation.
  2. Receive, in advance, sufficient information about the D/deaf customer and the terms of the assignment in order to determine suitability.
  3. Know the name(s), if any, of any other interpreter(s) already engaged for the assignment, and to decline the assignment based on such information.
  4. Deliver services in a manner that honors customer preference, complies with industry standard practices, and allows for active support of team interpreter(s).
  5. Be told, in advance, of any changes to the terms of an assignment and to have the opportunity to confirm agreement to these changes.
  6. Decline an offer to provide services for any reason or no reason.
  7. Have personal, compensation, and credentialing information kept confidential, and to be advised of the disclosure of such information.
  8. Request the information and methodology used to determine rate of compensation.
  9. Request prompt payment for services rendered.
  10. Work in an environment free from physical and verbal abuse.
  11. Seek replacement on an assignment where:
    • Customer or co-interpreter’s conduct alters the terms or conditions of an assignment, or creates an abusive or unsafe environment; or
    • An emergency or a significant change in the interpreter’s health has resulted in an inability to provide effective services
  12. Voice concerns and/or grievances to the coordinating entity regarding the provision of service in connection with the assignment, or regarding a lack of courtesy or respect for the interpreter.
  13. Assert these rights personally, without retaliation.