Sign Language Interpreters – Complicit in a Devil’s Bargain?

December 8, 2011

When sign language interpreting shifted from “social service” to “business”, a chasm developed between the Deaf community & sign language interpreters. How do we regain and retain connection to the community that we serve?

Five decades ago those of us who functioned as sign language interpreters were allies of Deaf people, united with them in fighting for communicative access to the various services and opportunities offered to society at large. Working to overcome the daily attitudinal and communicative oppression that confronted Deaf people was a force that served to unite interpreters and Deaf people. Then the communicative access needs of Deaf people were provided by the mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, relatives, teachers, ministers, VR counselors and friends of Deaf people. Indeed, the interpreting scene for Deaf people then was in many ways like it is today for individuals needing spoken language access to society’s services and opportunities.

Communicative Oppression

The communicative oppression Deaf people experienced enabled them to define the work of sign language interpreters in many ways – they vetted interpreters (there were no Interpreter Training Programs or credentialing procedures), they arranged for interpreters (there were no laws requiring provision of interpreters), and they shared their language (there were no formal sign language classes except perhaps in churches) and their “Deaf grapevine” made known to the Community who could be trusted as an interpreter and who could not (there were no referral agencies). For interpreters, supporting the struggle for communicative access was an “other-centered” activity that focused on issues of justice for Deaf people and their rights.

Fifty years later, while audism still persists, the right to communicative access for Deaf people has been ensured by three federal laws (PL 93-112, PL 94-142 and PL 101-336). However, the cost to Deaf people and to sign language interpreters has been quite significant. For Deaf people who, beginning in the seventies and eighties, sought to be viewed as a linguistic and cultural minority, the price of legislatively mandated communicative access was that they were to be labeled as “disabled”; the price of legislatively mandated communicative access was that they would quickly lose the ability to define the work of interpreters; the price of legislatively mandated communicative access was that they would soon no longer be the primary source from which non-Deaf people would learn their language; the price of legislatively mandated communicative access was that reputation within the Community mattered less and less. To be sure, this was a true devil’s bargain, one whose terms may not have been fully made clear to, understood nor foreseen by Deaf people. Nevertheless, the cost to interpreters and to our standing as allies of Deaf people may have been even more severe.

The Consequences

Certainly one consequence of the three federal laws was to create an “interpreter for hire” environment in which the overwhelming majority of hiring entities (school principals, interpreter coordinators, conference coordinators, etc.) would not be Deaf. Thus while we, as sign language interpreters, might hold certification from RID, a non-Deaf dominated certifying or credentialing entity, that fact alone does not mean that we have been vetted by Deaf people or had our skills honed in the crucible of the Community. Additionally these federal laws created the “business model” of interpreting which was a decided shift from the “service model” of interpreting according to which we operated fifty years ago. Among other things, the “business model” has lead to interpreters earning a national average of $38.00 per hour (with a two hour minimum) and referral agencies billing on average twice that amount – a 100% surcharge. And when we consider that 51% of interpreters work full-time and 54% of Deaf people are unemployed, one wonders whether interpreters have materially benefited more from this legislated “Devil’s bargain” than have Deaf people.

Another consequence is that an enormous interpreter supply demand gap was legislatively created. While Deaf people used to arrange for and negotiate for the provision of sign language interpreting services according to their schedules, Deaf people are now forced to live their lives according to interpreters’ schedules and work availability. For example, it is worth noting that, according to national surveys, 78% of Deaf people report that medical settings are the most important situations in which they need interpreting services and yet those are the very settings for which they report it is most difficult to be provided with interpreting services. Little wonder since only 30% of sign language interpreters nationwide work in medical settings more than 30% of the time. Our work choices now dictate the rhythm of Deaf people’s lives. Our work choices constrain the life decisions of Deaf people. Our work choices either uphold or deny human rights and avow or disavow human dignity.

Our Roots

Deaf people used to be the primary source of helping us learn their language and they did so by teaching it to us from birth, or because we had familial ties or because they extended opportunities for us to socialize with them. But now according to a national survey 49% of nationally credentialed sign language interpreters spend less than 10% of their time socializing with Deaf people; only 20% of us are members of NAD and only 8% of us are members of their state association of the Deaf. How then do we keep abreast of changes in the language or changes in the attitudes/perspectives of Deaf people? How do we justify learning their language and profiting from it without giving back? In becoming a “profession” have we simply become parasites?

If, as a group, we interpreters are no longer as tightly bound to Deaf people as we were before, if there is no common uniting cause that binds us to Deaf people, if we have begun to view interpreting as a business rather than a response to personal connections, if we have materially benefited from laws mandating the presence of interpreters more than Deaf people, then the questions must be asked – 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?

What should we be doing as a field/profession to give back to the Community?

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94 Comments on "Sign Language Interpreters – Complicit in a Devil’s Bargain?"

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Member
Those of you in this discussion have been interpreters far longer than I have. I am a CODA and grew up “interpreting” for my mom as if it were a normal thing. I was often involved with a lot of Deaf people in my area and that was MY culture too. Somewhere along the way after I grew up and realized what I wanted to do with my life, all of that changed. I realized that the social circle I was in was intruding on my profession. Deaf consumers who I did not directly know, but knew my family were… Read more »
Member
I feel the same way! I am an interpreter that graduated from an interpreter prep program. I had no ties to the Deaf community before school, but I made immediate, fast friends with the first client I ever worked with. I actually stopped working with this person because of my attachment to her. I have worked with many people since and I normally make friends just as quickly with most of the clients with whom I work. I am just not the kind of interpreter that can leave my heart out of it. I am also an educational interpreter and… Read more »
abrace
Member
Aaron Brace
Hi, Dennis, Let me add my thanks to everyone else’s for your thoughtful essay. One of the things that saddened me as I read it, though, was my sense that those in our profession who might least grasp the import of the issues you raise are not known for their mastery of nuance. Here are some of the black-and-white “take aways” that I’m sure many of our colleagues would get when/if they read your piece. Not what you meant, I know, but what surely would register: 1) “…51% of interpreters work full-time and 54% of Deaf people are unemployed…” -Interpreters’… Read more »
Dennis Cokely
Member
Aaron – Thanks for posting. Long time no see for sure! I certainly agree that some readers (and many more non-readers) may not have the Community connections to see the “take aways” as anything other than “here we go again” accusations. My intent was not and is not to accuse but to try to shed light on some realities that many may not recognize or have thought about. As for the black and white “take aways”, I would say to those colleagues who might not yet have mastered nuance: 1) It’s not that interpreters should earn rates of pay that… Read more »
abrace
Member
Aaron Brace
Hi again, Dennis, This blog is the gift that keeps on giving! I completely understand that your intent was not to accuse- my sense of things, though, is that it takes more than a lack of malintent to get through to a large segment of our colleagues. Call it mollycoddling if you will, but I maintain that what has long been missing is a compassionate account of what many will experience as “loss” on their journey to the kind of rewarding personal and professional relationships with the Deaf community that we here advocate. Not only do we ask people to… Read more »
Dennis Cokely
Member
Aaron – I think that we have lost much in the change from a service to business model and from the change to academic footing versus community footing for our field and have written about that (Shifting Positionality: a Critical Examination of the Turning Point in the Relationship of Interpreters and the Deaf Community. In: Marschark, Peterson, and Winston, (eds): Sign language Interpreting and Interpreter Education: Directions for Research and Practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005). All we have to do is think of the tremendous change from interpreting for those with whom we were close (e.g. my first “formal”… Read more »
Member
Lindsey Antle
Very well said, Dennis and Aaron. It’s a fine line that we walk as interpreters. Those of us who started working long before there was formal interpreter education and, therefore, HAD to learn directly from the Deaf community, have had different experiences than those of us from interpreting programs. I was involved in interpreter education for many years and, sadly, participated in providing some less-than-stellar experiences for students. Dennis, you have always and continue to raise tough questions. Of your many contributions to our field, that is the one that I value the most. I can take tons of workshops… Read more »
Member
Dennis, I’m old enough to recall those long ago times when ASL interpreters were mostly volunteers and often CODAs. I too have seen the profession change over the years – mid-70s to the present. When you think back on it, the changes have been astounding. I was present at many meetings and conferences where the question of whether ASL was even a language was debated, and whether Minimal Language Skills (MLS) was the same as ASL, believe it or not. Here’s my two cents: I think what we have here is a generation gap. Older deaf adults were accustomed to… Read more »
Dennis Cokely
Member
Thanks for posting. Certainly there have been astounding changes in the field but I don’t believe all of them have been positive. I think that recognizing and acknowledging that not all change is positive is not the same as “pining for the good ol’ days”. The fact is that we can’t (and in many cases shouldn’t) put the toothpaste back in the tube. However, I do believe that we need to acknowledge that sign language interpreters are in a very, very privileged position. I can think of no other occupation whose presence is mandated by three federal laws. While the… Read more »
Member
The interpreter and client relationship was a lot more symbiotic back then than it was now, don’t you think? When the field (and I) were young, I used to be close personal friends with all my interpreter friends, and still am today, 30+ years later. I thought nothing of it and took it for granted as the unique boundary-blurring phenomenon it was. I cherish the deep bonds that were possible between deaf people and interpreters during the early years of our professional growth. One cannot become a sign language interpreter in the first place without any contact with deaf people… Read more »
Dennis Cokely
Member
Thanks for the post. You assert that “One cannot become a sign language interpreter in the first place without any contact with deaf people whatsoever”. Clearly you have not recently worked in an IEP where students routinely enter without Deaf connections. The ideal is as you have stated, but the reality is that novice interpreters (and IEP students) do not necessarily like Deaf people, have Deaf friends or participate in social gatherings with Deaf people. Being privileged does not mean that Deaf people have to like us; whether they like us or not we still get paid. We are privileged… Read more »
Member
Good questions, and I am happy to see the interpreters asking these of themselves. Interpreters fall into various categories according to specialty and skill, but also could be classified as to professional orientation. One is the service model, as you describe…another is the interpreter-as-teacher, another is the interpreter-as-advocate, etc. I have had questions about the profession myself as a Deaf professional and as a Deaf worker in the hearing world. Is the interpreter also an assistant, secretary, or co-professional in the case of the Deaf professional? Is the interpreter a pipeline to office politics for the Deaf worker? In workshops,… Read more »
Dennis Cokely
Member
Dianez You are right to ask about the multiple roles/responsibilities/requirements that interpreters face. I think that there are additional pressures felt by staff interpreters (staff interpreters have a much more personal connection /involvement with those for whom they interpret than free-lance interpreters). I believe that the interpreter is only an “assistant, secretary, or co-professional” if that is the job that they applied for and for which they were selected. Such jobs do make the lines of professional responsibility much more murky, however! I think the “office pipeline” and the “interpreter during breaks” issue are quite different. The “pipeline” interpreter is… Read more »
Member
Graham Turner

Dr Jules Dickinson wrote a well-received doctoral study (available online), at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, on the significance of (formal and informal) workplace interpreting.

Dennis Cokely
Member

Graham –

Might you have a link? I’ve seen the abstract but have not yet found the full dissertation online.

Member

Graham, I would also like to see a link to this work you mention.

Member
It seems like interpreters as a whole are a costly and self-centered lot (though maybe that’s unfair, as all I have is the tone of the article to judge by). Would not writing or typing serve as a cheap (if not free) alternative? I recently met a deaf man named Dennis playing pool at a bar in my town who carried a notepad with him, and when we were unable to communicate with gestures or lip-reading, there was always the pad. Even when reading what the other had written, we still got the connotations of the facial expressions and body… Read more »
Dennis Cokely
Member
Emaltek – I absolutely do not want you or anyone to paint all interpreters with a self-centered brush. There are many, many wonderfully talented Deaf-centric interpreters that I have met in my lifetime and some of them have posted here. For Deaf people writing is an alternative but only in certain situations, mostly social and some employment settings. However, it is not a useful alternative in educational settings, museum tours, public performances, political speeches and rallies. And, when we remember that the average Deaf person leaves school reading at a third/fourth grade reading level then we would question its usefulness… Read more »
Member
Lori Whynot
Dennis, This is an fine revisit to your keynote talk given at RID Region One conference last year, and I’m glad to see it open to public discourse like this. There needs to be more open dialogue on these issues you raised. For some time now we, as practitioners and those who train interpreting students have needed re-examine aloud our roles within the communities we serve. I have often pondered in some way or another, the questions you prompt in your post here. One question I like to ask my students (and we all should ask ourselves this): Why are… Read more »
Member
Gay Belliveau Koenemann

Dennis, just this: It’s a pleasure to see you here and to know that you’re still asking the hard questions. I hope they’re taken genuinely to heart.
Warm greetings from a cold and wet Rhine Valley!

Dennis Cokely
Member

Gay –

Thanks for reading and for the kind words. It has been a long time!! I hope you and yours are doing well. Warm greetings back to you from (surprisingly, for December) warm and sunny Boston!

Member

Gay Belliveau

I am not sure if you are the same person I met about 2 decades ago in Charlotte NC. I am not sure how to reach you via this post. How can we connect ?

Rhonda

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[…] is happening and how the profession has changed for both Deaf and Interpreters. Read on…. http://www.streetleverage.com/?p=1164 Subscribe to this author's posts feed via RSS Posted in USA-L Cancel […]

Member
John Pirone

Great article, Dennis!

When I worked as a coordinator of interpreting services, I clearly see two different groups of interpreters. One group truly cares about the community, respects Deaf people, and view themselves as an ally and another group views themselves as businesslike professionals, treats Deaf people as clients, and put their business before their heart for the community. What’s strikingly noticeable is that the former is of older generation while the latter is of current generation. So, what you have observed is so right!

Member
Mike McMillion

I agree. Also, the gap between the working generations seems to be widening and overlapping in awkward ways. Take for example the world of VRS with is such a new dynamic and populate it with older generation interpreters (myself included) and it creates many conflicts in role and process when a protocol or a new norm just “isn’t the way we used to handle “x” issue” in regards to ally/cultural mediation/conflict resolution issues.

Dennis Cokely
Member

Mike –

Thanks for the posting. VRS certainly has altered reality for interpreters and for Deaf people. My colleague, Rico Peterson, argues that what is done in VRS is clearly not what we have come to view as interpreting; VRS work violates our expectations of preparation and discretion, for example. It also seems to be the case that VRS companies can cut costs by hiring less experienced interpreters who are paid less than more seasoned interpreters or by capping the hourly rate they will pay even the most experienced interpreters. In the “business model” you control costs to maximize profits!

Member
Debby Miller
We are facing the same problems in Ontario Canada… the fight for developing a “professional interpreter” has lead to depersonalizing it… We are told to be robots basically a peice of communication equipment… not allowed to be “friends” with the Deaf people regardless of the several levels of “friends” from aquantance from Deaf functions to best friends that you hang out with… it has been all washed with the same brush…leading to the interpreters not being “connected” to the Deaf community. I has been a sad transformation I have witness in the past 20 years. My daughter is Deaf and… Read more »
Member
I agree that it is a tricky line to balance. I have Deaf friends, but tend not to become particularly close to the clients that I see the most frequently, at least outside of the work environment, in large part to prevent conflict. Just as with any other industry, you can have ‘work friends’ and then you have your separate personal life. I can be friendly and chat and be personable, but find that if I do not draw the line somewhere, then it can sometimes become ‘sticky’. It becomes awkward when that line between professionalism and helper gets blurred,… Read more »
Member
This is exactly what I tell my IPP students. We need to keep the line of professionalism clear for the clients we actually work with, in order to get the job done effectively and not have personal relationships cloud our roles. I have found that even clients who I never socialize with but who I work with frequently start concerning themselves more with what is good for me than what they really want or need; when that happens, I feel that my effectiveness in my role is diminished. I can be totally invested in my clients’ wants and needs without… Read more »
Member
James Johnson
Interesting read. I wonder if RID Code of Professional Conduct is a plausbile explanation for what you described in the article? Over those years increasing emphasis has been placed upon the professional conduct in this profession through continuing education, articles, blogs, and interpreter training programs is likely the explanation. Can you imagine doctors being close to their patients like interpreters were with the deaf community? I think the profession is in the maturing stage in terms of being recognized as professional. The challenge is now how can the interpreters stay in tune with the deaf community without potential ethical conflicts?… Read more »
Dennis Cokely
Member
James – Thanks for the posting. I think there are many reasons for the distance between interpreters and Deaf people. The Code of Conduct (and former Code of Ethics) is certainly one of the reasons. I definitely do agree that we should have opportunities for Deaf people to learn how to work with interpreters in ways that they (Deaf people) feel provide them with the greatest access. But I think that, since 88% of Deaf students are now educated in mainstreamed settings, those opportunities need to start with young Deaf students. They don’t know how best to work with interpreters… Read more »
Member

All these points have weighed on me over the years, I agree with it all… It’s the little things that stand out, even down to asking the deaf consumer their sign preference or asking a team interpreter… Thank you for stating it so clearly and for all your works… It has changed in all those ways… that’s all I can say for now…

Member
A good read as always Dennis. I found the article interesting and there is definitely a struggle out in the working interpreting world to walk the line of Deaf ally and working professional. In our collective struggle to be taken seriously by the other professionals we often interact with we end up alienating the Deaf people that essentially keep us employed. I think interpreters can easily change how they interact with the community outside the job. On the job behavior will be a different challenge all together. As one previous poster said, the RID code of ethics pushes us so… Read more »
Dennis Cokely
Member
Tyler – We need to check in! Let’s do it soon. Clearly there is a balancing act that must be performed and sustained by interpreters. I’m not sure that change is ever easy, however. And I would say that if our Code pushes us in ways that don’t feel comfortable then perhaps it is the Code, and not us, that must change; perhaps it is the Code, not us, that is flawed. If we have built rigidity into our Code (or the perception of rigidity into our Code) then it absolutely must change. Codes are guides not laws or absolutes;… Read more »
Member
Dear Dennis, Thank you for your very thought provoking article. I am a fourth year interpreting student at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, about to graduate and enter the field as a fledgeling interpreter. New interpreters desperately need to hear counsel from seasoned interpreters, so again, thank you. Your article is very timely in that our Community Interpreting class was just discussing the positives and negatives of the professionalization of our field Friday morning. From the article, one point in particular that I am struggling with is the statistic that “51% of interpreters work full-time and 54% of… Read more »
Dennis Cokely
Member
Brian — thanks for the post. And I wish you well as you enter the field!! You ask whether interpreters are “supposed to feel guilty because the employment rate is a few percentage points higher than the people they serve?” My response is that the raw numbers matter little. The point of the statistic is not about inflicting guilt, but rather imparting enlightenment. Why are we not fighting for a world in which Deaf people materially benefit as much as we do? How can it be a positive reality when interpreters benefit more than Deaf people do? I also want… Read more »
Member

Thank you, Dennis, for expanding on your point and for bringing us back to the important realization that we must engage the community we serve, making Deaf people first in our thoughts as we work. I will bring your comments back to my class as fodder for continued learning about this topic.

Member
Thanks, Dennis. Google, whose theme was “do no evil”, is also a devil’s bargain. It seems inevitable. I would just support Theresa Smith’s comments over recent years to the effect that our job is incredibly difficult and delicate; requires untold hours of on-going education and ‘keeping up’ with the languages and communities in which we work; is so mentally and physically demanding that we can’t work properly and well if we have to be working 7 or 8 hours a day without recharging and resting; often requires complex judgements about our clients’ needs, intentions, and desires to enable them to… Read more »
Dennis Cokely
Member
Bill – Thanks for posting. I agree that what we do is incredibly, incredibly complex. Philosopher George Steiner, in his 1975 classic After Babel, asserts that interpretation is the most cognitively complex task of which human beings are capable. I also agree that professional is a good thing if done right; but, I suggest, many of our colleagues (especially those with shallow Community roots) are NOT doing it right. I suggest that you can’t be a professional serving a Community if you do not know the Community and if the Community peas not know you. Instead of operating on the… Read more »
Member

Yes, absolutely.

Member
The fact that you skew your numbers causes me to question the validity of other statistics you use. NO Video Interpreter is connected, and thus billing, for 60 minutes in one hour. The more accurate figure would be 40 minutes in an hour, reducing the $399 by more than $100 per hour. And as to what happens to the rest of the money, I am sure you realize there are other necessary costs required to run VRS services (i.e. buildings, power, internet, insurance, etc.), not to mention the incredibly talented teams that work to improve VRS services and quality. Many… Read more »
Dennis Cokely
Member
Lucy – Thanks for the post. I am aware of one VRS company that requires its interpreters to process calls within five seconds and only gives them a ten minute break each hour (thus enabling the company to bill for up to $333.00 per hour). And of course there are expenses as you point out. But if we assume that the average call center has 10 stations that means the company can bill in the neighborhood of $3,333.00 per hour for a single center. It is also no secret that VRS companies are also hiring less experienced interpreters who are… Read more »
Member
Hi Dennis~ This issue is more complex than you have presented. I understand the frustration at seeing interpreters who have not been vetted by the Deaf Community working as professional freelancers. I think there are creative ways to improve that situation by expanding the certification and transition to employment thru supervised internships and increased requirements for hours of community involvment. Interpreters are in a challenging position if they are to provide neutral professional confidential interpreting services around the clock and also be on “familial” terms with the Deaf community. It is a balancing act to maintain genuine connection and stay… Read more »
Member
Obviously, I agree that for the most part, we are not paid enough. But the fact remains that we aren’t even worth the little we are paid unless we spend a lot of time with Deaf people. Spoken language interpreters spend much of their lives in the company of people who speak their B and C languages in order to keep up and in order to be good. For most of us, ASL is our B or C language. I think Dennis is saying not only that we are responsible to continue our 2nd culture learning so that our work… Read more »
Member
Greetings Dennis et al: i want to thank u for writing this editorial and thank the commentors. i havent read them all but got up to Aaron Brace’s and your response and i thought i would share something as a Deaf person – i dont think interpreters and Deaf folks talk much these days – i dont think we all discuss our likes and dislikes and what works and doesnt work and to me that is unfortunate. There is much to learn and gain for actually getting to know each other beyond this tossed together encounter. Also when i first… Read more »
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[…] DENNIS COKELY’S ARTICLE Dennis Cokely, the ASL program director at Northeastern University in Massachusetts, wrote an article that expresses his strong views on the interpreting profession. It is interesting and serious, and it can be read at: http://www.streetleverage.com/?p=1164 […]

Member
Harrison Jones
This is an amazing article. It’s definitely given me some food for thought. The questions posed here do present quite the ethical dilemma. Do the laws truly help the Deaf Community as much as everyone seems to do? I think they can, if properly applied and argued for by all of those whom they affect, Deaf and Interpreter alike. It is however, up to us to make sure that we do not take advantage of these laws to benefit ourselves more than the Deaf Community. I would argue that as being quite unethical business practices. I am a recent graduate… Read more »
Member

In Evans’ article, I particularly liked Lightfoot’s use not only of “private practice”, which I have used for years instead of ‘free-lance’, but also indicating our education in situations where that is expected of the participants. Too often we say, “I’m just the interpreter…”

Member
Lori Whynot
Well Kudos, Dennis! This has certainly been a catalyst to the start of a worthwhile and much needed dialogue. Thank you again for your article, as it raises so many important issues.I hope it continues to send ripples around the pond. I also appreciate your work over the years on pushing to re-assess our professional code of ethics and once again, this becomes a pressing topic. In particular we seem to often grapple with how we interpret and apply concepts of “impartiality’, “confidentiality’, and other key tenets behind “The Code” (dramatic music: duhn, duhn, duhn!!). It’s as if these concepts… Read more »
Dennis Cokely
Member
Lori – Thanks for this and your previous posting. I hope things are going well “down under” and happily we are soon to see you here in Massachusetts. For me two essential/central ingredients of a professional are analytic thinking and decision-making. That is why we pay doctors, lawyers or therapists for example. I continue to believe that our deontologial (rule-based) approach to our Code of Conduct (formerly Code of Ethics), does not help foster these defining competencies. I believe that if we had a rights-based (or justice-based) approach to our Code then our discussions would not be about “stock answers”… Read more »
Member
Peggy Huber
Excellent resolutions, Dennis (Dec 13, 2011 post). May I quote these? These are all excellent arguments, and I am silently debating all I am reading. I realize that the longer I work in this profession, the better my perspective on the social and political landscape within which I work. I cannot deny my position of previlege as a member of an empowered group, and I cannot ignore the effect of my work in every cicumstance. I consider myself a partner inasmuch as it is possible, while appreciating that each situation brings with it a unique dynamic. It is a constant… Read more »
Dennis Cokely
Member
Peggy Thanks for the post. You may, indeed, quote those resolutions and hopefully move to encourage your colleges to implement them. I’m glad you are debating these issues. For what it’s worth, I think that as a field we have lost the central quality of humility. It is that sense of humility that reminds us that we serve others, that we are privy to the most intimate aspects of Deaf people’s lives, that Deaf people have given us an incredible gift, that others – not us – should be the focal point of our decisions and actions. It is my… Read more »
Member
This article and additional comments have been very thought provoking. I took the time to think specifically of myself and what I am doing in regard to these issues as well as how I teach the students in my ITP class. I am largely a community interpreter- FL, teach an evening class from time to time, and am the RID affiliate chapter president in my state. I also have a husband and 4 children. I can’t open up my schedule around every need of the Deaf community but I do as much as possible. I have been concerned about the… Read more »
Dennis Cokely
Member
Dawn – Thanks for the post. You say “I can’t open up my schedule around every need of the Deaf community but I do as much as possible”. I certainly do not and can not purport to speak for Deaf people, but I can say that all of the Deaf people I know realize that “life happens” and that there are ebbs and flows in each of our lives. I think it is clearly the “Deaf heart” that matters most. The “I want to but circumstances prevent” attitude. The “I’ll be involved as much as I can” attitude. I also… Read more »
Member
Thank you for sharing such invaluable information about “Sign Language Interpreter Complicit in a Devil’s Bargain ?”. I’m Deaf. Taught Interpreting Training Program. Certified Interpreter. As I was reading all of the comments, I’m very sad and hurt by the actions of “interpreters”. Lot of times, I can understand why these things are happening. But there are days when I just can’t understand….throwing my hands up in the air. I taught the courses of interpreting. Watched my hearing students learning to become professional interpreters. Watched them interact with deaf people at the community events. Watched them graduate from the program.… Read more »
Dennis Cokely
Member
Thanks for your posting. I, too, am saddened to see so few graduates of IEPs who develop a “Deaf Heart”. I think it comes from not being connected to Deaf people deeply enough. Your final story is really distressing – it’s one thing to open a referral business (and there are agencies with integrity) but to reject the language in front of the very people that you and your business purport to serve is unbelievable. I think that the decrease in “Deaf Heart” comes from many sources – business decisions, VRS, scheduling decisions, etc. I think we have to identify… Read more »
Member
Thank you to Dennis to initiating this fascinating and much needed discussion. I live over the pond in the UK and have been a registered qualified (certified) BSL Interpreter for over 18 years. Much of the experiences described above are prevelent over here although we do not have any legislation that absolutely compels the provision of sign language interpreters. The divergence between the Deaf community and interpreters is an ever widening chasm with no resolution in sight. I would say however that the vast majority of BSL learners are taught by Deaf people and consequently encouraged to engage with the… Read more »
Dennis Cokely
Member
Padraigin Thanks for the post. I think you are quite correct – interpreting students are often required (though one would hope it were not so) to spend time interacting with Deaf people outside the classroom. This is a good thing. Then they finish their education phase and begin to spend their workdays interpreting. Novice interpreters, often have a steep learning curve finding the correct “community balance” (those that do so). Once they begin interpreting, they often try to live their lives in black and white (ethical decisions are “according to the rules”) and they fall prey to edicts such as… Read more »
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“loved me upside the head” – is good but requires commitment and dialogue and trust to me in general folks dont often speak the truth for fear of hurting, turning off, offending, being misunderstood, being blacklisted, etc etc just look outside the window folks – the whole nation should be up in arms about NDAA but most folks dont even know what it is so im all for peaceful direct confrontation and i do agree that LOVE is powerful and is the answer so while dennis could have re-worded things “softly gently….” the way he DID has prompted this very… Read more »
Member
I think part of the problem is national certification. When i got to the end of your great article about how we’ve become so disconnected from the Deaf community, the FIRST thing i see about the author is “Dennis is a nationally certified interpreter and has been interpreting for over four decades” In an article preaching the need to get away from the business aspect of the field and get back in touch with our roots, the first thing the author wants us to know about him is that hes nationally certified and has been interpreting for 40 years. Its… Read more »
Dennis Cokely
Member
Dale – Thanks for the post. Certainly the existence of national certification in the early seventies provided some support for national legislation. However, I don’t think that, in and of itself, national certification is the issue. I think the fact that a large part of the problem is that we don’t have a widely accepted valid and reliable assessment procedure and so certification results do not match “eyes on the street” judgments more frequently than should be the case. I also think that the alphabet soup of certification is of great concern. When there is a national level assessment of… Read more »
Member
ohhh o forgot to ask – is there any effort for consumer based direction in the hiring and application of an interpreter. meaning any push for a Deaf person to get X amount of hours for interpreter coverage and then s/he can hire the interpreter of her/his choosing and allocate when and where etc? recently Louise Stern and Oliver Pouliot (US born but now reside in England) were explaining that is how the system works in the UK – the Deaf person is given X amount of hours to be covered by the govt and then they are in charge.… Read more »
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William Harkness
Thank you Dennis for a very interesting article and the follow-up feedback/comments from the readers. I suspect that more than anything, the expectation of a sign language interpreter, today, is much higher than ever (in terms language proficiency and culture awareness). You’re being asked to tackle about 3-4 different major languages modes (Oral, SEE, ASL, and PSE)and the infinite variations that comes with each individuals that they have to transliterate/interpret for, and on top of that you’re being asked to step back from the role of an enabler to a facilitator of information. Simply put, Sign Language Interpreting field is… Read more »
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I am from across the pond like Padraigin back in the UK and I just felt I had to post a response. I agree with what William says, in that similar to the US I feel that UK interpreter training also needs improvement. Many Deaf professionals in the London area (this is where I am based and so cannot comment on other areas of the UK) also have their own list of ‘preferred’ interpreters who they like working with/have knowledge of their job and so on. I would be exactly the same if I used interpreters. In the UK we… Read more »
Dennis Cokely
Member
Liana – Thanks for the post. The “interpreter allocation system” you describe in the UK is, to my understanding, similar to that used in Italy. The difficuluty I have with such a system is that it perpetuates the notion that Deaf people need interpreters (afterall they are given the allowance to hire them). It seems to me that it is hard to convince those who are not Deaf that THEY need interpreters as much as Deaf people do under such a system. Thus, under such a system it becomes even more difficult to convince the general public that Deaf people… Read more »
Member

Dennis: After all these years of working in the field and having you as one of the most important resources as I moved through the last 38 years from establishing programs to retirement you still are providing the field with so much to think about I can only agree with almost all of the postings above. Our profession has profited from your contributions. Thanks for one more concept to think about.
Ken

Dennis Cokely
Member

Ken

Thanks for the kind words and thanks for your contributons to the field of interpreting and ASL teaching over the last four decades. I think that we must constantly ask ourselves challenging questions in order to advance the field.

dennis

Member

Can you please share with me the source for the statistic of 49% of nationally credentialed sign language interpreters spend less than 10% of their time socializing with Deaf people?
Thank you

Dennis Cokely
Member

Janay –

Thanks for the inquiry. The data can be found in a 2010 national survey of interpreters . Look at the question-by-question data presented at the end of that pdf, especially question #5. Sadly, when we add in the fact that 5% of us do not socialize with Deaf people at all, the percent of us who socialize less than 10% increases to 54%!!

dennis

Dennis Cokely
Member

Janay –

For some reason the link did not come through on my previous post. Here is the link to the survey:

http://media.ncrtm.org/presentations/NCIEC/051710/PracTrendsAnalysis.pdf

dennis

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[…] cannot really be separated.) But I suggest, as others have (see Bill Moody’s comment on “Complicit in a Devil’s Bargain”), that the vast majority of us approach this daunting task only partially prepared. To fully […]

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[…] have seen from the discussion of whether sign language interpreters are complicit in the statutory bargain with the devil, interpreters are in a practice profession in which trust, reliability and heart are important […]

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Gail K Kemp

Very well put! Thank you!

Member
Tamara Moxham
I have to bring this up – but then I have my helmet on. Ready? Deaf people aren’t interpreters unless they are interpreters. What? That’s right. I teach in an interpreter training program (which has been cut – we are dead program walking – thank you economy). Those students who did not have ties to the Deaf, deaf, or in our case here in Seattle – deaf-blind communities before entering our program often don’t realize that not all deaf people know how to use interpreters. The days Dennis wrote of are gone. In those days most Deaf people attended ASL… Read more »
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[…] 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 […]

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Two quick comments:
Interpreters allies invest daily into the Deaf/HH/DB communities in ways that may not be officially recognized.

Opportunity cost. It is important to recognize that interpreters have chosen interpreting, are passionate about their work and the communities they serve and have forgone often much more lucrative consistent work with benefits.

Shelly Hansen SC:L
WA state

Member

Not sure if this discussion is live, but here is the link to Dr. Jules Dikinson’s linked in page, with a list of her publications. http://uk.linkedin.com/pub/jules-dickinson/33/59a/a8

Member
Dennis, Thank you for another thought provoking article. As i read the many comments to your article and the thread of issues raised ( Deaf ed,ITP ed, interpreted elementary ed, lack of Interpreters personal connections to the community they work with, vrs, vri, mainstreaming and on and on)its clear to me that much of this would be resolved if true political power was in the hands of the Deaf community. In my dream the deaf community would create and operate; Deaf Education, ITP programs, VRI/VI agencies, Interpreter certification standards, interpreting agencies, CI implant clinics, early asl language aqusition programs and… Read more »
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[…] 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 […]

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[…] coming from interpreters in the field.  Specific suggestions provided by Denis Cokely (2011) in “Sign Language Interpreters – Complicit in a Devil’s Bargain” touched on the social influences wielded by interpreters who are either tightly bound or less […]

Member

Dennis – Thank you for the thought-provoking article. I’m an ITP student and am interested in reading the full survey you referred to in your article: But now according to a national survey 49% of nationally credentialed sign language interpreters spend less than 10% of their time socializing with Deaf people; only 20% of us are members of NAD and only 8% of us are members of their state association of the Deaf.

Thanks for letting me know where I might find access to it.

Dennis Cokely
Member

Jodi

you can find various needs assessment at this link:

http://www.interpretereducation.org/resources-technical-assistance/need-assessments/

The one I referenced was the 2010 practitioner assessment, but you will find the same echoed in the 2012 report.

Member

Great, thanks Dennis!

Member
Bruce Wheelock
I am a hearing member of an organization in the United States the prizes members’ anonymity. For the last three years I have been serving in a language coordinator position, arranging for sign language interpreters for group settings of anywhere from 20 to 900 persons. To those familiar with this whole arena, it is obvious that professional interpreters must be used. Communication by any other means is impractical. Interpretation in those settings must be concurrent throughout. And what is said cannot be shared with anyone afterward; it is occasionally necessary for someone in my position to assure others that interpreters… Read more »
Member
Marlene Baron
Excellent article. I’ve only completed ASL 2 and am already being told how, as an intepreter, I’m not to be involved with the Deaf person. I find that hard to understand. I’m involved with a small Deaf community and have friends within it. I love talking with these ladies; they are so funny, joy-filled and fun to be with. They are patient with me and show me signs that I don’t know. I am told, from both Deaf and hearing people (within the interpreter college world) to spend as much time with the Deaf as possible. I’ll learn best there.… Read more »
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[…] learning allowed only by one’s relationship-in-good-standing with the Deaf community. In Sign Language Interpreters – Complicit in a Devil’s Bargain?,” Dennis Cokely gives an especially pointed account of the negative side-effects of communication […]

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I recently moved to Wenatchee Washington and I have never experienced so much oppression. I transferred from Clark College which was a very deaf friendly school, to Wenatchee Valley. When I registered for my classes, I was told by the disability adviser that I had to drop all my classes due to the interpreter issue. I told her that she can hire interpreters from out of the county but she said they would not, will not pay for travel. So as we tried to get myself registered for the classes, 70% the interpreters emailed her and said they were not… Read more »
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Robertta Thoryk
Excellent article; I cried when I read it because it is so true. Cannot adequately express how much I agree with this article or how frustrated. I remember when we were working for HB216 here in Ohio (Ohio’s ASL bill) – one of the big worries was that legislation would “open ASL up” and it would be “taken over” by others…and that’s what we saw happen. All that work and what has resulted? NOT better-signing teachers in Deaf classrooms….NOT ease of access to qualified terps for medical care…not a true recognition and appreciation of the study of ASL and Deaf… Read more »
Member
I am NOT laughing Anonymous
Anonymous- As a person who works regularly with absolutely fabulous interpreters during my career, I found it repugnant you “laughed a little bit” at the issue of interpreting and privilege. I’ve read your comments four times and I am embarassed for you. Interpreting at it’s most awful is about power and at its best about trust. I was lucky enough to be in a position of authority: authority to send an interpreter out of a meeting, to request to not have a particular interpreter back again. Unfortunately this is not the typical experience. I would suggest that while an interpreter… Read more »
Dennis Cokely
Member
Anonymous (responding to Anonymous): What a wonderful post. Thank you for this. Sarcasm aside, the point you make about how we would not put up with limited competence in many professionals/service areas is an excellent one. Why should we have lower expectations of interpreters because they work with “disabled” Deaf people??? I definitely feel for Deaf professionals/adults and the variable level of interpreter competencies with which they must contend. However, truthfully, what concerns me most is the variable level of competence of interpreters in K-12 settings. Sadly, the national norm is that in K-12 settings the least expensive (read least… Read more »
Member
I am NOT laughing Anonymous
Dennis, I do worry about the high stakes tests. First and foremost, I worry about the value of the high stakes tests for every child. We could talk about that for years, but let me just be brief and say those tests are less than valid and more than a huge waste of time. Maybe it is sort of similar to the “testing” of interpreters – to the point that “passing the test” means for some interpreters they are “good enough” and just numbly go along gathering CEUs for re-certification. I would guess that most good teachers can predict how… Read more »
Member
Not only the baby DVDs, but in many instances when someone calls on us terps to do any kind of video signing, we need to refer them to a Deaf signer. They certainly can understand from a business perspective that the Deaf community will support the product more if we just explain to them the benefits of a native signer. We may have to help out pro bono, yes, but not necessarily: in several instances when I suggest I would be happy to do it with a Deaf signer, and we will work on the translations together, the hearing consumer… Read more »
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Lindsey Antle
Wahoo, Bill. Thank you for bringing up the need to have Deaf interpreters available in VRS. I work full time in VRS. Most of the time, things go smoothly and I am confident that everyone “got it”. The Deaf person got his/her business done, we connected to establish some trust, the hearing person was pleased to have worked via this system, and I felt pleased. Often, however, I am simply not qualified to handle the call in an ethical manner. Those are the times that I’d love to push a button and bring a Deaf interpreter on the scene.
Member
You are absolutely amazing! That may be the best explanation I have ever seen! Your post should be a must read for every single Deaf student/employee out there to prepare for the use of interpreters. Our Deaf clients need to be able to advocate for themselves and to speak up for what they need. As interpreters, maybe it hits the pride button a little, but then as the interpreter you need to be able to sit down and analyze what went wrong? How could you change this situation next time or what can be worked on so this is not… Read more »

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