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International Collaboration: Should Sign Language Interpreters Do More?

How can sign language interpreters in the United States help to improve the quality of sign language interpreting services internationally? Debra Russell provides information and suggestions for getting involved locally to have a global impact.

What is the role of sign language interpreters in supporting other interpreters in other countries, and what strategies can reinforce Deaf community and interpreter collaborative work?

As President of the World Association of Sign Language Interpreters (WASLI), I am often asked these questions, as well as why I chose to be part of an international organization.  Being part of the development of WASLI has been an incredible experience filled with opportunities to work with, and learn from, other volunteer board members from every region of the world. The association in its short six years has been able to create a network of interpreters throughout many countries, and we have tried to model collaboration between Deaf associations and sign language interpreters, at every step of the way.


Our work with WASLI is supported by the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD), solidified by one of our most important milestones – the signing of the Joint Statement between our organizations. The agreement was signed at the WASLI 2007 conference in Segovia, and every interpreter attending the conference placed his or her signature on the historic statement. I encourage all sign language interpreters to review the document, as it is an explicit statement that guides us in order to reach our common goals.  In that agreement, we identified that we would work towards the establishment of sign language interpreter associations in countries where there are none, and establish regional networks of interpreters.  The statement stresses the importance of joint working, close liaison and transparent communication between interpreter and Deaf organizations, at the local, national, regional and international levels.  Finally, it also states we will share resources with emerging countries.

That important step then led to similar agreements being reached between national association of interpreters and Deaf people, including the National Association of the Deaf and the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf , signing an MOU at the RID conference in Philadelphia.  But, while the agreements are a wonderful step forwards, they must translate into positive action among associations.

How Can I support International Development Work?

One:  Creating Positive Relationships

The agreements apply to the local level, and so one of the first things we can do is ensure that we are continually contributing to positive relationships among the interpreters with whom we work, and within the Deaf community we serve. These positive relationships start and are sustained by:  regular participation at Deaf community events, acting as an ally on issues of importance (example: interpreters attending public rallies in Canada about the closure of VRS services and the impact on Deaf people), volunteering your skills for Deaf community projects (example: translation of ASL letters, committee work, fundraising), and knowing your local Deaf community.

By knowing your local Deaf community, I mean understanding the issues impacting them, their hopes and dreams for their community, and where they stand on interpreting issues.  What do they expect of interpreters?  Allowing yourself to be known as a person not just a service provider. We cannot model the nature of collaboration between Deaf people and sign language interpreters to others at the regional or international levels if we don’t practice those behaviours in our home communities.

The theme of the 2011 WASLI conference in Durban was Think Globally, Act Locally, exemplified this notion.  Our keynote speaker, Colin Allen, now the President of WFD, asked delegates to pay attention to both global developments and local contexts to result in action that betters our communities.   An example he cited was the international policy milestone of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).  This global policy provides the best guide for people seeking to improve the quality of sign language interpreting services and satisfy the needs of the Deaf communities in local contexts.  By extension then, each of us could take the step to become familiar with this document, as it is a document that impacts Deaf people as they advocate for their human rights and services.

Many countries around the world are now using the UNCRPD to work with governments and institutions in order to recognize national sign languages and to support linguistic research about these minority languages, and the Deaf communities that use them. When interpreters are familiar with the language and the power of the UN Convention they are in a better place to support others who are advocating for positive change in emerging countries.

Two:  Become Familiar

The second action sign language interpreters can take is to become familiar with the work of the WASLI Educational Task Force.  One of the most common requests WASLI receives from countries that do not have interpreter programs is for curricula and resources.  Our joint statement with WFD indicates we will share resources with emerging countries.  This begs the questions of what and how, which led to the Educational Task Force that worked for the past three years to create guidelines.  The guidelines stress the need to recognize the crucial role of local Deaf communities in preserving their sign language(s), and for all program development to occur with the Deaf community. By reviewing these guidelines, interpreters interested in international development can think carefully about the training they will offer in other countries, in order to involve local Deaf communities and interpreters, ultimately with the goal of building capacity within the local context.

The document begins with a philosophical statement:

“…Interpreter educators from countries with established interpreter education will collaborate with educators from countries where interpreter training is not available or is newly developing.  Educators will work together to design effective practices and deliver quality education.  They will do so in a manner that incorporates local expertise in the cultural, linguistic, social and political conditions that affect teaching and practising signed language interpreting in that country. The goal of collaboration is to ensure accessibility, relevance and effectiveness of training in diverse contexts while maintaining the integrity of national signed languages, customs and norms.”

The aim of these collaborative efforts with local Deaf and hearing community members, Deaf and hearing interpreters, and national Deaf and Deaf-Blind representatives is the development of expertise and empowerment of local personnel to lead the establishment of interpreter education in their respective countries and to support existing and developing national associations of signed language interpreters.

Three:  Model International Collaboration

There are several models where sign language interpreters from abroad have collaborated effectively with other regions in order to offer training that is consistent with these “do with, not do for” guidelines created by the WASLI Educational Task Force, and the document highlights examples from Kosovo, Mexico, Colombia and Kenya. By learning about these ways of interacting in other countries, we can lessen the “footprint” of North American ways, ensuring that ASL does not become the default language of use.  Philemon Akach, an interpreter and linguist from Kenya, speaks to language colonization in his paper published in the first WASLI conference proceedings, and all of us can learn a great deal from his perspectives on this crucial issue.

If you don’t own the conference proceedings, they are available through the WASLI website.

How Can I Change the World?

Individual Membership

North America is fortunate to have interpreter programs, researchers contributing to the knowledge about interpreting, and organizations that support the development of the profession.  By purchasing an individual membership in WASLI you support the many projects in our strategic plan, for example, the task group that are developing communicating protocols for countries that are dealing with natural disasters.  Chilean Deaf associations and sign language interpreters had to take governments to court in order to gain access to sign language interpreters on television during an earthquake, while other countries have been able to work effectively with media during these times.  By collecting effective practices from the global community, they will produce guidelines that can be used proactively so that Deaf people have access to information, the most basic of human rights.


Did you know that you could also donate membership fees for sign language interpreters in another country?  I choose to support a group of interpreters from Ukraine and it costs me less than five cups of tea.  The result is that we are now building a network of interpreters in former Soviet countries and providing them access to materials and documents.  Our membership fees are based on GDP formulas, similar to WFD, so while your membership will be less than $50 a year, you can cover the fees for an interpreter from an emerging country for as little as $6.00.  What if RID donated $1.00 of every member’s dues to WASLI or your local affiliate chapter did the same?

Sponsor Delegates

Or you as a group of sign language interpreters could choose to start raising funds to sponsor a delegate to our next conference in 2015.  Sponsoring delegates from emerging countries is an amazing gift that has a ripple effect. Over the years we have seen interpreters return to their communities with energy, ideas, networks of colleagues, and tools to further develop interpreting in their country, resulting in over 40 new interpreter associations in just 6 years.  One of our 2011 sponsored delegates in South Africa spoke of it being a week of “firsts” for him – the first time to see the ocean, to be on an airplane, to see a Deaf interpreter working, to attend a conference about interpreting, and his first time to know that sign language interpreting was a profession.

You can contribute to that kind of life-changing experience.

Attend Conference

In short, there are so many things that North American interpreters can, and I would argue, should do to support the development of sign language interpreting at the global level.  One of the most powerful ways that you can learn from others is to attend a WASLI conference and listen to the heart felt stories of interpreters as they present their country report.  We have heard about sign language interpreters who walk 2 hours to do an interpreting assignment, and never expect to be remunerated, to the challenges of working as an interpreter amidst the Israeli/Palestine conflict, to the training partnerships between interpreter associations from Colombia and an Ontario chapter of the Canadian national organization, AVLIC.


Finally, WASLI has a devoted group of translators, thanks to Rafael Trevino.  He has been a tireless volunteer, bringing together people who donate their time to provide translation in Arabic, Spanish, French, Russian, and so on. Recently, Christopher Stone and Robert Adam, from the UK, accepted the role of translation coordinators for International Sign (IS).  Our goal is to be able to get many of our documents into IS which will again increase the knowledge sharing with others for whom English is not their first language.  If you are able to offer translation support, be it in a written language or in IS, that is a huge contribution to international development.

Be Part of the Movement

Having a global focus in our changing world is an opportunity awaiting all of us, and I hope that you will embrace the ways in which you can be part of the movement to shape sign language interpreting internationally, and be shaped by experiences of others around the world.

Will you be part of the movement?


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Outwitting the Devil: NAD Calls on Sign Language Interpreters to Partner


Legislation on the basis of disability has provided some access provisions to deaf individuals, but more advocacy is needed to truly achieve an accessible and equitable nation. Howard Rosenblum calls on interpreters to act along with the deaf community to creatively meet those needs.

Sign language interpreters and deaf people have a long standing symbiotic relationship notwithstanding any actual or perceived “Devil’s Bargain” as described by Dennis Cokely in his December 8, 2011 article.  In that article, Mr. Cokely points out that the relationship between interpreters and deaf people has changed in the last forty years as a result of legislative acts that have shifted the sign language interpreting profession from a “service model” to a “business model.” He also questions whether the change in laws and models has been as beneficial to deaf people as it has been for the interpreters.

Mr. Cokely is correct, deaf people continue to struggle with significant unemployment rates and have great difficulty gaining communication access in their medical care. Without a doubt, the United States is not yet a haven of true equality and full access for deaf and hard of hearing people. However, while much work remains to achieve this elusive ideal, the onus of this work is on changing how sign language interpreters are hired in the context of existing legislation.

Legislation: the Devil is in the Details

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Rehab Act”) and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”) are federal laws that have been both praised as a breakthrough and blamed for many of the woes for deaf people. These laws have failed to recognize the cultural and linguistic identities of deaf people, and instead only provide rights to them on the basis of disability. While the nature of the legal protection is frustrating for many in the deaf community, these laws nevertheless have opened many doors.

For example, in the 1960’s to the best of our knowledge there was one deaf lawyer in the United States by the name of Lowell Myers. He graduated from law school without using any form of communication access as defined by today’s standards including interpreting, and did not have any legal rights at that time to secure such access. This all changed in 1973, with the passage of the Rehab Act. This law required all colleges and universities receiving federal funding to provide communication access, including interpreting services, to deaf and hard of hearing students. This requirement also included law schools that received federal funding. The ADA opened the door even further by requiring every law school in the country, regardless of federal funding, to provide access to any deaf student who qualified for admission.

At the present time, there are more than 300 self-identified deaf and hard of hearing lawyers in the country. Such a dramatic increase in this number since Mr. Myers’ graduation in the 1960’s is indicative that these laws’ mandates of communication access have enabled deaf people to achieve their potential. There are now many deaf doctors, accountants, professors, writers, and scientists, as well as other professions. Just as there are advantages and benefits to every law, there are also disadvantages and loopholes.

How Communication Access is Achieved

The most vexing issue for deaf people under both of these civil rights laws has been that service providers are given the authority to determine how communication access will be achieved. Putting this kind of decision making authority in the hands of service providers (such as doctors and lawyers) often does not make sense when these service providers are generally uneducated about the most appropriate type of communication access required to achieve effective communication for a specific consumer. In fact, these service providers usually have an economic incentive to provide the absolute minimum of communication rather than determining and rendering what is truly necessary to achieve equally effective communication.

While the current status of the laws and their regulations created this undesirable effect, there are ways to work with the existing system to promote better results. Changing federal law is difficult under the best of circumstances, and the entrenched partisanship on Capitol Hill makes it highly unlikely any change will happen soon. Therefore, alternative means of effectuating systemic change is needed at this time.

Systemic Change: Paying the Devil his Due

It has been nearly 40 years since the Rehab Act was passed and the ADA is 22 years old. In all those years, there have been numerous lawsuits and administrative complaints for failure to provide communication access filed against hospitals, as well as the offices of doctors and lawyers. Yet, communication access to medical and legal services continues to be a frustrating imaginary oasis that never seems to materialize for deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Despite educational achievements, deaf and hard of hearing people continue to struggle to get jobs. In many cases, the employer representative balks at the cost of the sign language interpreter(s) at the job interview when considering whether or not to hire deaf job applicants.

What can be done to change this broken system? How can we ensure that all deaf people can go to their doctor or lawyer without worrying about whether an interpreter will be provided? How can we transform employment practices in the USA to ensure deaf people get jobs? In essence, how do we renegotiate the Faustian Bargain?

Communication Access Fund

The National Association of the Deaf is pursuing several ideas to effectuate such change. One idea is to establish a “Communication Access Fund” (CAF). This fund would function like a telecommunications relay pooled fund but designated to pay for interpreters and other forms of communication access for deaf and hard of hearing people who need to see a professional.  Doctors and lawyers pay a fee every year to renew their professional license. Such fees typically cover the cost of administrating the license and monitoring for ethical lapses. If we were to increase the fees for the professional license by a small amount, we could set aside this additional in the CAF.

With such a fund, a deaf person would no longer need to negotiate with each professional to provide a sign language interpreter but would simply request that an interpreter be provided by the CAF. In essence, the deaf and hard of hearing consumer regains the power to obtain an interpreter or another form of communication access. This novel system would comport with federal laws because the professionals remain responsible for the cost of communication access, just not at the time of service but rather in the form of annual fees. More importantly, deaf and hard of hearing consumers would be able to go to any doctor or lawyer without worrying about the provision of communication access. For more information on this concept, go to: and

In the employment area, an adaption of the Communication Access Fund is necessary. Unlike with doctors and lawyers, employers typically have no licensing requirement and consequently there is no fee or tax collection system that would allow for the creation of a CAF. Yet, when employers impose upon departments or divisions within the corporate structure to be responsible for the costs of sign language interpreters, this creates a perceived economic disincentive within the departments or divisions with respect to the hiring of deaf job applicants. Consequently, there needs to be a policy shift within the employment setting to centralize funds for communication access accommodations.

Partners in the Renegotiation: Busy Hands, Not Idle Hands

The situation for deaf people in the United States is not ideal, but it is possible to work together to achieve the mutual goals of deaf and hard of hearing people and sign language interpreters. In addition to advocating alongside the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf on issues that impact both sign language interpreters and deaf and hard of hearing people, the NAD endeavors to promote a more balanced system that brings about a win-win result for everyone.

How can sign language interpreters assist in this effort and be partners in the renegotiation of the Devil’s Bargain? It will take a great deal of work to establish CAFs throughout the country as it must be done on a state-by-state basis. Each state has its own licensing entity for each profession. Each such licensing authority handles the licensing fee for their respective profession. Depending on state law or regulation, the authority to increase or add to the fee may belong to the licensing authority, the state legislature, the state supreme court (for lawyers’ fees), or a state agency. Consequently, deaf people and sign language interpreters will need to work together in their respective states to strategize and then approach the appropriate authority to create and implement the CAF.

Specifically, sign language interpreters could volunteer their services alongside deaf individuals who volunteer their time to advocate for this important systemic change. State Associations of the Deaf and local Chapters of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf could coordinate such efforts. Through such symbiotic partnerships, we can outwit the Devil.

The partnership does not stop there. Sign language interpreters are welcome at the NAD as members, allies, volunteers, and advocates. Join the NAD and be part of the solution. More information about the NAD and how you can become a member is found at: and attend the NAD 2012 Conference in Louisville, Kentucky on July 3-7, 2012! Information about the conference is found at:

Will you join with us?

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Sign Language Interpreters: Breaking Down Silos Through Reflective Practice

Sign language interpreters often are not equipped, initially or indefinitely, with the tools to improve their work. Anna Witter-Merithew encourages us to take steps toward reflective practice as a way to more deeply see our work in the service of growth.

Most of us went to work as sign language interpreters before we were ready.  Whether it was insufficient skill sets, a lack of maturity and self-awareness, or some other gap, we started working without being fully equipped to handle all that being a professional interpreter requires.  This lack of readiness is often compounded by a lack of formal induction into the field.  There are not consistent systems that ensure that our transition from learning to interpret and working as an interpreter is supervised and monitored.

Professional Isolation

This lack of consistent supervised induction and support often leads to isolation—few of us have the luxury of working with another interpreter on a daily basis.  Many interpreter assignments are still filled by the lone practitioner. And, few of us have a direct supervisor who is present when we are working, who understands interpreting at a deep level, and offers support and assistance. We often function as silos—each doing our own thing without connection to others who do our work for long periods of time.

There are many consequences to professional isolation, including job dissatisfaction, burn-out, distrust, fear and frustration.  It can lead to feeling defensive and even hostile. In some instances, it can lead to disrespectful treatment of consumers and one another. When it continues for a long period of time, we may find ourselves almost crippled– numbing out in order to survive the pressures of our work. As a result, we become less willing to open up our work to one another and to seek input into how to improve.  This is a tragic state for any of us.  Our value for one another and the work we do requires us to find creative solutions to this isolation.

Reflective Practice– An Alternative

A process known as reflective practice is increasingly used as an alternative for overcoming professional isolation and encouraging collaborative discussions that help identify ways of improving and promoting best practices within the sign language interpreting profession.  Reflective practice is defined in many different ways in the literature. Essentially it refers to the process of examining critical incidents that occur within our work to gain a deeper understanding of what they mean for what we do.

As mentioned in the post entitled Sign Language Interpreters: Are Acts of Omission a Failure of Duty?, reflective practice is an important part of the due diligence cycle.  The due diligence cycle involves assessing risks and consequences associated with our work. Having the ability to think about our work as sign language interpreters both individually and with one another—to analyze what happened, why it happened, and what we might do differently under similar circumstances.

Reflective practice allows us to analyze our interpreting experiences for the purpose of gaining a deeper understanding of ourselves and the nature of our work.  This process is important to our well-being as practitioners. It is a method of self-evaluation and is a way of improving performance in professional tasks. By reflecting on how we can improve our work, we increase our awareness of what we are doing and constantly learn and grow as professionals.  As well, it is an excellent tool for overcoming our isolation and enabling us to benefit from the shared listening and support of other practitioners.

Barriers to Reflective Practice


There are barriers to reflective practice.  The most obvious is time.  Carving out time in a schedule that is often already over-booked is difficult.  As is the case with all worthwhile pursuits, establishing priorities is essential and often something has to go in order to make the time for something new.  And reflective practice requires an investment of time.  If it can be viewed as time invested in self-care and well-being, it is much easier to set the time as a priority.


Another barrier to reflective practice is proximity to other practitioners.  There are many of us who live in rural areas of the United States and do not have ready access to other interpreters.  Even those of us who live in large metropolitan areas that are spread out may find getting to one another difficult.  Fortunately, technology allows us to connect from remote locations.  As has been discussed elsewhere on the Street Leverage site, the use of social media like ooVoo, Skype and other similar programs allows us to connect visually and/or auditorially with one another—some of these tools allowing for up to six individuals to connect simultaneously.


A lack of motivation is another barrier to reflective practice.  Depending on the degree of burn-out or frustration we are experiencing, we may just not have the interest or desire to take the leap of faith that is required to engage in what can be an intense process at times. And, as Aaron Brace indicated in responding to the post entitled Sign Language Interpreters: Stepping out of the Shadows of Invisibility, reflecting is not suited to everyone. This is where individual decision and intention come into play.  Certainly, moving into the promise of greater job satisfaction and collegiality is a better alternative than remaining in a state of burn-out. As well, reflective practice can be viewed as one skill to possess among an array of skills geared towards self-care and well-being.

Reflective thinking is a learned process acquired over time.  Given the importance of our work as sign language interpreters, and the potential for harm when it is not done responsibly, learning the art of reflection is a worthwhile commitment.

Forming the Habit of Reflective Practice

There are some strategies that are useful in forming the habit of reflective practice.

1.  Keep a diary or daily journal of significant events during your work as an interpreter. The journal can be a great source of reflection as we consider the challenges we experienced and what stood out as a result of our experience.

2.  Engage in reflective discussion of significant experiences with professional colleagues.  As we continue to explore topics of role, responsibility and duty, we are our best resource.  There is much support and learning that can be gained by seeking out the feedback of valued colleagues with whom we can openly reflect on our experiences. When reflection is done in a collaborative and respectful fashion, we can take the feedback seriously and use it to improve our performance.  Sometimes this process is referred to as case conferencing or observation-supervision.  It allows a trusted group of professionals to explore their experiences towards finding solutions to difficult issues and reinforcing best practices.

3.  Engage in reflective discussions of significant experiences with Deaf consumers.  It is important to find opportunities to talk with Deaf consumers about our work as sign language interpreters and to ask them to help us consider the implications of role implementation for their experiences. What are the implications of our acts of commission and omission for their goals? Their insight is essential in helping us to continue to define our vision for the field and how we will continue to evolve and grow.

4.  Use a model of reflection. There are many models that can be used.  An easy, but effective model is one that involves three steps—discussing the What, So What, and Now What.  Here is how it can work.

a.  WHAT?  This is the description step in the process.  It creates the basis for the reflection.  What happened during the assignment?  What was the situation?  Who was involved?  What were the roles of the various participants?  How did I approach my role? What is a general thesis and preview of your reflection?  This is the description step in the process.

b.  SO WHAT?  This is step when we examine and analyze the What. It should occur on two levels.  So what does this all mean in terms of the outcomes of the assignment?  So what does this mean to me personally?  What was the significance of the assignment?  What did I learn that enhances my understanding of the consumers’ experience?  What did I learn that is reflected or is relevant to my professional experiences? What skills and knowledge did I use/apply?  What did it mean to me personally?  What are my negative and positive feelings about the experience, the people, and the experience? What instances did I encounter that “opened my eyes”?  What do I think about now that I didn’t think about prior to this experience?  How can I use or evaluate this information?

c.  NOW WHAT?  This step allows us to contemplate what we would do differently next time or what practices we want to replicate, expand upon and preserve. What impact might my actions and behavior have on my lifelong learning process?  What impact did my experience have on my work as a sign language interpreter?  What impact did my experience have on how I perceive the importance of behaving as transparently as possible when interpreting?  What insights did I gain that might assist me in my work as an interpreter? How does this experience compliment or contrast with what I have learned previously about interpreting?

Let’s Get Started

Certainly, getting started will require a deeper understanding of what is involved in the process of reflective practice. There are some great resources available to help sign language interpreters learn more about it.  Reading articles by Robyn Dean and Robert Pollard relating to the application of Demand-Control Schema to observation-supervision activities will prove very helpful.  Check out their list of publications on this website.

Also, Christopher Knight and Sabina Wilford have designed a workshop on case conferencing for sign language interpreters.  They published a handout on this topic in the 2005 RID convention handout book that is worth reviewing. As well, go to your favorite search engine and enter the phrase reflective practice and you will access a wealth of publications and sites discussing the process.  It is a particularly valued practice in the healthcare, mental health and teaching fields.  And, check in with your local and state chapter of the RID to see what communities of inquiry or support groups might already exist.

We Are Our Best Resource

Where communities of inquiry do not currently exist, ask your RID leaders how you can contribute to starting one.  And, of course, using the forum provided us here at Street Leverage is another option.  Perhaps there are those of you who are currently engaged in reflective practice processes who can share with us how you got started, how the process works, and what are the associated benefits.  We truly are our best resource and have so much to offer one another!

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Sign Language Interpreting: The Danger of the Idea That Transformed the Profession

How has the push for the professionalization of sign language interpreters affected our influence on larger systems, and on our related stakeholders? Brandon Arthur asks us to reflect on how we got to where we are, and how to redirect our engagement to the industry.

Decades have seen the sign language interpreting profession quietly transformed by a single, powerful idea—sign language interpreters are professionals.  This single idea has created the momentum necessary to move the field from a hand written list of volunteers to a vast web of public and private entities, interest groups and regulation—an industry.

Is it possible that the power of this ideal has left us, the sign language interpreter, with a dangerous blind spot when engaging with the broader industry? Meaning, has the dogged determination to qualify as a profession prevented us from seeing what is necessary to effectively govern one?

What follows are a few things that gave me pause as I considered this possibility.


It occurs to me that the opportunities and threats faced by our profession is no longer the result of industry stakeholders (consumers, sign language interpreters, associations, businesses, service providers, educational institutions) being divided, but rather as a result of them being connected.  One might consider the sweeping impact FCC VRS reform has had, and will yet have, on the sign language industry as an example.  If this interconnectivity is real, and I believe we have examples to demonstrate that it is, we could logically conclude that the industry has evolved into an integrated system of stakeholders; where each is directly or indirectly impacted by the action of another.

If the industry is in fact integrated, wouldn’t the very basis of our engagement with other stakeholders need to change? Might this suggest that we are attempting to address current issues with an antiquated approach.

If yes, have we, the profession, stumbled over our own feet?

Weak Engagement

In seeking the specialized knowledge and skills to qualify as a profession and as professionals, it occurs to me that we appear to be failing to prioritize an important aspect of our long-term viability—expert knowledge of the broader industry.  One might consider state licensure laws passing in the face of outraged interpreters as an example of why this is gives me pause.

Is late or weak engagement by sign language interpreters on broader industry issues because we are indifferent to what occurs around us or is it that we are simply unaware that the issues even exist?  Or, is it because we don’t have the know-how to obtain the information needed to form an opinion? Worse yet is it our view that, “there is no industry without the interpreter” and it will work itself out?

If we are unable to effectively form an opinion and engage on industry related issues ourselves, is it possible to collaborate with industry stakeholders on broader issues?

In my view, for the profession to be effective long-term, ignorance can’t possibly be bliss in this instance.

Sparse Information

In an environment where the stakes are high and the pace of change quick, it seems important that sign language interpreters are able to quickly equip themselves with information.  Do we have the channels necessary to effectively deliver information across the profession and industry?  Can these channels effectively mobilize interpreters if necessary?  If no, does that suggest our infrastructure is insufficient to effectively administer the profession?

If we don’t have an infrastructure of size, does it mean we have information siloes and expensive duplications of effort brewing?

What I do know is that if people don’t have sufficient information to form an opinion regarding the system they are part of, they will feel overwhelmed by it, homogenized by it, and/or unwilling to invest in it.

I don’t believe interpreters are any different.

A Refocus

As a profession, we have made great strides over the past 40+ years.  Again, the early momentum of the sign language interpreting profession was possible because of our dogged determination to be recognized as a profession.

In my view, we need to refocus this determination on a few things.

How to:

-Leverage our interconnectivity to other industry stakeholders

-Remain aware of industry threats and opportunities in real-time

-Effectively distribute information across the profession and industry

-Extend our passion for skill development to the acquisition of broader knowledge

A focus on these items will assist us in effectively navigating the challenges of administering the profession long-term, which I believe is necessary if we are to maintain our position and success within the industry.

Is there other action we should consider?