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StreetLeverage – Live 2014 Speaker Line-up

MJ Bienvenu

StreeLeverage - Live 2014 Speaker Line-upStreetLeverage - Live 2014 Speaker Line-upDecember 19, 2013:

We are excited to announce that we have largely finalized our speaker line-up for StreetLeverage – Live 2014 in Austin, TX May 1-4, 2014.

For the third year in a row we’ve scoured the field to spotlight those daring the field of sign language interpreting to think differently.

Join these thought leaders for a weekend of discussion and critical thinking about how we understand, practice and tell the story of the sign language interpreter?

Connect

Read speaker bios and more by clicking here.

Connect with these speakers on FaceBook by clicking on their name. Carolyn BallMj BienvenuDoug Bowen-BaileyEileen Forestal, Tom Humphries, Robert G. LeeCarla MathersGina A. OlivaStacey McIntosh Storme, and Chris Wagner.

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Sign Language Interpreters and the Quest for Cultural Competence

Cultural competence is a never-ending journey, especially for those interpreters who are learning about a new culture later in life. Marlene Elliott uses her own observations of call and response patterns to explore Deaf and hearing cultural norms regarding the phrase “I’m sorry.”

I’ve been interpreting professionally for 25 years. I like to think I’m reasonably good at what I do but from time to time something will dawn on me about ASL or Deaf culture that I’ve never known or realized before. How embarrassing! After all this time there are fundamental things I don’t know about the language I use and the culture I participate in. At the same time, how exciting! My learning is never done.

For me, I know my best teachers are the Deaf people who tolerate me so patiently, despite my many miscues. Not only have I made many mistakes, I’ve had to learn “how to learn” the Deaf way – by trusting my own eyes, really see what is in front of me and make sense of it. Then, because I’m hearing, I have to check it out with Deaf people.

Observation

This past year I realized something else about Deaf culture that I completely missed before and it really made me blush. I did what I usually do in these moments – I went to Deaf people I know and trust and ran my observation by them to see if I was noticing correctly. So far, everyone has affirmed this observation.

What I noticed is simply this:

ASL has expected patterns of exchange that I was never formally taught.  One basic pattern, which is critically important to master, calls for signing SORRY at specific points in a conversation in order to affirm the relationship during a time of differences. After the SORRY the rest of the interaction can proceed; without it, the relationship feels awkward or can even be derailed completely. This SORRY in ASL has a different use and meaning than sorry in English.

Credibility

As I approached writing about my observation I looked in journals for articles about the role and function of apology in a variety of cultures and about call and response structures in dialogic languages. I found plenty of articles on both. I’m keenly aware that in the hearing world credibility comes from science, research, and academics so it was natural for me to go there – I’m hearing. But I also know that in the Deaf world credibility comes from Deaf people and from Deaf experience. There is no higher authority. If I am to write credibly about trusting my own eyes, examining what I see and consulting Deaf people, what does it mean if I then turn around and cite hearing experts on other cultures or languages? Isn’t it enough that Deaf people say so? In the end, I have to believe it is. Every culture defines its own source and structure for credibility. If I’m going to be in the Deaf culture, then surely I can practice this tenet when I’m writing about it.

What’s the Word For That?

In the hearing world we know what is real and not real by what has a label. If there isn’t a label for something, it usually isn’t legitimate.  We love our labels! They explain so much. They give us a guide for how to think, feel, and act. It is part of our culture.

When I first began my interpreter training I was encouraged by my teachers to get involved with the Deaf World. They told me that “hanging out with Deaf people” was the best way to learn. They also admonished me to be careful because Deaf people had a way of expecting too much from others, of being dependent in an unhealthy way. “Be careful of your boundaries,” I was warned.

Around this time, researchers studying Deaf culture reported that RECIPROCITY was a primary feature of Deaf culture. Deaf people practicing RECIPROCITY support one another by contributing to the common good, not by only giving to those who have given to them or as a direct repayment to specific individuals. The same behaviors that I was warned to guard myself against were now explained and celebrated. Having a label allowed hearing people to re-frame them. Deaf people weren’t asking to be taken care of; they were inviting hearing people to participate in the common pool of mutual aid.

In my observations of difficult interactions between Deaf and hearing people I often see that when hearing people have a label for something, it is much easier to go along with what the Deaf people are doing. When we don’t have a label, we can have a tendency to stiffen up, to resist, and to end up in conflict.

I encourage all of us hearing people to recognize this tendency, know that it’s cultural, and realize that the Deaf World doesn’t feel the same need for labels to make their culture and their behavior legitimate so let’s take it easy on each other. Deaf people may not know what something is called but they sure know when it doesn’t feel right. We can trust them to guide us.

Culture Clash

Part One – be sure and take your turn!

We know that ASL is more interactive than English at most levels of register. This is well documented in linguistic research and confirmed by our own experience. The most formal ASL lecture will include interactive features that would be unthinkable in a formal English lecture. We also have plenty of proof that ASL is also more interactive in less formal settings. We know these required responses in casual conversation by their label – back channel feedback. If these features are absent in a conversation it is a noticeable absence, one that can have a serious meaning – refusing to engage, a certain kind of coldness or at best a show of cultural incompetence.

This need to engage in dialogue, this need to perform our part in any exchange is a hallmark of ASL. In dialogic languages the need for specific responses to specific kinds of stimulus is known as Call and Response. ASL, like any dialogic language, has standard Call and Response structures.

While these structures are relatively rare in American mainstream culture, a number of sub-cultures do have strong Call and Response patterns. Most people are familiar with at least a few. Black church has a strong Call and Response component where the responses come as individuals pepper the talk with affirmative encouragement. Catholic Mass has a highly scripted Call and Response component. 12-step meetings have short bursts of Call and Response exchanges during readings and introductions. Also, the military also has highly scripted Call and Response structures.

One thing we probably all know about Call and Response patterns is that we are keenly aware if there is a failure in the response. Anyone who has been to a workshop, meeting or seminar has had this experience. The person opening the session gives the call, “Good morning!” The required response from the participants is “good morning.” If the response is too weak, the call will be issued again with more emphasis. Normally more people will help with the second response, it meets expectations, and the event can begin. On the rare occasion that the second response is also too weak, instructions may follow and an emphatic call will be given for the third try. I have only rarely seen the third call fail because everyone is aware that the properly enthusiastic “good morning,” has to be delivered by the participants for the event to proceed. To refuse a third time would be more than awkward.

In spoken English I always know when I’m supposed to respond. I may not be able to explain why, but I recognize a call when I hear it. Having the label Call and Response has helped me also tune in to this aspect in ASL because I may not always recognize a call. At times when Deaf people repeat the same thing they’ve just said, but with more emphasis, I now ask myself, “is there something they’ve called for that I’ve failed to provide?”           

Part Two – How sorry is SORRY?

Every culture has it’s own role and function for apologies. In mainstream America there are generally two uses for the phrase, “I’m sorry.” The most common is an admission of guilt. It is an expression of a personal failing and fault. It means I admit I did something wrong and I will personally take responsibility for it. The second is an expression of sympathy, usually reserved for a serious loss or trauma.

Of course, other cultures have very different meanings for the phrase “I’m sorry,” and different understandings of apology. In Great Britain, when one person bumps into another the person who is bumped says sorry. In Japan there are many uses for apology and Japanese people tend to apologize frequently as ways saving face and reinforcing social status or hierarchy.

So what does SORRY mean in ASL? My observation is that it affirms my relationship with you over whatever else is happening. It means that somehow we will solve this problem together. It does not mean I did something wrong, it just means I acknowledge that this doesn’t feel good and I will work it out with you.

When is an apology called for in the Deaf World? This part is tricky for me. I know it when I see it now but I’m not sure my description will satisfy anyone. Probably the best way to understand it is to use your own eyes, notice where it occurs and check it out with Deaf people. I know it is unscripted. As far as I can tell, it is based more on a feeling, a kind of discord, or a type of interaction, than on a specific set of words or signs. There is something between us that feels bad – a conflict, a misunderstanding, or a difference of perspective. It can even be as simple as disappointing someone, even though their expectations might not have been my responsibility.

What happens when SORRY isn’t delivered at the expected point in a Call and Response exchange in the Deaf World? As in any other culture, the call is offered again with greater emphasis. The story, or “complaint” is repeated with more emotion. And if the apology is still not delivered, then what? In this case an explanation of what is wrong here is usually amped up. The problem in the relationship is now stated explicitly, in detail, often slowly, and with emphasis. If the apology is still not delivered this is a worst-case scenario. As a final attempt to save the relationship someone will probably be instructed to apologize. If the apology still isn’t delivered the relationship may be beyond repair. The connection would then be broken in a fundamental way.

Now What?

I can use this observation to continue my noticing and checking with Deaf people.

I’m may overuse my SORRY, like a child discovering a new word, until I know exactly where it fits. This is a natural part of incorporating a new skill. It’s ok.

I can continue to ask questions. I can look at where we, the sign language interpreting profession, have a need to use our SORRY in our collaborating with Deaf people. Have there been times when we have not said SORRY when we needed to? How has it affected our relationships?

Of course, my big question is what else don’t I know? What other mistakes have I been making without ever realizing it? Are there ways for me to improve my noticing, or inviting Deaf friends to tell me when I’m off? Can I be humble and know that corrections are an act of friendship and love, not a criticism of who I am? Can I be thankful that there is always more to learn even when I’m really embarrassed?

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Nelson Mandela: Have Sign Language Interpreters Disappointed the World?

Thamsanqa Jantjie, the sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela's funeral

The news of the “fake sign language interpreter” traveled the globe. But what of the everyday failings of systems that leave access by the wayside through lack of scrutiny? Brandon Arthur calls for specific action by sign language interpreters to monitor and ethically deploy qualified interpreters.

The terrible cocktail of “schizophrenia,” unethical business leadership, and uninformed government decision-makers that lead to the sign language interpreting debacle at Mandela’s memorial service is a tragedy.

As a sign language interpreter, I cringe at the thought that as a field, we are responsible for the world’s distraction from the celebration of one of the planet’s most widely recognized human rights leaders and for yet another injustice served up to the Deaf Community.

The question that continues to roll around in my head is after the tsunami of sensationalism, swarming armchair quarterbacks, and CYA puffery blows over is, what will change?

While Thamsanqa Jantjie is the current face of the issue, unqualified sign language interpreters deploying or being deployed into local communities around the globe is a longstanding and widespread problem. A problem that necessitates the cooperation of a multiplicity of industry stakeholders willing to put down their nursing agenda and be accountable for the breakdowns in the system that continue to allow this problem to persist.

Are we courageous enough as field, both practitioner and organization, to make the hard decisions necessary to truly eradicate the problem?

If we come away from this debacle truly resolved to create meaningful resolution to the issue of unqualified sign language interpreters infringing on the human rights of Deaf people, perhaps we should consider taking action on the following:

  1. Insist that industry stakeholders publicly and actively subscribe to upholding the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
  2. Incorporate the applicable aspects of the UNCRPD as part of the ethical practices system for working sign language interpreters. Further, to insist on more aggressive and timely actions for violations.
  3. Found a national organization to create, uphold and promote standards of practice for businesses deploying sign language interpreters.
  4. Establish a coalition responsible for a partnership between national associations serving the Deaf community, national organizations serving sign language interpreters, and organizations responsible for the public awareness of the rights of Deaf people and the roles and responsibility of sign language interpreters.
  5. Insist on local partnerships between Deaf and sign language interpreting organizations that result in the perpetuation of native perspectives among practicing sign language interpreters.

Care to add?

Thanks to Mandela for doing in death what he did in life, using his existence to raise awareness of the atrocities, injustices, and disadvantages suffered at the hand of privilege while working to make the world a more inhabitable place.

Let’s not allow the memory of Mandela’s memorial service to be one where the field of sign language interpreting disappointed the world. Let it be one where we honor Mandela’s life by rising from the ashes galvanized to end the rampant problem of unqualified practitioners infringing upon the human rights of Deaf people.

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Sign Language Interpreters: How to Avoid Being Abandoned at the Microphone

Lone Sign Language Interpreter Holding a Microphone

Even surrounded by a team of interpreters, crucial support can be nowhere to be found. Tiffany Hill deconstructs a situation she experienced while offering perspectives on how to strengthen collective responsibility.

I am facing a panel of 6 people in front of an audience of 200 attendees. The event is about to commence. I have a lone microphone in my hand and an empty chair beside me. As I settle into position I look around for my team and realize that I am alone. I cannot locate the other two members of the interpreting team for the event, let alone the ‘second pair of eyes’ that were promised to me.

Right as the facilitator takes the stage, I see the other interpreters get into place to interpret for the audience behind me. “Great—I think—as soon as the panelists start, someone will come right over.” The Deaf panelist thought the same as I had assured all involved that the team was locked and loaded and ready to go. Sparing some of the logistical tidbits, I will say that what happens next is the very opposite of what I committed and of what had been committed to me, the very opposite of what had been instilled in me in my professional upbringing: I was not part of a team.

All Alone

As I sit in my chair with the microphone I try to get the attention of my fellow interpreters. I wave my hand and the Deaf panelist tries to make eye contact with them from the stage…nothing. It never happens. For the next 45 minutes no one comes to my aid. After the panel and speakers finish, I make my way out of the conference. As I exit, one of the interpreters sees me and says, “great job” while throwing me a thumbs up and a wink.

Fortunately, the above series of events are not what I typically experience from my hard working colleagues. I do, however, need to go on record by saying, sadly, this was not the first time that I have been an eye witness to, or the recipient of the stated behaviors, which leads me to beg the question: Whose team are we on anyway?

The Pre-Conference

What events transpired prior to me sitting there alone with the mic in my hand? Let’s rewind the morning.

I was informed with short notice that I would be voicing for a Deaf panel participant during a local conference. I was afforded no opportunity to prepare myself, as the speaker, with whom I work regularly, had yet to even form an outline of their own thoughts and points for their remarks.

Of course the idea of walking in cold to any situation can immediately ignite the nerves. And although I was engaged to be the primary voice interpreter for this panelist, I anticipated the event organizer requesting interpreters for the general audience, as there was a high expectation of several Deaf attendees to be present. Proactively I arrived as early as possible to get the lay of the land and pre-conference with the other interpreters.

Social Agreement

Right away I was greeted by the requestor and made as many decisions as I could without the presence of the Deaf panelist. I was also told the other interpreters for the event had already arrived and I was introduced to one of the two of them. I felt an immediate sense of camaraderie flood over me at the relief of having a ‘team’ on hand. Not just one, we were potentially a team of three. Actually, when you include the Deaf panelist, I was really to be one of a four-member team.

My professional switch flipped into the ‘on’ position. I wanted to first put my ‘team’ at ease informing her that I work with this person regularly and would handle the voicing, however, I would really appreciate another pair of eyes next to me. I was met with lots of head nods and affirmations of support. I explicitly spelled out what I needed from my team and I was assured I was going to receive it. After all, these were the assigned interpreters for the conference. The whole conference was their responsibility, right?

In the end, I felt comfortable that the arrangements had been settled and we all knew our roles.

Collective Responsibility

Reflecting on the events of that morning returns my focus to the basics with an intense need to open up a dialogue about where we are and where we are headed as a group of professionals. As sign language interpreters, we enlist ourselves to demonstrate professional courtesies to our clients and consumers, but what about to our professional counterparts, our co-workers, our fellow partners, and team members?

Part of the reason I pose this question, is because it was posed to me. At the conclusion of it all, the Deaf panelist wanted to know what had happened. Why was I not viewed as a member of the team? Why didn’t the interpreters feel the same professional responsibility toward me as I did towards them?

If we were there with the same purpose, with the same roles, and with the same goal, should we not have all been working together to provide continuity and integrity of message for all? Should it not be automatic that when we are present in multiples we forge an automatic alliance? What would have happened if I had not done a ‘good job’? After all, was not the success of the ‘team’ dependent upon the success of my production and how I worked with the Deaf panelist? Not one of us functioned independently of each other, rather, interdependently. Isn’t that how we should prefer to work, knowing our arsenal includes not only our tool bag, but those of a network?

The 3 Point Replay

Some things are innate, others have to be taught and nurtured until they become second nature. In my view, Professionalism, by way of teamwork, is one of those things. We need to understand its definition and its connectivity to those with whom we work. We also need to be aware of the social and cultural implications it has in and around the community when we fail to grasp the concept.

While I appreciated the one interpreter expressing her opinion that I did a good job, as I consider the events of that morning, I would like to offer 3 things that I believe could have changed the dynamics of the assignment and led to a better outcome:

  1. With the need to reassure my team of my familiarity with the panelist, it is possible I projected a certain level of over-confidence, which may have given the impression that I needed less support than what I actually stated.
  2. As the assigned conference interpreters, there was a need to be alert to all aspects of the event, whether or not serving as the primary interpreter for a certain portion.
  3. Post-conference would have allowed us, as a team, to retrace which missteps led to our communication breakdown and which steps to take going forward as not to repeat any mishaps on our part.

The above forms part of the recipe to the antidote for counteracting the effects of unbalanced teamwork and contributes to preventing the series of events, which resulted in the unintended isolation of a team member.

In Conclusion

It gives me pleasure to happily state that for the past twelve years, I have been part of a profession where I believe the majority to be team players, partners even, with the same mission on the tips of their fingers and tongues. In fact, many of them have raised and nurtured me with their skills and knowledge, even passing along and bequeathing me their professional genealogy.

But just as two children are raised in the same home with the same parents, with the same rules and expectations, who do not mimic each other, so it goes in the professional arena where no two interpreters reflect the same level or depth of understanding with regards to this concept. It then becomes abundantly clear what the antonym looks like.

I want to challenge myself and each of us to continue to analyze ourselves and our approach to the work we do and how it effects our colleagues.  Teamwork should echo and permeate the very fabric of what we do.

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Has An Identity Crisis Immobilized The Field of Sign Language Interpreting?

Sign Language Interpreter Immobilized Due to Conflict

As the demographics of sign language interpreters change, rifts develop as products of privilege and cultural identity. Stacey Storme uses the lens of war for insight into linguicism and the need for peace through meaningful dialogue.

During my attendance at the 2012 Region IV RID Conference in Denver and the 2013 National RID Conference in Indianapolis I found myself in tears more than once. While it is not uncommon for me to become emotional when I am with colleagues discussing the very serious, real and important issues that impact our work as interpreters, the tears I felt at these conferences were different. It was not until a moment of clarity during the business meeting in Indianapolis that I realized the difference.

It was not long after the start of the Business meeting in Indianapolis when I experienced a shift in my awareness about my emotional response during both conferences. It occurred as I was witnessing discussion and decisions regarding the use of spoken English via open microphone. As I was sitting there, feeling helpless, looking around the room feeling the heavy and volatile energy – I realized I felt as if I was witnessing a war. A battle waged between two perspectives, the deaf and hearing world, both fighting for recognition.

As a person who has grown up in both worlds, I have struggled with my own identity and place in each world since I can remember. Sitting there, I found myself relating with perspectives from both “sides.” As I type this, it strikes me that it may not seem such a powerful realization. After all, this struggle between the two worlds has been going on for years.

By framing this struggle through the lens of war and making the connection between my internal struggle and the mirror reflecting around me I found clarity that I have not yet experienced.

Lens of War

War is not something I want to perpetuate or contribute to.

When I consider ways to end war, three immediately come to mind: surrender, truce, and victory. At first thought, none of these sound too appealing. Truce suggests compromising or simply putting the “war” on hold for a short time. Surrender implies giving something up and the opposite of victory is defeat – so, depending on which side of the war you are on it could be very destructive. However, upon deeper reflection, and some reframing – I see these three approaches turning out to be possible strategies that can work in tandem to move the field to a more constructive and healthy space.

A Truce

Calling a truce seems a good first step. Putting “the fight” on hold for a while in lieu of some time to reflect and take note of our own journey. Hindsight is indeed 20/20. When I reflect on my past struggles and active times of ‘war’ I see with clarity that it is only when I stop reacting that I am able to move past the fight. I think one of the biggest reasons people are able to move past the “fight,” is when they give themselves the opportunity to look within they become more centered on their own beliefs and perspectives. Thus equipping themselves more readily for healthy interactions when faced with situations where their beliefs and perspectives are challenged. So rather than reacting in an attempt to protect their own beliefs and perspectives they can more confidently listen to another and engage in productive discussion rather than destructive war.

Surrender

Upon consciously calling a truce and engaging in self-reflection next can come surrender. In this context I think especially of surrendering judgment. Rather than judging emotions, reactions, behaviors – simply acknowledging them and accepting them as what is. The act of acceptance can be the step needed to move one from reaction to action. Rather than judging whether or not a colleague is using ASL in a shared space made up of Deaf and hearing people; first recognizing it as fact can slow down a likely knee-jerk reaction based on judgment of another’s actions purely based on assumptions. Instead of feeding the anger or resentment that resides within, attention could be focused on constructive approaches to addressing the incongruity of the person’s choice within this shared space. By surrendering judgment, we are more likely to be committed to sincerely sharing our own perspectives and receiving others perspectives, no matter how different they may be. From there we can move forward and hold each other accountable as we explore the issue at hand.

Victory

So, you may be thinking, ok Pollyanna, it would be nice if everyone came to the table being centered in self, and equipped for healthy, constructive dialogue; but that is not the case. I am aware that after reading this it can appear that my view of moving forward is one through rose colored glasses: that if we all just play nice the present state of affairs within the field will magically improve. I do not take this perspective in any way. This is where I see victory coming into play as a way to end war. When I consider what it means to be victorious in my own inner war, it is when I reach those moments of balancing all parts of myself that identify with both the Deaf and hearing part of me. It is when I have fully succeeded in enough self-reflection and enough surrendering of judgment that I feel fully acknowledged and accepted. It is also when I allow these parts of me to co-exist in ways that are fluid and evolving based on my interactions in the world around me.

So, ultimately, victory comes in acknowledging there will always be different views, therefore there will always be ample opportunities for war. It is up to us to choose how we enter each war. We can enter in full-fire, taking out everyone who crosses our path. Or, we can stay committed to our own truth, knowing it is fully ours until we decide to change it. Therefore, there is nothing to defend. There is only opportunity to fully be who we choose to be in each moment – to embody the change we wish to see.

The Costs of War?

War hurts. War scars. War kills. As I witness the wars taking place in our field today I see many costs. We are hurting ourselves, each other and immobilizing meaningful forward progress.

One of the biggest costs, perhaps is that sometimes we are in war and don’t even realize it. I think this is especially true for those of us who hear and experience the many privileges of living in a society where we take much for granted. Sometimes this unintentional war occurs as we perpetuate audism by defending and/or exercising our right to our own native language, or at least the majority language, by not considering ways that our hearing privilege colors our views of our work, therefore silencing people of the marginalized minority with whom we work.

A tangible example can be given by exploring sometimes buried assumption of one’s right to choose spoken English when engaging in professional development. When attending interpreting conferences, I sometimes sense a vibe in the air. At StreetLeverage – Live in Atlanta, Nancy Bloch referred to this vibe as “Hearing Interpreters Only.” This vibe manifests in a few different ways. Sometimes it is sensed as a mild irritation in the air due to having Deaf people in attendance. Other times it is disappointment at having to use ASL. Yet other times it feels as if Deaf people are being appeased – as if they don’t really understand our work but need to be placated.

I am in no way asserting that these things happen all the time, or that all hearing interpreters feel this way. Rather, I am attempting to articulate something that I merely sense; something that has the potential to shed light on one aspect of active war occurring in our field today. It is this type of exploration I hope will bring us closer to unpacking the baggage that underlies the tension and pain I both feel and witness all around me. This baggage that hurts us by way of limiting us to majority perspective; that hurts others by way of devaluing and ostracizing them; that perpetuates our false belief that we are the only ones who “get” our work; that there is something special to the work of interpreting that Deaf people don’t and can’t understand.

If we do not work together to explore areas of opposition surrounding areas of language use, oppression, privilege, assumptions, power and the like, we lose the opportunity to fully understand the existing struggles rampant in our field and professional organization. We also run the risk of our view being colored only by our likely colonized perspective of what it means to be a sign language interpreter.  We lose out on the opportunity to fully realize that while we, as hearing interpreters, may always be the face of oppression, we do have the opportunity to change that face so that instead of being the face of that which we are against, we are instead the face of change, respect and acceptance.

The Lesson

“A man or a woman who has peace inside has everything. A man or a woman who is pulled apart by the war inside him or her has nothing. How you choose to interact with the opposing forces within you will determine your life. Starve one or the other or guide them both.”

– Cherokee Story

We must take a hard look at our own wars. If you feel like you are not engaged in or aware of any wars, either internally or externally in our field and with regards to the field of interpreting, I encourage you to explore more deeply. Some wars may be hidden – sometimes when we feel too much pain, or experience too much resistance to our views, we become desensitized and ignore signs of war. The exploration of the opposing forces within and around us becomes more critical when we consider the power we hold by way of the privilege we hold as hearing members of a society who are granted entry into both worlds – the hearing world and Deaf world. It is our responsibility to dive deeply into the issues surrounding us. The fact that we have the choice whether or not to dive deeply and choose not to have complete access to the world around us limited attests to the importance of this responsibility. This is the heart of privilege held by hearing interpreters.

We always have a choice.

If things get too overwhelming, too scary, too sticky, too “fill-in-the-blank,” we have choices that include access to both worlds. If we become too uncomfortable with our role in the deaf world, there is another world we can go and have unlimited communication access. Perhaps we can play the “neutral” card and be “just the interpreter” or simply detach and only show up in the Deaf world when actively interpreting. We must remain conscious of these choices.

I know important conversations addressing tough issues are happening within our field. Especially in response to the recent vote about the DPMAL position on the RID Board. I recently watched a video posted by Sarah Hafer sharing some of her thoughts in response to the vote and her discussions with colleagues in her graduate program. Locally, in Kansas, we are engaging in important, sometimes painful, dialogue regarding certification standards, our state commission and the varying perspectives that exist. So, the hard work is happening. People are showing up. People are unpacking. This work must continue and catch fire.

Conclusion

War hurts relationships. War scars hearts. War kills trust. The field of ASL/English interpreting is one rampant with opportunities for war. However, if we reframe the lens in which we look out into our field and communities, I believe those same opportunities are also ripe for growth, learning and healing.

Let’s unpack our own privilege, hold ourselves accountable, and be willing to share our own perspectives while remaining open to others. As scary as it may be, it can take us a long way toward peaceful, healthy dialogue and respectful, balanced co-existence.

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5 Surefire Steps to Overcoming Skill Plateau For Sign Language Interpreters

5 Surefire ways to help sign language interpreters

Experienced interpreters may often find themselves struggling for continuous improvement in their product. Diane Lynch references strategies and tools to help long-standing professionals break out of business as usual to take sure steps to improved practice.

Perhaps you have decades of sign language interpreting experience, have been to countless workshops and trainings on skill development, yet feel that you have hit a plateau in your skills. You may notice obvious erroneous patterns in your work. For example, your fingerspelling reception needs improving, or you sometimes produce miscues.

I was there until a few days ago.

I had the great honor and privilege to attend a three-day training opportunity with Dr. Carol Patrie and Sharon Neumann Solow, who in my opinion are consummate beacons of enlightenment to members of the ASL/English interpreting profession.

My Journey

The pair presented milieu evidence-based data to a group of highly motivated professional sign language interpreters. Carol and Sharon insisted throughout the training period that the group was already advanced…I, on the other hand, held some skepticism and thought to myself, “Why do I hold this skepticism? And, if this is so, then why am I here? My journey had begun.

Patrie and Solow assigned pre-reading material- Daniel Gile’s Basic Concepts and Models for Interpreter and Translator Training. Revised edition. The text is written in an idiomatic style that was easy for me to digest. As I was wading and navigating through the printed description of the interpreting process, reality hit me like a lightening bolt, and I came to and even greater understanding of the incredible complexity of the work that I do on a daily basis.

After digesting this resource, it felt to me, like I just completed an ITP. During the training, I learned to use this shared language and terminology that are both transparent and current to accurately describe and dialogue about the work that we do.

Identifying Patterns

Experts in every professional field were not simply born as experts. The difference between a practitioner that is an expert and one who is not is “pattern recognition” (Kaufman- Ungifted; Intelligence Redefined) Professionals which learned through procedural process (music, swimming, long-distance running, tennis, math, chess) spend many hours every day perfecting their craft. They develop neural pathways that allow a person to unlearn bad habits and to develop fine-tuned complex tasks. Brain plasticity remains present throughout a person’s life. The old phrase, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” is simply erroneous. Deliberate practice is how the expert’s greatness is achieved.

Deliberate Practice

Interpreting is not an automatic task. It takes effort! Practicing our craft while we work is just not possible. Working and practicing have a different focus altogether. So, let’s be honest with ourselves-we need to embrace the idea that practice requires grit. It requires a professional to put forth a sustained intense effort and concentration for incremental periods focusing on one specific task. Kaufman cites a ten-year rule for propelling one’s self from mastery to eminence.

Gile’s “Effort Model” contains a “Tightrope Hypothesis” which describes in detail the complexity of the interpreting work in terms of a person’s capacity for success given the demands of the work and maximizing the tools which are possessed to perform the task. Avoiding failure, the breakdown of the interpreting process, is our most important duty.

Once we attain those required skill subsets necessary to interpret through routinization, the effort needed to recognize and encode the learned patterns are less rigorous. The more skills that are available in our tool box (supply), the more likely we are able to avoid saturation through allocation of our resources to meet the demands using a reduced amount of effort. It’s the skillful coordination effort which allows us to perform this delicate balancing act. Cognitive stress…who needs it?

Advanced interpreters are motivated to propel their skills to the next level. How does one refine one’s thinking in order to reduce information lost in translation? Patrie and Solow recommend a five-step systematic approach to self-analysis for improved performance.

5 Steps To Improved Performance

  1. Render a 3 minute sample of your work to analyze. Find your errors and correct your interpretation. (write them down)
  2. Find the level at which your interpretation broke-down. Was it on the comprehension level? The transfer level (from one language to the other), or the reformulation level?
  3. Think about the impact that the miscue had on communication. How severe was the consequence?
  4. Revise the interpretation and render again.
  5. What actions will you take to focus on improvement?

The best interpreters push their skill sets to work towards becoming an expertise. How will you fill your tool box to coordinate your effort?

Change The Way You Finish 

The Chaos Theory tells us that if you change the way you start, you’re going to drastically change the way you finish. The best way to begin is to practice often with materials that are directly related to the tasks. Recommended resources include:

  1. Carol Patrie’s “The Effective Interpreting Series” and “Rapid Sequential Visual Processing (RSVP)”- both evidence-based resources that are available through Dawn Sign Press.
  2. National Clearinghouse on Rehabilitation and Training Materials (NCRTM)

Paradigm Shift 

I am grateful that I am consciously aware of my skill development requirements and relieved that I still have plenty of time left in my career to begin serious remediation. And to my colleagues- morally and ethically speaking, the Deaf community, our fellow colleagues and society at large deserve no less than our very best work. The fact of the matter is, the consequences of our lack of action could potentially be severe.

I would like to thank Dr. Carol Patrie- the kindest and most prolific writer and academician in our field, and Sharon Neumann Solow- the most patient and shiniest professional that I know. You both have caused a paradigm shift within me. And, many thanks to Sorenson Communications for providing this stellar training.

My journey begins and continues with deliberate practice today, and I invite you join me.

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Why Do Qualified Sign Language Interpreters Get Less Work?

Sign Language Interpreter Wondering Why He Doesn't Get More Work

How has the professionalization of interpreting impacted interpreter referral? Kendra Keller takes a hard look at the bypass of traditional entry into the interpreting field and offers ideas to reset and recharge key stakeholders in service provision.

In a recent conversation with Tom Holcomb about certified vs. qualified sign language interpreters, he said something that surprised me. He shared that approximately 90% of the interpreters referred to work with him outside of his professional faculty position and public presentations, were not certified. From inside my bubble of privilege and pursuit of my own credentials and qualifications, this was shocking.

I took a minute and then asked, “What type of appointments?” Tom replied, “Trips to the doctor, consultations about house and home, travel, and school meetings.” Thinking to myself that perhaps I’d been mistaken about the value of certification to Tom and the referral services that sent the interpreters I asked how these appointments had gone.  He said, “I was just glad someone showed up…he presumed that most good interpreters were already busy with other assignments.”

Bypassing Traditional Routes of Entry

We all have experiences where certification does not always equal qualified or ensure quality work.  Tom said that the overall quality of the interpreters was “so-so.”   I suggested to Tom that there were qualified, certified interpreters who were not being referred. To which he responded, “if good interpreters are being passed over and consequently I’m forced to settle for less…I may have a different attitude about what to expect.” The realities we spoke of surprised us both.

Do consumers of our service really expect less?  I think they do.

I believe we can attribute the current state of affairs to many factors—all of which are tied to how we have chosen to meet the demand for the service we provide. As we know the demand for interpreters has skyrocketed. In response, a supply chain was created that has shifted the influx and approval for readiness of sign language interpreters out of the hands of the deaf community, as expressed in Molly Wilson’s vlog “Bypass” (Bypass, Molly Wilson). We have created a detour, a diversion and it is having a powerful impact on all of us. This bypass has excluded necessary and important voices regarding the quality of interpreting services.

How does this bypass practically play out so folks like Tom have experiences that create the experience and perspective that they are required to “settle?”

The Referral Agency 

Since the spring of 2012, we in the northern California area have been holding forums to assess and remediate the impact of spoken language agencies on the quality of interpreting services.  The advent of spoken language agencies taking on the contracts for ASL interpreter referrals combined has created financial struggles for our traditional referral agencies.  Competition is forcing the referral of less expensive interpreters—the non-certified or less experienced.

Through a survey of colleagues throughout the greater San Francisco Bay area, across the board they feel that as their qualifications and experience increase, the amount of work through referral sources has decreased. Sign language agency forums are reporting that they indeed are cutting back on referring the more qualified interpreters (and I include CDIs and DIs here), due to cost and the current threat to the agencies’ economic survival.  Our seasoned interpreters are struggling to find enough freelance work and resorting to other sources of income and employment.

Increased Use of Non-Certified Interpreters

If qualified interpreters are facing a decline in work and non-certified interpreters are being called more frequently, what does that say about the value of experience and certification?  Does it matter if the majority of interpreters who are being referred are not certified? What is the balance of availability and access with qualifications?  While imperfect, the current certifications at both national and state levels are our measure of readiness to begin working as interpreters.

Who are the non-certified and what is the relationship to quality and the definition (legal-ADA- and professional) of qualified? What is the experience of people who use/work with interpreters of quality? What are we doing to learn about, include and support them, or to assess their impact on both the interpreting and Deaf communities?

Interpreter Preparation Programs

When IPPs and ITPs do not include dynamic and responsive curriculum designs, qualified faculty and engage in an active participation of and by the Deaf community, the bypass model is reinforced. IPP students and newer interpreters are being actively recruited by spoken language agencies, sometimes for full time work and often for work in medical settings. Faculty and coordinators have a responsibility to shape a school–to–work expectation of graduates. These students are the most vulnerable to undeveloped professional judgment and the capacity to say “no” when appropriate.

Are the values of fluency and active engagement with the Deaf community being upheld? Are program coordinators and faculty discussing the changing nature of gatekeeping and creating a response in alliance with the Deaf community? Are working interpreters able to respond to increased work demand while maintaining a relationship with the Deaf community? There are many new demands that we must respond to, together.

Credentialed Interpreter

What is the status of highly credentialed interpreters (including CDIs and DIs) in your area? Are the experienced and most qualified interpreters finding work which sustains them?

The obvious impact with less qualified, credentialed interpreters working is that true access to communication is more likely to be denied.

Our Responsibility

As we are being requested to work by a burgeoning number of spoken language referral agencies, online marketplaces, temp agencies, direct contracts and direct referrals from colleagues places more of the responsibility on the individual interpreter to exercise professional judgment in assessing skills and qualifications. For example, are we quick to accept an assignment and slow or neglect to assess our readiness before, during and after the assignment? We need the work. Does that need outweigh the rights of deaf people (and hearing consumers) to effective communication?

How do we Remodel and Rebuild?

Values and Collective Change

As the true cost of the bypasses becomes evident, where does the healing process begin?  Understanding the problem is key, so that we can design the solutions together. In his book, “Introduction to American Deaf Culture”, Tom Holcomb refers to “The Vibrant Deaf Community’, and ‘Solutions for Effective Living’.  I ask us to remember to work together to create vibrant solutions.

Here are some ideas about how to do this:

Safe Spaces. Create places and effective ways to speak out.  I believe it is inherently unhelpful to demonize any one person, group of people, the system, or to claim that experiences that are outliers are the norm. While there is power in speaking out and having a voice, I believe the forum of public or social media, which, while a critical place to have a voice when other avenues are closed or nonexistent, will not necessarily encourage the individual conversations needed for healing and improvement.

Ask Questions. Decide which questions to ask. Are we talking about our competencies, are interpreters literate in the language of qualifications and certification, as well as the factors which make up quality interpretation?

Reflective Practice. Establish a reflective practice, which is a compassionate, critical analysis of our work. Develop a process and language for doing so. Use any of the many ways that already exist: The Etna Project, supervision by trained facilitators, facilitated conversations with all stakeholders in your home communities, the  Demand Control Schema, the northern California project Improving Interpreting Project” (ImprovingInterpretingProject@gmail.com), which provides draft documents for agencies, consumers and interpreters.  Seek out and use your own community’s cultural wealth, especially DCCW, Deaf community cultural wealth.

Through reflective practice, I believe interpreters can and should address these challenges and create effective solutions. To begin, I ask us to think about what motivates the values that we uphold or deprioritize in each decision we make. If we are mostly afraid and functioning on a survival level, how can we create a focus on the greater good, co-create solutions for these changing times?

Values

Here are a few of the values and important factors in my work that I think about and that I think are important for consideration.  What are yours?

Do no harm. Stephanie Feyne, in her article: “Is it Time to Certify Sign Language Interpreter Referral Agencies?” addresses the harm done by agencies:

“Alarmingly, sign language referral agencies are sending increasing numbers of unqualified signers to interpret for Deaf consumers, causing harm to the communities we serve and to the interpreting field…. many of the sign language interpreters on their rosters are self-professed “interpreters,” who have passed no screening or certification exams.”

Encourage. Promote interpreter availability through teaching, mentoring, supervision, teaming, opening the door and welcoming newer interpreters in a way appropriate to their level of professional development.

Contribute. Have standards, opinions, being a critical thinker, while avoiding black and white, right/wrong thinking and judgmental language.

Take Action. Be aware of and take action to stop and to prevent the horizontal violence, micro-, meso- and macro-aggressions evident and experienced by so many in our field and communities.

Use Whole Language. Uphold and practice the use of whole language, ASL, especially as a non-native language user.

Take off the Blinders. Take off the blinders and ask to know the impact of my privileged status.

Reflective Practice.  Engage in reflective practice to continue professional development and self-assessment.

Professional Literacy. Develop and refine the ability to negotiate both in social and professional settings, which requires one to be literate in the language of professional standards.

Seek Guidance. Seek feedback and guidance from the deaf and coda communities…without making them responsible to manage my interpreting skills or advocate while trying to live their lives.

Accept Change. Sit with the discomfort of change, share the control, and be willing to move through feelings of disorientation before the reconstruction and reorientation into a stronger self.

Collective Change

In this I include agencies (by which I mean sign language, spoken language, temp agencies, VRS agencies, and online marketplaces):

Become involved within your communities for input about interpreting needs and concerns.

Find and work with consultants and mentors who are content experts, native users of ASL, and mentors trained and experienced in mentoring and supervision.

Request/Refer qualified interpreters, including CDIs when needed and appropriate, to provide/receive quality interpreting.

Look to all the stakeholders to guide the process.

Support non-certified interpreters in their process to become certified.  Understand why they are not yet certified.

Work to uphold the value and requirement of certification.

What Should Tom Expect?

If the experience is relief that someone showed up to interpret and that all the good interpreters are busy, how do we get from there to a world where someone who is truly qualified to interpret shows up and the more common experience is that the interpreting went well? Where qualified interpreters, quality interpreters are the expectation—the norm?

If we addressed our bypass practices, what would that look like for each of us? What could we expect?  A few thoughts:

  • To be included in a shared decision making process about communication dynamics and language preferences, to have a voice in the process.
  • To understand what is required to be a part of successfully interpreted communication.
  • To understand that a qualified interpreter means the focus of the communication shifts away from concerns about being understood and being represented accurately, to the actual communication.

Let’s remember what Paddy Ladd suggested in his Deafhood Pedagogies presentation, he cites Dr. Marie Battiste in saying that cognitive imperialism inflicts a soul wound on indigenous peoples… “We all must become critical learners and healers within a wounded space.”  I would apply this to interpreters and the ever more urgent need for self-assessment of our qualifications and quality of our work.

Responsibility begins with being responsive.  Engage.  Begin, resume, or continue the dialogue.  Take the time to ask vital questions of our communities and our selves. Define the problem together.  It is time to ask…and listen to the answers.

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#Doable: How Sign Language Interpreters Restore Relationships With The Deaf Community

Sign language interpreters have an obligation to improve our profession while empowering the Deaf community in which we work. What #doable actions will you take to build relationships and become an ally?

I was privileged enough to serve as a full-time conference interpreter at the 2013 RID Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. I was, as always, thrilled to have the opportunity to work with incredible colleagues, meet new people, and reconnect with old friends. After nearly 25 years in the field of sign language interpreting it is like a delicious treat to revisit those with whom you have created history, and to re-imagine the future that could be.

One of the unique features of this conference was the Community Forum. While this forum may have been a difficult process for many of the participants, the critical take-away message that I found quite heartening was: “The Deaf Community wants you and misses you and wonders where things broke down.” The “you” in this observation is “sign language interpreters,” all interpreters.

The #Doable Challenge

The challenge extended by leaders of the Community Forum was to find actions that were “doable” in our quest to reunite the Deaf and interpreting communities. The challenge included using these actions as a jumping-off point from which to fortify these relationships and the profession that all of us have worked so hard to build. The Twitter hashtag used during the conference was #doable.

Finding #Doable Actions

There are four primary ways you can uncover #doable actions:

1. Look Inward

It is a harsh reality, but despite one’s best intentions, even the most vigilant interpreters (and I count myself among them) can engage in audism. This unwitting participation in what has become the most insidious type of oppression is hard to take once you realize you have, and may still be, engaged in it. Take a look at your own internal beliefs and practices. Are you doing something as “innocuous” as choosing the Deaf participant’s seat at an event at which you are providing interpreting services? Are you answering questions from a hearing participant that would be better answered by the Deaf participant?

Are you collaborating with the Deaf participant or dictating to them instead? Look for the opportunities to work as an ally and collaborator rather than persisting in maintaining a hierarchical relationship. 

2. Look Outward

What opportunities are there to create change in your immediate geographic area or community? How can you show your commitment to the field of sign language interpreting while simultaneously showing your gratitude for the Deaf Community and the career it allows you to have? What kinds of things can you do to outwardly express the richness that ASL and the Deaf Community have brought to your life?

3. Look Backward

Since the 2013 RID Conference was RID’s 50th year anniversary event, history was a critical component of celebrating what is still a relatively young field. I was inspired to see some of the original founders of RID at this convention and to feel their passion as they shared experiences from their journey over the last half-century. You can see some of it via the StreetLeverage social media coverage of the conference.

One of the things that struck me was the passion of those CODAs who spoke about their earliest experiences interpreting for their parents, and what the changes in the field of sign language interpreting (in which they must feel so much ownership) has meant to them and their families. I have so much respect for CODAs who never “leave” the Deaf Community and “go home.” The Deaf Community, for them, is home. Small wonder why they are so protective of it. There is so much value in learning from those who have come before you. Spend time with these members of your community. Ask them to share their experiences. Take advantage of the opportunity to learn from what they share: both the successes and trials.

4. Look Forward

One of the things that excites me more than anything else is student interpreters and recent interpreter program graduates. These folks are excited, energized, and ready to be the next communication bridges between the Deaf and hearing worlds. There is nothing more inspiring to me than watching a new sign language interpreter suddenly become a colleague. Get involved in the future of the interpreting field. Try to find ways to help impact the future of the field for the better. As shared in the StreetLeverage – Live 2013 | Atlanta I am change video and to quote an often used adage, “Be the change you would like to see in the world.” While learning from and valuing our past is important, not dwelling on it is also good advice.

Taking #Doable Action

There are so many things that we can choose to engage in to both support one another as colleagues and to support the Deaf Community as Allies. I couldn’t hope to list them all here, but I wanted to give you a short list of actions we can all take to begin to repair the seeming void that has fragmented our shared world:

1. Patronize Deaf Businesses/Service Providers

Support the folks who are in the Community that gives you business by giving some back to them! A few ways you can do this are to:

    • Encourage the use of CDIs
    • Patronize Deaf businesses where possible
    • Refer people seeking resources back to the Deaf Community

As Trudy Suggs suggests in her StreetLeverage – Live talk, Deaf Disempowerment and Today’s Interpreter, this reciprocity–choices to patronize deaf businesses–empowers the deaf community while fortifying the relationship between the two communities.

2. Get Involved in the Local Deaf Community

This can seem daunting in the age of fewer and fewer Deaf clubs, and fewer and fewer regular gatherings of Deaf people. However, there are always opportunities to volunteer at Deaf events like theatrical productions, residential school programs, Deaf group homes for the elderly, Deaf Sports teams, or other organizations that cater to whatever facet of Deaf society you might find compelling. Don’t let technology get in the way of real, 3-D interaction. Find a way to make it happen!!

3. Engage in Pro-Bono Work

This idea is often met with contention. Many sign language interpreters believe if they engage in pro-bono work that requesting entities will assume all interpreters will work “for free” and that ultimately doing such work will undermine the efficacy of such laws as the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, there are opportunities to donate your services to organizations that are well-deserving or otherwise not covered under the various accommodations laws we have in place. Think about things like Oxford House meetings (for recovering substance abusers), AA or NA meetings, religious services or events, non-profit events such as Race for the Cure (Breast Cancer). Find what speaks to you and donate a few hours of service. More on how pro bono work can enhance your work can be found in Brandon Arthur’s article, 5 Easy Career Enhancers for Sign Language Interpreters.

4. Define the Future

Be a resource not only to Deaf Community members who seek information, but also to those up-and-coming sign language interpreters who strive to do right by serving the Deaf Community and the field of interpreting admirably. Volunteer to speak at your local interpreter training program about a topic that you are passionate about. Host a Q&A of veteran interpreters, giving new interpreters opportunity to ask their burning questions. Host a Deaf Community Panel where Deaf panelists can speak about the qualities they look for when hiring an interpreter, as well as those qualities they don’t find so desirable. Mentor new interpreters whenever you can. The idea that mentoring someone new is somehow putting oneself out of a job is ludicrous. It is our responsibility as veteran interpreters to ensure that when we are gone, there are other incredible interpreters out there to take our places, as Brian Morrison so eloquently stated in his post, It Takes a Village to Raise a Sign Language Interpreter.

In order to preserve our legacy, we must leave positive impressions on the lives of the next generation.

5. Leave Your Ego at the Door

It is hard to receive criticism (constructive or otherwise), and it is even harder to do so without being defensive. Work on ways to accept such feedback without defending yourself. Kendra Keller’s article, Case Discussion: Sign Language Interpreters Contain Their Inner “What the …!!!?”, helps us consider ways to think about what is being expressed as a genuine gift and something that can be used to improve future interactions. Even if, after reflecting on a situation, you decide that you still disagree with the criticism, consider the perception of the person who gave you the feedback and realize that something in the setting compelled them to give you that feedback. Figure out if there is anything you can do to improve the situation for the next time.

6. Gratitude

Remember to express your gratitude.

I am so lucky. I fell into the field of interpreting by chance. I am grateful to have been accepted into an incredible new culture while learning a completely new language. Here it is, 25 years later, and I can’t begin to count the people, both Deaf and hearing, who have guided me on this path. In keeping with Brandon Arthur’s article, Sign Language Interpreters and the Karma of Gratitude, I offer my thanks to those who have shared in my journey.

To all of you who taught me: thank you. To all of you who helped me grow: thank you. For all the unique and incredible experiences: thank you! To all of you who will graciously teach me new things each day: thank you.

Let’s always remember where we came from, how we got to where we are today, and those who have shared in our journeys.

In Conclusion

This is our profession and, as such, we need to commit to being actively engaged in shaping the future in order to preserve a legacy of which we can be proud.  It starts by individually leaving positive impressions with every interaction. When I look back at the impressions I have left on my field and the Deaf Community, I want to see that in some way I have helped to improve the profession while empowering the community in which I work.  It isn’t money, status, or recognition that makes someone a good interpreter– it is integrity, respect for the language and culture, and a commitment to betterment of oneself while empowering the community.

Make these ideals your mission and become another ally in the quest to build sign language interpreter/Deaf Community relationships.

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K-12: A Call to Arms for Sign Language Interpreter Training Programs

A K-12 Call to Arms for Sign Language Interpreter Training Programs

How can ITPs better prepare sign language interpreters to work in mainstreamed K-12 settings? Specific steps are proposed to help educational interpreters become advocates for their students – and for change.

K-12 interpreting* has been around for quite some time, at least since the precursor of today’s IDEA was passed in 1975.  In the early years after this law was passed, we saw the development of what were called “self-contained classrooms,” where Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing (DHH) students attended a mainstream school, but congregated in special classes with a teacher of the deaf (TOD).  As years and decades passed, the percentage of DHH students in self-contained classrooms slowly decreased and the percentage placed in regular classrooms for at least part of the school day increased.

It is no secret that professionals schooled in the overall needs of DHH children, including numerous sign language interpreting professionals, have felt that this trend has not been in the best interests of DHH children.  Many such individuals learned about those overall needs in teacher training programs, from Deaf individuals themselves, and from CODAs.  Much effort has been expended over the years to stem this tide, unsuccessfully.

Yes, concerned individuals, groups, and organizations have been working against the wholesale mainstreaming of DHH children for the last 4 decades.  Yes, they have been researching, writing, publishing, presenting — attempting to educate the powers that be of the pitfalls in general education settings for DHH children.  Gina Oliva and Linda Lytle’s book, Turning the Tide: Making Life Better for Deaf and Hard of Hearing School Children (published by Gallaudet University Press in February 2014), includes two chapters uniquely highlighting the efforts of these scholar-advocates. Sadly, despite the clamoring of knowledgeable and passionate individuals and groups, the push towards “full inclusion” of DHH children has continued. With each passing year we find more and more of these children in their neighborhood schools, separated from each other.  And that is why this phenomenon has become an issue for the sign language interpreting community.

The Impact is Important

The increasing numbers of DHH children in general education settings has coincided with a related trend in how much experience educational interpreters have.  Many, if not most, interpreters fresh out of their training find initial work in K-12 settings.  Interpreters with limited training find work in these settings, also, though this fact may be slowly changing as a result of the development of the EIPA and its subsequent adoption in numerous states.  The EIPA and the people behind it, both as an instrument and as a requirement, is but one example of the work of advocates for DHH children.  At the same time, however, the fact that so many new interpreters work in K-12 settings is all the more reason for Interpreter Preparation Programs (IPPs) to develop more focus on preparing students for this kind of work.

Dr. Oliva’s February 2012 article, “Sign Language Interpreters in Mainstream Classrooms: Heartbroken and Gagged,” spoke to the issue of K-12 interpreters being actual eyewitnesses of the exclusion that results from “full inclusion.”  Ironic, yes.  Doug Bowen-Bailey, in “Ethical Choices: Educational Sign Language Interpreters as Change Agents,” says that “for interpreters working in schools, we clearly need to find new role space to lead to more success.”  He offers several suggestions for how K-12 interpreters can find this new role space in their K-12 workplaces.

One way to address issues raised by Oliva, Bowen-Bailey, and others is for IPPs to solicit input from working K-12 interpreters and from DHH adults who have used interpreters in K-12 settings in recent years.  Since things are changing so rapidly (economics, cochlear implants, to name a few influences), we suggest that this be done at least every 3-5 years.  Oliva and Lytle’s book also reports what their research participants (in focus groups and an online survey) conveyed about their K-12 years.  Not surprisingly, even without direct prompting, they had a lot to say about their interpreter(s).

Did these focus groups and survey participants, all between the ages of 18 and 34 in 2012, talk about their sign language interpreter’s interpreting skills?  To a point, yes.  In one glaring example, a then 9 year old’s interpreter was using the sign for a coin, a 25-cent piece, in conveying to the young deaf child that she could work on her assignment until “quarter to 12” (as in the time on a clock).  Chaos ensued, admittedly.  But significantly more frequent were remarks about the behavior, misbehavior, and overall cultural knowledge of the interpreters.  As such, in the remainder of this article we describe four learning targets and associated projects that we suggest for IPPs.  The topics are based on both the experience of Petri and her fellow working K-12 interpreters and on the reports from Oliva and Lytle’s research participants.  These suggested projects should result in providing interpreting students with knowledge, options, and confidence to explore the “new role space,” as Bowen-Bailey suggests.

Where to Start

We recognize that IPPs may already be assigning projects similar to these.   We also recognize that IPP coursework, particularly for K-12 interpreter specialization, necessarily follows any and all policy guidelines provided by the respective states to which they are responsible.  We wish to set forth an opinion that, where such policy dictates for coursework do not reflect the real life experiences of working K-12 sign language interpreters and their now-grown consumers, IPPs have a responsibility to do whatever is needed to educate state-level personnel about this conundrum.  Interpreters and interpreter trainers are uniquely positioned to educate everyone one concerned about the unique needs of DHH children.  Dave Coyne’s recent Street Leverage article, “Social Justice: A New Model of Practice for Sign Language Interpreters,” certainly is aligned with the need for sign language interpreters to employ leadership tactics in partnership with DHH adults/professionals.

Everyone knows that something needs to change vis a vis the experience of DHH students in general K-12 educational settings.  Maybe more than something: much needs to change.   Let’s all take part and be the change – let’s share, collaborate, and grow a new role, turning the tide together.

Recommendations

Here are some specific recommendations for Interpreter Training Programs to consider adopting:

Learning Target 1

Understand Incidental Learning – how it informs and empowers all humans, how Deaf students in a hearing school are at risk for limited access to incidental learning, and a variety of ways interpreters can respond to this risk.

Instructor to lecture on the dissertation “Positioned as Bystanders: Deaf Students’ Experiences and Perceptions of Informal Learning Phenomena” (Hopper, M. 2012) – her methods, findings, and recommendations.

1. Students to consider where and how incidental learning has occurred in their own lives – through reflection and discussion on how they acquired language, knowledge, and insight by overhearing peers – slang, obscenities, vicarious learning.

2. Students to spend time in public spaces (coffee shops, bars, gyms, etc.) listening and (unobtrusively) taking notes on what is learned incidentally (e.g. overheard).  Students to report on how what was overheard did or could inform their decisions or other elements of life, and on the potential impact of not overhearing particular bits of information.

3. Students to observe at the local school for the Deaf and report on how incidental learning naturally occurs in this environment.

4. Students to observe in a regular education setting with DHH student(s), list the incidental learning opportunities they witness (before class, in the hall, in the cafeteria), and make estimations about whether or not the information was accessible to and/or absorbed by the DHH student(s).

5. Students discuss the above observations and reports with classmates and develop ideas for strategies that sign language interpreters can employ to reduce the lack of access to incidental learning.  Students should consider strategies aimed at all levels – hearing peers, the DHH student(s), teachers, administrators.

Learning Target 2

Have a solid understanding of the nebulous issues regarding the role of a sign language interpreter in general education settings.

1. Students to investigate and report on various sources for information on interpreting ethics in general education settings.

2. Students to interview working K-12 interpreters to learn about various situations that have challenged thinking about ethical behavior for interpreters in K-12 settings.

3. Students to prepare a report on situations where the interpreter’s role may be blurry and debatable.  For each of these, students should report varying responses and the repercussions of each.  Some examples might be:

a. Interpreters monitoring behavior or performing disciplinary actions:  Give examples of why this is an issue, give numerous examples of situations where other adults might expect an interpreter to take some kind of action, and identify the options open to interpreters in each example.

b. Interpreters are bound by safety policies (“life, limb, or liability”) that apply to all adults in the school settings.  Give examples of student actions that would clearly require interpreter intervention, student actions that would clearly not be bound by safety policies, and student actions that would fall into a gray area.  Discuss various options for responding to the latter.

c. In matters of instruction, sign language interpreters have some flexibility.  Students should come up with numerous situations that typically need to be decided case by case.  Students should include extreme situations to illustrate flexibility within certain boundaries.

4. Teachers and other school personnel often expect and/or request an interpreter to assist with instruction.  Students should give examples of requests for assistance from teachers/staff that they deem reasonable, unreasonable, and ambiguous.

Learning Target 3

Understand how DHH youth and adults feel about their experiences in general education classrooms.

1. Develop questions and interview DHH adults about sign language interpreting services during the K-12 years.

a. Which of their interpreters’ practices were/weren’t empowering?

b. What recommendations do they have for K-12 interpreters?

2. Develop questions and interview currently working K-12 interpreters and/or former working K-12 interpreters about interpreting services during the K-12 years.

a. In what ways did they empower and advocate for their students?

b. What insights do they have for you?

3. Discuss findings with classmates.

a. What were common problems/issues cited by the Deaf adults/Interpreters?

b. What solutions were commonly deemed effective?

c. What recommendations do they have for currently working K-12 interpreters and for IPPs?

4. Use this information to develop fact sheets for general education settings – develop one fact sheet for adult staff, and one for hearing classmates.

Learning Target 4

Be able to function as an effective advocate for DHH students in general education settings – learn how to establish oneself as an approachable, trustworthy, and knowledgeable ‘local expert’ on issues related to DHH students.

1. Students to compose a one-page letter introducing him/herself and explaining the sign language interpreter’s role.  Include a brief description of the interpreting process, your training and experience, and what services you provide.

2. Students to prepare an in-depth inservice presentation for general education staff members.

3. Provide a practice inservice session by doing one of the following:

a. Do a ‘mock inservice’ with current educators in local school.

b. Present to a college class of future K-12 educators.

In the end

We have offered some specific student learning objectives and associated assignments or projects that will provide interpreters-in-training an opportunity to learn about and discuss issues regarding interpreting in K-12 settings.  This is particularly important because so many newly-trained interpreters find themselves working in such settings for at least a few years.  We further emphasize the responsibility that IPPs have for considering the impact of the “end product” of their programs, which is the education of deaf and hard of hearing children, for better or for worse.  In particular, they must be involved in educating state-level officials about the kind of training these children deserve their interpreters to have.

Do you have Learning Target that you might suggest?

 

Co-Author – Jenee Petri

Jenee worked as a K-12 Interpreter for 10 years.  She is currently a staff interpreter at the University of Minnesota. In addition to freelance work, she has been a Video Interpreter at Sorenson Communications for 5 years.  Jenee has been nationally certified since 2003.  She is also a national certified Cued Language Transliterator.  Growing up in Faribault, Minn., Jenee studied ASL in high school, which lead her to pursue a degree from Saint Paul College’s Interpreter Training Program in 2001.  She currently lives in Minneapolis with her boyfriend, Steve, and their dog, a 9 y/o English Springer Spaniel, Henry.

 

*We use the term “K-12 interpreting” for the sake of precision.  Issues involved with interpreting for K-12 students differ from those involving college students and adults.  We think that the term K-12 interpreting allows us (and other writers) to be more precise.

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The Five Step Path to Resiliency for Sign Language Interpreters

Resiliency Among Sign Language Interpreters

How can sign language interpreters recognize our differences yet move toward positive change in our field? Stephanie Criner highlights the importance of mindfulness in listening to spur connection and engagement for change.

One of the strengths of our community of practice is our diversity of thought, background, and belief systems – it is also is what poses the greatest challenge when we come together to create positive change. The potential outcome in deepening our abilities and our commitment to dialogue is that while alone we don’t have the ‘answers’, together we can create them. I believe we’ve taken some first steps toward a true dialogic exchange, and we still have some challenges to overcome in understanding what dialogue is, how we must create the space to really have honest exchanges of perspectives, and talk to each other instead of talking past each other.

The Goal of Understanding

Dialogue is both the act of expressing ones thoughts and, equally importantly, the act of listening with the goal of understanding what’s at the heart of the discussion. The hazard of not placing an emphasis on understanding is that we get closer to debate than dialogue. Debate is zero sum—one right answer/one winner, either/or, pro/con—this isn’t to say there isn’t a place for debate but is it our ‘default’? If the goal is to transcend diverse perspectives and include a myriad of ‘voices’, we need a way to expand our conversations not to restrict them.

Creating ‘Other’

What can complicate our ability to understand is the creation of the ‘other.’ It prevents us from suspending judgment and ‘hearing’ perspectives or values that we perceive as negative. It is easy to fall into creating ‘stories’ that allow us to alienate and separate – they are certified/they aren’t certified; they have a degree/they don’t have a degree; they have deaf parents/they don’t have deaf parents—the ‘vilified other’ makes it easier to marginalize and discount those views that clash with our own. Perhaps we’ve had a bad experience with a member of ‘the other’, how is it we can stop reacting to our ‘ghosts’ and spring back as individuals and as a community of practice and move upstream?

People Not Villains

In the weeks after 9/11, I was involved in a series of resiliency dialogues to bring together members of our very diverse community in a safe space to share feelings, values, and perspectives. In a time of national pain and violence, I was struck by the power of listening to, what was at that time, ‘the other’. During one of these dialogues, several Muslim women shared their experiences–their dread in hearing that Muslims were involved, their experience of being verbally insulted, and their fear for their personal safety, because they wore a ḥijāb. Those exchanges didn’t erase the differences between us–it did, however, serve as a powerful antidote to the ‘poison’ of the time—a reminder that there were people behind those differences, not villains.

5 Steps to Beyond Otherness

One: Ask Real Questions

How do we get past this ‘otherness’? One of the most powerful tools in dialogue are questions–real, curious, inquiring questions—the kind that lead to deeper understanding of the ‘heart’ of an issue, why it is important to that person, and gets to the values underpinning their dialogue. Questions that come from a place of curiosity and discovery allow for movement in what might have been considered an irreconcilable difference. What do they believe to be true to have that view of the issue? Being curious also frees us from our debate ‘default’ where we have the tendency to listen for points of disagreement, where the person’s logic is faulty, or have an ad hominem type of thinking where we disagree with ‘who’ the person is and then are unable to process what they are saying. The result is we end up talking past each other and not to each other.

Two: Re-make the Map

Kuhn in this book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, suggested that ‘revolutions’ and leaps forward in progress are created when new questions are asked of previously-held beliefs and the result is a totally different ‘map’ for future directions—a true paradigm shift (he actually coined the phrase). The potential for ‘remapping’ exists for our professional organization in the motion that was recently passed to establish an ad hoc committee to ‘review the RID philosophy, Mission, Goals, Diversity Statement, and Strategic Priorities.’ This group will make recommendations to the membership and Board. How can we ensure that we engage the largest number stakeholders in these reviews and recommendations? How can we create an organizational culture of dialogue around this effort? The larger the number of voices that contribute to re-making the map, the more powerful the buy-in, and the more indelible the progress.

Three: Contribute More Than Criticize

The challenge then becomes how to include large numbers of individuals in the dialogue and how do we create a space that is engaging and safe for this multitude of ‘voices’? While most of us would agree that it is an RID members’ personal responsibility to be engaged, there is also the reality that without a safe space within which to offer those views, it won’t happen.

Volunteering your opinion is an act of courageous engagement.

Brené Brown who presented a Ted talk on vulnerability and listening to shame said this, ‘I don’t think engagement can happen without vulnerability, and I definitely don’t think it can happen in the midst of shame.’ How is it that we, as a collective,’ can take responsibility for the creation of safe dialogue spaces?’ Brené may also have the answer when she said her goal, ‘at the end of every day, and at the end of every week, and at the end of my life, I want to be able to say I contributed more than I criticized.’

Four: Allow for Difference

As Laura Wickless mentioned in her article, Vulnerability: A Collaboration Killer, ‘so many of us fear being mocked, criticized, and torn to shreds by fellow practitioners that we avoid taking worthwhile risks.’ If we want positive change and to make engagement less risky, we must find ways to value experience and personal narrative and the expression of those experiences in ways that are not critical or attacking. It will be a space that allows for difference and actively seeks perspectives from those that may feel disenfranchised—interpreters with deaf parents, faith-based interpreters, interpreters of color, educational interpreters, and others.

Five: Create a Space

It will be important that the space that’s created, whether virtual or physical, be one that can absorb multiple views and ways of engagement. Not all of us are comfortable with external processing and formulating thoughts ‘on the fly’. There are personality types who process internally and need a moment before they are ready to share their views. Can we purposefully create some silence in our dialogue space that allows for everyone to feel confident in participating? Not all of us feel confident in our public speaking or writing abilities, which may chill our level of participation. Can we create spaces that are inviting and patient that allow for everyone regardless of linguistic aptitude to share their ideas?

Mini-Mindfulness

Ultimately, we can each make small, every day contributions to larger, system-wide transformations. The nuggets that I receive from colleagues and friends—some from an in-person conversation, some through an IM, or a Facebook post—all create bits of mini-mindfulness that ultimately help make me resilient, open to dialogue with others, and growth. True, often we work in physical isolation, how is it we can ask new questions of old paradigms and overcome that isolation? Many of us work in settings where there are numerous colleagues; do we make the most of those interactions or miss opportunities to participate in dialogue that can move us all forward?

Revolutions of Thought and Practice

It is safe to say that most of us have no desire, either individually or as a professional organization, to mirror the current political environment of debate and polarization. It is destructive, the opposite of engaging, and disheartening. Dialogue that creates conversations that respect and appreciate a multitude of contributions, that are inquisitive and curious, and that allow for revolutions of thought and practice is the path forward.

Perhaps we can’t change the world, but we can certainly change our footprint.

 

References

Kuhn, Thomas S., The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 3rd ed. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1996. Asking new questions of old data on pages 139, 159. Moving beyond “puzzle-solving” on pages 37, 144. Change in rule sets on pages 40, 41, 52, 175. Change in the direction or “map” of research on pages 109, 111.