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RID: Retraction Leaves Interpreters with Deaf Parents in Doubt

Sign Language Interpreters With Deaf Parents Stunned

Brandon Arthur interviews Laurie Nash, Vice Chair of the Interpreters with Deaf Parents (IDP) Member Section of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), on the stunning  retraction of the referendum, that if passed, would have established a designated position on the RID Board of Directors for an IDP Member at Large position.


“Many of us felt that the passage of this referendum was important in order to help RID reconnect with the deaf community and the values that were the foundation of the establishment of RID 50 years ago.”

“I am here to talk about IDP but I do want to acknowledge that other members feel disenfranchised by RID as well. I cannot speak for them but they do have similar feelings of not being involved in the decision making process. IDP believed that if we had a position on the board then that would guarantee a place at the decision making table.”

“The president somehow misunderstood that a 2/3 majority of the vote was required as opposed to the a simple majority she used to determine the initial passage of the referendum.”

“We were told this late on Wednesday night and the announcement from the board was made Thursday. Obviously the RID board had already prepared their announcement and video and were ready to announce this to the membership.”

“I think for many IDP members there is a desire for our organization and our members to recognize that indeed many interpreters with deaf parents bring something unique to our field.”

“I think it is important to emphasize that respectful dialogue is the key to moving forward. I encourage all members of RID be mindful of respecting each other as we move forward.”

Interview Transcript

Brandon: Hello everyone. I am Brandon Arthur from I am here with Laurie Nash, Vice-Chair of RID’s Interpreters with Deaf Parents Member Section. Welcome Laurie.

Laurie: Hello. Thank you for hosting this dialogue and inviting me.

Brandon: We are here to discuss RID’s announcement from last week about Motion E, the referendum that if passed, would have established a designated position on the RID board of directors for an IDP member at large.  With the announcement that the referendum did not pass, I imagine there to be a lot of emotional responses to the announcement. Before we get into the retraction and the response from IDP, I’d like to back up a little bit to the beginning of March when RID announced the historic passage of a bylaws referendum that would establish an IDP seat on the Board of Directors.  Can you share with us the feeling and thoughts that the IDP membership had when they learned of the referendum’s passage?

Laurie: Clearly many people, including IDP members, who supported this motion, felt that after a long time we would be getting some change in the direction of RID. Many of us felt that the passage of this referendum was important in order to help RID reconnect with the deaf community and the values that were the foundation of the establishment of RID 50 years ago.  So yes, many people were relieved and happy. I know for myself, I felt that after many years, I now have a way to reconnect with RID.  The passage of the referendum gave me faith in RID again.  Learning that the referendum has passed in the first week of March left people feeling positive and pleased with all of the hard work done to get the referendum to vote

Brandon: You mention “having faith”’ in RID again. So, describe for us what the leadership of IDP, members of RID, and allies feel that this position represents for the future of RID.

Laurie: I believe that IDP members are not unique in feeling that they are underrepresented within RID. There are other groups of interpreters that feel the same way. We have all felt frustrated at some of the decisions made by the RID Board of Directors. These decisions show again a divergence from the communities we serve; their culture, their norms, their values. We have strayed away from that. So an IDP position on the board, we felt, would guarantee that along with the Deaf member at large that is already a part of the board, there would be a stronger connection to native language users and deaf-world natives  and those board members would be involved with the decisions of RID from this point forward. Historically there have been a lot of frustrations among many groups. I am here to talk about IDP but I do want to acknowledge that other members feel disenfranchised by RID as well. I cannot speak for them but they do have similar feelings of not being involved in the decision making process. IDP believed that if we had a position on the board then that would guarantee a place at the decision making table. This motion was initially made taking into consideration the current structure of RID. Many people have brought up different ideas for a restructuring of the board and changing the composition of the board.   I think that re-evaluating the board is a good idea but that’s not our current reality.  The current board composition is what was in mind when the motion was made. Let me clarify, the motion came out of the 2010 Region II conference. The motion carried and was then brought to the floor of the national conference in 2011. A lot of people were involved in the discussions to ensure that the position would work within the current board structure.  Members were both in support and opposition for various reasons but for the collective IDP membership was in support of this motion and the concept behind it: that our voice was missing from the board. Our current board has 3 people who are interpreters with deaf parents. 2 are deaf and 1 is hearing but that was not always the case. For many, many years there were no native voices on the rid board.

Brandon: You have recognized that IDP is not the only group within RID who may not feel that they have access to the decision making tables of the organization and by extension our field. That being said, to be told that you had a place at the table and then for that place to be taken away with the retraction must create an environment where there is little to no trust in the leadership of RID.  How did the news that the referendum did not pass actually unfold for IDP? How were you notified?

Laurie:  Well the announcement came out last Thursday. On Wednesday at 9pm, the 4 members of the IDP executive council, participated in a video conference call with President Prudhom and many members of the board of directors. On that call, we were told that there was a mistake made in determining the required number of votes needed to pass the referendum. The president somehow misunderstood that a 2/3 majority of the vote was required as opposed to the a simple majority she used to determine the initial passage of the referendum. Now you should know that during the drafting of this referendum it was clearly understood by everyone involved that a 2/3 majority vote was needed to pass. This referendum was a change in our bylaws and required a higher standard than other referendums. So, she seemingly made a mistake and erroneously informed Shane Feldman, the Executive Director of RID, and others that the referendum passed.  We were told this late on Wednesday night and the announcement from the board was made Thursday. Obviously the RID board had already prepared their announcement and video and were ready to announce this to the membership. Hearing this news, we were floored and were at a loss on how were we to respond and we wondered how our members would respond to this announcement.  We asked President Prudhom for some time to organize and coordinate a respond. They gave us a little time but by 3pm on Thursday, the announcement went out to the general membership. As a result, the IDP council was unable to prepare a coordinated response right away. Unfortunately RID went ahead with their announcement.

Brandon: So what would IDP like to have seen done differently in a situation like this in the future. If we as an organization have learned anything from this, it won’t happen again but if you could advise the board on how better to handle something like this, what would you ask them to do?

Laurie: Well…when we learned that the referendum did not in fact pass we were of course disappointed. Many people worked very hard on this referendum, however; it was compounded by the lack of checks and balances and the realization that RID made a mistake.  We were left wondering,  How could something like this happen? Is it possible that only one person is counting the vote? It was very hard to understand how this could have happened. We are collecting a vote on a referendum that impacts the bylaws of our organization. Not a business as usual item.  These are the guiding rules of our organization, our bylaws.  We were disappointed that the referendum did not pass but we could move on from there. Our disappointment was further exacerbated by this mishandling of the vote and our experience that this was also one more example in a series of blunders the membership has experienced from the RID board. We believe that the IDP membership should have received a personal apology. The president of RID made a general public apology to the membership; however, this motion held great significance to many people connected to IDP. This general apology did not recognize the significance of the referendum and did not recognize that many members had very strong connections to it.  This fact seemed to be overlooked by the board of directors and I think that is just another example of perhaps a cultural disconnect from the membership. RID does have members of diverse backgrounds. President Prudhom’s manner of apology and announcement did not give enough attention to the significance of this referendum to members of IDP.

Brandon: Thank you. What do you hope the membership, the RID board of directors, and even the national office staff can learn from this situation?

Laurie: I wish they didn’t have to learn anything at all. I wish this didn’t have to be a learning experience for them to begin with. However, I think all members of RID, after seeing this; can agree that mistakes are consistently made within RID. This is not an isolated instance.  I am not sure what kind of oversight may be needed and I am unsure how the board functions. For vote counting, do they work together? Who is responsible for vote collecting? How does it work when voting happens through the internet? There need to be safeguards in place to make sure this kind of thing ever happens.  With a mistake of this magnitude, we all have to question how it came to be. I believe RID members have a right to know how this kind of mistake happened. It certainly shouldn’t have happened on such a large issue as the bylaws and leads us to wonder if this kind of mistake is allowed to happen, then what other mistakes are happening? I don’t want to get off the point here but we do need to wonder what is going on. I think the mistakes issue is not simply an IDP complaint. It is a systemic organizational and leadership problem that all of us have to be very concerned about.

Brandon: Clearly, you have said that representation at the decision making tables of our field is important to interpreters with deaf parents and other underserved groups. In considering the future of RID and perhaps the perspective of people seeing this interview, people who will see the passion that IDP has about this issue, what do you want them to know about your collective desire for more representation and collective diversity at the decision making tables of RID?

Laurie: I think for many IDP members there is a desire for our organization and our members to recognize that indeed many interpreters with deaf parents bring something unique to our field. We have a variety of deaf-world experiences that many if not most of our members within RID do not have.  Each interpreter brings their unique set of life experiences to their work.  The experiences of an someone who grew up in a deaf parented home instills the values and norms of the community in their work. Interpreters with deaf parents possess the ability to broker meaning in culturally appropriate ways. That is the value we need to have on the board. I think many of our members historically have felt those inherent skills have been negated in a systematic way within RID.  On an individual level, interpreters with deaf parents have certainly felt valued by many colleagues but we feel this must be a integral part of the board. During the national conference in Atlanta in 2011, Dennis Cokely commented on the logo for the conference. The logo was a tree. On the stage at the business meeting, he pointed out that the tree was missing its roots.  The roots have been missing for a very long time and It’s not just interpreters with deaf parents who feel this way. There are many people in our field, including leaders in our field, who believe that interpreters with deaf parents have something unique to offer. We recognize a unique skill at play but we believe that recognition of this skill needs to be an integral part of our national organization, RID. There may be talk about restructuring  and changing the composition of the board. I think that may be a great idea but let’s work together to make it happen if the membership agrees that to be our goal.  For now, the board structure is the way it is. We can work toward improvements but again with the kind of mistake that took place we have slipped back and the membership has lost faith once again.

Brandon: If you had the opportunity to send a message to the general membership and to IDP members what  would you say about the desire to again reconnect with our roots?

Laurie: To the general membership, I think it is important for us to consider why we do what we do. If we claim to value the deaf community and value their norms and culture, if that indeed is what we are saying, then great.  Let’s move on and do it in our actions and in our words. Live it. Show it. Prove it. And if not, then if people do not want to achieve that then why are we here talking about this? Why does RID even exist?   We need to figure out our organizational purpose, values and goals. What we do is not just collecting a paycheck. For many of us our profession is not simply a job. Unfortunately for some it appears that they are here only to collect a paycheck and there is no authentic connection to the deaf community and certainly no investment.  For those of us vested, it feels exploitative of those interpreters. We really need to figure out why we do the work we do. To IDP members, I think it is important to say that your hard work bringing this referendum forward and the progress that we made was successful in many ways. The discussion we are having now is also housed within a broader context. We have all had our individual discussions and experiences with each other and with our colleagues. We have also had our experiences discounted and shunned.  It is time to move forward. We are now having a bigger discussion and this process is necessary in order for us to recover from the last 50 years.

Brandon: I really appreciate you being here with me today to lay out the issues. I hope this dialogue will help create some perspective for the people who are seeing all of the thoughts, emotion, and dissention on this issue.    At the end of the day, I hope that as an organization we can keep our eyes on the mission of service. If we can dialogue with respect then we can move forward. Thank you for taking the time to be here today.

Laurie: I am happy to be here but I do want to add something if you don’t mind. I think it is important to emphasize that respectful dialogue is the key to moving forward. I encourage all members of RID be mindful of respecting each other as we move forward.  Unfortunately, some public comments have been made that were not respectful and for many were insulting.  If we truly want our field and our organization to recover we have to maintain a respectful dialogue. I hope we can all remember the person receiving the message when posting comments via any open forum. Keep it honest and respectful.

Brandon: we try to create an environment where people feel comfortable expressing themselves so I can appreciate you bringing respect up. Laurie, thank you for your time. I appreciate you making time in your schedule for this discussion.  I hope that this dialogue will help others who have wondered about the debate and differing opinions surrounding this referendum so that we can all move forward to a successful future. Thanks again.

Laurie: Thank you.

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Sign Language Interpreters: Purposeful Change for Power Holders

Sigh Language Interpreters and Transformational Leadership

Looking at leadership styles and models informs choices as we act as interpreters or in leadership roles. Dave Coyne explores the nature of leadership and how transformational leadership can positively impact interpreted interactions.

Since I gained professional status as a sign language interpreter, I have witnessed oppression of various types, more than I would like, such as disenfranchisement of Deaf community members, abuse of power by interpreters, and discrimination against Deaf individuals.  These are alarming and call for changes in how interpreters work.

Incorporating Leadership into our Work

Interpreters are in the trenches in many locations in which Deaf members struggle for equality (e.g., homes, schools, hospitals, and other societal institutions).  This situation calls for a specific kind of leadership that personally influences individuals in both top-down and bottom-up approaches, surfacing in interpreters’ roles in day-to-day interactions.

These locations represent where change is most needed, and where sign language interpreters can best work toward reaching the liberative goals put forth by the Deaf community.  Merely acting as spectators or watching Deaf members wage the battle alone, is not enough for many interpreters. Passive involvement is not enough because the way in which interpreters perform their jobs in the midst of community members’ daily struggles, and the approaches used to carry out practices can contribute to or hinder purposeful contributions, contributions that can represent momentum by fostering positive changes.  These purposeful contributions (e.g., allowing others to lead their actions) can humble interpreters yet foster participants’ advancement in most situations.  More importantly, incorporating leadership into interpreting practices can prompt styles that prevent inconsistent approaches.

Collective Causations

Leadership has been at the periphery of many conversations, but for sign language interpreter Amy Seiberlich, this topic should be at the forefront. Seiberlich (2012) in her StreetLeverage article, “Leadership in Sign Language Interpreting: Where are We?” highlighted the idea that historical causation created directions in the interpreting field which have led to many of our current problems.

Today’s daily interactions are often devoid of the collective purposes needed to establish meaningful connections with Deaf individuals.  For many years, attempts have been made to formulate national collective causations at RID’s biennial conference, hosted by the Deaf Caucus.  The Caucus was successful in gathering practices considered important by Deaf members, families of Deaf members, interpreters, and educators. To be used effectively, this information, gathered, analyzed, and shared, requires the support and integration by all stakeholders involved, specifically sign language interpreters.  If integration of preferred practices are not carefully monitored, then community-specific information can be utilized only for convenient position-taking.

Transformational Leadership Theory

In viewing interpreters as leaders, stakeholders hold individuals, institutions, and organizations accountable for their actions: there is simply too much at stake not to consider a transformational approach.

Incorporating transformational leadership traits into interpreters’ work is only one way to address the many struggles that sign language interpreters, systems and institutions, and interlocutors deal with. This method encourages progression toward various kinds of emancipation and prompts active support of Deaf community members.  This approach can prove useful for discovering how to sort through and piece together the fragmentation between professionals and communities.

Interpreters’ practices and their approaches to interpreting are distinctive.  Thus, asking interpreters to identify with social conditions and interactions deemed significant by Deaf members may begin to counterbalance the negative effects coming from interpreters in the field.  Specific suggestions provided by Denis Cokely (2011) in “Sign Language Interpreters – Complicit in a Devil’s Bargain” touched on the social influences wielded by interpreters who are either tightly bound or less bound to the Deaf Community.  Each of his suggestions carries differing implications and results.

Relational-based Change

Individuals who mistakenly believe they can separate language and culture and do not share Deaf community members’ goals and views can be no more than bilingual-monocultural rather than bilingual-bicultural interpreters. On the other hand, those who form strong bonds with the Deaf community can potentially achieve bicultural status (sharing goals, views, and norms), utilizing full bilingual skill sets. Interpreters who work as biculturals are able to co-create relational-based encounters to effect change.

Monocultural individuals who see their work strictly as commerce-based agreements (transactional) for interpreting services, too often fail to consider the additional collaborative components of their work (e.g., discussing strategies for participants’ success, listening to concerns and experiences, and participating in ways that further the greater good) as part of their professional duties.  These critical reviews of interpreter practices are needed to detail purposeful behaviors that are crucial to supporting participants’ needs, values, and expectations.

Leadership Styles

Burns (1978) defined leadership thus:

“the reciprocal process of mobilizing, by persons with certain motives and values, various economic, political, and other resources, in a context of competition and conflict, in order to realize goals independently or mutually held by the leaders and followers” (p. 425).

This quote placed shared goals as a pivotal component in different leadership styles. Due to the very nature of interpreting, interpreters are special kinds of power-holders.  Their collective motives and values can be used to satisfy, or not satisfy others’ individual and shared goals.  The process of reaching these goals may cause internal struggles in interpreters who do not fully understand the motives and values of the individuals they work with.  For others, conversations about leadership theories give rise to the vocabulary needed to address the concerns, needs, and expectations of those working with interpreters. According to Burns (1978), leadership is specifically targeted to everyone involved in interactions (but especially the power-holders).  If all are fully engaging in and discovering the center of leadership itself, they will find that leaders and participants have intertwined practices, perceptions, values, and motivations.

Today’s interpreter leaders are not only in managerial and other upper level positions, but are also interpreters themselves, involved in daily interactions where common goals are supported.  More than ever, we must continue to discover more about the individuals who hold power, those who wield sole power, and the powerless.  Discussions surrounding power have surfaced in national conferences and daily conversations: Deaf members and interpreters convene to raise awareness of the effects of power.   In doing so, they draw back from full power, sharing it instead: thereby contribute to closing the disconnect that exists between some interpreters and Deaf members.  Any conflicts or coalitions that come up have the potential to shape popular opinion and forever change interpreters’ future business.

Transactional Leadership

Transactional leadership emphasizes an exchange between those involved to satisfy solely independent objectives.  The interpreting field, which has boomed into a million dollar industry in a short period of time, has too many individuals who facilitate communication with an “in and out” or “I do this and you give me that” approach.  Transactional leaders’ foci lie in satisfying agreed-upon objectives, regardless of what interlocutors need out from the encounter.  They do not seek mutual support or understanding (in other words, ‘I am here to interpret this information to the best of my abilities for compensation, but not to discuss anyone’s overall well-being because that is outside my professional boundaries’).

This type of ‘service’ carries consequences (e.g., Deaf and hearing individuals are groomed to merely accept interpreters’ practices ‘as is’ to ensure future opportunities take place).  Simply put, when approached as mere contractual obligations, these practices (known or unknown) obligate participants to comply with requests through a transactional leadership exchange process.  This “I interpret, and then I get compensated” approach does not further meaningful dialogue or deepen relationships.  The reality of this mindset between interpreters and Deaf individuals has been shown to foster the negative effects on Deaf individuals, described as ‘ripples’ of disempowerment by Trudy Suggs (2012) in “Deaf Disempowerment and Today’s Interpreter.”  Transactional-based encounters can potentially cause negative effects which indeed transcend interpreting spaces.  These ripples that remain after interpreters leave, can potentially bring about more pernicious forms of oppression (even if unintentional) than overt discrimination or retaliation.

Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership is predominantly displayed inside rather than outside educational spheres. However, some studies (Burns, 1978) have confirmed that even outside educational spheres, transformational leadership can positively affect one’s ability to create environments incorporating individual participants’ and groups’ desired needs, values, and goals while engaging them. Transformational leadership has been applied most often during crises:  “…in those conditions, a leader can seize the opportunity to identify the deficiencies of the status quo, and promote a future state that will appeal to followers” (In Antonakis & House, 2002, p. 13).  Interpreters, as potential transformational leaders working closely alongside with Deaf members, put forth issues that can directly enhance the quality of lives.  In incorporating these transformational leadership skill sets, interpreters alter spaces to achieve participants’ ends.

Leadership inspires the individuals involved to collaborate in attaining a higher quality of life.  Transformational leadership rests on the idea that leaders are guided at all times by participants.  The emphasis placed is on participants’ beliefs, needs, and values.  Because interpreters manage interpreting spaces, they are central to communication exchanges.  It is vital for interpreters to approach situations with sensitivity because Deaf members are already in the minority. Practices of transformational interpreters include checking in with the participants more often, inquiring about the next steps to take, and ensuring (the best they can) no further disempowerment occurs.

Bass and Riggio (2006) noted that transformational leaders typically display four characteristics:  individual considerations, intellectual stimulation, inspirational motivation, and idealized influence. These traits once learned, promote participants’ visions and goals, bolster intellectual stimulation, hone professional practices and values, promote high performance expectations, and lead to their increased decision-making. In sum, integrating transformational leadership into the field, interpreters take leadership to heart, shifting the emphasis in environments (established by a history of both social and political factors) on Deaf members, away from interpreters.

Next Steps Toward Change

Understanding how interpreters can work effectively with the Deaf community begins by investigating how they currently analyze situations and how they believe they behave as professionals.  Interpreters must initiate potentially uncomfortable conversations with stakeholders in order to learn as much as possible about the Deaf community.  This information can lend insights into needed changes in both the field, and interpreters’ approaches, and create a common purpose for professional work.  Exchanges that merely result in transactional-based encounters can be modified to be more transformational in nature.  This crossover between approaches can be achieved through education, dialogue and discussions, all in which involve shared motives and values that are brought to the table to garner purposeful change.

By learning and implementing transformational leadership traits into our work, we as individuals in the field, can devise purposeful actions to address many current concerns about some interpreters.  Actions from transformational leaders that spur trust, collaboration, and accountability are needed now more than ever to confront current issues.  The individuals who work with interpreters should be at the forefront of any decisions made: it is to be hoped that what results from these purposeful collaborations will contribute to change for the common good.

My ambition has always been to consider a holistic approach to mend real gaps, often unintentional ones, between the interpreting and Deaf communities. I propose, wholeheartedly and assuredly, that interpreters’ practices and approaches to their work be investigated using grassroots and bottom-up methods that progresses beyond the current status quo.

Join me?  


  1. Antonakis, J., & House, R. J. (2002). An analysis of the full-range leadership          theory: The way forward. In B., Avolio, & F., Yammarino (Eds.),    Transformational and charismatic leadership:  (pp. 3–33). Amsterdam: JAI Press.
  2. Burns, J. M. (1978). Leadership.New York: Harper & Row
  3. Bass. B.M. & Riggio. R.E. (2006). Transformational Leadership, Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. NJ.
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Celebrating Thought Leadership for Sign Language Interpreters

Celebrating Thought Leadership for Sign Language Interpreters

This session is designed to give speakers and participants an opportunity to identify industry challenges, share ideas and solutions, and establish connections to contribute to the agenda of change needed within the profession.

The insight from this session will be synthesized and used as guiding principles for future engagement and collaboration on important topics and action within the field of sign language interpreting.

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StreetLeverage – Live 2014 in Austin, TX

StreetLeverage - Live 2014 | Austin

StreetLeverage - Live 2014 | AustinMarch 10, 2013:

StreetLeverage is excited to announce that it will be hosting StreetLeverage – Live 2014 in Austin, TX.

May 1 – 4, 2014 will be a 3 1/2 day convergence of thought leaders from around the sign language interpreting industry to foster idea sharing, dialogue, and proactive thinking in order to propel the field forward.

You can find some of the early event info below:


Austin Marriott  North
2600 La Frontera Blvd
Round Rock, TX 78681

To book online, click here. If you have trouble, call Marriott at 800.865.0546.

Nightly Rate

A room block has been reserved at a rate of $159.00 (single or double occupancy) for event attendees. This rate, subject to availability, will be extended to attendees through April 20, 2014. Please note that in-room Internet and onsite parking are complimentary.

We encourage attendees that are traveling from out of the area, and even those local, to take advantage of the convenience of staying in the event hotel.

The Program

The StreetLeverage – Live 2014 program of events is still being finalized. Click these links to view our speaker line-upschedule and sponsors.

2014 Registration Fees

Thank you for your interest in attending StreetLeverage – Live. The registration fee only covers conference admittance and does not include hotel accommodation, travel, transportation or any other charges. Please find a schedule of the 2014 registration fees by clicking here.

Refund Policy

There will be no penalty for cancellations received on or before the date 21 days prior to the first day of StreetLeverage – Live. The full amount paid minus a $40 processing fee will be refunded.

A cancellation fee of 50% of registration costs will be applied for cancellations received between 20 through 10 days before the event.

No refund will be issued for cancellations received less than 10 days before the first day of the event.

All cancellations must be sent in writing via e-mail to Brandon Arthur. Please email cancellations and expect confirmation within four business days.

StreetLeverage is not responsible for problems beyond our control (i.e. weather, traffic, etc). No refunds will be given in these situations. The final determination on refunds rests with Brandon Arthur.


For directions click here.  A hired car to or from the airport is approximately $50.00 (one way).

The hotel suggests using Ace Taxi. 512.244.1133 |


For local dining options click here (note, there is an onsite Starbucks).

Continuing Education                                                                                                                                     RID CMP Logo

StreetLeverage – Live has access to both an approved BEI and RID CMP Sponsor for Continuing Education Activities. Earn up to 2.3 Professional and General Studies CEUs at the Little/None and Some Content Knowledge levels.

* Only registered attendees submitting documentation and evaluation are eligible to receive CEU credit.

Please contact Brandon Arthur for inquires on specific onsite policies related to earning CEU credit.

Language Pledge

The official language of StreetLeverage – Live is American Sign Language (ASL). To that end, all program sessions and activities at StreetLeverage – Live  will be delivered in ASL. No English interpretation will be provided.

Photo Release

Attendees need to be aware that there will be photographers and videographers present during StreetLeverage – Live. By attending the event, attendees consent to be photographed and recorded. StreetLeverage will do its best to honor attendee requests to not be included in the photo and video coverage. Requests to be excluded, where possible, from the photo and video coverage must be made in writing. Requests must be received not less than 10 business days prior to the event and include a current photo. All requests should be sent to Brandon Arthur.

Event Cancellation

Should StreetLeverage have to cancel StreetLeverage – Live, attendees may choose to receive a 100% refund or to transfer their registration to the next StreetLeverage event. Registered attendees will be notified of the conference cancellation by StreetLeverage via the email submitted during the registration process.

Special Accommodations

Please email Brandon Arthur to inquire about special accommodation policies.

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Deaf Interpreters: In the Blind Spot of the Sign Language Interpreting Profession?

Sign Language Interpreter Consider the Position of Deaf Interpreters in the Field

Do Hearing Interpreters send messages of welcome or warning to Deaf Interpreters? Jennifer Kaika explores the overt and covert messages Hearing Interpreters send and the potential meaning they carry.

A few weeks ago, I was looking through StreetLeverage posts and as I neared the end- perhaps even after I had looked at all of the titles—I realized that I had not seen anything explicitly about Deaf interpreters.

Of course, the phrase “sign language interpreters” appeared often, and of course Deaf interpreters are included in that population. Still, I thought, I have read several articles since StreetLeverage began and I couldn’t help but feel like they were written with hearing sign language interpreters in mind. (For the purposes of this post, when I say “hearing” interpreters, I am also referring to coda interpreters; I am using the label to refer to auditory status, not cultural identity.)

I contacted Brandon, asking if this observation was accurate, and he invited me to write about it. (Let that be a lesson to anyone else thinking about piping up—you may have to follow through on your thoughts!)

Are Deaf Interpreters Invisible?

What does it mean that I hadn’t even noticed the absence of posts about Deaf interpreters for a year and a half? Does it send a message, unintentional but unmistakable, that I do not think about Deaf interpreters often; that they are invisible; that they are unimportant to the field?

I am reminded of an observation that was shared with me recently about another instance of the absence of Deaf interpreters. In my area, there is a group of freelancers who run a website for direct contracting of sign language interpreting services. I do not work through this site, but I know many of the interpreters who do. I like many of them, I respect many of them, I have sought many of them out to team with me. When people ask how to find an interpreter, I include this website among my list of referrals. In short, this network of freelancers is by no means new or unfamiliar to me. Yet, I never noticed that there are no Deaf interpreters on their site. What does it say to my Deaf colleagues that I never even noticed—that their presence is not missed?

The Organizational Level: Overt Messages

Upon looking through online resources, Deaf Interpreters are an unmistakable and long-standing part of the profession. Certifications have been offered to Deaf interpreters for as long as they have been offered to hearing interpreters. According to RID’s CDI bulletin, the Reverse Skills Certificate has been awarded since 1972- the same year that certification began for hearing interpreters- and was primarily awarded to Deaf Interpreters. Twenty years later, development of the Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI) exam began as result of a 1989 vote that “a generalist Certificate of Relay Interpreting be established for Deaf persons.”[i]

During the National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers’ 2005-2010 grant cycle, they “delineated the unique competencies required of Deaf Interpreters in a document titled Toward Effective Practice: Competencies of the Deaf Interpreter (available at” In the current grant cycle from 2010-2015, the Northeastern University center (NURIEC) is piloting a curriculum for Deaf interpreter education called Road to Deaf Interpreting. A total of 34 interpreters from two cohorts have already graduated from the program, and the 2012-2014 session is currently underway.[ii]

In 2007, RID assembled a taskforce to revisit the application criteria for taking the CDI exam. In the same year, NCIEC conducted a survey of Deaf interpreters and got 196 responses- a number that surpasses the estimated 162 Deaf interpreters listed in[iii] Assuming the number of certified Deaf interpreters is accurate, then Deaf interpreters represent 2% of the 9,846 people listed as certified on

On StreetLeverage, when you search the phrase “deaf interpreter” you get 5 results out of the 67 total posts, for a rate of 7%.[iv] Not bad. At the organizational level, then, there seems to be a proportionate level of attention paid to and recognition of Deaf interpreters. What happens at the individual level?

The Individual Level: Covert Messages

Using myself as an example (for better and for worse), I have worked alongside Deaf interpreters in various capacities: in a platform setting as a hearing team, in situations where Deaf interpreters are working with DeafBlind consumers, sometimes from my interpretation and sometimes not, and in situations that involve Deaf consumers with intellectual disabilities. When I began my career, I worked with a deaf independent living center and the deaf counselors often served as de facto Deaf interpreters. I can think of many enriching experiences working with and watching Deaf interpreters at work.

At the same time, I have been guilty of not asking if Deaf interpreters have been assigned to a job that I’m on, even when I have reason to believe they would be. I don’t always think to share prep materials with Deaf interpreters until the day of an assignment- often not until we’ve all arrived. When I’ve been in touch with hearing teams to prepare for assignment, I don’t always include Deaf interpreters (again, usually because I haven’t asked if they were assigned.) What messages are sent when I consistently forget about my Deaf counterparts? Is there a reason I seem to consistently forget?

Is Frustration the Impetus?

There have been times where I have been frustrated by experiences working with a Deaf team—perhaps because they were new, perhaps because they had a different view of how to approach interpreting or teaming, perhaps because they usually work with DeafBlind consumers but I expect them to excel when working with consumers with different linguistic needs. Is this the reason I forget? If it is, does that mean that I hold Deaf interpreters to a double standard? After all, I have had similar experiences with hearing interpreters.

The range of experience and professionalism I have seen among DIs and CDIs parallels that of hearing interpreters: some are new, some have years of experience, some are certified, some are not, some have specializations, some are generalists, some aim to work at the national and international level, others aim to practice only in their local communities.

Should this range or these less-than-ideal experiences deter us from working together? Or can they become opportunities for us to talk openly about what wasn’t working?  Can they serve as opportunities for us all to be more specific about what skills we possess and what skills we are asking for when making a request to work with a Deaf interpreter?

Group Dynamics: Unintended Messages

Four years into my interpreting career, and only months after becoming a full-time freelancer, I had taken a staff position at Gallaudet University. Not long after coming aboard, discussions surfaced about speaking versus signing around the office and on campus. I had grown up on this campus. As a coda, I was accustomed to talking in front of my deaf relatives—whether to hearing friends or on the phone. All throughout my childhood and into my college years, I knew very few hearing people who could sign; thus, I spoke to hearing people and signed with Deaf people. All of this to say that the issue of hearing people speaking to each other when Deaf people were around was foreign to me. I was in need of an explanation.

Deaf people talked about feeling shut out—that choosing to speak when you could sign was exclusionary. Some hearing people said it was their right to use their first language. Deaf and hearing people talked about incidental learning—the ability to “overhear” a conversation and learn from it in the way you might pick up on the fact that people are talking about a bad storm approaching or some tidbit of news. This was pretty convincing, but still I wondered would it really be that big of a deal if I just talked with a hearing person and started signing when a deaf person came around? Then they could see what we’re saying and join the conversation if they wanted. When someone said that they wouldn’t even join the conversation if I weren’t already signing, I finally got it.

Nobody wants to disrupt their environment, you don’t want things to change just because you’ve walked into a room; you just want to be able to feel like you belong- no matter where you go.

Apply this same thinking to local and national RID conferences. Do we create spaces in the informal areas that send the message that Deaf interpreters belong there? On the organizational level, I would say yes. At the 2011 conference, I believe each Board member signed when they presented on stage. But as I recall, the hallways and social areas presented a different story.

The estimated 162 certified Deaf interpreters mentioned earlier represent 31 states.[v] In the directory on the Deaf Interpreter Institute, there are 35 interpreters listed representing 22 states. Between the two groups, 33 states are represented. If we truly believe that Deaf interpreters are a part of our profession—a long-standing and lasting part, present since the inception of RID, another way to connect to the Deaf community and maintain Deaf-heart, then wouldn’t our actions be aligned with our messages?

Addressing the Fundamental Question

Does the presence of DIs remove our status in the room as the ‘experts’ on sign language and interpretation in a way that is different than working with another hearing interpreter? Does it challenge a hearing interpreter’s ability to be “in control” of the environment? Does it raise questions about the quality of our work? Does all of this (and thus, the presence of a Deaf interpreter) make some of us nervous?

Have you grappled with some of these same questions? Do some of these experiences mirror your own?

I think these are some of the things that Nigel Howard addressed in his StreetLeverage –  Live 2012 | Columbia, MD presentation, Deaf Interpreters: The State of Inclusion, in November of 2012, bringing up “the perception that ASL-English interpreters have that requesting to work with a deaf interpreter is an indication of an “inferior skill-set” and the “need to broaden the view of how and why deaf interpreters are used in order to improve their inclusion and contribution to the field.”[vi] I did not go to the presentation, but would appreciate contributions from those who did.

Beginning a Dialogue

I am sharing my own experiences openly in the interest of having an open discussion. Perhaps, though, I am alone in my experiences and the majority of our profession has good working relationships with Deaf interpreters. If this were the majority opinion, not only would I be relieved, I would be prouder of my profession (if not a little embarrassed for admitting my own ignorance.) 


[i] “Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI) Examination Information Bulletin.” Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, 24 Sept. 2001. Web. 15 Feb. 2013. <>.

[iii] Calculated by adding the total CDIs (139), the total who hold the RSC without certifications that Deaf interpreters are not eligible for (21), and the total of those who hold the CLIP-R without CDI (2). It is possible that some who hold the RSC alone are hearing, which is why I refer to this number as an estimate.

[iv] Trudy Suggs mentions that she is a deaf interpreter:

Brandon Arthur describes Nigel Howard’s presentation “Deaf Interpreters: The State of Inclusion” in and

Robyn Dean says that hearing and deaf interpreters  participated in supervision sessions in

Debra Russell talks about Deaf interpreters being part of international collaboration efforts in

[v] Some states only have one certified Deaf interpreter listed, but again this is only the number of interpreters who hold an RID certification.

[vi] Nigel’s talk explored some of the perceptions that challenge better integration of deaf interpreters into the field and into daily practice. Most notably, the perception that ASL-English interpreters have that requesting to work with a deaf interpreter is an indication of an inferior skill-set.