Mea Culpa: We Failed RID & Sign Language Interpreters with Deaf Parents

June 19, 2013

How do sign language interpreters show our values in our RID vote? Adam Bartley comments on the question of creating an Interpreter with Deaf Parents Member-at-Large position on the RID board, and the implications of a disengaged membership in determining the course of our profession.

Part of my motivation in writing this article now is that I so poorly dropped the ball when the time came to vote on establishing a position on the RID Board of Directors that dedicated a seat to an Interpreter with Deaf Parents (IDP), the IDP MAL (Member-at-Large) position. I could cite my business at work, or the back pain and subsequent surgery as excuses, but the truth is I could have made time somewhere in there to attend to my business and vote! I failed to exercise my democratic power when the time came, and I failed in what I consider to be one of my personal and professional duties. I believed in the need for an ‘IDP seat’ already, having thought about the issues and arguments carefully, but by the time I got to putting my coins on the table, the hand was already dealt and done with.

I know there will be another opportunity for our community to debate and vote again on this issue, so I am ante’ing up now for the next hand and putting my arguments here in the public sphere to contribute to our next shot at getting this right.

The Who

Before going further, I want to state that I address this letter from the perspective of a Hearing interpreter (I.e. not a Child of Deaf Adults, CODA), to all of my fellow Hearing interpreters. I welcome all members of our community, Deaf, CODA, and Hearing interpreters, Deaf and CODA consumers of sign language interpreting services, and anyone else to read and respond to this writing.  However, I feel it important to state that I am directing this to my fellow Hearing interpreters.

Any Position Will Do

In the interest of keeping my long-windedness at bay, let me begin by starting off with the seemingly strong and seemingly logical argument against having a dedicated IDP-MAL position on the RID Board of DirectorsA CODA can always run for a position on the Board anyway! When I first saw this statement in discussions, it made sense and I had to ‘chew the cud’ as we say in the South, to figure out what bothered me about it. So chew I did and here is what I came up with. It is an absolutely true statement, but it is not an argument at all. It argues neither for a position nor against it.

So I chewed a little more, and I presumed that what was intended to be argued is that a need for the seat has not been shown. Having wrapped my slow but hopefully able wits around this nugget, I started to construct what arguments I could bring to bear to clearly establish that need and why it is important to the future of our field.

Running for Office

The first step in establishing a need for the position requires that we look at the assumptions underlying the “IDP’s can already run for office” argument. The fact that a thing can happen, does not mean a thing will happen.  Sheer numbers can greatly reduce the likelihood that a given thing will happen in fact. The United States of America could have a dozen Hmong Representatives in Congress, but the probability of that given the current populations and geographic positioning of Hmong people in the United States, is extremely low. Given the changing demographics of our field, IDP’s are a shrinking minority within our ranks. The proliferation of Interpreter Training Programs and ASL as foreign language offerings in High Schools and Colleges has brought an influx of Hearing interpreters in greater numbers than ever before. Alex Jackson Nelson’s article, Sign Language Interpreters: Recognizing & Analyzing Our Power & Privilege, offers some great insight on the need for practitioners to be aware of their privilege. In my mind, one demonstration that the need exists is because the math is against the continuous occupation of non-dedicated seats on the Board by Interpreters with Deaf Parents.

Affinity is Not Membership

As Hearing interpreters, we will never be members of the Deaf Community in the same way as a Deaf person is, or in the still different way that a CODA is. I say this without prejudice, or any sense of rejection by the community. We exist within the scope of the larger Deaf Community and are accepted into the fold to varying degrees throughout our lives, but we do not share the same experiences. It is vital that we address and accept that as the simple truth that it is. Laurie Nash offers excellent perspective on the value IDP’s bring to the profession in her interview with Brandon Arthur about the retraction of the referendum that would have established a designated position on the RID Board for IDP.

In other writings in other venues, I have spoken about my own background as child of a white mother and Mexican father. I have written about my experiences in the foster care system with a wonderful set of foster parents that were Black in the early 1970’s when such things just weren’t done.  I have also written about the amazing couple (he, Lebanese, she Cherokee/Choctaw) that turned my life around, and about the many ways that the Deaf community has been in my life since I was a child.

In those writings, just as here, it was all to make the point that affinity does not create membership.

Given my experiences, I have unique insights to many communities, but I cannot have full insight into any of them.  I was ‘interpreting’ for fellow children in the system at 12 years old, so I can relate to some experiences that an IDP has, but there are infinitely more that I can never understand or give voice to. If you want insight into the CODA experience, read Amy Williamson’s article, The Cost of Invisibility: Codas and the Sign Language Interpreting Profession. Affinity does not create membership, and if ever the Board does not have an Interpreter with Deaf Parents seated at the table, that voice will be absent.

IDP’s Are Consumers

IDP’s are not merely our colleagues, against whom we sometimes compare ourselves, or whom we envision en masse as the fulfillment of some stereo-typical image of ‘the CODA interpreter’.

IDP’s are also the consumers of our services!

I cannot stress this enough. IDP’s are the children whose IEP we are interpreting for directly or for their Deaf Parents. IDP’s are the performers in the school play or the Broadway production their loved ones are attending. IDP’s are the scientists and educators that we are working with in many educational settings. CODA children are sometimes directly using interpreters in critical care situations where Hearing Interpreters and Deaf Interpreters are working as a team to provide access just as they would with a young Deaf child. IDP’s are the presenters and performers that we are working with. IDP’s are our consumers.  Few among our numbers would suggest that RID does not need to have a dedicated seat for a Deaf Member at Large on the Board, because we rightly see the need to have consumer/practitioner perspectives guiding our work and our future. Our field is also fortunate to have another community of consumer/practitioners in our IDP colleagues, and we should ensure that their unique perspectives are always part of our governing body.

The Gist

In short we failed to recognize and embed the value IDP’s bring to the governing table of our profession. The demographics of our field create a greater likelihood that Hearing Interpreters will always be present but IDP participation on the Board will be absent or intermittent at best; that no matter the level of affinity a Hearing interpreter may have, we can never bring the full experience of a Deaf person or a CODA to bear in shaping the future of the sign language interpreting field; and that as we recognize the necessity of having practitioners of all types on our Board, we must similarly recognize the imperative to ensure that IDP’s are also at the table.

Please join me in preparing for the next time we have a chance to ensure that our organization always has a team at the helm who can provide valuable insight on the work we do and the perspective of the people we endeavor to serve.

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43 Comments on "Mea Culpa: We Failed RID & Sign Language Interpreters with Deaf Parents"

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Member
Terri Hayes
…and it would be ever so nice if the ITP’s out there would generally stop teaching (either blatantly or by implication) that Interpreters with Deaf Parents are somehow Less competent, less capable and/or less responsible than hearing interpreters. There is a general feeling of the IDP being… not quite “right” enough to be an interpreter… floating around out there, and while it may be true that not all IDPs are as expressivly fluent in sign as we would hope for the profession, they come with lots and lots and lots of other experiences that would serve to inform this profession… Read more »
abartley
Member
Adam Bartley

Thank you for your comments. I think it cuts both ways, there is also a myth of IDP’s being superbeings that can’t be approached or connected to as colleagues. Either route ignores the nature of each IDP’s lived experience and variability.

Member
Jarlath Bloom

I think the thought that IDP aren’t very good stems from the culture at RIT/NTID/Rochester, and the teachers there, as I’ve never really seen the problem anywhere else, or heard of anyone discriminating.

abartley
Member
Adam Bartley

Jarlath,
Thank you for commenting. I work at Gallaudet and have seen those same attitudes present even there. I don’t see the connection to NTID myself, but I’m open to hearing more from you about your perspective. Thanks again for reading and discussing these issues.

Member
Kevin Lowery

There are also a select few CODAs who don’t believe they need to go through an ITP. But they do if they want to become certified. There are all varieties, as you said, Adam. All bring different perspectives and unique talents to this business. We need to recognize that and move on from all this stereotyping and labeling.

Thank you for both articles, Adam. I look forward to hearing more from you.

awilliamson
Member
Amy Williamson
Kevin, I want to understand what you are saying better. Your first 2 statements are puzzling to me. You state that there are a few codas who don’t believe they need to go through an ITP and you also state that they do need to go through an ITP if they want to become certified. First off, one does NOT need to go through an ITP in order to become certified. A degree must be had to sit for the RID certification test but it does not have to be in interpreting. There are many of us (codas and non-codas)… Read more »
abartley
Member
Adam Bartley
Kevin, Thank you for your input here. I see Amy has already commented on the mention of ITP’s not being required for certification. I will add that not only are ITP’s/IPP’s poorly designed for those native CODA students, but darn few are prepared to train Deaf Interpreters at all. One comment related to your post that I have seen by the very rare CODA is, “Why should I have to take some test, it’s my language?” As I said, I have encountered this rarely, in fact probably only 3 times in 23 years of interpreting. The majority of IDP’s I… Read more »
Member
Hrtmut Teuber
Terri, I am quite surprised that at the ITPs (the use of ‘the’ suggests “all”) transmit this message as you described. It is true that some CODAs are variably fluent in ASL and English. Some have traumatic experiences while growing up, being mocked or bullied at schools or in the neighborhoods, because of their parents being deaf and using those “funny hand movements.” I know of two who committed suicide. But IDP don’t have those language imperfections. I haven’t met any IDP with unresolved emotional traumas. However, I have meet a very few (maybe under five) IDPs who did not… Read more »
Member
The benefit of the unique voice that IDPs can bring to the discussion can not be denied. The visceral reaction some people had to the proposal I believe stems in part from the fact that for too long voices (both IDPS and Hearing of Hearing interpreters) have been raised in anger and insecurity. IDPs accusing their colleagues of ruining the profession, of being Deaf-heartless… Hearing interpreters frustrations with CODA status being seen as a job qualification. This polarization benefits neither us not the communities we serve. We must come together to improve ourselves and subsequently the field of interpreting. It… Read more »
abartley
Member
Adam Bartley

Anna
Thank you for sharing your thoughts here. I can see those reasons as being contributors to the dilemma we are facing in the field, but I think it’s roots go further. Not that many IDP’s are railing against Hearing interpreters, and with the exponential growth of ITP’s being a CODA is far from the most common way to enter the field. I see much of the divide going back to a lack of understanding of each others position and experience.

Thank you again for your involvement in the discussion.

Member

Hi!
I think a good strategy would be to have voting items on the annual membership form. Lack of voting participation has impacted results. To improve return rates, why not try placing a handful of voting items on the RID annual renewal form to increase participation.

abartley
Member
Adam Bartley

Shelly,

This is a great idea. As long as the voting isn’t mandatory for maintenance of certification, I think it’s a viable way to increase participation. Mandatory voting can have negative effects on the politics of an institution if folks are forced to vote on things they aren’t informed on or prepared to seriously consider.

Thanks for your contribution here.

Member
Shelly Hansen

Hi Adam~
Right…not mandatory. I know I would be more likely to read and check a few boxes when I am already doing some RID business renewing membership and participating as a member by voting.

Member
Shannon M. Simonelli

I’d be interested to see what percentage of past/current board members were/are IDP. If that number is unproportionally low, that begs the question, what are the barriers preventing IDPs from serving on the RID board? As a community of interpreter we need to investigate any systematic and/or perceived barriers and figure out how we can break those down to more greatly encourage IDP participation in RID board service – whether or not there is a designated IDP-MAL position.

abartley
Member
Adam Bartley

Shannon,

I too would love to know the stats on this, though I would add that I would also want to know the numbers that ran but didn’t win the seats. Intuitively I expect the numbers to historically start high and see a sharper decline in the mid 1980’s , but I now want to see if the data supports that.

Thank you for your question, it’s a good one.

awilliamson
Member
Amy Williamson

In early October, a chart was shared with the IDP leadership that shows a preliminary count of almost 150 RID volunteers (Board, committees, councils) and 14 of those individuals were identified to be hearing interpreters with deaf parent(s). Many committees and councils had no IDPs.

At the time the motion for the IDP MAL position was made, there were no hearing interpreters with deaf parents on the RID Board. Since then, one has joined the board as a region rep and we recently voted one in. His term will begin after this year’s conference.

Member
Hrtmut Teuber

Only a few terms, there were no IDPs on the Board. In my six-year service on the Board, there were two. In the earlier terms, there may be more than two on the Board. I have counted six CODAs and five non-CODAs serving as presidents, throughout the history of RID. This term, there is none. The one who has deaf parents are more Deaf than a (hearing) CODA in his experiences and identity, despite growing up as a hard-of-hearing, progressively losing the ability to understand speech altogether.

Member
Hartmut Teuber

There is one more non-CODA president, thus increasing the count to six. It is now 50-50 between both groups.

Member
I know we differ on this, but not by much. I’m on the record as saying that an IDP Board position would not have been a solution to the broader cultural problems within the field. The corollary, however, is equally important, in my mind: that we have in fact failed native voices within RID in ways far more subtle and insidious than simply not voting to create a particular slot on the board, and that failure, unlike the single event of a vote, is ongoing. The shift that is required is fundamental, and our discussions in Atlanta were a start.… Read more »
abartley
Member
Adam Bartley
Dan, I’m glad you shared your thoughts here. I always look forward to what comes out of that admirably sharp noggin of yours and respect your take on things a great deal. I am curious to hear more about arguments against a designated seat. So far the arguments I have heard have amounted to just the one mentioned in the article (IDP’s Can already run) and the cry of “If they get a seat, then all groups will have to have a specific seat “. I certainly don’t see an IDP seat as a panacea to the larger cultural problems… Read more »
Member
Of course ASL has a special place within an organization with “Deaf” in its title (AGB and their allies are the exceptions that prove this). My point was simply that the current culture is deeply divided on this, as evidenced by (a) the vote, and (b) the acrimony that has followed in its wake. The fact that, of all committees within RID, the *Diversity* Council was the source of some of the more egregious comments has given my irony muscle a massive Charley Horse, and is ind is indicative of the need for deeper dialogue. Had the IDP measure passed,… Read more »
Member
Hartmut Teuber

Dan Parvaz,
I agree that an IDP-MAL would not be the best solution to the cultural problems within the organization. But it is still better than other means. I have my experience of CODAs on the Board and in a committee. They have a constituency and an office to fulfill. They too often became “hearing” with those duties. Even they were not in favor or only lukewarm of “Signing Everywhere”-practice in RID events. One former RID president even said to me “Why should we fake to be deaf to do so?”

Member
Kevin Lowery

RID is coming up on their 50th Anniversary and they don’t have a clue. In the founding of RID many CODAs were an integral part of setting up the basics of this organization. Shame on RID for at least not recognizing that this could be celebrated in memory of the original founders of the organization who are CODAS.

Also, RID could have touted this not only as a commemoration BUT as a bridge, a way to renew the Deaf perspective and breathe life into their Deaf Heart which is on the verge of going into cardiac arrest.

Member

We don’t agree with RID interpreters at all. They really terribly signs not as Deaf people. Let CODA do with Deaf parents to give them feel comfortable !!!!!!

abartley
Member
Adam Bartley

Mrs Jones

Thank you for taking a minute to share your thoughts. I agree it is important for CODA’s to be an important part of the field of interpreting. Any future for interpreting needs to have Deaf, CODA and Hearing interpreters work together to make it stronger and better to serve our communities.

Member
Joe McCleary
Adam, Happy to see you here on SL. I have been struggling with understanding this issue and I appreciate your article. However, I still don’t understand what the “it” is that IDP’s can bring to board that requires a special position. I agree 100% that affinity is not membership and I’m even willing to discuss the notion that IDP’s are consumers but what is the value that we are “failing to recognize and embed”? Other thoughts: If we say that IDP’s should have a special seat on the board because they are consumers then logic would lead us to have… Read more »
abartley
Member
Adam Bartley
Joe Thank you for your thoughtful response. You raise good questions here. I am going to try to give a thoughtful response here. First I ask that you and other readers reference my response to Dan ‘s earlier comment. The positioning of the communities we work with is fundamentally different than an organization of J-E interpreters for example (though I would still be very suspicious of a Board for such an organization that did not have any Japanese native speakers on it). The ‘it’ you speak of should be made explicit, and I’ll try to she’d some light on my… Read more »
Member
Patty Moers-Patterson
what is the value that we are “failing to recognize and embed”? – See more at: http://www.streetleverage.com/2013/06/mea-culpa-we-failed-rid-sign-language-interpreters-with-deaf-parents/#comment-9103 Thank you Joe for the question. It allows one to look deeper and reframe the discussion which is so central to the point. This urge to articulate in a way that would lay out logic so brilliantly clear that no one could question the weighted value by an IDP perspective has its allure. I must refrain back to you – ——- Why is there even a question that argues for one to define identity as contribution in a cultural heritage richly acquired? I… Read more »
Member
Hrtmut Teuber

Patty Moers-Patterson,
I cannot understand what you wrote in the second paragraph of your post. It looks like incomplete. Wouldn’t you mind to rewrite it?

Member
Joe McCleary
Patty, Adam, and whoever else is reading: You asked this question: Why is there even a question that argues for one to define identity as contribution in a cultural heritage richly acquired? This is making an assumption. The assumption is that IDP’s have a richly acquired cultural heritage. What believe is the request for an IDP board member position (which is a specially set aside position) should be clear in what is wanted. What is wanted is a CODA who grew up with culturally deaf parents who sign. That is clear and if that is wanted then say that. Otherwise… Read more »
goliva
Member

I simply want to say two things:
1. Great article, Adam – admire you for it!!
2. I fully support a dedicated seat for an IDP on the RID Board.
That’s all!!!
Smiles,
Gina Oliva

abartley
Member
Adam Bartley

Thanks much for taking the time to share that Gina. 🙂

Member
Shelly Hansen

I want to add…there are so many more important issues than fussing about an obvious value…my opinion: of course there should be an IDP in the RID governing structure. Let’s focus on improving RID, the certification process, support for independent contracting, improving the RID website as a platform for independent contractors, improved consistent quality of interpreting services, advanced training/certification (medical, mental health, etc…), inclusion and support for CDIs/DIs, advocacy for interpreting services under the ADA, increased access to quality VRI, etc…

Member
The term “Deaf Heart” is kicked around all the time now, but I don’t see it in RID. They don’t really understand it. They know something is missing, but they don’t know how to find it. There is always a CODA. Right there in the middle of the Deaf community. One foot in either world. Deaf don’t understand hearing. Hearing don’t understand Deaf. But the CODA knows the rules of both worlds. Who better to advise an organization that spouts ideals of Deaf Heart and empowerment than someone who has lived the fight and survived? Someone who is also hearing… Read more »
Member
Shelly Hansen
Hi Kimberly~ Few thoughts: 1. The Deaf Community has expressed a desire for “professional” interpreters who are skilled, competent, keep info confidential, follow the Code of Ethics (NAD-RID with Deaf input), etc… 2. The Deaf Community has had negative experiences with untrained, unskilled interpreters 3. To get interpreters trained, commonly people go to college for a training/educational program 4. Training up people takes time,staff,mentors, internship opportunities,exposure to variety of signers/Deaf community, money and a facility such as a college or training program 5. Because of technology specifically VRS, more interpreters are needed who are trained/certified/prepared to do the job While… Read more »
Member
Hrtmut Teuber
No vote has ever been cast based on sure knowledge, fully informed, or after collecting the relevant facts like a scientist. Too often they are made politically, defined as “currently most convenient”, “follow the crowd”, or in “conformity with influential people or power brokers (brown nosers maybe)”. That certainly happens on the issues that are inherently diffuse and no one can provide persuasive indisputable arguments in their support. Just vote along the current climate and move onto other issues, because there is no harm as long as it does not require too much molah, and because there will be peace… Read more »
Member
What I say has no fluff, no big words, no challenges to theory or myths, no stats or research….just my thoughts. Why do we have to fight for what’s right? My gosh, have we learned nothing from the Deaf community? How long have Deaf people fought this fight? To be recognized, to have standing. As an example; I recall my parents, serving in various roles on the board of their Deaf organization. At the time, the thought of a “hearing” person having any political role in a deaf organization was not acceptable. As there was belief that it would be… Read more »
Member
I am not a CODA or an IDP. I am not eloquent. I am not a high-powered individual with astonishing credentials. I am not philosophical. I am not political. I am not as involved with the Deaf community as I would like to be (but I’m working on it). I don’t have any special insight into what is going on within RID. I am an interpreter with 14 years of experience. I am constantly striving to increase my knowledge of the communities I serve and improve my skills. I think I’m doing something right based on the feedback I’ve received… Read more »
Member
“Thus far, I have seen no convincing arguments against the IDP board position. I don’t think that having an IDP-MAL board position will cause all other groups to demand board positions as well. I truly believe the council and task force representation can work. As an organization, we need leadership who can understand BOTH communities we serve. Let’s not get into the argument of “what is Deaf enough”. It’s pointless and hurtful. We need to trust that the people who want to hold positions of leadership will know if they are qualified.” From this portion of your reply, you are… Read more »
Member
Leigh-Anne Elizondo

Thank you for this article. I am ashamed to say that I read it thinking: yeah… uh huh… I know… until the paragraph: IDP’s are our consumers. Of course! I should know that. It shouldn’t be an aha for me, but it has given me a another perspective on the recent and on-going discussion.

Member
Jessie Pruyn

Excellent article and I wholeheartedly agree that an IDP could potentially have ALOT to offer RID. I have learned ALOT and continue learning at the hands of those Codas, as well as from most amazing Deaf hubby. I already see that our hearing daughter will be grow up apart of a Culture that I merely joined as an adult. Having that wealth of knowledge at the table could greatly benefit the hearing/deaf parties as I have found that most of the Codas I’ve known are excellent bicultural models who seamlessly move between the two worlds!

Member
Gabriella Daidone

Adam,
Thank you for this very eye-opening article. I agree that an IDP would greatly benefit RID. Each experience from those in different places in the deaf community allow a multi-faceted view, and as I feel, can allow for the best decision-making for the deaf community. While some may see it as “too many cooks in the kitchen,” each cook has a different perspective and has a lot to bring to the d/Deaf community!
Best,
Interpreter in training,
Gabriella Daidone

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