Are Hearing Interpreters Responsible to Pave the Way for Deaf Interpreters?

August 19, 2014

Although the number of Certified Deaf interpreters continues to grow, there remains misunderstanding about their role, as well as a shortage of work. Anna Mindess discusses the unique skill set that Deaf interpreters bring to the profession and actions hearing interpreters can take further the inclusion of Deaf interpreter colleagues.

Deaf interpreters are marching up the road to take their place as equal and valued professionals alongside their hearing counterparts. As more Deaf interpreters are trained, become certified and collaborate with hearing teammates, it will inevitably alter our way of working. We can welcome this evolving development and cherish the new opportunities it brings or dig in our heels and resist.

[Click to view post in ASL]

Two Street Leverage posts have addressed the gathering momentum of this movement. In Deaf Interpreters in the Blind Spot of the Sign Language Interpreting Profession, Jennifer Kaika documents the increasing numbers of Deaf interpreters and challenges us to support Deaf interpreters as “a long-standing and lasting part [of our profession], present since the inception of RID.” In Deaf Interpreters: The State of Inclusion, Nigel Howard, a Deaf interpreter himself, urges us to truly realize a team approach by “working together toward a shared and collaborative target language interpretation that is an equivalent to the source language.”

Recently, when revising my book, Reading Between the Signs, for a new edition, I added a section on Deaf interpreters. With the book’s focus on the cultural aspects of our work, it struck me that the resistance some hearing interpreters seem to feel to this “new” development in our field, might be rooted in cultural values (more about this later). First, let’s confirm the fact that Deaf interpreters belong to a tradition with deep roots.

Long Tradition

Eileen Forestal, a Deaf interpreter who has been at the forefront of research and training, contributed a chapter to the new book, Deaf Interpreters at Work: International Insights. While awarding official certificates to Deaf interpreters may be a relatively recent development, Forestal writes that, “as long as Deaf people have existed, they have been translating and interpreting within the Deaf community.” It goes back to the residential schools, where “Deaf children, both in and out of the classroom, would frequently explain, rephrase, or clarify for each other the signed communication used by hearing teachers.” Once out of school, this supportive activity did not cease. “Deaf persons would interpret for each other to ensure full understanding of information being communicated, whether in classrooms, meetings, appointments, or letters and other written documents” (Forestal, 2014, 30).

My Experience

Researching the history of Deaf interpreters allowed me to look back at my own career and see it through different eyes. After discovering the Deaf World via theater in the mid 1970’s when I was an actress in Los   Angeles, I found CSUN where I took all four(!) classes offered at the time: ASL 1 and 2 and Interpreting 1 and 2.

Clearly, I was not prepared to work as a sign language interpreter, but with encouragement from my Deaf theater friends, I cautiously began community interpreting. In hindsight, I recall that at several Social Security or VR appointments, the Deaf person I was supposed to meet brought a “Deaf friend.” And if my interpretations were not clear enough, the friend would succinctly convey the point, assuming the role of unofficial “Deaf interpreter.”

In the mid-1980’s, I got a full time job at a large TDD distribution center in downtown Los Angeles to handle the crush of new customers thrilled to get the latest communication devices. When walk-in customers arrived, my co-worker, a Deaf woman named Sue Lee, would greet them and demonstrate their choice of equipment. My job was to interpret the registration process between Deaf customers and the hearing phone company reps on-site. As LA is a city of immigrants, it often happened that the Deaf person and I needed some extra help going over the rules of the program. I’d ask Sue to join us and she would come up with a way to best convey the information. Once again, everyone benefitted from the skills of a “Deaf interpreter,” although we didn’t label it as such at the time.

After moving to the San Francisco Bay Area, I continued community interpreting, but returned to CSUN in 1991 for a 6-week course in legal interpreting. Our class of two-dozen seasoned interpreters included 3 Deaf interpreters and we enjoyed figuring out how to best work together in the legal scenarios we practiced.

Over the last 20 years, I’ve specialized in legal interpreting and often team with Deaf interpreters (now CDIs). Most of my peak moments interpreting have occurred while collaborating with a Deaf interpreter to achieve the shared goal of optimal understanding.  To me, it feels like dancing with the perfect partner. Having the benefit of teaming together repeatedly, we can often anticipate each other’s needs and intentions and seamlessly move as one.

For a new chapter in my book, I interviewed five very skilled Deaf interpreters with whom I have had the privilege and pleasure of working in court: Linda Bove, Daniel Langholtz, Priscilla Moyers, Ryan Shephard and Christopher Tester.

What We Found

Probably the Deaf interpreter’s most important skill is the ability to provide language access to a range of Deaf clients. But since the theme of my book is culture and my space was limited, I narrowed my focus to cultural aspects of Deaf interpreters’ work.

In analyzing the techniques DIs used for cultural adjustments, we discovered that besides the same kind of adjustments that hearing interpreters employ (including those I previously labeled “Highlighting the Point,” “Context Balancing,” and “Road Mapping”) Deaf interpreters also employed several other techniques, which we tentatively called “Empathy,” “Setting the Stage,” “Directive Form,” “Deaf Extra Linguistic Knowledge,” “Enlarging the Perspective” and “Deeper Understanding.” Further research will undoubtedly refine, redefine, and add to this initial attempt at classification.

Cultural Adjustments Only Deaf Interpreters Can Make

This discussion about techniques may prompt you to wonder, “Why can’t hearing interpreters just learn to do whatever the Deaf interpreters (DIs) are doing?”

In his seminal chapter, “Deaf Interpreters,” Patrick Boudreault, specifies that besides having sign language as a first language, DIs “share the Deaf experience with the Deaf consumer; this ‘sameness’ is an important factor in establishing rapport and communicating effectively.” He adds that the cultural identification “can generate a sense of empowerment within the Deaf consumer with which to express her thoughts to other people whom she could not previously communicate with” (Boudreault 2005, 335).

A classic example of “Directive Form” in legal settings occurs when a line of questioning posed to a Deaf witness requires only “yes” or “no” answers. Since ASL is highly dependent on context, the witness is often tempted to add some background which he or she probably assumes will clarify the “yes” or “no.”

Sometimes a reminder from the attorney or judge is all that is necessary for a Deaf (or hearing) witness to reluctantly confine their answers to a single word or sign. But it often happens that the Deaf witness repeatedly tries to include additional context in their answer. In these situations, I’ve seen DIs sign a very direct, ASK-YOU-QUESTION, ANSWER YES, NO, FINISH PERIOD. [The question.] ANSWER YES, NO, WHICH?

In this instance, it seems that coming from another Deaf person, the directive style is accepted, but if a hearing interpreter delivered the same command it could well be perceived as patronizing or controlling.

In Deaf Interpreters at Work, the authors describe a division of strengths: “DIs have a better understanding of sign language nuances, hearing interpreters have a better understanding of spoken language nuances…”(Adam et al. 2014, 7). This would naturally extend to nuances of cultural expectations. With mutual respect, these distinct spheres of expertise can become a source of synergy.

Here’s the Problem

This is a fascinating area of study and fertile ground for more research. But presently there are more pressing obstructions and potholes in the road ahead for CDIs.  I’ve seen many CDIs describe their determination to get trained and become certified, only to find that they cannot get enough work to make a living (unless, perhaps, they are willing to zigzag across the country to follow the work). So things may be changing, but at a snail’s pace.

I don’t believe that hearing interpreters have the luxury to shrug off this situation and stand by “neutrally.” It is up to us–the majority–to enable this transition and encourage the use of CDIs. Although the Deaf consumer sometimes requests a CDI, most often the hearing interpreter acts as first responder and gatekeeper. If communication is not going smoothly, we need to be honest with our clients and ourselves, stop the transaction and explain the need for a CDI.

This post ends with a few actions each of us can take to further the inclusion of DIs in our profession. But first, another bump in the road: our own attitude. Are we open, proactive, apathetic, threatened or resistant to increasing numbers of Deaf interpreters?

Taking Responsibility

As an interculturalist, I often look beneath the surface to see if there might be a cultural basis behind a persistent conflict. In collectivist Deaf culture, ensuring that the rest of the group has full access to information is a primary value.  For those hearing interpreters who feel threatened by the influx of Deaf interpreters, I wonder if this could this relate to the competition that permeates American culture or the value we place on individual accomplishments? Is it our fear of judgment?  Not wanting to give up our power?

Why does asking for a language specialist to bring expertise to a tough situation make some hearing interpreters feel like they are admitting failure or deficiency? Can we shift that view to see that together we can co-create meaning and provide the best possible language and cultural access?

5 Steps You Can Take:

1)     Take a workshop or class in teaming with DIs. If you can’t find one in your area, organize one.

2)     Find out who are the CDIs closest to your location. Make contact with them; ask for their availability and any special areas of expertise.

3)     Ask agencies you work for if they have contracts with CDIs. If not, urge them to put everything in place. (Often when a CDI is needed, it is discovered during an assignment with some urgency, e.g. medical or legal).

4)     Recognize the, often subtle, signals that a CDI is needed in a specific situation or for a certain Deaf consumer, (e.g., head nodding, repeating back your signs, reticence to reply in depth). Ask yourself, “Am I ‘working too hard’ to get the meaning across or fully understand the signs I see?”

5)     Be brave enough to stop the proceeding and explain why a language specialist (CDI) is required. Give appropriate resources, if needed. Stand firm; it may not feel comfortable.

What else can we do to bring Deaf interpreters back into their traditional cultural roles?

 

 

References

Adam, Robert, et al. “Deaf Interpreters: An Introduction.” In Deaf Interpreters at Work, edited by Robert Adams, Christopher Stone, Steven Collins, and Melanie Metzger. Washington, DC: Gallaudet Press, 2014

Boudreault, Patrick. “Deaf Interpreters.” In Topics in Signed Language Interpreting, edited by Terry Janzen, Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2005.

Forestal, Eileen. “Deaf Interpreters: The Dynamics of their Interpreting Processes.” In Deaf Interpreters at Work, edited by Robert Adams, Christopher Stone, Steven Collins, and Melanie Metzger. Washington, DC: Gallaudet Press, 2014

Howard, Nigel. “Deaf Interpreters: The State of Inclusion.” Street Leverage, April 16, 2013, www.streetleverage.com/2013/04/nigel-howard-deaf-interpreters-the-state-of-inclusion

Kaika, Jennifer. “Deaf Interpreters: In the Blind Spot of the Sign Language Interpreting Profession.” Street Leverage, March 6, 2013, www.streetleverage.com/2013/03/deaf-interpreters-in-the-blind-spot-of-the-sign-language-interpreting-profession

Mindess, Anna. Reading Between the Signs: Intercultural Communication for Sign Language Interpreters, 3rd edition, Boston, MA, Intercultural Press (forthcoming, October 2014).

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55 Comments on "Are Hearing Interpreters Responsible to Pave the Way for Deaf Interpreters?"

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jcaganteuber
Member
Janice Cagan-Teuber
Anna, I wonder about Deaf people who are, more and more, being mainstreamed, and do not have the benefit of Deaf peers to explain, expand, clarify information that they are getting from teachers of the Deaf (if they’re lucky) or regular teachers, especially when the information and language the get is from hearing interpreters. What will be the impact on the use of DI services, as students get older? Will there still be the same “you and I have the same experiences as Deaf people negotiating the world” feeling among those Deaf mainstreamed folks? I also have heard from many… Read more »
amindess
Member
Hi Janis, Thank you for your comments. Interesting question re: the effect of mainstreamed education. My colleague, Tom Holcomb, has done a lot of work on the different stages of life when Deaf people “find” the Deaf community. Although it’s impossible to generalize, my sense is that a Deaf person who had a less than ideal exposure to Deaf role models growing up, might especially benefit from a DI who can figure out their stance. And often DIs can relate to a range of experiences. Would love to see some comments from DIs regarding this question. I sadly agree with… Read more »
amindess
Member

Oops, just realized that I spelled your name incorrectly in my reply, Janice. Please forgive me. I am usually more sensitive to names, as mine (especially the last name) has seen an array of spellings.

Member
Valerie Barker

Janice,

Yes, I did face the attitudes from hearing interpreters about not needing DI’s. I live in Texas. This is a great disservice to the Deaf community who counts DI’s as their gatekeepers. You are not alone. I was a DI interpreting at a community college nearby.

Member
Gerdinand Wagenaar

It is time indeed to completely reconsider interpreter qualification methods. Time also to start contemplating training Deaf interpreters and Coda’s together…

Member
Hi Anna, and hi Gerdinand, I had the same thought. There certainly are Coda colleagues who qualify as Deaf according to above and have been facing obstacles in their interpreter education, experiencing alienation from hearing colleagues. I am very lucky to be active on a regional association board (Berlin) where our first chair is a DI. When I was living in NYC, Chris Tester was on the board of the association there and I found the association meetings eye-opening. In Germany, and I assume in other European countries where the UNCRPD was ratified, the main source of income for DIs… Read more »
amindess
Member

Hello Oya,

I completely agree with your statement “working with my Deaf colleagues [is] such an enrichment, for me personally, as well as for the outcome of our work and last but not least for our profession at large.”

It’s too bad that the situation as you describe it in Europe is not more advanced. I actually had a wonderful experience in Denmark with 2 Deaf interpreters when I gave a workshop there. They translated my ASL to Danish Sign Language. They were professional and delightful to work with.

amindess
Member

Hello Gerdinand,

Your comments are intriguing, but perhaps you could expand on them a little. Interpreter qualifications re: what? and for whom? I’m also interested to know more about how you think training Deaf interpreters and CODAS would work? Thanks.

Member
Beautifully written! I have some strong feelings about my role as a hearing interpreter. Obviously, I do not believe that CDI’s are dependent on me to progress in their field. However, I do believe that if interpreters are involved it is likely that a hearing interpreter will be their initial contact. It is rare for a hearing individual who is likely to be scheduling an interpreter to know when, how and why to book a CDI. It is incumbent on us to sound the trumpet when a CDI is needed. I have found that there are even times when Deaf… Read more »
amindess
Member
Hello Dawn, Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I am going to tackle your points in reverse order. First of all, bravo for taking the courageous stance, sticking to your guns and refusing to give in to pressure from the court to go ahead against your better judgement. Also, excellent point that it’s “the situation” that requires the CDI not the person, who — given any number of emotional or physical conditions — may not have the same communication needs that they did the last time you saw them. Sigh. Unfortunately, we could start a list of “excuses” that HIs… Read more »
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Evi Popovic

I think because we rarely see two spoken foreign language interpreters, one from each language,
we may think this is the way sign interpreters should operate. But be honest, how many times have you heard a spoken foreign language interpreter speaking in English using the wrong grammar and with an accent so strong you can barely recognise what they are saying? Well I reckon that’s how hearing interpreter signing, CODA or not (because second language can overtake first language), can seem like to a Deaf person.

amindess
Member
Good point, Evi. I know I have a hearing accent in ASL, just as I have an American accent in French, despite my years of study. And in both contexts I am sensitive to that slight eye-squint or nose wrinkle when the person I’m talking to seems to be expending a lot of energy to understand me. At least with ASL, I can get a CDI. In France, I have to depend on my husband. (French was his first language, but he moved to the US when he was young. Although my French vocabulary is better than his –especially for… Read more »
Member
Thank you for this timely article, Anna. I’m also looking forward to the book! I would love to work with CDIs. I had a CDI as a mentor 27 years ago when I was interning in interpreting. It was fascinating, but more importantly, crucial to have a CDI. I think the agencies need to get on board with this in a big way. The other day I turned down a job because it had a “red flag” for me, meaning I knew it really should have a CDI and HI. I should have requested that, but it didn’t occur to… Read more »
amindess
Member

Hi Lauren,

Thanks for your comment. At least your “red flag warning system” was woking and now you are ready to be more pro-active. But instead of waiting for the next request, you could try my suggestion in Tip #3 above and discuss this issue with the agency ahead of time, so they can get it all set up with CDI before there is the time pressure to fill a specific job. God luck!

Member
Hi Anna Great article! Looking back, I didn’t realized I naturally started doing the “translation” thing for my mother when we moved to the States at a young age. My sister and I often have to read and translate a lot of letters for her so she could follow up on things she need to do. Looking back again, I didn’t realized I already develop my natural skills for expanding information into different meanings between written English words to spoken language, including ASL. Yes. I still do that here at Deaf Services Center except for legal paperwork that all staff… Read more »
amindess
Member

Hi Orkid,

Glad that you realized that the kind of language clarification you’ve been doing is a common part of Deaf culture. Unfortunately, I can understand why you are not sure at this moment that it is worth the time and effort to get certified. I hope the situation will change. It will take concerted efforts from both Deaf and hearing allies. Hang in there.

goliva
Member
Gina A Oliva
Anna, I am so happy to see this article. Being at Street Leverage Live 2014 really opened my eyes to this issue — I think it dovetails very well with the whole issue of so many children being mainstreamed and not having access to each other. That IS an important reality that we need to address along with the issues of CDIs. The recent videos on FB with Deaf kids signing (Santa is his name, STARS program Videos, Deaf Film Camp, etc) I think will make at least a small dent in hearing parents reluctance to let their deaf (mostly… Read more »
amindess
Member

Good idea, Gina. I think Deaf and hearing teams makes a lot of sense in many different situations.
Thanks for your comment.

Member
Paula Meyer
Anna, YES!!! Thank you for this much-needed article. I recall a situation several years ago when I went into a medical assignment for an older patient and the daughter (CODA) was there to support her parent. Throughout the appointment, the daughter would chime in and expand on my concepts, repeat what I had just signed, sometimes seemingly the exact concept I had just used. I saw it as “dancing with the perfect partner”. This CODA, however, apologized several times during the appointment for “jumping in”, “taking over a couple times”, and after the assignment was over she said “I know… Read more »
amindess
Member

Paula,

I think you have a wonderful attitude with your willingness to accept expansion and clarification from family members with the goal of providing the best possible communication access. And you don’t take it as a personal assault on your skills. Bravo! As someone who is fascinated by politeness norms in different cultures, I also find it admirable that you get these apologies from the CODAs. You are both considerately putting yourselves in the others’ shoes.

amindess
Member
Perfect timing for this topic. I am here at ILI (Institute for Legal Interpreting) in Denver, whose theme is Deaf/Hearing teams. Sharon Neumann Solow told a story today that is an excellent example of how hearing interpreters can pave the way for Deaf interpreters. At a small town’s court they had never called a DI before, but Sharon felt one was necessary for a certain case. She explained to the court staff that they needed the services of a “specialist.” And that she knew the perfect person, but that this language specialist was so in demand and busy that they… Read more »
goliva
Member
Gina A. Oliva

Words are so powerful. So maybe instead of calling them “certified deaf interpreters” we could call them “certified Deaf Specialists” or “Deaf Mediation Specialists” — think of some powerful words that convey the power they DO bring to the situation.

amindess
Member

I agree with you Gina regarding the power of words and especially titles. I think there is currently widespread dissatisfaction with titles based on our hearing status (e.g. Certified Deaf Interpreter, Certified Hearing interpreter). But we have not yet come to a consensus as a field with better replacements. Any ideas out there?

Member

That’s fantastic way of describing a “specialist” which is really more professional way to inform the court instead deaf interpreter where the court will scratch their heads. Love Sharon N.S. for her on going training. It’s good that interpreters to get more legal trainings because that’s a different department and some of us, especially the DI wouldn’t feel comfortable to do that kind ASL interpretation in legal field, the “court” and the police stations.

amindess
Member
Just back from intense and fascinating ILI (Institute for Legal Interpreting) conference in Denver. You can see segments of the conference on SL in the highlights that Brandon filmed. The theme was effective interpreting with Deaf/ Hearing teams. For me, the highlight of the 3 days was watching video-taped sessions of Deaf and Hearing teams working together in stressful (staged) legal interpreting situations. The 4 experienced DIs selected to participate were allowed to pick any hearing interpreter in the country to be their teammates. Not surprisingly, they chose trained legal interpreters with whom they have worked repeatedly through the years.… Read more »
Member
“Any DIs out there want to comment on how HIs could support your full participation in the interpreting profession” Hi Anna. Thank you so much for writing this article. A bit embarrassed to say this, but by just seeing the title nearly brought tears to my eyes. They were tears of gratitude. Yes, I do. CHIs have the responsibility and the power to pave the way for CDIs full participation. How? There are several different ways to do it. I can think of some. According to our different ability sets, CHIs can be full participants in this group effort on… Read more »
amindess
Member

On the topic of the long tradition of Deaf interpreters: At the recent ILI conference, I was awestruck to learn that Deaf interpreters were used in court as far back as 1870. In a mesmerizing presentation, Anne Leahy, an interpreter/researcher/writer shared the stories and pictures of Deaf interpreters whose skills were called upon by 19th century judges. If your curiosity is piqued, invite Anne to give a presentation at your local school or organization (mail@anneleahy.com).

Member
Kristen Callahan
As an interpreting student currently in an intro class I think this is extremely important concept. I have to say I didn’t even know about CDIs up until a few months ago. Awareness of CDIs is something I think is terribly important. I really found it fascinating that you talked about a history of Deaf interpreting for each other even back in residential school. I intern at a school for the Deaf and even the elementary aged students interpret and clarify for each other. If interpreting programs introduced the idea of CDIs early on maybe the next rush of students… Read more »
amindess
Member

Thank you Kristen, I am so happy to read your comment. One of my main objectives for the new last chapter in the 3rd edition of Reading Between the Signs was to introduce hearing interpreting students to the tradition of Deaf people acting as interpreters. And get them excited to try it. Great that you noticed this natural act of clarifying in the residential school where you intern too.

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[…] her article, Are Hearing Interpreters Responsible to Pave the Way for Deaf Interpreters?, Anna Mindess listed some excellent, practical steps for us to take in expanding opportunities and […]

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Celeste DeRosa

I am in an interpreting class. I never knew that CDIs could interpret until I went to Galludet. There was a girl with a vision disorder who was also Deaf. The teacher and interpreter were Deaf. I was really suprised that a Deaf interpreter could interpret for a Deaf girl. After reading this article, I realized that the Deaf interpreters make the message more clear, natural and have a cultural aspect that hearing interpreters don’t have for the Deaf consumer. I think there has to be more awareness in Deaf/ASL classses about CDIs.

Member
Cayle O'Brien
This article was a great insight on things I feel are not widely discussed in interpreting programs. I am currently enrolled in an interpreting program and didn’t truly know about CDI’s until recently, due to the NYC Ebola conference. I volunteer at an elementary school and one of the students is Deaf and recently a CDI came in to interpret for the student. Prior to this the student had a hearing interpreter. For months she struggled and concepts were not being grasped Once the CDI was brought in her grades went up and you could tell she really understood what… Read more »
amindess
Member
Thank you, Celeste and Cayle for your comments. Having attended the CIT conference a few weeks ago, it seems like the tide is shifting and more and more interpreter educators see the value and necessity of including the topic of CDIs in their curriculum. Besides providing a “smoother” interpretation, I think there is a whole other dimension to having CDIs work with Deaf clients, which I have observed many times. It has to do with Boudreault’s point about “sameness” leading to rapport and a sense of empowerment. I see this phenomenon in legal settings, where perhaps the Deaf client has… Read more »
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Jennifer Saporito

I am an American Sign Language Student. I never even knew that CDI’s even existed until about 1 year ago. It’s a shame that my teacher has never mentioned anything about them. I think it’s a great idea that these people exist because sometimes the interpreter may sign a different way that the client has a hard time understanding. I hope to work with a CDI one day get a better understanding of the field.

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[…] was contacted by a hearing Danish interpreter, Didde Nylander, who read my Street Leverage article Are Hearing Interpreters Responsible to Pave the Way for Deaf Interpreters?  Didde is actively […]

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