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Sign Language Interpreters: Is it Me?

Sign Language Interpreters: Is it Me?

When examining the struggles and failings of our profession, we may be frightened and reluctant to consider our role. Brian Morrison suggests that asking the right kind of questions can help us be the change we wish to see in our industry.

As sign language interpreters, we know there are aspects of our industry that just aren’t working the way they should.  Just looking through the StreetLeverage site, we see examples and stories of the failings in our profession. From the disempowerment of our Deaf consumers to the underutilization of Deaf interpreters; from sign language interpreters’ lack of Deaf heart to the “business” view of the profession; from the lack of BA degree level education to the lack of support for new members entering the profession. As we reflect on these, and numerous other issues facing our field, we often fail to consider our role in these industry failings. We are also reluctant to ask ourselves the ever important question…“What can I do?”

[Click to view post in ASL]

Underlying Factors

Maybe the answer is as simple as this…It’s easier. It’s easier to abdicate our responsibility and blame others for the failings we see. It’s easier to hope that others in positions of leadership will fix the problems so we don’t have to.

Maybe it’s a business decision. Being complacent with the status quo keeps us working. We need this work to make a living and can’t risk losing it. We let agencies dictate standard practice because they are paying the bills.

Maybe we are concerned about being viewed in a position of disempowering the Deaf consumer with our actions. We therefore revert to more of a machine model of interpreting in order to avoid that label. We deny the power we have rather than recognize that we may, in fact, be contributing to the disempowerment.

Maybe it’s not so much “what can I do?” but “how can I do it?” Maybe we want change and know that we need to do something, but we aren’t sure how to go about it. We continue to ask ourselves “how” and since we can’t answer that…we choose not to do anything.

But maybe that “how” isn’t what we should be asking.

Asking the Right Questions

I recently started reading a book called “The Answer to How is Yes” by Peter Block. In this book, Block discusses our tendency to focus on the “how we do things” rather than the “why we do things.”  He encourages individuals to choose accountability and saying ‘yes’ to our values and ideals. It’s a “discussion of what is required of us if we are to act on what we care about”.

Focusing on the individual as part of the organization, Block posits that the asking “HOW”, while reasonable, can be asked too soon and keep us trapped in our present way of thinking. Instead, the alternative is to say “YES”. Saying YES allows for the possibility of change.

The following chart outlines how Block proposes we reframe HOW questions into YES questions:

HOW   Questions

YES Questions

How do you do it? What refusal have I been   postponing?
How long will it take? What commitment am I   willing to make?
How much does it cost? What is the price I am   willing to pay?
How do you get those   people to change? What is my contribution   to the problem I am concerned with?
How do we measure it? What is the crossroad at   which I find myself at this point in my work?
How are other people   doing it successfully? What do we want to   create together?

Asking the YES questions as an individual and as a community will help us focus on what truly matters and not just maintain the status quo. While it might be scary to confront our failings and make changes, we can and we must recognize the impact we have as individuals.

Three Qualities for Change

In order for these types of questions to be successful, Block identifies three qualities that will ground us while we navigate this process.

The first is idealism. Many of us have lost that feeling of ‘what’s possible’ and have replaced it with ‘what is’. If we can once again create that feeling of idealism, we open ourselves up to pursuing our values and bring focus to what matters.

The second is intimacy. We are living in a world of virtual reality. We walk around tied to our electronics…texting, emailing, and Skyping our way through relationships. Intimacy is about the quality of our contact with others. We must continue to seek out direct contact and interaction with the world. As with idealism, intimacy is necessary for focusing on what matters.

The third quality is depth. While idealism and intimacy are required for us to focus on what matters, if we aren’t able to go deeper and reflect on what exactly does matter, no change will take place.

The failings of the sign language interpreting industry are evident.  Just looking through the StreetLeverage site, we see common stories. We can no longer deny that we have a role in these failings. We can’t sit by and expect the profession to fix itself and solve the problems for us. But we can start to ask YES questions. We can make a commitment to change. We can influence the change that fixes our industry. That starts with each of us.

 Committing to YES Conversations

Once we have committed to change, we must have conversations we each other. Anna Witter-Merithew’s article, Sign Language Interpreters: Breaking Down Silos Through Reflective Practice, provides us with some great strategies for having these discussions and reflecting on our work. These kinds of experiences can tie together the three qualities of idealism, intimacy, and depth and help us get the YES questions answered.

In the words of Peter Block…

Transformation comes more from pursuing profound questions than seeing practical answers”.

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What can Sign Language Interpreter Education Learn from Wild Birds?

What can Sign Language Interpreter Education Learn from Wild Birds?

Birds raised in captivity often struggle to acquire natural communication and instincts. So too do sign language interpreters brought up in ITPs, with limited Deaf community connections and interaction. Kimberly Hale considers how interpreter education can borrow strategies from nature in raising the next generation of sign language interpreters.

The current state of interpreter education reminds me of an attempt to return rehabilitated, injured or orphaned birds to the wild, rather than allowing the natural developmental process of wild birds to occur.

[View post in ASL]

Natural Versus Artificial Development            

In the wild, chicks are nurtured and learn the way of the bird through instincts, observation, and imitation of older birds. Mature birds protect chicks and model bird behavior. Astute mother birds perceiving just the right time to send the chick off into the world, push the fledglings from the nest. Wild birds effectively raise their young who behave as birds and function effectively in their natural habitats.

In contrast to the natural development process is the artificial process employed when injured, orphaned, or captivity-bred birds are rehabilitated and released into the wild. These birds, much like student interpreters, learn the way of the bird in an artificial environment removed from natural developmental stimuli.

Gatekeepers – The Natural Approach

Historically, trusted individuals were sought out and encouraged by members of the Deaf community to act as sign language interpreters. Just as chicks are pushed from the nest by astute mother birds, these chosen fledgling interpreters were pushed into a wider variety of settings as their performance and success warranted.  As members of the “wild bird” community, they naturally gained values, skills, and knowledge needed to function as birds, albeit with unique responsibilities.

The System – Bred and Raised in Captivity

In contrast, the current model of interpreter education creates sign language interpreters bred and raised in captivity and then released into the wild. Many interpreters-in-training have never encountered the Deaf Community in its natural state and have a limited understanding of Deaf Community interactions, yet they want to join the “flock”. Initial interactions are often mediated, controlled, and contrived by the Interpreter Trainer(s), similar to the artificial environments created by bird rehabilitation specialists.  A large portion of training time is spent with other interpreters-in-training or with videos of ASL users and interpreter samples, rather than spending time with the “flock”.

Limited Exposure Limits Competence

Often rehabilitated birds are released to the wild as adults or older juveniles. They spend their formative years learning to act like birds based solely on instincts and the bird trainer’s teaching. They miss the benefit of natural imitation opportunities, protection from older birds, and the natural pecking order process. Prior to release they frequently have limited contact with wild birds. This may lead to difficulty upon release into nature.

Interpreters “raised” in interpreter education programs, just as birds raised in captivity, may lack skills in negotiating the flock.  They do not communicate and behave as naturally as those who are raised and groomed naturally within the flock. Specifically, they are more hesitant and awkward in seeking clarification. By not learning language primarily via natural interactions, they miss the opportunity to naturally learn appropriate birdcalls and signals for clarification and correcting misunderstandings, which is a critical skill for sign language interpreters.

Early Exposure Unintentionally Disrupts the Flock

Quality Interpreting Education Programs attempt to assist interpreters-in-training form connections and appropriate behaviors within the community by requiring community interactions and event attendance before release. This does not mirror the natural process either. Interpreters-in-training, without connections or formal welcome (because they are unknown to the flock), insert themselves into the wild flock. Unfortunately, this “forced” introduction and acceptance model disturbs the natural order of the flock. New awkward birds invade the wild bird territory, and the wild birds are expected to embrace, accept, and nurture the interpreters-in-training.

Early Release

Given the growing interest in the wild flock, the limited numbers of rehabilitation facilities, and the structure of those facilities (i.e., colleges and universities), bird rehabilitation programs are specified lengths. More often than not, there are not specific competency based exams to ensure that birds-in-training are ready to be pushed from the nest and fend for themselves.

Because they are pushed from the nest before they are ready to function independently and are left to fend for themselves they end up under the tree instead of in the branches among the flock.  These released birds often become the unintended recipients of wild bird droppings. Stronger birds will strive and will, eventually, learn to fly thereby officially joining the flock.  Others, especially those without appropriate support, never get off the ground.

We Need to Invest

Investment in wild bird habitat and creative habilitation solutions for birds-in-training is essential to facilitate natural wild bird interactions and nurturing throughout the development process. We – wild birds, successful captive-release birds, and bird trainers – must facilitate the renewal of natural wild-bird model of sign language interpreter education. A more effective habilitation and release program must be created. Creative thinking from all segments is required. Leaders have begun to address the concern.  It is time for those who are not yet leaders, but who are in their prime and ready to nurture the next generation of interpreters into existence to join the conversation. The nesting grounds and habilitation programs are ready for the next generation of brooders, hatchers, pushers, and trainers to join the discussion. 

Conclusion

I am hopeful that CIT’s partnership with Street Leverage to host this year’s conference will engender dialog that should continue long after the conference ends. Join the discussion of how best to habilitate new wild bird interpreters by sharing your chirps, caws, coos, or tweets.

References

The captivity-raised concept presented here is similar to Molly Wilson’s conceptualization that she eloquently describes in By-passing Deaf World in Terp Training. Interpreter education generally bypasses the Deaf community – opting instead for an artificial captivity-based training model.

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Expanding the Definition of “Sign Language Interpreter Educator”

Expand the Definition of Sign Language Interpreter Educator

What makes a Sign Language Interpreter Educator? Jessica Bentley-Sassaman shares why this title belongs not only to instructors at the front of the classroom, but to those who guide and mentor interpreters throughout their education and career.

Traditionally, when people think of a sign language interpreter educator, they think of a person who formally teaches in an Interpreting Program at a college or university. It is true that instructors and professors who work at colleges and universities are interpreter educators, however there are so many more who guide new interpreters and interpreting students on their way to becoming a proficient interpreter. The definition of a sign language interpreter educator encompasses so many more people than only those who formally teach.

[Click to view post in ASL]

Sign language interpreters do not learn how to interpret by only attending classes at their local Interpreting Program. They also need to participate in a variety of activities that will engage them and provide opportunities for growth as a language user and as a sign language interpreter. These activities also prepare them for their careers.

These activities include but are not limited to:

  • interactions with the Deaf community outside of classes to become proficient in ASL
  • observations of working interpreters
  • mentoring with interpreter mentors
  • working as teams/colleagues with mentors after graduation

Brian Morrison said it aptly in his article, It Takes a Village to Raise a Sign Language Interpreter, “Interpreter education programs have a finite amount of time. We know that they aren’t able to teach everything we would like students to know before they enter the field” (Street Leverage, 2013). Interpreter educators are not the only people who are doing the educating of new interpreters.

Expanding the Definition

Mentors

Perhaps you have thought, ‘I just mentor students, I am not an educator.’ Being “just” a mentor is educating interpreters. Mentors, whether Deaf or hearing, teach new sign language interpreters about language use, application of ethical decision making in the moment, on-site logistics, debriefing after an interpretation, providing immediate feedback, engaging in reflection, and assisting in application of new skills. Some mentors team up with working interpreters who are working towards certification, state licensure, or the Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment. Even though that interpreter is not a student, he or she is still learning about a new skill and learning how to apply that new skill. I have worked with mentors several times in my career as an interpreter – as an intern on my practicum, when working towards earning my RID certification, years later as a certified interpreter when I was working on taking the Specialty Certificate: Legal. Even now, if a situation comes up and I need to bounce ideas off another, I call a more seasoned interpreter and pose my questions.  Mentors play a crucial role in the skill development of interpreters, no matter if the interpreter is novice or seasoned. Mentors are interpreter educators.

Some interpreting agencies have mentorship programs, whether formal or informal. These programs assist during the transitional period from graduation to certification or to working interpreter. By setting up these types of mentorships, these agencies provide opportunities for new sign language interpreters to work with seasoned interpreters. They have a vested interest in seeing the Deaf community receiving the quality services that they deserve. These agencies are interpreter educators.

Presenters

Workshop presenters are educators. The knowledge that presenters impart to interpreters helps mold them, sharpening their skill sets, teaching new information, new insights, and new ways of thinking. Sign language interpreters in all walks of life grow from the content taught during workshop trainings. Whether it is ground breaking information, or a new spin on an old theory, if you are a workshop presenter, you are an educator.

Deaf Community

Deaf community members who take new interpreters under their wing and help get them established in the Deaf community are interpreter educators. The amount of information/experience the Deaf community graciously gives to sign language interpreters is invaluable. Stacey Webb noted the importance the Deaf community has on the interpreting community in her article, The Value of Networking for the Developing Sign Language Interpreter. There is no way to fully express the debt and gratitude owed to the Deaf community for the valuable instruction. You are an educator.

Researchers

Researchers provide the theory, the reasons behind why we do what we do as professionals. Their contributions to the field of interpreting have expanded our horizons, have put a term to what it is we do, have validated that ASL is a language, helped interpreters understand the process of interpretation. Through articles, books, workshops, and courses taught, the cutting edge research expands sign language interpreters’ horizons. Researchers are educators.

It Takes More Than One

It takes more than just one teacher to produce a qualified sign language interpreter. For all those who are involved in teaching, guiding, mentoring, encouraging, and embracing interpreters; you are educators.

Improving the quality of interpreters is the core of who we are as a profession. Our united goal is to provide the Deaf community with the qualified, effective interpreting services, embracing the concept of a Deaf-heart (see Betty Colonomos’ article Sign Language Interpreters and the Quest for a Deaf Heart) and giving back to the Deaf and interpreting communities for future generations. For everything you have done to assist a new interpreter, you are an interpreter educator and CIT is an organization for you.

Where Do Educators Find Support?

There has been a misconception that CIT is only for interpreter educators. This is not the case. The Conference of Interpreter Trainers was established in 1979. CIT’s mission statement starts out with our purpose, to “encourage the preparation of interpreters who can effectively negotiate interpreted interactions within the wider society in which Deaf people live” (CIT).

The CIT conference is a gathering of people like you, interpreter educators. The conference is a great time to network with other professionals. Learn about new teaching approaches, mentoring practices, standards in interpreter education, technology, and application of studies. This conference is a great place to learn more about being an interpreter educator and to get involved. CIT is for you!

My Personal Journey to CIT

I began teaching at an ITP in 2006. At that time I was unaware CIT existed. A fellow educator at another institution had talked to me about and encouraged me to join. He also encouraged me to get involved in a CIT committee. That advice lead me to joining and becoming involved in CIT. I attended my first CIT conference in 2010 and I enjoyed the intimacy of the conference. I was able to network with and get to know many other CIT members who were educators, presenters, and mentors. That networking has made me a better educator. Attending CIT conferences is like coming home to a community who has a vested interest in providing high quality interpreting services for the Deaf community.

In Conclusion

Everyone who has a hand in assisting interpreting students, new and working interpreters is an interpreter educator. Your role in that interpreter’s career is important.  By being involved with an interpreter student, new and working interpreters, and providing feedback, you are sustaining the field of interpreters, you are ensuring that the interpreters gain and have the necessary interpreting skills and understanding of what the Deaf community looks for in interpreters. As time goes on, those interpreters will look back and remember that someone else took an interest in assisting them. Those interpreters are the future and they will learn by example how to give back to the interpreting and Deaf community based on how you educate them. You are an interpreter educator.

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Sign Language Interpreter Education: Time for a National Call to Action

Sign Language Interpreter Education: Time for a National Call to Action

Could upgrading standards and curricula help Interpreter Education Programs produce graduates with higher levels of competence? Reflecting on the current state of interpreter education, Cindy Volk sounds a national call to action to reconsider how we educate and prepare sign language interpreters.

I’m worried. I’m worried that my mom will not have a qualified sign language interpreter when she sees the doctor for her serious medical problems. I’m worried that my mom will be misunderstood when she makes a VRS call to contact doctors and other medical personnel regarding these medical problems. I’m worried that when my mom is in the hospital, the interpreter is either not qualified or one is not provided. I’m worried.

[Click to view post in ASL]

As the director of a bachelor’s degree interpreter education program, I realize that no matter how hard I and the other faculty work to make this an excellent program, there are still some students graduating that I would not want as an interpreter for my mother. I worry about their ASL to English skills, and in particular whether or not they can read fingerspelling and numbers. When I receive a VRS call from my mom and the interpreter says “Hi, is Cathy there?”.  I worry.  Certainly these areas of concern are prioritized in our program. We are continually updating the program, attending conferences, conducting and reading research, and consulting with Deaf faculty and the Deaf community. However, even a four year program is sometimes not enough to produce a qualified interpreter.

A National Call to Action

I believe that we need a national call to action to address how we are educating sign language interpreters in the United States.

There is too much inconsistency across interpreter education programs. Those of us in the business of educating sign language interpreters need to address these inconsistencies:

  1. Most of our interpreting programs are at the two year level. This simply isn’t enough time to prepare a qualified sign language interpreter. There are many excellent two-year programs.  However, two years just simply isn’t enough time. Some two year programs are encouraging their students to complete some type of bachelor’s completion degree in order to be able to sit for the national examination. This perpetuates the idea that less education in the area of interpreting is acceptable. It isn’t. Our profession has moved beyond the two year training level.  It’s time to face that reality.
  2. Students are not always fluent in ASL and English before they enter an interpreting program. We need to demand this level of skill and screen for fluency in ASL.  We need to agree upon what level of fluency is required. For a two year sign language interpreting program, this means the student has at least two years of coursework prior to entering the program, but then after four years, does not achieve the bachelor degree required for the national examination. This isn’t fair to students.
  3. We need more Deaf individuals involved in interpreter training as faculty and mentors.
  4. We need to figure out a way of screening a student’s aptitude for becoming an interpreter.
  5. CCIE (Commission on Collegiate Interpreter Education) needs to consider distinguishing between AA, BA, MA, and PhD programs in their accreditation process. Currently there is no distinction.
  6. We need to figure out a way to model and teach deaf-heart.  It is lacking from many of our students today.  We also need to dialogue about how to educate students regarding the level of professional behavior that is expected of interpreters once they are working.
  7. The “school-to-work gap” is wide and difficult for students to navigate in our current system. Many students graduate from programs but are not yet ready for certification or for employment.  We often bemoan this gap, but as educators we need to seriously consider what can be done in our programs to shorten or eliminate it.

Who’s Guarding the Gate?

In the infancy of the interpreting profession, the Deaf community played an important role in “gatekeeping” – selecting candidates for the interpreting profession for various reasons and turning others away based on community standards and values.  Over time, much of that responsibility has been turned over to interpreter education programs.  As Damita Boyd states in her February 2014 StreetLeverage article, Cooperation Strengthens Sign Language Interpreter Education Programs, interpreter education programs are currently seen as the gatekeepers to the interpreting profession. If this is true, we need to do a better job of guarding who is coming in and out of the gate.

Here are some ideas about how we can better guard that gate.

  1.  Develop a national curriculum for educating interpreters. We need to come to consensus regarding the length of interpreter education programs, entry requirements, outcomes and the curriculum in these programs.  In Chapter 7 of Legacies and Legends: History of Interpreter Education from 1800 to the 21st Century (Ball, 2013), Dr. Ball describes what is needed for the future of interpreter education. CIT (Conferenceof Interpreter Trainers) should assume a leading role in shaping this future.
  2. Establish groups of educators, practitioners and stakeholders who are interested in raising the bar in sign language interpreter education. Witter-Merithew and Johnson (2004) recommended that we establish Communities of Inquiry who will work together to advance the professionalization of the field of interpreting which would lead to a national plan of action. It’s been ten years since their recommendation. It’s time to act on it.
  3. Consider the idea of particular programs specializing in certain areas, i.e. educational interpreting, VRS (Video Relay Service) interpreting, medical interpreting. Students who want to work in those areas would have to attend that program. This could be at either the undergraduate or graduate level.
  4. Determine ways for interpreting students to be involved in the Deaf community in meaningful ways. Our program at the University of Arizona requires all interpreting students to have a deaf mentor. Students must develop a reciprocal arrangement with the mentor and “pay back” in some way, i.e. money, babysitting, cooking, errands. They meet with their mentor weekly and reciprocate weekly. This is a good start, but we still need to do more.
  5. Develop outcomes that are necessary for any sign language interpreter graduate (Ball, 2013). Patrie and Taylor (2008) developed outcomes for graduates of bachelor level programs in the area of educational interpreting.  Similar outcomes need to be developed for other areas in interpreting.

In the End

As many interpreter educators near retirement, I hope we can pursue meaningful improvements in how we educate sign language interpreters. This could be our gift to the next generation of interpreter educators, students, and especially to the Deaf community.  A small group of us will be meeting in the next few months to further develop some of these ideas. Will you consider establishing similar groups in your own communities?  Will you consider being a guardian of the gate?  If so, maybe I’ll be a little less worried.

Interpreter Education Month

References:

Ball, C. (2013). Legacies and legends: History of Interpreter Education from 1800 to the 21st Century. Interpreting Consolidated. Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Boyd, D. (2014).   Cooperation Strengthens Sign Language Interpreter Education Programs. See more at: http://www.streetleverage.com/2014/02/cooperation-strengthens-sign-language-interpreter-education-programs/#sthash.RGfV9qKM.dpuf

Patrie, C.J. and Taylor, M.M. (2008). Outcomes for graduates of baccalaureate interpreter preparation programs specializing in interpreting in K – 12th grade settings.  AlbanyNY: The State of New   York, State Education Department. Office of Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities (VESID).

Witter, Merithew, A., and Johnson, L. (2004). Market disorder within the field of sign language interpreting: Professionalization implications.  Journal of Interpretation, 19-55.


 

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October is Sign Language Interpreter Education Month

October is Sign Language Interpreter Education Month

October is Sign Language Interpreter Education Month

StreetLeverage is pleased to present October as Interpreter Education Month (IEM) on StreetLeverage.com. The aim of Interpreter Education Month is to showcase insights, perspectives, considerations and dynamics impacting the education and training of sign language interpreters.

We are delighted to share that StreetLeverage is partnering with the Conference of Interpreter Trainers (CIT) to focus this year’s IEM on the work and history of interpreter educators. This collaboration endeavors to spotlight the insights and perspectives of interpreter educators on the dynamics they encounter bringing up the next generation of practitioners.

Highlights

StreetLeverage is excited about IEM and we want you to be a part of it! You can find a schedule of activities below.

Weekly Curated Articles. The month of October will bring weekly articles authored by interpreter educators asking questions about the work, challenges, and successes experienced in the classroom.

CIT Conference Coverage. StreetLeverage will provide coverage of the 2014 CIT conference being held in Portland, OR. October 29th – November 1st. Coverage will include:

Live Streaming. StreetLeverage will be providing complimentary remote access to the plenary and business meeting sessions of the CIT conference. Click here for the details.

Interviews. StreetLeverage will be doing interviews with event organizers, VIPs, speakers and attendees.

Micro-blogging. StreetLeverage will be micro-blogging various educational sessions via Facebook and Twitter. Be sure to connect with us here.

Historical Reflection. Anna Witter-Merithew will share a special presentation on the history of interpreter education and review the important milestones that have shaped today’s interpreter education. Details here.

StreetLeverage – Live Giveaway. StreetLeverage will be giving away a complimentary registration to StreetLeverage – Live 2015 being held in Boston/Newton, MA April 17th-19th. StreetLeverage will be accepting entries until October 28, 2014 at 5p ET.  Enter to Win.

 More. More. More. In addition to what has been listed above, StreetLeverage will be extending additional opportunities like an exclusive CIT membership and a suggested reading list of StreetLeverage articles for educators. More here.

We hope you’ll take opportunity to join the discussion on the dynamics and history of interpreter education in the field of sign language interpreting.

Interpreter Education Month