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Civility Within the Interpreting Profession: A Novice’s Perspective

Civility Within the Interpreting Profession

Recommitting to the principles of civility aligns sign language interpreters with the Code of Professional Conduct while fostering positive interactions both online and in person.

I have always believed strongly in the school of hard knocks. As a sign language interpreter, I have held the opinion that sensitivity is not a luxury we can afford if we want to make it in this field; if you cannot accept criticism, this is not the job for you. My opinion in the last several weeks has changed.

[Click to view post in ASL]

According to the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), sign language interpreters are required to “maintain civility towards colleagues, interns and students of the profession.” (RID code of professional conduct, Tenet 5.1, 2009).  Unfortunately, with the proliferation of websites like Facebook, Twitter, personal web pages, public forums, and other forms of social media, this tenet seems to be disappearing into the abyss of the internet faster than you can say “LOL J/K everyone.” I can assure you that not everyone is “laughing out loud,” and commentators are not “just kidding.”

I often find myself bearing witness to those who are using the internet as a platform to discuss their distaste for novice interpreters. Previously, when I would check my usual blogs, forums, and Facebook pages, I would ignore these comments. I did not realize, however, that it was not only novices who were the targets of these comments on the internet; seasoned and certified interpreters were being targeted as well.  Despite the fact that these comments sometimes hurt or have made me doubt myself, I ignored them and kept practicing. After all, criticism comes with the territory – if we are not struggling, we are not growing.

How Far is too Far?

One day, I was shown an interpreter’s personal website which was used to promote their services. However, I noticed that this interpreter also used this website as a platform to discredit other interpreters who were deemed “unfit” by this person. This included sharing an – in their opinion – “unqualified” interpreter’s picture, full name and a detailed account of their interpreting errors. A few weeks later, on a different forum, an interpreter posted an image of a novice interpreting and commented that this novice should not be interpreting. To the credit of the forum’s administrator, this post was later removed with a disclaimer stating that this kind of behavior was unacceptable, but as we all know, the internet is forever. Accepting a job you are not qualified to interpret is most certainly unethical, but there must be a better and more ethical way to resolve the issue of qualification that does not involve potentially slanderous behavior.

Time for Change

Shortly after witnessing these actions on the internet, I attended Street Leverage’s Street Tour along with a diverse group of sign language interpreters ranging from current ITP students to seasoned nationally certified interpreters with more than 20 years of experience. Betty Colonomos stood before us and asked a very profound question: “What are you afraid of ?” We each took turns writing down our interpreting-related fears on posters. The result was astounding. Everyone in the room had the exact same fear: fear of being judged by other sign language interpreters.

After realizing we all were sharing the same fears, Betty encouraged us to dig a little deeper; what came to the surface was some serious interpreter-on-interpreter crime. As it turns out, not only were the novices being treated unfairly, but those with many years of experience felt that they, too, were being looked down upon for not having the training or education that some of the new interpreters had. I listened as interpreter after interpreter shared their own stories of slander. ITP students, novices, certified interpreters, and veterans of our field, at one point or another, had all experienced other interpreters tearing them down. I learned that this issue started long before the internet, and it is having a pervasive impact on our community. After listening to us all weekend, Betty left us with a final thought, “instead of being a victim, become an activist.” This is exactly what I intend to do.

A Case for Civility

P.M. Forni, the author of Choosing Civility and the co-founder of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project, describes civility as

“being aware of others and weaving restraint, respect and consideration into the very fabric of this awareness…It is not just an attitude of benevolent and thoughtful relating to other individuals; it also entails active interest in the well-being of our communities” (2002).

This is a concept that we, as professional sign language interpreters, are quickly losing sight of. This lack of civility is creating a chasm in our community. It needs to stop. Maintaining civility towards one another is the only way to bring us together. Without adopting a civil attitude, we are going to  continue to tear each other apart.  

It Starts With Accountability

In 2012, Carolyn Ball wrote a similar article for Street Leverage asking us what role civility has in the interpreting profession. Civility begins with ourselves. If each sign language interpreter were to promise never to tear down another interpreter, to maintain civility and to keep the best interests of their counterparts in mind; the change would be enormous. We can repair this rift we have created. I still believe in the school of hard knocks, I still believe that you need to struggle in order to grow; I believe in civility, too. It is possible to believe in both. If we promise to support one another and be mindful of our actions, both on and off the internet, we can create an environment that is more conducive to effective interpreting.  

Conclusion

If you find yourself frequently frustrated by other sign language interpreters, reach out, instead of calling them out. I highly recommend Forni’s book, Choosing Civility. As a person who used to think civility was just “being nice” or “sugar coating things,” I learned, after reading this book, that this is not the case at all. You can still have grit and be gracious. You can still be assertive and agreeable. It all starts with a choice to hold ourselves accountable both on and off the internet.

Questions for Consideration:

  1. What are three things you can do to increase the level of civility in your professional life?
  2. How can you hold yourself and others accountable for internet interactions regarding other interpreters?
  3. What can you do to support other interpreters in supporting the concept of civility in the profession?
  4. Can you list several concrete ways we can model civility to our peers both online and in person?

Related Posts:

Accountability: A First Step to Harmony Among Sign Language Interpreters? Sabrina Smith

It Takes a Village to Raise a Sign Language Interpreter by Brian Morrison

The Value of Networking for the Developing Sign Language Interpreter by Stacey Webb

References:

Ball, C. (2012). What Role Does Civility Play in the Sign Language Interpreting Profession. Retrieved October 21st, 2015 from http//:www.StreetLeverage.com.

Forni, P.M (2002). Choosing Civility: The Twenty Five Rules of Considerate Conduct. New York, New York: St. Martin’s Press.

NAD-RID Code of Professional Conduct. (2009) Retrieved October 26th, 2015 from http//:www.rid.org

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Where Do We Go From Here? 5 Stages of Change for Sign Language Interpreters

Where Do We Go From Here? 5 Stages of Change for Sign Language Interpreters

As sign language interpreters, we stand at a crossroads. Do we maintain the status quo or act as change agents by investing & engaging, collectively, in the transformation of our profession?

 

People in our field are talking a lot about change. Our attitudes toward the Deaf community and fellow sign language interpreters have to change. Our professionalism has to change. There is a call for greater transparency. StreetLeverage contributors have written about the need for change in our national organization. The discussion about change is everywhere.

[Click to view post in ASL]

In “Sign Language Interpreters: Is it Me?”, Brian Morrison points to the questions we should be asking ourselves, and guides us from examining how to solve problems to examining our commitment to change. The question I find myself now exploring is, “How does change happen?”

Transtheoretical Model

Many have written on the subject of change. In 1983, Prochaska and DiClementi developed the “Transtheoretical Model”1 , which I will use to frame my discussion here. The model describes five stages of change: pre-contemplation, contemplation, determination, action, and maintenance.

In the pre-contemplation stage, a person is unaware that there is a problem. They may think that others who point out a problem are just exaggerating, being judgmental, or imagining it. They may complain about the same problem in others yet fail to see it in themselves. Prochaska and DiClementi define four types of pre-contemplators.

  1. Reluctant pre-contemplators are those who, through lack of knowledge or inertia, do not want to consider change. They have not become fully conscious of the impact of the problem. In our profession a reluctant pre-contemplator may think, “I continue to get hired, so my interpreting work must be fine.”
  2. Rebellious pre-contemplators have a heavy investment in their current behavior and in making their own decisions. They are resistant to being told what to do. Such a person in our field may say, “That person is always critical of interpreters. It’s not about me.”
  3. Resigned pre-contemplators have given up hope about the possibility of change and are overwhelmed by the problem. This person may concede, “Second language learners of ASL will never be as clear as native language users. There’s nothing I can do about it.”
  4. Rationalizing pre-contemplators have all the answers. They come armed with reasons why their behavior is not a problem. This interpreter may justify, “The Deaf people I work with are highly educated. I tell them what I hear, and they figure it out.”

The second stage of change is contemplation. In this stage a person is willing to accept that there may be a problem. They are also willing to consider the pros and cons of changing but may still be ambivalent about the need to take action.

The third, fourth and fifth stages are ascribed to those who have made a clear decision to change. They have identified what needs to change (Stage 3 – Determination), taken steps toward their goal (Stage 4 – Action), and work to maintain their path of improvement (Stage 5 – Maintenance).

When we are open to change, we spend our time learning, analyzing, and asking questions. Every job is seen as an opportunity to grow. That is the character of the third, fourth and fifth stages of change.

Getting Beyond Pre-contemplation

What happens when others see what I could change but I don’t see it myself? When I try to examine my own problems, what might I be missing? If I don’t see a problem, how can I know if one exists? These conundrums put us squarely at the first stage, pre-contemplation.

Fortunately, there are multiple roads out of pre-contemplation. Some of these roads we seek out and deliberately walk. Others we must be led to. Below, I have outlined four forms that these roads can take: 1) honest self-inquiry, 2) a life threatening condition, 3) public outcry, or 4) a trusted colleague opening a door for us to gain self-awareness.

  1. Honest self-inquiry begins when there is a willingness to look at whatever comes up. An opportunity arises when a certain personal trait or habit becomes apparent. At a particular moment, something that I did, thought, or said makes me question my behavior or habit. In bringing my attention to this behavior, I see it more clearly. Recognizing it changes my understanding of the behavior and of myself. It is possible that, over time and with continued attention, the behavior will shift or even be replaced with something more congruent with my sense of self.

For example, I find myself saying small, cutting remarks to my spouse. I conveniently ignore that I do this because it is too painful to admit to having this unloving, horrible characteristic. In a moment when I am more present, I notice his reaction to one such cutting remark. I stay attuned to myself, watching my impulse to cut him down. The emotion or thought that sparked the cutting remark is revealed. It is old, rooted in my childhood. In that moment there is new understanding, and I am changed. The impulse to cut him down dissolves. A change has occurred that I didn’t “make” in the traditional sense, but it occurred as a result of examining the impulse.

  1. A life-threatening condition is another road out of pre-contemplation. Often when we confront our mortality, the reality of having a finite time on earth can spark increased introspection. Old grudges may dissolve and die-hard opinions seem less important. Change occurs because I re-examine my values. While one doesn’t invite a walk down this road, when it presents itself, there is opportunity.
  1. Public outcry can backfire and may lead to hurt feelings and resistance. In our field, demands to revoke a sign language interpreter’s certification or remove a person from a position of power can garner support. But the target of this outcry rarely perceives it as designed to inspire positive change. Still, it can be an important tool. I remember when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. The ensuing outcry sparked many to look at their own attitudes toward race. Recent racialized events have sparked similar self-reflection.
  1. A trusted colleague, finally, is key to fostering change. This is an important relationship. When I am actively engaged with this colleague, we work to develop the mutual trust needed to broach sensitive subjects. I don’t have an ulterior motive to change the person, but instead have a wish to understand their perspective. We see each other as we are – peers. We start by being willing to find out where we stand, what we think, and what our wishes are. The process itself becomes the influencing factor for conscious change.

Together, we can investigate and reveal our flaws, share our inner processes, and examine our values. Together, we can discuss what we personally can do to include more Deaf people in RID. Together, we can look at available jobs and consider what skills and qualities are required to do them. Together, we can explore the difficulty that arises when a team interpreter doesn’t want to discuss the work. It is important that we invite our colleagues to the party, not drag them there.

From Interpersonal to Organizational

RID is made up of individuals, each at their own stage on the path. Some are contemplating their role in improving conditions, while others are in pre-contemplation. Each person is worthy of our time if we are invested in change, but it will never happen through complaining, finger-pointing, ignoring, or backstabbing. It will come only through a willingness to work together. For my part, I was drawn to this profession not only because of an interest in people and a knack for language, but also because it provided opportunities for self-exploration and improvement as a human being in relation to others.

So, I turn the question back to us as professionals. Are we prepared to enter into this type of relationship with our fellow interpreters? If yes, then we need to be willing to spend time in the process. While the stages of change provide a framework for understanding how change happens, our work is to observe, engage, and enter into meaningful dialogue in order to understand multiple perspectives. I believe that each of us can be an agent of change in a way that promotes the profession, our organization, and ultimately, our humanity. Will you join me?

Questions for Consideration

  1. What can I do to be more proactive and interactive with others in the field?
  2. What are my experiences of moments of change?  How do those experiences help me understand this process?
  3. Among the four types of pre-contemplator, which type am I? (We are all pre-contemplators about something.)
  4. What holds me back from being an agent of change? What would I need in order to begin?

Related Posts

Sign Language Interpreting’s Long Adolescence by Stephanie Jo Kent

Replenishing Sign Language Interpreting: Extraction Exchange by Sandra Maloney

Accountability: A First Step to Harmony Among Sign Language Interpreters by Sabrina Smith

References

Gold, M. (2013). Stages of Change. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 19, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/stages-of-change/

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Sign Language Interpreting’s Long Adolescence

Sign Language Interpreting's Long Adolescence

The field of sign language interpreting has the opportunity to leave organizational adolescence behind. By connecting their emotions to the challenging tasks ahead, interpreters can foster growth and move the field to the next level.

Historical Context

Last summer I was unable to attend RID’s Convention in New Orleans, or even watch the livestreaming. Instead I followed developments through Facebook friends’ posts and comments and tweets at the conference hashtag, #RIDNOLA15. Through the lens of social media, there were two conferences: one full of camaraderie, fellowship and happy reunions, the other full of angst. Meanwhile, the bold move by the Board to suspend certification testing was not completely without warning. I remember last year (2014), at the RID Region 1 Conference in Boston, President Dawn Whitcher did mention that the Board was exploring the possibility of alternative structures. The open question now is whether RID can grow up enough to pass through this coming-of-age opportunity.

[Click to view post in ASL]

Since I joined the profession in the late 1980s/early 1990s, I have been astonished and fascinated by the organizational and cultural dynamics. The general behavior patterns today compared with then—twenty-five years ago—are essentially the same. On the one hand, this is discouraging. On the other hand, Deaf presence and authority has increased, so there is obvious change! But new people entering the field continue to exhibit problematic behaviors and react to feedback in the same ways as most did back then, and Deaf people are still complaining about the same kinds of problems (especially inadequate fluency and lack of intercultural skills). In light of this, we do still have a professional organization dedicated to sign language interpreting! It is an incredible testament to our Past Presidents, Board Members and Staff that RID has never imploded from the pressure cooker of oppression versus social justice.

Making Sense of Where We Are, Here and Now

A tool that helps me make sense of the oppression-social justice pressure cooker is a descriptive model of group development called “the life cycle of groups” (Weber, 1982). Weber’s model draws on Bruce Tuckman’s (1965) famous four stages of group development (forming, storming, norming, performing) and refines it. Weber’s additional details on the interpersonal, leadership and task issues that a group has to resolve at each stage provide insight into some of the long-standing issues RID members must face.

Weber renames the stages Infancy, Adolescence, Adulthood and Transforming. As you can guess, Adolescence corresponds with Tuckman’s Storming phase. The behavior patterns of a group’s Adolescence include emotional responses (e.g., anger, frustration, confusion) to the demands of being an organization (such as developing and following rules), attacks on leadership, and a need for order (which may or may not be a conscious realization of every member). What are the interpersonal, leadership and task issues of a group that bring out such emotionally-inspired behavior?

For a group to move through Adolescence to Adulthood, members have to deal with matters of power and influence while maintaining individuality and questioning differences. This is a tall order for anyone, in every group! The acid test involves the decision-making process: coming to agreement on how the organization says it will make decisions, and then how well the organization conforms to how it says it will make decisions.

In short, individuals a) need confidence in the group’s processes and b) to work through their personal needs for control in order for the group, overall, to grow.

Inside/Out

I happened to see the Pixar movie about emotions soon after the conference ended. Inside/Out is a dramatization of the inner life of a young girl whose life gets upended when her parents move from a town in Minnesota to San Francisco. We witness the play of the five basic emotions—joy, sadness, anger, fear, disgust—in her mind, and also see the results of how she’s feeling in her behavior. Two comments from friends who also saw the movie stuck with me. One friend was glad that the film “showed the reality that you cannot have joy without sadness.” The other friend noticed “how hard joy has to work in order to have any effect.”

Applying Pixar to RID, I realized that what I first thought of as two different conferences (as it appeared via social media) was instead a demonstration of how different people (or the same person at different times) at #RIDNOLA15 were expressing only three of the basic emotions: anger, disgust and joy. Missing were fear and sadness. While watching Inside/Out, I noticed something about the relationships among all five emotions. I actually went back to watch it a second time in order to confirm my observation. In the daughter’s mind, Joy is the leader. She corrals and herds Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger, and they look to her to do this.

The mom’s mind is different.

A Counter-Intuitive Way Forward?

The mom’s emotions are guided by Sadness.

This has left me wondering if the members of RID are locked into something called “Basic Assumption Groups.” The idea comes from a psychoanalytic approach to reading the unconscious of a group based on the behaviors of its members. Are we locked into sides: anger and disgust battling joy?  Meanwhile, fear is largely unexpressed (except disguised as anger or disgust), and sadness rarely enters the conversation (even though it is ever-present).

If we consider Weber’s “life cycle of groups” seriously, it offers insight into why groups get stuck in adolescence. There’s foundational work that needs to be done in “infancy,” the stage before the storm. If this is left un-done (or not done well, or needs to be re-done), group members do not share enough common expectations about what the organization can and should do.

The major intra-personal and interpersonal task of the infancy/forming stage of a group involves membership criteria. Individual members have to work through their own inclusion issues: if they do or do not want to belong. It seems that President Whitcher and the Board have given us a chance to rebirth the organization and re-define RID from the ground up.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you agree with the author that the patterns of behavior in the organization are about the same as they were twenty-five years ago? Why or why not?
  2. Does the framework of the “life cycle of groups” seem like a good tool for analyzing what’s going on with the organization and its members? Why or why not?
  3. Do you have different or additional ideas about the emotions expressed during/about the 2015 RID Convention?
  4. How do you managed your personal need for control?

Related Posts:

Interpreter Education: History is a Relentless Master with Dennis Cokely and Anna Witter-Merithew

Does the Past Hold the Answer to the Future of Sign Language Interpreting? by Carolyn Ball

Modern Questor: Connecting the Past to the Future of the Field by Lynnette Taylor

References:

Tuckman, Bruce. (1965). “Developmental Sequence in Small Groups.” Psychological Bulletin63(6): 384-399.

Weber, Richard C. (1982). The Group: A Cycle from Birth to Death, in Reading Book for Human Relations Training, 7th Edition. L. Porter and B. Mohr, Eds. Alexandria, VA: NTL Institute.

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Sign Language Interpreters and the “F” Word

Sign Language Interpreters and the 'F' Word

Receiving feedback is as much an art as giving it. By crafting opportunities to receive feedback, sign language interpreters can begin to erase the negative connotations that often accompany the “F” word.

 

Several hours after a recent interpreting assignment, I received an email from my team interpreter that simply said, “Can we chat about today?” I had an immediate hunch that I was soon to receive feedback about my performance and, despite the year of study I’ve committed to better understanding accountability and the art of receiving feedback, I froze.

[Click to view post in ASL]

Thanks to Sheila Heen and Doug Stone,1 I had the tools to prepare me for this feedback conversation and so I found a spot to sit that was free of distraction and called my colleague. For the next half hour, we successfully navigated what could have been a stressful conversation. As it turns out, I behaved that day in ways that were off-putting, and though I’d like to believe these behaviors were unrecognizable to an outsider, what mattered was that all of them impacted how my colleague experienced the day.

Sign Language Interpreters and Accountability

As sign language interpreters and engaged citizens of the world, we have countless daily opportunities to both give and receive feedback, which means we also have countless opportunities to have conversations that are a success, that go awry, and that fall somewhere in between. Let’s pause for a moment. Can you recall the last time you:

  • worked with an interpreter whose product was not up to snuff;
  • associated with a colleague who didn’t walk the talk in her or his commitment to the Deaf community;
  • were booked to team an assignment with a colleague who is notoriously late; or
  • worked with someone whose behavioral decisions were a turn-off for Deaf and hearing people, and drew undue attention?

Turning the tables, what about the last time a colleague thought you were any of the above? I believe if we are all better prepared to try on ideas that may at first seem off-point, that we’ll develop a more nuanced capacity for empathy and learning, which will in turn make us more proficient practitioners.

Feedback: Challenge or Opportunity?

Feedback is certainly not always a challenge to receive. It “…includes any information you get about yourself. In the broadest sense, it’s how we learn about ourselves from our experiences and from other people — how we learn from life. … So feedback is not just what gets ranked; it’s what gets thanked, commented on, and invited back or dropped.”2 Because we’ll come into contact with solicited and unsolicited feedback every day, from colleagues and not, practicing the art of receiving it is a worthwhile investment for all.

The real leverage is creating pull.”3 

Yes, it’s true that if everyone was more adept at sharing feedback, then we may be able to devote less attention to the art of receiving it. One might make the case, however, that because feedback comes in many forms and from many different people, the only control we will have on how “appreciation (thanks), coaching (here’s a better way to do it), and evaluation (here’s where you stand)”4 are delivered is in how they are received (in other words, we have no control on how feedback is delivered). The giver can be as eloquent or offensive as they choose; it is the receiver who decides whether or not to listen to what is said, how to interpret it, and what to do with it.

Shifting the Feedback Dynamic

With this awareness, I’m hopeful that the sign language interpreting field can begin to shift the feedback dynamic. Instead of investing most of our energy in refining the art of giving feedback, let’s get on board with the receiver soliciting feedback and guiding its provision. In fact, seeking feedback, for better or worse, supports one’s job satisfaction and allows more creativity to solve problems more easily.5 With a job that has been deemed the most cognitively complex task of which humans are capable,6 it’s likely useful to free up some mental energy for problem-solving.

“Creating pull is about mastering the skills required to drive our own learning; it’s about how to recognize and manage our resistance, how to engage in feedback conversations with confidence and curiosity, and even when the feedback seems wrong, how to find insight that might help us grow. It’s also about how to stand up for who we are and how we see the world, and ask for what we need. It’s about how to learn from feedback—yes, even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood.”7

Let’s move forward together — toward a place where we are genuinely interested in being held accountable and one where we seek feedback of all sorts, so as to enrich the practice of interpreting across the profession.

Managing Relationship, Truth, and Identity Triggers

Despite one’s uneasiness at receiving honest observations about their work, actions, and the impact these have on others, it is possible to remain present during the course of any feedback conversation. It’s common to feel triggered into resistance and self-preservation when receiving feedback, but if you can be aware of the reason behind the trigger, it becomes a tool for engagement and inquiry. Heen and Stone outline three different types of triggers: relationship, truth, and identity.8 Your connection to and thoughts about the feedback giver, the truthfulness of the feedback content, and what you believe it says about you can all derail an opportunity for growth, but they can also be managed so as to optimize learning.

Heen and Stone offer eight strategies for managing truth, relationship, and identity triggers:

    1. Separate Appreciation, Coaching, and Evaluation9to ensure alignment of the giver’s intent and the receiver’s understanding;
    2. First Understand10to examine “how to interpret feedback—where it’s coming from, what it’s suggesting you do differently, and why you and the giver might disagree”11;
    3. See Your Blind Spots12to acknowledge that the challenges to seeing ourselves as we really are can be overcome, and develop the tools to do so;
    4. Don’t Switchtrack: Disentangle What from Who13to help you remain open to learning even when the feedback is poorly timed and delivered;
    5. Identify the Relationship System14because “understanding relationship systems helps you move past blame and into joint accountability, and talk productively about these challenging topics, even when the other person thinks this feedback party is all about you”15;
    6. Learn How Wiring and Temperament Affect Your Story16to more fully appreciate why our emotional responses to feedback vary so greatly and why we recover from it in different ways as well;
    7. Dismantle Distortions17to unpack the feedback we receive and, absent of our emotionally-laden framing, understand what it actually means; and
    8. Cultivate a Growth Identity18for those who may hold back from seeking feedback, and because we connect with the world, each other, and ourselves differently, it is useful to “move from a vulnerable fixed identity to a robust growth identity that makes it easier to learn from feedback and experience.”19 

For the sake of word count and reader attention, I will not go any further into these strategies for this article. I will, however, elaborate more on each of these and their application for interpreters (and more) at the StreetLeverage – Live 2016 event in Fremont, CA.

Seeking Honest Feedback

In addition to the strategies briefly outlined above, Heen and Stone offer a question we can ask our colleagues, friends, and other loved ones. If we are truly invested in bettering ourselves and shaping our interactions with people who work with us, we can ask this one question to solicit honest feedback: “What’s one thing you see me doing, or failing to do, that’s getting in my own way?” 20

The next time we’re with an interpreting colleague and/or another Deaf individual with whom we’re working, let’s ask them, “What am I doing that is inhibiting my language choices and production?”, “What am I doing that is getting in my way, in terms of my commitment to the Deaf community?”, “What am I doing that is leading others to say I’m notoriously late?”, “What am I doing – or failing to do – that’s drawing this undue attention from the Deaf and hearing individuals at today’s assignment?” or another question that helps us appreciate the way in which the world engages with us as compared with how we see ourselves engaging with the world. The more we ask this of one another, the more we will shift the way we look at feedback. I predict it will become less of a “four letter word” and more of an open and ongoing conversation that allows us to remain accountable to the Deaf community, one another, and ourselves.

Questions for Consideration:

  1. Think back to some of your most successful feedback sessions as an interpreter. What were the conditions that contributed to their success?
  2. What were some of the conditions that contribute to less successful feedback sessions and how might you change those conditions in the future?
  3. How can sign language interpreters support and promote honest dialogue in our local communities based on the model presented here?

Related Posts:

Accountability: A First Step to Harmony Among Sign Language Interpreters? by Sabrina Smith

Vulnerability: A Collaboration Killer for Sign Language Interpreters by Laura Wickless

What Role Does Civility Play in the Sign Language Interpreting Profession by Carolyn Ball

References:

1Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood). Penguin Group USA.

2Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014a). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (p. 4). Penguin Group USA.

3Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014b). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (p. 6). Penguin Group USA.

4Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014c). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (p. 18). Penguin Group USA.

5Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014d). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (p. 6). Penguin Group USA.

6Steiner, G. (1975). After Babel: Aspects of language and translation. New York: Oxford University Press.

7Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014e). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (p. 6). Penguin Group USA.

8Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014f). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (p. 16). Penguin Group USA.

9Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014g). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (pp. 29-45). Penguin Group USA.

10Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014i). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (pp.46-76). Penguin Group USA.

11Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014h). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (p. 28). Penguin Group USA.

12Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014j). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (pp.77-101). Penguin Group USA.

13Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014k). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (pp.102-122). Penguin Group USA.

14Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014m). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (p.123-144). Penguin Group USA.

15Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014l). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (p. 101). Penguin Group USA.

16Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014n). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (p.147-164). Penguin Group USA.

17Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014o). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (pp.165-182). Penguin Group USA.

18Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014q). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (pp.183-205). Penguin Group USA.

19Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014p). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (p. 146). Penguin Group USA.

20Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014r). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (p. 258). Penguin Group USA.

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Recognizing Polite Indifference: Sign Language Interpreters & Power

Polite Indifference

When sign language interpreters avoid addressing issues to minimize conflict, we are exercising hearing privilege by adhering to majority cultural norms. Acting in true allyship requires courage, professional discipline, and transparency.

 

As sign language interpreters, we constantly make judgment calls on appropriate language choices and cultural behaviors in addition to determining how/where to act in allyship1.  In recent years, the concept of social justice2 and community accountability have become central to the discussion about how we practice the work of interpreting.

[Click to view post in ASL]

What is Polite Indifference?

Within the context of sign language interpreting, “polite indifference” refers to the American hearing cultural norm that results from the value of minimizing interpersonal conflict. When the risk of error is minimal, we drop the issue. We ignore the wrong. As people who are a part of the linguistic majority, we hold this privilege. As sign language interpreters, we use this privilege to decide if the situation is worthy of case discussion3 and/or involving the Deaf person in the conversation. These are decisions we, the interpreters, make daily. When a sign language interpreter decides an indiscretion is minor and not worthy of discussion, time or attention any kind, we are exercising our hearing privilege by practicing polite indifference.

Polite Indifference in Action

At one very public assignment, I was teamed with one hearing interpreter and one Certified Deaf Interpreter for a presentation which many Deaf community members attended. My colleagues were watching, listening, and undoubtedly, making note of my work. If I were in their seat, I would be doing the same. As I began to interpret, things were fine, but as time wore on, my team never took the microphone. As my mental process was breaking down, I could hear my own voice speaking English, but it wasn’t pretty. Sure, the concept was there – the main points were touched on (thank you Sandra Gish!4) but the extended time spent processing the source language and producing the target language without a break was clearly wearing on the interpretation.

By the time my team did take the helm, I was already spent and wondering why I had continued for so long, alone. The assignment continued in the same vein, with me taking the bulk of the ASL to English work. At the conclusion of the assignment, I fled to the restroom to gather myself. I needed to figure out how to approach my teams. While I have a good, strong relationship with this team, I was struck helpless. Worse still, we had agreed to meet with four less experienced interpreters so they could observe our debriefing session. I was not in the mental or physical state to engage in the kind of conflict I was feeling with spectators present.

As the debrief began, my hearing team confirmed my suspicions; with our colleagues in the room and the rich content of the presentation, she lost her mojo. I know that feeling well. She said she thought I was doing a fabulous job. My heart sank. Even if that were true, I wanted to scream at her for leaving me alone without switching at the agreed upon time. I wanted to ask her to prepare by knowing the terminology prior to coming to the job. I wanted to tell her I expected more from her. I wanted to tell her she let me down.

When it was my turn to debrief, I couldn’t bring myself to say anything about how I was feeling or what my process was during work. With four pairs of new interpreter eyes focused on us, I wanted our process to look shiny and positive; I wanted to make the best of it. I was embarrassed to have them see us fail at working together. The assignment was rife with rich content and process dynamics. It felt petty and personal to discuss my concerns about being left to do all the work.  Plus, I was so tired; I couldn’t accurately judge the caliber of my own work. Instead of speaking up, I decided it was easier to be politely indifferent to what happened. To let it go.

After the debrief, I was left with several questions: Did this session meet the expectations of the new interpreters? Would the interpretation meet the expectations of the presenter? Will this team of interpreters be able to work together again? What have I done??!

In my community of practice, we share concepts of accountability including: calling out oppressive behaviors, recognizing micro-aggressions and audism. We discuss these concepts in the hopes of unpacking and addressing the privileges we have brought to interpreting. But in deciding to be quiet that day, I erased it all with my “polite indifference”.

Using Our Voices for Good

As I work with new sign language interpreters, our debrief allows me to see the impact of staying silent, even if there are perceived advantages. Some mistakes I have made go untouched, undiscovered, but having mentees requires me to look at the mistakes and deconstruct what is happening in my work. The difference between staying silent and this work of deconstruction is staggering. I practice case conferencing which elicits community involvement and takes into consideration the perspectives of Deaf people, my team, and the hearing constituents. I ask new practitioners who are still deeply entrenched in academic concepts to consider the impact of the work on all stakeholders.

Privilege is a fact which is central to our business. As hearing interpreters, our work is predicated on our ability to hear. Because of that privilege, because we are in the majority linguistic culture of the U.S., because we practice interpreting to provide access to information, we must always be mindful of the power privilege carries in our work and use our voices for good. This means having difficult conversations even when we feel that twinge of conflict and desire to be polite. We don’t always have to agree on each facet of the conversation. Acknowledging the temptation to respond with polite indifference will ultimately lead us to better outcomes and better relationships with Deaf people and team members.

Now what? Steps Forward

Addressing polite indifference and unpacking our privilege allows us to be more transparent. We must acknowledge that we have privileges and use them in a socially conscious way. If we do not share our thoughts, feelings, patterns and discomforts, we remain complicit in oppression and polite indifference can easily become a habit in our work. Unpacking is not comfortable. We have to remember that this action comes from a compassionate and ethical practice which is grounded in social justice values. A large majority of sign language interpreters are second language learners of ASL.Sharing our thoughts and feelings about our work is hard. Hearing the feedback of others is not easy.

In the situation described above, my decision to withhold information was an exercise of my privilege. What drove me not to share information was polite indifference. Much later, when I clearly understood my obligations, I talked to my hearing team. We hashed it out. I talked to my colleagues. They assured me the message of the presenter was given.  I hope to speak to the observing interpreters  individually and talk about the missed opportunity for discussion, and how recognition of polite indifference is a critical component in our work. Someday I will have the chance to talk to the presenter and organizer.  The ultimate lesson for me is that polite indifference is the opposite of using my voice for good.  

Questions to Consider:

  1. Recognizing privilege is critical when working with marginalized populations. How can sign language interpreters support each other in recognizing when hearing privilege is guiding decision-making in an interpreting situation?Do you feel prepared to have these difficult conversations with your team? if not, why not?
  2. How can sign language interpreters address issues of power and privilege proactively in team situations in order to protect the integrity of the work?
  3. Think about an instance when you chose polite indifference instead of confronting an issue. If you could go back in time and relive that situation, what would you do differently? Why?

Related Posts:

Missing Narratives in Interpreting and Interpreter Education by Erica West Oyedele

Self-Awareness: How Sign Language Interpreters Acknowledge Privilege and Oppression by Stacey Storme

Power Dynamics: Are Sign Language Interpreters Getting it Right? by Darlene Zangara

References:

1 Allyship. (2011, December 10). Retrieved October 26, 2015, from https://theantioppressionnetwork.wordpress.com/allyship/

2 Coyne, D. (2014, May 20). Social Justice: An Obligation for Sign Language Interpreters? Retrieved October 26, 2015, from http://www.streetleverage.com/2014/05/social-justice-an-obligation-for-sign-language-interpreters/

3 Keller, K. (2012, February 28). Case Discussion: Sign Language Interpreters Contain Their Inner. Retrieved October 26, 2015, from http://www.streetleverage.com/2012/02/case-discussion/

Tag: Sandra Gish. (n.d.). Retrieved October 26, 2015, from https://theinterpretingreport.wordpress.com/tag/sandra-gish/

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StreetLeverage: A Story of Thanksgiving

Gratitude

 

The StreetLeverage story is YOUR story.

There is no way to tell the StreetLeverage story without attempting to identify a large number of people and to rehearse every small, seemingly insignificant act of generosity which, when woven together, creates a multiplier which has compounded these acts into something beautiful.

This generosity open doors for us to learn, enjoy and share this work. It allows us to connect with amazingly talented, committed, inspired and inspiring people.

Generosity, large and small, is the connective tissue which binds everything together at StreetLeverage. Every event attendee and volunteer, every fully formulated post and idea shared, and every reader who likes, shares or tweets ideas to their peers and co-workers, demonstrates that spirit. With each decision, offer, invitation, open door and open mind, a space has been created for opportunity, for discovery, for expanding possibilities in the field of sign language interpreting.

We are grateful to all the individuals who participate in and support the StreetLeverage endeavor. Without your contributions, this task would be insurmountable. 

It is with grateful hearts that StreetLeverage says a hearty and heartfelt, “Thank You!”

Related Posts:

The Power of “Thank You”: Sign Language Interpreters and Gratitude by Jean Miller

Sign Language Interpreters: Discover & Recover an Enduring Legacy by Debra Russell

Sign Language Interpreters and the Karma of Gratitude by Brandon Arthur

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Respecting Language: Sign Language Interpreters as Linguistic Descriptivists

Respecting Language: Sign Language Interpreters as Linguistic Descriptivists

Sign language interpreters are exposed to language variation on a daily basis. Interpreters and programs supporting interpreter education must cooperate with the Deaf community to adopt and adapt to the evolving stylings of native signers.

 

How We Look at Language

There are two widespread approaches to variation within languages: prescriptivism and descriptivism1. Prescriptivists approach language with a predetermined notion of what rules ought to govern a language. Often these rules are taken from some supposedly pure or superior form of language. Prescriptivists have looked at English, for instance, and insisted on the use of “whom” in object position rather than “who,” on distinguishing between uses of “fewer” and “less,” and on using “from,” and not “than,” as the preposition that accompanies the adjective, “different.”

[Click to view post in ASL]

Descriptivists, on the other hand, approach language variation as it occurs in actual discourse. Instead of seeking to impose rules on language use based on some predetermined agenda or formula, descriptivists simply observe without judgment how the language is used by native speakers. Rather than assuming that one dialect is superior to another, descriptivists note that all varieties of language operate based on a number of equally valid, complex rules.

Linguists generally approach linguistic variation as descriptivists. These scientists insist that there is no objective reason to regard one set of rules as superior to another. For instance, dialects of English that use the past participle “have saw” are not objectively inferior to dialects that use “have seen.” Many textbooks teach the form “have seen” for socio-political reasons. That is, the people who have power and wealth impose their language variety on others by publishing grammar books that espouse the rules of their variety and by discriminating against speakers whose dialects do not conform. As a result, people assume that one dialect is “correct” or more rule-governed than the dialects of less powerful groups who do not have the means to publish grammar books and represent their own dialects in media and other institutions of power. In this way, the language of the establishment becomes a norm that oppresses and suppresses legitimate dialect variation.

Interpreters as Linguists

Sign language interpreters should act as linguistic descriptivists. That is, interpreters should look at language as it is used by native signers in the Deaf community and attempt to emulate that language in their target language production. Unfortunately, there is a trend toward linguistic prescriptivism in interpreter education and in the sign language interpreting community. These prescriptivists focus on some notion of ASL “purity” and how they assume ASL should be signed. While, on the face of it, it seems that such a motivation would be praiseworthy, in reality this approach frames the Deaf community’s language as an object of judgment with the interpreter serving as judge. Prescriptivists lament the supposedly poor and degraded quality of ASL usage today and too often situate themselves as “better” signers than the Deaf clients they serve.

Complicating Factors

Three caveats are in order. First, I am not asserting that everything every Deaf person signs is consistent with ASL grammatical norms. For instance, there are many non-native Deaf signers who use ASL but who did not internalize its grammatical rules growing up. As a result, they cannot be said to adequately represent legitimate dialect varieties of ASL. Though their language use should be respected, they are not ideal linguistic models of native ASL use. Secondly, everyone has bits of language that are idiosyncratic and not representative of linguistic norms. Thus, simply because one native signer uses a particular expression, that expression should not be considered de facto normative and applied widely by sign language interpreters. Thirdly, sign language interpreters who work in educational settings must consider the unique situation of Deaf students whose language is still developing.  Educational interpreters should not limit their usage to that which is common in the particular mainstream setting in which they work. Instead, they should consider the wider Deaf community’s usage when choosing signs and grammatical options. Just as a hearing teacher introduces English structures and vocabulary that are more advanced than those commonly used by hearing students, so should an interpreter include ASL structures that are representative of Deaf adult populations.

Prescriptivism in Our Work

The native signing community serves as the normative standard for the language, and non-native interpreters should not impose our own judgments on the signs and syntactic structures used in the community. To do so is to impose a prescriptivism that is inappropriate to one’s role as a sign language interpreter. I see this prescriptivism in several areas:

  1. Formulaic Syntax. Many interpreters, in their zeal to learn and preserve ASL, often develop an unnuanced, formulaic idea of what ASL is. As a result, they apply overly simplistic “rules” about what constitutes “pure” ASL. For instance, such interpreters expect all ASL sentences to use topicalization or right-movement of wh-questions (wh- question words at the ends of sentences). Such an approach reveals an incomplete understanding of the wide range of syntactic variation available in ASL.
  2. Reluctance Toward English Borrowings. Sign language interpreters often frown on Deaf people’s use of English-derived syntax, signs, and expressions in their discourse. In reality, however, languages that exist side-by-side for many years—as English and ASL have—often experience linguistic borrowing. In particular, the less powerful language tends to frequently borrow from the more powerful language group2.  Thus, ASL’s use of English structures and expressions is not an aberration, but rather an indication that ASL is a normal language.
  3. Preference for Contrastive Structures. Related to the above two tendencies is the trend for interpreters to always search for linguistic forms that are as different from English as possible. This tendency results in the refusal to use a word order that happens to be similar to English word order even if that is the syntax preferred by the community in certain instances.
  4. Insistence on “Conceptual” Accuracy. Signs are not concepts. Signs are lexical items that can represent a wide range of ideas. Just as the English word “bear” can convey several senses, so too can signs convey a wide range of meanings. Rather than attempting to use signs that are “conceptually” accurate, we should ask ourselves which signs are used to convey a particular idea in the Deaf community and use those signs to convey that idea.  For instance, in the Deaf community in which I work, the sign BREAK is often used to indicate the idea of violating a law or rule. Though the sign BREAK did not traditionally extend to the concept of illicit behavior, the community now uses the term in that way and thus the term should be accepted by sign language interpreters in that community.
  5. Avoidance of Initialization. The Deaf community itself is grappling with the long history of linguistic oppression that has affected its language. In an effort to counteract these effects, some signers prefer to avoid all initializations. While it is certainly outside of my role to tell native users how to use their own language, I maintain that the interpreter ought to look to members of the Deaf community she works with as the norm for her own language use. That is, if an initialized sign is accepted in the community, it is not the interpreter’s place to purge that sign from the community’s language. Of course, if a consumer prefers non-initialized signs, then the interpreter ought to use those signs. In the end, the decision for what signs should and should not be used must rest with the Deaf community.

Descriptivism as a Route to Language Respect

Interpreters and interpreter education must remain rooted in the Deaf community. The ideas addressed by Eileen Forestal and Sherry Shaw in their CIT presentation, ”Breaking the Mold of Tokenism”, would aid in the formation of a respectful interpreter mindset regarding the ownership of ASL. The language we use is not an arbitrary entity to be preserved for ourselves according to the rules we prefer. Rather, ASL is a living language belonging to the community we serve. So I invite you to approach each linguistic encounter as an opportunity to observe and to learn from what you see. When we adopt descriptivism as our approach to language, we avoid the burdensome negativity of the judge and can live in the open, engaging world of the eternal language learner.

Questions to Consider

  1. How can interpreter education programs encourage descriptivist attitudes among student interpreters?
  2. Can you recall an instance in which you have expressed a prescriptivist attitude? What may have motivated that behavior?
  3. How can sign language interpreters who wish to emulate the language used in their community distinguish between idiosyncratic novelties and instances of genuine, widespread linguistic variation?
  4. How is linguistic descriptivism especially important for educational interpreters in mainstream settings?

 

Related Posts:

A Deaf Perspective: Cultural Respect in Sign Language Interpreting by Trudy Suggs

Bilingualism: Are Sign Language Interpreters Bilinguals? by MJ Bienvenu

The Value of Networking for the Developing Sign Language Interpreter by Stacey Webb

 

References:

For excellent analyses of prescriptive and descriptive approaches to language, see  Joan C. Beal, Carmela Nocera, Massimo Sturiale eds. Perspectives on Prescriptivism. New York: Peter Lang, 2008.  

2 See Hock, Hans Henrich, and Brian D. Joseph. “Lexical Borrowing.” Language History, Language Change, and Language Relationship: An Introduction to Historical and Comparative Linguistics. 2nd ed. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2009. 241–278.

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The Power of “Thank You”: Sign Language Interpreters and Gratitude

The Power of Thank You: Sign Language Interpreters and Gratitude

Sincere expressions of gratitude positively impact both giver and receiver. Creating an intentional gratitude practice could benefit sign language interpreters and the profession.

 

As the days grow darker with the change of the seasons, there is a sense of despair in many arenas of the sign language interpreting field; rough waters on the national front, a swiftly-changing field of work, expressions of dissatisfaction from those who employ our services the most. It almost feels like the perfect storm. One thought keeps those negative thoughts at bay: could we transform our relationships with the Deaf Community and other sign language interpreters if we expressed our thanks more regularly?

[Click to view post in ASL]

My thoughts here are not original. Brandon Arthur talked about Sign Language Interpreters and the Karma of Gratitude back in 2011. Tammera Richards included the idea in her article, #Doable: How Sign Language Interpreters Restore Relationships with the Deaf Community. If you do a blog search on StreetLeverage, many of the contributors mention gratitude in their articles. It is not a foreign concept, but my sense is that we need to be more intentional, and we need to do more. The darker the time, the more we need the light of our friends and supporters to show us the way.

Upping the Ante

Sometimes, a simple smile, a “hello”, or a friendly wave of acknowledgment when I’m on the phone is enough to make my day. Each of these gestures has made an impact on me, particularly when I might be struggling in some way. When I remember how meaningful it is to receive these expressions of gratitude, it strengthens my resolve to reach out and share them with others.

After the Community Forum at the RID National Conference this year, I did something I rarely do. I approached two of the speakers and thanked them for sharing their stories. For me, that session was the most memorable of the whole conference. I was moved to tears by the courage and strength of those who stood on the stage that night. While I usually convince myself that presenters don’t need to hear me tell them how great they are, I couldn’t contain my gratitude. The conversations that ensued were so heartfelt and so meaningful to me; I carry them with me still. Perhaps it was more beneficial for me than for them, I don’t know. What I do know is that when I walked away that night, I was inspired to be braver. To take more opportunities to thank those who inspire, support, teach and inform my work.

Finding New Mindsets

If I am looking for things to complain about, I will find them. If I am looking for things to be grateful for, those will emerge.” Patti Digh, Be Conscious of Your Treasures1

In 2006, one of my favorite authors, Patti Digh, offered a challenge on her blog: “Create a list of 37 people who have helped you and write just one or two sentences that captures the gift they have given you.”2 I took that challenge and the experience was profound. In 2013, she posted an entry in her web series, “your daily rock” titled, “write a thank you note.” In that short missive, she states:

“For four years now, I have written a thank you note every morning. It has changed how I see the world. I look for opportunities to thank, not opportunities to criticize. It is not new skills we need to change our lives–it is new mindsets.”3

The idea of changing mindsets resonates with me personally, and I have been wondering how it could impact our professional community, as well. I hope you will consider exploring a new mindset with me.

A November Challenge: Show Your Gratitude

As the month of November begins, as Thanksgiving approaches, and as many of us await the findings of the RID Risk Assessment, I’d like to challenge StreetLeverage readers to show your gratitude in a focused, purposeful way.

There are a million ways to show your gratitude. Here are some ideas:

  1. Write a thank you note to one person you worked with the day before and send it or give it to them each day in November.
  2. Donate time or money to a local Deaf Community organization in November.
  3. Write gratitude tweets or Facebook status updates to thank people in your community and/or in your work life each day in November.
  4. Invite someone out for coffee, lunch or dinner who may not be aware of their impact on your career. Tell them about it.
  5. Start a gratitude journal for your work life. Remember why you became a sign language interpreter in the first place. Do it every day of November (and beyond, if it helps).

Not convinced? Here is an article about the benefits of gratitude.

Creating Momentum

I hope you will join me in a month of gratitude. I’d love to hear about your experiences, transformations and epiphanies. I know it won’t solve the problems of our field, but it might be a step toward mending or strengthening relationships and partnerships, which may create the momentum to address some of the larger challenges that lay ahead for practitioners and the field in general. Or, it might just make you feel good.

Questions for Consideration:

  1. What do you think would start to occur within the field if we started to tell each other the things we assume others already know?
  2. How might an abundance of gratitude impact how we see our work, our teams, the people who use our services?
  3. What if, in the absence of explicit gratitude based on the work we produce, sign language interpreters expressed gratitude to each other for being a good team, for taking a challenging assignment, for correcting our mistakes, for taking the lead on a day when we weren’t quite feeling it?
  4. How can we meaningfully express our sincere appreciation to Deaf community members for their patience, guidance, feedback, and their willingness to share their language and culture?

References:

  1. Digh, Patti. “Be Conscious of Your Treasures.” Web log post. 37Days. N.p., 20 Nov. 2006. Web. 31 Oct. 2015.
  2. ibid.
  3. Digh, Patti. “Your Daily Rock: Write a Thank You Note.” Web log post.37Days. N.p., 29 Nov. 2013. Web. 31 Oct. 2015.
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Can Clarity Return Discretion to VRS Interpreters’ Repertoire?

Can Clarity Return Discretion to VRS?

The FCC’s “10-minute rule” and their stance on information gathering to contextualize calls in VRS have been widely misunderstood. Understanding the intent of these regulations can help return discretion to VRS interpreters.

 

A great American journalist, Margaret Fuller, once said, “If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.” Sign language interpreters often work in isolation and have limited opportunities to interact and, therefore, limited opportunities to share knowledge. Fortunately, with technological advancements, we have platforms such as Street Leverage to disperse information throughout the community.

[Click to view post in ASL]

My inspiration to write this comes from my discovery of information when I was preparing for a lesson on the Video Relay Service industry for my interpreting students. In addition to being a video relay interpreter for the past six years, I am also a lecturer at one of the largest interpreter training programs in the country at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf. As a colleague of mine, Brian Morrison, once said, “It takes a village to raise a sign language interpreter,” so I take my job as a lecturer very seriously and work hard to ensure the information I share in my classroom is accurate. Due to the size of our program, I realize the impact I have as an educator on both the Deaf and interpreting communities.  

Revisiting FCC Regulations

While searching through some of the FCC regulations to prepare for my lecture, I came across the FCC’s 2006 revision to the “10-minute rule”. It had been my understanding that unless a switch was requested by the caller (either hearing or Deaf), an interpreter or Communication Assistant (CA), must remain in the call for at least 10 minutes before transferring the call to another interpreter. My understanding was incorrect. On June 16, 2006, the FCC released an order on two VRS issues: the FCC’s 10-minute rule and the interpreter’s role regarding asking questions to callers.

Understanding the “10-Minute Rule”

The first issue deals with the FCC’s 10-minute rule, which requires CAs to remain with a TRS user for at least 10 minutes before transferring the call to another CA. In the 2006 order, the FCC clarifies that in the event a video interpreter handling a VRS call in sign language finds that effective communication is not taking place, the interpreter may change to another interpreter before the initial 10 minutes have passed. The FCC explained that

“there may be VRS calls during which the party using sign language, the CA, or both, find that they are unable to communicate effectively because of regional dialect differences, lack of knowledge about a particular subject matter (e.g., a technical or complex subject matter), or other reason. In these circumstances, when effective communication is not occurring, we conclude that the 10-minute in-call replacement rule is not violated if the VRS provider has another CA take over the call.”

This discovery was new information to me. After reading Richard Peterson’s article “Profession in pentimento”, I had been under the impression that one of our most important values as sign language interpreters, our use of discretion, is in direct conflict with the FCC regulations found in Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations. The regulation found on page 266 of the Mandatory Minimum Standards states:“Consistent with the obligations of telecommunications carrier operators, CAs are prohibited from refusing single or sequential calls…”

Can VRS Interpreters Exercise Discretion?

According to Peterson, this rule is widely interpreted to mean that interpreters working as communication assistants must – without exception – accept any and all calls; in other words, they cannot exercise discretion, stating,

“From the frame of reference of the FCC, everything professional interpreters believe about the bedrock value of exercising discretion in our work is misprised, rendered inoperative.”

On their Video Relay Consumer Facts page 7, the FCC states it a little differently:

“Preferential treatment of calls is prohibited. VRS … providers must handle calls in the order in which they are received. They cannot selectively answer calls from certain consumers or certain locations.”

Here the caveat from RID on the applicability of our Code seems almost prescient: 

“Federal, state or other statutes or regulations may supersede this Code of Professional Conduct. When there is a conflict between this code and local, state, or federal laws and regulations, the interpreter obeys the rule of law.” (RID/NAD Code of Professional Conduct 2005: 2)

If you look back to the revision of the FCC’s regulation made in 2006, you can see that Peterson’s argument is not necessarily true if the interpreter is aware of the revision and their ability to use discretion.

Lack of Understanding or Lack of Information?

I decided to see whether this 2006 revision was widely known to video relay interpreters by talking to several interpreters representing various VRS companies across the country. I found that we all had the same misunderstanding. We were all under the impression that the FCC’s 10-minute rule prohibits interpreters from using their discretion. So, in essence, Peterson’s argument has some validity if we are not even aware that we CAN, in fact, exercise our right to discretion and still follow the FCC regulation. As you can see, it is not the FCC’s regulation that is holding us back from adhering to that bedrock value of exercising discretion, but it is our lack of full understanding of our options as professional and ethical interpreters.

As I stated, knowledge truly is powerful. A recent case study on VRS interpreters’ decision making revealed that one common theme interpreters cited was the focus on rules (Holcombe, 2014). One interpreter reported that she was thwarted in her intention to provide effective service in part due to her understanding of a federal regulation. When responding to a request to team, she was unable to immediately replace a struggling interpreter because of the “10-minute rule,” which she believed mandated that an interpreter must remain in a call for a minimum of ten minutes. Her decision making was an example of deontological thinking with a focus on rules (Holcombe, 2014).

Stress and Sign Language Interpreters

Another theme that came up during the case study was the incidence of stress. In Holcombe’s findings the same interpreter stated she experienced stress due to the constraints of the “10-minute rule”. The data and literature review from the study shows that the FCC’s orders are not clearly understood by VRS interpreters, which can be an additional cause of stress. This added stress is a huge concern given that in a self-report study, the VRS industry had been found to be one of the top settings of occupational risk for interpreters (Dean; Pollard; & Samar, 2010). More recently the issue of occupational stress and resulting injury in the VRS setting has been addressed in a survey conducted by the by the Video Interpreter Member Section (VIMS) of the RID (Kroeger, J., 2014).

Hetherington (2011) performed a phenomenological analysis to study occupational stress in the signed language interpreting profession. Analysis of the research identified three themes related to significant causes of interpreter’s stress—real and/or perceived constraints on their role by other professionals, their own understanding of the responsibilities coupled with complexities of the role, and the feeling of powerlessness when the goal to ensure effective communication is hindered by the constraints (Hetherington, 2011).

Industry Standards and FCC Regulations Can Align

RID and industry standards suggest that it is best practice for interpreters to obtain information in advance in order to be most successful (RID Standard Practice Paper, 2007). In its second ruling, the FCC clarified that a VRS interpreter may ask a VRS caller questions during call set-up when this is needed to ensure that the interpreter can effectively handle the call. The FCC explained that “in some circumstances the complexity of sign language may make it difficult for the CA to effectively relay the call if the CA does not understand the subject matter or context of the call.” In addition, the Commission noted that “it is universal practice in the interpreting profession to ask customers questions prior to an assignment in order to better facilitate effective communication. As the Commission has noted, one sign can have different meanings depending on the context.” However, according to the RID standard practice paper about VRS, gathering information from callers prior to phone calls being placed is not a common policy among VRS providers (RID SPP, 2007).        

Knowledge Sharing and Reflective Practice

Now you may ask yourself, who is responsible for ensuring that the interpreters possess this knowledge? Is it up to the individual interpreters or is it up to the companies to ensure that the interpreters are given this information? How can interpreters share their candlelight of knowledge if they are not even certain about the origin of the rules and guidelines that govern the VRS industry (Alley, 2013)? Also, how can we expect interpreters to share their knowledge with others if they lack understanding of the delineation of authority between FCC regulations and corporate practices and policies (Alley, 2013)?

One solution I propose to reduce misunderstandings and ensure information sharing is the opportunity for interpreters to talk with one another and engage in a form reflective practice with colleagues. Reflective practice has been a common theme that has been discussed in previous Street Leverage articles.  We are fortunate to have such notable supporters of this effort who share their positive experience of engaging in reflective practices. Please see Anna-Witter Merrithew’s article, Sign Language Interpreters: Breaking Down Silos Through Reflective Practice,  Kendra Keller’s Case Discussion: Sign Language Interpreters Contain Their Inner “What the…!!!?” , Robyn Dean’s article Ethical Development: A Sign of the Times for Sign Language Interpreters and Kate Block’s piece,  Horizontal Violence: Can Sign Language Interpreters Break the Cycle? for more in-depth explanations of what reflective practice is and the benefits it has to the interpreting community. I have been both a participant and facilitator of reflective practice groups known as “supervision groups”. The experiences I have had as a reflective practitioner have enhanced my critical thinking skills as an interpreter. If you have not participated in one of these groups,  I highly recommend you do.  For information on future groups and what reflective practice is, please visit this site

Questions to Consider

  1. What do you do to help ensure the light of knowledge gets passed on throughout the interpreting community?
  2. Who is ultimately responsible for ensuring the FCC rules and company policies are understood?  Is it the interpreters, the VRS companies, or both?
  3. How do consumer expectations impact FCC regulations, company policies and interpreter behavior?

Related Articles

Station Meditation: VRS, Compassion and Sign Language Interpreters by Judith Webb

VRS Sign Language Interpreters: An Appropriate Legal Tool? by Tara Potterveld and Nichola Schmitz

 

References

Alley, E. (2013). Video Relay Service: The path from student to professional? International Journal of Interpreter Education, 5(2), 96-110.

Dean, R. K., Pollard, R. Q., & Samar, V. J. (2010). RID Reseach Grant Underscores Occupational Health Risks: VRS and K-12 Settings Most Concerning. VIEWS, 41-43.

Federal Communications Commission. In the Matter of Telecommunications Relay Services and Speech-to-Speech Services for Individuals with Hearing and Speech Disabilities, Order, CG Docket No.03-123, FCC 06-81,released June 16, 2006.                    

Hetherington, A. (2011). A magical profession? Causes and management of occupational stress in the signed language interpreting profession. In L. Leeson, S. Wurm, & M. Vermeerbergen (Eds.), The sign language translator and interpreter: Preparation, practice and performance. Manchester, UK: St Jerome.

Holcombe, Kathleen C., “Video Relay Service Interpreting: Interpreters’ Authority,

Agency, and Autonomy in the Process of Ethical Decision Making” (2014). Master’s of Arts in Interpreting Studies (MAIS) Theses. Paper 16. http://digitalcommons.wou.edu/theses/16

Kroeger, J. (2014). Findings from the video interpreter member section survey on injuries. VIEWS, 31(1), 42-43.

Peterson, R. (2011). Profession in pentimento: A narrative inquiry into interpreting in video settings. In L. Swabey, & B. Nicodemus (Eds.), Advances in interpreting research (pp. 199-223). Amsterdam, Netherlands: John Benjamins.

Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. (2005). NAD-RID Code of Professional Conduct. From Registry of the Interpreters for Deaf (RID). http:///www.rid.org/UserFiles/pdfs/codeofethics.pdfSPP.pdf

Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. (2007). Standard practice paper Video Relay Service interpreting. From Registry of the Interpreters for the Deaf: http://www.rid.org?UserFiles?file?pdfs?Standard_Practice_Papers/Drafs_June/20 06/VRS-

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Replenishing Sign Language Interpreting: Extraction Exchange

Sandra Maloney - StreetLeverage - X

Sandra Maloney presented Replenishing Sign Language Interpreting: Extraction Exchange at StreetLeverage – X | RID Conference 2015.  Her presentation explores the concept of the “extraction mindset,” applications to the field of sign language interpreting, and how to combat this thinking.

You can find the PPT deck for her presentation here.

[Note from StreetLeverage: What follows is an English rendition of Sandra’s talk from StreetLeverage – X | RID Conference 2015.  We would encourage each of you to watch the video and access Sandra’s talk directly.]

Replenishing Sign Language Interpreting: Extraction Exchange

Good morning.

It’s amazing to see so many of you here.

When Brandon Arthur asked me to participate in this morning’s event, I was honored to be asked, particularly in light of previous StreetLeverage presenters. Then I thought, “What will I talk about?” I’m interested and passionate about any number of subjects. I could talk about RID but since this morning comes towards the end of the conference, I decided I didn’t want to focus on RID. I could talk about my graduate research, but that didn’t feel right. Then someone sent me a link to a blog by a person who is not an interpreter nor a member of the Deaf Community. The blog is written by a man named Seth Godin. As I read, I realized I had found my topic – I knew I had to talk about this today. Seth’s post topic was the “Extraction Mindset.” I read the post- I’ll explain more about the blog later on, but first, I want to talk about this idea. As I read, I wondered about the meaning of the term “extraction mindset,” and, being a graduate student, I did my research to gather more information.

Defining the “Extraction Mindset”

The concept of extraction mindset can be applied to various circumstances. For example, consider the rainforest. A person identifies the need for wood and proceeds to clearcut an area, extract all the useful wood, and burns the ground, leaving nothing behind. All resources have been depleted, leaving a barren, useless landscape. Another version of this mindset can be illustrated in sign language interpreters’ addiction to their smartphones, for example, the iPhone. Whenever a new version is released, everyone rushes to buy the latest device in an effort to be the first to have it.The length of the line demonstrates the drive, the hurry to get the latest version. So that idea, that mindset that is “I must get it before others can” is a part of the “extraction mindset.”

Now, I’ll show you a paragraph taken from Seth’s blog and how I envision how it applies to our field.

When I read that, I got goosebumps and my mind started racing with the many potential applications to our field. There are so many ways we can apply this theory. And the results of this “take it now before someone else gets it” mindset…the results are depleted resources. So I started thinking about applications to the field of interpreting – perhaps your minds are working on the possibilities, as well.

Applications to the Field of Sign Language Interpreting

For me, one area that immediately came to mind was freelance interpreting. Wouldn’t you agree? Freelance Interpreting has no set schedule. We don’t know when the next job will come. What that means is that when an assignment is presented to us, we have to decide whether to accept or decline. In the ideal world, before we accept a job, we would consider things like, “Am I the right person for this assignment? Is this assignment at the right time? What is my next assignment after this one?” There numerous other considerations. But often, in the real world, we think about the medical appointment we have the following week, that our child’s schedule is also busy, so we go ahead and accept the job. Often, I see my colleagues accept assignments. They know that they have an 8:00 am meeting to interpret the next morning. When they get a last minute emergency call to the hospital that may mean working through the night, they still accept the job even knowing they will have to interpret in the morning. That’s a prime example of that “take it now” mindset without considering the repercussions. Because we don’t know what is coming next, we focus on immediate things like our income, our bills. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but what is the ultimate impact?

I had another thought about this on an organizational level. Often, we find a good volunteer. Once we find out that they are willing to serve, we get very excited about giving them multiple jobs because it benefits our organization, but what about the benefits to the volunteer? They started out wanting to give back, but how are they benefiting in the long run? As organizations, we need to consider the benefits to volunteers as well as ways to train future generations of volunteers. I think we’ve lost the concept of “training behind” a bit. So now, when we task someone with a project, we don’t provide the necessary resources. We don’t have individuals who can support that next generation person in taking over. That concept has been lost.

Results of the Extraction Mindset

We see this at work in the Deaf community, as well. We want language models; we want people to participate and get involved. We take advantage of their resources.  The Deaf community does want to help interpreters, to help improve the community, to work in partnership with interpreters. But often, people say things like, “I’m done. Let someone else take that on. Let them do it. I’m done.” That response is really a result of the extraction mindset. That type of thinking results in burnout.

results mindset pic

So the result of the extraction mindset is burnout. I’ve noticed recently on several Facebook pages – I’ve joined a number of pages as a participant. I don’t often comment, but I do watch the discussions. I’ve noticed we have a problem in that interpreters are leaving the field to pursue other careers. They no longer work as interpreters. They get tired and become social workers, psychologists, nurses, something other than interpreters. They aren’t continuing to work as full-time interpreters. My thought is that this is due to the “take it all now” mentality and the depletion of our resources. There’s nothing left for them, and we aren’t providing appropriate supports.

On an organizational level…. I often work with affiliate chapters (of RID) who talk about the apathy of the members. “They don’t want to be involved. They aren’t volunteering.” Okay, but what are we providing for them? “They” are tired. “They” don’t know the benefits of volunteering. This has to be a partnership. It has to be. If not, this is what happens – we have problems. We aren’t able to do what is needed. We feel paralyzed because there is no partnership.

The Path Forward: Extraction Exchange

So, how can we succeed? If we are stuck in this short-sighted mentality and solely focused on looking out for ourselves without considering how our decisions impact future outcomes, the problems will only persist, and our successes will be few and far between.

If you’ve focused on that extraction mindset, if you’ve focused on your own gains, don’t be discouraged or disheartened. There is still hope. Any time we identify a problem, it is important that we come up with ideas to create solutions or alternative ways to approach an issue.

the path forward pic

As I researched “extraction mindset,”I also found a concept called “extraction exchange”. That business model requires interaction. Extraction exchange always considers the future – not only for the self, but for the organization and the community. Thinking about the future allows us to examine decisions and their effects on the present and the future and all parties involved.

Preparing the Soil

This week, I’ve gone into numerous workshops where people have said, “You must plant the seed.” Plant the seed. My challenge to you is to go back even further and prepare the soil. That means each of us looking at ourselves and asking, “What can I contribute? What can I give back…to my community? to my local affiliate chapter? to my organization?” We can’t opt out and expect that “they” will fix it. We can’t. We have to act. I’ve seen some examples this week [at the 2015 RID Conference]. For example, at the Business Meeting, someone mentioned that we have to take action on our own and partner with organizations to determine how we can work together. We can’t just set our expectations and hand them off to our organizations and say, “You do it.” We have to figure out how to work together to succeed. We can work together with trust, with information, by determining where the value is and by exchanging ideas.

So, what will your contribution be? I ask you to think about how you can contribute on an individual level, a community level and on a systemic level. How will you contribute?

Thank you.