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

November 4, 2015

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?


  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.
* Interested in receiving StreetLeverage posts in your inbox? SignUp!

Stay Current

Want to be among the first to know when we publish new content?

Are you an interpreter?

We respect your privacy.
We will never share your info.


Leave a Reply

22 Comments on "The Power of “Thank You”: Sign Language Interpreters and Gratitude"

Notify of
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted

Beautifully written!
Thank you for choosing to talk about gratitude – For myself personally, this was a perfectly timed article!
Greatly appreciated Jean 🙂

Jessica Van Winkle

I believe with gratuity everyone can brighten someone’s day. Especially interpreters teaming together, the difference gratitude can make instead of criticizing or judging. Even telling someone something nice really impacts both people in a positive way. Great article and inspiration Jean!


After attending to a world festival, I felt it’s worth to take pictures of at least 4 interpreters beginning, during, ad after the events. It’s a way to say how much I appreciated their profession and committent to practice many songs in advance as well as special speaker speaking to be interpreted! I decided to include the pictures of them in my photo journal!


Hi G. –

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for demonstrating your gratitude. As we all work in partnership, it is the small kindnesses that build the path for us. We couldn’t do this work without your support!


P.S. Interpreters acknowledge my gratitude at the end of show then I learned there were 20 interpreters working that week. I posted one pic of then in FB.


Thank you. That was inspiring, and I will translate my inspiration into actions that demonstrate gratitude. We are blessed to have this exciting, challenging and rewarding profession. I am grateful that you posted this.


Lindsey –

Thank you so much for your comment. I agree – we really are blessed to be in this profession. It isn’t always easy, but it is so worth it. I am grateful to people like you who turn suggestion into action. If you care to join me, I’m recording my own November Gratitude Journey on FB at #GratitudeJourney. I know your actions will create ripples of goodness in your community. 🙂 Thank you!

Richard Brumberg

Thank you for this wonderful article, Jean! Just to add something: one of ways to say “You’re welcome” is to sign THANK-YOU which, to me, means “Thank you for saying thank you.” How cool is that!


Hi Richard-

I appreciate you taking the time to read the article and great comment! So simple and so true. Thank YOU!

Sandra Hester

Gratitude is contagious! The more we give the more it will spread.


Hi Sandra –

Agreed! I think that’s one of the reasons I wanted to offer this challenge. We can all use a little gratitude. Frankly, I get as much out of being grateful as the person I’m grateful to, so why not spread the wealth! 🙂 Thanks for reading and sharing!

I truly appreciate this article and its accompanying video, Jean! You summed up perfectly what I’ve been experiencing over the past few months. Gratitude changes EVERYTHING for me. When I think about the sign language interpreting profession (of which I am a part) being brought into existence by the mere existence of sign language and its source, the Deaf community, I come to the realization that without the Deaf community, I – and my entire profession – would cease to exist. Quite literally, the world and every single one of us who interpret would be fundamentally different people. In that… Read more »

Hi Austin-

You made my day! I appreciate that you took the time to write. I wholeheartedly agree with what you said here. I think many/most interpreters feel the same way, but I think it is too easy to get caught up in life and work and sometimes we just need to create the circumstances to show it. I love the research that says that if you do something often enough it becomes a habit. I’m pretty sure 30 days of intentional practice can turn into a habit. Thank you for your contribution to the conversation!

Stephanie Criner
Thank you Jean for bringing focus to intentionality in our actions … our thoughts … our gratitude. There is great power in showing mindful appreciation/gratitude. Appreciative Inquiry is a systemic, intentioned approach that seeks to change through appreciating what works/good/positive which then by its very nature crowds out what is negative and defeating ( and I am a ‘believer’. Years ago when I was new in the profession, I worked a challenging, difficult public assignment; a few days afterward, a colleague sent me a card saying how much she appreciated my work and what a great job I had done.… Read more »
Hi Stephanie- Thank you for the reminder about appreciative inquiry. I have been exposed to it, but only a tiny bit! I’m going to read up! You brought a ray of sunshine to me! I also love that you brought up your example of how your colleague impacted you all those years ago and the lasting goodness of a thoughtful and kind gesture. We all have those in our history and it is so important to remember and honor those people. What a great story and commitment. Thank you for reading and commenting. I appreciate your contribution to the conversation!… Read more »
Amanda Spangler

I think it’s super important that interpreters remember to say thank you to their clients. Without them we wouldn’t have jobs. I hate when interpreters act like they are better than their clients or above them. We need to stay humble otherwise we will find ourselves out of a job.
This article is great. Sometimes a simple hello or thank you does help. Thank you for writing this article.

Interpreters who express sincere and genuine thanks and not for their own personal gain, shines a light on their personality and lets people know who they are. When they say thank you, it benefits the recipient of the thanks yet also benefits themselves. Interpreting is not an easy task and conflicts with many emotions. Being Deaf also involves many emotions. So let’s all show our gratitude. It feels good to share a positive emotion with someone and a heartfelt thank you. In correspondence to Richard’s Brumberg’s comment, When I receive a “thank you” (your welcome) back from a Deaf person,… Read more »

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

Forward-looking organizations committed to retelling the story of the interpreter.



(New York)