Trudy Suggs | Deaf Disempowerment and Today’s Interpreter

December 11, 2012

Trudy Suggs examines how the choices sign language interpreters make while delivering communication access can, and often do, contribute to the economic and situational disempowerment of deaf people.

Deaf Disempowerment and Today’s Interpreter

In the spirit of being transparent, the stories I’m about to share might be uncomfortable for some of you.  While I would like to speak my truth, I recognize that you have your own truth as well.  I trust that you will evaluate the stories I share and recognize the value in them. I actually was, and am, reluctant about presenting today because like many deaf people who speak out, I’ve had to endure a lot of negative feedback for being a “strong personality,” “angry deaf person,” and so on. My goal today is for you, as interpreters, to be open to possibly uncomfortable topics, uncomfortable truths, and uncomfortable analyses—whether they apply to you or not.

I believe that the best way to become bona fide allies is to embrace difficult ideas, opinions and, yes, facts. At the end of the day, we’re all in this together.

Four weeks ago, my two-year-old son fell and broke his leg. A week later, I took him, along with my one-year-old, to the orthopedic doctor for a check-up. Now, I live in a town where there are 250 to 300 deaf people living among 23,000 people; we have the deaf school, so everyone knows how to sign or how to work with interpreters. After about 45 minutes of waiting in the lobby—very unusual for a town of this size—I asked the receptionist about the severe delay. The receptionist never once looked up from her computer, saying that the doctor was backed up. I asked if we could see the doctor since my children were restless, hungry and my son, in a body cast from chest to toe, needed his medicine—which was at home. She said no. I said, “Could you please speak to the doctor or nurse?” She replied, “Oh, no, I can’t do that,” and I repeated my request. She adamantly refused.

I finally said, “Could you please look at me?” She looked at the interpreter, and I said, “No, at me.” Once she did, I asked, “Could you please offer a resolution? We’ve been here an hour.” At that very moment, my baby began crying, and the receptionist finally realized the extent of my situation. A nurse came out who was far more courteous and apologetic. After we talked about the delay, I asked how I could make a complaint about the receptionist.

A few minutes later, the receptionist called the interpreter over, saying the interpreter had a phone call. The interpreter answered the phone, and realized it was the office manager calling for me. All this time, the receptionist was looking at me with dagger eyes. The office manager began asking questions. I explained that I wasn’t comfortable talking about the situation because the receptionist was listening in. The office manager reassured me she’d be in touch. As I returned to my seat, I realized the interpreter was still by the front desk. I looked back and saw her cover her mouth as she whispered to the receptionist. When she came back to where we were sitting, I asked what she had said to the receptionist.

“Nothing, why?”

“I saw you whisper to her, what did you say?”

“Nothing.”

“No, I saw you whisper. What was it about?”

She relented and said, “Uh, she began apologizing to me for her behavior, and said she didn’t mean to talk to you like that. I told her it was okay.”

“But it isn’t okay how she treated me. Why didn’t you tell her to apologize directly to me?”

I could see the realization of her mistake dawn over her face. Just then, we were called into the examination room and the appointment was over fairly quickly.

Such a simple act of trying to mediate a situation—when she really didn’t have the right to—became situational disempowerment. Had she been in my shoes, would she have told the receptionist it was okay? I don’t know. Mind you, I would absolutely work with this interpreter again. Still, the experience led me to think about disempowerment.

Let’s take a quick look at the word disempowerment. The word has quite a simple definition for such a powerful concept: to take away power.

As interpreters, you have a very delicate line to walk on the job. You have to figure out how to mediate culture, conflicts, personalities, and a million other things all at the same time as interpreting. I won’t go into theoretical mumbo-jumbo about that because you already know this. I will, however, share my experiences as a person who comes from a family of at least 600 combined years of experience in the deaf community, as a mother to four deaf children, and as someone who is supposedly at the center of the deaf community. I also work as a certified deaf interpreter, and have grown up always believing that the deaf community and the hearing community are really not all that much different—even if there are worlds of differences in so many ways.

There are two types of disempowerment discussed throughout today’s talk and workshop, both interconnected: situational disempowerment and economic disempowerment.

For another example of situational disempowerment, let’s go back to when I was 13 years old. I went to a public high school that had 80 deaf students and 8 full-time interpreters. I took a theater course with three other deaf students and maybe 25 hearing students; it was interpreted by one of the better interpreters. She criticized my signing every single day, saying that I signed too fast and too “ASL.” She even went as far as voicing gibberish if she didn’t understand me—at fast speeds to mimic my signing speed—and this would cause the hearing students and teacher to break out in laughter.

For an extremely insecure teenager struggling with her identity, having attention called to her like this was beyond horrifying. This was humiliation, pure and simple. The interpreter, to cover up her lack of fluency, purposefully disempowered me. Even today, I momentarily revert to that 13-year-old whenever someone says I sign too fast—which, by the way, a deaf person has never said to me. Interpreters should be accountable for their lack of fluency and not put this on the deaf person’s shoulders.

Every interpreter’s goal should be to ensure communication access, not disempowerment in any form. To take away a deaf person’s power, whether intentionally or unintentionally, is unacceptable. With that in mind, there is another way deaf people can be disempowered—and that’s financially.

As we all know, there are people who do take advantage of the deaf community. History has shown this time after time, ranging from pretending to be deaf and peddling ABC cards to trying to get out of tickets or charges. Back in 1997, I uncovered one of the most bizarre stories I’ve ever come across. While we’ll discuss this more in my workshop, it is a long, strange tale with so many twists and turns. This really happened. This isn’t fiction.

In 1997, Saturn, the car corporation, ran a series of advertisements both on television and in print. This ad campaign was called its Real People, Real Cars campaign—and featured actual owners, not actors, in its ads. I need to say that one more time: the people in the ads were actual owners. Not actors.

One of the owners was Holly Daniel, who posed as a deaf person. When I saw the televised advertisement, I immediately knew she wasn’t deaf. I called the car company, and a representative there insisted she was deaf. That’s when I learned that it was a campaign featuring actual owners.  After a serendipitous series of events—including a lot of backlash from people who were angry that I would be so nitpicky— I got a tip from someone that this woman was an educational interpreter and not deaf.

When I talked with Holly about the claims that she was hearing, she responded that she was deaf, but she had a twin sister who was hearing, and that was what was causing the confusion. She even faxed me falsified birth certificates. After many odd incidents, she finally came clean. I later found out that she had pretended to be deaf for up to two years before the advertisement—so she didn’t do it for the money alone.

Speaking of money—she was to get $75,000 for the ad campaign. She ended up only getting $10,000—and the car company decided not to pursue legal action because that would have cost more. She’s still working as an interpreter and has never apologized to the community for what she did.

So things like this do happen—all the time.

Even if the Holly Daniel story is an extreme example, it happens in so many ways. Power follows money. When people make money off deaf people, deaf culture, and ASL, this can easily lead to disempowerment and have ripple effects.

Take ASL teaching. There are thousands of ASL teachers. Guess how many are deaf? No real statistics exist on this. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of certified Baby Sign Language instructors. How many are deaf? Your guess is as good as mine. I contacted the company that certifies instructors; it wouldn’t respond to my requests. I’ll say probably a very, very small percentage. There are about 20, maybe more, Deaf Studies programs at colleges and universities across the nation. Are all the program directors deaf? No.  What’s wrong with this picture?

One of the more common responses when I ask why a deaf person isn’t at the helm of a program or agency working with deaf and hard of hearing people is, “We advertised the position and couldn’t find anyone qualified.” That certainly could be the case. Still, I say hogwash. Such situations lead to economic disempowerment and its ripple effects: deaf people aren’t hired, and those outside of the deaf community continue to have beliefs and perceptions shaped by hearing people.

If no qualified deaf person applies for that position, then there needs to be a short-term and long-term remedy. One solution is to keep the position open for as long as possible until someone who is qualified and deaf is hired. Another possible solution is to have an interim director in place, hire someone who is definitely capable of doing the job—and train that person until she or he is ready to take the helms. Is that costly and cumbersome? Perhaps. Cost-beneficial and cost-effective in the long run? Absolutely. This is one of many ways we can help boost deaf economics.

I first heard the term deaf economics when I interviewed DeafNation’s CEO Joel Barish for an article. He said that it’s extremely important to support deaf owners:

“. . .with more people supporting deaf businesses, there will be more job opportunities for deaf people because deaf business owners are more likely to hire deaf people more than anyone else. As a result, they can empower each other by working together or supporting each other. At the same time, with this support, visibility and networking will grow beyond the deaf community into the hearing community. It’s unfortunate that many people can’t see the bigger picture and will only chase the cheapest rates or prices instead of supporting deaf-owned businesses.”

With today’s dismal unemployment rates, we know deaf people are among the most underemployed people. Yet interpreting is one of the fastest-growing professions, largely in part because of laws requiring communication access, but it’s also because ASL is now an awesome thing to know, a cool language. Even though it has gained recognition as an actual, stand-alone language, it continues to be mocked by so many entities. We’ve all heard of the recent Lydia Callis spoofs on the Chelsea Handler show and even Saturday Night Live. While I understand Lydia’s general refusal to speak to reporters aside from the one interview I saw, I wish she could tell reporters to talk to deaf people. That would be incredibly refreshing.

I remember sitting by the pool at the 2001 RID conference in Orlando. I was with an interpreter friend, and I looked around. Interpreters surrounded us, and I said, “Wow. Everyone here is making money off my language.” She giggled, and then shushed me, saying, “Don’t say that! You’ll piss them off!”

Years later, as I remembered that conversation, I wondered why I shouldn’t have said that if it was the truth. ASL is a wealthy language not only in its contents, but also in its moneymaking opportunities.

Don’t think this is an attack on hearing people. It isn’t. After all, I, like many others, make money off my languages of ASL and English. I run a writing company that specializes in both ASL and English. I work as a certified deaf interpreter. I teach ASL and English. I train interpreters. So I have absolutely no issue with making money off any language—as long as the goal isn’t to make money, but to really share the culture and language, and to encourage genuine language acquisition.

So why do so many interpreters, mentors, rehabilitation professionals, ASL teachers, and others bristle at the idea that they’re making money off ASL? Maybe because it’s a harsh way to look at their professions. Perhaps if we face the truth, and say, “Yes, we do make money off ASL,” that’ll help us gain greater appreciation of the responsibilities that accompany the language and culture.

Even so, what is more important—to me, at least—is to understand how we can be allies in such challenging situations. How do we come together to prevent disempowerment in any form or shape? As interpreters, and as consumers, we can become aware of disempowerment, particularly situational disempowerment and how we often participate by accident or decisively. By actively resisting the almost automatic temptations of empathizing with hearing consumers—or even deaf consumers—we can minimize, even eliminate, potential disempowerment. By refusing to control situations, by deferring to the deaf person whenever appropriate, by allowing the consumers to control the situation, and by ensuring that you don’t speak on behalf of the entire deaf community especially if you’re hearing—you can take steps towards ensuring that deaf people retain their power while you do your job. Through supporting deaf businesses and agencies, operate under the assumption that a qualified deaf person should be the automatic choice—and if this isn’t the case, be among the first to question why not.

Another approach is to always analyze why something happened, and not instinctively blame it on the deaf consumer, however educated or uneducated he may be. Look at all the factors involved. Analyze whether or not the consumers felt as if they had full communication access. For many deaf people, a trigger point is losing communication access.

The bottom line is we must always strive to ensure that each culture and community is maintained and preserved by its very core, which in this situation are deaf people.  However, we must also be careful to remember that if a deaf person expresses frustration at disempowerment, it doesn’t necessarily mean she or he is angry, divisive or separatist. Rather, take a look at the situation, and figure out how, if at all, you or other interpreters might have contributed to the situation. Support deaf businesses, services and events. If a job opportunity comes up, see if it would be best filled by a deaf person. If no deaf person is available, figure out how to ensure that a deaf person could be brought in.

Of course, your primary responsibility as interpreters is language facilitation and cultural mediation.  But we must remember that all individuals, deaf or hearing, should always strive for full, mutual respect rather than disempowerment.

 

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172 Comments on "Trudy Suggs | Deaf Disempowerment and Today’s Interpreter"

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Member
Becky Stuckless
Again, INCREDIBLE!! I had a few thoughts run through my mind related to your scenarios. With the first scenario at the Dr.’s office, I wonder if the interpreter feeling the need to say “it’s ok” is a hearing culture thing? Doesn’t excuse the behaviour, but rather makes us more mindful of when we are crossing cultural lines or mediating cultural differences? In regards to interpreters making money off your (our?) language, I had that thought on the weekend. Our local Deaf Club doesn’t host many events. On Saturday night not ONE hearing professional who makes their living off the Deaf… Read more »
Member
Debby Miller
She is awesome! I love her honest down to earth article… in Canada I feel and see there are alot of changes happening in the interpreting profession… we are being forced into being “robot” interpreters rather than the professional interpreter & advocate of the Deaf community and it’s members. I have a Deaf daughter and commited many years ago to providing equal access to Deaf people in all aspects of life. Empowering them to fight for their rights and attain the education/skills they need to get a good job or career. In my interpreting training program they empasized that the… Read more »
Member

an additional thought to go with my comments above… with this new perspective on our profession how does that impact our CODA interpreters? They tend to be our best interpreters available culturally and in ASL… they grew up in the Deaf environment and would be “friends” with most of the Deaf community growing up.
The article was great for encouraging us to dig deep to analyze how we handle interpreting situations… thanks for such an honest feedback.

tsuggs
Member
Debby, fascinating insights. Still mulling over your comments. I think it also has to do with the consumer’s understanding of the interpreter’s role. I obviously understand the interpreter’s role through and through, and I have had a few situations where I had to ask for a different interpreter (VRS, for example), because I was too buddy-buddy with the interpreter–but I’ve also had quite a few interpreters who I’m close with work with me as a consumer. I always make sure they understand that I am there as a consumer and not a friend. Has it ever made for awkward situations?… Read more »
Member
John Tucker
Debbie, Chatting with the deaf person just before the interpreting session, is essential — how else are you to judge properly how to interpret (more ASL, more English, mouthing the words, more LSQ) and even if you CAN interpret for them (perhaps they mumble, sign too fast for you to follow, use home signs, …) The major caveat, is to chat about something unrelated to the assignment. An example might be, for a doctor appointment, chat about the weather instead of the reason for the visit. That way the problem of ‘but I told the interpreter xyz, so now the… Read more »
Member

I think the job of the interpreter is just that – relaying messages to the Deaf person. The interpreter should not have gotten involved and shared what the receptionist was voicing so that the Deaf person could respond. Interpreters jobs are to relay messages and not be two sided. That’s my two cents.

Member
Aaron Rudner
Gee… “makes money off the Deaf community?” Thar phrase really bugs me. I don’t interpret for Deaf people. I interpret for hearing people who don’t know sign language. I intepret for doctors who don’t know how to communicate with their patients. I make money off hospitals. I make money off courts. Not off Deaf people. That idea, in and of itself is disempowering, sets up English as the “power” language. I now live in Brazil, and I do some spoken language intepreting between English and Portuguese. Am I making money “off of” Brazilians (who speak Portuguese — not Spanish) or… Read more »
Member
Of course it bugs you! That’s because it’s perceived as a negative statement, and your response reflects exactly that. But there is absolutely nothing wrong with “making money off” the Deaf community. As I mentioned, I do, too, and I make money off the hearing community as well. So what? As the article says, “So I have absolutely no issue with making money off any language—as long as the goal isn’t to make money, but to really share the culture and language, and to encourage genuine language acquisition.” If you have all of these in place, then you’re good. But… Read more »
Member
Aaron Rudner
Saying interpreters make “money off of Deaf people”, is, in and of itself, disempowering. It sets up Deaf people as the ones who “need” the interpreter. I don’t see myself making money off of Deaf people. I interpret for hospitals, for courts; companies, to make communication accessible to Deaf and hearing people. That’s why we got rid of the “interpreter for the Deaf” job title a while back, isn’t it? I am also a Portuguese-English (spoken language) interpreter. In that setting, am I an interpreter for Brazilian and Portuguese people? Or for English-speakers? Who am I making money off of??… Read more »
Member
I see you posted two similar comments, so, copying/pasting here. Of course it bugs you! That’s because it’s perceived as a negative statement, and your response reflects exactly that. But there is absolutely nothing wrong with “making money off” the Deaf community. As I mentioned, I do, too, and I make money off the hearing community as well. So what? As the article says, “So I have absolutely no issue with making money off any language—as long as the goal isn’t to make money, but to really share the culture and language, and to encourage genuine language acquisition.” If you… Read more »
Member

Interpreters “apologizing for” their Deaf clients is a phenomenon seen regularly on television. I have seen it on The Practice, Sue Thomas FB Eye, and even Switched at Birth, where I KNOW Jack Jason is a consultant. It shocks me and brings me to anger each and every time. Popular media, while not a valid excuse for incorrect behavior, could do a great service by depicting interpreters exactly as they should be, instead of as helpers like they so often do.

Member
Becky Stuckless

Nicole, not that it’s relevant, but I wonder what episode if you remember for Sue Thomas FB Eye. I don’t recall ever seeing this on Sue Thomas. Especially since Sue didn’t often use an interpreter on scene.

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Member
Karen Wagner
I often appreciated my interpreter’s services and try to trust them, but it is hard because I’m not sure if they are saying everything I have said ?!?! That scared me and every times ! Becky, you are right, we often don’t see them around in our Deaf events….why not ? They must have reasons….they need to learn to deal with their reasons and let us get used to them….then we all can try to understand each other better !?! I always thought the jobs can grow with more interpreters (Deaf interpreters, too) and more Deaf ppl will work !… Read more »
Member

Good questions ! I tried to use the recorder more often and gave another person listened and typed the notes. so can use the feedback with that interpreter to develop the improvement interpreter’s skills.
” that what not I said ….. ” the interpreter thought that what I said ..( I am too fast signer and too ASL too). try to develop team work better ! so the recorder would catch voicing gibberish
the big lesson !

Member

Thank you, Trudy, for taking the risk and speaking out. I’d love to include this in teaching IPP students and workshop participants on the topic of ethics and case discussion. The way you framed the opening of your presentation was very encouraging of the spirit of transparency. This really contributed to my learning and self assessment, ongoing.

Member
Jocelyn Cunningham
I had thought the same Becky as well. Maybe saying “its okay” is a cultural thing, its still not the right way to handle it, I agree. I appreciate Trudy giving this kind of example because its really made me think of how I might be using “its okay” or similar phrases and inadvertantly disempowering the people I work with. Not only that, it has caused me to do some reflection of other kinds of ways that I could be disempowering people inadvertantly. You also touched on a few other hot topics and I appreciate you being bold enough to… Read more »
tsuggs
Member
And it works the other way around, too–I can think of several times where I told deaf people it was okay when in fact, their behavior wasn’t appropriate and how they talked to specific individuals (i.e., hearing interpreters) was really not polite at all in either culture. I think it’s a natural reaction for us to empathize with others, whether we should or not…potentially a gender thing, too. Research shows that women are more likely to apologize if they interrupt a meeting or even a casual conversation–they will say things like, “I’m sorry to interrupt, but…” while men will generally… Read more »
Member
Jocelyn Cunningham

Yes, I have seen similar information about gender differences as well. One specifically related to competitions. Men tend to work very hard at beating the opponent while woman prefer to tie as to not offend anyone. Research had shown that men’s hormone levels are directly related to whether they win or lose. Hormones drop with loss and increase with winning. Women don’t experience these highs and lows. Very interesting stuff and I would love to see the information that you have! Please send it my way. 🙂

All this is definately worth discusiion. Very thought provoking!

Member
Jo Raye Lands

Where did you get your information Jocelyn?? I agree that we women do tend to be more apologetic than men, but It seems to me that we can be just as ruthless in competition as men. I especially don’t get where the “women prefer to tie as to not offend anyone anyone” came from. I’ve never been one to kick someone when they’re down, but I’ve never preferred to tie than to win anything competitive, and I’ve never known any woman who felt that way.

Member
Jo Raye Lands

Where did you get your information Jocelyn?? I agree that we women do tend to be more apologetic than men, but It seems to me that we can be just as ruthless in competition as men. I especially don’t get where the “women prefer to tie as to not offend anyone anyone” came from. I’ve never been one to kick someone when they’re down, but I’ve never preferred to tie than to win anything competitive, and I’ve never known any woman who felt that way.

Member
Yvonne Jones

Oh my goodness, don’t even get me started on that! I think “I’m sorry” is programmed into us women at birth! So many bad habits, so little time to correct them 😉

Member
Trudy, Thank you for a very well stated article. It was eye opening and thought provoking. I like that you want to open dialog about uncomfortable ideas. We could all be more open to that concept. As a long time working interpreter, I have often heard from Deaf friends and consumers, “you interpreters make money off of us.” I have never been ashamed to admit that I make a living off of my skills as an interpreter. I respectfully disagree that I make money “Off of Deaf people”. I earn my living getting paid by hearing people to provide communication… Read more »
Member

What a beautiful quote and thoughtful comment…well said.

tsuggs
Member

Agree wholeheartedly about many interpreters not being fiscally/financially rich. That’s the name of the game for so many self-employed individuals (including me) And then there are those who DO get rich. through unethical practices..that’s another article. 😉

Member

I have been through similar situation. Being ignorant of the rights of deaf having interpreters have been violated every day.

Hosea 4:6
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…

Member
Becky, I do remember, in fact. It was the episode with Troy Kotsur and the topic was cochlear implants for a child. If I remember correctly, Troys character didn’t want his son to have implants. The interpreter was there for the family, not for Sue Thomas. In the scene I recall, the father (Troy) was very upset and blew up at the hearing person – he doctor maybe? – and stormed out of the room. The interpreter stayed behind, shrugged his shoulders and appeared apologetic for the Deaf persons behavior. He may have even said, “Sorry,” but I’m not sure.… Read more »
Member
I think the comments about “it’s okay” are true that it is an appropriate cultural response. But the point is that the interpreter didn’t have the right to respond. If I understood right, she didn’t interpret the message yet. I think that is the biggest issue. The client didn’t even receive the message to respond to it. I have been in the situation where I was called out for ending a heated conversation with “thank you” when it was not specifically signed by the Deaf client. It was hearing culture appropriate but it was made clear to me that it… Read more »
tsuggs
Member
Amy, I think you have it exactly right: “The [consumer] didn’t even receive the message to respond to it.” That was exactly the thing I didn’t like–that she spoke on my behalf without my knowledge. If I had never looked back while walking to my seat, I wouldn’t have known she had whispered to the receptionist. Funny, though–after that incident, I had to go back to the orthopedic doctor a couple of times, and the receptionist was SUPER-SUPER-SUPER-friendly and nice. She definitely seemed a bit intimidated to talk to me the second time I went, but I was nice back… Read more »
Member
Jocelyn Cunningham
Yes, I agree and it felt sneaky that the interpreter didn’t interpret the interactions and then when they denyed it several times that didn’t leave a good taste in my mouth either. I didn’t meant to minimize the event by saying that “its okay” is a cultural thing, I just felt, as I think Becky did, (who first pointed it out) that it was worth a discussion to discover when is it culturally acceptable and when its not. Amy you are completely right that, in this scenario, the interpreter was out of line to respond especially since the message was… Read more »
Member
Hi Trudy~ Thanks for posting! I know I am guilty of doing that…and try to stay vigilant to keep deferring to the D/HH/Hrg in the situation. Politeness culture is visceral..sometimes when you are tired, overworked etc…you don’t make the best decisions. That is when your “auto-pilot” training helps you respond appropriately. Thanks for this reminder to be vigilant with our attitudes and behavior. As far as Deaf/HH applicants for jobs…one thing that is a barrier is the actual credentials. If a job requires a BA or MA (for example to be a teacher vs an aide) the system doesn’t bend… Read more »
tsuggs
Member
Exactly re: degrees–and that is yet another Catch-22 situation. Often Deaf people (and many people in different underserved populations, for lack of better words) are disempowered from getting their degrees. I actually shared one such example in my workshop of the same title about two academic experiences I had in graduate school. I’ll go into that at a later date, but you’re absolutely right about the lack of qualifications and the pool being that much smaller as a result. So it leads me to believe that we need to, then, ensure that deaf people are given the same educational opportunities… Read more »
Member
Donna Leshne
Really? How about all the times we-interpreters made good, did right, advocated by deed if not word, created access where there was none…. I remember a time I was interpreting for a client who was very sophisticated about their own medical care and their language reflected that as did my lexical choice. The doctor, working at at “city” hospital must have been so used to dealing with clients who were not as educated, mature, competent, etc…that she stopped me and said, “she did not say that, those are your words, she did not say that…” I interpreted what the doctor… Read more »
tsuggs
Member

Donna, perhaps you could submit such an article. Let me know when it’s up and I’d be happy to share it with others.

Member
Kitty LaFountain

@Donna, love the “woo-hoo”, I’m with ya girl!

Member
Kitty LaFountain
I am always amazed by Miss Trudy’s capture of the English language, a beautiful gift to be possessed by anyone, but especially a Deaf individual. Although my profoundly Deaf sister has never be able to conquer the English language and present her stories in written English, she is able to present her stories,comments, complaints,etc in her native ASL language as eloquently as Miss Trudy. Throughout our growing years my sister and I struggled to understand each others’ culture and language. As a young adult I often asked my sister if I was too controlling? or, as you have mentioned, “disempowering”?… Read more »
tsuggs
Member
Thanks, Kitty. And agree wholeheartedly re: losing money. This is also part of a bigger picture…it’s interesting, because here in Minnesota, we have a strong Community Health Worker (CHW) system, where specially trained individuals accompany people of their culture (i.e., Somali, Hmong, Deaf) to various medical appointments, provide advocacy, help educate both medical professionals AND consumers on things, and so forth. It’s an amazing job, and Anita Buel, the first Deaf CHW, told me just last Thursday that she works with a clinic that is very, very frustrated with Deaf clients for being no-shows or canceling at the last minute.… Read more »
Member
john hendricks
Thank you for this article and video. I have to say that I have seen disempowerment run rampant in the VRS setting, which perhaps you addressed later in your workshop. More workshops like this one are needed to remind us all of what we might doing to disempower clients. Also, as to your point about interpreters not being involved with the Deaf community, I have to agree. I try to attend and volunteer at many Deaf events and have rarely seen my fellow (other than Coda) colleauges. I decided to ask a few why I never see them and the… Read more »
Member
Kitty LaFountain
@John, having started as a “helper” back in the ’60s and progressed to a certified interpreter I can tell you the dynamics are quite different for socializing. For one thing I use to enjoy socializing, bowling,Tupper Ware parties, gossip at the Mall,baby showers, and on and on, but that changed for me. I soon realized that immediately I became(not by choice) an interpreter instead of a guest. So the fun stopped. The only time I saw things going “over the line” was when the gossip turned to folks asking me to “verify” their story and of course I couldn’t, wouldn’t,… Read more »
Member
Richard Brumberg

Trudy, this was a fantastic article! My big thing is that if I make an error (in judgement or in production), *I* need to be the one to say that I made the mistake and resolve it. Your point about us being more cognizent of what we’re doing is well-taken.

Thank you for sharing your experiences and your thoughts!

tsuggs
Member

HARD to do that, for sure. I’m always quick to admit if I made a mistake, but it’s really hard if I don’t recognize the mistake in the first place. And I think therein lies the problem: many (interpreters or not) don’t realize that they’ve made a mistake and don’t think what they did was wrong, inappropriate, culturally disrespectful, or any other thing. So yeah, easier said than done. But if we can at least be aware of this possibility…

Member

Well! Maybe both my honey & I should go back to.school?

Member
Hi again! I was thinking about the fast signing phenomenon recently. Here is how I think about it: Some people sign like turning on the faucet full blast. There is alot of info, minimal pausing, and it feels like a bunch of info coming at you without thought for you as a viewer trying to follow. Many of the signs may be done partially, using non-standard placement and the fingerspelling may be partial or “shorthand” as if we are best friends and know all about each other’s daily realm and context. Often I see these types of communications from children/teens,… Read more »
Member
There are certainly Deaf (and hearing) signers who are “effort minimalists.” There are also many Deaf signers who have learned ASL later in life, having not learned a previous signed or spoken language, and Deaf people who use ASL/”sign language” who are not fluent. However, this does not seem to be the case with Trudy’s situation, and Trudy sharing her experience brings up a larger issue. ASL-English interpreters, especially in my experience working as a hearing interpreter in the VRS industry, often accuse a Deaf person of being unclear; sometimes to their face, sometimes to a team interpreter during the… Read more »
tsuggs
Member

I’m copying/pasting this post, because it’s an amazing response. Beautifully written. Thank you.

tsuggs
Member

P.S. That copy/paste comment is in reference to KM’s response. Pasting it into my files for future reading.

Member

Other forms of disempowerment stem from deaf community’s acts of pillarizing criminals like Anthony Mowl, John Yeh, or in my area Russ Bye while they criminalize, bully, and severely criticizing innocent rising stars.

Deaf community will get a hard lesson on disempowerment. It comes from their hands. What you just did is attempted to bounce the fault on the interpreter.

Member

Also thanks so much for posting in ASL! I feel so lucky to have seen your presentation even though I couldn’t go to the SLL event. Thanks a bunch! What a nice treat at the end of a long day/week!

Member

Hi Trudy,

This is Arthur, you may remember me.. we used to chat a long time ago. Just wanted to mention that I read this article and saw the YT vid above and am rooting for you. Keep up the good fight!

Member
I loved the idea of Street Leverage because it elevated our dialogue in the interpreting field. I was excited about leaders/stakeholders in our field posting dynamic and comprehensive pieces that showed an understanding of a 360 point of view of difficult scenarios that we face in an constantly changing economic, technical and social environment. This piece doesn’t do that. This post lacks concrete solutions to the scenarios they have brought to the reader’s attention. What worked to create change and what didn’t work to create change? It doesn’t state what could have been done in each scenario or what did… Read more »
tsuggs
Member
Leilani, I’m sorry you missed the potential solutions mentioned in the presentation. I don’t know if you saw the video, but I mentioned in the presentation that Deaf people are equally accountable. And the fact that some people choose to react the way you did is exactly why I said the things I did. So I’m very happy you shared your reactions, even as negative as they are. The participants in the conference had a wonderful, honest, and inspiring discussion later that afternoon in the disempowerment workshop, yet nobody had any concrete answers. Maybe you could provide some tangible solutions?… Read more »
Member

leilani – Trudy offers transpirancy in her talk here. Perhaps you would like to offer your own transpirancy?

this wall there may be an attempt for equal leverage on this street?

Trudy – kudos and thank u

peace

Patti

Member

“wall” should read as WAY in the comment above

oy my lack of proof reading until after i’ve clicked submit

peace

p

Member
Leilanni said “I wish this article could have taken a page out of their playbook and created a real opportunity for stakeholders to have a dialogue about solutions that we can make in these scenarios so that all of the stakeholders leave an experience feeling like they have been heard and not dis-empowered.” “Interpreters are not to blame for all of the problems and challenges we face in life……..someone needs to say it. We are allies who share in the stewardship of ASL and Deaf culture.” Below is my attempt at gently addressing this comment coming from a place of… Read more »
tsuggs
Member

Beautifully said, Patty (and hi!). This is something I often think about: how does one become a real ally? It’s so easy to claim I support this and that for this and that group (or even individual)…yet, do we really, deep in our hearts, behave as allies?

“How can I know for sure that I sincerely come to the work as an interpreter clean and clear?” That. Exactly. And even then, how do we convey this sincerity to the other individuals involved?

Member

Can I have Trudy Suggs email address please?

tsuggs
Member

Kathy, you can contact me via my personal website (www.trudysuggs.com) or via my company website (www.tswriting.com).

Member

So many excellent points made here. However, the message became cloudy due to the length and The many different scenarios. I believe that the message would have been stronger I it it had been more concise.

Member
Hello there, I’m a CODA interpreter (in mid 20’s) (currently going through MORE training). I live in about the same size town as the town being mentioned minus the deaf school, and the lack of everyone knowing. You would not believe from the bazillion times I’ve seen this happen. I can personally say I’ve never done this. It’ll probably happen one day, but I strive of putting the power in deaf hands. I don’t care how fast, slow, skilled, unskilled they sign. I don’t want the recongization (sure its nice from time to time) of “oh yeah I interpreted for… Read more »
tsuggs
Member
“Yes we are there to make a living, but you gotta have heart.” That. And I think this is another challenge. It can be sometimes difficult for me–as a Deaf person–and for many others, like CODAs, to identify whether an interpreter really is respectful of the community, culture and so on–or if s/he is simply a wanna-be, wanting to be as Deaf as possible, or a million other scenarios. I’ve had interpreters gasp when they saw me on VRS and say, “Oh my! I read your articles!” Awkward. Good thing it hasn’t happened yet on a personal call… It’s an… Read more »
Member

Awesome article!!! Thumbs UP!

Member
paul anderson
Hi Trudy, Has a child growing up in a Deaf family and community, I have nothing but admiration for the determination of the Deaf community to reach their goals. Several Years ago I decided to quit my job and train to become an Interpreter. Whilst training I worked in a support capacity for the Deaf community. When I attended The Deaf club afters years of non attendance I was surprised to see so many hearing people at the club all practicing signing and very few Deaf people. I was very disappointed to see only a few faces from my childhood.… Read more »
tsuggs
Member

Fascinating, fascinating perspectives. Thanks for the food for thought…that’s what I love about this forum. So many perspectives, so many experiences and so many thoughts. (And over on Facebook, too–I’ve been inspired by all the discussion among Deaf people on this topic.)

Member
Great article. Very precise and you got your point across clearly. I agree completely that there are issues with situational empowerment. It’s ongoing and very difficult to change. Even working my professional job — whenever I need to make a VP calls and speaking to representatives — I’m finding my interpreters “translating” what I say instead of “interpreting” what I say. For example, I give a two words question and I see the interpreter talking to the representatives in series of two or three sentences and I’m thinking to myself — I only said two words..but I realized I need… Read more »
tsuggs
Member
Agree, agree. Even so, I’m really frustrated by how so many people I know have been rejected for jobs not because they’re unqualified, but because they’re not Deaf. I had a friend recently who was denied for a Deaf studies position because the powers that be felt s/he wasn’t able to communicate with hearing administrators without an interpreter. Never mind that he’d been a program administrator at another program, had the appropriate credentials, and so on. They chose a hearing interpreter instead, one who didn’t have as much qualifications or experience as this person. I also am reminded of a… Read more »
Member

Awesome!!!! My sister is deaf I chose to get traning and not walk into interpreting because I knew SignLanguage. There is much more than just signing. I have watched my sister be disempowered too many times to count!!
I would not have a profession if it weren’t for her or the deaf. I make my living this way and yes I make money off the deaf! That is a cold hard truth!!!
Oppression of the deaf happens too often.

tsuggs
Member

I love your honesty, Shelly! 🙂

Member

Excellent speech, Trudy. Thank you for identifying economic and situational disempowerment. I know you were referring to interpreting, but I found this very enlightening in regards to the work I’m involved in at The Deaf Dream. Our organization focuses on empowerment of future Deaf global leaders, but it is hard at times to describe to hearing audiences that disempowerment occurs. I will most certainly use your talk in future discussions with hearing involved in our organization and hearing we meet around the world who do not yet recognize how much disempowerment occurs. Thank you!

Member

Thanks Trudy for the article. Im going to seek out the video to watch. I also appreciated reading all the comments. Ive been doing some searching on “Deaf-heart”: what it means to me, how to apply it and wondering if I am applying it. The article and comments really gave me some things to think about. The article and comments also nudged me in directions I need to take so thanks to everyone!

tsuggs
Member

Just a quick message that I will respond to comments, e-mails, tweets and Facebook messages over the weekend. Thanks for the amazing dialogue, discussions and insights you’ve all provided–loving it all!

Member
Pearl Youth
I agree with Trudy Suggs on everything and especially job positions of ASL teaching to either college or high school students. I have MA degree in Special Education and completed all Deaf Studies courses required for my major in Deaf Studies without degree in both B.A & M.A. at CSUN I am not welcomed by ASLTA people in Florida through no responses I got from them by email contacts of my requests for some advices from them. What I experience is considered as another kind of disempowerment done by means of favoritism among BiBi educators and leaders. Why it is… Read more »
Member
Ms. Suggs — I work for the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) in Washington, D.C., and we have a nice group of deaf employees, myself included, who share and circulate relevant articles and videos about deaf culture, professional development, and networking events. Your latest article and video about “Deaf Disempowerment” was thought-provoking as it should be and was well-received by our group. We shared your article and video with others, some of whom are not proficient or fluent in sign language. I told them that the video pretty much follows the article verbatim, but they really wanted to see/hear… Read more »
tsuggs
Member

As mentioned in our e-mail exchange, Brandon Arthur (the brainchild behind Street Leverage) has been struggling with technical glitches in getting the video to show the captions. The captions are already available; they’re just not showing. 🙂 I’ll let him respond with an ETA on the captions. I absolutely agree that all videos need to have captions, especially if the transcript isn’t 100% the same as what the video says.

Member
Hello, I am an interpreter of only 4 years (still a newbie!) And this is my first time responding on a forum of this sort. I think it’s important to remember the essence of this article was written with the intention to bring awareness of disempowerment relating to interpreters and Deaf people. I agree. Nobody has the right to answer for you other than you. Ever! I wouldn’t want someone answering for me. Ever! That is not ok. Since you’ve said you would work with this interpreter again, I think we can deem this situation (hopefully) a momentary lapse in… Read more »
tsuggs
Member
Lucy, absolutely!!! And there are many, many cases of where doctors have been accused of unprofessional conduct, of being unethical, and so on. That’s why so many med schools now provide bedside manners courses–because they have finally recognized the value of being respectful, courteous, and engaging while respecting boundaries. That wasn’t quite my point. My point is there are so many interpreters who make money WITHOUT having the right reasons in place. They forget that their ‘gigs’ or ‘jobs’ are our lives, needs, esteems, everything at stake. I go to appointments and make calls hoping that it doesn’t turn into… Read more »
Member
EXCELLENT article/video!! I’m so glad you used the word disempowerment because I’ve often wondered what was the right word to express my feelings when interpreters who interpreted while I’m on VP or when I was at the hospital a couple years ago…now I know what word to use, to help interpreters understand what I’m feeling. There have been a few times when I tried to help some VP interpreters not to translate, adding more than what I said, these few times, they get defensive or would lie and say they didn’t do it…I’d tell them I can lipread…they gulped. Most… Read more »
tsuggs
Member

Thank you. I only used disempowerment as a possible word–if others have different words, that’s fine. It just made sense for me in the examples I cited because that’s how I felt–as if I completely lost my power and/or choices.

tsuggs
Member

Argh, wasn’t done. I also think that a lot of interpreters forget that we easily pick up on cues knowing if someone has said something or not–and like someone else somewhere said, the interpreter’s covering her mouth was a major clue.

Thank you for sharing.

Member

I am curious to know who what can “see that someone is not in fact deaf”. The reason I ask this is because I am deaf now only 3 years ( as of January 22, 2013. I am highly verbal but I do prefer ASL to communicate with hearing people. But, I still talk with my voice with them to actually make it easier for them. So I look less deaf because I speak with my voice?

Member
so many mixed feelings here, just something i want to respond to, but is more of a need for more articles, work in this area. it is often true that codas, sodas, and the sort get ASL, well before deaf people, who too often have to wait til school for exposure and acquisition. i am speaking for myself. i acquired ASL before most in my situation, i am hard of hearing, can function in both worlds. ASL is my language; as it is my wife’s. my wife is hearing but a younger sibling and naturally acquired ASL, using it solely… Read more »
tsuggs
Member

YES! There absolutely has to be more work in this area. I am not a researcher, sociologist, linguist, or any of these “-ists/-ers”–I just happen to have been in the Deaf community from birth on. And the sheer variety of communication modes, experiences and preferences within my immediate family alone is mind-boggling. That’s one of the many reasons I think so many interpreters find their jobs challenging at times–they have to figure out their consumers’, both deaf and hearing, preferences and needs, and so forth.

Member
I want to chime in on this, as a working interpreter. For those Deaf who say we as interpreters are adding words: remember, we INTERPRET. Translate means say exactly what you say in ASL, which is NOT English. If we signed exactly what we heard in English, it wouldn’t make sense in ASL. And so it goes with ASL being said back to hearing people who use English. Interpreters make the message most readily understandable to both sides, hearing and Deaf. So yes, there are times we clarify the message by putting it into more comprehensible English for hearing people… Read more »
Member
I want to chime in on this, as a working interpreter. For those Deaf who say we as interpreters are adding words: remember, we INTERPRET. Translate means say exactly what you say in ASL, which is NOT English. If we signed exactly what we heard in English, it wouldn’t make sense in ASL. And so it goes with ASL being said back to hearing people who use English. Interpreters make the message most readily understandable to both sides, hearing and Deaf. So yes, there are times we clarify the message by putting it into more comprehensible English for hearing people… Read more »
tsuggs
Member
A quick note to all: Thank you so much for the posts above, the e-mails, the tweets and much more. I am slowly working through all the e-mails. If you haven’t gotten a response from me, I apologize–I’m not ignoring you. Some of the posts above I want to allow for further discussion before (if) I jump in. Some e-mails I want to provide genuine responses to, not just a one-liner. I have been absolutely thrilled by how the Deaf community has responded to this article/video–and equally thrilled by how the majority of interpreters who responded have responded. Gives me… Read more »
Member
Jocelyn Cunningham
KM I totally agree with you and you said it so beauitfully! I think you captured Trudy’s message as well as touched on a great point about our fluency as interpreters. I agree that it is our ethical duty to recognize our own limitations within ASL and remove ourselves when are skills are lacking and/or bring in a team member. I fully support and desire for Deaf interpreters to be ulitlized more than they currently are. They are such a great asset to our feild and we need to be delveloping allies with them! I also agree with your point… Read more »
tsuggs
Member
Jocelyn, I also wonder if the ITPs (generalizing here, of course) expose the students to only a very specific group of Deaf people. The community itself is so diverse, with such varying language levels, communication preferences and needs, and so forth. I know that ITPs often will bring back the same ‘leaders’ in the community time after time, which is good–yet how do we get the students to meet the rest of the deaf community? The ones who don’t go to deaf events, performances, and so forth? Besides, community gatherings usually bring about a different set of factors than, say,… Read more »
tsuggs
Member

Morning! In response to the sudden influx of friend requests I’ve gotten on Facebook, I’m pleased to share that I have a public page at http://www.facebook.com/trudysuggswriter. Feel free to like the page there so that you can stay updated on upcoming articles and/or vids, presentations, and more. And if you e-mailed me directly, I hope to get back to you today. I’ve gotten an overwhelming number of messages, and would like to encourage people to post here instead for discussion on your thoughts. Thanks!

Member
Hello all~ Appreciate the post above by KM. I concur. After umpteen years I am still learning and being corrected occasionally ;o)Interpreters definitely should be at the higher end of the language spectrum when being hired to interpret and using a team is a great strategy/solution. Another way to think about it is: some people are like hummingbirds. Their communication is an outflow of their personality, temperment, blood pressure ;o) etc… Some people are mellow and communicate in a mellow manner, and some people are super energetic and flitting through their conversation. It is one thing to chat with someone… Read more »
awilliamson
Member
Amy Williamson
Thank you for putting yourself out there and sharing your perspective and thoughts so plainly and clearly. I find it incredibly sad and ironic that even here in this forum, your truth telling receives a backlash of defensiveness. I read the comments here, nod my head, and see that the defensive response to your presentation and article tell me more about the people making the comments. I see how far we as a profession really do need to go in order to understand and accept the power dynamics of our field. You are but one person sharing only a few… Read more »
Member
Yvonne Jones
I have seen the sad example of the college student having to “accept” the student interpreter though they do not understand them. It impacts the students entire course, even their career choice depending the importance of the class in regards to their getting a degree. I was a newly certified (NAD IV) interpreter, and given a job with a student taking a degree course. It was GREAT! I was doing all their classes but one. The “one” class was being handled by a “seasoned” interpreter who ALWAYS interprets for this particular class. 3 weeks into the course, the student came… Read more »
Member
Malissia Brooks
I was first taken back by your comment, “interpreters are making money off your language.” When I think about the harsh reality I realize it is true. During my interpreting career I choose to work with Deaf children as I have a passion for language acquisition & understanding and for our kids to NOT be left behind . As the mom of a 24 year old son with a language delay it saddens my heart how he was left behind & how I missed so much of this while I was searching for answers. I have found my answers this… Read more »
Member
OH come on people…. where are the voice of the deaf…. there are still tooooo many “interpreters” who still cannot read deaf and they always WANT to help the deaf and say more than they should. Since I have some hearing left… most of the interpreters knows NOT to say anything I did not say or don’t you dare say anything for me… I will speak for myself. On this topic, I am seeing hearing people speaking out on this subject when really we need to see what the deaf say. Trudy, thanks for saying all you said… If it… Read more »
Member
Patrick Graybill

Trudy, I was in awe of your eloquent delivery of the seriously needed message. Thank you for being sincere and courageous yet tactful. I must confess that being involved in my church work as well as a retiree, I appreciate being mentally, emotionally and spiritually stimulated. Keep up with the good work.
Patrick

Member
Nicely written article, Trudy. In order to promote equality, we need to be able to analyze and correct our missteps at least as often as we pat ourselves (or each other) on the back for a job well done. The illusion of effective communication can be much more damaging than lack of communication (there are exceptions). As to the reasons that many interpreters don’t socialize at the Deaf clubs, I’ve heard a few. The top reason I’ve heard is that interpreters may be under the impression that if they socialize too much with Deaf people, it will erode the Deaf… Read more »
Member
Cousin Vinny
I work as a ToD in mainstreamed settings and usually speak with teachers from time to time regarding my students. I have to carefully engage with these stakeholders on behalf of my students, and I appreciate your observations. As for economic disempowerment and especially in regards to deaf entrepreneurship, I suggest that deaf individuals seek economic opportunities that are unrelated in traditional deaf fields, i.e., relay services, Deaf schools, Deaf companies, Gally, RIT. With deaf entrepreneurship, deaf people need to market their businesses at the mainstream public, not just the deaf segment. These ‘deaf-related’ economic opportunities are available to any… Read more »
abrace
Member
Aaron Brace
Let me add my thanks, Trudy, for your eloquent and insightful presentation. From my experience, if you’re truly connected to either an individual or a community, you don’t need them to qualify every concern with overt reassurance that they appreciate you. The fact that they’re sharing the concern, in and of itself, demonstrates that they value the relationship with you and are investing themselves in maintaining/improving it. I actually felt that you, Trudy, *did* take great pains to remind us throughout your presentation that the points you raised are part of your overall high regard for your fellow interpreters. Also,… Read more »
Member

Someone made a comment regarding CODA’s earlier. While there are many skilled CODA’s out there, there are many who are downright awful and sign like they just finished an ASL 2 class. Just because you are a CODA does not necessarily mean you are a skilled signer. I asked to switch interpreters one time because this interpreter couldn’t keep up and I had a hard time understanding her and she got angry and took it personally and said “I’m a CODA!”. Like that would change my opinion of her.

tsuggs
Member

TJ, very glad you said this. And even if you’re a fluent signer, that doesn’t mean you’re qualified to be an interpreter…but that’s a whole ‘nother article, preferably written by a CODA. 🙂

Member
Wow, Trudy you are a brave woman! I LOVE the fact that Streetleverage has given deaf people a fairly neutral place for confronting interpreters. I have some random comments regarding many of the posts here as well as Trudy’s original article. 1. Regarding the interpreter who covered her mouth while speaking to the receptionist: Red Flag! If someone covers their mouth they know they are doing something wrong. 2. Interpreter tells the deaf person they are signing too fast: This initiated a gut reaction in me. Yes, interpreters are responsible to be fluent; constantly improving our skills. However, as other… Read more »
Member
Gail Nygren
Thank you Trudy for your article about Deaf disempowerment! I have witnessed this disempowerment as an ASL Interpreter and a Coda (all of my life). In the past 22 years of interpreting I have been asked to “speak” for a Deaf person hundreds of times, i.e. to share personal, health care history, auditory status, make a decision for, etc. with the hearing consumer when the Deaf person was not present. I use a technique I call “to defer” to the Deaf patient/consumer/employee, etc. If the Deaf person is nearby I wave them over and sign what was asked and let… Read more »
tsuggs
Member
Gail, always good to see your name! Yes–this is a great technique, one that should be drilled into students’ heads at ITPs. And you captured it perfectly: the rights to self-determination and independence. I also want to ensure that I, as a Deaf person, can decide whether it’s worth advocating for or not. I’ve had interpreters at many times let me know of ‘inappropriate’ comments and/or attitudes from hearing consumers–and I always appreciate when they tell me, so I can decide whether to advocate for myself or not. I usually do, but then there are some days where I just… Read more »

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