Legendary Teamwork: What History Can Teach Deaf and Hearing Interpreters

July 14, 2021

Trenton Marsh presented Legendary Teamwork: What History Can Teach Deaf and Hearing Interpreters at StreetLeverage – Live 2018 | Cherry Hill. In his presentation, Trenton outlined how teamwork manifests itself in many ways in a wide range of settings and asks viewers what elements sign language interpreters can incorporate in their work for stronger results.

You can find the PPT deck for his presentation here.

[Note from StreetLeverage: What follows is a translation of Trenton’s StreetLeverage – Live 2018 presentation. We would encourage each of you to watch the video and access his original presentation directly.]

Legendary Teamwork: What History Can Teach Deaf and Hearing Interpreters

Okay, hello! Finally, the last presentation! It feels like everyone has passed their nerves to me as they finish their own presentations. It’s all good. Love to you all!

I was blown away by the teaming modeled by Kristina Miranda and Cassie Lang in their presentation. It may seem ironic that my topic is teamwork but I’m standing on the stage here alone, however, I’m not alone! I have these stuffed animals with me. My family is my team, as well. As I was preparing for my trip, my five-year-old son was in bed ready to go to sleep. I had an early morning flight and wouldn’t see him the next morning. He very sincerely told me, “I want to give you something to remember me by.” I was really touched. So, he gave me this stuffed Darth Vader head from Star Wars. My daughter immediately went to bring me something from her, too, this stuffed cat. So, you see, I have my team here, too. I’m a lucky man.

My topic today is teamwork. Did you already put up the first slide?

To be honest, this topic was sort of thrust upon me more than six months ago when I didn’t know what my presentation would be about. If I wander a little bit off-topic, please excuse me.

I started thinking about teamwork. Now, I don’t want to be locked into framing this about the act of interpreting per se; we often talk about interpreter teams and how they work together, methods of turn-taking, etc. Our lives are replete with opportunities to work in teams. I’m a part of a multitude of teams that are outside of the field. My family is one example. My wife and children, we are a team. Our daily interactions, agreements, compromises, ways of providing support, assistance, exchanges, and advocacy on an everyday basis are all examples of teamwork.

As I was thinking about this presentation – Howard Rosenblum talked about borrowing from other fields –  I’m going to do the same thing. My idea is to examine what teams do in other arenas. Maybe sign language interpreters could broaden their scope instead of staying locked into a singular way of doing things. I don’t need to go into the mechanics of teaming and switching, time agreements, etc.  We’ve done that ad nauseam already. I wanted to see what other teams look like and what we can glean from them. Some practices could be adopted straight away. I’m sure some observations would not be applicable and some could be adapted to the field. That process of analysis might allow us to find some gems to apply to the interpreting world. That’s been my thinking for many years and my plan for today.

Through my process, however, I realized I know nothing. Every time I got close, I would find a contradiction or something to block my ideas. Obviously, I wanted to have a successful presentation. So I moved from theory to theory, looking for the right take. It wasn’t until last night that I hit upon something and then you know me; I was up typing and working on my presentation again. I have my notes right here.

So, we’ll look at teams from three different areas. The first is history. Do we have any history buffs in the audience? I see a few hands raised. It likely depends on which history we’re talking about. Then, we’ll dive into sports. Any sports fans? Looks like we have a 50/50 split. It looks like about 50% of you are into sports. That’s pretty typical. Finally, we’ll look at pop culture and we’ll see where it takes us.

Making History in Philadelphia, PA

I’ve worked with interpreters and have mentored them for many years. I have one activity that requires the interpreter to tell a scary story in ASL. It may not fully relate but go with me. So I ask the students to tell a scary story. I don’t typically tell them how to structure the story, but I do give them some tips. For example, pay attention to the pace of the story and build as you go along. The slower portion may have more suspense and will capture the viewer’s attention; they’ll be rapt and eager for more. So utilizing different techniques allows for more dynamic storytelling. You don’t want to just throw it out there and be done – you need suspense for it to be scary. Those shifts in technique – pacing, use of space, shifting signer perspectives, zooming in and out of the action – create a more interesting viewing experience. I also encouraged them to keep the story close, to find some local references. If a story happened in some distant place, far away, in another land, it’s less scary than if it recently happened not far from where we are today. The use of non-manual signals and space, eye gaze, etc., will be much more intense and worrisome that way. So that’s an example of incorporating a new technique to be effective.

I decided to utilize that technique for my teamwork presentation here in Philadelphia. I know technically, we’re New Jersey. I thought we would be in Philadelphia proper and when I realized, I thought, “What happened?” but close enough. Brandon didn’t warn me. Anyway, back to Philadelphia. What happened here in Philadelphia? What kind of teamwork happened here that you know about? Other than the most recent Super Bowl win or Villanova winning the basketball championship? I recognize that a lot has happened here, but in history, what happened here? Maybe we should cue up the slide as a reminder. [Refers to the previous slide with an image from the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, PA.)

That picture depicts a team of early Americans. The colonists were trying to break away from English rule at that time. There was a lot of chaos happening. The number of colonies was growing from 13 to 15 or 17 at the time. There had been some discussions back and forth and eventually, they needed to gather to create a constitution. That process was a form of teamwork. There were conversations and work done over time.

Finally, on March 4, 1789, two years after they met, the Constitution of the United States was officially enacted. I did the math yesterday, that was 231 years ago. 231 years ago, the Constitution was established. Obviously, you could see who was there at the convention in that image. Basically, it was a bunch of white men with wigs. At that time, the group was composed of people who had privilege, who owned land, people who had those kinds of options. They were looking at issues such as equality, taxation without representation, etc. I find it interesting that their disagreements with England and their response still impact us to this to this very day. So many people were oblivious to these origins but still operate knowing we live in a free country, that we have a new country, that we have freedom of self-determination. So, one group of people made an enormous decision that impacts us still today.

So, those were the “new Americans” from 230 years ago. This hearkens back to Howard’s point that what was then is not now. That is the current challenge we are facing – how do we accurately represent everyone as we are now. I think we find ourselves in that same type of transition now. For example, RID has put the certification test on hold for Deaf interpreters. So now we have an opportunity for something new to come together, and to have a new conversation to talk about what things should look like moving forward. As NAD and RID go through arbitration, that is an opportunity to look at that relationship more closely. There are many opportunities during this time of transition. It doesn’t have to be the same group of old-school people having the conversation. In fact, it should not be. It should be all of us participating in a new conversation with an appropriate representation. That’s my thinking about Philadelphia.

Barriers to Certification

That was my own rendering. I don’t have the computer skills to create a digital version so I went ahead and drew what I wanted.

Kristina and Cassie mentioned that the RID stats indicated that membership was 88% white and 12% POC.  So there’s no question that there are barriers. People love to say “interpreters need to be skilled,” as if having the skills makes the test easy. Or “interpreters should be able to meet the requirements of the test. If you don’t have the skills…” But plenty of people with knowledge and skills struggle with the test. Are we overlooking elements of the culturally-based design of the test? I’d say yes. Often there are culturally-based issues. Are there assumptions being made based on arbitrarily selected standards? I think that is often the case. It is the same idea as the Constitution: arbitrary decisions about who can own land, who can vote, et cetera. Those decisions were arbitrary; they weren’t open to everyone. Those arguments were based on a set of preferences that were then established as standards that often conflicted with the reality of the populace. So that’s one way to view certification. And again, perhaps this is a place where we have an opportunity to improve, to take another look at the situation and see certification with new eyes. 

I know that paragraph came out of nowhere without any context, so it might be hard to place it. I was reading a book about Utah, even though it didn’t specifically mention Utah. The book was about the many small towns and multiple cultures and their interplay. It talked about the conflicts and clashes, competition, old versus new, people who’d been in the area for many years versus the new arrivals. When I read that paragraph, I was struck. If we talked about ASL users as a community, we also have multiple communities within the larger community. It can be awkward and challenging – that quote is right. We belong or we say we are all in the same community, but we also have internal divisions and awkward uncomfortable moments doing that strange dance within the community. We wonder if we are right or wrong. We make assumptions and decisions when we don’t know the answers. Being a community requires active participation. We have to actively decide to trust each other, to trust that we share at least some values. We have to trust, but as many have said this weekend, it’s not easy to trust. It’s not easy to be vulnerable and to share our truth. Trust has to be earned. As someone said last night trust is earned. But unfortunately, many sign language interpreters expect and assume trust has already been given. Anyway, I want to take a look at that quote again. Please pay attention to the bolded text.

A community isn’t a thing like a body or even a set of bodies, it’s more like a process, maybe an awkward dance of mutuality or an exchange of essential gestures between people who have decided to trust each other to define each other.

That statement is odd as well. I’m trusting you to define who I am? That idea makes me want to say, ”Hold on, wait a minute.” But what if that’s true? What if that is true? Do deaf people help interpreters define themselves as members of the ASL community? Or do people of color and white people trust each other to define their cultural uniqueness? There’s a lot to think about here. I don’t know the answer, but I found that quote very intriguing. But maybe that’s why it hurts that much more when we assume that we have shared understandings and find out that isn’t necessarily the case. A good example is what happened last night. In the lobby, there was a meeting with folks who came together to say this is Deaf/interpreter/ASL community shared space. People should not be using their voices in this space. That’s why the hurt went so deep. We have to trust each other. Maybe we could say, in this space, our value is an ASL shared space and speaking isn’t a part of that. But that is a hard process. I don’t know the answer 

That idea also holds true when we look at people of color (POC) and white people. White people say they support POC but their actions don’t always reflect that support. Those dichotomies hurt so many people. But in order to form any community, there must be a level of trust. We make up these communities, it’s us.

There is No “I” in Team

So, we’re talking about teams. I’m going to get into some sports for a bit.

I remember my coaches would always saying, “Get your ego out of this! There’s no ‘I’ in team!” Passing, sharing information, maintaining our values, being cohesive – those were the goals, and ego has no place there. That was what I learned at school as I was growing up. But then interpreting starts with an ‘I’. So, there you go.

You’ll remember I opened my presentation saying I’ve been a member of many teams throughout my life. Even today, I’m a member of a variety of teams. My family is one. I joined a softball team. That’s another one. I work as a staff interpreter on a team, and there is also the larger center staff where I’m also a team member. So, you can see there are teams everywhere. My racquetball squad – I like to play a little racquetball to revitalize in the morning and stay in shape. So again, there are many kinds of teams we are all involved in. The team where there seems to be the most consistent struggle is with interpreting. During interpreting, teaming is sometimes a struggle. It’s disconcerting and funny in a way. Why don’t we carry certain habits in our interpreting work as well as in life? Is it that folks haven’t done enough teaming to feel well-practiced? That can happen. There are just some situations that aren’t conducive to teams and the interpreters end up working solo. There are varied expectations. An agency often sets the standard, there are budget issues where there may not be funding for two interpreters. If an appointment is less than one hour long, maybe the agency has determined that one interpreter is sufficient. There are a whole host of reasons we may not have a lot of experience teaming with other interpreters. I think most often it is simply that interpreters are out of practice and have developed specific habits in their work. As a result, the next time a teaming opportunity presents itself, people get thrown off and don’t know how to function. Maybe that’s why there are so many challenges.

The same could be said for testing too. Maybe I’m wrong, but we have set standards for testing hearing interpreters. We have the test for hearing interpreters and we have a test for Deaf interpreters as well. In my experience, as a Deaf interpreter being tested, I always have a team. They provide the information and my task is to show my skills at working with the information provided to me by my team. That’s the basis of my test. I have to prove my teaming competency. That’s one part of the test to become a CDI. The hearing interpreter test doesn’t require them to prove their skills in teaming with a Deaf interpreter or another hearing interpreter. Hearing interpreters are tested as individuals, can they interpret from ASL to English and English to ASL? It’s all about the individual and when they pass, time to celebrate! There’s a double standard at play. Maybe testing hearing interpreters should include a teaming portion as well, in order to demonstrate your knowledge of the process and show that you’re able to support and work with a team interpreter. That probably should happen at the testing level, too. It’s definitely something to think about. CASLI is developing new tests, so there are some new items to consider

I’m consulting my notes and they’re all in one block of text. 

Molly Wilson and Stephanie Clark presented about the open process model. That’s one example of looking at something with new eyes and reframing the process of how we can work together as teams. Last year at StreetLeverage – Live, Tom Holcomb presented a similar view – utilizing everyone present as a member of the team, getting all players involved and in dialogue together. That’s a new form of teaming. Deaf people bring a lot to the table on this issue. How many times have you found yourself thanking the Deaf consumer for supporting you with signs or informational feeds during an appointment? It happens all the time.

Teaming really means bringing our best selves to the work. That phrase, “Fake it till you make it?” I hate that saying. Many ITP/IEPs tell students, “Don’t worry, just smile big and fake your way through.” Deaf people can see that from a mile away and they can easily recognize the BS. I think the five-minute warning failed for me. It just went by. I just got a time warning 

Next slide, please. We’ll just look at it briefly and I’ll talk more about it during my workshop this afternoon

I’ll talk more about this slide this afternoon. We will be looking at their approach to teamwork and things we can learn from that so we’ll save that for later. Next slide, please.

Paths to Certification

I have questions about the three bulleted points. Are the pathways to certification inclusive and varied enough? But also, did you notice how many entry points we currently have indicated on the slide? Everyone is saying one, right? Currently, there’s one entry point for certification. Deaf interpreters, as another example. For them, there was one entry point until the tests were put on hold and now there are zero options for them. As for the BEI, I’m still gathering information about that test. Is that nationally recognized? It seems that some states recognize the BEI as certification and others don’t, so there’s a lot of variances there. So that’s one thing.

Also, if you look at our partnerships with POC interpreters. They, too, have one entry point to pass through. Again, we revisit my earlier question about culturally appropriate testing for certification. Do we have that? Can we start to include these things in the model? Can we create different opportunities that get people farther along the path? Do we even have enough opportunities?

I’m only going to show this slide briefly but take a look at this and you’ll get the idea.

Many Doors to Enter

No one is cheering. Don’t you support your team, the Philadelphia Eagles? (Sees a movement in the audience) There we go – I wanted to see that! They’re not my favorite team, but I brought that image especially for you all. I wanted to be respectful of the home team here. Congratulations on the win by the way! They impressed me. They have a great story with their championship win using a replacement quarterback. Crazy good story. Anyway all that aside, if you look at the team there, they’re all football players. They aren’t all the same though, right? They aren’t. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some are fast, some are built, some might block, there’s the kicker, etc. They are all different but they are all professional football players. They’re all called pro football players regardless of the position they play. They’re all on the same team. So I wanted to really emphasize that. We’ll discuss it more than afternoon workshops.

So, if we take a look at this slide:


We aren’t all one size. We don’t all have the same experiences. There isn’t a standard, ideal interpreter. Bearing that in mind, it seems to me that we need more than one door in this field. There’s not one ideal interpreter that we should all aspire to be; there are many ideals. We all have our place in this community.

You’ll notice on the slide that there were some shapes representing interpreters with various backgrounds and experiences. Some of the shapes are short and round, some are tall and thin, some shapes are different.  The door that seems to be the most fitting for one of those shapes may not be – there needs to be a variety of entry points to meet the diverse needs of the people involved. We are looking for the best fit. What is my path? What is your path? We’re looking for the best path for everyone. We need a variety of doors and a variety of shapes and sizes. There’s no “standard size“. It doesn’t work that way, so we have to look at how to broaden our view and recognize what’s needed. Again, that’s just some of my thinking.

I also believe that the doors reflect the communities they’re in. Sometimes it feels like my RID national certification is the way to open the door.  It’s certainly a benefit I have. 

Again, that’s just some of what I’ve been reflecting on.

Here’s another example. I believe the doors also reflect the different parts of the country. I do have national certification through RID. That’s good for me as a Deaf interpreter. Certainly, it’s a benefit to hold that card. It means I can work in a whole host of arenas and locations. There may be certain situations where I seem wrong for the context- where I can’t simply depend on my experience as a Deaf person or my language skills from growing up in the community. I mean you already know this. It’s no secret. But we have this one door, this one credential that’s our passport to everything. But if you consider the BEI, they have some great options. They have a trilingual portion to their test which fits their region. It fits the needs of the people that live in their region. What about outside of Texas in more northern locations? What about the south? And all the places in between? Are there other regional needs? Why do we not recognize those as all valid? Because we can look at creating more focused exams. 

Howard talked about developing a new test. Why do we have to develop a new test for the entire United States? If you look at Europe, there are many countries within Europe that could all fit inside the United States. They each have their own language and their own fit to ensure their meeting the needs of the people within their country. We have one test that’s supposed to meet the needs of everyone across the country. We expect that one test to meet the needs of everyone within our borders. It’s kind of a joke, in a way. So, maybe we should develop more regionalized testing? It’s just an idea. Should we have regionalized testing and look at skills that fit the regions more appropriately? There may be certain areas where certain skills are strongly needed whereas other regions need a different kind of support. There’s nothing wrong with that. When we look at the BEI and how they test for skills that meet the needs of their specific region, that’s valid. It’s a valid path to the field as well. It had equal validity compared to any other avenue.

Here’s another example for you. Did you know that Deaf people can’t take the EIPA (Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment)? There should be Deaf interpreters in educational settings. I tried to take it. I took the EIPA written test. How many of you knew that there was a written test for the EIPA? Did you know that? One person here raised their hand that they knew. Many people didn’t realize that the written/knowledge test is not mandatory. You can take either the written or the performance for the EIPA and get your score? Most places don’t require both. I took the written test and I got a fairly high score, which I was pleased about. I eeked by on the RID knowledge test, but with the EIPA I received a very high score, so I decided to sign up for the EIPA performance exam and my application was declined. They said that schools don’t ask for Deaf interpreters so therefore I “wasn’t a good fit” which is ridiculous. In this instance, the door is there, but it’s closed to me. They need to open that door so that people can go through it. That’s another great example.

Let me just check in with a timekeeper – Brandon, am I at my time? (Note: The timekeeper is not in the camera.) It looks like my time is nearly done. I have a few cool things that I am going to skip for now. I’m going to ask the tech team if they can go to the last slide, please.

Middle of the Road?

I come from the southwest, in Utah, so that’s the desert. That open landscape feels like home for me. So I’ve been thinking about the quote that we should meet in the middle or “meet you in the middle of the road.” It’s a phrase for an idea about coming together in compromise, in agreement, that is used in English. I realized as I was thinking about that. I have been viewing it wrong and maybe we all have been viewing it wrong. The middle of the road is a very dangerous place to be for a Deaf person. We need to visually be aware of what’s happening at all times, so a Deaf person is safer to be on the side of the road. I like my life, I want to stay alive. I’d rather walk on the side of the road, where it’s safe. I can see the middle of the road and I can see my allies across the road and they can see me. We’re looking at each other and walking in parallel to each other so we can sign as we carry on. So, we’re thinking, “Great, we’re working together! We’re allies!” But we can be fooled. We’re both walking along the same road, thinking we will end up in the same place together, but the horizon is always in the distance and we never meet in the middle. Take a closer look at the slide. [See slide above.]

If we are walking along and we say we will meet at the end of the road…we keep walking. We have the same goals, we have the same destination, and we keep walking and the road continues along and we never reach that destination. We never meet. And when you look more closely, you can see that the paths aren’t the same.

One of those paths is easy to walk. The other has more treacherous terrain. There are rocks and potholes and obstacles. That road is different although it looks and feels similar. We are headed for the same destination, but one may get ahead of the other. It feels like we’re heading to the same place. Maybe it’s white privilege, maybe it’s because of our signing skills. Maybe it’s our friends of color who are being left behind. There are a variety of reasons why those paths may look different and although it seems that we’re headed towards the perfect destinations and want to meet there, maybe we won’t. Meeting in the middle is dangerous and it worries me. I worry about our survival and I think some of you do as well. 

I suggest that this requires courage. Why did the chicken cross the road? The chicken was brave. The chicken wanted to see what was happening on the other side. They wanted to experience the other side with their ally and nobody laughed at that chicken. I have a lot of respect for that. It takes a lot of courage to cross the road and walk together. Thank you.



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