Brandon Arthur sits down with Kellie Stewart to discuss the importance of strengthening the ethical decision-making skills of sign language interpreters. In this interview Kellie posits that an examination of ethical decision-making through the lens of behavioral ethics highlights a critical gap in the current practice and code of conduct for sign language interpreters. Kellie suggests that to strengthen ethical decision-making and to fill this critical gap requires interpreters to examine the factors shaping their decisions, gain a more clear understanding of their own biases and self-concept, be honest with themselves about their feelings about the Deaf Community, and to embrace the idea that they have the potential to do real harm while on the job, regardless of their intent.
The one constant in the field of sign language interpreting is continuous change. Whether one embraces change or avoids it, evolution is inevitable. As the dynamics of the work change and relationships with the Deaf Community continue to evolve, StreetLeverage has the opportunity to research, report, and relay information to practitioners and stakeholders. During the RID LEAD Together Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, Heather Harker graciously agreed to sit down with StreetLeverage founder, Brandon Arthur, to discuss organizational change, leadership, and relationships between the Deaf Community and sign language interpreters.
Rediscover the Roots
As part of the RID Conference, Heather presented “Learning from Organizational Life Cycles” and described some of the hallmarks of an organization’s life cycle. Typically, organizations are initially started with a mission and a passion which carries the cause forward. The founding members typically have strong bonds in their common vision. Once the organization experiences a certain amount of growth and change, there is usually a systems implementation phase where policies and procedures, paid staff, and other formalized systems are put into place. With an influx of new people who may not share the same passionate commitment to the organizational mission, there may be a flattening out for the organization – a loss of heart for the cause. In many instances, this can be a decision point for organizations – turn back and rediscover the roots of the organization or face decline. These common organizational stages can be a lens we can use to assess the health and development of our own organizations.
Reassess the Trajectory
For many small non-profit organizations, there are risk points. According to Heather, many small organizations struggle when transitioning from the start-up stage to the system’s stage – the implementation of policies, hiring of paid staff, etc., can often be challenging. Another challenge is when the organization sees some decline after operating in the system’s stage for a period of time. If the organization no longer serves its original purpose, it may be time to disband, although this rarely happens. More often than not, organizations elect to continue to operate. Some continue to struggle, but others – the organizations who realize they are in decline and reevaluate – may be able to return to their mission and rediscover passion and purpose for their cause.
Heather points to RID as an example of an organization experiencing this life cycle. After publicly acknowledging the decline of the organization, they are in a process of reassessing and regrouping. Affiliate chapters will ultimately need to reassess their trajectory, as well. Heather recommends utilizing the visual description of the life cycle of organizations to help leaders define the stages and determine where smaller organizations stand. While there will likely be differing perspectives, it is important to explore multiple viewpoints. In this process, there will likely be gaps identified within the organization. Recognition that organizations cannot remain stagnant is critical. A healthy organization will experience many adaptations during its lifetime. One gap may be filled and another reveals itself. During this process of identification and adaptation, addressing the leadership needs of the organization and the skills of the membership helps to maintain a healthy balance.
Heather shared that one key ingredient for success in a leadership position – as a member of an organization or as a practitioner – is the ability to engage in “courageous conversations.” The goal should be to thrive, not to merely survive. Each participant must engage in self-inventory and determine if their offering is a good fit for the organization or role. Leadership is complex and one person will not necessarily embody all the skills needed to meet the needs of the organization. Finding ways to shore up and compliment leadership skills requires reflection and these courageous conversations, as well.
Heather also discusses the simultaneous sense of loss and hope in rebuilding an organization. In letting go of old ways and thoughts, members have to experience their loss in a very real way. At the same time, participating in building a new vision can be rejuvenating. For the Deaf Community and sign language interpreters, it is important that we stay on the path together, acknowledging our losses while holding space for a successful future.
Be sure to watch the full interview for more of Heather’s valuable insights.
One of the benefits of participating in various conferences and workshops as a member of the StreetLeverage Social Media team is the opportunity to gain additional exposure to some of the field’s thinkers, challengers, and supporters. Jonathan Webb embodies all of those traits. We are grateful he was willing to make time to sit down with StreetLeverage founder, Brandon Arthur, to talk about power, privilege, becoming an accomplice, and the need for practitioners in the field of sign language interpreting to take a deep breath and wade into some uncomfortable territory in order for us to move the field to the next level.
Beginning the journey to explore our own power and privilege is a deeply personal decision and each sign language interpreter – each person – must approach the work from that individual place. Jonathan recommends exposure to the narratives of people different than ourselves – whether through written materials or vlogs online. From the academic to anecdotal stories, there are a plethora of resources at our fingertips if we are inclined to seek them out and experience them with open hearts and minds.
For many at the RID 2017 LEAD Together Conference, the positive use of the term accomplice was a novel usage which left the audience reframing the idea of acting as an accomplice with people from historically marginalized groups. Instead of taking on the badge of “ally”, many people in the social justice world are adopting the term “accomplice” which represents an active way of supporting, participating, and sacrificing with marginalized people in working towards equity. Jonathan also discusses the idea of taking back powerful terminology by subverting systems. In reframing concepts in this way, people who may have become numb to oppressive systems may start to take notice.
When confronted by our own fear of misstep, our concerns about the Code of Professional Conduct, Jonathan reminds us that our overarching ethic should be “Do No Harm.” If we act from that paradigm, then it is clear that when we see oppressive acts, when we see others doing harm, choosing not to act is causing harm, as well. At the same time, there are levels of action each individual can take which may be reassuring for many interpreters who are unsure where to start.
Jonathan also reminds us that we are all human. While we are on this journey, there will be times when we are fearful, when we have anxiety. Reinterpreting these feelings and looking at them as energy, excitement, and adrenaline can be a powerful tool to forge on. As we look at a changing field and a changing world, remaining stuck in an old paradigm is not an option. Sign language interpreters must support each other in creating new systems which are more diverse and more inclusive. The path will not always be smooth but we have our accomplices to see us through.
Please watch our interview with Jonathan Webb for more insightful conversation.
As part of the StreetLeverage endeavor, we seek to uncover new perspectives and highlight subject areas in the field of sign language interpreting which may need additional exploration or contextualization. One critical area of inquiry is power and privilege, a topic discussed at the RID 2017 LEAD Together Conference. Brandon Arthur, StreetLeverage founder, had the opportunity to sit down with Carla Shird after her presentation “Unpacking Power and Privilege.”
According to Carla, language is at the core of power and privilege in the field of sign language interpreting. As practitioners, vigilance is key – intentional or not, how a sign language interpreter behaves in a given situation, their attitude, and their willingness to dialogue when conflicts arise can all impact those involved in an interpreted setting. Carla also points out the importance of finding ways to acknowledge and “open the door” so that relationships can develop between Deaf and hearing individuals rather than maintaining an interpreter-centric dynamic which skews perspectives and inadvertently grants privilege to sign language interpreters.
Carla also discusses the concerted effort some groups appear to be making within the field of sign language interpreting to address issues of power and privilege by hosting discussions and providing power and privilege training thereby setting the stage to continue these kinds of conversations among community members and practitioners. At the same time, she cautions that limiting the scope of our exploration of power and privilege to our practice as sign language interpreters is missing the point. In her presentation and in our interview, Carla emphasizes that the roots of a tree feed the trunk and branches. In reflecting on our own roots, whether they are grounded in the Deaf Community or not, we can start to understand where we hold privilege, bias, etc.
While this discovery process can be difficult, it is ongoing. Change can’t happen overnight. Finding new ways to open dialogue can be important as well as finding ways to be gentle with ourselves. Creating lists of resources for learning, establishing case conferencing or supervision groups with a neutral party to unpack experiences, and engaging peers in purposeful discussions about power and privilege are all jumping off points for deeper learning. For those more inclined to do this work alone, there are vast resources available for study and research. Most importantly, each person must assess their own readiness to take this journey. Without that knowledge, the road can be bumpy.
For more insight from Carla Shird, be sure to access the full interview.