Carla Shird: Language Privilege and the Field of Sign Language Interpreting

October 11, 2017

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.


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(New York)