The Field of Sign Language Interpreting Needs an Accomplice Not an Ally

October 18, 2017

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.

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(New York)