Posted on

Guilt by Association: Are Educational Interpreters Sabotaging Themselves?

Guilt By Association: Are Educational Interpreters Sabotaging Themselves?

Sign language interpreters in educational settings often bear the brunt of heavy scrutiny and criticism. Not all of the negative press is unearned, but is it possible for serious practitioners to overcome these stereotypes?

[View post in ASL]

There is one type of sign language interpreting that always seems to get viewed negatively – educational interpreting. Recently, I started thinking about the reason this group ends up with such a negative reputation. I understand that, historically, educational interpreting has been a place where newer interpreters are hired and the setting is often used as an entry into the field. More recently, some states have set the bar higher and educational sign language interpreters (EI’s) must have licensure, specific credentials like the EIPA, and some states even have their own tests in place to make sure EI’s have a minimal skill set to provide services. While credentials are very important, this article is not focused on working EIs’ credentials. This article takes a look at the individual decisions made by EIs that inadvertently affect the whole group.

Some Truth in Humor

Recently, I saw a very funny YouTube video titled, “Nine Worst Interpreters”posted by Deafies in Drag. Like several thousand others, I watched the video and laughed. Then it struck me, I have worked with most of these interpreter characters. If I am being completely honest, I have been one of these interpreters. I would like to think I have changed and am not quite the “newbie” depicted in the video anymore. When it comes down to it, we are responsible for our own actions. There are sign language interpreters who think they should be allowed to behave however they deem fit without considering the Deaf client they serve or the effect it will have on the profession as a whole.

The more I thought about this video, the sadder I became. Those scenarios happen daily, and deaf clients are subjected to this type of behavior while they are trying to get their education. This is not the only video; there is a part two and a part three on their YouTube channel as well. While these videos are funny, it should be a wake-up call for all EIs in the field. We are being watched, our actions are noticed, and it affects how people judge us.

I am privileged to travel the country presenting workshops on ethics in educational interpreting, and in these travels, I have been privy to many horror stories involving EIs. While one sign language interpreter may think it is acceptable to come to work and watch movies during their downtime (popular movies, not educational ones), or work on personal hobbies (i.e., sewing, knitting), their decision to do this will cause the people around them to form an opinion based on their actions. This opinion may then set a precedent for the sign language interpreter who comes in the next year.

Does Professional Appearance Matter?

One of the complaints I consistently hear from EIs across the country is about the lack of respect they get from the teachers and administration in their districts. That is frustrating for any EI, but we also have to do a self-analysis to find out why we do not have their respect. Some things to consider:

  • Do you come to work every day in jeans and a t-shirt or sweatpants, or like the “Dress Code” interpreter in one of the aforementioned YouTube videos, looking like you are going to a club with heavy makeup?
  • Do you constantly stay on your phone all day?
  • Are you late all the time?
  • Are you one of the sign language interpreters who never attend professional training?

These are just a few in the long list of behaviors EIs are reportedly doing across the country. At the same time, sign language interpreters in these settings want to be treated with respect and earn higher wages.

When these unprofessional behaviors are brought to educational interpreters’ attention, too often they have an excuse for their behavior. For example, “I dress down because I am in elementary school and I am not getting on the floor in my good clothes.” Another common example is,“I need to have my phone because something may happen.” So, basically, some interpreters are preparing for a tragedy every day? The rule of thumb should be that if the teachers and staff are not allowed on their phones, the sign language interpreter should not be either. And even if they are allowed, no one wants to be known as “the interpreter who is on her phone all day.” Another common excuse is, “I am late because I live far away.” Yes, many people live far from their jobs and still manage to make it on time. Again, these are just a few of the excuses that have been used over the years.

Can We Change The Stigma?

Many of us have experienced that “look” we get from other sign language interpreters in the field when we say we are an educational interpreter. You can literally see your ranking drop on their scale of serious interpreters. Yet, EIs are the ones out there working as language models, facilitating an education that can allow a student to succeed in life. The work we do is very important, yet we get looked at as if they feel sorry for us because we are EIs. But why? Well, much of it has to do with the previously mentioned issues with EIs. Chances are these interpreters giving us the “look” have actually been in our shoes, have seen what is being done, and want no part of it.

Here is a statement that was posted on Facebook recently from the mother of a deaf child that is a freshman in high school (Note: This excerpt was used with permission.):

“We were discussing interpreter clothing choices, nail choices, etc. I was asking her if she liked a certain look. She gave me her honest opinion and then… then she dropped a truth that hit me right in the privilege.

O: Not all Deaf people are allowed to be honest, mom[sic]. Sometimes they think they have to tell the interpreter it’s ok because if they get mad or hurt feelings then they will not work for us. Interpreters have power. If we say we don’t like it, they say no one else complained. Other people said they like it. I have to tell the truth because I can’t see. Then when I do say something I am a brat or that word you said….. high maintenance. I just wish interpreters could understand.”

Wow, “right in the privilege” what a statement!  This is a strong reminder that it is not about what we want, what we need, or what we feel is right. It is about the consumers we serve. In my opinion, the student’s above statement should be printed and attached to every workplace where there is a sign language interpreter as a reminder to not misuse the power we are privileged to have.

What Can We Do To Turn This Around?

As sign language interpreters, we see these problems, we all know they exist. Now, what do we do about them? It is not worth mentioning a problem unless we have a solution. Finding solutions to these problems may be a little harder than we realize. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Educate and make sure that interpreters in educational settings are following the basic rules of the CPC, especially portions regarding respect for our consumers.
  2. Suggest attending workshops on ethics with other EIs in our school districts.
  3. Share relevant articles with our colleagues in a group email.
  4.  Request team meetings with open topics, such as  “Presenting a Professional Demeanor to Administrators.”

Creating Accountability For Ourselves

I realize directly approaching sign language interpreters behaving this way is difficult. Some may take it as an attack, as Kate Block mentioned in her article, “Horizontal Violence: Can Sign Language Interpreters Break the Cycle.” There is a vicious cycle of horizontal violence in our field that we do not want to perpetuate. While I cannot offer a foolproof solution to these problems, I can propose that we become accountable for our part.

Even if the sign language interpreter before or after us is not behaving in a professional manner, we can still break the cycle with our own behavior. I have been in classrooms where I worked for several months and the teacher later approached me and told me she was surprised at how professional I was. Her experience had been with a previous interpreter who was not professional and she just assumed all sign language interpreters behaved that way. It was refreshing to realize that I control other people’s view of me. It may take time to wipe their memory clean of the previous interpreter, but it can be done, and it is worth it to take matters into your own hands for improving your career. The impact you make may seem small, but if more sign language interpreters start being accountable, eventually, the field of educational interpreting will earn the respect it deserves.

Questions for Consideration

  1. How can sign language interpreters in educational settings provide support for others who are entering the educational arena in order to raise the bar on professional decision-making and ethical behavior?
  2. How can sign language interpreters hold each other accountable without being perceived as perpetuating horizontal violence?
  3. What are some of the factors that may lead educational interpreters to feel disenfranchised or disengaged from the broader field of sign language interpreters? What is preventing crossover relationships and can that be changed?

References

  1. Block, K.  (2015) Horizontal Violence: Can Sign Language Interpreters Break the Cycle.  http://www.streetleverage.com/2015/03/horizontal-violence-can-sign-language-interpreters-break-the-cycle/
  2. Deafies in Drag. (5, January 2016). Nine Worst Interpreters. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/Atq2QOwaiuk
  3. Deafies in Drag. (9, January 2016). 8 WORST Interpreters: PART TWO. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/s5BiMtq8LPI 
  4. Deafies in Drag. (4, June 2016) 7 Worst Interpreters Part: 3. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/vLUUF6asfnQ
Posted on

A Civility Revolution: A Call to Arms for Sign Language Interpreters

A Civility Revolution: A Call to Arms for Sign Language Interpreters

In a world where online and face-to-face interactions have lost a level of compassion and understanding, Diana MacDougall outlines a “Civility Revolution” to elevate the discourse of sign language interpreters.

 

The notion of “civility” has been tossed around these past several years, not only by the sign language interpreting profession, but in other professions (such as nursing and education), across the board on Social Media sites, and in ethics discussion groups, like the Institute for Global Ethics.  Everyone is concerned about how we are treating each other, and with good reason. In an era of social media, hit-and-run cyber-demeaning comments can be posted anonymously with impunity. Through the creation of the global internet and online social media (where nobody has to see our faces or know our true identities), we have somehow removed civility and humanity from interactive expectations.

[Click to view post in ASL]

#CommunityIsAccountability

In recent months, StreetLeverage contributors have posted articles on civility, accountability, diversityand social consciousness within interpreting. They are each timely, and yes, necessary, for our membership to read/watch. (After all, our own CPC tenet 5.1 reminds us to “[m]aintain civility towards colleagues, interns, and students” as a code we all agree to adhere upon joining our professional organization.) The most recent StreetLeverage conference in April stressed civil behavior towards each other in our interactions and discussion groups at least once a day. (And I have to say, this past conference was one of the most socially conscious and aware conferences I have EVER attended in my professional career!) Sitting back and watching the interactions of the participants and the leaders’ role model what civil interaction looks like, I began to think about what “civility” meant and what was needed to carry this movement to the next level. Centering our conferences and discussions around the notion of civil dialogues and accountability for our individual social behaviors is an important step towards a paradigm shift in how we interact with each other. But how do we take it beyond the intermittent “reminders” to “play nice”, if you will? What was it about this past conference that worked so well that could be replicated more consistently for ALL interpreting conferences, and carried over into our own lives as interpreters and as human beings?

Exploring Micro and Macro Levels of Interaction

As a Sociologist who studies social discourse, I often lecture on the concepts of the macro and micro levels of interactions. The “macro” is from an institutional, or large-scale level. The micro is from an individual or small-scale level. For the purposes of this article, I would like to consider our profession as the macro and our individual selves as the micro. I know that when I look at the larger schema of something—say, social injustice—I feel overwhelmed when trying to navigate my place in the world for change. It feels impossible, so I have a tendency to walk away from a global issue. But from the micro level, it feels more manageable; I can do something within my world—my life—to affect change. It is doable; therefore, I am more apt to participate in a social cause. At the micro level, we can see a ripple effect from our actions. It is a basic “cause and effect. Over time, our actions become habitual; therefore, changing how we behave. Because of our social interactions as humans, our behavior influences others around us. In time, other people’s behaviors affect larger groups, and ultimately affect social norms for what is considered—at the macro level—as appropriate behaviors within a society. So, with that being said, I am declaring a “call to arms”, of sorts. Yes, a revolution within our profession, starting at the micro level: us—individually!

Civility Revolution: Tools

As of today, I am declaring a “Civility Revolution”! What will be needed from us as collective individuals? Here are five values for what I believe we will need to “arm” ourselves for this revolution:

Moral Courage

The first would be a commitment to moral courage. Kidder defines “moral courage” as “[s]tanding up for [our] values”, stating that “having values is different from living by values” (2005). Moral courage requires “compassion” towards our fellow human beings.

Compassion

Compassion involves not only sympathy towards others’ experiences but empathy for them, as well. Putting ourselves in other people’s shoes will carry us far in being civil towards others.

Integrity

To be morally courageous and compassionate, we will need another quality necessary to arm ourselves in this revolution: integrity. To me, “integrity” means knowing the difference between right and wrong and choosing to do right, whether anyone is watching or not, and whether it is uncomfortable to do so or not.

Accountability

Another piece of “armor” we need to put on is “accountability”. This is something missing in Western societies due, in part, to technology, where people no longer have to face their objects of critique. We have learned to say whatever we feel about others without thinking about the pain we may cause them. Learning to accept accountability for our words and actions is necessary for a Civility Revolution.

Commitment

And the last piece of armor we need is “commitment”. Individually, we need to commit to following through on living by our values. It is not easy; there are times when standing up for what we believe has a social price to pay. No one wants to be disliked (an American societal condition), and no one wants to be called a “moral busybody”. But, again, as we change our behaviors at the micro level, we eventually affect change at the macro level, and before long, civil behaviors towards others will become the status quo again.

Revolution in Action

The theory is a good one. But we’ve had enough of theory and “discussions” on the topic. What would this look like in action? 

Some ideas:

  • As individuals, we can interrupt audist/racist/sexist/etc. remarks when we see/hear them.
  • As individuals, we can choose to sign in Deaf/Hearing mixed environments for full access for everyone involved, even when others choose not to. (This one takes moral courage, but is SO doable; I believe in time, we will affect change in this arena if we are diligent in our commitment to this action.)
  • As individuals, we can respect the diverse perspectives we have within our communities by modeling the discursive language we use with each other.

Commitment to Civility

So, as you can see, “civility” is definitely an action word! We need to commit to standing together in our individual behaviors at the micro level by demonstrating collective moral courage through our common values of compassion towards our colleagues and clients. By committing to behaving with integrity through accountability for our actions, we CAN begin to affect change in how we interact with one another. So…are you with me? Who will join me in a Civility Revolution!?

Questions for Consideration:

  1. What are three specific habits sign language interpreters can develop and employ to elevate civility in interactions with colleagues? With those who utilize interpreting services?
  2. Remember a time when a colleague did not interact with you in a civil manner. If you could go back to that situation and experience it again with new tools and perspective, how would you approach the person? How can you apply this to future experiences?
  3. Beyond more civilized discourse, how can sign language interpreters and those who utilize their services benefit from this approach to engagement?
  4. How can sign language interpreters support each other in taking on this call to action?

 

References:

  1. Ball, C. (2012). What Role Does Civility Play in the Sign Language Interpreting Profession? Retrieved October 21st, 2015 from http://StreetLeverage.com
  2. DiFiore-Rudolph, G. (2015). Civility Within the Interpreting Profession: A Novice’s Perspective from December 29th, 2015 http://StreetLeverge.com
  3. Institute for Global Ethics. http://www.globalethics.org
  4. NAD-RID Code of Professional Conduct. (2009) Retrieved June 30th, 2016 from http://rid.org
  5. Kidder, Rushworth, M. (2006). Moral Courage. HarperCollins Publishers. NY, New York.
Posted on

Scales of Justice: Legal Ramifications for Sign Language Interpreters

Scales of Justice: Legal Ramifications for Sign Language Interpreters

Traditional roles, responsibilities, and accountability for work product were challenged in a 2016 court case which will affect the work of sign language interpreters moving forward, particularly in legal settings.

 

On January 27, 2016, the Court of Special Appeals for the State of Maryland filed a ruling that affects the work we do as sign language interpreters. The case is Clarence Cepheus Taylor, III v. State of Maryland.1 This ruling centers on whether a Deaf criminal defendant has the constitutional right to confront the interpreter who interpreted his ASL statements into English during a police interrogation when the State offers those interpretations as evidence against the defendant in a criminal prosecution.2

The defendant, Mr. Taylor, was arrested on the allegation that he had sexually abused minors. A hearing interpreter and a Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI) interpreted while detectives interrogated Taylor for almost five hours. Later in court, a jury found Taylor guilty of abusing two of the seven complaining witnesses.

[Click to view post in ASL]

Although the appellate court looked at several issues regarding interpreters, the main issue in this case was whether or not the prosecution could include the statements interpreted to the police in English without calling to the stand to testify the interpreter who spoke the English.

Even though Taylor’s attorney objected at trial that an audio of an interpreter’s English-language interpretations of Taylor’s sign-language statements should not be admitted as evidence, the court allowed the jury to hear the interpreter’s voice for the almost five-hour police interview. Taylor took the stand in his own defense and contended that there were many “misinterpretations” and “miscommunications” between him and the interpreters.

How does this decision impact the lives of interpreters and Deaf people?

Interpreters are responsible for word choices and content of interpretations. According to the State’s brief, the interpreter was “merely a relay for Taylor’s own statements,” “simply conveying, in a different language” rather than providing the interpreter’s “own independent statements.” (Taylor p. 30). The appellate court disagreed. The appellate court recognized that interpretation is not a word-for-word process, but one in which the interpreter has control over the target language, in this case, English.

Police interviews need to be videotaped. The interpreters in this case were correct in having the interview recorded. Without the video, Mr. Taylor’s direct answers would be lost and only the English would remain. The videotaped recording was one of the main sources of evidence against Mr. Taylor. As stated above, the trial court allowed the State to play the entire English language recording to the jury. However, the appellate court made a distinction between the “video of the sign-language communications between Taylor and the interpreters” and “the audio of the statements by the ASL interpreter…” (p. 7). The appellate court realized that English is a distinct language from ASL and a truer understanding of what the defendant meant could be obtained through analysis of the actual signed statements. “The English words that the jurors ultimately heard in this case were not the words of Taylor, but of [the interpreter],3 expressing his opinion as to a faithful reproduction of the meaning of Taylor’s sign-language expressions.” (p. 34)

Even the best interpreters make errors, particularly when fatigue sets in. “Over the nearly five-hour course of Taylor’s interrogation, the two interpreters received only two breaks: a ten-minute break after about two and a half hours of testimony, and a two-minute break another hour later. Most of the more incriminating statements attributed to Taylor occurred during the later portions of the interrogation.” (p. 36). Interpreting services are expensive, but police interviews may need to be suspended until a second team of interpreters is available to relieve tired interpreters and monitor for errors. Interpreters are responsible to set limits on conditions that are not conducive to accuracy.

Both Deaf and hearing interpreters need to prove their skill level by obtaining education and certification. “Recognizing the high level of education, knowledge, skills, and judgment needed to produce faithful interpretations between English and sign language, Maryland typically requires that court interpreters of sign language undergo a rigorous certification process.” (p. 33). In Carla Mathers’ StreetLeverage posting, How Practicing Sign Language Interpreters Protect Against Legal Liability, she states, “An interpreter can be sued for malpractice if they undertake an assignment and do not follow the standard of care in performing that assignment. If this breach of the standard of care causes damages to any of the parties, the interpreter can be liable.”

Interpreters need to understand the adversarial legal system before accepting legal work. The Miranda warning and subsequent police interview are the first, and some would say, most important part of a legal case. Interpreters need to understand their roles and responsibilities. In this case, the detective told the interpreter to inform Taylor that anything he said could be used against him. The appellate court responded to this by stating, “A reasonable person in the interpreter’s position would expect that his English interpretations of Taylor’s statements would also be used prosecutorially.” (p. 23). This means that interpreters should expect to be subpoenaed and challenged on the stand for their interpretations. Interpreters should be ready to defend their English word choices or admit to errors. “The interpreter does not escape confrontation simply because he…did not personally observe any criminal act.” (p. 29)

Legal interpreters need to continually update their knowledge of legal decisions. For example, the legal concept of “admissibility of interpreted statements over hearsay objections” has changed over the past few years due to court decisions. (p. 42).  Unlike the past, when the interpreter was seen as a tool to decode languages other than English, now, an interpreter is “the declarant of his or her own statements about what the defendant has said.” 4 (p. 43). These changes recognize that sometimes the English that an interpreter speaks may not have the same meaning as what a Deaf person has signed. Taylor testified that the interpreter did not render the appropriate English of a conditional statement; “He testified that he told the interpreters that, if he had touched anyone, it would have been an accident, and he would have apologized.” (p.9). The statement was interpreted as a declarative stating that Mr. Taylor did touch the girls.

This decision is good for Deaf people. When stakes are high, Deaf people should challenge the accuracy of interpreters. Substantive interpretation errors should be “brought to light.” In other words, Deaf people should not be punished or disadvantaged by interpreter errors.

Conclusion

The 2016 court decision, Clarence Cepheus Taylor, III v. State of Maryland is a pivotal case in the interpreting field. It raises the issue of when an interpreter’s English statements can be used as evidence in trials without challenging the interpreter’s rendition. Going forward, we need the input of Deaf community members and Deaf and Hearing interpreters to help craft best practices and standards. Through dialogue and education, justice will be better served.

 

Nichola Schmitz, MA, CDI, SC:L, is a Trilingual Deaf Interpreter, specializing in Mexican Sign Language and Mexican gestures. She has a BA in Psychology and MA in Clinical Psychology.   Nichola has several generations of Deaf people in her family. She interprets mainly in legal and immigration hearings. She has trained Deaf and hearing interpreters in several countries including Ghana, Trinidad, and Mexico.

Questions for Consideration:

  1. Can the interpreting field develop standards for handling police interactions with Deaf people? What rules would you include in our “best practices”?
  2. How does a case like the one above change your approach to interpreting for the police?
  3. What other recent court decisions affect our work in the legal interpreting field?

 

1 The author thanks Carla Mathers for calling this case to her attention.

The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to be confronted with the witnesses against him[.]”

Author decided against using the interpreter’s name in this article since the issues discussed reach far beyond this one instance.

See United States v. Charles 722 F.3d 1319 (11th Cir. July 25, 2013) (No. 12-14080)

Posted on

Civility Within the Interpreting Profession: A Novice’s Perspective

Civility Within the Interpreting Profession

Recommitting to the principles of civility aligns sign language interpreters with the Code of Professional Conduct while fostering positive interactions both online and in person.

I have always believed strongly in the school of hard knocks. As a sign language interpreter, I have held the opinion that sensitivity is not a luxury we can afford if we want to make it in this field; if you cannot accept criticism, this is not the job for you. My opinion in the last several weeks has changed.

[Click to view post in ASL]

According to the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), sign language interpreters are required to “maintain civility towards colleagues, interns and students of the profession.” (RID code of professional conduct, Tenet 5.1, 2009).  Unfortunately, with the proliferation of websites like Facebook, Twitter, personal web pages, public forums, and other forms of social media, this tenet seems to be disappearing into the abyss of the internet faster than you can say “LOL J/K everyone.” I can assure you that not everyone is “laughing out loud,” and commentators are not “just kidding.”

I often find myself bearing witness to those who are using the internet as a platform to discuss their distaste for novice interpreters. Previously, when I would check my usual blogs, forums, and Facebook pages, I would ignore these comments. I did not realize, however, that it was not only novices who were the targets of these comments on the internet; seasoned and certified interpreters were being targeted as well.  Despite the fact that these comments sometimes hurt or have made me doubt myself, I ignored them and kept practicing. After all, criticism comes with the territory – if we are not struggling, we are not growing.

How Far is too Far?

One day, I was shown an interpreter’s personal website which was used to promote their services. However, I noticed that this interpreter also used this website as a platform to discredit other interpreters who were deemed “unfit” by this person. This included sharing an – in their opinion – “unqualified” interpreter’s picture, full name and a detailed account of their interpreting errors. A few weeks later, on a different forum, an interpreter posted an image of a novice interpreting and commented that this novice should not be interpreting. To the credit of the forum’s administrator, this post was later removed with a disclaimer stating that this kind of behavior was unacceptable, but as we all know, the internet is forever. Accepting a job you are not qualified to interpret is most certainly unethical, but there must be a better and more ethical way to resolve the issue of qualification that does not involve potentially slanderous behavior.

Time for Change

Shortly after witnessing these actions on the internet, I attended Street Leverage’s Street Tour along with a diverse group of sign language interpreters ranging from current ITP students to seasoned nationally certified interpreters with more than 20 years of experience. Betty Colonomos stood before us and asked a very profound question: “What are you afraid of ?” We each took turns writing down our interpreting-related fears on posters. The result was astounding. Everyone in the room had the exact same fear: fear of being judged by other sign language interpreters.

After realizing we all were sharing the same fears, Betty encouraged us to dig a little deeper; what came to the surface was some serious interpreter-on-interpreter crime. As it turns out, not only were the novices being treated unfairly, but those with many years of experience felt that they, too, were being looked down upon for not having the training or education that some of the new interpreters had. I listened as interpreter after interpreter shared their own stories of slander. ITP students, novices, certified interpreters, and veterans of our field, at one point or another, had all experienced other interpreters tearing them down. I learned that this issue started long before the internet, and it is having a pervasive impact on our community. After listening to us all weekend, Betty left us with a final thought, “instead of being a victim, become an activist.” This is exactly what I intend to do.

A Case for Civility

P.M. Forni, the author of Choosing Civility and the co-founder of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project, describes civility as

“being aware of others and weaving restraint, respect and consideration into the very fabric of this awareness…It is not just an attitude of benevolent and thoughtful relating to other individuals; it also entails active interest in the well-being of our communities” (2002).

This is a concept that we, as professional sign language interpreters, are quickly losing sight of. This lack of civility is creating a chasm in our community. It needs to stop. Maintaining civility towards one another is the only way to bring us together. Without adopting a civil attitude, we are going to  continue to tear each other apart.  

It Starts With Accountability

In 2012, Carolyn Ball wrote a similar article for Street Leverage asking us what role civility has in the interpreting profession. Civility begins with ourselves. If each sign language interpreter were to promise never to tear down another interpreter, to maintain civility and to keep the best interests of their counterparts in mind; the change would be enormous. We can repair this rift we have created. I still believe in the school of hard knocks, I still believe that you need to struggle in order to grow; I believe in civility, too. It is possible to believe in both. If we promise to support one another and be mindful of our actions, both on and off the internet, we can create an environment that is more conducive to effective interpreting.  

Conclusion

If you find yourself frequently frustrated by other sign language interpreters, reach out, instead of calling them out. I highly recommend Forni’s book, Choosing Civility. As a person who used to think civility was just “being nice” or “sugar coating things,” I learned, after reading this book, that this is not the case at all. You can still have grit and be gracious. You can still be assertive and agreeable. It all starts with a choice to hold ourselves accountable both on and off the internet.

Questions for Consideration:

  1. What are three things you can do to increase the level of civility in your professional life?
  2. How can you hold yourself and others accountable for internet interactions regarding other interpreters?
  3. What can you do to support other interpreters in supporting the concept of civility in the profession?
  4. Can you list several concrete ways we can model civility to our peers both online and in person?

Related Posts:

Accountability: A First Step to Harmony Among Sign Language Interpreters? Sabrina Smith

It Takes a Village to Raise a Sign Language Interpreter by Brian Morrison

The Value of Networking for the Developing Sign Language Interpreter by Stacey Webb

References:

Ball, C. (2012). What Role Does Civility Play in the Sign Language Interpreting Profession. Retrieved October 21st, 2015 from http//:www.StreetLeverage.com.

Forni, P.M (2002). Choosing Civility: The Twenty Five Rules of Considerate Conduct. New York, New York: St. Martin’s Press.

NAD-RID Code of Professional Conduct. (2009) Retrieved October 26th, 2015 from http//:www.rid.org

Posted on

Sign Language Interpreters and the “F” Word

Sign Language Interpreters and the 'F' Word

Receiving feedback is as much an art as giving it. By crafting opportunities to receive feedback, sign language interpreters can begin to erase the negative connotations that often accompany the “F” word.

 

Several hours after a recent interpreting assignment, I received an email from my team interpreter that simply said, “Can we chat about today?” I had an immediate hunch that I was soon to receive feedback about my performance and, despite the year of study I’ve committed to better understanding accountability and the art of receiving feedback, I froze.

[Click to view post in ASL]

Thanks to Sheila Heen and Doug Stone,1 I had the tools to prepare me for this feedback conversation and so I found a spot to sit that was free of distraction and called my colleague. For the next half hour, we successfully navigated what could have been a stressful conversation. As it turns out, I behaved that day in ways that were off-putting, and though I’d like to believe these behaviors were unrecognizable to an outsider, what mattered was that all of them impacted how my colleague experienced the day.

Sign Language Interpreters and Accountability

As sign language interpreters and engaged citizens of the world, we have countless daily opportunities to both give and receive feedback, which means we also have countless opportunities to have conversations that are a success, that go awry, and that fall somewhere in between. Let’s pause for a moment. Can you recall the last time you:

  • worked with an interpreter whose product was not up to snuff;
  • associated with a colleague who didn’t walk the talk in her or his commitment to the Deaf community;
  • were booked to team an assignment with a colleague who is notoriously late; or
  • worked with someone whose behavioral decisions were a turn-off for Deaf and hearing people, and drew undue attention?

Turning the tables, what about the last time a colleague thought you were any of the above? I believe if we are all better prepared to try on ideas that may at first seem off-point, that we’ll develop a more nuanced capacity for empathy and learning, which will in turn make us more proficient practitioners.

Feedback: Challenge or Opportunity?

Feedback is certainly not always a challenge to receive. It “…includes any information you get about yourself. In the broadest sense, it’s how we learn about ourselves from our experiences and from other people — how we learn from life. … So feedback is not just what gets ranked; it’s what gets thanked, commented on, and invited back or dropped.”2 Because we’ll come into contact with solicited and unsolicited feedback every day, from colleagues and not, practicing the art of receiving it is a worthwhile investment for all.

The real leverage is creating pull.”3 

Yes, it’s true that if everyone was more adept at sharing feedback, then we may be able to devote less attention to the art of receiving it. One might make the case, however, that because feedback comes in many forms and from many different people, the only control we will have on how “appreciation (thanks), coaching (here’s a better way to do it), and evaluation (here’s where you stand)”4 are delivered is in how they are received (in other words, we have no control on how feedback is delivered). The giver can be as eloquent or offensive as they choose; it is the receiver who decides whether or not to listen to what is said, how to interpret it, and what to do with it.

Shifting the Feedback Dynamic

With this awareness, I’m hopeful that the sign language interpreting field can begin to shift the feedback dynamic. Instead of investing most of our energy in refining the art of giving feedback, let’s get on board with the receiver soliciting feedback and guiding its provision. In fact, seeking feedback, for better or worse, supports one’s job satisfaction and allows more creativity to solve problems more easily.5 With a job that has been deemed the most cognitively complex task of which humans are capable,6 it’s likely useful to free up some mental energy for problem-solving.

“Creating pull is about mastering the skills required to drive our own learning; it’s about how to recognize and manage our resistance, how to engage in feedback conversations with confidence and curiosity, and even when the feedback seems wrong, how to find insight that might help us grow. It’s also about how to stand up for who we are and how we see the world, and ask for what we need. It’s about how to learn from feedback—yes, even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood.”7

Let’s move forward together — toward a place where we are genuinely interested in being held accountable and one where we seek feedback of all sorts, so as to enrich the practice of interpreting across the profession.

Managing Relationship, Truth, and Identity Triggers

Despite one’s uneasiness at receiving honest observations about their work, actions, and the impact these have on others, it is possible to remain present during the course of any feedback conversation. It’s common to feel triggered into resistance and self-preservation when receiving feedback, but if you can be aware of the reason behind the trigger, it becomes a tool for engagement and inquiry. Heen and Stone outline three different types of triggers: relationship, truth, and identity.8 Your connection to and thoughts about the feedback giver, the truthfulness of the feedback content, and what you believe it says about you can all derail an opportunity for growth, but they can also be managed so as to optimize learning.

Heen and Stone offer eight strategies for managing truth, relationship, and identity triggers:

    1. Separate Appreciation, Coaching, and Evaluation9to ensure alignment of the giver’s intent and the receiver’s understanding;
    2. First Understand10to examine “how to interpret feedback—where it’s coming from, what it’s suggesting you do differently, and why you and the giver might disagree”11;
    3. See Your Blind Spots12to acknowledge that the challenges to seeing ourselves as we really are can be overcome, and develop the tools to do so;
    4. Don’t Switchtrack: Disentangle What from Who13to help you remain open to learning even when the feedback is poorly timed and delivered;
    5. Identify the Relationship System14because “understanding relationship systems helps you move past blame and into joint accountability, and talk productively about these challenging topics, even when the other person thinks this feedback party is all about you”15;
    6. Learn How Wiring and Temperament Affect Your Story16to more fully appreciate why our emotional responses to feedback vary so greatly and why we recover from it in different ways as well;
    7. Dismantle Distortions17to unpack the feedback we receive and, absent of our emotionally-laden framing, understand what it actually means; and
    8. Cultivate a Growth Identity18for those who may hold back from seeking feedback, and because we connect with the world, each other, and ourselves differently, it is useful to “move from a vulnerable fixed identity to a robust growth identity that makes it easier to learn from feedback and experience.”19 

For the sake of word count and reader attention, I will not go any further into these strategies for this article. I will, however, elaborate more on each of these and their application for interpreters (and more) at the StreetLeverage – Live 2016 event in Fremont, CA.

Seeking Honest Feedback

In addition to the strategies briefly outlined above, Heen and Stone offer a question we can ask our colleagues, friends, and other loved ones. If we are truly invested in bettering ourselves and shaping our interactions with people who work with us, we can ask this one question to solicit honest feedback: “What’s one thing you see me doing, or failing to do, that’s getting in my own way?” 20

The next time we’re with an interpreting colleague and/or another Deaf individual with whom we’re working, let’s ask them, “What am I doing that is inhibiting my language choices and production?”, “What am I doing that is getting in my way, in terms of my commitment to the Deaf community?”, “What am I doing that is leading others to say I’m notoriously late?”, “What am I doing – or failing to do – that’s drawing this undue attention from the Deaf and hearing individuals at today’s assignment?” or another question that helps us appreciate the way in which the world engages with us as compared with how we see ourselves engaging with the world. The more we ask this of one another, the more we will shift the way we look at feedback. I predict it will become less of a “four letter word” and more of an open and ongoing conversation that allows us to remain accountable to the Deaf community, one another, and ourselves.

Questions for Consideration:

  1. Think back to some of your most successful feedback sessions as an interpreter. What were the conditions that contributed to their success?
  2. What were some of the conditions that contribute to less successful feedback sessions and how might you change those conditions in the future?
  3. How can sign language interpreters support and promote honest dialogue in our local communities based on the model presented here?

Related Posts:

Accountability: A First Step to Harmony Among Sign Language Interpreters? by Sabrina Smith

Vulnerability: A Collaboration Killer for Sign Language Interpreters by Laura Wickless

What Role Does Civility Play in the Sign Language Interpreting Profession by Carolyn Ball

References:

1Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood). Penguin Group USA.

2Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014a). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (p. 4). Penguin Group USA.

3Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014b). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (p. 6). Penguin Group USA.

4Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014c). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (p. 18). Penguin Group USA.

5Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014d). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (p. 6). Penguin Group USA.

6Steiner, G. (1975). After Babel: Aspects of language and translation. New York: Oxford University Press.

7Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014e). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (p. 6). Penguin Group USA.

8Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014f). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (p. 16). Penguin Group USA.

9Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014g). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (pp. 29-45). Penguin Group USA.

10Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014i). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (pp.46-76). Penguin Group USA.

11Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014h). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (p. 28). Penguin Group USA.

12Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014j). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (pp.77-101). Penguin Group USA.

13Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014k). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (pp.102-122). Penguin Group USA.

14Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014m). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (p.123-144). Penguin Group USA.

15Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014l). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (p. 101). Penguin Group USA.

16Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014n). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (p.147-164). Penguin Group USA.

17Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014o). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (pp.165-182). Penguin Group USA.

18Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014q). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (pp.183-205). Penguin Group USA.

19Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014p). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (p. 146). Penguin Group USA.

20Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014r). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (p. 258). Penguin Group USA.

Posted on

UpCycling the CPC: Role Space and the Reasonable Interpreter Standard

UpCycling the CPC

In search of the “Reasonable Interpreter Standard”… Re-thinking the NAD-RID Code of Professional Conduct with a fresh look at current best practices, recognition of role-space, advocacy and social media ethics.

Hurray! The RID Code of Professional Conduct Review Committee report came out on 6/23/2015! Many of us are eagerly awaiting a revised CPC. After reading through it, I felt inspired to sit down and draft a document which constitutes my approach to the intricacies of ethical practice, both philosophically and pragmatically, in my daily community sign language interpreting work.

[Click to view post in ASL]

This proposed draft is the fruit of fantastic input from a variety of sources (listed below) and also from the sometimes painful juxtaposition of the perceived proper role of a professional interpreter and an outdated CPC. As an interpreter who works for a variety of agencies and entities over a large geographic area, this proposed CPC is more compatible with my collective experiences over the past 26 years as an ASL interpreting practitioner and attempts to address many of the concerns raised in the recent CPC Review Committee report.

Your input and perspectives are invaluable! Share your thoughts on this important topic that has far reaching implications for individual interpreters and the community at large.

Thank you!

Code of Professional Conduct for ASL Interpreters (DRAFT)

Preamble

Interpreting is an art and service profession. Interpreters work to provide access for individuals who do not share a common language or language mode. To demonstrate their commitment to the technical as well as relational components of the work to remove language barriers, respect cultural norms and promote shared communication, RID Certified American Sign Language Interpreters shall adhere to the following professional standards that both guide interpreter conduct and protect the public trust in certified interpreters.

Applicability

All RID Certified Interpreters are bound to comply with this Code of Ethics. Interpreting students and interns are encouraged to adhere to this Code as pre-professionals, in conjunction with supervision by RID Certified interpreters, mentors and instructors.

Tenets

1.  Accurate and Complete Interpretation

Each participant’s source language should be faithfully rendered in a manner that conserves and conveys all meaningful elements of the speaker’s message and intent into the target language. A natural prosody that reflects the tone, style and register of the speaker should be employed. The interpreter shall strive for the highest standards of accuracy to enable the parties to clearly communicate with one another and avoid misunderstandings. The interpreter shall make repairs promptly and discreetly. If at any point an interpreter is unable to fulfill this tenet, the interpreter has a duty to either decline or remove her/himself from the assignment. Sight translation of forms and documents is within the scope of practice. Consecutive, simultaneous, team or relay interpreting with an intermediary interpreter are all valid approaches to this task, and the interpreter shall use professional discernment to request a team interpreter to effectuate communication.

2.  Commitment to Autonomy

The interpreter shall constantly strive to support full autonomy of the participants. While some situations may require the interpreter to make adjustments such as improved positioning, lighting or other logistical considerations, the primary focus will be to facilitate  participant autonomy. The interpreter shall avoid interjecting actively into the conversation or message. Exceptions include utterances which constitute social pleasantries, responding to direct questions, management of the interpreted interaction such as checking in with the parties to ensure the interpretation is clearly conveyed and accessible, clarification of content and professional courtesies.   Interpretation is a group activity creating a shared experience, and the interpreter has a duty to interact in ways that are socially responsive, culturally and linguistically inclusive and also maintain an overarching commitment to participant autonomy.

3.  Confidentiality

Privileged or confidential information acquired in the course of interpreting or preparing for an assignment shall not be disclosed by the interpreter without authorization. Data and records shall be handled using current industry standards including password protected computer files, locked cabinets and shredding of obsolete documents. HIPAA laws or any other federal, state or local laws governing information management shall be adhered to strictly. Interpreters work in a variety of settings for a variety of entities. Case studies, which are representative of repeated occurrences within interpreted interactions over time, can be shared with peers for the purpose of analysis and professional development in the same manner that other professionals conduct continuing education with the goal of improved service outcomes. Interpreters may make public comment on public information.

4.  Professional Demeanor

Interpreters shall conduct themselves in a professional manner that engenders respect for all parties. This applies to standards of dress which are conducive to a visually accessible interpretation. For most interactions business casual is appropriate. Identification such as a badge is recommended to assist the parties in readily identifying the working interpreter.  Examples of professional conduct include prompt confirmation of availability, fulfillment of confirmed assignments and punctuality. The interpreter shall maintain appropriate professional boundaries and separate personal from work interactions out of respect for all parties. Social media shall be used judiciously with consideration for all parties with particular attention to maintenance of standards of confidentiality. Obtain permission from all parties before posting shared experiences on social media or online.

5. Collegiality

Interpreters shall strive to work effectively, professionally and in good faith with all colleagues, mentoring partners, interpreting interns and students. Team interpreters shall caucus as needed before, during and post-assignment to ensure an optimal interpretation. Colleagues shall be approached directly, privately, one-on-one, to address any concerns or breaches of ethical conduct. Filing of grievances shall be made only after all other standard conflict resolution methods have been unsuccessful. Every effort shall be made to maintain open, accountable and positive relationships with peers that support full communication access for all parties.

6.  Preparation

Interpreters shall make all necessary efforts to prepare adequately for assignments. This includes obtaining preparation materials such as speeches, meeting agendas, documents, textbooks, police reports, etc., that will promote the most complete and accurate interpretation.

7.  Conflicts of Interest and Role-Space

Interpreters shall avoid conflicts of interest and dual roles which result in diminished capacity to devote full attention to the task of interpreting. The concept of a conflict of interest is well established, and interpreters shall adhere to norms of conflict of interest avoidance, both perceived and actual. Unanticipated conflicts of interest shall be disclosed to the parties promptly. Complete neutrality, or the absence of vested interest is not achievable.  Interpreters are dedicated to effective communication for all parties. However, interpreters can commit to fully participate in the role-space of interpreter to facilitate communication in order to support the parties in reaching their mutual goals of shared exchange.

8.  Professional Development

Interpreters shall maintain RID certification, completing required CEUs within each cycle, and also engage in supplemental continuing education, mentoring, pro-bono work, etc., to promote the furtherance of knowledge and skills within a framework of social justice. Membership and participation in professional organizations is strongly encouraged.

9.  Advocacy and Resource Referral

Interpreters are in a unique position as functional bi-cultural bilinguals. Interpreters shall provide referrals to available and appropriate community resources to support equal access. Interpreters may engage in advocacy services in settings that are separate from the interpreting function and that fall within standards of acceptable professional conduct and do not constitute a conflict of interest.

10.  Functional Maintenance

Interpreting is physically, emotionally and mentally demanding. Interpreters shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that all members of the interpreting team have adequate supports, including breaks, to promote health and longevity in the interpreting field. Interpreters shall decline or discontinue assignments if working conditions are not safe, healthy or conducive to interpreting.

11.  Business Practices

Interpreters shall adhere to the highest standards of ethical business practices which include but are not limited to accurate invoicing, charging reasonable fees for services rendered which constitute a livable wage, payment of taxes, maintenance of licenses and professional liability insurance, etc. Interpreters shall engage in pro-bono interpreting. Interpreters shall refrain from using confidential interpreted information for personal, monetary or professional gain or for the benefit or gain of personal or professional affiliations or entities. Interpreters shall avoid interpreting in settings which involve payment terms that are inconsistent with the Americans with Disabilities Act or any other federal or state law or local statute prohibiting discrimination.

12.  RID ED: K-12

RID Certified ED: K-12 interpreters shall adhere to the most current version of the EIPA Guidelines of Professional Conduct for Educational Interpreters when working in K-12 educational settings.

13.  Court Certified Interpreters

Legal interpreters have an additional level of ethical accountability to the courts and judicial system. Interpreters qualified to work in legal settings by either federal or state regulations or by virtue of RID legal credentialing shall prioritize the applicable court interpreter oath and timely access to due process. Legal interpreters shall strive to comply with current best practices and make statements on the record, requests, disclosures and recommendations that represent current best practices for legal interpreters.

14.  Adherence to Federal, State and Local Law

Interpreters shall abide by all federal, state and local laws which supersede this Code of Professional Conduct.   Interpreters shall fulfill all mandatory reporting duties and respond to subpoenas.

Reasonable Interpreter Standard

No illustrative behaviors are included. All tenets shall be considered using the reasonable professional interpreter standard. If an action, engaged in repeatedly, would promote:

  1. increased autonomy of the parties
  2. effective communication exchanges
  3. encourage public trust in the interpreter’s services

by actions taken in good faith effort adherence to these core tenets, the behavior should characterize that of a reasonable professional interpreter. For further assistance, please contact the RID Ethics Committee.

Questions for Consideration:

  1. Forget about dream vacations…What is your dream CPC?
  2. How do you want to see social media addressed collectively?
  3. Why is a succinct CPC preferable to a 5 page test-prep document?

 

References:

Llewellyn-Jones, P. & R.G. Lee (2014) Redefining the Role of the Community interpreter: The concept of role-space. Carlton-le-Moorland, UK: SLI Press.

National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators.

Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc.

EIPA: Guidelines for Professional Conduct

Dean, R. K., & Pollard, R. Q (2011). Context-based ethical reasoning in interpreting: A demand control schema perspective. Interpreter and Translator Trainer, 5(1), 155-182.

 

Collegial Assistance:

Thank you to Xenia Woods, along with the Street Leverage staff, for their willingness to review and provide feedback and edits on this submission! Thank you also to Mr. Ed Alletto for his insightful legal trainings and gentle but direct prompting.

Footnotes:

Q:  Why aren’t there any definitions?
A: Unnecessary as this applies to the RID Certified Interpreters.

Q: Why not include the section about “representing qualifications accurately”?
A: Because it is already illegal to misrepresent yourself and this CPC only applies to RID Certified Interpreters

Q:  Why not address VRI/VRS?
A: Unnecessary as this applies to RID Certified interpreters regardless of venue.  Employment requirements are separate from a Code of Professional Conduct, which applies to members of a professional group.

Q:  Why not more illustrative behaviors?
A:  A CPC should be succinct.  This covers the core tenets and should be interpreted using the reasonable interpreter standard, which this version makes more explicit and should strengthen the application of this CPC.   It is not possible to list all applicable illustrative behaviors. It is possible to provide ethical principles with guidelines for making determinations that will result in ethical conduct.  See Model Code of Professional Responsibility for Interpreters in the Judiciary for an example of this format.

Q: Why not discuss the Demand Control Schema?
A: In my opinion, DCS is a is a tool used to manage the interpreting interactions, but is not appropriate in a CPC. Individuals can engage in behaviors that do not match up with the CPC, and then state a need to use certain controls because of demands that are the result of earlier poor choices that could have been avoided. The CPC should stand above the DCS, which then can be used to comply with the CPC. [Edit 8/6/15.]

Q: Why not include a separate tenet for medical interpreters?
A: This may be necessary at a future date if a separate medical certification is added by RID.  At the moment this CPC along with HIPAA laws and contracting terms provide sufficient ethical guidance. (For example: no unsupervised access to clients, and stepping out of exam rooms when patients need additional privacy.)

Q: Why not make this binding for students/interns?
A:  The CPC can only be binding for certified members, who can participate in grievance procedures, be sanctioned and have their professional certifications suspended or revoked. Students may, for example, have a course requirement to adhere to the CPC in order to participate in an internship placement, but do not have a professional duty to adhere to the CPC until achieving certified status.  The number of non-RID certified interpreters working in the field continues to decline, as states adopt requirements for licensure that are predicated upon RID certification. The onus is on the RID Certified interpreter to guide the student/intern to adhere to the CPC.  See the ABA Model Rules for Professional Conduct Rule 5.3 for an example of this supervisory relationship.

 

Posted on

Accountability: A First Step to Harmony Among Sign Language Interpreters?

Accountability - The First Step to Harmony for Sign Language Interpreters

Altering our approach to problem-solving by moving from blame to accountability can transform the field of sign language interpreting.

Have you ever felt a great line of divide working its way through the interpreting profession? It seems that recently every group discussion, article, or even online discussion revolves around one group being frustrated with the actions of another group. If I am being honest, I must admit, I am guilty.

[Click to view post in ASL]

The more I started thinking about my own frustration, the more I realized I was part of the problem. To become frustrated with a group and sit quietly in that frustration or even worse, talk about it with my peers, only allows the problem to fester. It is because of that realization this article started to develop. I realized that I did not want to be a part of the great divide; I would prefer to accept responsibility for my actions and become part of an even greater solution.

The divisions within the sign language interpreting profession are deep and impactful. We have become a field where like-minded individuals group together, spending our time pointing fingers and placing blame rather than accepting responsibility for our own behavior. The great divide extends to many groups:

  • Deaf and Hearing
  • ITP graduates and Interpreters from the “school of experience”
  • CODAs and second language users
  • Nationally Certified Interpreters and Novice Interpreters

There are also many variations outside of and within these groups. Make no mistake; none of the groups listed are perfect. But what good is it to voice our complaints about these groups if we have no solutions? If complaints are constantly being emphasized, without solutions, then the complainer becomes part of the problem.

There are several issues within the groups listed above that we have the ability to control. While this article cannot address every divided group in the profession, let us look at one of the pairings as an example: nationally certified sign language interpreters versus novice sign language interpreters. More and more often, I have heard novice interpreters express frustration at the way they feel certified interpreters look down on them. I also hear certified interpreters express concerns about how novice interpreters are quick to take work they are not qualified to accept. We see the potential problem within each group’s perceptions. Now, let us discuss possible solutions.

Certified Sign Language Interpreters

Certified sign language interpreters should accept responsibility for fostering the growth of those novice sign language interpreters. There are many ways this can be done, such as mentoring, providing positive feedback, encouraging them in the right direction, and being mindful of how we approach them to give feedback.

I have heard the phrase “Certified Interpreters eat their young” more than once. While we may joke about this phrase, there are novice sign language interpreters who are afraid to reach out because they feel this statement is true. As certified sign language interpreters, we must be accountable for our actions. We should not base our opinion on our own beliefs and thoughts, rather, we should reach out to our peers for help when we are mentoring or giving advice. Remember, just because the advice did not come from us does not mean the advice is not valid. We should respect the advice that our peers have shared even if we would not offer the same feedback.

We also need to acknowledge when the novice interpreter is trying to follow the rules and be patient while they continue to advance their skills and knowledge. We are setting the standard those novice interpreters will one day follow.

Novice Sign Language Interpreters

As novice sign language interpreters, we should also accept responsibility by recognizing that we have an impact on the field of sign language interpreting. Our reputations will be made based on the decisions we make as we advance through the field.

When in doubt, it is appropriate to reach out to trusted certified sign language interpreters for their advice. We need to be willing to accept feedback from those who have experience. We also need to be willing to decline work that we are not ready to accept, skill-wise.

When we come across certified sign language interpreters who are not approachable, then we must look for others who are approachable. Just like the certified sign language interpreter who must be accountable for their actions, so should the novice interpreter. Remember, we are also representing the community we have become a part of and our actions could reflect positively or negatively on those communities.

We are All Accountable

Accountability is the key to a successful change. Each of the groups identified have issues that are very important to its members. The challenge is to find solutions to the issues that allow the group to stop pointing the finger, and start accepting responsibility.

The time has come to make a change in our field. The energy we have spent making excuses needs to be channeled into a newfound energy for finding solutions. Recently, in her article, Sign Language Interpreter Education: Time for a National Call to Action, Cindy Volk reached out with a “National Call to Action” and outlined ways for interpreter training programs to make changes. These types of articles are important because they offer suggestions for making change possible.

Where Do We Go From Here?

The examples provided above are just the tip of the iceberg. Today, I used Certified Interpreters v. Novice Interpreters as an example. The list of solutions was not an exhaustive list, but it is a start. The need now is for each of the other listed groups to consider, “How can I be a part of a positive change?”

I challenge these groups to find ways to work together. I challenge people within the groups to write more articles and get involved with more discussions that provide solutions. If there is a problem that the group feels strongly about, find ways to resolve the problem that do not include placing blame on the other group and then walking away.

It does not matter if you are an interpreter, presenter, teacher, student, consumer, or where you fit in, next time you feel strongly about a topic in the field, stop and think about how your response will impact the person listening. Remind yourself that if you just complain, you are part of the problem.

If there is one thing I have learned in all my years of interpreting, it is that this field is very distinct. Although I have been involved in the field since 1996, my family still does not know exactly what I do on a daily basis. They cannot understand what is involved in the whole process, no matter how many times I explain it to them. This has led me to the realization that we are a lonely field. If we turn against each other, who can we turn to for support? We each have a vested interest in the field of interpreting, whether we are service providers, or consumers. We need to look within our own groups and decide whether we are part of the cause of the great divide, or part of the solution to mend the gap.

Questions to Consider

1. What are some ways sign language interpreters can accept the challenge of bridging the gap?

2. Why are some people fearful about reaching out to opposing groups? What are some of those  fears and how can they be addressed?

3. What are some ways we can educate ourselves before we make a quick decision about another group?

 

Related StreetLeverage Posts

Horizontal Violence: Can Sign Langauge Interpreters Break the Cycle? by Kate Block

Strategic Partnerships: Cooperation Among Stakeholders in Sign Language Interpreting Isn’t Enough by Chris Wagner

Sign Language Interpreters: Is It Me? by Brian Morrison

 

References:

Volk, C.  (2014, October 8) Sign language interpreter education: time for a national call to action. Street Leverage. Retrieved from http://www.streetleverage.com/2014/10/sign-language-interpreter-education-time-for-a-national-call-to-action/

 

 


 

Posted on

Sign Language Interpreters: Is it Me?

Sign Language Interpreters: Is it Me?

When examining the struggles and failings of our profession, we may be frightened and reluctant to consider our role. Brian Morrison suggests that asking the right kind of questions can help us be the change we wish to see in our industry.

As sign language interpreters, we know there are aspects of our industry that just aren’t working the way they should.  Just looking through the StreetLeverage site, we see examples and stories of the failings in our profession. From the disempowerment of our Deaf consumers to the underutilization of Deaf interpreters; from sign language interpreters’ lack of Deaf heart to the “business” view of the profession; from the lack of BA degree level education to the lack of support for new members entering the profession. As we reflect on these, and numerous other issues facing our field, we often fail to consider our role in these industry failings. We are also reluctant to ask ourselves the ever important question…“What can I do?”

[Click to view post in ASL]

Underlying Factors

Maybe the answer is as simple as this…It’s easier. It’s easier to abdicate our responsibility and blame others for the failings we see. It’s easier to hope that others in positions of leadership will fix the problems so we don’t have to.

Maybe it’s a business decision. Being complacent with the status quo keeps us working. We need this work to make a living and can’t risk losing it. We let agencies dictate standard practice because they are paying the bills.

Maybe we are concerned about being viewed in a position of disempowering the Deaf consumer with our actions. We therefore revert to more of a machine model of interpreting in order to avoid that label. We deny the power we have rather than recognize that we may, in fact, be contributing to the disempowerment.

Maybe it’s not so much “what can I do?” but “how can I do it?” Maybe we want change and know that we need to do something, but we aren’t sure how to go about it. We continue to ask ourselves “how” and since we can’t answer that…we choose not to do anything.

But maybe that “how” isn’t what we should be asking.

Asking the Right Questions

I recently started reading a book called “The Answer to How is Yes” by Peter Block. In this book, Block discusses our tendency to focus on the “how we do things” rather than the “why we do things.”  He encourages individuals to choose accountability and saying ‘yes’ to our values and ideals. It’s a “discussion of what is required of us if we are to act on what we care about”.

Focusing on the individual as part of the organization, Block posits that the asking “HOW”, while reasonable, can be asked too soon and keep us trapped in our present way of thinking. Instead, the alternative is to say “YES”. Saying YES allows for the possibility of change.

The following chart outlines how Block proposes we reframe HOW questions into YES questions:

HOW   Questions

YES Questions

How do you do it? What refusal have I been   postponing?
How long will it take? What commitment am I   willing to make?
How much does it cost? What is the price I am   willing to pay?
How do you get those   people to change? What is my contribution   to the problem I am concerned with?
How do we measure it? What is the crossroad at   which I find myself at this point in my work?
How are other people   doing it successfully? What do we want to   create together?

Asking the YES questions as an individual and as a community will help us focus on what truly matters and not just maintain the status quo. While it might be scary to confront our failings and make changes, we can and we must recognize the impact we have as individuals.

Three Qualities for Change

In order for these types of questions to be successful, Block identifies three qualities that will ground us while we navigate this process.

The first is idealism. Many of us have lost that feeling of ‘what’s possible’ and have replaced it with ‘what is’. If we can once again create that feeling of idealism, we open ourselves up to pursuing our values and bring focus to what matters.

The second is intimacy. We are living in a world of virtual reality. We walk around tied to our electronics…texting, emailing, and Skyping our way through relationships. Intimacy is about the quality of our contact with others. We must continue to seek out direct contact and interaction with the world. As with idealism, intimacy is necessary for focusing on what matters.

The third quality is depth. While idealism and intimacy are required for us to focus on what matters, if we aren’t able to go deeper and reflect on what exactly does matter, no change will take place.

The failings of the sign language interpreting industry are evident.  Just looking through the StreetLeverage site, we see common stories. We can no longer deny that we have a role in these failings. We can’t sit by and expect the profession to fix itself and solve the problems for us. But we can start to ask YES questions. We can make a commitment to change. We can influence the change that fixes our industry. That starts with each of us.

 Committing to YES Conversations

Once we have committed to change, we must have conversations we each other. Anna Witter-Merithew’s article, Sign Language Interpreters: Breaking Down Silos Through Reflective Practice, provides us with some great strategies for having these discussions and reflecting on our work. These kinds of experiences can tie together the three qualities of idealism, intimacy, and depth and help us get the YES questions answered.

In the words of Peter Block…

Transformation comes more from pursuing profound questions than seeing practical answers”.

Posted on

Are Hearing Interpreters Responsible to Pave the Way for Deaf Interpreters?

Hearing Sign Language Interpreters Advocating for Deaf Interpreters

Although the number of Certified Deaf interpreters continues to grow, there remains misunderstanding about their role, as well as a shortage of work. Anna Mindess discusses the unique skill set that Deaf interpreters bring to the profession and actions hearing interpreters can take further the inclusion of Deaf interpreter colleagues.

Deaf interpreters are marching up the road to take their place as equal and valued professionals alongside their hearing counterparts. As more Deaf interpreters are trained, become certified and collaborate with hearing teammates, it will inevitably alter our way of working. We can welcome this evolving development and cherish the new opportunities it brings or dig in our heels and resist.

[Click to view post in ASL]

Two Street Leverage posts have addressed the gathering momentum of this movement. In Deaf Interpreters in the Blind Spot of the Sign Language Interpreting Profession, Jennifer Kaika documents the increasing numbers of Deaf interpreters and challenges us to support Deaf interpreters as “a long-standing and lasting part [of our profession], present since the inception of RID.” In Deaf Interpreters: The State of Inclusion, Nigel Howard, a Deaf interpreter himself, urges us to truly realize a team approach by “working together toward a shared and collaborative target language interpretation that is an equivalent to the source language.”

Recently, when revising my book, Reading Between the Signs, for a new edition, I added a section on Deaf interpreters. With the book’s focus on the cultural aspects of our work, it struck me that the resistance some hearing interpreters seem to feel to this “new” development in our field, might be rooted in cultural values (more about this later). First, let’s confirm the fact that Deaf interpreters belong to a tradition with deep roots.

Long Tradition

Eileen Forestal, a Deaf interpreter who has been at the forefront of research and training, contributed a chapter to the new book, Deaf Interpreters at Work: International Insights. While awarding official certificates to Deaf interpreters may be a relatively recent development, Forestal writes that, “as long as Deaf people have existed, they have been translating and interpreting within the Deaf community.” It goes back to the residential schools, where “Deaf children, both in and out of the classroom, would frequently explain, rephrase, or clarify for each other the signed communication used by hearing teachers.” Once out of school, this supportive activity did not cease. “Deaf persons would interpret for each other to ensure full understanding of information being communicated, whether in classrooms, meetings, appointments, or letters and other written documents” (Forestal, 2014, 30).

My Experience

Researching the history of Deaf interpreters allowed me to look back at my own career and see it through different eyes. After discovering the Deaf World via theater in the mid 1970’s when I was an actress in Los   Angeles, I found CSUN where I took all four(!) classes offered at the time: ASL 1 and 2 and Interpreting 1 and 2.

Clearly, I was not prepared to work as a sign language interpreter, but with encouragement from my Deaf theater friends, I cautiously began community interpreting. In hindsight, I recall that at several Social Security or VR appointments, the Deaf person I was supposed to meet brought a “Deaf friend.” And if my interpretations were not clear enough, the friend would succinctly convey the point, assuming the role of unofficial “Deaf interpreter.”

In the mid-1980’s, I got a full time job at a large TDD distribution center in downtown Los Angeles to handle the crush of new customers thrilled to get the latest communication devices. When walk-in customers arrived, my co-worker, a Deaf woman named Sue Lee, would greet them and demonstrate their choice of equipment. My job was to interpret the registration process between Deaf customers and the hearing phone company reps on-site. As LA is a city of immigrants, it often happened that the Deaf person and I needed some extra help going over the rules of the program. I’d ask Sue to join us and she would come up with a way to best convey the information. Once again, everyone benefitted from the skills of a “Deaf interpreter,” although we didn’t label it as such at the time.

After moving to the San Francisco Bay Area, I continued community interpreting, but returned to CSUN in 1991 for a 6-week course in legal interpreting. Our class of two-dozen seasoned interpreters included 3 Deaf interpreters and we enjoyed figuring out how to best work together in the legal scenarios we practiced.

Over the last 20 years, I’ve specialized in legal interpreting and often team with Deaf interpreters (now CDIs). Most of my peak moments interpreting have occurred while collaborating with a Deaf interpreter to achieve the shared goal of optimal understanding.  To me, it feels like dancing with the perfect partner. Having the benefit of teaming together repeatedly, we can often anticipate each other’s needs and intentions and seamlessly move as one.

For a new chapter in my book, I interviewed five very skilled Deaf interpreters with whom I have had the privilege and pleasure of working in court: Linda Bove, Daniel Langholtz, Priscilla Moyers, Ryan Shephard and Christopher Tester.

What We Found

Probably the Deaf interpreter’s most important skill is the ability to provide language access to a range of Deaf clients. But since the theme of my book is culture and my space was limited, I narrowed my focus to cultural aspects of Deaf interpreters’ work.

In analyzing the techniques DIs used for cultural adjustments, we discovered that besides the same kind of adjustments that hearing interpreters employ (including those I previously labeled “Highlighting the Point,” “Context Balancing,” and “Road Mapping”) Deaf interpreters also employed several other techniques, which we tentatively called “Empathy,” “Setting the Stage,” “Directive Form,” “Deaf Extra Linguistic Knowledge,” “Enlarging the Perspective” and “Deeper Understanding.” Further research will undoubtedly refine, redefine, and add to this initial attempt at classification.

Cultural Adjustments Only Deaf Interpreters Can Make

This discussion about techniques may prompt you to wonder, “Why can’t hearing interpreters just learn to do whatever the Deaf interpreters (DIs) are doing?”

In his seminal chapter, “Deaf Interpreters,” Patrick Boudreault, specifies that besides having sign language as a first language, DIs “share the Deaf experience with the Deaf consumer; this ‘sameness’ is an important factor in establishing rapport and communicating effectively.” He adds that the cultural identification “can generate a sense of empowerment within the Deaf consumer with which to express her thoughts to other people whom she could not previously communicate with” (Boudreault 2005, 335).

A classic example of “Directive Form” in legal settings occurs when a line of questioning posed to a Deaf witness requires only “yes” or “no” answers. Since ASL is highly dependent on context, the witness is often tempted to add some background which he or she probably assumes will clarify the “yes” or “no.”

Sometimes a reminder from the attorney or judge is all that is necessary for a Deaf (or hearing) witness to reluctantly confine their answers to a single word or sign. But it often happens that the Deaf witness repeatedly tries to include additional context in their answer. In these situations, I’ve seen DIs sign a very direct, ASK-YOU-QUESTION, ANSWER YES, NO, FINISH PERIOD. [The question.] ANSWER YES, NO, WHICH?

In this instance, it seems that coming from another Deaf person, the directive style is accepted, but if a hearing interpreter delivered the same command it could well be perceived as patronizing or controlling.

In Deaf Interpreters at Work, the authors describe a division of strengths: “DIs have a better understanding of sign language nuances, hearing interpreters have a better understanding of spoken language nuances…”(Adam et al. 2014, 7). This would naturally extend to nuances of cultural expectations. With mutual respect, these distinct spheres of expertise can become a source of synergy.

Here’s the Problem

This is a fascinating area of study and fertile ground for more research. But presently there are more pressing obstructions and potholes in the road ahead for CDIs.  I’ve seen many CDIs describe their determination to get trained and become certified, only to find that they cannot get enough work to make a living (unless, perhaps, they are willing to zigzag across the country to follow the work). So things may be changing, but at a snail’s pace.

I don’t believe that hearing interpreters have the luxury to shrug off this situation and stand by “neutrally.” It is up to us–the majority–to enable this transition and encourage the use of CDIs. Although the Deaf consumer sometimes requests a CDI, most often the hearing interpreter acts as first responder and gatekeeper. If communication is not going smoothly, we need to be honest with our clients and ourselves, stop the transaction and explain the need for a CDI.

This post ends with a few actions each of us can take to further the inclusion of DIs in our profession. But first, another bump in the road: our own attitude. Are we open, proactive, apathetic, threatened or resistant to increasing numbers of Deaf interpreters?

Taking Responsibility

As an interculturalist, I often look beneath the surface to see if there might be a cultural basis behind a persistent conflict. In collectivist Deaf culture, ensuring that the rest of the group has full access to information is a primary value.  For those hearing interpreters who feel threatened by the influx of Deaf interpreters, I wonder if this could this relate to the competition that permeates American culture or the value we place on individual accomplishments? Is it our fear of judgment?  Not wanting to give up our power?

Why does asking for a language specialist to bring expertise to a tough situation make some hearing interpreters feel like they are admitting failure or deficiency? Can we shift that view to see that together we can co-create meaning and provide the best possible language and cultural access?

5 Steps You Can Take:

1)     Take a workshop or class in teaming with DIs. If you can’t find one in your area, organize one.

2)     Find out who are the CDIs closest to your location. Make contact with them; ask for their availability and any special areas of expertise.

3)     Ask agencies you work for if they have contracts with CDIs. If not, urge them to put everything in place. (Often when a CDI is needed, it is discovered during an assignment with some urgency, e.g. medical or legal).

4)     Recognize the, often subtle, signals that a CDI is needed in a specific situation or for a certain Deaf consumer, (e.g., head nodding, repeating back your signs, reticence to reply in depth). Ask yourself, “Am I ‘working too hard’ to get the meaning across or fully understand the signs I see?”

5)     Be brave enough to stop the proceeding and explain why a language specialist (CDI) is required. Give appropriate resources, if needed. Stand firm; it may not feel comfortable.

What else can we do to bring Deaf interpreters back into their traditional cultural roles?

 

 

References

Adam, Robert, et al. “Deaf Interpreters: An Introduction.” In Deaf Interpreters at Work, edited by Robert Adams, Christopher Stone, Steven Collins, and Melanie Metzger. Washington, DC: Gallaudet Press, 2014

Boudreault, Patrick. “Deaf Interpreters.” In Topics in Signed Language Interpreting, edited by Terry Janzen, Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2005.

Forestal, Eileen. “Deaf Interpreters: The Dynamics of their Interpreting Processes.” In Deaf Interpreters at Work, edited by Robert Adams, Christopher Stone, Steven Collins, and Melanie Metzger. Washington, DC: Gallaudet Press, 2014

Howard, Nigel. “Deaf Interpreters: The State of Inclusion.” Street Leverage, April 16, 2013, www.streetleverage.com/2013/04/nigel-howard-deaf-interpreters-the-state-of-inclusion

Kaika, Jennifer. “Deaf Interpreters: In the Blind Spot of the Sign Language Interpreting Profession.” Street Leverage, March 6, 2013, www.streetleverage.com/2013/03/deaf-interpreters-in-the-blind-spot-of-the-sign-language-interpreting-profession

Mindess, Anna. Reading Between the Signs: Intercultural Communication for Sign Language Interpreters, 3rd edition, Boston, MA, Intercultural Press (forthcoming, October 2014).

Posted on

Treachery: Why Sign Language Interpreters Don’t Correct Each Other’s Work

An Act of Treachery for Sign Language Interpreters

Many sign language interpreters follow an “unwritten rule” that prevents us from intervening when a colleague’s interpretation is insufficient. Our silence contributes to Deaf oppression – it’s time to speak up.

As I submit this, some time has passed since the incident of the “fake interpreter” at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela. While this was an event of historic proportions, it was not an event where the life, liberty, or future prospects of the participants were placed at particular risk. Do not misunderstand me – what happened was fundamentally wrong. Deaf people were excluded from sharing in the memory of a person who has had a profound impact upon the world that we all share, as highlighted by Brandon Arthur in his post, Nelson Mandela: Have Sign Language Interpreters Disappointed the World? It was a major injustice and it is upsetting to witness access being denied in such a way.

There are no two ways about it: the events at the memorial were appalling, yet, in some ways, the level of attention that this single incident has received is nothing short of amazing. On a daily basis, Deaf communities put great energy into the fight for equality, yet this particular incident seems to have captured the imaginations of many people. Here in Ireland, Deaf people and sign language interpreters took to social media to express their condemnation. Judging by the reactions of the more traditional media (in the English speaking world at least), there appeared to be some understanding of why this was wrong. It was a positive thing to see such an outcry about the inequalities that are faced by Deaf people, and hopefully this will become a turning point.

Having said that, something is not quite right.

The Unwritten Rule

Someone pretended to be an interpreter, and Deaf communities reacted – as did sign language interpreters and society at large – and so they should have. An emphasis has been placed on using a qualified interpreter, and the situation has highlighted the importance of access. The arguments for using qualified interpreters are certainly supported in light of the events in South Africa.

Yet we should not allow the discussion to stop there. There is another issue that is arguably as disturbing: there are numerous anecdotal examples of qualified interpreters providing suboptimal interpretation, but the profession handles those events differently. The responses are often more subdued or fragmented than we have seen in the case of the memorial service.

Many of us are held back by the “unwritten rule” telling us not to get involved, not to draw attention to an interpretation that is not working. We have not been explicitly taught this during training – it is something that we learn. We learn it by watching Deaf people complain about sign language interpreters who do not understand them, or whom they cannot understand; we learn it by seeing how easily those complaints are deflected because the interpreter is qualified; we learn it when complaints are turned into issues about the personal preferences of Deaf people, rather than issues about the performances of the qualified interpreters.

Use of Credentials to Control

What we are actually learning is the power of credentials, and this is not something that is unique to the sign language interpreting profession. Charles Tilly, amongst others, has discussed how professionals use credentials to control entry into professions and, more importantly, to control and silence debate. The status of being qualified can supersede all other considerations, even taking away the right to ask questions of the professional. Indeed, at times, being qualified can even take the place of being competent.

In addition to raising awareness of the importance of qualified interpreters, the memorial service should also give interpreters something more to reflect on. If we step away from the fact that this person was unqualified, we can ask a more meaningful question: “what is the difference between someone who stands there making a series of gestures and a qualified interpreter whose interpretation Deaf people struggle to understand?”

For someone to purport to provide access when he or she is not an interpreter is foolhardy, disrespectful, and a gross insult to Deaf people – not to mention dangerous. When qualified sign language interpreters are involved and Deaf people struggle to understand the interpretation or make themselves understood, then we are in similar circumstances to those of the memorial service for Nelson Mandela; yet it is far easier for us to discuss the issue of the “fake interpreter,” as we are discussing an outsider.

There is one significant difference. The Deaf community has not invested in the “fake interpreter” and has not allowed him into their space. The betrayal is all the worse when qualified interpreters are involved.

Equality Framework

In Ireland we are fortunate to have a Centre for Equality Studies, where an Equality Framework has been developed [Baker, Lynch, Cantillon and Walsh (2009) Equality: From Theory to Action]. The framework has five dimensions of equality:

•           Power

•           Respect and Recognition

•           Resources

•           Love, Care and Solidarity

•           Work and Learning

The application of this framework to our work as sign language interpreters is far greater than can be discussed here, but just choosing some aspects of the framework can certainly give insight into our thinking. We can use it to analyze situations, and I intend to do this by sharing some reflections from personal experience.

Treachery Against Colleagues

I once attended an interpreted event with around ten off-duty interpreters present. Throughout the event, there were numerous instances in which the interpretation was not working well, with inputs from Deaf participants incorrectly or poorly translated into English.

At these times, there was discomfort, but no intervention: not from the other members of the interpreting team, not from the organizers, not from the audience. My discomfort came as a result of my position as a hearing person and as an interpreter. I was fully aware of what was happening, yet I chose not to act. I sat in uncomfortable silence hoping that the problem would be resolved.

At one point, I stood to make a comment. I chose to sign rather than speak. Afterwards, I realized that I had done something that I did not like: I had listened to the interpreter voicing my input, and I had modified my comment on the fly to correct the interpretation.

Even though I believe in equality, this was unegalitarian. I benefited from being a hearing person who could make sure that my message got across, even though the interpretation was not always working. Yet I was silent when it came to the other breakdowns.

Later at the event, another breakdown happened. A Deaf member of the audience stood to ask a question and the interpretation did not work well. The Deaf person asked the interpreter if she had signed clearly and the interpreter shrugged.

In a room with almost 15% of the sign language interpreters in our country present, this was unfolding before our eyes – and we were letting it happen.

We were sitting back. I was sitting back. It went against everything I believe in, yet I was listening to the voice in my head saying, “Don’t say anything. Just be quiet. You’re not working here. It’s none of your business”. I decided to ignore that little voice and say something. It had happened too many times already without intervention. I clarified with the hearing presenter by standing and sharing my understanding of the question. I was left with a bigger question to deal with: “Why was it such a big deal to intervene?”

I appreciate that it is easier to be an observer than to be actively interpreting. We can analyze the decision-making processes of the working interpreters and try to understand what happened for them, but to do that is to miss the point. The focus should be on the rest of us and what was happening for us that led us to be complicit in those inequalities as we sat back and allowed them to occur.

I have asked myself why it took me so long to say something and I have rationalized it in any number of ways: “The interpreters will correct the issue themselves;” “The organizers will  intervene soon;” “Someone else will say something before me.” All of those explanations fail to get to the crux of the issue: why was I hoping that something would happen without having to act myself? The real reason is that I know the rules as well as anyone else. I am aware that speaking up is seen as an act of treachery against colleagues, and even as undermining the profession.

The Emperor’s New Clothes

The power dimension of the Equality Framework is especially interesting here, at least for me. When witnessing the injustice of an incorrect interpretation, I allowed the power placed in an idea to hold me back from speaking up. This idea that has come from somewhere – it is an idea that serves some interests, just not the interests of equality or Deaf communities. Indeed, it doesn’t even serve the sign language interpreting profession, as it makes us question whether we should intervene when something blatantly wrong is happening. It confuses us into thinking that, by addressing a problem, we are causing a problem; yet these problems already exist. A wiser person than I refers to this type of situation as a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes: sign language interpreters can be in their “altogether” and be totally exposed. We can see it, but we cannot say anything for fear of how we will be perceived – after all, it is only a fool or a crank who does not recognize the credentials that we wear.

Distortion

The love, care and solidarity dimension is also interesting as it is frequently misused to protect the status quo. In the example above, I had Deaf friends and colleagues who were having their ideas misrepresented and I was weighing what to do. While it is true that everyone deserves the benefit of love, care and solidarity, the unwritten rule is a distortion of what this should be. We are instilled with the idea of protecting and fostering a “safe space” for interpreters, but the safety of interpreters should lie in our competencies, not in the fear fellow interpreters have of speaking up. Perhaps there are interpreters who consider my intervention as oppressive of the interpreters working at the event. Well, my answer to that is simple: look at where the power lies and you will see where the oppression is coming from. Correcting an interpretation is not an oppressive act. The marginalization and misrepresentation of Deaf people is oppressive, and our complicity in situations like that makes oppressors of us all.

The Takeaway

If there is one thing that we should take from the incident at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela, it is that real access is more than the appearance of access – qualified or not, the interpretation must be working. If we are equality-minded, “they are trying their best” is not good enough. The voices in our heads should be telling us to fix the situation, not stopping us from standing up. It is time to “rewrite” the unwritten rule.