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StreetLeverage: The 2015 Posts that Moved Us

Best of StreetLeverage 2015

 

As a way to welcome 2016, we handpicked 10 posts that inspired reflection, demonstrated courageous thinking, or generated spirited conversation. It is our guess that you were moved by some of these 2015 gems as well. If you missed one, take a moment to enjoy the goodness. * Posts not listed in any particular order.

1.  Sign Language Interpreters and the “F” Word

Sign Language Interpreters and the 'F' Word

One Headline We Wish We had Created Ourselves

Provocative headline aside, Jackie Emmart brings forward the art of asking for and receiving feedback. While the jury is still out on whether “feedback” is a four-letter word or not, it’s a topic that isn’t going away.

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2. Recognizing Polite Indifference: Sign Language Interpreters & Power

 Polite Indifference

A Personal Story that Resonated

Michele Vincent’s willingness to open up about a work experience gone sideways in order to share her own journey of self-discovery and shine a light on an important issue had staying power for many.

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3. Missing Narratives in Interpreter Education

Erica West Oyedele at StreetLeverage - X

A Post We Thought Worthy of Even More Attention

Looking back in our history and comparing the statistics shared in Erica West Oyedele’s StreetLeverage – X presentation, not much has changed in the demographics of the profession. Hopefully, as we extend our vision and open our hearts to truly understand, we can invite and support interpreters from underrepresented groups which, in turn, supports the Deaf community in all its diversity.

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4.  Station Meditation: VRS, Compassion and Sign Language Interpreters

Station Meditation: VRS, Compassion and Sign Language Interpreters

A Positive Outlook on VRS Interpreting

While not as uncommon as one might think, it was refreshing to read a post about VRS that displayed some of the positive aspects of interpreting in video relay. Judi Webb’s long-term experience as a video interpreter shows that longevity in VRS is possible with the right attitude and practice.

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5. Do Sign Language Interpreter “Accents” Compromise Comprehension?

Carol Padden

A Post that Made Me Conscious of My “Accent” In a Good Way

Carol Padden’s StreetLeverage – Live presentation on sign language interpreter accent will likely resonate for many readers, particularly non-native second language learners. Rather than perpetuating signing errors and disfluent language use, this is an opportunity for interpreters to reflect on their own accent and how they might remedy some of the issues with a little concentrated effort.

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6.  Self-Awareness: How Sign Language Interpreters Acknowledge Privilege and Oppression

Stacey Storme - StreetLeverage - Live 2015 Talk

I Wanted to Call the Presenter So We Could Have Coffee and Talk

Powerfully, Stacey Storme reminds sign language interpreters that while the situations we enter into as interpreters have nothing to do with us, “Our work has everything to do with us.” The interpreter is the third context in an interpreted communication and it behooves us never to forget that fact.

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7.  Horizontal Violence: Can Sign Language Interpreters Break the Cycle?

Horizontal Violence: Can Sign Language Interpreters Break the Cycle?

The Most Popular Post This Year

Clearly, many sign language interpreters have had negative experiences with colleagues which could fall into categories like bullying, harassment or intimidation. Kate Block explores how reflective practice might positively impact the interpreting field. It appears that people agree.

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8.  Deaf Interpreters: Shaping the Future of the Sign Language Interpreting Profession

Eileen Forestal - StreetLeverage - Live 2014

A New Paradigm Emerging for Hearing Interpreters

Eileen Forestal’s StreetLeverage – Live presentation explores the dissonance many hearing interpreters feel about working with Deaf Interpreters and encourages practitioners to come to the table open to the possibility that both groups have something to offer as professionals.

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9.  10 Lessons from my First Year as a Freelance Sign Language Interpreter

10 Lessons From My First Year as a Freelance Sign Language Interpreter

There is Encouragement and Positivity in the Field of Interpreting Today

Brittany Quickel’s 10 lessons illustrate the power of self-determination and positivity. Sign language interpreters everywhere can benefit from these simple, but sage, tips.

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10.  National Treasure

Patrick Graybill - StreetLeverage National Treasure 2015

Those Who Inspire

While this wasn’t a post, our 2015 list of goodness would not be complete without one important addition. StreetLeverage was proud to honor Patrick Graybill at StreetLeverage – Live 2015 as the first StreetLeverage – National Treasure honoree.

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Our Hope

Join us for another year of discovery, vulnerability, and meaningful conversation. We look forward to the magic of the journey that will be 2016.

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October is Sign Language Interpreter Education Month

October is Sign Language Interpreter Education Month

October is Sign Language Interpreter Education Month

StreetLeverage is pleased to present October as Interpreter Education Month (IEM) on StreetLeverage.com. The aim of Interpreter Education Month is to showcase insights, perspectives, considerations and dynamics impacting the education and training of sign language interpreters.

We are delighted to share that StreetLeverage is partnering with the Conference of Interpreter Trainers (CIT) to focus this year’s IEM on the work and history of interpreter educators. This collaboration endeavors to spotlight the insights and perspectives of interpreter educators on the dynamics they encounter bringing up the next generation of practitioners.

Highlights

StreetLeverage is excited about IEM and we want you to be a part of it! You can find a schedule of activities below.

Weekly Curated Articles. The month of October will bring weekly articles authored by interpreter educators asking questions about the work, challenges, and successes experienced in the classroom.

CIT Conference Coverage. StreetLeverage will provide coverage of the 2014 CIT conference being held in Portland, OR. October 29th – November 1st. Coverage will include:

Live Streaming. StreetLeverage will be providing complimentary remote access to the plenary and business meeting sessions of the CIT conference. Click here for the details.

Interviews. StreetLeverage will be doing interviews with event organizers, VIPs, speakers and attendees.

Micro-blogging. StreetLeverage will be micro-blogging various educational sessions via Facebook and Twitter. Be sure to connect with us here.

Historical Reflection. Anna Witter-Merithew will share a special presentation on the history of interpreter education and review the important milestones that have shaped today’s interpreter education. Details here.

StreetLeverage – Live Giveaway. StreetLeverage will be giving away a complimentary registration to StreetLeverage – Live 2015 being held in Boston/Newton, MA April 17th-19th. StreetLeverage will be accepting entries until October 28, 2014 at 5p ET.  Enter to Win.

 More. More. More. In addition to what has been listed above, StreetLeverage will be extending additional opportunities like an exclusive CIT membership and a suggested reading list of StreetLeverage articles for educators. More here.

We hope you’ll take opportunity to join the discussion on the dynamics and history of interpreter education in the field of sign language interpreting.

Interpreter Education Month

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Institute on Legal Interpreting: Backstage Access for Sign Language Interpreters

Anna Witter-Merithew Bids Farewell to ILI Attendees

Anna Witter-Merithew Bids Farewell to ILI Attendees

Is it possible to create a learning environment that effectively supports taking 220+ sign language interpreters on a guided exploration of their work, while offering real-world advice on how to enhance this work, and do it all in three days? Prior to attending the 2014 Institute on Legal Interpreting (ILI) in Denver, Colorado August 21st-23rd, I would have said, Possible? Yes. Likely? No.

If you attended the 2014 ILI you know, not only is it possible, it happened and was amazing!

Behind the Scenes

StreetLeverage is excited to have partnered with Anna Witter-Merithew and the good folks at the MARIE Center to extend backstage access to the 2014 ILI. What follows is a summary of the StreetLeverage coverage.

How ILI Got Started

Anna Witter-Merithew sat down and shared how the Institute on Legal Interpreting got started, the important role of Deaf interpreters at ILI, and the significant contribution made by Diane Fowler in the promotion of advanced legal training for sign language interpreters.

Anna Witter-Merithew Sits Down With Brandon Arthur From StreetLeverage

 

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Setting the Tone

During any type of guided exploration, it is important to set a tone of collaboration and safety. This task was left to keynote speakers and meta facilitators, Carol-lee Aquiline and Sharon Neumann Solow.

They sat down and shared their hopes for conference attendees and their excitement to see Deaf and Hearing interpreters exploring strategies to effectively work together.

Carol and Sharon 2



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You can watch both their keynote and endnote addresses below.

Keynote | Looking Out – Looking In – Reaching: The Role and Function of Critical Analysis of Interpreting Performance

Keynote Address: Carol-lee Aquiline and Sharon Neumann Solow

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Endnote | Looking Out – Looking In – Reaching: Next Steps

Carol-lee Aquiline and Sharon Neumann Solow - Endnote Address



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Interpreters at the Core

At the center of the conference was the examination of the work of 5 teams of sign language interpreters comprised of Deaf-Hearing and Hearing-Hearing interpreters. This served as the basis of examination for all sessions and group discussions.

These good interpreters shared insights into their teaming and work experience during two panel sessions. You can watch them here:

Panel One: Deaf-Hearing Interpreting Team Reflections

ILI Panel One: Reflections on Deaf and Hearing Interpreter Teams



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Panel Two: Deaf-Hearing Interpreting Team Reflections on Preparation Sessions

ILI Panel Two: Deaf-Hearing Interpreter Team Reflections on Preparation Sessions



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Better with a Deaf Team

A prominent theme running throughout the conference was the importance of Deaf and Hearing interpreters working together effectively as a team. Jimmy Beldon, Carla Mathers and Kelby Brick share insights into how to this can be done effectively.

Jimmy Beldon Offers Insight on Supporting Deaf Interpreters and the Importance of the ILI

Jimmy Beldon Offers Insight on Supporting Deaf Interpreters and the Importance of the ILI



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Carla Mathers Shares About the Work of Bringing the 2014 ILI to Life

Carla Mathers Shares About the Work of Bringing the 2014 ILI to Life



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Kelby Brick Sits Down With Brandon Arthur at the 2014 ILI

Kelby Brick at the 2014 ILI Conference

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The Diane Fowler Award

With the passing of Legal Eagle, Diane Fowler, founder of the Iron Sharpens Iron conference (the precursor to the ILI), the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) Legal Interpreter Member Section (LIMS) Chair, Liz Mendoza, announced the establishment of the Diane Fowler Award.

Liz Mendoza Announces the Creation of the Diane Fowler Award



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Noteworthy

There are a couple of real standout developments at the 2014 ILI.  The ILI had 54 Deaf interpreters attend over the weekend. This is the largest of gathering of Deaf interpreters in the field in recent memory (maybe, ever). Perhaps, it is because, in the words of Jimmy Beldon, “The ILI is a ‘home’ for CDIs.”

Deaf Interpreters at the 2014 ILI











The 2014 ILI had 26 facilitators working throughout the weekend in order to support and encourage meaningful discussion and learning. These folks deserve a medal of honor for their tremendous work.

2014 ILI Facilitators






StreetTeam

The coverage at the Institute on Legal Interpreting was only possible with the support of several amazing and talented people. I would like to extend my sincere appreciation to those magic makers that brought the ILI coverage to life.

StreetTeam - 2014 ILI

 

 

 

 

 


Special thanks (left to right) to: Lance Pickett, Jean Miller, Kristy Bradley, John Lestina, and Wing Butler (not seen here).

Conclusion

I would like to extend my thanks to Anna Witter-Merithew, Carla Mathers, and the good folks at the MARIE Center for their vision and the opportunity to partner with them to extend the reach of the ILI to the broader Deaf and sign language interpreting communities.

Brandon Arthur | Closes up the StreetLeverage Coverage of the 2014 ILI

Brandon Arthur Closes up the StreetLeverage Coverage of the 2014 Institute on Legal Interpreting

 

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Improving Healthcare: Specialization for Sign Language Interpreters

Sign Language Interpreters Specialize to Improve Healthcare

Quality interpreting in healthcare is a growing need in our field. Author Richard Laurion makes the case for specialization while discussing current initiatives to grow competency among interpreters working in healthcare settings.

Healthcare affects us at every stage of life; not only are we consumers of the healthcare system from before birth until the end of our lives, but healthcare has become a large part of our national discourse and consumes more of our financial resources every day.  Another increasingly common piece of healthcare is interpreting—caused in part by, recommendations from The Joint Commission (Wilson-Stronks, 2008), rules in the Affordable Care Act (Tietalbaum, 2012) and an increasing number of lawsuits brought by the Deaf Community (12 in Minnesota alone in the last 10 years).  It seems the right time for sign language interpreters to increase our focus on healthcare and ensure our effectiveness in this important area of practice.

A Growing Need

Nathan Ellis, the director of the Deaf Immigrant Center for Education (DICE) in Minneapolis, shared that one in every three encounters at the massive Hennepin County Medical Center involves a spoken or sign language interpreter.   Another indicator of this growth locally is the recent hiring of multiple staff sign language interpreters at the six largest health systems in Minnesota.  There are reports of similar increases in requests for interpreters and expansion of interpreting pools in other large metropolitan communities.

In 2012, the National Interpreter Education Center (NIEC) surveyed sign language interpreters, who identified medical interpreting as one of the most common settings for freelance/contract interpreting services.   It was also rated as the second most common setting where practitioners most urgently need training.  In my work for the Collaborative for the Advancement of Teaching Interpreting Excellence (CATIE) Center and the National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers (NCIEC), we have found nationally that it is common for freelance interpreters to interpret in clinics without any education, training or supervised experience in healthcare interpreting.  A comparison of two earlier studies found a slight, but growing, interest among sign language interpreters wanting to specialize in medical interpreting (Cokely, 2010).  Considering these increases in the demand for interpreters and the interpreting field’s growing interest along with widely admitted unpreparedness and training needs, how are we preparing ourselves, if at all, to do this life-impacting work?

An Important Starting Point

A key aspect of optimal healthcare is the relationship between doctor and patient.  While the importance of communication in doctor-patient interactions has been well documented (Frey, 2010), the complex work of healthcare interpreters has not.  It was only recently that efforts were made to categorize the body of knowledge sign language interpreters should master before interpreting in medical healthcare settings.  The CATIE Center-led investigation for NCIEC identified the following core competencies:

  • Health Care Systems
  • Multiculturalism and Diversity
  • Self-Care
  • Boundaries
  • Preparation
  • Ethical and Professional Decision Making
  • Language and Interpreting
  • Technology
  • Research
  • Leadership
  • Communication Advocacy
  • Professional Development (www.healthcareinterpreting.org, 2008)

This list of domains and competencies is an excellent resource for beginning our development and focus in healthcare interpreting.  In addition to the list above, there are other strategies interpreters may consider for professional development and building competence.

Reflective Practice

The tendency to go into much of our work with “insufficient skills sets” was discussed by Anna Witter-Merithew in her article, Sign Language Interpreters: Breaking Down Silos Through Reflective Practice.  This concept agrees with what the NCIEC identified and interpreters report themselves (NIEC 2013).  Despite having identified a body of knowledge and skills outlined in the Medical Interpreting Domains and Competencies, individuals are largely taking on these specializations without additional preparation or supervision, perpetuating the professional isolation discussed in Witter-Merithew’s article.  We need to consciously move from this condition of isolation into a process of reflective practice, or as Witter-Merithew described, “examining critical incidents that occur within our work to gain a deeper understanding of what they mean for what we do.” She also provided a concrete list for how to actively reflect on interpreting work and decisions.  As I considered this, it struck me that I had seen concrete applications of reflective practice put into action by my colleagues in healthcare interpreting.

Improving Practice with Colleagues

In Minnesota, we take pride in our innovation and excellence in healthcare, and being home to many healthcare industry leaders.  I see this similar pride shared across the Midwest among sign language interpreters working in healthcare.  Three local groups provide excellent examples for reflective practice and use of case conferencing:

  • Medical Interpreters Consortium (MedIC) of the Twin Cities, consisting of staff interpreters working for five local health systems.  They represent a variety of perspectives from primary, secondary and tertiary care.  The focus of their discussions is on the perspectives they bring as interpreters functioning as employees in major health systems, and the various and complex ways their roles differ from those of contract interpreters. They use case scenarios to illustrate issues working within the system as a staff person and how this needs to be different for contractors not directly employed by the system.
  • Minnesota Hospital Consortium (MHC), a group of community interpreters who contract as part of a unified system established for the sole purpose of providing interpreting services 24 hours a day for urgent and emergency care needs at 21 hospitals and 8 urgent care centers across the Twin Cities metropolitan area.  MHC represents many of the same health systems as MedIC. The interpreters’ role and subsequent group discussions are uniquely focused on issues leading to improvements in their response to urgent and emergency care needs for the facilities, staff and patients.  They introduce specific scenarios to illustrate issues of concern or situations needing attention.  Through their sharing they have identified systematic problems and gaps in communication access.
  • Case Study Mentors, consisting of members in and outside of Minnesota. This is a pilot project sponsored through the CATIE Center that includes staff and contract interpreters from several midwestern communities.  The group’s focus is on using reflective practices and case studies as learning tools when working with healthcare interpreting colleagues.  The mentors meet monthly (via the Internet) with a facilitator, define a case study and then individually meet with their local group of healthcare interpreters to work through the scenario.

Each of these groups has found it effective to use case studies and conferencing as a means for reflective practice.  Each group has formed around a sole focus and perspective for their discussions.  They use strategies for neutralizing the content and “sorting out the important details and a reason for bringing it into discussion,” as suggested in Kendra Keller’s Street Leverage post, Case Discussion: Sign Language Interpreters Contain Their Inner “What the…!!!?  They have identified how to challenge each other and respectfully examine the decisions they choose. These sign language interpreters choose to further their competence and practice in medical healthcare through reflective discussion.

Engaging Deaf Experts

One doesn’t need a formal group to do this reflective work with colleagues.  In Minnesota, we are also fortunate to have Deaf Community Health Workers (CHW). The certified CHWs, which are also found in other communities such as the Hmong and Somali, are trained to function as cultural bridges to the complex healthcare and government systems patients encounter.  Several Deaf CHWs have made themselves available to interpreters to discuss difficult cases, complex medical treatments and linguistic choices as they pertain to healthcare.

Another ally is the Association of Medical Professionals with Hearing Loss (AMPHL).  This past spring the AMPHL conference made a special effort to host a professional development track for sign language interpreters.  I was able to attend and found Deaf medical professionals excited and eager to work with me as an interpreter specializing in healthcare.

Supporting Quality Care

The demand for skilled healthcare interpreters is growing.  Those of us working regularly as healthcare interpreters are keenly aware, despite the lack of in-depth documentation in the field, of the depth of knowledge and skills required to do this work well.

As mentioned, my colleagues are continuing to develop themselves and build their specialization as healthcare interpreters.  As a field, healthcare interpreting should continue along the path toward specialization.  We should even consider further defining specialization in medical healthcare, mental healthcare, and addiction and recovery.

More Work Ahead

Yet, unlike legal and educational interpreting, there is no certification or credential for healthcare interpreting among sign language interpreters. I have introduced a motion for the 2013 RID conference next month requesting that RID investigate the need for a specialty certificate in healthcare interpreting.  This effort will only help to advance the important conversations we need about how we build interpreting practices in healthcare that are reflective and based on the delivery of quality care and practice.

For example, there has been a dramatic increase in healthcare as an area of specialized practice for spoken language interpreting.  In the past few years, two national organizations for the medical certification of spoken language interpreters have emerged.  Texas has developed such an interest in this certification that the state is currently working on a statewide medical certification for all interpreting language pairs—signed and spoken.  Yet, as an organization, RID has not yet made this commitment.  A small step has begun with the creation of the first members section for interpreters in healthcare, but as a field we are still struggling to focus on the work sign language interpreters do in healthcare and on providing the support, research, and training this important work requires.

Specialized Practice

In healthcare settings, we are often the only professionals who have not completed a standardized, accredited program recognized by the healthcare field.  As we continue to develop and to take our place as greater and active members of the healthcare team, we will need to consider what our model of practice might look like.  What behaviors must we demonstrate that indicate to the nurses, technicians and doctors that we are their colleagues, not friends or the patient’s family members? As professional colleagues, what are our obligations to these medical team members? How are we focusing on supporting the best health outcomes for the patient?

Systematically discussing questions like those above are only part of the bigger picture of developing standards of practice and quality care.  I believe the time has come to build a specialized practice of interpreters in healthcare.  We need to advocate that healthcare interpreters, Deaf or hearing, should have the education and supervised work experience to support full access to effective communication in healthcare settings for Deaf and DeafBlind people.  Communication is an important part of the doctor – patient relationship (Frey, 2012), when needed sign language interpreters should be an important part too.

 

References:

Cokely, D., & Winston, B. (2010). Interpreter practitioner needs assessment, trend analysis final report.

Frey, J., (2010, March). Relationships count for doctors and patients alike. Annals of Family, 8(2), 98–99.

National Interpreter Education Center. (2013). Interpreter practitioner, national needs assessment 2012, final report. 

Teitelbaum, J., Cartwright-Smith, L., & Rosenbaum, S. (2012). Translating rights into access: Language access and the affordable care act.  American Journal of Law & Medicine 348.

Wilson-Stronks, A., Lee, K. K., Cordero, C. L., Kopp, A. L., & Galvez, E. (2008). One size does not fit all: Meeting the health care needs of diverse populations. Oakbrook Terrace, IL: The Joint Commission.


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Sign Language Interpreters and the Quest for a Deaf Heart

Sign Language Interpreters and the Quest for a Deaf Heart

“Deaf-Heart” has been a hotly debated but ambiguous topic for many sign language interpreters. Betty Colonomos poses critical questions and provides hope that sign language interpreters can begin to embody this elusive quality.

A recurrent phrase that has been appearing in frequent discussions is “Deaf heart.”  Our national interpreter organization, RID, has long been characterized as needing a Deaf heart.  Recently, changes have been made to move RID to a more Deaf-centered perspective on the field of interpretation. The most recent evidence of this is the addition of Shane Feldman, who is Deaf, as the new Executive Director.  Although institutional shifts are possible with changes in policies and practices, there is much misunderstanding of the concept as it applies to practicing interpreters.

Early Discovery

In the 1990’s there were many efforts to address this concern.  New England states held a series of Ally Conferences that focused on the Deaf view of interpreters and their behaviors.  This resulted in many discussions and workshops to clarify the meaning of an interpreter-as-ally. There was–and still is—debate about the fine line between ethical practices and ally responses.  Today, it is considered acceptable and even desirable to provide information to hearing and Deaf consumers regarding accommodations, cultural differences, and resources. The emergence of Deaf Interpreters in our profession has contributed  to the dissemination of information about accessibility and Deaf people, and has helped to educate the Deaf Community about their own power.

Deaf Activists & Social Dynamics

In the 21st century we looked to models from minority groups that view societal privilege and oppression to explain and understand the relationship between interpreters and the Deaf Community. Deaf activists are helping the community of interpreters and Deaf people to understand the social dynamics that create marginalization, audism, and racial/ethnic prejudices.

These robust and healthy discussions about privilege are paving the way for a change in the way we think about minority communities and cultures that goes beyond the medical and pathological view of Deaf people.

Internalization of Deaf Heart

But what about ‘Deaf heart’?  In my travels and conversations with many interpreters, codas, and members of the Deaf Community it has become clearer that we still are not adequately capturing the qualities and behaviors of Deaf-heart interpreters. It is not about laws, services, ethics (at least from majority/privilege perspective), or training.  It is something that can’t be taught. It is difficult to explain, yet palpably absent.

The internalization of a Deaf heart must come from the interpreter’s own sense of justice and morality.  

A number of contributors to StreetLeverage have expressed this quality in different ways.

Dennis Cokely, in his article, Sign Language Interpreters: Complicit in a Devil’s Bargain?, provides a historical context that demonstrates the shift from earlier times when having ‘Deaf heart’ was intrinsic for interpreters to the indicators that this has significantly diminished. He explains:

How do we justify learning their language and profiting from it without giving back? In becoming a “profession” have we simply become parasites?”

and

What are we willing to do as individuals to become reconnected with Deaf people? Are we willing to adjust our work choices to accommodate the rhythm of Deaf people’s lives?”

Trudy Suggs illustrates this clearly in, A Deaf Perspective: Cultural Respect in Sign Language Interpreting

This type of knowledge (schools for the deaf) is an important element of Deaf culture for many people. Not recognizing its importance, or dismissing it when someone shares this information speaks volumes to cultural (il) literacy.

A participant from that group suddenly said with an incredulous look, “I don’t understand why you’re so upset that video interpreters don’t know city names? That’s really ridiculous. It’s such a small thing.” I was momentarily caught off-guard by her flippant response. I quickly clarified that I wasn’t upset, saying, “Quite the contrary. It’s just one of those things that Deaf people have to live with. It does become cumbersome if you have to make several calls a day and each video interpreter you encounter doesn’t know a city sign or town where a deaf school is.”

In Sign Language Interpreters: Stepping Out of the Shadow of Invisibility, Anna Witter-Merithew asks us to examine the human side of the interpreter.

Do we think of ourselves as bystanders—present from a distance, and therefore, not involved?  Have we internalized the neutrality we are to bring to our task as non-involvement and disinterest [versus objectivity and emotional maturity]?  

What do we believe about ourselves, our work and our contribution to the good of the Deaf society? As we explore the answer to this and other hard questions, we must consider the implications of our history of behaving as if invisible and its potential contribution to the diffusion of responsibility.”

Overcoming Inertia

Part of having a Deaf heart is caring enough about the well being of Deaf people and their communities to put them above ego, pride, and unwillingness to fight for what is right.  For example, I have interpreted in Juvenile Court many times and have come across several instances when parents/guardians should have the services of Deaf interpreters.  It is obvious at the first meeting that the consumers have limited education, cognitive deficits, idiosyncratic language, or some combination of these. I inform their attorneys of this and find out that this case has been ongoing (sometimes up to three years) and the attorneys had no idea about this. Often these lawyers and social service personnel indicate that they “felt that something was not right” about their interactions with clients.  Numerous interpreters have been working on these cases. They are deemed qualified to work in court; they are certified; all have had some degree of legal training. Why didn’t they recognize this? Intervene? Advocate for Deaf Interpreters?

Absence of Context

My professional experiences are replete with markers of the lack of  “Deaf heart.” I have heard English interpretations of texts where Deaf people are proudly sharing their generational Deafness (e.g. fifth generation Deaf) conveyed as a matter-of-fact piece of information about having deaf children in each generation.  The critical meaning of Deaf “royalty” is absent, leaving the possibility that the non-deaf audience might see this as a genetic flaw or “problem.”

In workshops I see many interpreters–student and experienced alike—who do not recognize ASL discourse that is representing a community’s point of view. For example, Deaf people often convey narrative that on the surface seems to be about them (an “I” Deaf text) when in fact the message is about the “We” Deaf story. The consequence is that the Deaf person appears to be discussing an isolated event, when the issue is really about a community with shared experiences. Which do you think has a greater impact on the audience?  Being around Deaf people often allows interpreters to know how to distinguish “I” from “We” Deaf texts.

Interpreters who have no interactions with Deaf people outside of work miss much of the collective history and current burning issues that show up in interpreted interactions and collegial discussions. How can interpreters who hide behind their interpretation of the Code of Professional Conduct–instead of taking responsibility to intervene–employ strategies that are culturally appropriate to solve problems?

Accountability is the Beginning

Interpreters who demonstrate the qualities of Deaf heart are those who reflect on how their choices and decisions affect the Deaf Community; they question their practices that seem to be oppressive or damaging to the lives of Deaf people; they own their mistakes and share them with others. Most importantly, they seek input and advice from Deaf people and are not afraid to be uncomfortable with Deaf people’s responses and viewpoint.

A number of authors on Street Leverage have also shared what it is to have a Deaf heart. In Aaron Brace’s piece, The Duality of the Sign Language Interpreter, he digs deep and exposes some of the demons we face.

“…my customers are not well served by a quasi-messianic philosophy that valorizes my role far above theirs. It’s also simply inaccurate; customers often communicate effectively despite my excellent service rather than because of it.”

 “I’m not sure I’ll ever fully understand my duality as both ally and enemy in the lives of Deaf people without some measure of guilt. Like many members of privileged groups, I hope to learn the right way to behave toward an oppressed group—once— and never again have to feel unsure of myself or guilty about my privilege. 

When I demonstrate a fuller understanding of both what I give and what I take, it is returned by Deaf people, not with a sneering pleasure at my knowing my place, but with greater trust, friendship, and welcome.”

Gina Oliva, in her challenge to us in, Sign Language Interpreters in Mainstream Classrooms: Heartbroken and Gagged, boldly brings forth the role played by sign language interpreters in mainstream education and the significant impact this has on future generations of Deaf people. We have remained silent for too long about our part in harming deaf children and their potential for successful lives. We have allowed interpreters to present themselves as adequate language models and carriers of negative views of Deaf people. We have done little to admit to this injustice and have put our needs for employment above the lives of innocent children.

There are things we can do to correct this major injustice in our field. Anna Witter-Merithew in, Sign Language Interpreters: Breaking Down Silos Through Reflective Practice, emphasizes the need for us to look inside and seek guidance from our consumers:

“ It is important to find opportunities to talk with Deaf consumers about our work as sign language interpreters and to ask them to help us consider the implications of role implementation for their experiences.”

And in Deaf Disempowerment and Today’s Interpreter by Trudy Suggs, we see a Deaf view on how we can move forward.

“…remember that if a deaf person expresses frustration at disempowerment, it doesn’t necessarily mean she or he is angry, divisive or separatist. Rather, take a look at the situation, and figure out how, if at all, you or other interpreters might have contributed to the situation. “

Important Enough to Act?

The only question that remains is whether or not the practitioners in our field care enough about this to want to do something about it.  Do we need to bring these discussions to the forefront of our public professional discourse?  Should we insist that our programs for training interpreters address this issue and involve Deaf people much more in educating future interpreters?  When will we uphold the integrity of our profession by supporting novices and by renouncing those who cast a pall over us?

When will we appreciate the valuable insights of codas to help us nurture the Deaf heart in us? Why do we vigorously debate whether a permanent seat on RID’s Board for an IDP (interpreter with Deaf Parents) is necessary when we know how much it will enhance the Deaf heart perspective in the organization?   When will we acknowledge that Deaf Studies courses and programs are helpful in understanding, but they do not replace the need for feeling the stories?

We have a wonderful opportunity before us. Deaf people and codas are more aware of their own Deaf hearts and they are willing to talk about it and to help others recognize their own unconscious anti-Deaf heart actions. Why aren’t we eagerly seeking their input and guidance?  Why aren’t we thankful for how they enrich us?

It is hard to walk in another’s shoes, but our work depends on the ability to see the world through the lenses of our consumers and clients. Without this, how can we become the noble profession we envision?

There is always room for a Deaf Heart…you are invited.

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Ethical Development: A Sign of the Times for Sign Language Interpreters?

How may our profession break out of rule-based approaches to our work and instead embrace models of reflection and supervision? Robyn Dean uses the lens of prophetic literature to ask how the future of interpreting is being shaped today.

Prophetic words do not solely come from scriptural texts and prophetic messages do not only come from spiritual leaders.  A prophetic message can be found in the profane moments of our daily lives: a song on the radio that brings comfort, an overheard remark of a child that is innocent yet profound, or an advertisement on a billboard that supplies a sought-after confirmation. Prophetic messages often act like breadcrumbs to children lost in the woods – “it’s okay; you’re on the right track.”

Yes, I am well aware that Street Leverage is a site about sign language interpreting issues and perhaps readers are wondering how prophecy applies to our work. Please, bear with me.

The definition of the word prophetic is multi-layered. In it’s most common form, prophetic describes the prediction of events in a future time. However, during my graduate studies in theology, I came to appreciate the nuanced meanings of prophetic.  Prophetic can also convey an appreciation that messages – regardless of their origin – can be timely or that prophetic messages have a quality of timelessness (e.g., “this too shall pass”). With these thoughts in mind, allow me to highlight some prophetic markers that appear to be breadcrumbs to the profession, albeit placed across a quarter of a century.

Prophetic Literature

In 1986, Fritsch-Rudser published an article in RID’s Journal of Interpretation, The RID Code of Ethics, Confidentiality and Supervision[1]. The author proposed a set of problems associated with the Code and a possible solution – a professional development tool called supervision. At the time of the article, Fritsch-Rudser was responding to concerns that the mere seven-year old Code was in need of revision. Fritsch-Rudser defended the Code by stating that the problem was not with the document but in how interpreters understood and applied it. No code can relieve professionals from the responsibility of thinking, deliberating and deciding (Cottone & Claus, 2000; Fritsch-Rudser, 1986[2]).

As an example of how the Code is often misunderstood, the author cites an example of a sign language interpreter who ignored the request of a speaker, asking him to introduce himself to the audience – the interpreter claimed that he did not respond because the Code left him no choice.  According to Fritsch-Rudser, this is an example of how commonly we misattribute ideas that do not exist in our Code of Ethics. In reality, they are more generated by popular notions emerging out of a conduit-based conceptualization of interpreting.

Fritsch-Rudser (1986) points to a then current study by Heller, et al (as cited in Fritsch-Rudser 1986) on interpreter occupational stress where sign language interpreters reported strain due to role conflict, isolation, and frequent exposure to emotionally charged situations and dynamics. As a result, interpreters sought out other colleagues to talk about their work, “to get feedback and to lessen the impact of emotional experiences” (Fritsch-Rudser 1986, pp. 50). Given the Code of 1979, this was perceived of as a breach.Illustration of the Benefits of Reflective Practice

As an answer to this dilemma (the interpreters’ need to seek guidance/support and the Code’s prohibition), Fritsch-Rudser proposed that the profession adopt formal supervision, modelled after mental health professionals’ use of confidential supervision[3]. Through a trained supervisor, interpreting practitioners’ ethical development is intentional and foregrounded. They are provided with a structured system in the delivery of cases, which maintains confidentiality; and through a careful process, practitioners are provided with the needed validation and guidance.

After proposing supervision as a potential tool of professional development, Fritsch-Rudser concludes his article with, “RID would have to approve formal supervision of interpreters for it to become a reality. I hope this paper will provide the impetus for discussion within our organization and profession to make that possible” (Fritsch-Rudser 1986, pp. 51).

It’s been twenty-five years since this publication and yet, with some minor changes to the titles, the names and the dates, indeed, this article could be published today. The message is timely and undoubtedly prophetic: Do sign language interpreters still point to a rule as adequate justification for a decision? Do sign language interpreters still maintain their conduit nature, merely there to facilitate communication? Do sign language interpreters report that their work has a negative impact and takes an emotional toll? Do sign language interpreters still (mis)perceive aspects of the Code and quietly work at what they imagine are cross-purposes[4]?

While each to varying degrees, all can be answered in the affirmative. However, we must be careful in placing blame. Prophetic texts are to be read in their entirety. It clearly reads that in order for these to change, formal supervision needs to be approved and adopted by RID.

Perhaps we can interpret this message in today’s context as: No one learns to make good decisions because they are handed a list of rules or even a step-by-step decision-making model to follow.  No one appreciates the complexities of interpreting decisions through a series of ethical dilemmas that are plucked from their contexts, devoid of human relationships, and under-appreciative of the co-constructed nature of human dynamics. And lastly, no one becomes a critical thinker in two or even four years nor when they are left alone to practice independently – in a classroom or in a booth – without the provision for regular reflection amidst those who know and do the work. Let us not blame interpreters; the profession is still in need of formal supervision.

Timeliness: Prophetic Posts

I am grateful to my colleagues, Anna Witter-Merithew and Kendra Keller[5] for recently championing and charging us to consider reflective practice and supervision as not only emotionally necessary and ethically imperative but as the vehicle through which interpreting practitioners develop sound judgment. I was also gratified to see theirs’ and readers’ comments on the helpfulness of demand control schema in this regard. Supervision, case conferencing and reflective practice in interpreting have become increasingly popular topics (citations [6][7][8][9]).

In addition to manuscripts, there are pockets across the US and in other countries where sign language interpreter supervision happens. Decision-making models proffered by sign language interpreting scholars such as Hoza (2003[10]), Humphrey (1999[11]), Mills Stewart & Witter-Merithew (2006 [12]) and Dean & Pollard (2011[13]) provide us with sufficient roadmaps pointing out the worthy landmarks to consider toward a sound decision.  But, let’s be clear, we can have a destination (ethical decisions) and a road map (decision-making models) and a vehicle (formal supervision) but unless we have drivers, people happy for the journey, we’re not going anywhere.

Sign Language Interpreters Participating in a Supervised SessionProphetic Events

We have developed a small band of happy drivers and passengers.  As just one example, in Rochester, NY, we’ve been offering formal supervision to practitioners and students through the case analysis tool of demand control schema for several years. We’ve had many successes: a trained cohort of practitioner supervisors who offered supervision sessions to hearing and deaf interpreters; we were awarded the RID mentoring grant which allowed us to introduce new interpreters and deaf interpreters to group supervision; we ran joint hearing and deaf interpreter groups led by both hearing and Deaf practitioners; we provided supervision to groups remotely through videoconferencing equipment; our trained cohort found themselves in institutions – educational, post-secondary, medical, and VRS providing supervision to interpreter employees. And as mentioned above, some pockets outside of Rochester and the US[14] are also trudging along in their commitment to supervision, even if informally.

We have also met obstacles along the way: The current structure of RID’s certification maintenance program does not easily facilitate sponsors to support it nor for members to easily get CEUs; no infrastructure exists to support supervision after graduation, that is, most institutions do not consider it apart of interpreters’ job duties to attend supervision; and lastly and likely the most influential reason, it’s just plain not what sign language interpreters are used to.

Sign language interpreters are used to answering hypothetical ethical scenarios so pointed that the “right answer” is obvious, they are used to attending one-off workshops that compactly provide them with CEUs, they’re used to venting to their close colleagues about the struggles of work, and they’re used to working in isolation, left to evaluate effectiveness usually by whether or not someone complained about them. And they’re right.  Supervision requires a cultural shift – what Aristotle would deem habituation.

Supervision throughout sign language interpreter education programs and a ready infrastructure upon graduation supporting them to certification would be needed to create an appreciation for the activity and an allegiance to its continuation (Stocker, 1981[15]).  Formal supervision would be a more effective and responsible approach to reaching independent practice than the status quo we are used to. And, mind you, it was proposed twenty-five years ago.

Prophetic Voice: The Times They are A-Changin’

Alas, those of us with twenty plus years of experience will not likely be the drivers of supervision. Many of us have formed bad habits in how we talk about the work, how we frame work problems, and most concerning, in how we talk to each other.  Most of us likely developed our professional skills under the technical profession focus (Dean & Pollard, 2005[16]) and the Master – Apprentice mentality (Feasey, 2002[17]). More than likely, we have taken our place in the hierarchy and learned to talk to others in the way that we’ve been talked to. But, as Bob Dylan the accidental prophet once suggested, we can either “lend a hand or get out of the way.”

I was compelled to write on this topic because of the timeliness of an exciting new phase in sign language interpreter supervision. Within the next few months, interpreters who were supervised for several years, who were intentionally provided with a different way of talking to one another and who had access to a community of practice from the very beginning will take the lead as facilitators. Interpreters with two to five years of experience, who have been in supervision since the start of their programs and/or diligently sought it out after graduation, will facilitate their own supervision sessions.

These groups will include professionals with more than triple the years experience of these young facilitators (A. Smith, personal communication [18]). Leading supervision because you yourself have been supervised is the natural progression for those professions that employ supervision models. While this group is small, it is noteworthy that the habituation process during their education successfully led them to an appreciation and an allegiance that we do not see in interpreters who were introduced to supervision late in their careers[19].

And now, like Mr. Fritsch-Rudser and many other of my colleagues in this endeavor, I hope that once students and young professionals experience effectively run supervision, after they understand what it is like to have collegial support, developmental ethical guidance, and a sense of shared-responsibility for the complex work of interpreting, they too will come to appreciate, expect and require supervision – for themselves, their colleagues and from their institutions. As Jean Rodman, my colleague and friend proposed, “In twenty years, interpreters will turn to us and say, ‘I can’t believe you went out and worked without supervision.’”

Prophetic? Time will tell.

Suggestions on how to move the professional development of supervision forward?

 

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[1] Fritsch-Rudser, S. (1986).  The RID code of ethics, confidentiality and supervision.  Journal of Interpretation, 3, 47-51.

[2] Cottone, R. & Claus, R. (2000). Ethical decision-making models: A review of the literature. Journal of Counseling & Development, 78, 275-283.

[3] For further discussion on an educational model of supervision for interpreters and technical skill development see: Atwood, A.  (1986). Clinical supervision as a method of providing behavioral feedback to sign language interpreters and students of interpreting.  In M. L. McIntire (Ed)., New dimensions in interpreter education:  Curriculum and instruction (pp. 87-93).  (Proceedings of the 6th national Convention of the Conference of Interpreter Trainers.)  Chevy Chase MD.

[4] For further discussion on all these topics please see: a) Tate, G. & Turner, G. H.  (1997).  The code and the culture:  Sign language interpreting – in search of the new breed’s ethics.  Deaf Worlds, 13(3), 27-34. b)Nicodemus, B., Swabey, L., & Witter-Merithew, A. (2011) Presence and role transparency in healthcare interpreting: A pedagogical approach for developing effective practice. Revista Di Linguistica 11(3), 69-83. c) Dean, R. K., Pollard, R. Q & Samar, V. J.  (2011).  Occupational health risks in different interpreting work settings:  Special concerns for VRS and K-12 settings.  Across the Board (quarterly publication of the Australian Sign Language Interpreters Association), 6(3), 4-8. d) Angelelli, C.  (2003).  The visible co-participant:  Interpreter’s role in doctor/patient encounters. In M. Metzger, S. Collins, V. Dively, and R. Shaw (Eds.), From topic boundaries to omission: New Research in interpretation Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press. e) Angelelli, C. (2004).  Revisiting the Interpreter’s Role.  A Study of conference, court and medical interpreters in Canada, Mexico, and the United States.  Amsterdam/Philadelphia:  John Benjamins.

[5] Witter-Merithew, A. StreetLeverage. (2012, March 13). Sign Language Interpreters: Breaking Down Silos Through Reflective Practice. Retrieved from http://www.streetleverage.com/2012/03/sign-language-interpreters-reflective-practice/.  Keller, K. StreetLeverage. (2012, February 28). Case Discussion: Sign Language Interpreters Contain Their Inner “What the…!!!?”. Retrieved from http://www.streetleverage.com/2012/02/case-discussion/.

Freakonomics. (2010, October 29). E-ZPass is a life-saver (literally) [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/10/29/e-zpass-is-a-life-saver-literally/

[6] Anderson, A. A. (2011). Peer Support and Consultation Project for Interpreters: A Model for Supporting the Well-Being of Interpreters who Practice in Mental Health Settings. Journal of Interpretation, 21(1), 9-20.

[7] Dean, R. K. & Pollard, R. Q. (2009, Fall). “I don’t think we’re supposed to be talking about this:” Case conferencing and supervision for interpreters. VIEWS, 26, pp. 28-30.

[8] Hetherington, A. (2011). A Magical Profession? Causes and management of occupational stress in sign language interpreting profession. In L. Leeson, S. Wurm, M. Vermeerbergen (Eds.). Signed Language interpreting: Preparation, practice and performance (pp. 138-159). St. Jerome Publishing. Manchester, UK.

[9] Keller, K. (2008). Demand-control schema: Applications for deaf interpreters. In L. Roberson & S. Shaw (Eds.). Proceedings of the 17th National Convention of the Conference of Interpreter Trainers: Putting the pieces together: A collaborative approach to excellence in education. (pp. 3-16). Conference of Interpreter Trainers. San Juan, PR.

[10] Hoza, J. (2003). Toward an interpreter sensibility: Three levels of ethical analysis and a comprehensive models for ethical decision-making for interpreters. Journal of Interpretation, 1-41.

[11] Humphrey, J. (1999). Decisions? Decisions! A practical guide for sign language professionals. Amarillo, TX: H&H Publishers.

[12] Mills-Stewart, K. & Witter-Merithew, A. (2006). The dimensions of ethical decision-making: A guided exploration for interpreters. Burtonsville, MD: Sign Media, Inc.

[13] Dean, R. K. & Pollard, R. Q  (2011).  The importance, challenges, and outcomes of teaching context-based ethics in interpreting:  A demand control schema perspective.  Interpreter and Translator Trainer, 5 (1), 155-182.

[14] As an example: https://www.facebook.com/pages/ASLInterpretersCONNect-LLC/189679084413225

[15] Stocker, M. (1981). Values and Purposes: the limitations of teleology and the ends of friendship. The Journal of Philosophy, 78 (12), 747-765

[16] Dean, R.K. & Pollard, R. Q (2005).  Consumers and service effectiveness in interpreting work:  A practice profession perspective.  In M. Marschark, R. Peterson, & E. Winston (Eds.), Interpreting and interpreter education: Directions for research and practice.  New York: Oxford University Press.

[17] Feasey, D.  (2002). Good Practice in Supervision with Psychotherapists and Counselors: The Relational Approach. London: Whurr Publishers.

[18] A. Smith, personal communication, March 24, 2012.

[19] Information on this program can be found at: https://sites.google.com/a/mail.wou.edu/psipad/home

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Sign Language Interpreters: Breaking Down Silos Through Reflective Practice

Sign language interpreters often are not equipped, initially or indefinitely, with the tools to improve their work. Anna Witter-Merithew encourages us to take steps toward reflective practice as a way to more deeply see our work in the service of growth.

Most of us went to work as sign language interpreters before we were ready.  Whether it was insufficient skill sets, a lack of maturity and self-awareness, or some other gap, we started working without being fully equipped to handle all that being a professional interpreter requires.  This lack of readiness is often compounded by a lack of formal induction into the field.  There are not consistent systems that ensure that our transition from learning to interpret and working as an interpreter is supervised and monitored.

Professional Isolation

This lack of consistent supervised induction and support often leads to isolation—few of us have the luxury of working with another interpreter on a daily basis.  Many interpreter assignments are still filled by the lone practitioner. And, few of us have a direct supervisor who is present when we are working, who understands interpreting at a deep level, and offers support and assistance. We often function as silos—each doing our own thing without connection to others who do our work for long periods of time.

There are many consequences to professional isolation, including job dissatisfaction, burn-out, distrust, fear and frustration.  It can lead to feeling defensive and even hostile. In some instances, it can lead to disrespectful treatment of consumers and one another. When it continues for a long period of time, we may find ourselves almost crippled– numbing out in order to survive the pressures of our work. As a result, we become less willing to open up our work to one another and to seek input into how to improve.  This is a tragic state for any of us.  Our value for one another and the work we do requires us to find creative solutions to this isolation.

Reflective Practice– An Alternative

A process known as reflective practice is increasingly used as an alternative for overcoming professional isolation and encouraging collaborative discussions that help identify ways of improving and promoting best practices within the sign language interpreting profession.  Reflective practice is defined in many different ways in the literature. Essentially it refers to the process of examining critical incidents that occur within our work to gain a deeper understanding of what they mean for what we do.

As mentioned in the post entitled Sign Language Interpreters: Are Acts of Omission a Failure of Duty?, reflective practice is an important part of the due diligence cycle.  The due diligence cycle involves assessing risks and consequences associated with our work. Having the ability to think about our work as sign language interpreters both individually and with one another—to analyze what happened, why it happened, and what we might do differently under similar circumstances.

Reflective practice allows us to analyze our interpreting experiences for the purpose of gaining a deeper understanding of ourselves and the nature of our work.  This process is important to our well-being as practitioners. It is a method of self-evaluation and is a way of improving performance in professional tasks. By reflecting on how we can improve our work, we increase our awareness of what we are doing and constantly learn and grow as professionals.  As well, it is an excellent tool for overcoming our isolation and enabling us to benefit from the shared listening and support of other practitioners.

Barriers to Reflective Practice

Time

There are barriers to reflective practice.  The most obvious is time.  Carving out time in a schedule that is often already over-booked is difficult.  As is the case with all worthwhile pursuits, establishing priorities is essential and often something has to go in order to make the time for something new.  And reflective practice requires an investment of time.  If it can be viewed as time invested in self-care and well-being, it is much easier to set the time as a priority.

Proximity

Another barrier to reflective practice is proximity to other practitioners.  There are many of us who live in rural areas of the United States and do not have ready access to other interpreters.  Even those of us who live in large metropolitan areas that are spread out may find getting to one another difficult.  Fortunately, technology allows us to connect from remote locations.  As has been discussed elsewhere on the Street Leverage site, the use of social media like ooVoo, Skype and other similar programs allows us to connect visually and/or auditorially with one another—some of these tools allowing for up to six individuals to connect simultaneously.

Motivation

A lack of motivation is another barrier to reflective practice.  Depending on the degree of burn-out or frustration we are experiencing, we may just not have the interest or desire to take the leap of faith that is required to engage in what can be an intense process at times. And, as Aaron Brace indicated in responding to the post entitled Sign Language Interpreters: Stepping out of the Shadows of Invisibility, reflecting is not suited to everyone. This is where individual decision and intention come into play.  Certainly, moving into the promise of greater job satisfaction and collegiality is a better alternative than remaining in a state of burn-out. As well, reflective practice can be viewed as one skill to possess among an array of skills geared towards self-care and well-being.

Reflective thinking is a learned process acquired over time.  Given the importance of our work as sign language interpreters, and the potential for harm when it is not done responsibly, learning the art of reflection is a worthwhile commitment.

Forming the Habit of Reflective Practice

There are some strategies that are useful in forming the habit of reflective practice.

1.  Keep a diary or daily journal of significant events during your work as an interpreter. The journal can be a great source of reflection as we consider the challenges we experienced and what stood out as a result of our experience.

2.  Engage in reflective discussion of significant experiences with professional colleagues.  As we continue to explore topics of role, responsibility and duty, we are our best resource.  There is much support and learning that can be gained by seeking out the feedback of valued colleagues with whom we can openly reflect on our experiences. When reflection is done in a collaborative and respectful fashion, we can take the feedback seriously and use it to improve our performance.  Sometimes this process is referred to as case conferencing or observation-supervision.  It allows a trusted group of professionals to explore their experiences towards finding solutions to difficult issues and reinforcing best practices.

3.  Engage in reflective discussions of significant experiences with Deaf consumers.  It is important to find opportunities to talk with Deaf consumers about our work as sign language interpreters and to ask them to help us consider the implications of role implementation for their experiences. What are the implications of our acts of commission and omission for their goals? Their insight is essential in helping us to continue to define our vision for the field and how we will continue to evolve and grow.

4.  Use a model of reflection. There are many models that can be used.  An easy, but effective model is one that involves three steps—discussing the What, So What, and Now What.  Here is how it can work.

a.  WHAT?  This is the description step in the process.  It creates the basis for the reflection.  What happened during the assignment?  What was the situation?  Who was involved?  What were the roles of the various participants?  How did I approach my role? What is a general thesis and preview of your reflection?  This is the description step in the process.

b.  SO WHAT?  This is step when we examine and analyze the What. It should occur on two levels.  So what does this all mean in terms of the outcomes of the assignment?  So what does this mean to me personally?  What was the significance of the assignment?  What did I learn that enhances my understanding of the consumers’ experience?  What did I learn that is reflected or is relevant to my professional experiences? What skills and knowledge did I use/apply?  What did it mean to me personally?  What are my negative and positive feelings about the experience, the people, and the experience? What instances did I encounter that “opened my eyes”?  What do I think about now that I didn’t think about prior to this experience?  How can I use or evaluate this information?

c.  NOW WHAT?  This step allows us to contemplate what we would do differently next time or what practices we want to replicate, expand upon and preserve. What impact might my actions and behavior have on my lifelong learning process?  What impact did my experience have on my work as a sign language interpreter?  What impact did my experience have on how I perceive the importance of behaving as transparently as possible when interpreting?  What insights did I gain that might assist me in my work as an interpreter? How does this experience compliment or contrast with what I have learned previously about interpreting?

Let’s Get Started

Certainly, getting started will require a deeper understanding of what is involved in the process of reflective practice. There are some great resources available to help sign language interpreters learn more about it.  Reading articles by Robyn Dean and Robert Pollard relating to the application of Demand-Control Schema to observation-supervision activities will prove very helpful.  Check out their list of publications on this website.

Also, Christopher Knight and Sabina Wilford have designed a workshop on case conferencing for sign language interpreters.  They published a handout on this topic in the 2005 RID convention handout book that is worth reviewing. As well, go to your favorite search engine and enter the phrase reflective practice and you will access a wealth of publications and sites discussing the process.  It is a particularly valued practice in the healthcare, mental health and teaching fields.  And, check in with your local and state chapter of the RID to see what communities of inquiry or support groups might already exist.

We Are Our Best Resource

Where communities of inquiry do not currently exist, ask your RID leaders how you can contribute to starting one.  And, of course, using the forum provided us here at Street Leverage is another option.  Perhaps there are those of you who are currently engaged in reflective practice processes who can share with us how you got started, how the process works, and what are the associated benefits.  We truly are our best resource and have so much to offer one another!

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Sign Language Interpreters in Mainstream Classrooms: Heartbroken and Gagged

Can the collective voices of sign language interpreters working in K12 educational settings be the catalyst for a national conversation about the failures of the “system”? Gina Oliva suggests it is our responsibility to take action.

I am sure that most readers are well aware, that the entire “system” for educating hard of hearing and deaf children in mainstream settings is generally a mess, the kids are suffering, and no one person or entity is really in control.  Included in this “system” is the  entire state of affairs with regards to sign language interpreters in K-12 classrooms, across the United States as well as elsewhere around the globe. Let’s call it the “illusion of inclusion” as Debra Russell has so aptly put it.

Alone in the Mainstream

My K-12 experiences, along with the things I learned in my 37-year long career at Gallaudet and during my 46-year long relationship with my “deaf” (e.g. “hearing on the forehead”) father came together to prompt me to write “Alone in the Mainstream: A Deaf Woman Remembers Public School” (Gallaudet University Press, 2004).  I am now working on a second volume of that book with Linda Lytle, from Gallaudet’s Department of Counseling, which will focus on the experiences of younger adults (currently age 18 – 35) as they look back on their mainstream years.   Naturally, this book will include comments and probably whole chapters about Educational Interpreting and the role sign language interpreters play in the lives of deaf children.

Interpreter on a Megaphone

This sense of the need for a second edition had been with me for a while when I found in my inbox the most recent of many letters received. The one quoted below was a serious gem that convicted me of the need for an entire new volume rather than simply a second edition.  It was a megaphone so to speak of the dire straits America’s (and the world’s) hard of hearing and deaf children are finding themselves in.  It is used with permission, and serves as the basis for this post.

Dear Gina,

      Hello!  My name is ________________ and I am a Sign Language Interpreter.  I do some freelance work but mainly I have been an Educational Interpreter in ________________ for eight years.  I attended your book presentation several years ago and am finally getting around to reading your book “Alone in the Mainstream.”    So far I am only on Chapter 6 but am already greatly impacted by what I have read.  I have worked with all ages from Kindergarten up to high school.  In all those settings with all different students I have used ASL, PSE, and/or Cued Speech.  Some of the kids I have worked with have had mild hearing losses, some profound.  These children come from hearing families who sign, hearing families who cue, hearing families who do neither, and a couple of families where the parents are deaf themselves.  One thing remains the same with each child I have worked with.  I feel inadequate. 

      Even though I am a highly skilled interpreter, I wonder if the mainstream setting is ever a social success, even with an interpreter, and everyday that I see the kids struggling I feel just awful.  It is very hard to watch day in and day out. 

      True, I have witnessed a few hard of hearing students who can speak clearly for themselves and are able to follow conversations quite successfully using their hearing alone.  I have seen them flourish, feel included, and have high self-esteem.  What is much more common however, and is so heartbreaking, is witnessing my students having the “dinner table syndrome” (as you put it), where they fake interest in some task to avoid looking lost.  I see a lot of “superficial participation” where onlookers think the d/hoh student is “just fine” (as you also put it) but really they need to look deeper.  My point is, this stuff still happens EVEN WITH AN INTERPRETER PRESENT! 

      In fact, what really kills me is how awkward it is when I am in a “social situation”– it’s just a no win kind of thing.  For example, I am sure you realize that kids will alter their talk if there is an adult around.  So it’s really not “normal kid talk” when I am around.  And if some brave kid attempts to “talk normal” when I am there (such as swearing or saying something they would never say in front of another adult), then the rest of the kids are uncomfortably giggling.  Then, I, the interpreter and the deaf kid by association is in the spotlight – and it is just so ICKY for all involved — it is not authentic at all!  It is tainted and altered by the mere presence of the interpreter.

      More often than not, the Deaf student only wants to chat WITH the interpreter; not with their peers THROUGH the interpreter.  For years I’ve heard educational interpreters talk about trying to encourage their students to ask the other kids in class what their weekend plans are, or what good movies they’ve seen lately, but then the D/hoh student either says “no that’s fine” and looks crushed as if no one wants to be their friend, not even the interpreter OR they go and ask their classmates a few engaging questions, but the conversation quickly fizzles and nothing comes of it.  I think an entire book could be written on the subject of Interpreter/deaf student relationships and how complicated it can get.

      It never fails that every year I work in education, I say to myself “I can no longer support this.  I need to quit and do only freelance and Sorenson work.”  I especially feel this way after reading your book, but then I remember that a lot of participants [for that book] did not have the “luxury” of an interpreter.  Another voice inside me says, “_____, you need to stay working in the schools. Parents will always mainstream their kids, so it may as well be someone skilled and competent working with them. ”

      That voice always wins out, and I stay. 

      But today I am not satisfied.  I want to do something about this.  I think people will read your book and then pause and be reflective, but then resume life thinking “nowadays schools provide more [and] better services than ever before.”  Well, I firmly believe MORE AND BETTER IS NOT ENOUGH!  Right, your subjects didn’t have interpreters (except one I think) and today many or most do have interpreters.  We need to push forward to ensure a better quality of life for tomorrow’s d/hoh students.   We need to ask the right questions, find the right people to share their stories, and make suggestions for making things better.

Heartbroken and Gagged

And so, this is from a “heartbroken and gagged” educational interpreter.  I am sure most of you readers have heard similar or perhaps even felt “heartbroken and gagged” yourself.  Heartbroken from watching the kids you are “working for” miss this, miss that, day in and day out.  Gagged because the dysfunctional system declares you are not to say anything about this to anyone.  Perhaps the latter is an exaggeration — perhaps you can talk to a teacher or some other school personnel.   Brenda Schick’s work on professional conduct guidelines state that as “related service providers” interpreters DO have a responsibility to be more than just a conduit of talking.

The Road Ahead

How do we get the school districts to accept this, to recognize the great value of the interpreter’s observations, and take these into serious consideration?  And perhaps more importantly, how can Educational Interpreters provide not just in-school support to their individual student(s), but how can they “report to the authorities” meaning the professionals who are concerned nationally and globally about the education of deaf and hard of hearing children.  It may take a village to educate a child but the villages ought to share information with other villages.

First, please find a way to get your collective observations into print, the media, to the Deaf Education arena, to parents, and to Deaf Professionals who are working to impact the “system.”  Secondly, think about the Devil’s Bargain, as suggested by Dennis Cokely, and consider giving back through local level advocacy work – in the EHDI system and in local or regional weekend/summer programs that bring your students together so that their social network can include others who face the same issues.

Should Interpreters Address Inadequacy and Neutrality?

Why is it that sign language interpreters working in mainstream settings feel inadequate?  Is it the expectation that h/she be “invisible” as discussed by Anna Witter-Merithew in, Sign Language Interpreters: Are Acts of Omission a Failure of Duty?  Is this “invisibility” what h/she was taught in the ITP attended?  Related might be a feeling that she is expected to be “neutral”?  I wonder how much of this feeling of inadequacy and or “neutrality” is from some academic knowledge or industry bias and how much is just plain old being a human being and not liking what they see?

If Educational Interpreters could come together to discuss how as a profession they might address this and related issues in K-12 settings, it would do much to boost the confidence and effectiveness of those working in the isolation of educational settings.  The collective voice of Educational Interpreters could hold much promise for alleviating the suffering of the children for whom we are concerned. The interpreter who wrote to me has become a colleague and we have exchanged many emails.  It is obvious that she is trying her best in her own setting, but there seems to be a dearth of support for taking these concerns and the solutions to a higher level.  What should that higher level be and who can lead this effort?

Should Interpreters Address the “Diffusion of Responsibility?”

In the above letter, the writer refers to the concept of “dinner table syndrome,” which I refer to in my book, where the hard of hearing or deaf student fakes interest in some task to avoid looking lost. This was my life day in and day out in my K-12 years and several of the 60 adults who wrote essays for Alone in the Mainstream extended this concept to another phenomenon I dubbed the “everything is fine” syndrome.   Together these two “syndromes” constitute the concept of “incidental learning,” which is the topic of a yet-to-be-published but complete dissertation by a fellow “AITM survivor,” Mindy Hopper.  In our day, the fact of this missing information was in itself invisible to all except the student.  But now, in the modern classroom, the student’s interpreter is a daily witness.  Not only does the classroom interpreter know the student is missing stuff, h/she knows what the student is missing.  This is so much more than any hearing parent of a deaf child has known unless she also spent all day in her child’s classroom.  Talk about power.

As potential partners with teachers and parents, I wonder if the sign language interpreters working in K-12 settings should have as part of their job description to keep a log of conversations or information that they suspect their “charges” (clients) missed. Wouldn’t this help the teacher and the parents determine if their student/child is missing so much as to warrant some kind of action?  Clearly, this would involve taking to heart Witter-Merithew’s lesson in bystander mentality and the “diffusion of responsibility”.   I wonder if these concepts can find their way into interpreter training programs and standards of practice, and how such could come about?

Advocate and Report

That children in general, especially when they reach adolescence, want and need space to discuss their lives without the presence of adults, is a developmental fact. That an interpreter’s presence in K-12 social environments works against the deaf child is an example of how you just can’t change city hall.  The hard of hearing or deaf child has obviously learned from experience that the “quickly fizzling and nothing comes of it” from conversations with their peers is what “always happens” and they have decided they don’t want to experience that again.   But, now, here is an adult (the sign language interpreter) actually witnessing and understanding what it might feel like.  Now the sign language interpreter is also witnessing the stilted social interactions of their deaf or hard of hearing “charge”. How can the interpreter not be expected to be an advocate/reporter?

In my educated and experienced opinion, the collective voice of Educational Interpreters is our only hope that the issues addressed herein could be remedied.  We, the Deaf Adults who are concerned for these children, need your involvement.  Two areas where you can help, beyond your in-school advocacy and the already suggested work to bring your collective voice to the forefront in Deaf Education, are in the EHDI arena (early hearing detection and intervention) and in the establishment/management of weekend and summer programs that bring the solitaires together.

Elevate Your Voice

Perhaps you are the heartbroken and feeling like you are under a gag rule, smart and articulate, educational interpreter in the Heartland.  Or you know someone who is.  If yes, what are your thoughts on this?  What do you think would bring about change?  What would lead to the day that your insights, observations, and suggestions as sign language interpreters would be taken more seriously?  What would elevate the status of interpreters working in educational settings? Your ideas might be simple, complex, seemingly impossible, step-by-step (we like step-by-step), or philosophical.  Bring ’em on.

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Sign Language Interpreters: Are Acts of Omission a Failure of Duty?

 

The consequences of inaction can be high for sign language interpreters. Anna Witter-Merithew contextualizes our reluctance to intervene appropriately with thoughts on a history of opting for “invisibility” instead of action.

Often, when discussing breaches of ethical conduct, the focus is on a sign language interpreter’s commission of some act.  Examples might include a breach of confidentiality, accepting assignments beyond one’s capacity, demonstrating a lack of respect for consumers and/or colleagues.  Equally concerning, although discussed less often, are acts of omission.  Acts of omission refer to instances where a practitioner doesn’t follow expected or best practice in performing their duties.

Examples might include failing to advise consumers when there are barriers to an effective interpretation, failure to clarify information the interpreter does not understand or misinterprets, or failure to use consecutive interpreting when the circumstances necessitate, among many others. Both acts of commission and omission can cause harm to consumers, practitioners and the profession.  However, the focus of this article is on acts of omission and their potential relationship to the persona of invisibility that is deeply rooted in our field.  If you haven’t read my previous post, Sign Language Interpreters: Stepping Out of the Shadows of Invisibility, consider it a prequel to this article.

Why Do We Fail to Intervene?

Granted, there may be many reasons that a sign language interpreter fails to act when some type of intervention is needed and within their realm of responsibility. After all, interpreting is a complex process. We all come to the work at different levels of readiness for all that is required of us, as eluded by Dennis Cokely in his article, Vanquished Native Voices—A Sign Language Interpreting Crisis. However, it is worth exploring the degree to which lingering shadows of invisibility impact our inaction.   Is it possible that our long history of encouraging practitioners to behave “as if not really there” and allowing things to proceed “as if the consumers were communicating directly” has created a diffusion of responsibility?  As a result, do interpreters perceive themselves as less responsible for the outcome of the exchange, even when it is the interpreting process or the interpreter’s presence that is creating the need for an intervention?

This concept of diffusion of responsibility has been discussed by sociologists studying examples of bystanders who do nothing in an emergency situation. Findings show that the larger the bystander group, the less likely one of the bystanders will intervene. According to social experiments, an individuals’ failure to assist others in emergencies is not due to apathy or indifference, but rather to the presence of other people. Bystanders perceive that their individual responsibility is diffused because it is unclear who is responsible in a group situation.  When responsibility is not specifically assigned, bystanders respond with ambiguity.

Is it possible a similar phenomenon occurs with sign language interpreters?  Do we think of ourselves as bystanders—present from a distance, and therefore, not involved?  Have we internalized the neutrality we are to bring to our task as non-involvement and disinterest [versus objectivity and emotional maturity]?  Are we unconsciously promoting the tendency to diffuse our responsibility to act when action is warranted?  Do we believe that if we are to behave as invisible, then any kind of intervention is inappropriate? Do we experience feelings of ambivalence when confronted with the need for an interpreter-related intervention? If so, there may be serious implications for our ability to fulfill our professional duty and there is merit in exploring this concept of intervention further.

Practicing Due Diligence

Like all practice professionals, sign language interpreters have the obligation to engage in due diligence when carrying out their duties.  Due diligence refers to the level of attention and care that a competent professional exercises to avoid harm to consumers of their services. It is a customary process applied by professionals to assess the risks and consequences associated with professional acts and behaviors.  Applying due diligence during our work as interpreters can help us to anticipate potential issues that may arise and/or validate concerns that we are sensing during our work.  Here are some steps that can guide us in the process.

1.  Recognize that there may be a need for an intervention.  There are many potential instances where such a need could arise.  This step requires us to assess the cues within the situation that signal that something is not working and taking the time to examine such cues more fully.  For example, the interpreter may not know what is meant by what a speaker is saying.  Or, it may become clear that consecutive interpreting will produce a more accurate interpretation and/or allow for fuller understanding and participation by one or more consumers.  Or, perhaps a cultural misunderstanding has arisen that was not addressed within the interpretation. By paying attention to the cues that signal the potential need for an intervention, we begin the process of applying due diligence.

2.  Take responsibility.  The next step in the due diligence cycle involves assessing whether we have a professional responsibility to act.  Part of this step requires the sign language interpreter to quickly assess who ultimately holds the duty to resolve whatever risk or potential consequence exists.  For example, consider instances where an interpreter doesn’t understand the source language message.  Since the interpreter holds the duty to accurately interpret the message, it is the interpreter who holds the responsibility to intervene and seek understanding. Passing on the lack of understanding to the consumer (by glossing or fingerspelling for example), expecting that they ask for the clarification, is avoidance that is reminiscent of  that period in our history where we promoted the view of the interpreter as a conduit or machine.  It is an example of diffused responsibility.  As well, expecting consumers to seek understanding when we do not understand may be unrealistic.  If the interpreter does not feel comfortable intervening, it stands to reason the consumer may not either.  This doesn’t mean that the need doesn’t exist, just that there is a reluctance to acknowledge it in a transparent manner.  So, the test is to assess who holds the duty to generate the accurate interpretation. Clearly, it is the sign language interpreter, not the consumer.

3.  Plan a course of action. Deciding how to intervene is as important as deciding that an intervention is necessary.  There are certainly ways of intervening that are disruptive and can alienate consumers.  So, thinking the process through (even practicing and role playing possible approaches) with colleagues can help to identify specific and successful strategies for intervening. It is important to learn to intervene in a way that builds trust and confidence.  Practitioners who are diligent in taking responsibility for the quality and accuracy of their work comment that when they are proactive in creating effective working conditions, or address errors and misunderstandings in an open and authentic manner, it promotes trust and confidence by consumers.  Diminished trust and confidence seems to arise when sign language interpreters attempt to act as if all is well, when it may not be or simply isn’t.

4.  Take action.  Initiating the intervention is the next step in the due diligence cycle.  This is the step that requires the courage and confidence to act. Again, given our historic roots, many of us find ourselves fearful of taking action perceiving it will be viewed as interjecting of ourselves into the situation.  In reality, we are already part of the interaction, and offering an intervention when it is warranted is not interjection of self, but rather carrying out our professional duty.  This difference is significant.  One is about potentially crossing professional boundaries and the other about maintaining the integrity of our work and profession.

The consequence of failing to act when it is our duty to act can be very serious.  In the case of a police interrogation, failure to apply best practices can lead to challenges being raised as to the admissibility of a deaf suspect’s statements.  In the case of an IEP team meeting, failure to articulate observations in a professional manner can lead to an IEP that doesn’t address the real needs of the deaf child.  In the case of a job interview, failure to accurately convey details can mean the difference between a person getting a job or not.

Stepping Out of the Shadows

Part of our process of stepping out of the shadows of invisibility is acknowledging that it feels safer and easier if we just remain conduits.  We then do not have to address the on-going and complex ethical issues associated with role definition and conflicts.  But without grappling with these very issues, we remain merely technicians, not professionals. We cannot insist on professional standing when we do not perform in the customary ways that professionals perform. As well, we cannot achieve a collective discretion without tackling the hard questions and finding ways to make our work more transparent.

Likewise, as sign language interpreters, we must always assess whether the consequence of intervention outweighs the contribution it makes.  Timing and manner of an intervention are critical considerations.  Sometimes we can’t assess this piece until we can reflect on the assignment afterwards.  Thus, learning to be reflective practitioners is an essential part of the due diligence cycle.  A future post will address this topic.

The Hard Question

What do we believe about ourselves, our work and our contribution to the good of the Deaf society? As we explore the answer to this and other hard questions, we must consider the implications of our history of behaving as if invisible and its potential contribution to the diffusion of responsibility.  In determining our answer, let’s hold fast to that which we value—communication access, equality, integrity and our relationship to the Deaf Community and one another.  It is these values that help us continue our journey of career-long growth and development…and are the source of the courage we need to continue our commitment to keep asking ourselves the hard questions.

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Sign Language Interpreters: Stepping Out of the Shadow of Invisibility

 

Sign language Interpreter presence vs. interpreter invisibility represent two sides of the same coin. Anna Witter-Merithew encourages practitioners to recommit to more culturally-aware practices.

Some time ago some Deaf colleagues were talking about a familiar topic of conversations with and about interpreters, interpreter attitude.  As has typically been my experience, their use of this phrase carried a negative connotation.  Essentially, they perceived the interpreters who interpreted an event they attended as aloof, detached and largely disinterested.

What Happened?

When I inquired about specific behaviors, they described how the interpreters arrived for the event, let the event coordinator know they had arrived, briefly introduced themselves to the Deaf consumers, and then isolated themselves at the front of the room where they began texting and chatting while waiting for the event to start.

During the event, there was little if any effort by the interpreters to check-in with the consumers to verify whether things were working well or not.  During breaks the interpreters disappeared or were observed in the front of the room texting, talking on the phone or chatting with each other.  There was no initial interaction to break-the-ice and allow the consumers and interpreters to become acquainted or to explore logistical considerations and preferences. There was no inquiry into consumer preferences or the effectiveness of the services that were delivered.

At the end of the event, the interpreters said a quick good-bye and left. These behaviors—or lack thereof—were perceived as culturally rude and representative of a poor attitude.  Further, these Deaf individuals reported being distracted by these perceptions during the event being interpreted.  Their thoughts were on the challenge of working through versus with interpreters instead of the subject matter being interpreted.

This one specific example of interpreter attitude has really stuck with me. I find myself paying close attention to how we as sign language interpreters establish our presence and relate to consumers prior to, during and after interpreting assignments.  As a result, I have become increasing aware of just how deep the roots of the interpreter as invisible remain embedded in some of our professional acts and practices.  Even though we strive to move forward theoretically and philosophically in deepening our relationship with Deaf people, some of our professional acts and practices demonstrate that we are still working in the shadow of invisibility.  And, what these professional acts and practices communicate to Deaf people may be counter to our intentions.

Interpreter as Invisible

Historically, in an effort to minimize the potential for the sign language interpreter to step outside their role and take-over a communication event, the field-at-large has encouraged practitioners to perform their duties in the least obtrusive ways possible—even to the extreme of behaving as if they were invisible; merely a conduit for transmitting information from one language into another.  Interpreters may assume they must be detached to be impartial and/or appear professional. Interpreters might instruct speakers to proceed, “as if I am not even here.”  Unfortunately, such a restricted view of the role of an interpreter has proved fraught with misconceptions—the presence of an interpreter in the midst of what would otherwise be a direct human interaction will always have inherent implications.  There have been studies in the field of spoken and sign language interpreting that illustrate the degree to which interpreter presence impacts the outcome of communication events—often in unexpected and unintended ways.

In reality, the view of sign language interpreters as merely conduits has always been faulty primarily because the interpreter must be physically and intellectually present in the interaction to be successful. The interpreter cannot behave as if invisible because there are clearly times when there is a need for the interpreter to manage the flow of communication and facilitate or seek clarification of messages, as well conduct more active interventions when appropriate. Further, facilitation of and access to communication is at the heart of interpreting and is dependent on forming rapport and relationship as part of the interpreting process.

Nevertheless, assumptions that perpetuate the interpreter behaving as if invisible still exist and are evident in the experience of the Deaf colleagues when confronted with an interpreter team who is detached and functioning as disengaged. We still have work to do in terms of stepping out of the shadow of invisibility—focusing on how we establish our presence is just one opportunity.

Interpreter Presence

Interpreter presence relates to the manner and conduct of a sign language interpreter in the midst of interaction with consumers.  Ideally, this presence is evident in the quality of poise and effectiveness that enables the interpreter to achieve a productive and collaborative relationship with consumers.  This quality is much like a spirit or a manner that is felt and received by consumers as genuine engagement, attentiveness, readiness, acceptance, respect.  It is predicated on the desire to offer performance that facilitates a successful outcome—where consumers are able to achieve their goals for the communication event.  It should be evident in all phases of an interpreted assignment—pre, during and post.

Interpreter presence involves the state of mind and level of attention a sign language interpreter brings to his or her work—the state of being closely focused on the relationships and communication at hand, not distracted by irrelevant thoughts or external events.  This clarity of thinking and attention to the task at hand is an important part of the interpreter’s ability to deliver accurate and meaning-based interpretation. Establishing presence is central to creating rapport and establishing trust with consumers.

To illustrate, consider the importance of establishing presence in the healthcare setting where a strong rapport between the healthcare professional, patient and sign language interpreter will enhance the amount and quality of information about the patient’s illness transferred in both directions.  This can enhance the accuracy of diagnosis and increase the patient’s knowledge about the status of their health, thus leading to greater compliance with the proposed treatment plan.  Where such a relationship is compromised because the interpreter fails to create a functional presence, the potential for misunderstanding and risk increase.

Let’s Make the Commitment

It is important to acknowledge that consistently creating an effective presence requires a conscious and deliberate commitment—something that is not always easy to attain in the busy and fast-paced world in which we live.  There are many demands that compete for our attention. The intersection between the linguistic tasks associated with interpreting and the interpersonal dynamics involved in an interpreted interaction are indeed challenging to manage. However, if our intention is create and sustain meaningful relationships with Deaf consumers, this is one way we can make a difference.

Where do we begin?  A first step is self-assessment—we all benefit from a personal check-in with ourselves to examine and monitor our interpersonal behaviors.

  • Do I take time to meet Deaf consumers before assignments to become acquainted and discuss logistical considerations?
  • Do I touch base with Deaf consumers regularly throughout the assignment to make sure things are progressing effectively?
  • Do I make myself available to Deaf consumers during breaks to see if I can be of assistance?
  • Do I avoid using technology during assignments so I remain open, available, and approachable should I be needed?
  • Does my affect and demeanor reflect attentiveness, alertness, engagement and readiness?
  • Do I make myself available at the conclusion of assignments to connect with Deaf consumers should they be interested?
  • If I must leave immediately after an assignment, do I touch base with the Deaf consumer first, letting them know I need to leave and extending my appreciation for the opportunity to work with them?
  • Do I regularly talk with Deaf individuals, outside of interpreting assignments, about their perceptions and expectations of interpreters?  If I do, am I a good listener?

This is one practical way in which we can work to improve the experiences of Deaf consumers with sign language interpreters—and thereby improve our relationship with Deaf people. Let’s make the commitment to continue to step out of the shadows of invisibility and demonstrate our respect for the interactional and cultural norms of the Deaf Community.  Might this lead to less discussion of interpreter attitude and more discussion of Deaf-heart?