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Sign Language Interpreters and the “F” Word

Sign Language Interpreters and the 'F' Word

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

 

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

[Click to view post in ASL]

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

Sign Language Interpreters and Accountability

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

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

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

Feedback: Challenge or Opportunity?

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

The real leverage is creating pull.”3 

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

Shifting the Feedback Dynamic

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

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

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

Managing Relationship, Truth, and Identity Triggers

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

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

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

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

Seeking Honest Feedback

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

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

Questions for Consideration:

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

Related Posts:

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

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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UpCycling the CPC: Role Space and the Reasonable Interpreter Standard

UpCycling the CPC

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

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

[Click to view post in ASL]

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

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

Thank you!

Code of Professional Conduct for ASL Interpreters (DRAFT)

Preamble

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

Applicability

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

Tenets

1.  Accurate and Complete Interpretation

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

2.  Commitment to Autonomy

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

3.  Confidentiality

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

4.  Professional Demeanor

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

5. Collegiality

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

6.  Preparation

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

7.  Conflicts of Interest and Role-Space

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

8.  Professional Development

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

9.  Advocacy and Resource Referral

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

10.  Functional Maintenance

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

11.  Business Practices

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

12.  RID ED: K-12

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

13.  Court Certified Interpreters

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

14.  Adherence to Federal, State and Local Law

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

Reasonable Interpreter Standard

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

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

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

Questions for Consideration:

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

 

References:

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

National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators.

Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc.

EIPA: Guidelines for Professional Conduct

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

 

Collegial Assistance:

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

Footnotes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

An Act of Treachery for Sign Language Interpreters

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

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

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

Having said that, something is not quite right.

The Unwritten Rule

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

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

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

Use of Credentials to Control

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

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

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

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

Equality Framework

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

•           Power

•           Respect and Recognition

•           Resources

•           Love, Care and Solidarity

•           Work and Learning

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

Treachery Against Colleagues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Emperor’s New Clothes

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

Distortion

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

The Takeaway

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

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Sign Language Interpreters: How to Avoid Being Abandoned at the Microphone

Lone Sign Language Interpreter Holding a Microphone

Even surrounded by a team of interpreters, crucial support can be nowhere to be found. Tiffany Hill deconstructs a situation she experienced while offering perspectives on how to strengthen collective responsibility.

I am facing a panel of 6 people in front of an audience of 200 attendees. The event is about to commence. I have a lone microphone in my hand and an empty chair beside me. As I settle into position I look around for my team and realize that I am alone. I cannot locate the other two members of the interpreting team for the event, let alone the ‘second pair of eyes’ that were promised to me.

Right as the facilitator takes the stage, I see the other interpreters get into place to interpret for the audience behind me. “Great—I think—as soon as the panelists start, someone will come right over.” The Deaf panelist thought the same as I had assured all involved that the team was locked and loaded and ready to go. Sparing some of the logistical tidbits, I will say that what happens next is the very opposite of what I committed and of what had been committed to me, the very opposite of what had been instilled in me in my professional upbringing: I was not part of a team.

All Alone

As I sit in my chair with the microphone I try to get the attention of my fellow interpreters. I wave my hand and the Deaf panelist tries to make eye contact with them from the stage…nothing. It never happens. For the next 45 minutes no one comes to my aid. After the panel and speakers finish, I make my way out of the conference. As I exit, one of the interpreters sees me and says, “great job” while throwing me a thumbs up and a wink.

Fortunately, the above series of events are not what I typically experience from my hard working colleagues. I do, however, need to go on record by saying, sadly, this was not the first time that I have been an eye witness to, or the recipient of the stated behaviors, which leads me to beg the question: Whose team are we on anyway?

The Pre-Conference

What events transpired prior to me sitting there alone with the mic in my hand? Let’s rewind the morning.

I was informed with short notice that I would be voicing for a Deaf panel participant during a local conference. I was afforded no opportunity to prepare myself, as the speaker, with whom I work regularly, had yet to even form an outline of their own thoughts and points for their remarks.

Of course the idea of walking in cold to any situation can immediately ignite the nerves. And although I was engaged to be the primary voice interpreter for this panelist, I anticipated the event organizer requesting interpreters for the general audience, as there was a high expectation of several Deaf attendees to be present. Proactively I arrived as early as possible to get the lay of the land and pre-conference with the other interpreters.

Social Agreement

Right away I was greeted by the requestor and made as many decisions as I could without the presence of the Deaf panelist. I was also told the other interpreters for the event had already arrived and I was introduced to one of the two of them. I felt an immediate sense of camaraderie flood over me at the relief of having a ‘team’ on hand. Not just one, we were potentially a team of three. Actually, when you include the Deaf panelist, I was really to be one of a four-member team.

My professional switch flipped into the ‘on’ position. I wanted to first put my ‘team’ at ease informing her that I work with this person regularly and would handle the voicing, however, I would really appreciate another pair of eyes next to me. I was met with lots of head nods and affirmations of support. I explicitly spelled out what I needed from my team and I was assured I was going to receive it. After all, these were the assigned interpreters for the conference. The whole conference was their responsibility, right?

In the end, I felt comfortable that the arrangements had been settled and we all knew our roles.

Collective Responsibility

Reflecting on the events of that morning returns my focus to the basics with an intense need to open up a dialogue about where we are and where we are headed as a group of professionals. As sign language interpreters, we enlist ourselves to demonstrate professional courtesies to our clients and consumers, but what about to our professional counterparts, our co-workers, our fellow partners, and team members?

Part of the reason I pose this question, is because it was posed to me. At the conclusion of it all, the Deaf panelist wanted to know what had happened. Why was I not viewed as a member of the team? Why didn’t the interpreters feel the same professional responsibility toward me as I did towards them?

If we were there with the same purpose, with the same roles, and with the same goal, should we not have all been working together to provide continuity and integrity of message for all? Should it not be automatic that when we are present in multiples we forge an automatic alliance? What would have happened if I had not done a ‘good job’? After all, was not the success of the ‘team’ dependent upon the success of my production and how I worked with the Deaf panelist? Not one of us functioned independently of each other, rather, interdependently. Isn’t that how we should prefer to work, knowing our arsenal includes not only our tool bag, but those of a network?

The 3 Point Replay

Some things are innate, others have to be taught and nurtured until they become second nature. In my view, Professionalism, by way of teamwork, is one of those things. We need to understand its definition and its connectivity to those with whom we work. We also need to be aware of the social and cultural implications it has in and around the community when we fail to grasp the concept.

While I appreciated the one interpreter expressing her opinion that I did a good job, as I consider the events of that morning, I would like to offer 3 things that I believe could have changed the dynamics of the assignment and led to a better outcome:

  1. With the need to reassure my team of my familiarity with the panelist, it is possible I projected a certain level of over-confidence, which may have given the impression that I needed less support than what I actually stated.
  2. As the assigned conference interpreters, there was a need to be alert to all aspects of the event, whether or not serving as the primary interpreter for a certain portion.
  3. Post-conference would have allowed us, as a team, to retrace which missteps led to our communication breakdown and which steps to take going forward as not to repeat any mishaps on our part.

The above forms part of the recipe to the antidote for counteracting the effects of unbalanced teamwork and contributes to preventing the series of events, which resulted in the unintended isolation of a team member.

In Conclusion

It gives me pleasure to happily state that for the past twelve years, I have been part of a profession where I believe the majority to be team players, partners even, with the same mission on the tips of their fingers and tongues. In fact, many of them have raised and nurtured me with their skills and knowledge, even passing along and bequeathing me their professional genealogy.

But just as two children are raised in the same home with the same parents, with the same rules and expectations, who do not mimic each other, so it goes in the professional arena where no two interpreters reflect the same level or depth of understanding with regards to this concept. It then becomes abundantly clear what the antonym looks like.

I want to challenge myself and each of us to continue to analyze ourselves and our approach to the work we do and how it effects our colleagues.  Teamwork should echo and permeate the very fabric of what we do.

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Why Do Qualified Sign Language Interpreters Get Less Work?

Sign Language Interpreter Wondering Why He Doesn't Get More Work

How has the professionalization of interpreting impacted interpreter referral? Kendra Keller takes a hard look at the bypass of traditional entry into the interpreting field and offers ideas to reset and recharge key stakeholders in service provision.

In a recent conversation with Tom Holcomb about certified vs. qualified sign language interpreters, he said something that surprised me. He shared that approximately 90% of the interpreters referred to work with him outside of his professional faculty position and public presentations, were not certified. From inside my bubble of privilege and pursuit of my own credentials and qualifications, this was shocking.

I took a minute and then asked, “What type of appointments?” Tom replied, “Trips to the doctor, consultations about house and home, travel, and school meetings.” Thinking to myself that perhaps I’d been mistaken about the value of certification to Tom and the referral services that sent the interpreters I asked how these appointments had gone.  He said, “I was just glad someone showed up…he presumed that most good interpreters were already busy with other assignments.”

Bypassing Traditional Routes of Entry

We all have experiences where certification does not always equal qualified or ensure quality work.  Tom said that the overall quality of the interpreters was “so-so.”   I suggested to Tom that there were qualified, certified interpreters who were not being referred. To which he responded, “if good interpreters are being passed over and consequently I’m forced to settle for less…I may have a different attitude about what to expect.” The realities we spoke of surprised us both.

Do consumers of our service really expect less?  I think they do.

I believe we can attribute the current state of affairs to many factors—all of which are tied to how we have chosen to meet the demand for the service we provide. As we know the demand for interpreters has skyrocketed. In response, a supply chain was created that has shifted the influx and approval for readiness of sign language interpreters out of the hands of the deaf community, as expressed in Molly Wilson’s vlog “Bypass” (Bypass, Molly Wilson). We have created a detour, a diversion and it is having a powerful impact on all of us. This bypass has excluded necessary and important voices regarding the quality of interpreting services.

How does this bypass practically play out so folks like Tom have experiences that create the experience and perspective that they are required to “settle?”

The Referral Agency 

Since the spring of 2012, we in the northern California area have been holding forums to assess and remediate the impact of spoken language agencies on the quality of interpreting services.  The advent of spoken language agencies taking on the contracts for ASL interpreter referrals combined has created financial struggles for our traditional referral agencies.  Competition is forcing the referral of less expensive interpreters—the non-certified or less experienced.

Through a survey of colleagues throughout the greater San Francisco Bay area, across the board they feel that as their qualifications and experience increase, the amount of work through referral sources has decreased. Sign language agency forums are reporting that they indeed are cutting back on referring the more qualified interpreters (and I include CDIs and DIs here), due to cost and the current threat to the agencies’ economic survival.  Our seasoned interpreters are struggling to find enough freelance work and resorting to other sources of income and employment.

Increased Use of Non-Certified Interpreters

If qualified interpreters are facing a decline in work and non-certified interpreters are being called more frequently, what does that say about the value of experience and certification?  Does it matter if the majority of interpreters who are being referred are not certified? What is the balance of availability and access with qualifications?  While imperfect, the current certifications at both national and state levels are our measure of readiness to begin working as interpreters.

Who are the non-certified and what is the relationship to quality and the definition (legal-ADA- and professional) of qualified? What is the experience of people who use/work with interpreters of quality? What are we doing to learn about, include and support them, or to assess their impact on both the interpreting and Deaf communities?

Interpreter Preparation Programs

When IPPs and ITPs do not include dynamic and responsive curriculum designs, qualified faculty and engage in an active participation of and by the Deaf community, the bypass model is reinforced. IPP students and newer interpreters are being actively recruited by spoken language agencies, sometimes for full time work and often for work in medical settings. Faculty and coordinators have a responsibility to shape a school–to–work expectation of graduates. These students are the most vulnerable to undeveloped professional judgment and the capacity to say “no” when appropriate.

Are the values of fluency and active engagement with the Deaf community being upheld? Are program coordinators and faculty discussing the changing nature of gatekeeping and creating a response in alliance with the Deaf community? Are working interpreters able to respond to increased work demand while maintaining a relationship with the Deaf community? There are many new demands that we must respond to, together.

Credentialed Interpreter

What is the status of highly credentialed interpreters (including CDIs and DIs) in your area? Are the experienced and most qualified interpreters finding work which sustains them?

The obvious impact with less qualified, credentialed interpreters working is that true access to communication is more likely to be denied.

Our Responsibility

As we are being requested to work by a burgeoning number of spoken language referral agencies, online marketplaces, temp agencies, direct contracts and direct referrals from colleagues places more of the responsibility on the individual interpreter to exercise professional judgment in assessing skills and qualifications. For example, are we quick to accept an assignment and slow or neglect to assess our readiness before, during and after the assignment? We need the work. Does that need outweigh the rights of deaf people (and hearing consumers) to effective communication?

How do we Remodel and Rebuild?

Values and Collective Change

As the true cost of the bypasses becomes evident, where does the healing process begin?  Understanding the problem is key, so that we can design the solutions together. In his book, “Introduction to American Deaf Culture”, Tom Holcomb refers to “The Vibrant Deaf Community’, and ‘Solutions for Effective Living’.  I ask us to remember to work together to create vibrant solutions.

Here are some ideas about how to do this:

Safe Spaces. Create places and effective ways to speak out.  I believe it is inherently unhelpful to demonize any one person, group of people, the system, or to claim that experiences that are outliers are the norm. While there is power in speaking out and having a voice, I believe the forum of public or social media, which, while a critical place to have a voice when other avenues are closed or nonexistent, will not necessarily encourage the individual conversations needed for healing and improvement.

Ask Questions. Decide which questions to ask. Are we talking about our competencies, are interpreters literate in the language of qualifications and certification, as well as the factors which make up quality interpretation?

Reflective Practice. Establish a reflective practice, which is a compassionate, critical analysis of our work. Develop a process and language for doing so. Use any of the many ways that already exist: The Etna Project, supervision by trained facilitators, facilitated conversations with all stakeholders in your home communities, the  Demand Control Schema, the northern California project Improving Interpreting Project” (ImprovingInterpretingProject@gmail.com), which provides draft documents for agencies, consumers and interpreters.  Seek out and use your own community’s cultural wealth, especially DCCW, Deaf community cultural wealth.

Through reflective practice, I believe interpreters can and should address these challenges and create effective solutions. To begin, I ask us to think about what motivates the values that we uphold or deprioritize in each decision we make. If we are mostly afraid and functioning on a survival level, how can we create a focus on the greater good, co-create solutions for these changing times?

Values

Here are a few of the values and important factors in my work that I think about and that I think are important for consideration.  What are yours?

Do no harm. Stephanie Feyne, in her article: “Is it Time to Certify Sign Language Interpreter Referral Agencies?” addresses the harm done by agencies:

“Alarmingly, sign language referral agencies are sending increasing numbers of unqualified signers to interpret for Deaf consumers, causing harm to the communities we serve and to the interpreting field…. many of the sign language interpreters on their rosters are self-professed “interpreters,” who have passed no screening or certification exams.”

Encourage. Promote interpreter availability through teaching, mentoring, supervision, teaming, opening the door and welcoming newer interpreters in a way appropriate to their level of professional development.

Contribute. Have standards, opinions, being a critical thinker, while avoiding black and white, right/wrong thinking and judgmental language.

Take Action. Be aware of and take action to stop and to prevent the horizontal violence, micro-, meso- and macro-aggressions evident and experienced by so many in our field and communities.

Use Whole Language. Uphold and practice the use of whole language, ASL, especially as a non-native language user.

Take off the Blinders. Take off the blinders and ask to know the impact of my privileged status.

Reflective Practice.  Engage in reflective practice to continue professional development and self-assessment.

Professional Literacy. Develop and refine the ability to negotiate both in social and professional settings, which requires one to be literate in the language of professional standards.

Seek Guidance. Seek feedback and guidance from the deaf and coda communities…without making them responsible to manage my interpreting skills or advocate while trying to live their lives.

Accept Change. Sit with the discomfort of change, share the control, and be willing to move through feelings of disorientation before the reconstruction and reorientation into a stronger self.

Collective Change

In this I include agencies (by which I mean sign language, spoken language, temp agencies, VRS agencies, and online marketplaces):

Become involved within your communities for input about interpreting needs and concerns.

Find and work with consultants and mentors who are content experts, native users of ASL, and mentors trained and experienced in mentoring and supervision.

Request/Refer qualified interpreters, including CDIs when needed and appropriate, to provide/receive quality interpreting.

Look to all the stakeholders to guide the process.

Support non-certified interpreters in their process to become certified.  Understand why they are not yet certified.

Work to uphold the value and requirement of certification.

What Should Tom Expect?

If the experience is relief that someone showed up to interpret and that all the good interpreters are busy, how do we get from there to a world where someone who is truly qualified to interpret shows up and the more common experience is that the interpreting went well? Where qualified interpreters, quality interpreters are the expectation—the norm?

If we addressed our bypass practices, what would that look like for each of us? What could we expect?  A few thoughts:

  • To be included in a shared decision making process about communication dynamics and language preferences, to have a voice in the process.
  • To understand what is required to be a part of successfully interpreted communication.
  • To understand that a qualified interpreter means the focus of the communication shifts away from concerns about being understood and being represented accurately, to the actual communication.

Let’s remember what Paddy Ladd suggested in his Deafhood Pedagogies presentation, he cites Dr. Marie Battiste in saying that cognitive imperialism inflicts a soul wound on indigenous peoples… “We all must become critical learners and healers within a wounded space.”  I would apply this to interpreters and the ever more urgent need for self-assessment of our qualifications and quality of our work.

Responsibility begins with being responsive.  Engage.  Begin, resume, or continue the dialogue.  Take the time to ask vital questions of our communities and our selves. Define the problem together.  It is time to ask…and listen to the answers.

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What Role Does Civility Play in the Sign Language Interpreting Profession?

If actions speak louder than words, what does our everyday conduct say to our colleagues, students and stakeholders? Carolyn Ball discusses how civility can enhance the work and relationships of sign language interpreters.

If the work we do as sign language interpreters requires that we convey messages not only with words but also with our demeanor, shouldn’t we consider what our demeanor conveys?  I propose that demeanor is the face of civility and the effective use of civil behavior can enhance all aspects of the sign language interpreting profession.

Incivility

The significance of civility was summarized succinctly in a single sentence by Sheila Suess Kennedy (1997), “We cannot find common ground without civility, and we cannot solve our problems without finding common ground” (p. 164).   Additionally, Sara Hakala (2012) suggests,  “Polite and respectful behavior is vanishing from our world today. Bullying, hostile and polarizing political interactions, tasteless and tactless comments delivered without discretion, everyone talking at once but nobody listening — we are treating one another badly in our day-to-day lives and our relationships are fragmenting and deteriorating as a result” (pp. 1-2).

We see examples of incivility daily.  On television, during an award ceremony a famous musician has the microphone ripped out of her hand by another musician while delivering her acceptance speech. On the road, we are cut off and it ruins the rest of our day. We are angered that this person dares to get away with this type of behavior. In our work, when an interpreting colleague offers a “feed” at a time that is not appropriate for our own interpreting process.  Or when an interpreter colleague offers critical feedback that was not sought out by the working interpreter? Small instances of incivility like these can cause further spinoffs of incivility that send ripples forward to other people we encounter.

Dr. P. M. Forni (2010) shares, “In opinion surveys, Americans say incivility is a national problem – one that has been getting worse” (p. 146).

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can end the cycle. Sara Hacala (2012), champions the idea that civility is a mind-set that encompasses values and attitudes that help us embrace our shared humanity and society.

Forni’s work emphasizes how closely civility and ethics are tied. But what is civility and how does it apply to sign language interpreting? Although we talk frequently about a professional code of conduct, and respect for those we encounter, have we left civility out of our fundamental, daily practice?

The Fundamentals

Beyond a code of conduct, understanding the importance and value of a code of decency has the potential to lead us to a more civil approach to life. Decency can take on many forms and yet, at times, is very difficult to exemplify.  With the dawn of technology and in a world of quick responses, clearly conveying meaning can be difficult.  A quick email from a colleague may be taken as an impersonal and cold communication, but in reality, intentions may be overlooked.  Perhaps in writing the email, they were simply in a hurry. Rather than assuming the best, we often are insulted at the rudeness of the email. How can we increase awareness regarding the importance of civility in a world that relies on speed?  How can we increase awareness when a lack of regard for how others may perceive our messages is standard place?

What about civility and decency in sign language interpreting and interpreter education? Would increased civility in the field of interpreting allow us to find solutions to the problems and challenges currently facing the field? Would an increased awareness of civility allow us to support our colleagues, find solutions to the thorny problems surrounding certification, and better help our future interpreters work and interact with the world with equanimity?

Civility & Leadership

In considering the importance of civility we must also consider how civility relates to leadership, and vice versa. Leadership is commonly thought of as a process in which an individual leads or influences others. Great leaders embody civility.  According to Forni (2010), choosing to be a civil leader should be a central concern in our lives. He also believes that civility is not a philosophical abstraction but a code of decency that can be applied in everyday life.

Franklin Roosevelt said, “Without leadership that is alert and sensitive to change, …we lose our way” (Leuchtenburg, 1995, p. 28). Strong attributes of civility and decency often epitomize strong and revered leaders.  Do the leaders of our profession embody civil leadership?  Is there room for change?

Sign language interpreters and interpreter educators alike can benefit from increasing leadership skills that increase sensitivity and responsiveness; both imbue civility. Interpreter educators have wide reaching spheres of influence and lead many students headlong into their careers.  But, do they see themselves as leaders who demonstrate civility? Do they see themselves as leaders at all? By placing a strong and explicit emphasis on civility, new interpreters are more likely to be successful. For example, it is clear that working in the interpreting profession depends on repeat business.  Interpreters who have strong interpersonal skills are more likely to be employed and remain employed. Further, patrons of interpreting services prefer, and even seek services from, companies and individuals who have a good command of civility.

Compassion

Interpreter educators can facilitate civility in the classroom by teaching compassionately. Compassionate teaching includes respect for students, helping them realize their full potential. In order to reach full potential as well-integrated members of society and the sign language interpreting profession, students must be exposed to civility through educators and curriculum.

Compassionate teachers increase their students’ awareness of civility and, as a result, students will be able to develop civility in self-expression and become mindful of civility.  This will play out in their demeanor, the face of civility.  Resulting in the advancement and promotion of effective business communication strategies that will, in turn, have a positive and cascading effect on those with whom they interact. Conversely, an underdeveloped expression of civility will have a negative effect and may play a role in consumer dissatisfaction.

Civility & Repeat Business

If all interpreters, educated through formal training, were given a clear sense of the importance of civility in the workplace and in interactions with colleagues, perhaps more recent graduates would benefit from repeat business and high levels of job satisfaction.  We might also expect them to go on to become leaders in the field, or even educators themselves.   Instead, many new interpreters and graduates get burned out without ever fully understanding why.

With the current shortage of sign language interpreters, do interpreter educators have an obligation to convey the importance of civility to their students?

I acknowledge the room for disagreement in the house of civility.  But to close, I will side with Emerson and his belief that, “life is not so short, but there is always time for courtesy” (1894).

What role can civility play in interpreting?

 

References

Bain, K. (2004) What the best college teachers do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Emerson, R. W. (1894). The sage of concord. M. Watkins (Ed.), American Literature. New York: American Book Company.

Forni, P.M., (2010, July 20). Why civility is necessary for society’s survival.

Dallas News.  Retrieved on September 13, 2012 at http://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/sunday-commentary/20100723-p.m.-forni-why-civility-is-necessary-for-society_s-survival.ece

Forni, P. M., (2002) Choosing civility the twenty-five rules of considerate conduct.  New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Hacala, S., (2012). Saving Civility: 52 Ways to tame rude, crude and attitude for a polite planet. Skylight Paths, Woodstock, VT.

Kennedy, Sheila Suess. (1997) What’s a nice republican girl like me doing in the ACLU. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

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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.