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Presidential Candidates: Who Should Sign Language Interpreters Vote For?

Presidential Candidates: Who Should Sign Language Interpreters Vote For?

Personal politics aside, the 2016 Presidential election is an opportunity to view politics through a “sign language interpreter lens”. Using this angle, Cassie Lang examines the candidates’ views on various issues.

With the presidential election just a few days away, and considering this all began over two years ago (!) you might find yourself in one of two categories: fed up and despondent over the state of politics, or freaked and obsessed with the latest breaking scandal and poll results. Maybe you’re just trying to keep track of the latest sign for TRUMP while interpreting, or monitoring those facial meta-comments whenever the election comes up. With it now possible to watch presidential debates in a movie theater complete with a free drink, and nearly everything being labeled “unprecedented,” the tongue-in-cheek ending line to the SNL debate spoof, “Just to remind everyone at home, this was the presidential debate” seems to be further evidence of a populace that just wishes this circus would pack up the tent and go home.

[View post in ASL]

Is it just me, or does anyone long for days of political yore: some nice, boring analysis of policy statements, voting records and speech fact checking? During a campaign when most voters have already decided who they’re voting for or against (polls estimate only 2-12% are undecided), disillusioned though they may be about it, it just might seem an exercise in futility to dig into the issues facing America today that have so briefly garnered media attention.

What is a typical “Sign Language Interpreter Identity”?

The phrase “identity politics” rings true: we vote for candidates we feel most closely represent ourselves and our interests. With a nod to the latest buzz word but valid cultural construct, intersectionality, I’d like to share what I’ve learned looking at the candidates from the identity lens of a sign language interpreter. This focuses on the major party nominees, but information is also available on Libertarian Gary Johnson or the Green Party’s Jill Stein.

So what do we as interpreters care about? Using myself as an example, I consider things like out of pocket healthcare costs and insurance policies available on the exchanges, since I’ve been full time in private practice. I’m not incorporated nor do I own an interpreting agency, but I do work for several, so I also wanted to learn what if any impact this election may have on small business owners. I also have an eye on education: would massive budget cuts to public education have an impact on funding for special education and educational interpreters? Although the ADA remains largely a bulwark for Deaf-related issues regardless of party administration, I also have concerns regarding the politics surrounding bi-(or multi-) lingualism, minority cultures, and disability issues in order to keep moving forward on things like accessibility and equality instead of reverting to the back foot.

Issues closely tied to sign language interpreters and the people we work with haven’t gotten the coverage that perhaps foreign policy or personality have, so I did my best to compile sources. Here’s what I found:

Education

Hillary Clinton supports the Common Core Standards and publicly funded early childhood education, and wants to make public higher education “debt-free.” She also wants to reduce the number of standardized tests. She acknowledges problems with charter schools having the ability to be more selective about their students but does support a school voucher program for school choice (NPR, 2016).

Donald Trump does not support the Common Core or making public higher education debt-free, and is unclear on his position of early childcare education, although agrees with Clinton in reducing standardized testing. He supports a voucher program for private and charter schools, specifically proposing to cut $20 billion federal dollars from public schools. If states contribute another $100M each, then those funds combined would give “every student living in poverty” $12,000 toward school choice. States who have more private and charter schools are more likely to get back the subtracted federal funds and if they make a commitment to supporting non-public options. Trump also has a more negative view on teachers’ unions and believes teacher pay should be influenced by evaluations. (NPR, 2016).

Health care

Clinton supports the Affordable Care Act as a public insurance option for those not getting insured through their employer or those who are self-employed, and pledges to lower out-of-pocket prescription drug costs. She also wants to give states incentives to expand Medicaid coverage for low-income Americans and allow enrollment in exchanges regardless of immigration status.

Trump wants to end the Affordable Care Act and replace it with optional Health Savings Accounts (where an individual can choose to deposit a portion of pre-tax income into a yearly account for approved health care costs). He also wants to allow insurance companies to sell policies across state lines, minimizing or eliminating state regulation over the companies. He proposes to give state lawmakers more discretion over what federal Medicaid grants will cover.

Bilingualism

Clinton encourages Americans to become bilingual, does not believe English should be the official language of the United States, and opposes discrimination towards those who do not speak English (2008 debate). She voted “No” on getting rid of legal challenges to English-only job rules (March 2008).

Trump criticized Jeb Bush for speaking Spanish on the campaign trail and was quoted as saying, “We’re a nation that speaks English, and I think that while we’re in this nation we should be speaking English…it’s more appropriate.”

ADA/disability and Deaf issues

Clinton has been quoted for needing to recognize the positive impact people with disabilities have had on “changing things for the better” in America. In her position statement, she vows to continue to support the ADA, expand support for those with disabilities to “live in integrated community settings”, “improve access to meaningful, gainful employment” and provide tax breaks for families with individuals who have disabilities. Her website cites her effort when Secretary of State for the US to join the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

She spoke specifically at an event in September on creating more economic opportunity for people with disabilities, such as eliminating rules allowing the exception to pay those with disabilities below minimum wage.

In her answers to RespectAbility’s Report Questionnaire, Clinton details her votes for increased funding for IDEA, her introduction of the Count Every Vote Act to ensure accessible voting, her commitment to work with law enforcement on cultural understanding for persons with disabilities along with supporting the use of police body cameras, and her campaign’s efforts to make her website, media and interactions with voters accessible. Her response also mentioned her support of Bill Clinton’s $3M in grants to expand screenings such as the newborn hearing screening, and her first-ever appointment when Secretary of State of a Special Advisor for International Disability Rights to construct a plan to promote disability rights internationally.

Clinton also has an intern for her campaign who is Deaf.

Trump’s campaign website has no position statements on disability. After he made contorted arm movements while speaking negatively about a reporter with a disability at a rally last November, allegations of him mocking the reporter, including from the New York Times became widespread. He later denied this and was quoted saying, “I would never say anything bad about a person that has a disability. I swear to you it’s true, 100 percent true. . . . Who would do that to [the] handicapped? I’ve spent a lot of money making buildings accessible.” In citing adding accessibility to his buildings as the explanation for his actions being misconstrued, it is unclear whether his purported building improvements were going above and beyond the ADA, or simply coming into compliance with what has been federal law since 1990.

Trump was reported to use derogatory terms and behavior toward Marlee Matlin. Her response here.

Small business

Clinton supports helping small businesses get off the ground with access to capital and deferring student loan payments, streamlining licensing, simplifying tax filing rules, incentivizing health care benefits for business with up to 50 employees, providing training and mentoring to business owners and making sure small businesses get paid for services rendered.

Trump proposes to lower the business tax rate for corporate income from 35 percent to 15 percent for companies labeled “C” corporations (under 8% of small businesses benefit).

Related:

According to a recent Bank of America survey, 74% of small business owners are concerned that health care costs will impact their business, and 79% feel that the effectiveness of government leaders, in general, will affect their business in the next 12 months. Sixty-seven percent of respondents are voting based on personal perspectives as opposed to business.

It Matters in the End

Political polarization in the US is at its highest point in the last twenty years. And our perception of ourselves and others seems…skewed. Basically, people are more often saying “Yeah, my political party is pretty moderate, but that other party- those are the crazies.” And the result? Extreme rhetoric over the years not only has sown close-mindedness, and even anger, but also has nearly shut down the federal government on more than one occasion. It has also spawned the presidential race we have today.

One of my favorite things about StreetLeverage is the value it places on self-discovery and self-awareness of who we are as whole people functioning within systems of power, and the responsibility each of us has individually to effect change. How does who we are influence where we are- as individuals, as a collective? Let’s look at the electoral landscape and apply the same principles StreetLeverage calls us to embody: introspection, engagement, and resolve.

In doing this research, I came across an article that said, “if you don’t like the person, vote for the issues.” It’s up to us as sign language interpreters to determine where our identity politics lead us. We need to be as diligent as we can in looking closely at these and other issues that will form our democracy for the next presidential term. If this election season feels like a Tilt-A-Whirl you didn’t even buy a ticket for, close your eyes, take a breath and vote on November 8. This ride is over soon, kids.

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What Makes Us Tick? Sign Language Interpreters, Values & Motivation

What Makes Us Tick? Sign Language Interpreters, Values & Motivation

Knowledge of personal beliefs and value systems enhance a sign language interpreter’s professional practice. Audrey Ramirez-Loudenback posits articulating our “why” may positively impact job satisfaction and longevity in the field.

I embarked on this research as a student in Western Oregon University’s MA in Interpreting Studies with a belief that our motivations will influence every part of our professional practice. Literature confirms that values are the foundation for any decision making process, whether a person is consciously aware of this or not (Amentrano, 2014; Brown, 2002; Rokeach 1970, 1974). As sign language interpreters, our responsibility is to start identifying and articulating the values that are expressed through our choices.

[View post in ASL]

Values have been discussed by many in the field of sign language interpreting (Bienvenu, 1987; Cokely, 2000; Dean & Pollard, 2013), including here on Street Leverage (Meckler, 2014). My research attempted to take what we know about values and collect information via an online survey from a large sample of sign language interpreters and interpreting students about their own personally held value systems to see what kind of patterns and trends emerged.  

Values That Motivate

The survey included the Portrait Values Questions (PVQ), an instrument used to collect data that was designed by Dr. Schwartz, a researcher and teacher in the field of Psychology (Schwartz, 1994, 2012, Schwartz et al., 2001, Schwartz et al., 2012). The survey also included questions about demographics and one open-ended question. I received 298 completed responses from interpreters and interpreting students all over the United States. A large portion of the research results centered on the responses to the open-ended question; respondents were asked to briefly describe their reasons for becoming an interpreter.

My findings showed that most respondents described reasons for entering the field that were not congruent with the value system expressed in their PVQ results (Ramirez-Loudenback, 2015). One recurrent example of this incongruity was a response that described a pleasure derived from using American Sign Language. A common example of this was “I fell in love with the language”. Most respondents that had a response similar to this example had results from their PVQ that did not match the values expressed with this idea of loving a language.

Much work has been done in the area of occupational fit and values (Amentrano, 2014; Brown, 2002; Watt & Richardson, 2007). This literature shows that values are an important part of choosing an occupation. One question that emerged from my research was about the consequence of having reasons for choosing to become a sign language interpreter that are not in-line with an individual’s personal value system (prioritization of essential values). I believe that we should be encouraging all emerging interpreters to consider how their values are being expressed in the choice to pursue this profession. This will lead pre-professionals to consider if interpreting will provide a career in which they can have the longevity and satisfaction that comes with an occupation that is congruent with their value system.

Values That Divide & Unite

My research also indicated a variation in value systems from respondents who did not identify as “White/Caucasian” compared to those that did identify as “White/Caucasian”. It is natural for individuals from distinct cultures to prioritize values differently. In fact, one of the reasons Schwartz developed this theory and model was to examine values across cultures (1994; Schwartz et al., 2001). The proportion of respondents (11%) who identified with an ethnic group other than “White/Caucasian” (89%) matches fairly closely with RID’s membership data, which was 87.7% (Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, 2014, p. 58). Within the small number of respondents who did identify as “Asian/Asian-American” or “Latino/Hispanic,” a stark contrast in the prioritization of values with the overall group emerged. Those that identified as “Latino/Hispanic” or “Asian/Asian American” ranked conformity the highest of all ten value types. Conformity includes the values of “Politeness, obedience, self-discipline, honoring parents and elders” (Bardi & Schwartz, 2003, p. 1208). The mean for the overall sample, of 298 participants, ranked conformity 5th out of the ten value types. I believe this leads us to some important questions as a professional community of sign language interpreters and interpreter educators regarding recruitment and retention of interpreters from diverse cultures. What is the experience of being raised with and having a value system that often seems to contrast or even conflict with the majority of your peers/colleagues? How does the majority’s value system create barriers for others to be heard and understood?

Through my study of this topic and my own experience with Supervision Sessions as a Supervision Leader for Western Oregon University’s Professional Supervision of Interpreting Practice (PSIP) program, I have noticed that most ethical conflicts can be reframed through the lens of values (Cokely, 2000; Dean & Pollard, 2013; Glover, Bumpus, Logan, & Ciesla, 1997; Karacaer, Gohar, Aygun, & Sayin, 2009; Meckler, 2014). Most dilemmas can be rephrased by asking: How are the values I am prioritizing conflict with my team/consumer/setting in this moment? Using Schwartz’ Motivational Values Theory and Model we could teach interpreting students and emerging professionals to view professional ethics in a way that is less deontological (right vs. wrong) by framing them in terms of competing values. This could improve professional discourse and lead to deeper reflective practice. When we have the language to articulate those conflicting values, I believe we can engage in a more productive conversation about how to navigate a conflict, one that honors the integrity of all involved.

Start Early for Positive Outcomes

Beginning this self-assessment of personal value systems early in an interpreter’s career may lead to richer dialogue about the impact of those values on ethical decision making. Values not only have profound impact on the choice to become a sign language interpreter, but also the choices in which settings to work, which consumers we feel we ‘match’, and the ethical standards we practice every day.

Questions to Consider:

  1. What motivated you to become an interpreter?
  2. What values do you see represented in your response to question 1?
  3. Which values do you hold dear that have the greatest impact on your work?
  4. Identify a time in your professional history when you thought a colleague was acting unethically. How can you reframe their choices and your own choices in terms of values that were being prioritized and conflicted?

References:

Amentrano, I. R. (2014). Teaching ethical decision making: Helping students reconcile personal and professional values. Journal of Counseling & Development, 92,154 161. doi: 10.1002/j 1556-6676.2014.00143.x

Bardi, A., & Schwartz, S. H. (2003). Values and behavior: Strength and structure of relations. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29(10), 1207-1220.  doi: 10.1177/0146167203254602

Brown, D. (2002). The role of work and cultural values in occupational choice, satisfaction, and success: A theoretical statement. Journal of Counseling & Development, 80(1), 48-56. doi: 10.1002/j.1556-6678.2002.tb00165.x

Bienvenu, M. J. (1987, April). The third culture: Working together (M. L. McIntire, Trans.). Address delivered to the Sign Language Interpreters of California. Retrieved from http://www.stringham.net/doug/uvuasl/3330/ 3330_bienvenu_thirdculture.pdf

Cokely, D. (2000). Exploring ethics: A case for revising the code of ethics. Journal of Interpretation 10(1), 25-57.

Dean, R. K., & Pollard, R. Q. (2013) The demand control schema: Interpreting as a practice profession. North Charleston, SC: CreateSpace.

Glover, S. H., Bumpus, M. A., Logan, J. E., & Ciesla, J. R. (1997). Re-examining the influence of individual values on ethical decision making. Journal of Business Ethics, 16(12/13), 1319-1329. doi: 10.1023/A:1005758402861

Karacaer, S., Gohar, R., Aygun, M., & Sayin, C. (2009). Effects of personal values on auditor’s ethical decisions: A comparison of Pakistani and Turkish professional auditors. Journal of Business Ethics, 88(53), 53-64. doi: 10.1007/s10551-0091012-4

Meckler, A. (2014, June 17). Beyond Ethics: Rules Versus Values for Sign Language Interpreters. Retrieved November 20, 2014, from http://www.streetleverage.com/2014/06/beyond-ethics-rules-versus-values-for-sign-language-interpreters/

Ramirez-Loudenback, A. (2015). Are we here for the same reason? Exploring the motivational values that shape the professional decision making of signed language interpreters. (unpublished Master’s thesis). Western Oregon University. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.wou.edu/theses/25

Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (2014). The Views. Winter, 2014. Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B3DKvZMflFLda0pDVkZqZDRqYUk/view?usp=sharing.

Rokeach, M. (1970). Beliefs, attitudes and values: A theory of organizational change. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Rokeach, M. (1979). Understanding human values individual and societal. New York, NY: The Free Press.  85

Schwartz, S. H. (1994). Are there universal aspects in the structure and contents of human values? Journal of Social Issues, 50(4), 19-45.

Schwartz, S. H. (2012). An overview of Schwartz Theory of Basic Values. Online Reading in Psychology and Culture, 2(1). doi:  10.9707/2307-0919.1116

Schwartz, S. H., Melech, G., Lehmann, A., Burgess, S., Harris, M., & Owens, V. (2001). Extending the cross-cultural validity of the theory of basic human values with a different method of measurement. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 32(5), 519-542.

Schwartz, S. H., Cieciuch, J., Vecchione, M., Davidov, E., Fisher, R., Beierlein, C., Konty, M. (2012). Refining the theory of basic individual values. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103(4), 663-588.  doi: 10.1037/a0029393

Watt, H. M., & Richardson, P. W. (2007). Motivational factors influencing teaching as a career choice: Development and validation of the FIT-Choice Scale. The Journal of Experimental Education, 75(3), 167-202. doi: 10.3200/JEXE.75.3.167-20

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Sign Language Interpreters: Is it Me?

Sign Language Interpreters: Is it Me?

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

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

[Click to view post in ASL]

Underlying Factors

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

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

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

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

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

Asking the Right Questions

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

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

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

HOW   Questions

YES Questions

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

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

Three Qualities for Change

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

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

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

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

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

 Committing to YES Conversations

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

In the words of Peter Block…

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

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What can Sign Language Interpreter Education Learn from Wild Birds?

What can Sign Language Interpreter Education Learn from Wild Birds?

Birds raised in captivity often struggle to acquire natural communication and instincts. So too do sign language interpreters brought up in ITPs, with limited Deaf community connections and interaction. Kimberly Hale considers how interpreter education can borrow strategies from nature in raising the next generation of sign language interpreters.

The current state of interpreter education reminds me of an attempt to return rehabilitated, injured or orphaned birds to the wild, rather than allowing the natural developmental process of wild birds to occur.

[View post in ASL]

Natural Versus Artificial Development            

In the wild, chicks are nurtured and learn the way of the bird through instincts, observation, and imitation of older birds. Mature birds protect chicks and model bird behavior. Astute mother birds perceiving just the right time to send the chick off into the world, push the fledglings from the nest. Wild birds effectively raise their young who behave as birds and function effectively in their natural habitats.

In contrast to the natural development process is the artificial process employed when injured, orphaned, or captivity-bred birds are rehabilitated and released into the wild. These birds, much like student interpreters, learn the way of the bird in an artificial environment removed from natural developmental stimuli.

Gatekeepers – The Natural Approach

Historically, trusted individuals were sought out and encouraged by members of the Deaf community to act as sign language interpreters. Just as chicks are pushed from the nest by astute mother birds, these chosen fledgling interpreters were pushed into a wider variety of settings as their performance and success warranted.  As members of the “wild bird” community, they naturally gained values, skills, and knowledge needed to function as birds, albeit with unique responsibilities.

The System – Bred and Raised in Captivity

In contrast, the current model of interpreter education creates sign language interpreters bred and raised in captivity and then released into the wild. Many interpreters-in-training have never encountered the Deaf Community in its natural state and have a limited understanding of Deaf Community interactions, yet they want to join the “flock”. Initial interactions are often mediated, controlled, and contrived by the Interpreter Trainer(s), similar to the artificial environments created by bird rehabilitation specialists.  A large portion of training time is spent with other interpreters-in-training or with videos of ASL users and interpreter samples, rather than spending time with the “flock”.

Limited Exposure Limits Competence

Often rehabilitated birds are released to the wild as adults or older juveniles. They spend their formative years learning to act like birds based solely on instincts and the bird trainer’s teaching. They miss the benefit of natural imitation opportunities, protection from older birds, and the natural pecking order process. Prior to release they frequently have limited contact with wild birds. This may lead to difficulty upon release into nature.

Interpreters “raised” in interpreter education programs, just as birds raised in captivity, may lack skills in negotiating the flock.  They do not communicate and behave as naturally as those who are raised and groomed naturally within the flock. Specifically, they are more hesitant and awkward in seeking clarification. By not learning language primarily via natural interactions, they miss the opportunity to naturally learn appropriate birdcalls and signals for clarification and correcting misunderstandings, which is a critical skill for sign language interpreters.

Early Exposure Unintentionally Disrupts the Flock

Quality Interpreting Education Programs attempt to assist interpreters-in-training form connections and appropriate behaviors within the community by requiring community interactions and event attendance before release. This does not mirror the natural process either. Interpreters-in-training, without connections or formal welcome (because they are unknown to the flock), insert themselves into the wild flock. Unfortunately, this “forced” introduction and acceptance model disturbs the natural order of the flock. New awkward birds invade the wild bird territory, and the wild birds are expected to embrace, accept, and nurture the interpreters-in-training.

Early Release

Given the growing interest in the wild flock, the limited numbers of rehabilitation facilities, and the structure of those facilities (i.e., colleges and universities), bird rehabilitation programs are specified lengths. More often than not, there are not specific competency based exams to ensure that birds-in-training are ready to be pushed from the nest and fend for themselves.

Because they are pushed from the nest before they are ready to function independently and are left to fend for themselves they end up under the tree instead of in the branches among the flock.  These released birds often become the unintended recipients of wild bird droppings. Stronger birds will strive and will, eventually, learn to fly thereby officially joining the flock.  Others, especially those without appropriate support, never get off the ground.

We Need to Invest

Investment in wild bird habitat and creative habilitation solutions for birds-in-training is essential to facilitate natural wild bird interactions and nurturing throughout the development process. We – wild birds, successful captive-release birds, and bird trainers – must facilitate the renewal of natural wild-bird model of sign language interpreter education. A more effective habilitation and release program must be created. Creative thinking from all segments is required. Leaders have begun to address the concern.  It is time for those who are not yet leaders, but who are in their prime and ready to nurture the next generation of interpreters into existence to join the conversation. The nesting grounds and habilitation programs are ready for the next generation of brooders, hatchers, pushers, and trainers to join the discussion. 

Conclusion

I am hopeful that CIT’s partnership with Street Leverage to host this year’s conference will engender dialog that should continue long after the conference ends. Join the discussion of how best to habilitate new wild bird interpreters by sharing your chirps, caws, coos, or tweets.

References

The captivity-raised concept presented here is similar to Molly Wilson’s conceptualization that she eloquently describes in By-passing Deaf World in Terp Training. Interpreter education generally bypasses the Deaf community – opting instead for an artificial captivity-based training model.

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Sign Language Interpreters and the Quest for Cultural Competence

Cultural competence is a never-ending journey, especially for those interpreters who are learning about a new culture later in life. Marlene Elliott uses her own observations of call and response patterns to explore Deaf and hearing cultural norms regarding the phrase “I’m sorry.”

I’ve been interpreting professionally for 25 years. I like to think I’m reasonably good at what I do but from time to time something will dawn on me about ASL or Deaf culture that I’ve never known or realized before. How embarrassing! After all this time there are fundamental things I don’t know about the language I use and the culture I participate in. At the same time, how exciting! My learning is never done.

For me, I know my best teachers are the Deaf people who tolerate me so patiently, despite my many miscues. Not only have I made many mistakes, I’ve had to learn “how to learn” the Deaf way – by trusting my own eyes, really see what is in front of me and make sense of it. Then, because I’m hearing, I have to check it out with Deaf people.

Observation

This past year I realized something else about Deaf culture that I completely missed before and it really made me blush. I did what I usually do in these moments – I went to Deaf people I know and trust and ran my observation by them to see if I was noticing correctly. So far, everyone has affirmed this observation.

What I noticed is simply this:

ASL has expected patterns of exchange that I was never formally taught.  One basic pattern, which is critically important to master, calls for signing SORRY at specific points in a conversation in order to affirm the relationship during a time of differences. After the SORRY the rest of the interaction can proceed; without it, the relationship feels awkward or can even be derailed completely. This SORRY in ASL has a different use and meaning than sorry in English.

Credibility

As I approached writing about my observation I looked in journals for articles about the role and function of apology in a variety of cultures and about call and response structures in dialogic languages. I found plenty of articles on both. I’m keenly aware that in the hearing world credibility comes from science, research, and academics so it was natural for me to go there – I’m hearing. But I also know that in the Deaf world credibility comes from Deaf people and from Deaf experience. There is no higher authority. If I am to write credibly about trusting my own eyes, examining what I see and consulting Deaf people, what does it mean if I then turn around and cite hearing experts on other cultures or languages? Isn’t it enough that Deaf people say so? In the end, I have to believe it is. Every culture defines its own source and structure for credibility. If I’m going to be in the Deaf culture, then surely I can practice this tenet when I’m writing about it.

What’s the Word For That?

In the hearing world we know what is real and not real by what has a label. If there isn’t a label for something, it usually isn’t legitimate.  We love our labels! They explain so much. They give us a guide for how to think, feel, and act. It is part of our culture.

When I first began my interpreter training I was encouraged by my teachers to get involved with the Deaf World. They told me that “hanging out with Deaf people” was the best way to learn. They also admonished me to be careful because Deaf people had a way of expecting too much from others, of being dependent in an unhealthy way. “Be careful of your boundaries,” I was warned.

Around this time, researchers studying Deaf culture reported that RECIPROCITY was a primary feature of Deaf culture. Deaf people practicing RECIPROCITY support one another by contributing to the common good, not by only giving to those who have given to them or as a direct repayment to specific individuals. The same behaviors that I was warned to guard myself against were now explained and celebrated. Having a label allowed hearing people to re-frame them. Deaf people weren’t asking to be taken care of; they were inviting hearing people to participate in the common pool of mutual aid.

In my observations of difficult interactions between Deaf and hearing people I often see that when hearing people have a label for something, it is much easier to go along with what the Deaf people are doing. When we don’t have a label, we can have a tendency to stiffen up, to resist, and to end up in conflict.

I encourage all of us hearing people to recognize this tendency, know that it’s cultural, and realize that the Deaf World doesn’t feel the same need for labels to make their culture and their behavior legitimate so let’s take it easy on each other. Deaf people may not know what something is called but they sure know when it doesn’t feel right. We can trust them to guide us.

Culture Clash

Part One – be sure and take your turn!

We know that ASL is more interactive than English at most levels of register. This is well documented in linguistic research and confirmed by our own experience. The most formal ASL lecture will include interactive features that would be unthinkable in a formal English lecture. We also have plenty of proof that ASL is also more interactive in less formal settings. We know these required responses in casual conversation by their label – back channel feedback. If these features are absent in a conversation it is a noticeable absence, one that can have a serious meaning – refusing to engage, a certain kind of coldness or at best a show of cultural incompetence.

This need to engage in dialogue, this need to perform our part in any exchange is a hallmark of ASL. In dialogic languages the need for specific responses to specific kinds of stimulus is known as Call and Response. ASL, like any dialogic language, has standard Call and Response structures.

While these structures are relatively rare in American mainstream culture, a number of sub-cultures do have strong Call and Response patterns. Most people are familiar with at least a few. Black church has a strong Call and Response component where the responses come as individuals pepper the talk with affirmative encouragement. Catholic Mass has a highly scripted Call and Response component. 12-step meetings have short bursts of Call and Response exchanges during readings and introductions. Also, the military also has highly scripted Call and Response structures.

One thing we probably all know about Call and Response patterns is that we are keenly aware if there is a failure in the response. Anyone who has been to a workshop, meeting or seminar has had this experience. The person opening the session gives the call, “Good morning!” The required response from the participants is “good morning.” If the response is too weak, the call will be issued again with more emphasis. Normally more people will help with the second response, it meets expectations, and the event can begin. On the rare occasion that the second response is also too weak, instructions may follow and an emphatic call will be given for the third try. I have only rarely seen the third call fail because everyone is aware that the properly enthusiastic “good morning,” has to be delivered by the participants for the event to proceed. To refuse a third time would be more than awkward.

In spoken English I always know when I’m supposed to respond. I may not be able to explain why, but I recognize a call when I hear it. Having the label Call and Response has helped me also tune in to this aspect in ASL because I may not always recognize a call. At times when Deaf people repeat the same thing they’ve just said, but with more emphasis, I now ask myself, “is there something they’ve called for that I’ve failed to provide?”           

Part Two – How sorry is SORRY?

Every culture has it’s own role and function for apologies. In mainstream America there are generally two uses for the phrase, “I’m sorry.” The most common is an admission of guilt. It is an expression of a personal failing and fault. It means I admit I did something wrong and I will personally take responsibility for it. The second is an expression of sympathy, usually reserved for a serious loss or trauma.

Of course, other cultures have very different meanings for the phrase “I’m sorry,” and different understandings of apology. In Great Britain, when one person bumps into another the person who is bumped says sorry. In Japan there are many uses for apology and Japanese people tend to apologize frequently as ways saving face and reinforcing social status or hierarchy.

So what does SORRY mean in ASL? My observation is that it affirms my relationship with you over whatever else is happening. It means that somehow we will solve this problem together. It does not mean I did something wrong, it just means I acknowledge that this doesn’t feel good and I will work it out with you.

When is an apology called for in the Deaf World? This part is tricky for me. I know it when I see it now but I’m not sure my description will satisfy anyone. Probably the best way to understand it is to use your own eyes, notice where it occurs and check it out with Deaf people. I know it is unscripted. As far as I can tell, it is based more on a feeling, a kind of discord, or a type of interaction, than on a specific set of words or signs. There is something between us that feels bad – a conflict, a misunderstanding, or a difference of perspective. It can even be as simple as disappointing someone, even though their expectations might not have been my responsibility.

What happens when SORRY isn’t delivered at the expected point in a Call and Response exchange in the Deaf World? As in any other culture, the call is offered again with greater emphasis. The story, or “complaint” is repeated with more emotion. And if the apology is still not delivered, then what? In this case an explanation of what is wrong here is usually amped up. The problem in the relationship is now stated explicitly, in detail, often slowly, and with emphasis. If the apology is still not delivered this is a worst-case scenario. As a final attempt to save the relationship someone will probably be instructed to apologize. If the apology still isn’t delivered the relationship may be beyond repair. The connection would then be broken in a fundamental way.

Now What?

I can use this observation to continue my noticing and checking with Deaf people.

I’m may overuse my SORRY, like a child discovering a new word, until I know exactly where it fits. This is a natural part of incorporating a new skill. It’s ok.

I can continue to ask questions. I can look at where we, the sign language interpreting profession, have a need to use our SORRY in our collaborating with Deaf people. Have there been times when we have not said SORRY when we needed to? How has it affected our relationships?

Of course, my big question is what else don’t I know? What other mistakes have I been making without ever realizing it? Are there ways for me to improve my noticing, or inviting Deaf friends to tell me when I’m off? Can I be humble and know that corrections are an act of friendship and love, not a criticism of who I am? Can I be thankful that there is always more to learn even when I’m really embarrassed?

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Has An Identity Crisis Immobilized The Field of Sign Language Interpreting?

Sign Language Interpreter Immobilized Due to Conflict

As the demographics of sign language interpreters change, rifts develop as products of privilege and cultural identity. Stacey Storme uses the lens of war for insight into linguicism and the need for peace through meaningful dialogue.

During my attendance at the 2012 Region IV RID Conference in Denver and the 2013 National RID Conference in Indianapolis I found myself in tears more than once. While it is not uncommon for me to become emotional when I am with colleagues discussing the very serious, real and important issues that impact our work as interpreters, the tears I felt at these conferences were different. It was not until a moment of clarity during the business meeting in Indianapolis that I realized the difference.

It was not long after the start of the Business meeting in Indianapolis when I experienced a shift in my awareness about my emotional response during both conferences. It occurred as I was witnessing discussion and decisions regarding the use of spoken English via open microphone. As I was sitting there, feeling helpless, looking around the room feeling the heavy and volatile energy – I realized I felt as if I was witnessing a war. A battle waged between two perspectives, the deaf and hearing world, both fighting for recognition.

As a person who has grown up in both worlds, I have struggled with my own identity and place in each world since I can remember. Sitting there, I found myself relating with perspectives from both “sides.” As I type this, it strikes me that it may not seem such a powerful realization. After all, this struggle between the two worlds has been going on for years.

By framing this struggle through the lens of war and making the connection between my internal struggle and the mirror reflecting around me I found clarity that I have not yet experienced.

Lens of War

War is not something I want to perpetuate or contribute to.

When I consider ways to end war, three immediately come to mind: surrender, truce, and victory. At first thought, none of these sound too appealing. Truce suggests compromising or simply putting the “war” on hold for a short time. Surrender implies giving something up and the opposite of victory is defeat – so, depending on which side of the war you are on it could be very destructive. However, upon deeper reflection, and some reframing – I see these three approaches turning out to be possible strategies that can work in tandem to move the field to a more constructive and healthy space.

A Truce

Calling a truce seems a good first step. Putting “the fight” on hold for a while in lieu of some time to reflect and take note of our own journey. Hindsight is indeed 20/20. When I reflect on my past struggles and active times of ‘war’ I see with clarity that it is only when I stop reacting that I am able to move past the fight. I think one of the biggest reasons people are able to move past the “fight,” is when they give themselves the opportunity to look within they become more centered on their own beliefs and perspectives. Thus equipping themselves more readily for healthy interactions when faced with situations where their beliefs and perspectives are challenged. So rather than reacting in an attempt to protect their own beliefs and perspectives they can more confidently listen to another and engage in productive discussion rather than destructive war.

Surrender

Upon consciously calling a truce and engaging in self-reflection next can come surrender. In this context I think especially of surrendering judgment. Rather than judging emotions, reactions, behaviors – simply acknowledging them and accepting them as what is. The act of acceptance can be the step needed to move one from reaction to action. Rather than judging whether or not a colleague is using ASL in a shared space made up of Deaf and hearing people; first recognizing it as fact can slow down a likely knee-jerk reaction based on judgment of another’s actions purely based on assumptions. Instead of feeding the anger or resentment that resides within, attention could be focused on constructive approaches to addressing the incongruity of the person’s choice within this shared space. By surrendering judgment, we are more likely to be committed to sincerely sharing our own perspectives and receiving others perspectives, no matter how different they may be. From there we can move forward and hold each other accountable as we explore the issue at hand.

Victory

So, you may be thinking, ok Pollyanna, it would be nice if everyone came to the table being centered in self, and equipped for healthy, constructive dialogue; but that is not the case. I am aware that after reading this it can appear that my view of moving forward is one through rose colored glasses: that if we all just play nice the present state of affairs within the field will magically improve. I do not take this perspective in any way. This is where I see victory coming into play as a way to end war. When I consider what it means to be victorious in my own inner war, it is when I reach those moments of balancing all parts of myself that identify with both the Deaf and hearing part of me. It is when I have fully succeeded in enough self-reflection and enough surrendering of judgment that I feel fully acknowledged and accepted. It is also when I allow these parts of me to co-exist in ways that are fluid and evolving based on my interactions in the world around me.

So, ultimately, victory comes in acknowledging there will always be different views, therefore there will always be ample opportunities for war. It is up to us to choose how we enter each war. We can enter in full-fire, taking out everyone who crosses our path. Or, we can stay committed to our own truth, knowing it is fully ours until we decide to change it. Therefore, there is nothing to defend. There is only opportunity to fully be who we choose to be in each moment – to embody the change we wish to see.

The Costs of War?

War hurts. War scars. War kills. As I witness the wars taking place in our field today I see many costs. We are hurting ourselves, each other and immobilizing meaningful forward progress.

One of the biggest costs, perhaps is that sometimes we are in war and don’t even realize it. I think this is especially true for those of us who hear and experience the many privileges of living in a society where we take much for granted. Sometimes this unintentional war occurs as we perpetuate audism by defending and/or exercising our right to our own native language, or at least the majority language, by not considering ways that our hearing privilege colors our views of our work, therefore silencing people of the marginalized minority with whom we work.

A tangible example can be given by exploring sometimes buried assumption of one’s right to choose spoken English when engaging in professional development. When attending interpreting conferences, I sometimes sense a vibe in the air. At StreetLeverage – Live in Atlanta, Nancy Bloch referred to this vibe as “Hearing Interpreters Only.” This vibe manifests in a few different ways. Sometimes it is sensed as a mild irritation in the air due to having Deaf people in attendance. Other times it is disappointment at having to use ASL. Yet other times it feels as if Deaf people are being appeased – as if they don’t really understand our work but need to be placated.

I am in no way asserting that these things happen all the time, or that all hearing interpreters feel this way. Rather, I am attempting to articulate something that I merely sense; something that has the potential to shed light on one aspect of active war occurring in our field today. It is this type of exploration I hope will bring us closer to unpacking the baggage that underlies the tension and pain I both feel and witness all around me. This baggage that hurts us by way of limiting us to majority perspective; that hurts others by way of devaluing and ostracizing them; that perpetuates our false belief that we are the only ones who “get” our work; that there is something special to the work of interpreting that Deaf people don’t and can’t understand.

If we do not work together to explore areas of opposition surrounding areas of language use, oppression, privilege, assumptions, power and the like, we lose the opportunity to fully understand the existing struggles rampant in our field and professional organization. We also run the risk of our view being colored only by our likely colonized perspective of what it means to be a sign language interpreter.  We lose out on the opportunity to fully realize that while we, as hearing interpreters, may always be the face of oppression, we do have the opportunity to change that face so that instead of being the face of that which we are against, we are instead the face of change, respect and acceptance.

The Lesson

“A man or a woman who has peace inside has everything. A man or a woman who is pulled apart by the war inside him or her has nothing. How you choose to interact with the opposing forces within you will determine your life. Starve one or the other or guide them both.”

– Cherokee Story

We must take a hard look at our own wars. If you feel like you are not engaged in or aware of any wars, either internally or externally in our field and with regards to the field of interpreting, I encourage you to explore more deeply. Some wars may be hidden – sometimes when we feel too much pain, or experience too much resistance to our views, we become desensitized and ignore signs of war. The exploration of the opposing forces within and around us becomes more critical when we consider the power we hold by way of the privilege we hold as hearing members of a society who are granted entry into both worlds – the hearing world and Deaf world. It is our responsibility to dive deeply into the issues surrounding us. The fact that we have the choice whether or not to dive deeply and choose not to have complete access to the world around us limited attests to the importance of this responsibility. This is the heart of privilege held by hearing interpreters.

We always have a choice.

If things get too overwhelming, too scary, too sticky, too “fill-in-the-blank,” we have choices that include access to both worlds. If we become too uncomfortable with our role in the deaf world, there is another world we can go and have unlimited communication access. Perhaps we can play the “neutral” card and be “just the interpreter” or simply detach and only show up in the Deaf world when actively interpreting. We must remain conscious of these choices.

I know important conversations addressing tough issues are happening within our field. Especially in response to the recent vote about the DPMAL position on the RID Board. I recently watched a video posted by Sarah Hafer sharing some of her thoughts in response to the vote and her discussions with colleagues in her graduate program. Locally, in Kansas, we are engaging in important, sometimes painful, dialogue regarding certification standards, our state commission and the varying perspectives that exist. So, the hard work is happening. People are showing up. People are unpacking. This work must continue and catch fire.

Conclusion

War hurts relationships. War scars hearts. War kills trust. The field of ASL/English interpreting is one rampant with opportunities for war. However, if we reframe the lens in which we look out into our field and communities, I believe those same opportunities are also ripe for growth, learning and healing.

Let’s unpack our own privilege, hold ourselves accountable, and be willing to share our own perspectives while remaining open to others. As scary as it may be, it can take us a long way toward peaceful, healthy dialogue and respectful, balanced co-existence.

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Do Sign Language Interpreters Have a Right to a Consumer’s Attention?

Woman questioning whether sign language interpreters have the right to the attention of their consumers

Telling the “right” story is an art sign language interpreters must master to successfully navigate their career. Generosity and the ability to read a room are also important for positive outcomes.

At times it can be very difficult to be a sign language interpreter. We put our reputations on the line each and every day we raise our hands to work. We navigate new environments and new subject matter on a regular basis. We suffer vicariously as a result of inhumane acts. Worse, we do all of this with extremely limited amounts of information.

The resulting—often intense—occupational self-interest, leaves us vulnerable to the notion that people understand why what we do is important, the reason certain practices are critical to our work, and the effort it takes to be a good interpreter.

The Danger

The challenge with this assumption is that it may lead us to the perception that we have the right to the attention of our consumers and the purchaser of our services. Simply, we have the right—or responsibility as the case may be—to prevail upon those we encounter on the job that challenge our practices or take an opposing view of a particular situation in an effort to help them, “get it.”

While we are often victorious in these moments of tactical “education,” the damage found in the aftermath can be significant. These moments can result in the disenfranchisement of our consumers, marginalization of the interests of those who purchase our services, and our succumbing to one or more of The Three Temptations of a Sign Language Interpreter. None of which is good for us individually or collectively as a profession.

An Alternative

If we were to step back and consider the notion that the purchasers of our service are indifferent, though they provide it, to the importance of the work we do as sign language interpreters, does it change our perspective to the right we have to their attention? Or, how we go about earning that attention?

If we consider that the consumers of our service may have little to no interest in the effort it takes to become a professional, qualified, credentialed sign language interpreter, does that change our perspective about right we have to their attention or how we go about earning it?

If as a sign language interpreter, we are faced with indifference, a lack of interest, or a worldview that doesn’t resonate with ours, what do we do to earn the social currency necessary to perform our work?

Tell the Right Story

The answer to this question can be found in an example that exists in every sign language interpreting community around the globe.

In each local interpreting community there is an interpreter who isn’t particularly amazing, they might even be considered below average. Interestingly though they seem to always have work and consumers and purchasers of our service love them. Additionally, these communities also have an interpreter who is incredibly talented and clearly above average when compared to their peers. Yet, they struggle to piece opportunities together.

The difference?

The first likely brings generosity and humility to their work. They understand that the consumers and purchasers of their service don’t owe them attention. In response, this interpreter chooses to tell a story through their approach to and interactions about the work. They tell a story that resonates with those they come in contact with and is considerate of their point of view.

The latter likely brings a perspective that they are owed attention as a result of the investment they have made in their skillset and career. Their story is a story of entitlement. One where the slant goes unchecked, as suggested in Do You Resemble the Sign Language Interpreter in Your Head?

Determine What’s Important

As sign language interpreters, we are good at deciphering meaning. We need to use this skill to determine what’s important to those we serve and those that engage our services. We can do this by evaluating our answers to the following questions:

1.  How is my work and occupational self-interest perceived by those I serve and those who engage my services?

2.  How can my work today best assist consumers and purchasers in accomplishing their ends? How can I demonstrate my understanding of that?

3.  From the consumer and purchaser’s point of view, what adds the most value by my being present today? How can I amplify that?

4.  Whose agenda is the most important in the room? Why? How can I support that agenda?

5.  How can I approach my work to extend ample generosity, demonstrate an appropriate level of humility, and show clarity about my role?

By considering the answer to these questions, we place ourselves in the position of the consumer and purchaser. It offers us a perspective that helps us tell a story through our work that resonates with those we come in contact with while on the job.

At the End of the Day

In the end, let’s remember that as sign language interpreters we are not owed the attention necessary to do our work—we need to earn it. Further, that the consumers and purchasers of our service are engaging us for the story we tell. Let’s be sufficiently generous about how we tell it.

How do you know if you are telling the right story?

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The Value of Networking for the Developing Sign Language Interpreter

The Value of Networking for Sign Language Interpreters

In the world of ubiquitous social networks, Stacey Webb explores the significant value of networking offline for emerging sign language interpreters.

In order for students to be successful sign-language interpreters, prior to graduating it is critical that they develop a relationship with both the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community (DHHC) and current-working professionals within the DHHC.  This would include interpreters, educators and DHHC advocates. By fostering these relationships, students will create educational, professional and personal opportunities that would not be available to them outside of the classroom environment. Personally, I would not be as successful in my career had the DHHC and Interpreter Community not provided me guidance.  These communities did not seek me out to help; rather, I became involved in community-related endeavors and positioned myself to become a well-connected member.

Importance of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community

In order for sign language interpreters to be successful, a relationship with the DHHC is paramount, as suggested by Trudy Suggs in her post, A Deaf Perspective: Cultural Respect in Sign Language Interpreting .  An interpreter in California once stated, “If you call yourself an Interpreter and you have never had a deaf person in your home – shame on you!”  In order to be an effective interpreter, one must create a relationship with the community in which you will serve.  Through this relationship, doors are opened which provides for a greater understanding of the people and language epitomizing the culture.  As a participant in the community, interpreters are able to represent and interpret messages more accurately and equivalently.

It is important that interpreters understand their personal and professional roles within the DHHC.  Historical analysis of the role of the sign language interpreter is helpful in developing and understanding the role of today’s interpreter.  For the role has ranged from overzealous inclusion with the community, known as the “helper model,” to almost-complete detachment from the community, also known as the “conduit model.”  As the interpreting profession has evolved through its peeks and valleys, one sentiment has become absolute—relationships with the DHHC are essential and their importance should not be underestimated.

Socializing with Language Users is Essential

Unfortunately, the DHHC is often a stopping point for opportunistic students who simply wish to only learn American Sign Language.  After getting a basic understanding of the language, either by graduating from a program or earning an interpreter certification, opportunists leave with little to no continuing relationship with the DHHC.  I cannot stress the importance of undeviating involvement.  To learn American Sign Language well, interpreters must immerse and socialize with language users.  By starting networks early in ones career, it provides the perfect opportunity for interpreters to create life long friendships that will add richness to their personal journey into the Deaf world. This also creates a link for future professional opportunities.

Relationships With Working Interpreters

Robert Kiyosaki, an American investor and author stated, “If you want to go somewhere, it is better to find someone who has already been there.” As a graduate, whether you feel completely confident and capable in your skill set, or you feel insecure about your abilities, actual work experiences are invaluable.  Work experiences are continually enhanced through professional relationships with interpreters of all facets. The interpreter profession is growing in popularity, constantly evolving as new research is being discovered, and flourishing with educational opportunities.  These changes have helped create a field of professionals with various skills, abilities, and knowledge, all of which have strengthened the profession.

By developing relationships with others in the field, the opportunities for professional development become endless and help to create a “career,” not simply a “job.”  These relationships create increased opportunities for jobs, provide teaming and mentorship possibilities, allow for professional dialoging and workshop attendance and allow interpreters to meet other professionals that will help advance their careers.

Networking Creates a Strong Community

Having a drive to connect with others, your roots will grow within the profession and you will want to become an interpreter who gives back to the profession by assisting upcoming interpreters in their career endeavors.  Networking aids in creating a strong community of reflective practitioners who work together to become highly qualified while preparing the next generation of interpreters.   This profession has been likened to working on an isolated island, but in my opinion, if that is true, the island I work on must be the most populated island in existence.

Relationships With Professionals Outside of the Deaf Community

Interpreters often operate as the middleman between the DHHC and Hearing Community.  Therefore, they have opportunities to educate both populations on the particulars of each community and its respective culture.  Further, these professionals are often responsible for the hiring and contracting of other interpreters.  Therefore, remember that anyone you meet has the opportunity to have a deaf client or host a public event that openly caters to the DHHC.  As interpreters, we have all been to public events that would have been enhanced had the venue or organizer provided an interpreter to cater to their DHH patrons.

By networking with other types of professionals, you have the opportunity to educate, which creates a platform for change in accessibility and equal access.  Several business professionals, educators and even government officials that I have communicated with were unaware of the particulars of the Americans with Disability Act and because of my background, I have been able to inform them on the needs for equal access.  It is often through edifying conversations that misconceptions are broken, innocent ignorant stereotypes are overcome and personal responsibilities are accepted.  It is important that you strive to be a resource and a liaison for your DHHC, thus aiding in your professional endeavors, while leaving a considerable and lasting impact on both the DHHC and interpreting profession.

Relationships Build Long-Term Success

Regardless of your years of experience, career satisfaction occurs through improved working relationships with peers, coworkers, students and customers. Sign language interpreters who immerse themselves into the field by staying visible to the people they come in contact with, while avoiding the traps of isolation, and clock watching have a fuller career.  Career expectations come in all shapes and sizes.  When expectations are realized through service as a friend, mentor, teacher, and advocate, you will make a difference for the people you meet along your professional journey.  Below are some tips for all interpreters on how to create and retain your networks.

Creating & Retaining Your Networks

  • Discover Deaf Events: Involve yourself in your local DHHC by actively participating in silent dinners, deaf professional happy hours and workshops particular to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. Attending these events will enable you to immerse yourself in the Deaf culture and will help you come in contact with future clients.
  • Remember Reciprocity: Unfortunately, there are often interpreting needs not covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act.  As an interpreter, you have spent time learning a language so you can help the DHHC and Hearing Communities interact with each other.  It is important to remember the needs of DHHC will also be supporting you financially.  Be willing to work pro bono when the appropriate time arises—for example, interpret weddings, funerals and baby showers as a way to give back to the community
  • Professional Development:  Attend workshops and conferences to expand your professional network. This will enable you to meet interpreters from all over the country and could potentially lead to new job opportunities.  When in attendance, dress professionally, and be willing to meet new people.  If you simply pair up with the one person you know at the event, you will be limiting your professional opportunities.
  • Professional Affiliations:  Join the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) the National Association of the Deaf and local affiliate chapters of both organizations.  Further, if you have any specific interests in the field, join those organizations as well. Whether your interest lies with the Conference of Interpreter Trainers, the National Association of Black Interpreters, or the American Sign Language Teaching Association. You do not have to simply be a cardholder in the organizations. You can join a committee, task force or hold an officer position to become an active member and agent of change.  When you take on such roles, you will meet other stakeholders in the profession and form new relationships.
  • Stay Current:  Read current publications and journals that are well received by the interpreting profession.  RID publishes the Views quarterly and the Journal of Interpretation yearly. Gallaudet University Press also publications and resources relating to the most current research related to American Sign Language linguistics and education, as well as cultural studies of individuals who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH). Additionally, trending blogs and vlogs, bring attention to current topics and issues affecting the DHHC and interpreting profession. These mediums all you to participate in professional dialogues, allowing you to speak knowledgably, credibly and genuinely with your peers.
  • Community Involvement: Become involved in local organizations, such as your local Chamber of Commerce, Sertoma club or hiking group.  By expanding your network of personal contacts, you will also be expanding your network of potential professional contact and will be creating business opportunities for yourself, accessibility for the DHHC and ultimately helping to close gaps between the Deaf and Hearing worlds.
  • Create Opportunities: Do not wait for people to approach you and integrate themselves into your life.  Remember to be friendly, smile and be willing to create conversations with strangers.  Don’t just focus on yourself; ask others questions and learn about their lives and careers.  By helping others achieve their goals, they will often assist you on your journey as well.  Stay at the conference site hotel, arrive to events early, ask questions, share your passions and follow up.

Be Grateful

People live extremely busy lives.  Regardless of whom you meet be grateful for the person’s time.  When appropriate, shake hands, offer a hug and always follow up with a thank you card.  If someone donates their time to you and provides you with the opportunity to take them out for coffee or lunch, remember to always pay and articulate your gratitude.

How have your relationships and professional networks enriched your professional career and personal journey?

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A Deaf Perspective: Cultural Respect in Sign Language Interpreting

Healthy dialogue between the Deaf and interpreting communities promotes bicultural literacy and mutual understanding. Trudy Suggs examines an incident in which interpreters took advantage of their hearing privilege to disrespect Deaf workshop presenters.
 
A chip on her shoulder.
An angry Deaf person.
I will definitely NOT be attending her workshops in the future.
The workshop seemed to be a venting session for the Deaf people. 

These were just some of the evaluation responses to a workshop I presented at a state-level sign language interpreting conference recently. I had been asked to do three workshops at this conference, and the first workshop went fabulously.

[View post in ASL]

The second workshop was after lunch, a notoriously difficult time slot because participants are often tired from the morning and lunch. Even so, I expected this workshop—which I had presented many times before—would be fun and invigorating. I was especially pumped by the participants’ awesome energy that morning, and was excited to see that many who attended the morning workshop had joined this afternoon session. The Deaf participants were renowned advocates and leaders. However, as the session got underway, I became a bit perplexed by the mood before me. Perhaps it was the lighting, the room set-up, or fatigue, but the room seemed tense, almost foreboding. Still, I figured the energy level would quickly rise.

I noticed, almost immediately, a specific group of interpreters who whispered to each other without signing. Participants in the first workshop had been extremely respectful about signing at all times. The conference organizers had also clearly stated that one language was to be used. I naturally assumed that for workshops led by Deaf presenters, all present would sign.

I won’t go into how many articles and discussions there have been about how interpreters and students are notorious for not signing at interpreting conferences (although I’ll cite an article I wrote six years ago about this), but it may be helpful to understand my background. I’ve worked with interpreters since I was a toddler, and was mainstreamed for most of my education. I also constantly work with interpreters in my career, and travel the nation providing interpreting workshops because I think it’s so important for Deaf people to share their knowledge and experience. I emphasize in every workshop that interpreters are among the most crucial allies Deaf people can have. Furthermore, as a mother to four children who are Deaf, I have a very personal reason for wanting nothing but the very best in the interpreting profession.

I was disturbed, as were several participants, by this group’s behavior, so I quickly reiterated the importance of signing at all times. After the fourth time I mentioned this, I became visibly irritated, because it was difficult to understand how such rudeness would be exhibited. I explained that as a Deaf person, they were taking away my opportunity—without my having any say—to catch side conversations that often hold such a wealth of information.

Let me share an example. At another workshop, during a break, I noticed two participants talking about their pregnancies. I happily jumped into the conversation; as someone who was pregnant for four years in a row, I always love sharing pregnancy experiences. Sure enough, one of the participants sat with me during lunch and we exchanged wonderful child-raising tidbits. This interaction is what is so important to the development of alliances between hearing and deaf people. It helps us build connections and recognize shared experiences as human beings.

As is true for any workshop I present, I always ensure that the Deaf participants are given an opportunity to provide input. While the Deaf experience may be common across many levels, it isn’t identical for every Deaf individual. At this workshop, there were four Deaf individuals in attendance. About an hour into the workshop, I made a comment in passing about how I wished all video interpreters knew the names of deaf school towns—that is, towns with deaf schools (i.e., Fremont, St. Augustine, even Faribault)—or at least be familiar with the names. I said this lightly, with a smile, and the Deaf participants nodded vigorously in agreement. This type of knowledge 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.”

The participant started to dissect my comments, shaking her head in disbelief. A Deaf participant stood up saying, “Trudy isn’t upset. She simply—and she’s right—means that it does get frustrating when interpreters don’t know the sign for large cities or deaf school towns. Deaf school towns are to us what major cities are to the general population.” This interpreter shook her head as if we were silly. In retrospect, I should have ignored her. I didn’t, because I was, truthfully, astonished at her disregard for our experiences.

Realizing that perhaps her reaction came from culpability or taking my comments personally, I asked why she was upset. She said, derisively, “I’m not upset. I’m simply disagreeing. Disagreement is healthy, right?” I decided that I’d had enough and moved on, but I was shaken. Discouraged and belittled, I tried to keep the workshop going despite dagger-eyes from that interpreter who “healthily” disagreed with me.

After the workshop, at least six interpreters came up to me and apologized for that group; several thanked me for being so straightforward and expressed their appreciation for all the Deaf participants’ contributions. One interpreter said he was angry because he felt she wouldn’t have done this had I been a hearing presenter.

I talked with one of the volunteers at my workshop, a Certified Interpreter and the mother to a Deaf adult. I shared my puzzlement at why I felt blindsided. She said, “There’s a difference between challenging an expert and disagreeing respectfully.” She nailed it; after all, would the participant have so publicly disagreed with me had she respected me as an expert in my subject matter? What if I had been a hearing presenter talking about deaf people’s frustrations? Maybe she still would have, but I doubt it.

I received overwhelmingly positive evaluations for the first and third workshops. For the second workshop, I was pleased with the supportive responses, but also surprised by the depth of the few negative comments. I wondered why I was called an “angry deaf person.” Why not simply an angry person? Why were the Deaf people’s shared experiences considered venting? Why was it a “Deaf” issue?

I later saw the very same Deaf participants at the National Association of the Deaf conference, and they were equally taken aback by the negative feedback. As we discussed the contempt we felt from certain participants at this workshop, it suddenly made sense: hearing privilege. As we all know, some enter the interpreting profession with misguided intentions. Fortunately, we have so many solid interpreting standards and programs in place that help steer those individuals in a more positive direction. Even so, had all the Deaf participants sharing their experiences been hearing, would they have been criticized for their so-called venting? Would I have been labeled angry if I were hearing? Perhaps.

I wish that interpreter who challenged me had come up to me after the workshop and started, yes, a healthy dialogue, so that we could have come to appreciate each other. I wish she had respected my perspectives. I likely would have learned from her perspective as someone who did not grow up in the culture or community. I also find it quite ironic that she and a couple of others chose to vent via the evaluations, stating that the workshop was a “venting session for the Deaf people,” instead of building alliances.

Workshops led by Deaf people are golden opportunities to listen to their experiences—while reserving judgment—and understand that interpreting, for them, is not just a career or interest. It affects their lives, their experiences, and their realities—and for many, the legacy they pass onto their children. Ensuring the sincere desire to be an ally and exhibiting a genuine respect for experiences is a reward beyond measure.

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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?