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Going Small: How Sign Language Interpreters Find Their Footing in 2018

Going Small: How Sign Language Interpreters Find Their Footing in 2018

2018 could be the year we reweave the fabric of the field of sign language interpreting. By understanding the importance of each thread and the care it takes to bind them all together, we may be able to redesign the magnificent whole.

Some years act as demarcation lines  – clearly defining the “before” and “after,” altering the trajectory of how we move forward. In many ways, 2017 appears to be one of those years. While there is a temptation to focus on the forces which have led us here, it is imperative that we look ahead and move forward.

The Year that Was

Fair warning: this is not your usual end-of-year rah-rah retrospective. If you were hoping for rainbows and butterflies, you won’t find them here. If you care deeply about the field of sign language interpreting (and we think you do), we hope you’ll read on.

For the field of sign language interpreting, 2017 provided further evidence that the systems and methods which sustained us in the past are not delivering in predictable, traditional ways. Old models and outdated ways of thinking are being challenged but success is harder to come by in the current environment. On social media platforms, there is an undercurrent of discontent which sometimes rises precipitously. We have seen sign language interpreters exit the field when we desperately need more people to join us. The reality is that we are facing critical issues that are not easily or quickly resolved.

Maybe for some of you, life is good. Maybe you are wondering what all the ruckus is about. If you zoom in and start asking questions, you might be surprised at what you learn.  

Zooming In

What we have seen in our travels around the field is that there is growing interest in serious conversations about power, privilege and other social justice issues as evidenced at the RID LEAD Together conference and other discussions around the field. We know that people are interested in and concerned about the position of Deaf Interpreters in the field and have seen the formation of the National Deaf Interpreter organization in response. We have continued to see people struggle for recognition and acceptance in the field. The use of VRI continues to be a source of contention – some see the benefits when used properly while others experience cognitive dissonance based on the lived experiences of Deaf people who have little choice in how services are provided to them. We see strong passion and drive – people want to find resolutions, but appear to feel ill-equipped to take action.

A Possible Antidote

We know resolution won’t come easy.

We don’t believe anyone one person has the answer.

However, we do believe we can find answers and create solutions through the taking of small, deliberate steps forward. From our view, it is in actively enrolling in our local communities, our local ITPs, our local leadership to illuminate the path forward.

Working locally may appear to be slow, but it is worthwhile. Each step forward is progress in the work to retell the story of the sign language interpreter. Each small act moves us forward. In the end, we will find our footing. We will survive the storm by zooming in. By going local. By going small. All of this because it’s worth it.

Each of us is equipped to do something to build our community. We just need to decide to do it and take a small step forward.

This is what it means to be a local citizen. Local is the place where your participation truly matters. Everybody can do something.

You never know where it might lead you.

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Deaf Interpreters in Denmark and Finland: An Illuminating Contrast

Deaf Interpreters in Denmark and Finland: An Illuminating Contrast

Denmark and Finland exemplify contrasting approaches to DIs and HIs. While roadblocks and resistance often hinder DIs in Denmark, having HIs and DIs study together in Finland leads to mutual cooperation.

 

Note: Anna Mindess, an American hearing interpreter wrote this post, incorporating interviews with Didde Nylander, a hearing Danish sign language interpreter and Markus Aro, a Finnish Deaf interpreter.

Looking through the eyes of people from other cultures, I believe, can provide a clearer perspective on our own situation. Recently, I’ve gotten a glimpse of two very different stances — regarding DIs and HIs — in Denmark and Finland. I hope sharing them will allow us to reexamine our own American struggles.

[Click to view post in ASL]

[Click to view post in International Sign Language]

Opening the Conversation

In 2008, I was invited to present several lectures in Denmark. For the last one, at the Deaf cultural center in the town of Castberggaard, before an audience of Deaf community members, I had the help of two wonderful Danish Deaf Interpreters, Bo Hårdell and Janne Niemelä. They translated my ASL into Danish SL so smoothly that I felt an effortless connection with my audience. On the train back to Copenhagen after the lecture, I thanked Bo and Janne again, adding that with their professionalism and language skills, they must surely receive many requests to work. They shook their heads and explained that in Denmark they felt their skills as DIs were not really appreciated. I was dismayed, but not that surprised, considering that many American DIs face the same challenges here.

A few months ago, I was contacted by a hearing Danish interpreter, Didde Nylander, who read my Street Leverage article Are Hearing Interpreters Responsible to Pave the Way for Deaf Interpreters?  Didde is actively involved in furthering the goals of DIs in Denmark. She recounted a familiar narrative of Danish Deaf people explaining and clarifying for each other in school and later in Deaf Clubs; and also the hurdles they currently face trying to be accepted as professional interpreters.

A “Shadow Profession”: Challenges for Deaf Interpreters in Denmark

Denmark’s first official interpreter training program was established in 1986 and now hearing graduates can earn a professional degree. “But what about Deaf interpreters?” I asked Didde.

Didde: Until recently it has mainly been a ‘shadow profession’ operating below the awareness of most hearing interpreters and even most Deaf people, themselves. Even the Deaf professionals (e.g. teachers and social workers) who act as interpreters are not always aware that is what they are doing.

While it is clear that Deaf people are serving as interpreters in Denmark, Didde tells me they have been effectively barred from enrolling in the country’s only interpreter training program (ITP).

Didde: So far, Deaf people cannot be accepted because of a clause in the program description stating that ‘the aim is to train interpreters to work between spoken Danish and Danish SL.’ When two Deaf persons applied for the program in 2011, they were accepted but asked to wait a year so the program could adapt their curriculum.  In 2012, however, the Ministry of Education rejected requests to change the curriculum for Deaf students, because they assumed that Deaf interpreting students could not complete the coursework on their own, but only if a hearing interpreter, in essence, did all the work for them. They likened it to a mute person who wanted to become an opera singer, but would need a speaking proxy to do the actual singing.

The training program finally proposed that the Deaf students could audit classes, but could not take the final exams, which meant they would not become ‘qualified interpreters’. The two DIs quit the program, then were accepted into EUMASLI instead. (European Masters in Sign Language Interpreting). 

Hearing Interpreter Reactions in Denmark

I asked Didde about the majority of Danish HIs’ reactions to the unequal opportunities offered to DIs.

Didde: When they applied, these two interpreters, Vivien Batory and Bo Hårdell, had already been working as interpreters for about ten years for foreign visitors and at international conferences. But I don’t think most HIs even knew this took place, because we did not attend those events. The HIs who did attend were not concerned because these were not jobs we would have been assigned anyhow, since we did not know SLs other than Danish.

What did catch the HIs’ attention was when Vivien and Bo joined a team of HIs who had been interpreting television news broadcasts for several years. When their work became very visible, many HIs felt threatened.

Didde: Some HIs stated that they did not see the benefit of adding DIs, as they felt they were already doing a great job. Many took the position that they could not approve of DIs because they were not ‘trained.’  Fears multiplied: ‘Will the DIs take our work?‘ ‘Will we be ‘reduced’ to positions as feeders?’

As Danish Deaf interpreters increasingly worked in diverse settings, the Deaf community started to view interpretation as a viable profession for Deaf people. In 2012, the Deaf Association established a ‘DI project,’ in which 13 Deaf persons were given a course on interpretation and employed to work as freelance interpreters. They mainly worked in community settings, which made them more visible to HIs, which led to even more resistance within the HI community and emotional debates in our national interpreters’ association (the FTT).

In 2015, the national authority paying for community interpretations offered to certify the now 10 Deaf interpreters in the project, plus Vivien and Bo. So finally, Denmark has its first group of certified DIs, but that doesn’t mean they are fully accepted and equal to HIs. Currently, although several agencies have contracts with freelance DIs, they are certified to interpret only in pre-approved situations, which means a special application has to be made for each interpretation, explaining the exceptional need for a DI. And DIs still cannot take the full ITP.

Didde told me that earlier this year, there was much debate in FTT as to whether the certified Deaf interpreters could even become members. Some HIs supported the idea, while others were strongly against it. A large group was undecided.  One concern Didde noted was, “whether we would need to use SL during our meetings. Many HIs say they are able to express themselves more freely in their first language, spoken Danish”. The issue of whether DIs can be members of FTT will be decided in a membership ballot this fall.

Didde: On an official level, we have come a long way. But has our cultural knowledge of Deaf people developed as completely? It seems to me that there is still a residue of old notions of Deaf people being inferior to the hearing majority and having limited professional options. The emergence of the DI profession has raised many attitudinal and cultural questions, which we need to examine with openness and curiosity. Our biggest challenge now is to secure a good relationship between HIs and DIs.

I told Didde I see several areas where DIs in the U.S. are ahead of those in Denmark, but at the same time, there is still resistance from certain HIs. Since I have heard similar stories regarding other countries, I hazarded a guess that this might be a worldwide phenomenon.  

A Different Story in Finland

Didde corrected my overly broad assumption based on research she did in Finland, where a different path seems to have led to a more cooperative relationship between HIs and DIs.  She suggested I interview Markus Aro, a Finnish Deaf Interpreter.

Markus shared with me that Finland has a history of using Deaf people to interpret for Deaf Blind people. In the 1980’s, there were not enough hearing interpreters to do tactile interpreting. So Deaf people were drafted. But the Deaf Blind consumers wanted their Deaf interpreters to get trained. The Finnish Association of the Deaf created a 175-hour course to train and certify a group of DIs in Deaf Blind interpreting.

Interpreter Education with HIs and DIs in Finland

Then, in 2001, when HUMAK (The University of Applied Sciences) announced that their four-year interpreter training program would welcome both Deaf and hearing students, the first six Deaf interpreters joined that program. Of the original six, four successfully completed the program, (Markus was one of them).

Besides trying to attract Deaf people into their program, HUMAK’s target group is hearing students with no experience in the Deaf community. Markus told me that most hearing students enter HUMAK at 19-20 years old, without knowing sign language. Since the HIs come in with little or no previous knowledge about Deaf people and then are thrust into a collaborative learning environment with Deaf students also studying to become interpreters, they learn “good attitudes” from the beginning and early on get used to working with Deaf interpreters. While the hearing students spend much of their first two years learning Finnish Sign Language, the Deaf students focus on written Finnish and English.

Markus:  The courses for Deaf and hearing students differ only slightly. They try to make as few adjustments as possible so all students receive the same education. Linguistics is taught separately to hearing and Deaf students, but they have many courses together, such as Interpretation Theory. The third and fourth years focus on interpreting skills for all students. There is a folk high school for Deaf immigrants, in the same location as HUMAK, where the Deaf students practice interpretation with the immigrant students.

“It was a good experience studying together with HIs, “ Markus told me. “And we figured out how to team together.”

Markus: When I studied at HUMAK, there hadn’t yet been a lot of analysis of best practices for HI and DI teams. The teachers informed us that we would just have to work it out together.  We told the HIs we didn’t just want them to be ‘mindless feeders.’ It’s all about teamwork and the need to keep checking in and seeing how to support each other.

Community Buy-In is Key

After graduating, however, the DIs found there was not much work for them.

Markus: Part of the problem was a feeling among the Deaf Community, ‘Why do we need Deaf interpreters?’ So we explained about Deaf blind, International Sign, translation from written Finnish into SL and immigrants. Gradually, the Deaf Community became more open and after a couple of years their attitude was much more positive. Most of the HIs were happy to work with DIs, but a few had some resistance.

Ironically, a shortsighted governmental policy helped some HIs appreciate DIs’ valuable skills.  In 2012, the Finnish government (who pays for the majority of interpreting services) declared that Deaf immigrants would only be entitled to DI services for one year, assuming that after a year, the immigrants would learn enough Finnish SL that HIs alone could satisfy their communication needs.  

Markus: After the one-year mark, HIs found themselves on their own with these Deaf immigrants, wishing the DIs could come help them interpret. If, however, these immigrants went to a police station or a hospital, those entities can pay for Deaf interpreters from their own funds. Then the HIs were again relieved and grateful for DIs’ help.

Markus concludes: “We need HIs! We can’t work without them. We need to work together so Deaf people get the best access.”

In Conclusion

I think there is much we can learn from these two narratives. Markus credits the fact that HIs start HUMAK with a “blank slate” of no previous knowledge of sign language or Deaf Culture as being key to their openness to learning together with Deaf colleagues. Meanwhile, in North America, we seem to be pushing for a higher bar of language and cultural competency as prerequisites for entering ITP students.

Acknowledgements

**This article and its ASL and IS translations were made possible thanks to the contributions of many people across the world: Didde Nylander, Markus Aro, Ryan Shephard, Nana Marie Søltoft, Bo Hårdell, Tegnsprogstolken.dk, the Danish Deaf Association and Damon Timm.

Questions for Consideration

1) Which do you think is the best approach?

2) Is this a generational issue? (i.e., when many of us older interpreters were trained, there were no “Deaf Interpreters” so it may seem jarring to introduce a whole new element into an established system –even though Deaf people have been “interpreting for each other” forever? Will the younger generation have an easier time accepting Deaf interpreters?

3) For readers from other countries, what is your experience in training Deaf and Hearing interpreters? Any tips for us?

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Interpreting Without a Deaf Interpreter is an RID CPC Violation

Interpreting Without a Deaf Interpreter is an RID CPC Violation

Potentially life-altering situations and settings call for the skills of a Deaf interpreter, however their provision is inconsistent. Kelby Brick suggests that a shift in paradigm and policy is needed to ensure the consistent presence of CDIs.

Crackers or crack cocaine? If a potential Deaf witness used a signed reference to crackers during a police interview, would you immediately understand the meaning? Fortunately, in this situation, the hearing interpreter (who was top-notch) knew enough to team up with a Deaf interpreter who immediately figured out that the witness was not talking about the food cracker but about crack cocaine. Because of the presence of the Deaf-Hearing interpreting team, effective communication occurred.

[Click to view post in ASL]

Unfortunately, thousands of Deaf people experience serious settings and situations without the services of an interpreter team made up of a Deaf interpreter and a hearing team interpreter. This exclusion of the Deaf interpreter results in unnecessary life-altering experiences for Deaf individuals. A new ethical and financial paradigm is needed to ensure the presence of Deaf interpreters in those settings and situations.

Excluding Deaf interpreters in these setting/situations is a violation of the CPC.

Why The Resistance?

It Requires Hearing Interpreter Involvement

Hearing interpreters worry that if they ask for a Deaf team interpreter, they will be perceived as incompetent[i] even though the very best interpreters recognize that even they need Deaf interpreters. Carla Mathers, a renowned practicing attorney and interpreter remarked recently in a StreetLeverage presentation, “My best interpretation, however, will never equal the value, skills and contributions of a Deaf interpreter.”[ii]

These hearing interpreters are also concerned about losing the assignment to a less competent or less ethical interpreter who could perhaps do greater damage. They may also be unaware of settings or situations that mandate the use of a CDI. As a result, they just plow ahead and hope for the best.

The National Consortium of Interpreter Education Center stated that “the initial determination is left to the [hearing] interpreter, it is of critical importance that legal interpreters undertake this analysis and to subordinate any feelings of inadequacy in the event that a deaf interpreter would be able to assist, improve or enhance the quality of the interpretation. The decision to recommend a deaf interpreter is an indication of professionalism, not a sign of incompetence.”[iii][iv]

RID Must Revise their Definition of a CDI

The realities highlighted above make it difficult to implement the NAD-RID Code of Professional Conduct (CPC), which makes it clear that hearing interpreters need to ensure the presence of a Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI) in specific settings and situations.  However, CPC Illustrative Behaviors 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, 2.6, 4.1 and 6.3 are all places where one could make a case that the exclusion of Deaf interpreters is a violation.

First and foremost, the current RID Standard Practice Paper “Use of a Certified Deaf Interpreter” must be updated. This version is antiquated and perpetuates the myth that a CDI is needed only in unusual situations where the “communication mode of a deaf consumer is so unique that it cannot be adequately accessed by interpreters who are hearing.” Historically, Deaf interpreters have been involved in all types of communication situations long before the establishment of RID or interpreter training programs, effectively navigating between languages and providing important cultural perspectives and experiences that make an interpretation more accurate.

Systemic Bias

Two of the common reasons for the ongoing systematic failure to include Deaf interpreters in those settings and situations are as follows:

1)      The payer of the services will seek the lowest bidder, or

2)      The hearing interpreter is burdened with decision of whether to bring in a Deaf interpreter and worried about the various possible negative consequences that could result from a request for a Deaf team interpreter.

We recognize that courts, police departments, hospitals and other entities often seek the lowest price structure for interpreters. Bidders of those contracts, whether by interpreting agencies or by free-lance sign language interpreters, are thus incentivized to exclude Deaf interpreters in their proposals in order to win those contracts. [v] As a result, the Deaf consumer frequently suffers and is impacted negatively.

How to Resolve the Problem

Hearing interpreters work in various life-altering situations on a daily basis without the presence of Deaf interpreters. Excluding Deaf interpreters in those settings or situations is a violation of the CPC. The question now is how can we make it easier for ethical interpreters to uphold the CPC in their business practices? A solution is desperately needed here.

We propose a new standard practice paper by the Registry of Interpreters that would require interpreting contracts to automatically establish the presence of Deaf interpreters in specific situations.

The revised standard practice paper should clearly state that it is unethical to place hearing interpreters without deaf interpreters in defined settings. The standard practice paper would also clearly define best practices which would automatically include Deaf interpreters from the onset for any contracts with hospitals, courts, and other legal settings.[vi] The standard practice paper would then tie the CPC into the hearing interpreter’s obligation to automatically require a Deaf interpreter team in those specific settings.

With this new standard practice paper in place, agencies bidding for contracts can confidently include the use of Deaf interpreters in their proposals and point out that competitor proposals without the inclusion of Deaf interpreters are unethical, illegitimate and represent a violation of RID standard practices and also violate the CPC.

This structure will relieve the hearing interpreter of the burden of assessing the linguistic need of the Deaf consumer, the burden of trying to suggest that a Deaf interpreter is necessary and avoid the awkwardness of trying to explain that the presence of a Deaf interpreter does not reflect on the interpreting skills of the hearing interpreter.  With this structure built into the contracts, agencies can more confidently send Deaf interpreters without worrying about the additional expenses.

Pioneering Radical Change

The California court system’s approach to Deaf interpreters is one place to build on for models elsewhere. The Administrative Office of the Courts in California establishes the presumption that a Deaf interpreter is needed for much broader scenarios including dealing with juveniles or dealing with adults with mental health issues. The Courts also state that CDIs are necessary when dealing with a Deaf person who “relies on uniquely deaf experiences that are unfamiliar to the hearing interpreter.”[vii]

This last line recognizes that CDI is necessary in almost all settings and situations. Accordingly, the California Court states that a Deaf interpreter should be

provided in all civil and criminal actions in which the service is needed for effective communication and in which the deaf or hard-of-hearing individual is a party or witness in a case. These include traffic or other infractions, small claims court proceedings, juvenile court proceedings, family court proceedings, hearings to determine mental competency, and court-ordered or court-provided alternative dispute resolution, including mediation and arbitration.”[viii]      

The Deaf-Hearing Communication Centre (DHCC) in Southeast Pennsylvania spells out from the onset that a Deaf/hearing interpreting team is automatically used in “major life-altering situations such as legal and mental health assignments.”[ix] DHCC explains further that

“Police and medical emergencies can have life-altering consequences. Therefore, a Deaf/hearing team of interpreters is usually required to ensure accurate, effective communication. This team approach has proven to be the most effective way to handle police and medical emergencies especially when the communication skills of the Deaf person are unknown.”[x]

Instead of being an exception, DHCC’s model should be the rule across the country. The first step needed to make that happen is the revision of the standard practice paper issued by RID. In the meantime, we urge ethical hearing interpreters and interpreter agencies to take the initiative to comply with the CPC and start requiring the automatic presence of Deaf interpreters in “life-altering” situations.[xi] We also invite readers to participate in dialogue to modify the current interpreter model to mandate the presence of Deaf interpreters in order to ensure Deaf individuals have accurate and effective communications in any setting. We also encourage readers to share this article with local interpreting agencies and institutions (such as the court, hospitals and police) to spark conversations on how they can start routinely ensuring the presence of CDIs along with hearing interpreters in those life-altering settings.

The use of CDIs in specific settings and situations should be the standard and normal practice. Just like a general medical practitioner would bring in specialized doctors (a cardiologist, for example) for some common situations, a hearing interpreter should bring in a specialized (Deaf) interpreter in some common situations.  The skilled Deaf interpreter has contextual and cultural competency that far exceeds hearing interpreters’ ability to fully provide cultural and linguistic access to the Deaf user in situations that are typically at high risk for life-altering experiences.

The National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers (NCIEC) has published a document, Deaf Interpreters in Court: An Accommodation that is More than Reasonable, that provides various citations where “deaf interpreters have proven their worth.”[xii] The evidence in this document and other documents cited here regarding the need for Deaf interpreters in specific settings and situations is overwhelming.

NCIEC has already outlined best practices for interpretation in court and legal settings, stating that deaf interpreters should be present in all court and legal settings and situations involving a deaf party, especially if deaf minors are involved.[xiii] This should go without saying:

Deaf interpreters should automatically be called for legal or medical situations. 

Who Can Help and What Can They Do?

Interpreter agencies and hearing sign language interpreters need to be insistent in requiring the presence of Deaf interpreters in specific settings and situations.  Interpreters (and agencies) need to turn down contracts that would put Hearing interpreters in the role of enabling oppression of Deaf individuals through their failure to ensure effective communications.  The signing community also needs to work with institutions such as medical providers, courts and police departments to ensure that they require the presence of Deaf interpreters every time a sign language interpreter is requested.  We also need make it clear within the interpreter community that the presence of a hearing interpreter without a Deaf interpreter team is tantamount to exploitation of the Deaf individual for the pecuniary or personal gain of the hearing interpreter.  To initiate this conversation with agencies and hiring parties, all interpreters, Deaf and Hearing, and consumers are encouraged to share this article with others.

 Conclusion

The interpreting profession has grown exponentially since the enactment of various civil rights laws including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1974.  We should not, however, confuse the growth of the interpreting profession with the assumption that Deaf people are receiving effective communications.  As ethical interpreters, each of us has an obligation to “render the message faithfully by conveying the content and spirit of what is being communicated, using language most readily understood by consumers.”[xiv] In many situations and settings, doing so requires the presence of a Deaf interpreter team. We also should require interpreting agencies and hiring parties to ensure the presence of Deaf interpreters as well. We can all do more. It’s the right thing to do.

What steps will you take in your community to initiate this conversation?

 

Co-Author, Jimmy Beldon, CDI, M.A., has been a professional involved in the interpreting field on many levels. Jimmy is the co-owner of Keystone Interpreting Solution, a consulting and interpreter referral business. He currently teaches in the Interpreter Training Program at St. Catherine University in St   Paul, Minnesota. A renowned interpreter in the court system, Jimmy is a former Vice-President of the National Registry of Interpreters (RID) and the current Vice-President of the National Conference of Interpreter Trainer (CIT).

 

References

[i] The resistance to bringing into a Deaf Interpreter has been well documented. For example, Tiffany J. Burns, CI/CT writes in “Who needs a Deaf Interpreter? I do” (Views, November 1999) that I have noticed paranoia among many hearing interpreters, that in asking for a Deaf interpreter, they will appear unqualified or incompetent. I cannot stress enough what a misconception that is.”

[ii] “Perception Conflicts: The Role of Sign Language Interpreters in Court,” Carla Mathers, Esq., CSC, SC:L. StreetLeverage – Live 2014 | Austin.

[iii] “Deaf Interpreters in Court: An accommodation that is more than reasonable,” prepared by Carla Mathers, Esq., CSC, SC:L. The National Consortium of InterpreterEducationCenter, March 2009.

[iv] It is relevant to quote Carla Mather here from her Street Leverage presentation: A Deaf interpreter possesses the skills and innate understanding of the language and Deaf experience which allows them to use language that is most accessible to the Deaf party, to apply expansion of concepts appropriately in order to ensure the communication is clear and accurately conveys the intended meaning. By ensuring that Deaf interpreters are involved in courtroom interpreting, we reduce the oppressive nature of the environment and we ensure that the support and advocacy needed are available to the Deaf parties involved. In addition to the linguistic expertise a Deaf interpreter brings to the courtroom, they are also often able to navigate the strict conventions and rules of the court. The Deaf interpreter may be able to provide perspectives and explanations regarding the seemingly oppressive court system that will allow the Deaf party to understand the system and its rules more clearly. At the very least, a Deaf interpreter may make navigating the systemic conflicts more palatable.”

[v] Octavian Robinson discusses, for example, that courts sells “contracts to the lowest bidder and sacrificing quality and more important, justice. The lowest bidding agency does not assure certified or competent interpreters. This creates a situation where a deaf person’s legal right, regardless of guilt, to a fair trial is compromised.” Robinson also explains that the penny pinching results in the exclusion of CDIs and thus causes Deaf people to lose out in the justice system. See http://blog.deafpolitics.org/2011/06/failure-to-act-for-change.html

[vi] In those rare cases where it is found that a Deaf interpreter is not needed, the Deaf interpreter can then be excused.

[vii] “Recommended Guidelines for the Use of Deaf Intermediary Interpreters,” Judicial Council of California/Administrative Office of the Courts. 2010.

[viii] Ibid.

[x] www.DHCC.org. DHCC explains, “four interpreters (two hearing and two Deaf) are on-call every evening, weekend and holiday. This way, we are prepared for multiple emergencies. A Deaf/hearing team – one interpreter who is Deaf and one interpreter who is hearing – ensures that we are prepared for any level of communication.”

[xi] While a lot of the citations here focus on legal settings, DHCC is correct here in saying that CDIs are necessary in other life-altering situations. This would include, among others, health settings and any settings involving juveniles.

[xii] “Deaf Interpreters in Court: An accommodation that is more than reasonable,” prepared by Carla Mathers, Esq., CSC, SC:L. The National Consortium of InterpreterEducationCenter, March 2009.

[xiii] “Best Practices American Sign Language and English Interpretation within Court and Legal Settings,” by Kellie Stewart, Anna Witter-Merithew and Margaret Cobb, Legal Interpreting Workgroup Members. The National Consortium of InterpreterEducationCenter, March 2009.

[xiv] NAD-RID Code of Professional Conduct.

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

Hearing Sign Language Interpreters Advocating for Deaf Interpreters

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

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

[Click to view post in ASL]

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

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

Long Tradition

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

My Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

What We Found

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

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

Cultural Adjustments Only Deaf Interpreters Can Make

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the Problem

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

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

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

Taking Responsibility

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

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

5 Steps You Can Take:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Deaf Interpreters: In the Blind Spot of the Sign Language Interpreting Profession?

Sign Language Interpreter Consider the Position of Deaf Interpreters in the Field

Do Hearing Interpreters send messages of welcome or warning to Deaf Interpreters? Jennifer Kaika explores the overt and covert messages Hearing Interpreters send and the potential meaning they carry.

A few weeks ago, I was looking through StreetLeverage posts and as I neared the end- perhaps even after I had looked at all of the titles—I realized that I had not seen anything explicitly about Deaf interpreters.

Of course, the phrase “sign language interpreters” appeared often, and of course Deaf interpreters are included in that population. Still, I thought, I have read several articles since StreetLeverage began and I couldn’t help but feel like they were written with hearing sign language interpreters in mind. (For the purposes of this post, when I say “hearing” interpreters, I am also referring to coda interpreters; I am using the label to refer to auditory status, not cultural identity.)

I contacted Brandon, asking if this observation was accurate, and he invited me to write about it. (Let that be a lesson to anyone else thinking about piping up—you may have to follow through on your thoughts!)

Are Deaf Interpreters Invisible?

What does it mean that I hadn’t even noticed the absence of posts about Deaf interpreters for a year and a half? Does it send a message, unintentional but unmistakable, that I do not think about Deaf interpreters often; that they are invisible; that they are unimportant to the field?

I am reminded of an observation that was shared with me recently about another instance of the absence of Deaf interpreters. In my area, there is a group of freelancers who run a website for direct contracting of sign language interpreting services. I do not work through this site, but I know many of the interpreters who do. I like many of them, I respect many of them, I have sought many of them out to team with me. When people ask how to find an interpreter, I include this website among my list of referrals. In short, this network of freelancers is by no means new or unfamiliar to me. Yet, I never noticed that there are no Deaf interpreters on their site. What does it say to my Deaf colleagues that I never even noticed—that their presence is not missed?

The Organizational Level: Overt Messages

Upon looking through online resources, Deaf Interpreters are an unmistakable and long-standing part of the profession. Certifications have been offered to Deaf interpreters for as long as they have been offered to hearing interpreters. According to RID’s CDI bulletin, the Reverse Skills Certificate has been awarded since 1972- the same year that certification began for hearing interpreters- and was primarily awarded to Deaf Interpreters. Twenty years later, development of the Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI) exam began as result of a 1989 vote that “a generalist Certificate of Relay Interpreting be established for Deaf persons.”[i]

During the National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers’ 2005-2010 grant cycle, they “delineated the unique competencies required of Deaf Interpreters in a document titled Toward Effective Practice: Competencies of the Deaf Interpreter (available at www.DIInstitute.org).” In the current grant cycle from 2010-2015, the Northeastern University center (NURIEC) is piloting a curriculum for Deaf interpreter education called Road to Deaf Interpreting. A total of 34 interpreters from two cohorts have already graduated from the program, and the 2012-2014 session is currently underway.[ii]

In 2007, RID assembled a taskforce to revisit the application criteria for taking the CDI exam. In the same year, NCIEC conducted a survey of Deaf interpreters and got 196 responses- a number that surpasses the estimated 162 Deaf interpreters listed in RID.org.[iii] Assuming the number of certified Deaf interpreters is accurate, then Deaf interpreters represent 2% of the 9,846 people listed as certified on RID.org.

On StreetLeverage, when you search the phrase “deaf interpreter” you get 5 results out of the 67 total posts, for a rate of 7%.[iv] Not bad. At the organizational level, then, there seems to be a proportionate level of attention paid to and recognition of Deaf interpreters. What happens at the individual level?

The Individual Level: Covert Messages

Using myself as an example (for better and for worse), I have worked alongside Deaf interpreters in various capacities: in a platform setting as a hearing team, in situations where Deaf interpreters are working with DeafBlind consumers, sometimes from my interpretation and sometimes not, and in situations that involve Deaf consumers with intellectual disabilities. When I began my career, I worked with a deaf independent living center and the deaf counselors often served as de facto Deaf interpreters. I can think of many enriching experiences working with and watching Deaf interpreters at work.

At the same time, I have been guilty of not asking if Deaf interpreters have been assigned to a job that I’m on, even when I have reason to believe they would be. I don’t always think to share prep materials with Deaf interpreters until the day of an assignment- often not until we’ve all arrived. When I’ve been in touch with hearing teams to prepare for assignment, I don’t always include Deaf interpreters (again, usually because I haven’t asked if they were assigned.) What messages are sent when I consistently forget about my Deaf counterparts? Is there a reason I seem to consistently forget?

Is Frustration the Impetus?

There have been times where I have been frustrated by experiences working with a Deaf team—perhaps because they were new, perhaps because they had a different view of how to approach interpreting or teaming, perhaps because they usually work with DeafBlind consumers but I expect them to excel when working with consumers with different linguistic needs. Is this the reason I forget? If it is, does that mean that I hold Deaf interpreters to a double standard? After all, I have had similar experiences with hearing interpreters.

The range of experience and professionalism I have seen among DIs and CDIs parallels that of hearing interpreters: some are new, some have years of experience, some are certified, some are not, some have specializations, some are generalists, some aim to work at the national and international level, others aim to practice only in their local communities.

Should this range or these less-than-ideal experiences deter us from working together? Or can they become opportunities for us to talk openly about what wasn’t working?  Can they serve as opportunities for us all to be more specific about what skills we possess and what skills we are asking for when making a request to work with a Deaf interpreter?

Group Dynamics: Unintended Messages

Four years into my interpreting career, and only months after becoming a full-time freelancer, I had taken a staff position at Gallaudet University. Not long after coming aboard, discussions surfaced about speaking versus signing around the office and on campus. I had grown up on this campus. As a coda, I was accustomed to talking in front of my deaf relatives—whether to hearing friends or on the phone. All throughout my childhood and into my college years, I knew very few hearing people who could sign; thus, I spoke to hearing people and signed with Deaf people. All of this to say that the issue of hearing people speaking to each other when Deaf people were around was foreign to me. I was in need of an explanation.

Deaf people talked about feeling shut out—that choosing to speak when you could sign was exclusionary. Some hearing people said it was their right to use their first language. Deaf and hearing people talked about incidental learning—the ability to “overhear” a conversation and learn from it in the way you might pick up on the fact that people are talking about a bad storm approaching or some tidbit of news. This was pretty convincing, but still I wondered would it really be that big of a deal if I just talked with a hearing person and started signing when a deaf person came around? Then they could see what we’re saying and join the conversation if they wanted. When someone said that they wouldn’t even join the conversation if I weren’t already signing, I finally got it.

Nobody wants to disrupt their environment, you don’t want things to change just because you’ve walked into a room; you just want to be able to feel like you belong- no matter where you go.

Apply this same thinking to local and national RID conferences. Do we create spaces in the informal areas that send the message that Deaf interpreters belong there? On the organizational level, I would say yes. At the 2011 conference, I believe each Board member signed when they presented on stage. But as I recall, the hallways and social areas presented a different story.

The estimated 162 certified Deaf interpreters mentioned earlier represent 31 states.[v] In the directory on the Deaf Interpreter Institute, there are 35 interpreters listed representing 22 states. Between the two groups, 33 states are represented. If we truly believe that Deaf interpreters are a part of our profession—a long-standing and lasting part, present since the inception of RID, another way to connect to the Deaf community and maintain Deaf-heart, then wouldn’t our actions be aligned with our messages?

Addressing the Fundamental Question

Does the presence of DIs remove our status in the room as the ‘experts’ on sign language and interpretation in a way that is different than working with another hearing interpreter? Does it challenge a hearing interpreter’s ability to be “in control” of the environment? Does it raise questions about the quality of our work? Does all of this (and thus, the presence of a Deaf interpreter) make some of us nervous?

Have you grappled with some of these same questions? Do some of these experiences mirror your own?

I think these are some of the things that Nigel Howard addressed in his StreetLeverage –  Live 2012 | Columbia, MD presentation, Deaf Interpreters: The State of Inclusion, in November of 2012, bringing up “the perception that ASL-English interpreters have that requesting to work with a deaf interpreter is an indication of an “inferior skill-set” and the “need to broaden the view of how and why deaf interpreters are used in order to improve their inclusion and contribution to the field.”[vi] I did not go to the presentation, but would appreciate contributions from those who did.

Beginning a Dialogue

I am sharing my own experiences openly in the interest of having an open discussion. Perhaps, though, I am alone in my experiences and the majority of our profession has good working relationships with Deaf interpreters. If this were the majority opinion, not only would I be relieved, I would be prouder of my profession (if not a little embarrassed for admitting my own ignorance.) 

 


[i] “Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI) Examination Information Bulletin.” RID.org. Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, 24 Sept. 2001. Web. 15 Feb. 2013. <http://www.rid.org/education/testing/index.cfm/AID/89>.

[iii] Calculated by adding the total CDIs (139), the total who hold the RSC without certifications that Deaf interpreters are not eligible for (21), and the total of those who hold the CLIP-R without CDI (2). It is possible that some who hold the RSC alone are hearing, which is why I refer to this number as an estimate.

[iv] Trudy Suggs mentions that she is a deaf interpreter: http://www.streetleverage.com/2012/12/deaf-disempowerment-and-todays-interpreter/

Brandon Arthur describes Nigel Howard’s presentation “Deaf Interpreters: The State of Inclusion” in http://www.streetleverage.com/2012/11/a-salute-to-big-thinking-sign-language-interpreters and http://www.streetleverage.com/streetleverage-live

Robyn Dean says that hearing and deaf interpreters  participated in supervision sessions in http://www.streetleverage.com/2012/04/ethical-development-a-sign-of-the-times-for-sign-language-interpreters

Debra Russell talks about Deaf interpreters being part of international collaboration efforts in http://www.streetleverage.com/2012/03/international-collaboration-should-sign-language-interpreters-do-more

[v] Some states only have one certified Deaf interpreter listed, but again this is only the number of interpreters who hold an RID certification.

[vi] http://www.streetleverage.com/2012/11/a-salute-to-big-thinking-sign-language-interpreters/ Nigel’s talk explored some of the perceptions that challenge better integration of deaf interpreters into the field and into daily practice. Most notably, the perception that ASL-English interpreters have that requesting to work with a deaf interpreter is an indication of an inferior skill-set.