Posted on

IEP: Faculty Composition Impacts Sign Language Interpreter Readiness

IEP: Faculty Composition Impacts Sign Language Interpreter Readiness

By investing in a faculty rich in diversity, skills and experience, Joseph Featherstone believes Interpreter Education Programs can enhance sign language interpreting students’ readiness while upholding high standards of practice.

There’s been a lot of focus on interpreter readiness, especially for recent graduates of Interpreter Education Programs (IEP). As a Deaf person who often uses sign language interpreting services, as an educator teaching university-level ASL courses, and as a CDI, I want to share some observations and insights that will increase the likelihood that an IEP will turn out graduates who are ready to function as effective interpreters.

[View post in ASL]

Identifying Gatekeepers

I remember once getting a call from a friend who teaches ASL. She had a question about a former student of mine.

“Should I accept her into the program? Or is she going to waste a spot for a potential interpreter?”

It hadn’t occurred to me how my ASL classes impact the Deaf community by feeding ITPs and educating prospective interpreters.

At that moment, I realized, as an ASL instructor, I was a gatekeeper.     

Historically, Deaf community members acted as exclusive gatekeepers and chose who would become interpreters (Ball, 2013., Cokely, 2005., & Fant, 1990). In the 1960s and ‘70s, sign language interpreters were most often those who were already connected to the Deaf Community – children of Deaf parents, close friends, siblings, and pastors of congregations (Cokely, 2005). With time, though, government support for sign language interpreting grew, new trends emerged, and the mode of gatekeeping shifted.

Nowadays, the most common way to become an interpreter is via classroom education through schools and interpreter training programs (Ball, 2013). Due to this change, the role of gatekeeper has now expanded to include a variety of instructors from these schools and programs.

In his article, It Takes a Village to Raise a Sign Language Interpreter, Brian Morrison says, “Rather than viewing interpreter education programs negatively or putting the sole onus on them for having not taught students all they need to know, we can shift our focus to building on their existing foundation.”

I couldn’t agree more.

After the phone call from my friend, my epiphany snowballed. I realized that as an instructor and a gatekeeper, I had the unique opportunity to prepare my students to connect into the Deaf community. I wasn’t on just one side anymore; I had a responsibility to set high standards and teach my students to these standards.

And I’m not the only one. Every instructor along a student’s journey, from those teaching introductory ASL to those teaching the most advanced IEP courses, have a dual role—teaching and gatekeeping. Everyone.

As Morrison says, it takes a village.

For that reason, I encourage IEP directors to evaluate their faculty’s backgrounds and experiences. It does take a village to raise a sign language interpreter, and it takes a village to keep the standards of sign language interpreting high.

The Village

The village, like the gatekeeper, is a metaphor. Village members represent members of the Deaf community in all their variety. In earlier times, the village helped mentor and nurture a budding interpreter to grow in language and cultural fluency.

Today, sign language interpreters are graduating and passing certifications without being immersed in that surrounding village, leaving a gap between them and the Deaf community.

As an interpreter, instructor, and Deaf individual, I’ve seen how this gap affects all of us involved in the IEP student’s journey and how it affects our roles as gatekeepers.

In addition to more and more encouragement (or a requirement) to go out and spend precious time participating in the Deaf community, I propose that IEP directors and boards bring a little bit of the village to the interpreter—for preparation and evaluation.

This sampling of the village cannot replace the knowledge, skills, and experience interpreting students gain by spending time in the Deaf community. But, a faculty that reflects the diversity of the village can help students more quickly build their knowledge, skills, and cultural fluency. And time is short to prepare interpreters to reach graduation.

Who, then, do we bring in from the village?

I’d like to introduce you to four of what I call the village elders: the Native English-Speaker, the Native ASL Signer, the Bilingual Native, and the CDI.

The Village Elders

The Native English-Speaker:

Instructors who are English natives, for whom ASL is an acquired language, aren’t difficult to find. These are hearing instructors. Because they are common, their role in the village can become ambiguous without the context of the other faculty.

As a Native English-Speaker, this elder has the distinct trait of native fluency in English. They share this English first language acquisition with most of their interpreting students. The depth of their understanding of the nuances of English can only help as they interpret in situations rich with jargon or cultural queues (e.g., a hospital visit).

In large part, Native English-Speakers can identify with their interpreter students’ journey because it is one they had to make themselves: they once had to pass by gatekeepers and gain entrance to the Deaf community and the village.

The Native ASL Signer:

Typically a deaf teacher with native ASL fluency, having a Native ASL Signer teaching ASL or ITP classes cannot be undervalued. It’s always preferable in terms of language acquisition to have a native speaker teaching the mother tongue rather than someone who learned it later. Often, the ASL native not only has a primary language learner’s understanding of ASL but also can share their experience and knowledge as a member of the Deaf community.

In the classroom, they represent the Deaf perspective on sign language interpreting. Through their instruction, IEP students can gain a better appreciation for the Deaf community and can develop a basic cultural fluency to build on outside of class.

Many IEPs do not employ Native ASL Signers for classes other than ASL. There are classes that could benefit from a Deaf native’s perspective, like ethics and translation. Wouldn’t it be amazing if each of these village elders could teach an ethics course each semester and offer their different perspectives?

The Bilingual Native:

Bilingual Natives have native fluency in both ASL and English, such as Children of Deaf Adults (CODA). Because they most likely grew up with ASL as their first language, the Bilingual Native more intimately understands the Deaf way. That’s not to say that that they are more invested in the Deaf community than those who learned ASL in school, but that their relationship with the Deaf community is more direct, and as such, they are greatly impacted by the state of the Deaf community.

Bilingual Natives also have a strong understanding of English and can teach on the intersection between the Deaf and Hearing communities, especially as it relates to interpreting.

The CDI:

This may be the most under-utilized Village Elder. A CDI can be instrumental in the holistic development of an interpreting student. Their experience as a Deaf community member and a certified interpreter helps them bridge the perspective gap between ITP students and the Deaf community. They understand the feelings of being a client, and they understand the pressures of being a sign language interpreter.

Sometimes interpreting students view Deaf teachers as skilled in the language but less able to identify with the mechanics of interpreting. CDIs like myself are able to relate on both levels. We are Deaf. We are also not just interpreters, but interpreters who are more often called in for extreme, high-stress, high-stakes interpreting situations. We typically have more experience in the trenches where interpreting mistakes can be disastrous.

The unique CDI role provides us with a distinct perspective and understanding of the interpreting process, the Code of Professional Conduct established by RID, as well as the feelings of interpreters and the recipients of interpreting services—not to mention, CDIs know firsthand the best practices for team interpreting with other CDIs and hearing interpreters.

CDIs have a lot to offer IEP students. It’s been my experience that recent graduates from programs with a CDI on faculty exhibit a more refined situational awareness.

In The End

To rephrase Morrison: “Imagine the outcomes when the new student and the [Village Elders] learn and grow from sharing their knowledge with each other.”  Skill development is quickest when in the community. For our students, that means taking every opportunity to encourage their interaction with allies, advocates, and members of the Deaf community and providing them with a faculty that reflects the strength and diversity of our community.

Questions For Consideration

  1. What skills or perspectives do you and your faculty have that contribute to the sense of the village in your program? What additional skills or perspectives could benefit your program?  
  2. How do you think IEPs can better build a sense of the village and gatekeeping?
  3. Why do you think it takes a village to raise a sign language interpreter?

References

  1. Ball, C. (2013). Legacies and legends: History of interpreter education from 1800 to the 21st century. Edmonton, AB: Interpreting Consolidated.
  2. Cokely, D. (2005). Shifting positionality: A critical examination of the turning point in the relationship of interpreters and the deaf community. In M. Marshcark, R. Peterson & E.
  3. Fant, L. (1990). Silver threads: A personal look at the first twenty-five years of the registry of interpreters for the deaf. Silver Spring, MD: RID Publications.
  4. Morrison, B. (2013). It Takes a Village to Raise a Sign Language Interpreter. Retrieved September 28, 2016, from https://www.streetleverage.com/2013/09/it-takes-a-village-to-raise-a-sign-language-interpreter/
Posted on

6 Presentations That Will Make You a Better Sign Language Interpreter

6 Presentations That Will Make You a Better Sign Language Interpreter

Sign language interpreters constantly strive to be better practitioners. Often it is a flash of perspective that gives context to the challenges they face and assists them in moving along their path to actualization.

 

Let’s admit it, being a sign language interpreter can be tough. Sometimes a little sprinkle of perspective can contextualize the challenges we face as practitioners. From language fluency to connecting with the community, from confronting social justice issues and inaccurate assumptions to maintaining our integrity and leaving a legacy, these flashes of insight can lead us to becoming the interpreters we aspire to be. What follows are sprinkles of goodness that will, in fact, make you a better sign language interpreter.

1.  Dennis Cokely | Sign Language Interpreters: The Importance of the Day Before

Dennis Cokely

In his StreetLeverage – Live | Atlanta presentation, Sign Language Interpreters: The Importance of the Day Before, Dennis Cokely discusses the dangers of unchallenged assumptions and the “one thing” sign language interpreters must always remember in order to render more effective, meaningful, and culturally appropriate interpretations.

View the ASL, English and PPT here.

2.  Deb Russell | Sign Language Interpreters: Discover & Recover an Enduring Legacy

Debra Russell

Deb Russell’s StreetLeverage – Live | Atlanta presentation, Sign Language Interpreters: Discover & Recover an Enduring Legacy, recognizes the importance of uncovering and acknowledging the contributions and traits of leaders who have significantly impacted the field of interpreting. In order to move forward, we must first understand where we have come from.

View the ASL, English, and PPT here.

3.  Betty Colonomos | Sign Language Interpreters: Fostering Integrity

Betty Colonomos

In her presentation, Sign Language Interpreters: Fostering Integrity, from StreetLeverage – Live | Atlanta, Betty Colonomos defines integrity and highlights the critical need for accountability in the field of sign language interpreting.

View the ASL, English and PPT here.

4.  Doug Bowen Bailey | Transforming Perspectives: The Power of One-to-One Conversations For Sign Language Interpreters

doug bowen bailey

Doug Bowen-Bailey’s StreetLeverage – Live | Austin presentation, Transforming Perspectives: The Power of One-to-One Conversations for Sign Language Interpreters, explores the concept of one-to-one conversations as a means of connecting with the Deaf community and other interpreters.

View the ASL, English, and PPT here.

5.  Trudy Suggs | Deaf Disempowerment and Today’s Interpreter

Trudy Suggs - Deaf Disempowerment and Today's Interpreter

Trudy Suggs’ StreetLeverage – Live | Baltimore presentation, Deaf Disempowerment and Today’s Interpreter, powerfully explores both financial and situational disempowerment within the Deaf Community.

View the ASL, English and PPT here. 

6.  MJ Bienvenu | Bilingualism: Are Sign Language Interpreters Bilinguals?

MJ Bienvenu - StreetLeverage - Live 2015

MJ Bienvenu’s StreetLeverage – Live | Austin presentation, Bilingualism: Are Sign Language Interpreters Bilingual?, explores the deeper questions involved in determining whether sign language interpreters are, in fact, bilingual.

View the ASL, English and PPT here.

The Whole is More than the Sum of its Parts

While these presentations represent a small part of the wisdom and insight shared at StreetLeverage – Live events, we hope this retrospective provides you with some tools, ideas and information to support your journey to becoming the sign language interpreter you’ve imagined yourself to be.

Posted on

StreetLeverage: The 2015 Posts that Moved Us

Best of StreetLeverage 2015

 

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

1.  Sign Language Interpreters and the “F” Word

Sign Language Interpreters and the 'F' Word

One Headline We Wish We had Created Ourselves

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

Read More…

2. Recognizing Polite Indifference: Sign Language Interpreters & Power

 Polite Indifference

A Personal Story that Resonated

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

Read More…

3. Missing Narratives in Interpreter Education

Erica West Oyedele at StreetLeverage - X

A Post We Thought Worthy of Even More Attention

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

Read More…

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

Station Meditation: VRS, Compassion and Sign Language Interpreters

A Positive Outlook on VRS Interpreting

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

Read More…

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

Carol Padden

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

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

Read More…

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

Stacey Storme - StreetLeverage - Live 2015 Talk

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

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

Read More…

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

Horizontal Violence: Can Sign Language Interpreters Break the Cycle?

The Most Popular Post This Year

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

Read More…

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

Eileen Forestal - StreetLeverage - Live 2014

A New Paradigm Emerging for Hearing Interpreters

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

Read More…

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

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

There is Encouragement and Positivity in the Field of Interpreting Today

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

Read More…

10.  National Treasure

Patrick Graybill - StreetLeverage National Treasure 2015

Those Who Inspire

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

Read More…

Our Hope

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

Posted on

Trends Report: Aligning Interpreter Education & Tomorrow’s Challenges

Dennis Cokely and Cathy Cogen

Dennis Cokely and Cathy Cogen

StreetLeverage had a great time providing coverage of the 2015 RID Conference in New Orleans, LA August 8-12, 2015. If you attended or watched the conference live-stream feed, you’ll remember that on Saturday, August 8, 2015, Dennis Cokely and Cathy Cogen presented, “Preparing Interpreters for Tomorrow: Report on a Study of Emerging Trends in Interpreting and Implications for Interpreter Education.” It was one of the standout presentations at the conference to be sure.

Greater Insight on the State of Interpreting

To our good fortune, both Dennis and Cathy were willing to sit down with Brandon Arthur, StreetLeverage founder and curator, to discuss their findings and their visions for the future of sign language interpreting and sign language interpreter education.

* To view the conversation with Dennis Cokely or read the English transcript, click here.

* To view the conversation with Cathy Cogen or read the English transcript, click here.

RID Trends Presentation Summary

If you missed the presentation, you can find the PPT deck used by Dennis and Cathy here.  

Their presentation focused on three main areas:

  1. Trends impacting current and future interpreting services
  2. Current Issues in Interpreter Education and the dynamics at play within the field which may impede or facilitate efforts to address interpreter education and professional development needs
  3. Recommendations for aligning Interpreter Education with the challenges of tomorrow, including some significant departures from the status quo in interpreter education.

Finally, they issued a call to action for conference participants to commit to partnerships, practices and policies which will support the creation of a better future.

 

* Interested in receiving StreetLeverage posts in your inbox? 

Simply enter your name and email in the field above the green “Sign Me Up!” button (upper left-hand side of this page) and click “Sign Me Up!”

Posted on

Interpreter Education: History is a Relentless Master

Historical Reflections

This presentation was originally shared as part of the 2014 Interpreter Education Month celebration. Special thanks to Dennis, Anna, and Wing for their work and to the National Interpreter Education Center (NIEC) for their support of the session.

Dennis Cokely and Anna Witter-Merithew presented, Interpreter Education: History is a Relentless Master as part of StreetLeverage’s Interpreter Education Month celebration. This presentation  focused on the critical lessons that the field of interpreter education continues to grapple with, the contribution of federal funding to the growth and development of interpreter education, and the lingering questions that need to be answered.

You can find the PPT deck for their presentation here.

[Note from StreetLeverage: What follows is an English translation of Dennis and Anna’s presentation. We would encourage each of you to watch the video and access the presentation in ASL directly.]

[Click here to view presentation in ASL]

Interpreter Education: History is a Relentless Master

Wing Butler:

Hello to all of you joining us from your computers, laptops, mobile devices, etc.  Welcome to this StreetLeverage webinar. We are thrilled that you are all able to join us! We truly have participants from around the globe today, which is amazing to see. We are delighted to have you all here.  My name is Wing Butler and I’m a part of the StreetLeverage “Street Team” providing and supporting social media, advising and a variety of other endeavors. Brandon Arthur has tasked me today to facilitate today’s webinar. I’m thrilled and grateful to Brandon for his confidence in allowing me to facilitate today’s exciting event.

I want to give special thanks to the National Interpreter Education Center (NIEC) for hosting today’s webinar. They are providing technical and staff support, as well as coordination for this event. We are grateful for their participation and assistance in making today’s webinar possible.

I would also like to express our gratitude to our two speakers, Dennis Cokely and Anna Witter-Merithew, for joining us today. It’s an honor to have you both here. As an interpreter, I’ve had the opportunity to observe your work, read your writings, etc. Though you may not be fully aware, you have both educated me from my start as a new interpreter.  As I was up and coming in the field, reading your books and articles, as well as seeing some of your presentations on video, influenced and formed me in my interpreter life. I’ve been interpreting for about 17 years and your work has had a profound impact on my career thus far. So today, I’m especially excited to have the opportunity to be here for your presentation, “Interpreter Education: History is a Relentless Master.” We’ve got quite an event ahead of us. In today’s webinar, you’ll be looking back on our history and the impacts that history has had on the present, in hopes that this reflection can empower us as we consider our path into the future. Thank you both so much for being here.

Obviously, I could provide an extensive description of each of your backgrounds, but I’ll suffice to say that you are both incredibly accomplished individuals and simply pass the presentation into your capable hands. Thank you for your time for today’s presentation. I’m eagerly anticipating this webinar. Thank you! On to you.

 

Anna and Dennis:

Thank you.

 

Anna:

Thank you, Wing, for your introduction. In preparation for today, Dennis and I have met several times to talk and reflect on this topic. I think the biggest takeaway for us after all of that is realizing the number of changes which have occurred, as well as realizing how many amazing people we’ve had the opportunity to meet in the course of our careers.  Many of those wonderful individuals were Deaf people who taught us, led us, provided support and helped us to progress in our careers. It’s been a wonderful opportunity for us to reflect on the past, both professionally and personally – to remember parts of our own history and, at the same time, look at the broader history of interpreter education.

Both Dennis and I became involved in interpreting via invitations from the Deaf Community. Our lives have been rooted in the Deaf Community for many years. Dennis has been a teacher of Deaf children, a linguist, a sign language interpreter, a researcher, an interpreter educator, a program developer and has taken on so many other roles. As a leader, Dennis served two terms as the President of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc. (RID) as well as serving on the RID board prior to his service as President. There are many other roles he has taken on in the course of his career. As for the roles I have had in my career, I’ve been daughter, sign language interpreter, interpreter educator, program developer, and a leader, as well. I’ve been involved with the Conference of Interpreter Trainers (CIT) as well as serving on the RID board at various times.

We are thrilled to have this opportunity to discuss our view of interpreter education from a historical perspective. As our topic indicates, “Interpreter Education: History is a Relentless Master”, we’ve come to realize that history does repeat itself, relentlessly, to teach us important lessons. We both feel there are lessons we have not learned as a profession and we see the same recurring issues which means those issues require more study, consideration and analysis. We have to determine what, if we have identified these as recurring issues, we need to do to unpack the issues and give them a more thorough examination and more reflection. We also need to use the findings from these reflections to help determine our pathway into the future of interpreter education.

Next slide please.

Webinar Goal and Objectives

Anna:

I want to talk about the webinar goal and some of our objectives today.

First, when we look at interpreter education, we must look at the context in which interpreter education exists and has developed. We are going to discuss factors that impact the context of interpreter education. We will also discuss one of the biggest influences – the contribution of federal funding and how federal law has impacted the development of interpreter education.  Finally, we will be identifying reoccurring issues and lingering questions impacting interpreter education. That’s our plan for today.

Next slide.

Socio-Political Context in Which Interpreter Education Exists

Anna:

The slide depicts a series of overlapping circles. There are many factors which influence interpreter education, but for the purposes of our discussion today, we’re going to focus on three of those factors. Education is often very insular. By the same token, interpreter education tends to be very insular, as well – isolated from other disciplines and influences and those who work in this arena often stay in that realm without venturing outside it on a regular basis.

Often, overworked teachers, program administrators, etc., do not have the bandwidth to network and get involved in other aspects of their field. They are often focused on their own program needs, keeping up with their own specialty, etc., rather than taking the opportunities to observe others and reflect on their own practice or how to apply what’s happening in the classroom to the outside world.

When we compare interpreter education at its inception to the state of interpreter education currently, we see that they are vastly different. In earlier times, Deaf people were very engaged in screening for and selecting future interpreters. That happened with both Dennis and me, Deaf Community members recognized, invited and encouraged us to get involved in interpreting, even providing guidance about the kinds of interpreting work we did in the early days. I remember feeling I was ready to take on a variety of interpreting jobs, but often, Deaf Community members would steer me in another direction, letting me know which jobs I was ready to take and which jobs I was still not qualified to do. That role in the process that existed in the early days no longer exists in the current state of interpreter education.

Dennis, did you want to say something?

Dennis:

You are right. I think Deaf people often had a mental roadmap for the progression of a sign language interpreter – which jobs were appropriate and when. This didn’t apply to only specific Deaf people – it was almost like this interpreter roadmap was part of a shared consciousness among Deaf people. In that way, Deaf people still had a modicum of control and could lead interpreters slowly through the progression from beginner to experienced interpreter. You are right about that.

Anna:

Yes. At that time, the Deaf Community had more authority to select interpreters, more involvement in the screening of interpreters. More of the decision-making power regarding interpreters fell to the Deaf community in those early days. Now, the roles have shifted dramatically. Sign language interpreting is more agency-based. Many of those agencies do not involve Deaf people and most are run by hearing people, some of whom do not even have a working knowledge of ASL. Still other agencies are foreign language agencies now tasked with hiring sign language interpreters. We’ve seen a huge shift. In the past, the Deaf Community was very involved with interpreters. For interpreters, there was involvement with and from the Deaf Community. At that time, it was one community working together. Now, it doesn’t feel like one single community. It feels as if there are two separate groups – the interpreters in their own community and the Deaf Community in theirs.

As more new interpreters gain entry into the field, there are no longer those deep bonds with the Deaf Community, with Deaf people. Some of these newer interpreters don’t have those ties, and don’t even know many Deaf people. They may have seen Deaf people on video for practice, but many have never socialized in the Deaf Community or developed deep relationships with the Deaf people in their community. We are realizing that this huge shift from one cohesive community into two separate communities has had a direct impact on interpreter education. Did you want to add something, Dennis?

Dennis:

Yes, I did. In addition to what you’ve described, we’ve seen even more detrimental results of this shift. There are interpreter education programs in the U.S. today which prohibit interpreting students from socializing or interacting in the Deaf Community. They prohibit it. One program requires the students to sign a contract indicating their agreement to avoid any social contact with the Deaf Community citing the small size of the community as their rationale. They believe that socializing in the community could create a conflict of interest if the student later had to interpret for someone they had met in the community. In my mind, that type of logic makes no sense. How can you learn the language of a group of people without interacting with them? And prohibiting that kind of interaction? It defies logic.

Anna:

Right. In addition, if I don’t interact with users of the language, how will I learn to make adaptations in my own language usage or how to set boundaries? How do I learn to negotiate in that language? Yes in this circumstance we are friendly and open, but in another role, another situation is may be different – how does one learn to navigate and put on the proper persona to represent various individuals while interpreting? If we prohibit social contact, we are limiting students’ ability to learn and develop coping skills which are a critical part of the interpreting world.

Dennis:

Right. Yes.

Anna:

So, that’s one layer of influence on interpreter education. In comparing our current situation with the early days in interpreter education, that’s a big change. Another huge shift also occurred. In earlier times, student interpreters had a much easier time finding and meeting Deaf people. They could go to the Deaf Club, attend Deaf events – there were often weekly or regular events where the community came together. The interactions between Deaf people and interpreters occurred regularly and easily. Now, Deaf people come together less regularly and rather than large-group events, gatherings tend to be in smaller groups defined by shared interests like sports, like ski clubs, or poker games, golf, etc. Many Deaf Clubs have closed which is another big change. Even if there are students who are highly motivated and want to go out into the community, where are they going to go? How will they find Deaf people now? In the past, it wasn’t as difficult. That’s another influence we have to consider as interpreter educators.

Another layer of influence is the general social attitude or social trends. When interpreter education programs were first being established, we didn’t have general societal support for ASL as a language, for the users of ASL to sign openly in public spaces, etc. When I was growing up, I remember when going out to do errands and things with my parents. They usually cautioned me not to sign openly in public. They were concerned that people wouldn’t like it, or may perceive it as being rude or that they would be dismissive. We’ve seen a big change in social attitudes and ASL is much more welcome and accepted by the general public. There are even opportunities for hearing people to learn ASL, but it is still rare to see ASL taught to Deaf people in any formal way. Colleges and universities, for the most part, don’t offer Deaf adults the opportunity to learn about their own language, its grammar and structure, etc. It remains a struggle for Deaf individuals to learn ASL as they are left to learn via social avenues only, from peers, etc., rather than in a formal classroom setting supplemented by social exposure.

Dennis:

And it is ironic because more and more hearing people are learning about ASL grammar and structure while many Deaf Community members don’t have access to that information. Hearing individuals often study linguistics and take formal ASL courses while Deaf people have not been afforded those opportunities. It creates an odd situation.

Anna:

There is a dichotomy there. These issues create a unique kind of tension. I see now…well, in the past, it seemed, because interpreters came from within the community, they already knew how to or had learned how to show respect, to know that it is inappropriate and impolite to criticize a Deaf person’s signing, even if they use a sign that is not the one you would have expected. It is respectful to accept the language as it is used, incorporate it in the interaction and move on. As we see more and more people taking linguistics classes, people assume they know more and often communicate that idea to the Deaf people through criticism and correcting a Deaf person’s signs. This is a serious faux pas. Again, this creates a difficult dynamic between the interpreting community and the Deaf Community.  So, again, general society is more accustomed to seeing sign language interpreters, accustomed to encountering and interacting with them, used to seeing people use ASL in public places, even unexpected ones. In fact, sign language interpreters are becoming a more frequent topic of conversation. There was an emergency situation where a sign language interpreter was televised to provide access. Within a few days, there were a plethora of vlogs and articles from hearing people, with no knowledge about Deaf people, discussing what they saw, even to the extent that interpreters have become a part of late night comedy routines. This is a huge shift in attitude about interpreters, but at the same time, the same underlying attitudes of oppression persist. The oppression of Deaf people, their language, and their language rights continues, even in the face of these other shifts. There is still a lack of understanding of the Deaf perspective.

Another strong influence on interpreter education is legislative outcomes.  In the early years of the interpreting profession, almost no one paid for interpreting services. The larger percent of interpreting, if not 100% of all our work as interpreters, was volunteered time. Most people who worked as interpreters in those early years also worked other jobs to support ourselves, but our passion, our heart was with interpreting and in supporting the Deaf Community and their right to participate fully in society.

Another factor was that American society was more attuned to human rights issues.

In the 1970s and 80s, Deaf people and people with disabilities were heavily involved in fighting for their human rights which created more legal cases and resulted in the passage of a variety of legislation. Today, we have the Americans with Disabilities Act (A.D.A.).  This was one way to provide amazing levels of access and, at the same time, it has introduced new challenges, creating new issues which impact our work as interpreters, as well as the work of interpreter educators.

One example of these challenges is the creation of video relay services (VRS). What are the implications of the implementation of VRS? Providing interpreters without in-person contact? Meeting and conducting interpreted interactions through technology without traditional forms of interaction. How does that impact what our work looks like? How do Deaf people feel about it? This doesn’t only apply to VRS, but also to video remote interpreting (VRI), as well. The use of VRI services in hospitals, in courtrooms, etc. We are seeing VRI used in increasing numbers of settings and yet, it is still a new avenue. The technology itself has presented new challenges for the profession to address.

So, we’ve talked about the three largest factors which influence interpreter education. Dennis, you wanted to add some comments?

Dennis:

Yes, I did.  It’s been interesting to watch the progression of VRS. Interpreters have become a part of the machine of VRS. The traditional warming up, “getting to know you” part of the interpreting interaction is gone from this form of interpreting. A call comes on screen and it’s, “Go!” That gives me pause. We spent so many years convincing people that we needed to have information about the players, the goals of the interaction, the context, in order to interpret effectively. Now, all of that is reversed in an instant. VRS interpreters take call after call without any of that information. It’s something to think about. VRS has had a major influence on both the work we do and on Deaf people’s view of interpreters as a group. Now, interpreters are seen as machines that can just roll through anything without pause. VRS has had been a major influence on the field.

Anna:

And at the same time, we haven’t seized some opportunities in this. The really experienced VRS interpreters have their own strategies for gathering and finding the pertinent information to create a fluid communication event.  They’ve developed unique ways to find the goal of an interaction and ways to connect with the Deaf person in the moment. Some of those skills and abilities require a deep connection to Deaf people, to ASL and to Deaf culture. We haven’t discovered what all of that looks like yet, but we need to take the opportunity to document those skills and abilities and incorporate them into our educational strategies for future interpreters so that they can use them as they start to participate in video interpreting environments.

When VRS began, I saw many highly skilled interpreters, people who had many certifications and years of experience, go into VRS as a way to help balance the system. As time went by, those highly skilled people were pushed out in favor of hiring newer, less qualified, less experienced interpreters because the pay for those newer interpreters was significantly cheaper, making it easier to manage the costs of processing calls. That change alone has greatly impacted the quality of the experience for Deaf people using VRS. The level of job satisfaction for VRS interpreters has also been impacted. The level of connection and the feeling of accomplishment via video interaction just isn’t the same. It is also interesting to consider how VRS interpreters have impacted the hearing users of the service, as well. On occasion, I use VRS to conduct meetings or other business. When I’m acting as a hearing consumer of VRS services, I often find myself feeling frustrated. I can’t imagine how a hearing person with no knowledge about Deaf people must feel. How do they feel about the communication? About Deaf people? What assumptions do they make about Deaf people, their language, etc., based on these interactions? It’s a profound question. This is a huge challenge.

Next slide.

Interpreter Education: Early Mindset

Anna:

Lou Fant. I hope all of you watching today know about Lou Fant. Lou was a renowned writer, actor, interpreter and well-loved leader in our field. When RID celebrated their 25th anniversary, Lou wrote a book describing the history of interpreting and a history of RID.  Lou incorporated some of his own personal experiences as one of our profession’s founding fathers and one of the founding members of RID. He had an incredible ability to reflect on the past and extract ideas that were relevant and applicable to the present day.  The quote we’ve presented on the slide gives you some idea of the thinking of the time when RID was in its infancy. At the time, no one could predict what the interpreting world would eventually look like. No one could predict the future. When we look at it now, their vision for the future was a bit narrow in scope. Still, they expected to find people who had strong ties in the Deaf community, people who already knew how to sign, who only needed formal training to learn the process of interpreting, the cognitive processing required. They expected to continue to draw from that very specific pool of people. At the time, there was no expectation that they would eventually deal with people who had no prior experience in the community or with the language. They really had little insight into how much demand there would eventually be for sign language interpreters.

It really took us three or four generations of interpreters, as described in Lou’s quote, before we had a large enough pool of interpreters to start gathering data about what our work looked like, what a career in interpreting might look like. I consider myself third generation. Lou was a first generation interpreter, there was a generation between us, and then I’m third generation. I only worked full-time as an interpreter for a short period of time before I got involved in interpreter education. Back then, the demand for interpreters was so great – they needed people who could communicate their ideas and could show people how to develop interpreting skills. Many of us were plucked from the ranks of interpreters to become educators, even though we had little or no background or training as teachers. I was called to be an interpreter educator. It was a bumpy road for us, as educators, and, I believe, for the students, as well. At the same time, those of us who were teaching had a strong internal sense of what the work should look like, a sense that it was important to maintain a connection with Deaf people, etc. That fourth generation, they finally became the full-time interpreters and the pool of career interpreters started to expand. Even still, that group continues to grow.  We need more time to really assess what this looks like in our every day lives as sign language interpreters. It’s important to continue to have theory, but it’s also important to compare the theoretical with what’s really happening in the daily lives of working interpreters who are on the job day in and day out.

Next slide.

Early Recruitment

Anna:

This slide is what I was just talking about. That’s what those who created RID expected. They recognized training was critical and envisioned drawing in people who already knew ASL. Presently, we are recruiting many individuals who know no ASL. They may have an interest in the language or want to get involved, but they basically have no prior experience, which is a big shift.

In the past, in terms of norms, interpreters usually possessed more native-like competence – either they were native and had grown up in a Deaf family or they were called…I never thought of myself as a “native” signer. I always saw myself as bilingual because I was raised with two languages simultaneously. I never used one language exclusively – both ASL and English influenced me and were a part of who I am. So, near-native competence in ASL as the norm for interpreters no longer exists.  Today, there are possibly 15-20% of us who possess near-native competence in ASL. The rest of the interpreters are second language learners, most of whom have only a few ASL classes under their belt before they start learning to interpret. Even after certification, many of these interpreters still do not possess what we would label as native-like competence in ASL.

I’ll give you an example.  I still have conversations with many interpreters regarding conferences such as the RID conference, etc. In these conversations, they object to the use of ASL because they don’t feel comfortable signing for themselves. It’s such an odd response. If I don’t feel comfortable expressing myself in ASL, how can I interpret other people’s language usage? The concept is foreign to me.

Next, we will be focusing more on legislative influences on interpreter education. I’m going to turn this portion of the presentation over to Dennis to talk about some of the critical outcomes. Dennis?

Next slide.

Program Expansion

Dennis:

As you can see on the slide, there are several boxes below which outline the rapid expansion of interpreter education programs. There was an explosion of programs, yes, but we weren’t ready for it. In the beginning, we knew very little about the cognitive processes involved in interpreting, still, programs proliferated. One of the reasons for that was legislation. Various laws mandated the provision of sign language interpreters. Another reason for this proliferation was the number of ASL students who took classes until they were maxed out and wondered what was next in the process. People in the field were equally perplexed but eventually decided that interpreting was the next logical step for those people. Thus, more and more interpreting courses were offered. Often, the provision of those courses was very spontaneous – very little planning and care was involved.

Currently, we have approximately 100 interpreter education programs which are based in community college settings. In the early days, we viewed interpreting in terms of vocational training. We hadn’t honed in on the cognitive processing involved in interpreting work at the time. It was considered an easy skill to pick up and, traditionally, vocational training is housed in our community colleges. So, program expansion was a critical issue.

It’s interesting to look at present day trends. We are seeing a decrease in community college programs – they are closing due to dwindling enrollment. The number of interpreting students is decreasing while the number of ASL classes is increasing. Enrollment numbers are critical for college and university programs. They aren’t able to afford a student teacher ratio of 5:1. We are seeing that struggle in more and more programs across the country.

Also interesting – we now have graduate programs in interpreting when, in the past, there were none. I should say that there was a graduate program at Western Maryland College – they housed two different tracks. One track was for teaching ASL and one was for teaching interpreting. That program opened around 1986 or so, but it was very short-lived and only lasted three to four years. In the present day, we see master’s and doctorate programs in interpreting. Hopefully, that trend will continue, but it remains to be seen.

Next slide.

Federal Funding for Interpreter Education

Dennis:

It’s important to recognize that the federal government has contributed more than thirty million dollars to interpreter education over the years.

Anna:

That’s amazing.

Dennis:

This started in 1965, when the federal government provided funding to the NAD. NAD then created and supported RID in its infancy. That same year, RID hired an executive director who was Deaf. At the time, RID was housed inside of NAD. The money they received in 1965 ended and at the time, they weren’t sure how to pay the rent they were paying to NAD. They weren’t able to afford the executive director any longer and had to lay them off. It was a struggle. RID didn’t have sufficient funds and ended up moving to Gallaudet in a tiny office space. Eventually, RID moved closer to NAD again until they purchased their own building but the first federal money was really given to NAD.

As you can see, in 1978, the federal government provided the first support for interpreter training. There were 10 regional centers established. The money was provided for shorter trainings – one to two day workshops. In 1979, there was a meeting in Atlanta. Interpreters came together to discuss the state of affairs in interpreting. That meeting ultimately resulted in a publication called, “Interpreter Training: The State of the Art”. That was published through Gallaudet.

The following year, 1980, there was meeting in Tucson, AZ. This particular meeting consisted of about 50 interpreters from around the United States who came together to discuss and document 100 critical questions that required answers. Once we had answered these questions, we believed we would be ready to create interpreter education programs and evaluate interpreters. We requested funding from the federal government – the 10 RSA regional centers requested specific funding for the creation of a center solely focused on research in the field. The request was denied. Out of the 100 questions we asked all those years ago, I believe we have successfully answered two. Ninety-eight of those original questions from 1980 remain unanswered.

Next slide.

Anna:

Dennis, I’m wondering…now we’ve jumped to the year 2000, but I’d like to go back to the 1980s. You were a part of a group known as “The Magnificent Seven” – seven interpreters who collaborated to analyze the cognitive aspects of the work. “The Magnificent Seven”, as they were called, were the first group to do a task analysis of interpreting. Was that work funded by the federal government? How was the group’s work funded – with federal money or was it funded in some other way?

Dennis:

That was in 1983. I guess you could say it was federally funded, but indirectly. At the time, Ken Rust, from Madonna College, and Jan Kanda, who was from Kansas at Johnson County Community College, agreed to fly me, Ken, Jan, Betty Colonomos, Theresa Smith, Don Renzulli and Sharon Neumann Solow to meet.

Anna:

Were there seven or eight of you?

Dennis:

Seven – there were seven of us.

Anna:

Right. Seven – I remember it so clearly- the seven of you.  “The Magnificent Seven” – I remember that time.

Dennis:

Ken and Jan’s grants funded our travel to the two sessions we had. One was at Madonna – the first session. A few months later, we had the second session at the Johnson County Community College. Once those two sessions were over, we presented our findings at the 1985 CIT conference.

Anna:

Yes, I remember that. And you also published that work, as well as developing curriculum, etc.

Dennis:

Yes, right. That’s right.

So, you can see on the current slides – in 2000, there was a change.  Originally, we had 10 regional centers and one national center. In 2000, the regional centers were reduced from ten to five.  However, the five centers received an increase in funding. In essence, the funding for each of the five regions doubled. So, again, there were the five regional centers plus one national center. In 2005, the national center was tasked with the oversight of the regional centers’ grants. It had to take responsibility for coordinating and evaluating the effectiveness of each of the programs. Again, that started in 2005 and is still true today. The national center surveys of interpreters, Deaf community members, interpreter education programs, referral agencies, etc. to analyze the evolution of the field, projections for the future, to determine future needs and so on.

So, you can clearly see that federal funding has played a major role in interpreter education. There has been significant financial support for many years. This included the changes in RID certification tests – the first of which came about in 1988 or 1989…1988. The first change occurred in 1988-1989 and they did receive federal money to redesign the test at that time. Federal funds were also provided for the Conference of Interpreter Trainers (CIT) for their accreditation project. The federal government also provided money to establish master’s level programs at Western Maryland College in teaching ASL and teaching interpreting. That money was from the FIPSE program – the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education. So, over the years, interpreter education has received a vast amount of money from the federal government.

Anna:

But, Dennis, the federal government still doesn’t really support the idea of establishing a center that is devoted solely to research, right?

Dennis:

No, they don’t.

Anna:

How do we change that thinking? Is there anything that we can do to encourage a change in perspective?

Dennis:

Well, all of our funding and support has come from the Department of Education. We have to start looking at other agencies and other sources for funding. For example, the National Science Foundation (NSF) – is more supportive of research.

Anna: 

Yes – NSF or maybe NIDRR.

Dennis:

Yes – it feels like there are some important agencies. The Department of Education just doesn’t seem to be supportive of research, so…it is what it is. And now, our current RSA five-year grant expires in September of 2015. We don’t know if the government will renew the grant, if the structure will change, etc. We just don’t have any idea. But in 2015, we hope the grant will be renewed for another 5 years, but there’s no way of knowing at this point.

New slide.

Federal Funding for Interpreter Education Cont.

Dennis:

This slide summarizes some of the points Anna and I have just described – some of the takeaway points regarding federal funding for interpreter education.

One of the issues is that, without governmental funding for research, we have pockets of isolated research but there’s no cohesive effort. Obviously, Anna and I can collaborate on a small scale, but if we were all able to come together on a national level, we could create a national agenda, a national curriculum for educating interpreters, and develop a national plan. We haven’t been able to do that.

Anna:

What are the implications of that? You’ve already talked about that a bit, but I’m wondering if you could expand on this a little more. It seems like, with all this federal funding, we’ve been able to develop some terrific products and projects – we could mention the Multi-cultural curriculum, the DeafBlind curriculum – there are a number of products we’ve developed, but there’s no systematic approach to meeting our needs.  So, people develop products, but we don’t have information about which programs incorporate them, which don’t. We don’t have any information – it’s up to the individual program. There’s no systematic approach to creating the products and materials we need to educate interpreters.

Dennis:

That’s right. Many interpreter education programs have one full time instructor and maybe a part time person or two or adjunct faculty which means their time is at a premium. Things like curriculum development and candidate screening really take a back seat to satisfying immediate program needs.

Anna:

And a high percentage of interpreter educators are quickly approaching retirement. Many interpreter educators like me have been in education for 40 years and getting closer to our retirement. Luckily, for the next generation, we have a few graduate programs and a doctorate program for interpreter educators. I guess I’m curious to see if the next generation is really interested in pursuing interpreter education or if they are interested in other arenas. I wonder what will happen to many of the programs as this occurs.

Dennis:

Yes. That’s right. There was a recent survey that said that 26% of interpreter educators were slated to retire in the next 2-3 years.

Anna:

Wow. That’s amazing. I will be. Will you, Dennis? You’re pretty stubborn. I can see you staying for the long haul.

Dennis:

You are a third or fourth generation interpreter – I feel like I’m a sixth or seventh generation interpreter.

Next slide.

Market Disorder

Anna:

Now, Dennis was talking about some amazing things. Today we have 147 interpreter education programs. It’s pretty amazing.

We have a certification process. We have programs. We have CIT’s accreditation program, however, the larger percentage of interpreter education programs are not accredited. It’s really a small percentage even today. We have certification, but we still don’t really understand what it is supposed to look like. Most members of RID – and this is another big shift in the field – in the past, the RID membership was primarily certified interpreters. RID didn’t really start to grow the associate membership until the late 1980s, so there was a really small number of RID members who were not certified. That translated to conferences and other RID events focusing in on the needs of certified members to maintain and develop their skills. There has been a radical shift in the RID membership since that time. Currently, the largest number of RID members today are not certified. In many ways, it seems strange that the membership of our professional organization is mostly comprised of interpreters who are not certified.

So that has really had a large impact. It creates a lot of market disorder. There are very few standards. We don’t have certification standards or even agree on what a certified interpreter looks like or what it means to be certified. We see varying skill levels from certified interpreters and variation in what the work looks like. There are no standards for hiring interpreters, for interpreter wages. There is so much market disorder. We have a lot we can be proud of, but we are also impacted by many variables which impact the stability of the market.

We know how to create programs and projects and implement them. We know how to found an organization like CIT and work on projects like accreditation. That project required years of effort by numerous people – more than 20 years, in fact, to finally implement accreditation. After all the work and energy to create the accreditation program, for example, very few programs have taken advantage of it. These kinds of imbalances create a level of destabilization. We are so far behind. Our work is far from complete.

Dennis:

Still, 50 years later…RID has been around for 50 years. CIT has been around for a long time. But these two organizations are still volunteer-run organizations. Obviously, we have the national office for RID with paid staff and the executive director, but the leaders in our field, in these professional organizations, still volunteer their time. Our leaders are volunteering to serve as presidents and vice presidents of RID and CIT.  I think it is something we need to think about. Can we successfully continue with this kind of model? Can we continue to progress when we are led by volunteer organizations? It’s something to consider.

Next slide.

Behind the Eight Ball

Anna:

One thing has always struck me – we are always playing catch up. We are never in a position to be proactive, rather, we are always reacting. We always seem to be behind the eight ball instead of getting ahead. One example of this happened in the late 1970s with the passage of PL 94-142, the mainstreaming legislation at that time. Deaf children were moved from the schools for the deaf and started attending schools in their local, home district. We certainly had concerns and opinions about the implementation of the law, but we discussed these issues within our own community rather than voicing our concerns to the powers that be. We weren’t successful in creating change or coming up with an approach that was successful. We haven’t caught up with that. This is really a critical issue.  Our inability to be proactive has been detrimental. It feels like the Deaf community has suffered at our hands – that’s certainly not the only cause, but the Deaf community has been at our mercy, in large part, because we haven’t figured out how to come to the table and join the discussion outside of our own ranks. We haven’t been successful on a federal level, we haven’t been able to advocate, to participate in creating legislation. We haven’t done a great job of educating society about interpreting, what it looks like, why it is necessary. We just haven’t done a good job with that and we’re still behind the eight ball. We haven’t caught up and it feels like we sort of missed the boat in a lot of ways. There’s no way for us to really catch up. We’re certainly trying our best, but we’re sort of making progress on the fly. Ultimately, the results of this inability to be proactive are really devastating.

Dennis:

I think one of the things that has happened over the last 30 years or so is that the interpreters, as a profession, have lost control of the work. We’ve lost control of who defines our work. VRS defines our work, the FCC defines our work, hiring entities – people who hire K12 interpreters, all these external forces are controlling our work – spoken language referral agencies, etc. As sign language interpreters, we have to try to fight back to regain control of our work for ourselves and not allow external forces define the work that we do.

Anna:

Yes. That’s a really good example. We are so behind in that area. We have been so internally focused, so insulated that we haven’t really lifted our heads out of interpreter-world to use our efforts and energy in appropriate places. There are so many things we can’t agree on in our own community – we’ve been so consumed with the test, the certification test…we’ve lost sight of other critical areas that need our attention.

Next slide.

Deaf Community Involvement in Interpreter Education

Anna:

One huge impact is the decreased involvement of Deaf people’s involvement in interpreting. As Dennis mentioned earlier, in the beginning, RID and NAD worked together. NAD helped to found RID and maintained a level of involvement afterwards. Deaf people used to be involved in the screening and recruiting of interpreters, but now there is a completely different approach. It is extremely rare to have Deaf teachers involved in interpreter education. I still feel it is critical. I hope that if we grow the field of Deaf Interpreters, that’s one way to reintegrate Deaf people into the roles of gatekeeping. By having Deaf interpreters there, in the assignments, in the process, with other Deaf people, so that they can see what is required and what the process looks like, so they can feel empowered and have a better understanding of their roles. Hopefully, people can benefit from working with Deaf interpreters rather than just trying to get through an assignment.

Next slide.

Recurring Issues in Interpreter Education

Anna:

These are some of the recurring issues we see. If you read StreetLeverage posts, Cindy Volk posted an article, Sign Language Interpreter Education: Time for a National Call to Action, in October during Interpreter Education month. Her article addresses some of these recurring issues. These are issues that have not been resolved. They aren’t going away because we haven’t learned the lessons yet. We haven’t learned how to, as Dennis mentioned earlier, we haven’t learned how to be accountable and take control of what is happening within our field and in our work.

We have to be more creative and find ways to involve the Deaf community in our work and in the education of interpreters. We have to find ways to empower Deaf people to self-advocate, to fight for their language rights, to ask for qualified interpreters, to empower Deaf people so that they feel they can rejoin that gatekeeping process and join in the screening and selection of future interpreters.

We have to look at what we call “the gap”. We have to start using what we already know. We already know that graduating students isn’t enough. They don’t have sufficient skills when they graduate. The interpreter education programs say they can’t do outreach to students after they have graduated and have been in the field for three years. But the students aren’t ready. They need more time and more language exposure prior to interpreting. Perhaps that is the role of the community college, then. Perhaps they provide the language program that would feed into an interpreter education program on the college/university level. If students have two, three, perhaps even four years of completely focused language exposure – maybe you get a degree in ASL and then you do your graduate studies in interpreting. Who knows? But we have to figure out how to close that gap.

There have been a large number of lawsuits related to specific settings – courtrooms, etc., but they are really focused in the wrong direction. These places are stuck with the products we provide them. If we haven’t figured out how to consistently graduate competent interpreters, then we, and by “we” I mean the collective “we” – aren’t doing a good job. There are programs here and there which are doing a good job, but overall, there are so many graduates who enter the field who just aren’t prepared. So, they graduate, they have no supervision, no support. They are left alone to learn on the job and they aren’t prepared. They aren’t ready to work independently – they don’t have sufficient experience or knowledge. They don’t have the ability to manage what they are doing. They are still learning the language. The programs just aren’t sufficient. They don’t have the depth or breadth of skill development to prepare students for the work they are going to do on their own. I think those are some of the examples we’ve been talking about.

The next slide has a few of the many questions that need to be answered. Dennis, did you want to say something?

Dennis:

Yes. These are some of the questions related to the topic Anna was just discussing – what outcomes are necessary for graduates, etc.  So, these are some of the lingering questions we have in the field. If we don’t look at these questions and we continue to move forward without answers, nothing will change in interpreter education or interpreting, in general. We have to confront some of these very difficult questions.

Anna:

Yes, Dennis. Do you have any idea where that discussion starts? Where do we begin? At what point?

Dennis:

I think some of the conversations have already started in places like StreetLeverage, both the posts online and at the StreetLeverage Live events. The conversation has started. We have to start talking about these things at RID, at CIT. We have to make a place, we have to create a space for these discussions. When you look at the RID conference schedule, we see the list of presenters, but where are the discussions? Where are we having this conversation? Where are we making the time to debate and discuss these issues? Certainly, RID has committees and there are people having these conversations on a smaller scale, but we need more people involved in it. I still think we need to include more voices – we need more people involved in the conversation.

Anna:

Yes. I’m thinking about that. RID – we’ve been involved there. I also think community forums are a great starting place, but once that happens, how do we continue to spread the word? There are multiple levels we need to be working on – state, local and national levels.

Laughter as the slide in the presentation returns to the beginning.

Dennis:

Well, I guess that’s it.

Anna:

Our last slide got skipped. The closing point…oh. Go back. Back up. One more…oh! No? Nevermind.

That’s fine. We’re good.

I just want to leave you with one final thought. We have to remember Deaf people in all of this. Deaf people depend on the decisions we make about interpreter education and what it will look like into the future, as well as future interpreters and how we move forward. Remember why you are here and who we serve. Think of these things with deep respect, reverence and humility.

Dennis:

Yes. Respect, reverence and humility. We have to remember to be humble. The decisions we make – we don’t make them alone. We make them in our partnership with Deaf people. We are all in this together.

Anna:

Agreed.

Wing:

As we are closing this webinar today, I’d like to share a piece of my own heart. As I watched you both tonight, there was so much of yourselves in your presentation. It was really amazing. The wealth of knowledge you shared tonight was so rich, I only hope that we all can take some of that wealth of knowledge to share with others. Your years of experience and your valued perspectives are something we can gather and store and grow over time. Honestly, I feel humbled by your willingness to take time out to share your knowledge, experience and perspectives with us today. We are very fortunate – interpreting as a profession is fortunate – to have benefitted from your service all of these years. Hopefully, we can all come together to work towards a shared vision of the future. Thank you both so much.

Anna:

As we said in our opening – we both feel indebted. We are indebted to the Deaf Community. They have given so much to us in our lives. We’ll never be able to repay it. This is how we repay that debt.

Dennis:

Absolutely. We are indebted.

Wing:

In some ways, my little crayon box had a few colors, but tonight added another color. Something I can take to use and write with on my own.

Anna:

What color is it? What color did we add?

Wing:

I don’t know – something new and different. 

Anna:

Something old? The color of old?

Wing:

No, no. Just something different and inspiring.

Dennis:

No, no, no.

Anna:

I know what your are thinking – I’m the old one.

Laughter all around.

Dennis:

Old and feeling old are two different things.

Wing:

Many of the participants, as they were joining, expressed their thanks via AIM, email, etc. They are grateful for your work. They all say that this presentation is so relevant. So now, for all the participants tonight – your job is to share this information. Go to www.streetleverage.com. This presentation will be posted on the blog and you can share the link with your interpreter friends. Share it with Deaf people and the Deaf Community. Hopefully, people will be moved by this conversation and be able to contribute and help us support the Deaf Community in whatever ways that we can.

Anna:

Thank you for allowing Dennis and I to take a look back on our history. It’s been a wonderful experience.

Dennis:

Thank you so much. I’ve really enjoyed this opportunity. I agree with Anna.

Anna:

Thank you so much. I’ve really enjoyed this opportunity.

Wing:

Thanks everyone! Take care!  Bye now!

Posted on

October is Sign Language Interpreter Education Month

October is Sign Language Interpreter Education Month

October is Sign Language Interpreter Education Month

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

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

Highlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interpreter Education Month

Posted on

Sign Language Interpreters and the Quest for a Deaf Heart

Sign Language Interpreters and the Quest for a Deaf Heart

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

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

Early Discovery

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

Deaf Activists & Social Dynamics

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

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

Internalization of Deaf Heart

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

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

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

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

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

and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overcoming Inertia

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

Absence of Context

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

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

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

Accountability is the Beginning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Important Enough to Act?

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on

Sign Language Interpreters Seek Clarity to Defend RID NIC Certification

Sign Language Interpreter Seeking Clarity

Dennis Cokely shares the RID/NAD written response to his initial letter requesting clarification on the “enhanced” NIC test with annotations on the report provided by the governing entities.

I want to thank StreetLeverage for creating a forum where issues affecting sign language interpreters and the field of sign language interpreting can be raised and discussed thoughtfully and respectfully. This forum has allowed me the opportunity to share my communications with the RID Board on questions I believe need to be answered regarding the “enhanced” NIC certification test. My last posting on this topic resulted in a rich and stimulating discussion.

The questions raised in my post, Defenders of Certification: Sign Language Interpreters Question “Enhanced” RID NIC Test, and that will be raised here, are not raised out of nostalgic ties; not raised out of a desire to cling to the past; not raised out of a desire to foment dissent. In truth, I raise these questions to provide certified sign language interpreters (and, indeed, all members of RID) with the information and facts necessary for us to serve as defenders, not critics, of the current NIC evaluation. Sadly I believe that, to date, we have not been provided with such information or facts.

What follows is a letter I sent to the RID Board on June 25, 2012 in response to the “comprehensive report” that was released by the Board on June 7, 2012, which was in response to my March 18, 2012 letter questioning aspects of the “enhanced” NIC test.

My Intent

I want to explicitly state my intent in writing these letters and raising these questions is not to spur divisiveness but rather to garner transparency and to seek the underlying rationale for decisions that were made without full involvement of the certified membership. To date I have not received a response from the Board to this letter, although I have received an acknowledgement that my email letter has been received.

I truly hope that a meaningful response to the issues I have raised will be provided in a timely and public manner. If such a response is forthcoming, I would suggest that the approach of “It is because we say it is” is decidedly not a useful strategy in addressing an issue as important to RID certified members as this is; the response must be one that comports well with the more than forty years of experience RID has assessing interpreting competency and that comports with the real world experiences of practitioners.

My hope is that my postings on this issue can, and will, spur discussions that can better inform our decision-making process and, ultimately, improve our assessment of who is qualified to become “one of us”.

My Letter

June 25, 2012

To Presidents Prudhom and Scoggins and members of the RID Board:

Thank you for your letter dated June 7 and for the “comprehensive report” that was attached. Following you will find my response to the report and some additional issues/questions I have that were raised by the report.

You are correct that my letter was made public. But, please know that it was made public only after more than a month had passed after I had sent the letter to all members of the Board during which time its receipt was not even acknowledged by the Board. While I appreciate the demands on a volunteer Board, I would suggest that the serious questions I raised deserved a much more timely response (and at least the courtesy of an acknowledgment of receipt by the Board) and the answers which I requested should not have taken three months to assemble. I also believe that the “community discussion” its release created is definitely a positive discussion and one that should have occurred as the “enhancements” were conceived and most definitely before they were implemented. I hope that continued, open and public discussion will only help to strengthen our decisions and more fully engage the RID membership in these critical decisions and programs. I must tell you that I do intend to post this letter to you in a public forum in a couple of weeks – I firmly believe that providing a forum for members discuss these issues not only allows a fuller airing of issues, but also allows the Board to have a more accurate picture of the pulse of the membership than it appears to have on this issue.

I am sure you can appreciate the fact that the report that was generated in response to my letter is, based on the numerous emails I have received and numerous postings on social media, viewed by many as quite a defensive, reactive and inadequate response. My intent here, and throughout, is not to create an atmosphere of confrontation or to incite divisiveness. Rather, my intent is that, unlike decisions taken in the past, we can all agree that the decisions we make in the certification program are based on empirical data, not the feelings or beliefs of a small group that may not well-represent the membership. In your letter to me you state “NAD and RID fully support the work and direction of the enhanced NIC…”. I humbly and respectfully strongly disagree. At the very least in the case of RID, I think it is much more accurate and truthful to state that the RID Board fully supports the “enhanced” NIC. I say this because there is considerable discontent and unrest among the membership regarding the “enhanced” NIC. I also believe there has been anything but acceptable and appropriate levels of transparency regarding decisions surrounding these “enhancements” which is quite surprising for what the Board claims is a “membership driven” organization. I think that it is fair to say that for many members there is a clear sense that critical decisions that define who we are as interpreters have been made without significant and meaningful involvement of, and engagement with, the members and most definitely without meaningful discussion at our regional and national conferences, again belying the notion of RID as a “membership driven” organization. I certainly urge you to make good on your pledge to “…dedicated communication effort…now and in the future” and hope you do so proactively rather than reactively.

The “comprehensive report” provided many statements that asserted that the “enhanced” NIC was valid and reliable but provided no empirical or psychometric data to support such assertions. Unfortunately I see no proactive involvement of the membership in many of the issues I have raised; I see no checks and balances built into the current “enhanced” NIC that can ensure impartiality and objectivity; I see no independent checks and balances of the design and implement work off the consulting group; I see no concern for the negative reactions and responses of members that this “enhanced” NIC is not based on sound empirical data; and unfortunately I see no evidence in the Board’s actions that can support its claim that RID, in this arena at least, is a “membership-driven” organization.

I fully appreciate the pressures and demands on an all-volunteer Board having been there myself. I trust you will accept my response and the questions I raise below in the spirit of moving toward a stronger and more cohesive RID.  However, as I stated before, the fact is that there is growing discontent among the membership with the manner in which decisions are taken within the organization and a growing feeling of complete disenfranchisement within the organization. There already is a growing number of members and an increasing number of states in the US who believe that RID certification has become meaningless and irrelevant. More importantly, there is an increasing chorus of RID members crying for an alternate organization and that chorus grows as members take the “enhanced” NIC. I, for one, am saddened to see that number grow. But if sound, logical answers to the questions I have previously raised and also raise below cannot be provided then, unfortunately, I would have no option but to join their number and advocate loudly and passionately for creation of an alternate organization. I would be incredibly saddened should that come to pass.

I thank you for your willingness to engage in this discussion and I am willing to continue this very important discussion in any forum you feel will be beneficial (email, VideoPhone, phone, face-to-face meetings, etc.).

I eagerly await your response.

Sincerely,

dennis

Dennis Cokely, Professor
Director, American Sign Language Program
Director, World Languages Center
Chair, Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures
Northeastern University
Boston, MA 02115
 

My Response to the June 7, 2012 “Comprehensive Report” on the NIC “enhancements

1) Before raising specific questions generated by the report, I ask that the Board offer an explanation to the membership for why the same consultant firm that was directly responsible for the design and implementation of the “enhanced” NIC was also asked to write the interim report which asserts that the “enhanced” NIC is valid and reliable. While I, in no way, intend to cast aspersions on the Caviart group, I believe it is incumbent upon the Board explain why this is not a clear conflict of interest and why an independent psychometrician was not engaged to review the overall process and write the report? Given the catastrophic recent NIC history and the absolute appearance of a possible conflict of interest, I would urge the Board to address this as quickly as possible. Why should we have faith in the validity of the Caviart report? Why is this not a conflict of interest given that Caviart has a vested interest in convincing the Board and members that its initial test development is valid and reliable?

2) It comes as quite a surprise to me and I am sure to most RID members that, on page #2 of the report, we learn that the profile of a “certified NIC (level 1) interpreter” was developed by 14 members of the NIC Task Force, an NIC Scoring Group (whose composition is unknown) and an unidentified group of “subject-matter experts”. This means that, if one includes the Board (which, I assume, approved the profile), it would appear that fewer than 100 members had a hand in determining this profile. This represents less than .009% of the membership. Why was this profile not circulated to the membership for comment and input? How is not circulating this profile consistent with claims of a “membership driven” organization?

3) It is also troubling is that the profile of a “certified NIC (level 1) interpreter” is offered without any rational, explanation or justification. What empirical basis is there to support this profile? What data is there to suggest that a “…vocabulary at a first year undergraduate level…” is appropriate? What is meant by “…quickly adapt to different situations and communication styles”?

4) But what is even more troubling on page #2 is the incredibly dismissive tone in the report intended for those who might question or challenge (“That is fine.”). While it is certainly true that “…no profile will satisfy everyone”, I believe that the leadership owes it to the members to create an environment in which questions and challenges are welcomed because, presumably, the leadership has data to support its choices and decisions and thus can appropriately respond to such questions and challenges. The tone here smacks of “it is because we say it is”. If this tone emanates from the consultant group then perhaps we have retained the wrong group. If the tone emanates from the leadership, then the situation is even worse that I thought and we definitely have a crisis of leadership. How is such a tone consistent with a “membership driven” organization? Does the membership not, at least, deserve the courtesy of opportunities to discuss the definition of the threshold that marks who is “one of us”?

5) Also, on page #2, it appears that a decision has been made that there will be “levels” to the NIC (“currently called Level 1”). If this is indeed the case, this represents a significant departure from past practice (the recently aborted iteration of the NIC notwithstanding) in which we have had a “generalist then specialist” approach to certification. I ask that the Board release the overall comprehensive master plan mentioned on page #3 for the certification program as well as the specific criteria for determining “…higher and specialized levels”. What is the overall master plan for the certification program?

6) Again on page #2, I believe it is totally inaccurate to make the claim that “…this statement summarizes what both organizations believe…”. At the present time I believe that it is accurate to say, in the case of RID at least, that this statement summarizes what the Board, the NIC Task Force and an NIC Scoring Group whose composition is unknown believes. The membership were not at all engaged in this discussion nor invited to provide feedback on this issue.  Can the RID Board explain how it purports to represent the membership on this issue when it has not fully engaged the membership?

7) On page #3, it is extremely troublesome to read that the claim “…more interpreter/consumer interactions occurred remotely…” is based on the feelings of the NIC Task Force rather than on empirical data. In fact, according to a recently completed survey of RID Certified and Associate members conducted by the National Interpreter Education Center, 70% of interpreters who responded report they do absolutely no work in VRS and 92% do no work in VRI. These data make it clear that it is still the case that from interpreters’ experience, the overwhelming majority of the work that interpreters do is conducted in face-to-face interactions.  While it may be that Deaf people are using more VRS/VRI, at this point in our history the fact is that the vast majority of interpreters do not work in those settings. This begs the question of why we developed an assessment approach that appears predicated on beliefs, settings, assumptions in which only 30% and 8% of us work?

8 ) Given the fact that some members of the NIC Task force have VRS/VRI ties, one also has to wonder again about the wisdom of relying on feelings rather than empirical data. Why are feelings used over empirical data? Again I do not intend to cast aspersions, but when segments on the “enhanced” NIC have durations of three to five minutes (which resemble durations found in VRS calls), one wonders what response the Board might have to the fact that there is the appearance of a conflict of interest for members of the NIC Task force who do have VRS/VRI ties?

9) On page 5 the process by which the “content and format” of the “enhanced” NIC is described. The logic of this process seems, to me, to be somewhat circular and rather flawed. If I understand the process correctly, raters used the previous NIC exam, material with which they were intimately familiar having viewed the material dozens and dozens of times. They were then asked to identify portions of that material that they believed “…most effectively discriminated the skills of interpreters at the level described”. From a linguistic and sociolinguistic perspective, what is critical is that they selected these portions from within a larger context and those portions were taken from within a larger sample of a candidate’s work. Thus raters had significant background information influencing the choice of segments that they believed “…most effectively discriminated the skills of interpreters at the level described”.  Scoring criteria were then identified using a “proven algorithm”. While the algorithm may be “proven”, the elements (and the empirical support for those elements) to which the algorithm was applied need to be known. This is especially true since the previous iteration of the NIC listed rating elements that conflated language elements (e.g. articulation, use of space) with interpretation elements. What are the elements to which raters will apply the scoring algorithm and what is the empirical basis for those elements?

10) Having demonstrated that portions from within a larger context and taken from within a larger sample of a candidate’s work could be reliably rated, how then is it reasonable to conclude that portions generated with no larger context and from no larger work sample could or would suffice as a valid indicant of a candidate’s competence?

11) Having the Scoring Group finalize the profile, develop the scoring criteria, rate previously rated samples and then discuss their holistic ratings, places enormous and unchecked power in the hands of a small group. Why was there no independent confirmation of the Scoring Group’s work? Why were not different groups engaged in segments of this undertaking? How large was the Scoring Group? Who were its members?

12) On page 6 we are told that the final vignettes were “…believed, by the Scoring Group, to have the most appropriate content, vocabulary and stimulus material”. The Scoring Group then developed new scoring criteria – again enormous and unchecked power in the hands of a small group. Is there a rationale for this? Are we to believe that there is a different set of criteria for each vignette? If so, what is the full set of criteria used to rate a candidate and what is the empirical basis for each criterion? Why should we believe the Scoring Group is qualified to make such determinations?

13) I submit that the assertion that “While content validity is critical, face validity is not” critical completely ignores the recent past with regard to the NIC and reflects a complete lack of understanding of our assessment and institutional history. Certainly face validity is unquestionably important for market acceptance. And most certainly one incredibly important segment of that market is the RID Certified and Associate membership and students in Interpreter Education Programs. If certification is to have any value, these stakeholders simply must feel and believe that the high-stakes assessment that is the NIC, at least looks like what interpreters do regularly. While it may be true that an assessment of interpretation skills does not have to look like what interpreters do regularly, one would think that, given the last significantly flawed iteration of the NIC, the Board would most definitely want the assessment to look like what interpreters do regularly. Given the incredibly negative issues surrounding the last iteration of the NIC, why would the Board, the NIC Task Force and the NIC Scoring Group endorse an assessment approach that most clearly lacks face validity and seems not to be widely supported?

14) On page 8 the dismissive tone of this report continues with the assertion that there is “…absolutely no merit to this suggestion.” In the present climate, I assert precisely the opposite – if the members of RID do not believe that the assessment is valid and looks valid, if we cannot defend it, if we cannot/will not encourage those who are not yet certified to seek certification, then the assessment process is seriouslyflawed. I believe that there is incredible merit to the need for face validity of the NIC. The report asserts that the “enhanced” NIC “…has significant face validity…”, but this is just another example of “it is because we say it is”. No empirical data is offered here. However, candidates who have taken the “enhanced” NIC and who have contacted me almost unanimously say that they think that the “enhanced” NIC did not fairly sample their interpreting skills, did not look like what they do on a regular basis and did not allow them to demonstrate what they do when they interpret. Can the Board, the NIC Task Force or the NIC Scoring Group provide empirical data that candidates do indeed feel the “enhanced” NIC fairly samples and assesses their work? What percent of those who have taken the “enhanced” NIC report that it “fairly sampled” their interpreting competence? I doubt such data even exists or is collected.

15) On page 8 the report states that panels were asked to “…identify the amount of time that it takes to accurately assess a candidate’s skill.” Again I ask whether there is any empirical data to support this approach; what we have is self-report data, drawn from an individual’s various experiences that are based on samples that are highly contextualized. If I state that in a given real-world context I can determine in two or three minutes whether I can accurately assess skill for this particular situation, I cannot validly apply that determination to other contexts. Why have we have taken timing information based on contextualized self-reports and applied that timing information to de-contextualized vignettes? Is there any empirical support for doing so? Are we asking raters trained to assess the former NIC to make this determination? If so, by what justification? Or is this another instance in which the ubiquitous Scoring Group

16) The unidentified subject matter “experts” (number and qualifications unknown) believe that “niceties” can be excluded because they “…provide little information about a candidate’s skill”. It certainly is true that, from an interpreter’s perspective, the beginnings of interactions are often not challenging and thus may not be fully representative of a candidate’s skill set. However, there is clear linguistic empirical data to show that these “niceties” are often essential to an interpreter’s overall ease, comfort and comprehension of a speaker/signer and thus important to rendering successful interpretations. Indeed, one cannot “…go right to the heart of the communication encounter.” Linguists and Sociolinguists have shown clearly that successful communication is an evolved and negotiated interaction; one cannot properly and fully understand “the heart” of an interaction while ignoring or not having access to the “skeleton” and the “flesh” that surround the “heart”. We return again to the face validity question. How is it that we can warrant that those who pass the NIC can “…relay the essence of a message…” when our assessment strips away all of the context, linguistic background and interactional unfolding that leads up to “…the essence of a message…”? What is the empirical data to support this decision? Certainly the “comprehensive report” does not address this question.

17) The use of “tower crane operators” is an insulting and ignorant analogy at best (no offense intended to tower crane operators). Granted there is considerable pressure in being a crane operator. However, there is also a clear “right and wrong” result, the ball is manipulated correctly or it is not; the result is black or white. The results on a crane operator test are plain for all to see – the wall comes down or it does not (true some might be more efficient than others; but ultimately if the wall does not come down the operator has not been successful). However, as any interpreter knows, interpreting is anything but a “black or white” cognitive task. There are a finite number of moves that are possible with a tower crane. However, as any interpreter knows there are myriad possibilities for rendering successful interpretations in any interaction because we are dealing with people not machines. And while the obstacles through which crane operators must move to demonstrate their skill are finite, interpreters clearly know that because communication involves a range of human beings, a range of situations, and a range of communicative goals, the obstacles through which we must maneuver are virtually infinite. It does not follow logically that because tower crane operators can be assessed by an examination that lacks face validity that interpreters should accept, much less endorse, any examination that lacks face validity. Why should we accept a lack of face validity?

18) The use of “police officers” is also not an appropriate analogy for our purposes. Police officers spend months and months training at the police academy; they do not get to take their performance exam until/unless they have performed well in their training routines during which they have fired their guns countless times. The police officer test itself is valid because it presumes months and months of training that is specific to being a police officer. However, in our case, the claim that NIC “…standards include requirements for education…”(pg. 6), make using police officer testing a false analogy. Our forthcoming “requirement for education” is, at this point, only a BA/BS degree but not a degree in interpreting. So, even though the police officer test may not be indicative of what they do on a daily basis, police cadets have had months of training and practice to demonstrate what they will do on a daily basis. RID has no such warrantied, specific interpreter educational background requirement for NIC candidates. Lacking the focused, specific training/education that is required of police officers (and tower crane operators) and that forms the foundation on which their tests can rest, why would we adopt an assessment approach that presumes such focused, specified training/education when we do not yet have such focused, specified training/education?

19) On page 9 the report asserts that a testing program is fair if “…every candidate has the same opportunity to demonstrate his or her competence.” Again, based on the numerous comments I have received from those who have taken the “enhanced” NIC, the majority feel they did not have an opportunity to demonstrate their competence. All candidates may be presented with the same logistically structured opportunity with the NIC, but if that opportunity is believed by a majority of candidates not to afford them an “…opportunity to demonstrate his or her competence” or is believed by them to be a flawed opportunity, how can such a program be judged as fair? How does the Board respond to candidates who feel they did not have an opportunity to demonstrate their competence?

20) Page 9 states that there is “…no evidence…that suggests that physical endurance is required for the job.” This patently ignores significant research in signed and spoken language interpreting research on this matter.  It patently fails to realize that physical endurance is not the critical issue in interpretation — cognitive endurance definitely is!!!! This is extremely well documented in the literature. With the “enhanced” NIC vignettes ranging from only three minutes to five minutes in length (although one LTA emailed me saying that they carefully timed each scenario and the actual range was between 1:20 and 3:20!!), it is virtually impossible to see how we assess cognitive endurance. This is, after all, one of the most important reasons why we advocate for the use of teams in many situations. If there is no evidence in the “Role Delineation Study” that speaks to cognitive fatigue, then I suggest that that study is seriously flawed. If there is such evidence in the Study and the “enhanced NIC” ignores this, then the program is seriously flawed. Why do we think that cognitive fatigue is not a critical factor to assess? And why was the “Role Delineation Study” not more widely vetted and shared?

21) Page 10 states that “…RID has carefully specified the testing conditions…”. Based on information I have received from candidates who have taken the “enhanced” RID, this means that candidates must be seated and must remain so for the duration of the test. As any interpreter knows, when an interpreter is seated, his/her range of motion is severely restricted and thus his/her use of space for semantic/linguistic purposes is also restricted. Given that we have never restricted candidates in this manner, what empirical evidence is there that placing interpreters in such restricted conditions will produce samples of their work that are indicative of their overall competence? Why would we want to restrict/constrain the use of semantic/linguistic space?

22) Page 11 proclaims the hope that the “enhanced” NIC will “…earn the value and respect from consumers that it deserves”. I submit that the “enhanced” NIC cannot earn respect from consumers until and unless it is accepted, embraced and valued by practitioners. This status report references a number of reports and studies that, to my knowledge, have not been made available to the RID membership. When can members expect release of all reports that are referenced in the Status Report?

My Previous Questions

In my initial letter to the Board, I asked nine questions. I was told that a “comprehensive report” would be issued that would address these questions. Unfortunately, I do not believe that any of the questions has been answered satisfactorily.

1) RID members need a more thorough explanation of why time and a simple mathematical formula should be the primary drivers behind the format of the certification test; if this is not true, then a clear explanation should be provided for how the current 4-minute per vignette test segmentation was determined.

Answer provided in the “comprehensive report” is inadequate

2) An explanation for the process/principles used in the selection of and/or development of the vignettes be made known to the membership.

Answer provided in the “comprehensive report” is inadequate

3) A full explanation of the empirical justification for this 4-minute approach must be provided to the membership.

Answer provided in the “comprehensive report” is inadequate

4) A clear explanation of the rationale and justification for placing candidates at such an interpreting disadvantage must be provided to the membership.

Answer provided in the “comprehensive report” is inadequate

5) A detailed explanation of the rational for, and empirical support for this decision and this deviation from forty years of experience is also needed by the membership.

Answer provided in the “comprehensive report” is inadequate

6) If there is evidence that supports the claim that a 4-miute sample can validly and reliably assess a candidate’s ability to assess sustained quality over time, then it must be made known to the membership.

Answer provided in the “comprehensive report” is inadequate

7) What are the various English and ASL grammatical and semantic features in vignettes that raters will be assessing and do these five 4-minute vignettes provide sufficient linguistic and discourse variation to elicit an appropriate range of English and ASL grammatical and semantic features?

Answer provided in the “comprehensive report” is inadequate

8 ) Since using discretion in selecting assignments is one of the core operating principles of our long-standing Code, the rationale for adopting an “all or nothing” approach must be made clear to the membership.

Answer provided in the “comprehensive report” is inadequate

9) A clear, empirically supported explanation of why the current NIC assessment is valid and can be reliably assessed by raters must be provided to the membership.

Answer provided in the “comprehensive report” is inadequate

Posted on

Defenders of Certification: Sign Language Interpreters Question “Enhanced” RID NIC Test

Sign Language Interpreters - Defenders of Certification

The advent of the tiered NIC test brought with it a host of questions and concerns among members of RID. Dennis Cokely shares a personal letter sent to the RID Board and outlines his requests for explanation regarding the format and procedures of the current certification process.

At this point in our history, the NIC assessment is the foundation for determining who is “one of us” and, as such, certified members of RID should be the defenders of the certification process. However, the fact that certified RID members are unsure of the validity of the current NIC assessment is unacceptable. I believe that the NIC Task Force and the Board of Directors have implemented changes to the RID assessment process the validity of which has not all been transparent to the certified membership. And so, instead of being defenders of the process, we find ourselves in the position of questioning, challenging and/or belittling the recent RID assessments procedures.

My Letter

On March 18,2012, I sent an email letter to each member of the RID Board of Directors in which I raised a number of questions regarding the new “enhancements” to the NIC test. That letter is reprinted below.

Before reading the letter, it is important to me that you understand the spirit in which that letter was sent.

My intent in sending the letter was neither to create or enflame divisiveness within RID nor was it to attack the current leadership of the RID. Rather it was a request that the Board provide the information necessary so that the RID membership, especially the certified membership, could feel confident and secure in the knowledge that the “enhanced NIC” was indeed valid and reliable; information that was not made available for the previous iteration of the NIC.

Until the day when RID (and we are RID) has a transparently valid and reliable certification process that determines who will be “one of us”, we will always have division and animus (parenthetically, I believe this can only be avoided if we, RID, decide to divest ourselves of the assessment process). My letter was sent to the Board requesting that all the information and documentation that provided the psychometric basis for the “enhanced NIC” be made available to all of the members. The Board has committed to releasing a report that would address the questions I raised.

RID Response

On April 22 I received an email from the RID President that stated, in part: “…the board of directors and national office staff agree the comprehensive report would be shared with the entire membership.  Therefore, this will take some time and resources to complete and request your patience and continued support to allow us the time to complete this comprehensive report. In fact, the work has been underway since the receipt of your letter.”

To be sure, it is unclear to me why the answers to the questions I raised should “…take some time and resources to complete.” After all the questions I raise are the essential questions one must ask and the evidence one must have in advance of implementing such a radically new assessment approach. The information should be readily available; if it has to be created in response to the questions I raise, there are even more serious questions about the process by which this iteration of the NIC was developed and implemented. Nevertheless, I applaud the fact that the RID Board will share full information regarding the new NIC with the membership. Hopefully that report will be issued in a timely manner and, in my opinion, it certainly must happen in advance of the regional conferences.

Reactions — Keep Them in Check

Given all of this, I trust you will read the following letter in the spirit in which it was intended. I sincerely hope that any reaction you may have will be held in check until we all receive the “comprehensive report” from the Board. I believe that any action prior to receipt of the “comprehensive report” would be premature and uniformed.

Letter Reprint

Members of the Board of Directors
Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf

333 Commerce Street
Alexandria, VA 22314 
 

March 18, 2012

To Members of the Board,

I am writing this letter to the Board, one of the very few I have written since 1972, as a concerned and dedicated member of RID for over forty years and as a Past President of RID. Specifically, I am extremely concerned about the new “enhancements” to the NIC test. I think it goes without saying that the last iteration of the NIC was significantly flawed. Claiming, as we did, (lacking both the sophistication and the empirical data) that a three-tiered certification based on a single evaluation test was valid and defensible, was clearly shown to be a serious mistake (one which we made earlier in our first effort at testing – CI/CT/CSC). With this latest unsubstantiated testing attempt, not only did we damage the credibility of the NIC and the RID itself in the minds of many RID members but perhaps more importantly in the minds of many Deaf people. Both interpreters and Deaf people saw that the test results and tiered certifications awarded often did not match the reality experienced by the “eyes on the street”.

I believe that the lesson that must be learned here is clear — we should definitely not advance an approach to testing that is not directly supported by empirical data on sign language interpretation and that we must make that empirical data clearly and widely known to interpreters and Deaf people.

Make no mistake, I applaud some of the changes to the NIC, specifically uploading a candidate’s video data to a secure server and having those video data available to be viewed by multiple raters. Unfortunately I believe we have made the same fatal mistake – lack of empirical data – with the newest iteration of the NIC as we made with the last iteration and as we made in 1972. Unless there is evidence that has not been made publically available, I believe that the current NIC testing approach lacks face validity — it does not look like what interpreters regularly do. Perhaps better stated, I believe the current test cannot claim to validly certify a candidate’s ability to interpret in a way that reflects real world practice. Certainly there is nothing in the research literature relevant to sign language interpreters of which I am aware that would support the current testing approach. I make the following statements and raise the following questions and concerns based on the new Candidate Handbook 2011 and on conversations with several candidates who have taken the current NIC.

1. It appears that someone predetermined that the test should last only an hour and then the resultant math determined that each of the two ethical and five performance scenarios would last only 4 minutes. If true, RID members need a more thorough explanation of why time and a simple mathematical formula should be the primary drivers behind the format of the certification test; if this is not true, then a clear explanation should be provided for how the current 4-minute per vignette test segmentation was determined.

2. I agree that that it may be possible to make a marginally valid, albeit shallow, determination of one’s approach to ethical decision-making and one’s knowledge of the Code of Professional Conduct from two 4-minute vignettes. However, one would hope that the vignettes are sufficiently complex that they will elicit higher levels of ethical thinking than mere regurgitation of the Code of Professional Conduct. A description of the guiding principles used to develop and/or select the ethical vignettes must be provided to the RID membership. Note I am not asking for the rating rubrics (I agree that teaching to the rubrics was a significant issue in the last iteration), I am simply asking that an explanation for the process/principles used in the selection of and/or development of the vignettes be made known to the membership.

3. I am aware of no research that provides evidence that a 4-minute sample of a piece of interpretation is sufficient to make a determination of overall interpretation competence. What the research does show is that during the first five minutes of a twenty minute monologue an interpreter’s work is often “less challenging” because it is the most predictable – introductions, niceties, setting an overall tone for a talk or meeting, etc. This is also true of the last five minutes of an interpreter’s work – summaries, next steps, closings, etc. Consequently, if all of the five performance vignettes were from the first five minutes of interactions, we would only be sampling and rating the “less challenging” parts of interactions and thus would not be presented with a true and valid representative sample of a candidate’s overall interpreting proficiency. I might agree that if we had five 20-minute samples of an interpreter’s work and we wished to select 4-minute samples from each 20-minute sample (some from the beginning, some from the middle and some from the end) then perhaps we might have a more thorough and more time efficient way of rating an interpreter’s work. But what we have here with the current NIC is clearly not 4-minute samples from longer samples of work. A full explanation of the empirical justification for this 4-minute sampling approach must be provided to the membership.

4. According to the Candidate Handbook, however, some of the vignettes will require that the candidate begin interpreting in the middle portions of interactions after providing the candidate with only a written synopsis of what has transpired up to that point in the interaction. Here again, I contend there is no empirical data that can justify this as a valid approach to obtaining a true and valid sample of a candidate’s overall interpreting competence. As any experienced interpreter knows, by the mid-point of any interpreted interaction the interpreter has developed some content background information (which I presume the NIC proposes to present in printed form). But more importantly the interpreter has a sense of communicative preferences, interactional rhythm, signing style, accents, spoken/signing speeds, prosodic features, etc. None of this can be presented in printed form in any manner that assists the candidate nor can it be presented in a manner that validly replicates what happens in real life.

On this basis alone, I would contend that this 4-minute assessment approach does not provide the essential cognitive, discourse or linguistic tools/knowledge that are available and that unfold in “real life” situations. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, by the halfway point in any interaction the interpreter has acquired an “interactional schema”. As any experienced interpreter knows, this relates directly to critical areas such as over-arching goals, what counts as success and the overall interactional rhythm and flow. Absolutely none of this is accessible to a candidate suddenly instructed to begin in the middle of an interaction for which only written background content information has been provided. Of necessity, the written background will be about content, but none of this is what is most important to interpreters. A clear explanation of the rationale and justification for placing candidates at such an interpreting disadvantage must be provided to the membership.

5) Given that each performance vignette provides only 4 minutes of a candidate’s work, it would appear that we, as an organization, are no longer concerned about the ability to sustain quality of work during an interpreted interaction. For the past forty years the RID evaluations have contained interactions (monologues and/or dialogues) that have lasted 15-20 minutes in length. This was essentially due to the fact that this most closely reflected the real world work and experience of interpreters and then raters could sample within interactions, not across what are essentially 4-minute, flawed interactions. A detailed explanation of the rational for, and empirical support for this decision and this deviation from forty years experience is also needed by the membership.

6. Given that each performance vignette provides only 4 minutes of a candidate’s work, it would appear that we, as an organization, are no longer interested in the ability to produce work of sustained quality over time. Clearly, a 4-minute text simply does not allow time for the candidate to demonstrate or time for the rater to assess meaning sustained over time. The rater has no opportunity to assess features such as consistent use of grammatical features (manual and non-manual), consistent use of space, consistent use of deitic markers, etc. Simply put, a 4-minute sample simply does not provide sufficient opportunity to demonstrate a candidate’s ability to sustain quality work over time. If there is evidence that supports the claim that a 4-miute sample can validly and reliably assess a candidate’s ability to assess sustained quality over time, then it must be made known to the membership.

7. With a 4-miute segment to assess, the question must be asked “What are the raters looking for?”. It is clear that there is a new rating paradigm (pass/marginal pass, fail/marginal fail) and one could make a solid case for this. Certainly raters for the signed portions should be looking for grammatical features such as agreement, consistent use of “nonce signs” (signs established for this situation only), the use of coordinated and reflexive space, etc. But it is unclear what raters would be asked to assess in a 4-minute sample of work. Certainly raters are unable to assess the full range of linguistic competencies that interpreters must posses in order to able to interpret (if there evidence to support this it must be made public).  What are the various English and ASL grammatical and semantic features in vignettes that raters will be assessing and do these five 4-minute vignettes provide sufficient linguistics and discourse variation to elicit an appropriate range of English and ASL grammatical and semantic features?

8. As was true with the last iteration of the NIC we offer the candidate no opportunity to demonstrate the exercise of discretion. This clearly begs the question of whether there is any research that demonstrates that the five performance vignettes somehow represent “seminal” vignettes, i.e. vignettes for which no candidate would ever deem that he or she was an unsuitable fit. Clearly the message sent to candidates taking the NIC and to interpreters in general that one “must interpret everything presented to them” stands in stark contrast to our long held organizational belief that discretion in accepting assignments is critical. Since using discretion in selecting assignments is one of the core operating principles of our long-standing Code, the rationale for adopting an “all or nothing” approach must be made clear to the membership.

9. Virtually all of the candidate’s with whom I have spoken have the same reaction and response to the 4-minute performance vignettes. They state “They [the vignettes] were too short”; “I was just getting warmed up”; “I didn’t have the right information to start in the middle [of a vignette]”; “I don’t think it was a fair sample of my work”; “I needed more time to get over my nerves”; “This isn’t what I do everyday”. These comments are, to me as I hope they are to you, extremely troubling. Even if we assume there is a valid and reliable empirical basis for the “4-minute vignette” approach, the experience of the candidates is quite at odds with that basis. The danger here is that the candidates will, rightly or wrongly, begin to spread these perceptions to certified and not-yet certified interpreters. The end result will be that we return to the set of circumstances that resulted in abandoning the former iteration of the NIC – acting in the absence of empirical data to guide our decision-making. A clear, empirically supported explanation of why the current NIC assessment is valid and can be reliably assessed by raters must be provided to the membership.

The issue of how and the process by which we determine who will be viewed “as one of us” (i.e. who is certified) is of grave concern to many in the membership. As you should well know, it has clearly created some very, very deep rifts within the organization. So deep are the rifts that there is on-going discussion of creating an alternate organization. Yet, we in RID continue to move forward without the necessary empirical support we need to offer a credible approach to the testing process. The “alphabet soup” of certification that we have produced sadly moves us closer and closer to being quite laughable in the eyes of those who view professional organizations as knowing clearly how to determine who will be viewed as “one of us”.

In an ideal world, we would out-source the testing process so that RID could be the “assessment watch-dog” and thus RID could avoid any appearance of conflict of interest. Lacking that possibility at the present time, I believe that the Board should muster the political and moral will to insist on a truly valid and reliable certification test, accepted by the certified members. Then the Board should declare a phased in process by which ALL former certificates (save SC:L and CDI) would be declared invalid and no longer recognized. A staggered timeline would be put in place by which ALL those holding any certificate prior to the valid and reliable test would have to be retested and the “alphabet soup” would eventually no longer exist.

But we are where we are and that is that we have the current iteration of the NIC.

On behalf of the membership and all those who have served in positions of leadership, I am asking for a much greater level of transparency regarding the crafting of the current iteration of the NIC. If there is research data to support the decisions underlying the format of this iteration of the NIC those data must be made very public. I, for one, need to see the consultant’s report on why they believe this approach/format is valid and reliable before I can support this approach. I know that many of my colleagues, who are both members and organizational leaders, feel the same way.

Please know that I raise these questions and ask for this unprecedented level of public transparency in the best interests of RID the organization, of RID members and of Deaf people. I am happy to discuss any of these questions and concerns with the Board, individual or collectively, and/or the psychometric consultants hired to oversee the new NIC test.

Please let me know if you have any questions or need further clarification on any of the issues/questions raised. I eagerly await and expect your response to the questions and issues I have raised in this letter in a timely manner.

Sincerely
 
 
Dennis Cokely
Director, American Sign Language Program
Director, World Languages Center
Chair, Department of Languages, Literatures & Cultures

 

Overall Frame

We should definitely not advance an approach to testing that is not directly supported by empirical data on sign language interpretation and that we must make those empirical data clearly and widely known to interpreters and Deaf people

The Questions that Need Answers

1. RID members need a more thorough explanation of why time and a simple mathematical formula should be the primary drivers behind the format of the certification test; if this is not true, then a clear explanation should be provided for how the current 4-minute per vignette test segmentation was determined.

2. An explanation for the process/principles used in the selection of and/or development of the vignettes be made known to the membership.

3. A full explanation of the empirical justification for this 4-minute approach must be provided to the membership.

4. A clear explanation of the rationale and justification for placing candidates at such an interpreting disadvantage must be provided to the membership.

5. A detailed explanation of the rational for, and empirical support for this decision and this deviation from forty years experience is also needed by the membership.

6. If there is evidence that supports the claim that a 4-miute sample can validly and reliably assess a candidate’s ability to assess sustained quality over time, then it must be made known to the membership.

7. What are the various English and ASL grammatical and semantic features in vignettes that raters will be assessing and do these five 4-minute vignettes provide sufficient linguistic and discourse variation to elicit an appropriate range of English and ASL grammatical and semantic features?

8. Since using discretion in selecting assignments is one of the core operating principles of our long-standing Code, the rationale for adopting an “all or nothing” approach must be made clear to the membership.

9. A clear, empirically supported explanation of why the current NIC assessment is valid and can be reliably assessed by raters must be provided to the membership.

 

Posted on

Outwitting the Devil: NAD Calls on Sign Language Interpreters to Partner

 

Legislation on the basis of disability has provided some access provisions to deaf individuals, but more advocacy is needed to truly achieve an accessible and equitable nation. Howard Rosenblum calls on interpreters to act along with the deaf community to creatively meet those needs.

Sign language interpreters and deaf people have a long standing symbiotic relationship notwithstanding any actual or perceived “Devil’s Bargain” as described by Dennis Cokely in his December 8, 2011 article.  In that article, Mr. Cokely points out that the relationship between interpreters and deaf people has changed in the last forty years as a result of legislative acts that have shifted the sign language interpreting profession from a “service model” to a “business model.” He also questions whether the change in laws and models has been as beneficial to deaf people as it has been for the interpreters.

Mr. Cokely is correct, deaf people continue to struggle with significant unemployment rates and have great difficulty gaining communication access in their medical care. Without a doubt, the United States is not yet a haven of true equality and full access for deaf and hard of hearing people. However, while much work remains to achieve this elusive ideal, the onus of this work is on changing how sign language interpreters are hired in the context of existing legislation.

Legislation: the Devil is in the Details

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Rehab Act”) and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”) are federal laws that have been both praised as a breakthrough and blamed for many of the woes for deaf people. These laws have failed to recognize the cultural and linguistic identities of deaf people, and instead only provide rights to them on the basis of disability. While the nature of the legal protection is frustrating for many in the deaf community, these laws nevertheless have opened many doors.

For example, in the 1960’s to the best of our knowledge there was one deaf lawyer in the United States by the name of Lowell Myers. He graduated from law school without using any form of communication access as defined by today’s standards including interpreting, and did not have any legal rights at that time to secure such access. This all changed in 1973, with the passage of the Rehab Act. This law required all colleges and universities receiving federal funding to provide communication access, including interpreting services, to deaf and hard of hearing students. This requirement also included law schools that received federal funding. The ADA opened the door even further by requiring every law school in the country, regardless of federal funding, to provide access to any deaf student who qualified for admission.

At the present time, there are more than 300 self-identified deaf and hard of hearing lawyers in the country. Such a dramatic increase in this number since Mr. Myers’ graduation in the 1960’s is indicative that these laws’ mandates of communication access have enabled deaf people to achieve their potential. There are now many deaf doctors, accountants, professors, writers, and scientists, as well as other professions. Just as there are advantages and benefits to every law, there are also disadvantages and loopholes.

How Communication Access is Achieved

The most vexing issue for deaf people under both of these civil rights laws has been that service providers are given the authority to determine how communication access will be achieved. Putting this kind of decision making authority in the hands of service providers (such as doctors and lawyers) often does not make sense when these service providers are generally uneducated about the most appropriate type of communication access required to achieve effective communication for a specific consumer. In fact, these service providers usually have an economic incentive to provide the absolute minimum of communication rather than determining and rendering what is truly necessary to achieve equally effective communication.

While the current status of the laws and their regulations created this undesirable effect, there are ways to work with the existing system to promote better results. Changing federal law is difficult under the best of circumstances, and the entrenched partisanship on Capitol Hill makes it highly unlikely any change will happen soon. Therefore, alternative means of effectuating systemic change is needed at this time.

Systemic Change: Paying the Devil his Due

It has been nearly 40 years since the Rehab Act was passed and the ADA is 22 years old. In all those years, there have been numerous lawsuits and administrative complaints for failure to provide communication access filed against hospitals, as well as the offices of doctors and lawyers. Yet, communication access to medical and legal services continues to be a frustrating imaginary oasis that never seems to materialize for deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Despite educational achievements, deaf and hard of hearing people continue to struggle to get jobs. In many cases, the employer representative balks at the cost of the sign language interpreter(s) at the job interview when considering whether or not to hire deaf job applicants.

What can be done to change this broken system? How can we ensure that all deaf people can go to their doctor or lawyer without worrying about whether an interpreter will be provided? How can we transform employment practices in the USA to ensure deaf people get jobs? In essence, how do we renegotiate the Faustian Bargain?

Communication Access Fund

The National Association of the Deaf is pursuing several ideas to effectuate such change. One idea is to establish a “Communication Access Fund” (CAF). This fund would function like a telecommunications relay pooled fund but designated to pay for interpreters and other forms of communication access for deaf and hard of hearing people who need to see a professional.  Doctors and lawyers pay a fee every year to renew their professional license. Such fees typically cover the cost of administrating the license and monitoring for ethical lapses. If we were to increase the fees for the professional license by a small amount, we could set aside this additional in the CAF.

With such a fund, a deaf person would no longer need to negotiate with each professional to provide a sign language interpreter but would simply request that an interpreter be provided by the CAF. In essence, the deaf and hard of hearing consumer regains the power to obtain an interpreter or another form of communication access. This novel system would comport with federal laws because the professionals remain responsible for the cost of communication access, just not at the time of service but rather in the form of annual fees. More importantly, deaf and hard of hearing consumers would be able to go to any doctor or lawyer without worrying about the provision of communication access. For more information on this concept, go to: http://nad.org/issues/justice/lawyers-and-legal-services/communication-access-funds and http://scholar.valpo.edu/vulr/vol45/iss3/6/.

In the employment area, an adaption of the Communication Access Fund is necessary. Unlike with doctors and lawyers, employers typically have no licensing requirement and consequently there is no fee or tax collection system that would allow for the creation of a CAF. Yet, when employers impose upon departments or divisions within the corporate structure to be responsible for the costs of sign language interpreters, this creates a perceived economic disincentive within the departments or divisions with respect to the hiring of deaf job applicants. Consequently, there needs to be a policy shift within the employment setting to centralize funds for communication access accommodations.

Partners in the Renegotiation: Busy Hands, Not Idle Hands

The situation for deaf people in the United States is not ideal, but it is possible to work together to achieve the mutual goals of deaf and hard of hearing people and sign language interpreters. In addition to advocating alongside the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf on issues that impact both sign language interpreters and deaf and hard of hearing people, the NAD endeavors to promote a more balanced system that brings about a win-win result for everyone.

How can sign language interpreters assist in this effort and be partners in the renegotiation of the Devil’s Bargain? It will take a great deal of work to establish CAFs throughout the country as it must be done on a state-by-state basis. Each state has its own licensing entity for each profession. Each such licensing authority handles the licensing fee for their respective profession. Depending on state law or regulation, the authority to increase or add to the fee may belong to the licensing authority, the state legislature, the state supreme court (for lawyers’ fees), or a state agency. Consequently, deaf people and sign language interpreters will need to work together in their respective states to strategize and then approach the appropriate authority to create and implement the CAF.

Specifically, sign language interpreters could volunteer their services alongside deaf individuals who volunteer their time to advocate for this important systemic change. State Associations of the Deaf and local Chapters of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf could coordinate such efforts. Through such symbiotic partnerships, we can outwit the Devil.

The partnership does not stop there. Sign language interpreters are welcome at the NAD as members, allies, volunteers, and advocates. Join the NAD and be part of the solution. More information about the NAD and how you can become a member is found at: www.nad.org and attend the NAD 2012 Conference in Louisville, Kentucky on July 3-7, 2012! Information about the conference is found at: www.nad.org/louisville

Will you join with us?