Posted on

What Did 2016 Teach Sign Language Interpreters About Success in 2017?

What 2016 Taught Sign Language Interpreters about Success in 2017

It is tempting to write 2016 off and move immediately into the new year, but that would mean overlooking some of the profound and fundamental lessons shared by StreetLeverage contributors last year.

While public speaking is one of the most fearful things humans can do, expressing one’s thoughts and perspectives via social media in two languages is probably a close second. Still, StreetLeverage contributors continue to inspire and amaze, bringing new insights and conversations to the table on a regular basis.  If we were to measure the year in the depth and breadth of perspectives shared, 2016 would definitely be setting us up for success in 2017. So, before we bid 2016 adieu, we wanted to highlight a few examples of the generosity and courageousness shown by sign language interpreters and industry stakeholders in the last 12 months.

For Auld Lang Syne

Before we dive into our retrospective, we’d like to express our deepest gratitude to everyone who contributed, in large and small ways, to the StreetLeverage endeavor. Without the writers, readers, volunteers, thought-leaders, videographers, editors, and friends who volunteer their time and efforts to support us, StreetLeverage could not begin to amplify the voice of sign language interpreters or attempt to change the way we understand, practice, and tell the story of the sign language interpreter. For all your work, we say: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

2016’s Nine Building Blocks for Success

1.  Bring Social Consciousness to the Fore

Joseph Hill

As practitioners in the field of communication access, social consciousness is a critical aspect of the work of all signed language interpreters. Joseph Hill’s presentation, Sign Language Interpreters: Practicing with a Socially Conscious Approachat StreetLeverage – Live 2015 provides an avenue for us to start looking at identity and interpreting through a social justice lens. As we continue to delve into the skewed relationship between interpreter demographics and consumer realities, we look to thought leaders to help us find greater understanding and paths to improvement.

2.  Reach Out to Deaf Interpreters

Where’s the Welcome Mat? Opening the Door to Deaf Interpreters

Another evolution in the field of interpreting that continued to manifest itself in 2016 was the reintroduction and strengthening of the presence of Deaf Interpreters in the field. While this evolution is happening, progress is slow and sometimes arduous as Jeremy Rogers explains in his article, Where’s the Welcome Mat? Opening the Door to Deaf Interpreters.

3.  Look at Insider Discourse Under a Microscope

Sign Language Interpreter Framing Their Work

Semantics matter. As sign language interpreters, language is our currency. Despite this fact, we don’t always consider the impact language has on perspectives when it comes to the words we use to describe our work. Kelly Decker’s article, What Are We Really Saying? Perceptions of Sign Language Interpreting, showcases some current examples of language we use in our insider discourse that may impact perceptions about the work we do and those with whom we work. With lively conversation, this article lit up our comments board, and we hope it continues to do so.

4.  Inject Humor and Humility into Our Practice

Sharon Neumann Solow

As one of the field’s most beloved teachers and mentors, Sharon Neumann Solow inserts equal parts humor, humility, and straight-forward talk into the conversation in her StreetLeverage – Live 2015 presentation, Genuine Confidence: Why Can’t It Be All About Me?. By sharing personal stories, Sharon’s presentation provides context for looking at confidence versus spotlight-stealing and illustrates why the differences matter.

5.  Support Ethics with Pre-Assignment Considerations

Accept or Decline? Questions Sign Language Interpreters Should Ponder

Job readiness is a topic that comes up in most conversations about sign language interpreting at some point, whether one-on-one or at a conference. Michael Ballard provides a consumer’s perspective on the kind of preparation sign language interpreters could do to help determine their level of preparedness for an assignment in his article, Accept or Decline? Questions Sign Language Interpreters Should Ponder.

6.  Join the Civility Revolution

A Civility Revolution: A Call to Arms for Sign Language Interpreters

With bullying and trolling in the news constantly, it was refreshing to have a conversation about civil discourse. Providing tools and suggestions for action, Diana MacDougall invited sign language interpreters to join a kinder, gentler conversation and revolution in her article, A Civility Revolution: A Call to Arms for Sign Language Interpreters.

7.  Explore the Realities of the Modern World

Keeping Sign Language Interpreters Safe in a Violent World

In a year where violence of all kinds dominated headlines and conversations around the country and the world, Stephen Holter’s article, Keeping Sign Language Interpreters Safe in a Violent World, struck a chord with readers who also shared some of their own experiences and strategies for staying safe. While we hope no interpreter ever needs to utilize these tips and tools, it’s an important conversation to engage in.

8.  Uncover the Intangible

Wing Butler

In his deeply personal and profound StreetLeverage – Live 2015 presentation, Status Transaction: The “It” Factor in Sign Language Interpreting, Wing Butler shared his thoughts on the “It Factor” for sign language interpreters. In his exploration of the intangible qualities that raise community esteem for one sign language interpreter over another, Wing also gives us a formula for success. Skills are important, but there are other factors that create the elusive “It” interpreter.

9.  Examine Personal Cultural Competence

IGNITE Workbook

Our final selection is a compilation of exemplary work from some of the brilliant minds in our field. Our 2016 workbook, Ignite, is a collection of posts designed to lead sign language interpreters and sign language interpreting students through a process of self-discovery regarding cultural competence. This free-to-download offering is an opportunity to look at a specific topic through a variety of lenses in order to gain a more well-rounded perspective. We hope this inaugural edition will be the first of many such workbooks.

Please Continue to Join Us in 2017 and Beyond

We hope this look back on 2016 will provide you with some valuable takeaways that can be foundations for a successful year ahead. Again, thank you for your support, sharing, comments, viewings, and readership. We hope you will continue to join us here on the blog and register to come meet us in St. Paul, MN for StreetLeverage – Live. Please join us in raising our glasses in a toast to a bright new year. Welcome to 2017!

Posted on

A Civility Revolution: A Call to Arms for Sign Language Interpreters

A Civility Revolution: A Call to Arms for Sign Language Interpreters

In a world where online and face-to-face interactions have lost a level of compassion and understanding, Diana MacDougall outlines a “Civility Revolution” to elevate the discourse of sign language interpreters.

 

The notion of “civility” has been tossed around these past several years, not only by the sign language interpreting profession, but in other professions (such as nursing and education), across the board on Social Media sites, and in ethics discussion groups, like the Institute for Global Ethics.  Everyone is concerned about how we are treating each other, and with good reason. In an era of social media, hit-and-run cyber-demeaning comments can be posted anonymously with impunity. Through the creation of the global internet and online social media (where nobody has to see our faces or know our true identities), we have somehow removed civility and humanity from interactive expectations.

[Click to view post in ASL]

#CommunityIsAccountability

In recent months, StreetLeverage contributors have posted articles on civility, accountability, diversityand social consciousness within interpreting. They are each timely, and yes, necessary, for our membership to read/watch. (After all, our own CPC tenet 5.1 reminds us to “[m]aintain civility towards colleagues, interns, and students” as a code we all agree to adhere upon joining our professional organization.) The most recent StreetLeverage conference in April stressed civil behavior towards each other in our interactions and discussion groups at least once a day. (And I have to say, this past conference was one of the most socially conscious and aware conferences I have EVER attended in my professional career!) Sitting back and watching the interactions of the participants and the leaders’ role model what civil interaction looks like, I began to think about what “civility” meant and what was needed to carry this movement to the next level. Centering our conferences and discussions around the notion of civil dialogues and accountability for our individual social behaviors is an important step towards a paradigm shift in how we interact with each other. But how do we take it beyond the intermittent “reminders” to “play nice”, if you will? What was it about this past conference that worked so well that could be replicated more consistently for ALL interpreting conferences, and carried over into our own lives as interpreters and as human beings?

Exploring Micro and Macro Levels of Interaction

As a Sociologist who studies social discourse, I often lecture on the concepts of the macro and micro levels of interactions. The “macro” is from an institutional, or large-scale level. The micro is from an individual or small-scale level. For the purposes of this article, I would like to consider our profession as the macro and our individual selves as the micro. I know that when I look at the larger schema of something—say, social injustice—I feel overwhelmed when trying to navigate my place in the world for change. It feels impossible, so I have a tendency to walk away from a global issue. But from the micro level, it feels more manageable; I can do something within my world—my life—to affect change. It is doable; therefore, I am more apt to participate in a social cause. At the micro level, we can see a ripple effect from our actions. It is a basic “cause and effect. Over time, our actions become habitual; therefore, changing how we behave. Because of our social interactions as humans, our behavior influences others around us. In time, other people’s behaviors affect larger groups, and ultimately affect social norms for what is considered—at the macro level—as appropriate behaviors within a society. So, with that being said, I am declaring a “call to arms”, of sorts. Yes, a revolution within our profession, starting at the micro level: us—individually!

Civility Revolution: Tools

As of today, I am declaring a “Civility Revolution”! What will be needed from us as collective individuals? Here are five values for what I believe we will need to “arm” ourselves for this revolution:

Moral Courage

The first would be a commitment to moral courage. Kidder defines “moral courage” as “[s]tanding up for [our] values”, stating that “having values is different from living by values” (2005). Moral courage requires “compassion” towards our fellow human beings.

Compassion

Compassion involves not only sympathy towards others’ experiences but empathy for them, as well. Putting ourselves in other people’s shoes will carry us far in being civil towards others.

Integrity

To be morally courageous and compassionate, we will need another quality necessary to arm ourselves in this revolution: integrity. To me, “integrity” means knowing the difference between right and wrong and choosing to do right, whether anyone is watching or not, and whether it is uncomfortable to do so or not.

Accountability

Another piece of “armor” we need to put on is “accountability”. This is something missing in Western societies due, in part, to technology, where people no longer have to face their objects of critique. We have learned to say whatever we feel about others without thinking about the pain we may cause them. Learning to accept accountability for our words and actions is necessary for a Civility Revolution.

Commitment

And the last piece of armor we need is “commitment”. Individually, we need to commit to following through on living by our values. It is not easy; there are times when standing up for what we believe has a social price to pay. No one wants to be disliked (an American societal condition), and no one wants to be called a “moral busybody”. But, again, as we change our behaviors at the micro level, we eventually affect change at the macro level, and before long, civil behaviors towards others will become the status quo again.

Revolution in Action

The theory is a good one. But we’ve had enough of theory and “discussions” on the topic. What would this look like in action? 

Some ideas:

  • As individuals, we can interrupt audist/racist/sexist/etc. remarks when we see/hear them.
  • As individuals, we can choose to sign in Deaf/Hearing mixed environments for full access for everyone involved, even when others choose not to. (This one takes moral courage, but is SO doable; I believe in time, we will affect change in this arena if we are diligent in our commitment to this action.)
  • As individuals, we can respect the diverse perspectives we have within our communities by modeling the discursive language we use with each other.

Commitment to Civility

So, as you can see, “civility” is definitely an action word! We need to commit to standing together in our individual behaviors at the micro level by demonstrating collective moral courage through our common values of compassion towards our colleagues and clients. By committing to behaving with integrity through accountability for our actions, we CAN begin to affect change in how we interact with one another. So…are you with me? Who will join me in a Civility Revolution!?

Questions for Consideration:

  1. What are three specific habits sign language interpreters can develop and employ to elevate civility in interactions with colleagues? With those who utilize interpreting services?
  2. Remember a time when a colleague did not interact with you in a civil manner. If you could go back to that situation and experience it again with new tools and perspective, how would you approach the person? How can you apply this to future experiences?
  3. Beyond more civilized discourse, how can sign language interpreters and those who utilize their services benefit from this approach to engagement?
  4. How can sign language interpreters support each other in taking on this call to action?

 

References:

  1. Ball, C. (2012). What Role Does Civility Play in the Sign Language Interpreting Profession? Retrieved October 21st, 2015 from http://StreetLeverage.com
  2. DiFiore-Rudolph, G. (2015). Civility Within the Interpreting Profession: A Novice’s Perspective from December 29th, 2015 http://StreetLeverge.com
  3. Institute for Global Ethics. http://www.globalethics.org
  4. NAD-RID Code of Professional Conduct. (2009) Retrieved June 30th, 2016 from http://rid.org
  5. Kidder, Rushworth, M. (2006). Moral Courage. HarperCollins Publishers. NY, New York.
Posted on

Sign Language Interpreting: Can Self-Interest Lead to Disregard of Industry Stakeholders?

Sign Language Interpreter Considering Impact of Self-Interest

Despite best intentions to work harmoniously, sign language interpreters can often be caught in difficult circumstances when working with interpreting agencies. Diana MacDougall shares a situation where seeming logistical roadblocks to an interpreting request may have had self-interest at its roots.

As an Interpreter Educator, I like to use real-life scenarios in my classroom, where one of the courses I teach is Professional Ethics for Interpreters. This one is an excellent teaching tool on what effect self-interest—even at the higher levels with established professionals—can have on everyone involved.

To make sure we are all understanding terms used, I will pull from RID’s CPC on the definitions of consumers and colleagues. The first is defined as “[i]ndividuals and entities who are part of the interpreted situation. This includes individuals who are deaf, deaf-blind, hard of hearing, and hearing”. The second is defined as “other interpreters”.

The Scenario

An interpreter had been approached by a Fortune 500 company to interpret an annual appreciation banquet. It is open to the public, and many famous people also attend. Apparently, there were several Deaf staff, as well as the potential for Deaf individuals from the public attending every year, and historically, the company relied on well-intended “signing staff” to interpret this important, high-profile event. One year, some complaints were launched that certified, qualified interpreters were not being hired to interpret. In wanting to meet the needs of the Deaf community and their Deaf staff, the company sought out interviewing for such an interpreter. It was through professional recommendations that the interpreter mentioned at the beginning of this scenario was approached.

This interpreter came with full RID certifications, as well as many years of interpreting experience. After being interviewed, she was offered this yearly event interpreting assignment with this Fortune 500 company, and eventually through the years other events taking place within this company involving their Deaf staff. They have worked collaboratively and professionally for many years now. Deaf staff members have expressed satisfaction, and through word of mouth, more and more Deaf community members were attending the annual event.

Recently, one of the executives made a phone call to the interpreter. He mentioned that their company was going to be “out-sourcing” to an interpreting agency to cut costs for interpreting services, and gave this interpreter the opportunity to get on board with this agency. Since she enjoyed working with this company the few times a year that she did, she agreed to do just that. The executive was thrilled to know this, as he explained that his company would be able to request this same interpreter for their annual event only if her name was on the roster. He informed the interpreter that the agency rep would be calling her to set things up.

Two to three months later, the interpreting agency’s rep finally called the interpreter. The rep explained to this interpreter that “although [the interpreter] may be interpreting the event this year, things were going to be different” from now on, and that she needed to understand that. She listened patiently, and cordially reminded the rep that it was the company that asked her to apply to this agency so that they could request her every year; she had not solicited the interpreting agency. The conversation soon ended, with the interpreter being instructed to submit a full resume to the agency.

Submitting resumes to various agencies is not new in our field; any time we want to work for a new agency, this is standard. Even the RID CPC states in tenet 6.1 under Business Practices: “Interpreters accurately represent qualifications, such as certification, educational background, and experience, and provide documentation when requested”. The interpreter obliged, submitting a comprehensive resume, as well as evidence of her MA degree and RID certifications. Soon she heard from the agency, stating they were impressed with her qualifications and experience. The agency then requested that she submit a tape doing her best interpreting, to make sure she met expectations for this agency. Again, this is also not entirely unheard of. She chose a text and videotaped herself, burned a DVD and mailed it to the agency. Eventually someone emailed her back, and they raved about the DVD, stating it was a “beautiful job”, and the agency was impressed with her skills.

The interpreter was happy to have obliged by the agency’s requests, and felt she was set to meet the requests of the Fortune 500 company that wanted to employ her interpreting skills for their annual event. With her name on this agency’s roster, the company could request her, and all stakeholders’ needs and requests would be met. This would reflect well on RID’s CPC tenet 4.0 Guiding Principle on Respect for Consumers to “honor consumer preferences in selection of interpreters and interpreting dynamics, while recognizing the realities of qualifications, availability, and situation”. This situation seemed to meet everyone’s needs and desires.

However, in a later email from the interpreting agency, they explained that even though the interpreter met all qualifications and had submitted an impressive professional DVD, their original intention was to reserve this annual event for their in-house staff. This assignment, she was told, was considered “a coveted assignment” by the interpreting agency. Since the interpreter did not work regularly for this agency, she would not be selected to be the interpreter for this event anymore. Surprised, the interpreter reminded the agency that it was one of the consumers (hearing) that had requested that her name be placed on the roster specifically so that they could request her for this event. The agency would not relent, stating that it was their decision not to use this interpreter for any interpreting assignments requested at this company. The interpreter responded that she would be happy to interpret in other settings for them, but was disappointed at their decision not to honor the original intent of allowing the Fortune 500 company to request her. It was out of her hands now. There was no further contact between the interpreter and the agency. She figured her run as the interpreter for the company had passed, and that was that.

About two months prior to the annual event of that same year, the company executive called the interpreter asking her what had happened between her and the contracted agency. When the interpreter enquired as to what the executive meant, he stated that when they requested this interpreter for their annual event, the agency had told the company that the interpreter had “refused to work for that agency under any circumstances”. Wanting to remain as professional as possible, and not present the profession in a negative light, the interpreter carefully explained

that she had emails showing how she was willing to work with them, but that it was the agency who had emailed her and explained that they would not be using her for this company in the future. The executive asked for those emails to be forwarded to him.

Although initially the company was able to show the interpreting agency that they had held up their end of the business relationship by doing as they asked to get the interpreter’s name on the roster, and that the agency had not been up front about their true intentions from the beginning, in the end, the company was forced to follow the legal contract signed by everyone. With the interpreter’s name not on the roster, the company could not request her anymore, even though it was their desire to do so. More significantly, on the night of the annual event, it was none other than the owner of this interpreting agency himself who showed up to interpret this “coveted assignment”.

Upon Review

This story caused me to ponder on the ethics around this situation. While actions that occurred may not have, in themselves, been illegal, they may still be considered unethical. Certainly, agencies have a right to hire whomever they choose. But it seems to me that the requests of the hearing consumers in this situation were ignored over the self interests of an agency that wanted to fill this assignment with their own people. RID CPC tenet 3.0 on Conduct reads: “Interpreters…avoid situations that result in conflicting roles or perceived or actual conflicts of interest.” Further, tenet 3.7 counsels interpreters to “disclose to parties involved any actual or perceived conflicts of interest”, and 3.10 says to “refrain from using confidential interpreted information for the benefit of personal or professional affiliations or entities”.

Intentionality

The actions of this agency, from the beginning when truthful intentions were not expressed clearly to the company, to the end where the owner himself took this assignment for his own benefit, revealed a conflict of interest. It appears the agency members intended to keep this assignment for themselves all along. Honesty from the beginning would have prevented the interpreting agency from appearing self-interested, shedding a negative spotlight on the profession of interpreting. Perhaps, the owner could benefit from reading, A Sign Language Interpreter is a Sidewalk Executive?, by Brandon Arthur. This whole situation left a negative opinion in the eyes of the executive company, which was very unhappy with the decision in the end.

Respect

Also, respect for consumers (CPC tenet 4.0), was also not considered in the decision to not add the interpreter’s name to the roster. The executive company, in good faith, proceeded with a contractual agreement with the agency, under the impression that the certified interpreter they preferred would be added to the interpreting roster. That was not honored on the part of the interpreting agency.

Furthermore, respect for colleagues (“other interpreters”) was also not considered in this action. CPC 5.0 states that “interpreters demonstrate respect for colleagues, interns, and students of the profession”, with the Guiding Principle warning RID members that “interpreters…also understand that the manner in which they relate to colleagues reflects upon the profession in general”. Certainly misrepresenting the integrity and character of one of their own was not showing “respect for [a] colleague”. One of the company’s executives felt an obligation to call the interpreter that they had been working with for the last many years to state how disappointed he was about the outcome of this situation, stating that meetings for the annual event planning committee were “very somber over the pettiness of it all”. This is unfortunate, indeed. And it could have been avoided completely.

Ethical Behavior Models

In aiming to teach ethical behavior to interpreting students, how can we instill such ethics as collegiality, civility, as described by Carolyn Ball in her post, What Role Does Civility Play in the Sign Language Interpreting Profession, and professional conduct, along with adhering to the RID Code of Professional Conduct, if the very leaders we want to emulate do not practice them? Even in the 21st Century, people can act in a less than civil or professional manner, not realizing the impact their behavior has on others, or how it reflects negatively on our profession.

In the End

Although this seems like an extreme case, is it? Do you believe this is a rare occurrence, or does our profession still deal with individuals and agencies conducting themselves in this manner? What do you think? How can we, as a profession and as individuals within the profession, move toward preventing this from happening in the future?

Food for thought…