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

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

Deaf Interpreters (DI) bring a wealth of cultural and linguistic experience to Interpreter Education. Jeremy Rogers investigated the DI experience with Education Programs resulting in some practical recommendations for how to better welcome them to the table.

 

In 2014, Eileen Forestal, PhD, RSC, presented at StreetLeverage – Live in Austin, Texas. One of the most poignant statements she made was, “Deaf Interpreters have been involved every step of the way since the beginning of the profession. Deaf Interpreters are here to stay. We will shape the future of the profession for all interpreters whose work includes American Sign Language and English” (Forestal, 2014). In 2016, I found that working Deaf interpreters and Deaf interpreting students did not share the same outlook.

[View post in ASL.]

I was introduced to the concept of Deaf interpreters early on in my college education. Originally majoring in elementary education, I decided to take American Sign Language to fulfill my language requirement. I randomly selected an ASL 100 course that fit into my schedule. The instructor happened to be a Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI). Eventually, I changed majors to interpreting and transferred to Gallaudet University for my Bachelor’s in Interpretation. While at Gallaudet, I regularly observed Deaf/Hearing interpreting teams, as well as Deaf/Blind interpreting done primarily by CDIs. Having such consistent exposure to Deaf interpreters falsely led me to believe that working with Deaf interpreters was common practice. I quickly realized after I returned to California that this was not the case.

When I began working as a Video Relay Service (VRS) interpreter, I was again surprised to find that we did not have Deaf interpreters in the call center. Staffing Deaf interpreters seemed like such a logical component in video relay settings, especially having such high call volume for Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) calls. What was even more surprising was the number of colleagues I had whom had never worked with a Deaf interpreter before. Some colleagues even scoffed at the idea that they would need a Deaf interpreting team; after all, they knew ASL and had been doing this for years! I soon realized this was no longer a simple theme I was encountering; it was a very serious problem.

Research Process

I began my graduate studies at Western Oregon University in 2014. After considering dozens of topics of interest, it struck me: What is Deaf interpreter education? What does Deaf interpreter education look like and how can it be most effective? The magnitude of these research questions was overwhelming. I needed expert guidance, and so I asked Carole Lazorisak, a working Deaf interpreter, to join my research committee. There was no way I could define most effective approaches to Deaf interpreter education, as I am not a Deaf interpreter; I could, however, reach out to working Deaf interpreters and Deaf interpreting students to gain insight into their educational experiences. In June of 2015, the first national Deaf Interpreter Conference was held in St. Paul, Minnesota. I mailed consent forms to St. Paul to be distributed at the conference; out of 208 registrants in attendance, 52 registrants completed and returned a consent form. 8 additional participants completed the consent form. In the end, 9 participants were selected for an interview. Interviews were conducted via videophone or online video conferencing platform and screen recorded for documentation. Interviews were then transcribed from ASL to English; initial transcriptions were returned to the interviewees for feedback and corrections, and, once approved, the transcripts were coded for data.

 

Findings of Research Study

While the full findings of the research study can be found below, I would like to share the more unexpected findings that came to light. I was disheartened to discover that there was such a common theme of interpersonal/intrapersonal strife amongst Deaf interpreters; that is, the negative perceptions that Deaf interpreters had of themselves, not only because of the experiences they had in interpreting programs, but also working in the field alongside hearing interpreters. Several interview participants reflected on their experiences in both interpreting programs and workshop settings and noted a strong sense of distrust by hearing interpreters; many of these same Deaf interpreters criticized the constant emphasis on interpreters’ hearing status rather than the skills and abilities they had to contribute to the interpreting process.

Perhaps the most disturbing theme that arose from the interviews conducted was the resigned acceptance of the conditions of our current climate. Several participants concluded that even though they recognized the injustices in place, there was very little to be done if they hoped to continue to work as Deaf interpreters. One participant went so far as to state, “I take it from hearing interpreters right now because I am working toward building my reputation and securing more opportunities for myself. If I am not careful with how I react, I am risking my job security” (Rogers, 2016). Another participant commented, “If the bickering and arguing and discord between Deaf and hearing teams continues, hearing interpreters are going to continue being resistant to working with us. And that means less work for us in the end” (Rogers, 2016).

Recommendations by Participants

Participants were asked for their insight and recommendations for improving Deaf interpreter education in existing interpreting programs across the nation; both working Deaf interpreters and Deaf interpreting students made the following recommendations:

  1. Stronger Deaf presence in interpreter education: participants stressed the importance of hiring more Deaf faculty members to teach in interpreting programs, as well as maintaining higher numbers of Deaf interpreting students so as to avoid any perceived or actual tokenism. Participants also encouraged interpreting programs to invite the Deaf community into the classroom to participate in interpreting exercises; this would allow for more authentic interpreting practice.
  2. Skill sets to be focused on: a strong emphasis was placed on Deaf interpreting students’ command of both English and American Sign Language, noting that being a heritage user of either language did not qualify a Deaf student as linguistically capable. In regards to curriculum design, participants generally believed that hearing and Deaf students should learn together in interpreting programs, but that some courses should taken independently to address skills specific to Deaf interpreters (i.e. gestural communication, expansions techniques, ethical decision-making practices).
  3. Support for Deaf interpreter education on a national level: as most of the participants were in attendance at the 2015 Deaf Interpreter Conference (DIC), there were several comments made in reference to the DIC. All comments made were supportive of the conference and many participants stressed the importance of continuing to provide opportunities for Deaf interpreters to gather at a national, or even regional, level; this would encourage a sharing of ideas and information, thus nurturing the growth of Deaf interpreters’ education and practice.

It is time for us, as a profession, as a community, to reflect on Forestal’s words and remember that Deaf interpreters are here

to stay. As a hearing interpreter, I am humbled and honored to have been afforded the unique opportunity to record and share the experiences of Deaf interpreters who came long before me; I wish to again thank all of the participants of this research study for their time and commitment to our work.

Questions to Consider

  1. What are your thoughts on Deaf interpreter education and curricula design?
  2. How can we address the interpersonal/intrapersonal issues plaguing the dynamics of our field?
  3. How can Deaf interpreter education gain more support on a national level?

References

  1. Forestal, E. (2014). Deaf Interpreters: Shaping the Future of the Sign Language Interpreting Profession. Street Leverage. Retrieved from https://www.streetleverage.com/2015/02/deaf-interpreters-shaping-the-future-of-the-sign-language-interpreting-profession/
  2. Rogers, Jeremy, “Deaf Interpreter Education: Stories and Insights Shared by Working Deaf Interpreters and Deaf Interpreting Students” (2016). Master’s of Arts in Interpreting Studies (MAIS) Theses. Paper 31. http://digitalcommons.wou.edu/theses/31
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.