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Hearing Interpreters: The Danger of Being the Public Face of ASL

Hearing Interpreters the danger of being the public face of ASL

When ASL is seen publicly, it is often vis-à-vis hearing sign language interpreters. Aaron Brace examines the impact this has on public perceptions of ASL, and suggests strategies that create opportunities for Deaf interpreters to authentically represent their language and culture.

I’ve been asked a few times by family and friends to explain what was going on when a CDI/hearing team delivered the interpretation of NY City Mayor de Blasio’s press conference on Ebola. The very notion that Deaf people can work as professional sign language interpreters is new for most hearing people; indeed, if they see ASL at all, it’s usually hearing interpreters like me, or signed music videos of questionable value (also by hearing people) on social media.

[Click to view post in ASL]

One of the reasons I sometimes have a hard time explaining this service model is that feeling of an existential threat, which doesn’t necessarily disappear just because I know it to be false. But another reason, which I’d like to focus on here, is that I haven’t fully come to grips with the implications of hearing sign language interpreters like me being the public face of ASL. Rather than learning how to do it better, I’m learning how to let it go.

Navigating the Changing Dynamics in Interpreting

I first began thinking about hearing sign language interpreters as the public face of ASL a number of years ago. Like many who are reading this, I’ve been one of the go-to interpreters for public-facing work for most of my career. Although my focus has always been on serving the people relying on my work, I’ve found myself enjoying the opportunities to stand out, to be trusted in jobs where my work would be broadly seen. I’ve enjoyed the positive feedback afterward, the status it has given me among my colleagues, and the chance to share what I’ve learned about ASL and the Deaf community. For a large part of my career, that was simply the water I swam in. I didn’t consider that there was anything else. After a while, as painful as it is to admit this, I began to think it was my right.

I have also regularly worked at conferences for national and international organizations. I have typically been on stage at their conferences, handling keynote presentations as well as presentations by other prominent speakers.  There came a time, though, when several of these organizations, with Deaf people in decision-making roles, decided that Deaf interpreters were to be on stage at all plenary sessions. I was relegated to small breakout sessions and working into English through a closed loop; I wasn’t on stage any more. It took me longer than I like to admit to get over losing the opportunity to do the plenary work, but I had the presence of mind to observe the work being done by the Deaf interpreters. Sure, the quality varied, but so much of the work that I saw was exemplary, and qualitatively superior to what I, or other hearing colleagues, typically produce.

More importantly, that model of service was chosen for high-profile work due to the involvement and leadership of knowledgeable Deaf people. Not only did they consider what would best serve the participants, but, surely, they were also influenced by the desire to authentically represent Deaf people’s language and culture to a broader audience.

Positioning My Ability

Like others, I began calling my work ‘bilingual/bicultural mediation’ soon after that terminology entered our professional discourse. Of course, that’s how the researchers in our field began describing what effective interpreting should be. It never crossed my mind that I was lacking the ASL fluency and cultural competency needed to actually do that kind of work. A Deaf friend recently told me that applicants to Gallaudet’s MA Program in Teaching ASL have to pass the ASL Proficiency Interview at a level 4 or higher…before beginning their studies. It took him three tries. Not only would I have failed to meet that bar before I began training, I’m quite confident I couldn’t meet it now.

I’m not qualified to go on about theories of bilingualism. I mention it only because it has become clear to me that the general public is primed to impute to me, to all hearing interpreters, a level of linguistic and cultural mastery that I simply don’t possess. Even if I’m relatively aware of the limits of what I have to offer, I don’t quite know how to articulate them to hearing people in a way that won’t undermine both their confidence in me as well as my own. Silence speaks volumes, as I already have the glamour of the words ‘professional’ and ‘interpreter’, and letters after my name. Oh, and I’m hearing. That’s probably the biggest factor in eliciting other hearing people’s high opinion of work they don’t understand.

This became painfully clear to me once, when I told one of my sisters that I’d be interpreting a play with a team that included a Deaf person as our Sign Master. She looked puzzled and said, “After all this time, Aaron, isn’t that what people ought to be calling you?” It was embarrassing to realize that I had never positioned my profession, myself, or, my ability to her in a way that she could have thought any differently. To her, I was the exemplar of ASL fluency. Who knows? Maybe I need to believe my own hype in order to have the nerve to do this kind of work at all.

Shifting The Focus

I realized recently that the more effort I put into preparing to interpret something like a play, the more I begin to worry. I worry not only that the hearing audience may think they’re seeing me produce a work of ASL literature, but that I might even start to believe it myself- all without anyone saying out loud that’s what we’re thinking. I worry that the Deaf poets, actors, storytellers, translators, teachers, and the friends I try to emulate in these instances will have far fewer chances than I, if any, to stand before a similar audience, with the same authority that’s imputed to me – but which I have only borrowed from them.

When I stand up at a public or televised event before a predominantly hearing crowd, on a real or virtual stage, under a real or virtual spotlight, I worry that some ASL student will decide to become a sign language interpreter in an effort to seek out the same kind of attention that I’ve realized I can be overly fond of.

But when a qualified, certified Deaf interpreter, like the one working at the Ebola press conference, gets asked questions about what interpreting is and how it serves the Deaf community, I don’t worry so much. Not only because his answers are likely to contain observations I couldn’t legitimately make, but also because it begins to shatter hearing people’s frequently-held stereotype of Deaf people as needy receivers of information. Deaf children also benefit from seeing qualified Deaf professionals modeling one way to represent their language and culture. If we quibble that not all CDIs are as experienced, or as able to give a good account of our profession, well…that’s never stopped the rest of us, has it?

Stepping out of the Spotlight

In her article, Are Hearing Interpreters Responsible to Pave the Way for Deaf Interpreters?, Anna Mindess listed some excellent, practical steps for us to take in expanding opportunities and visibility for CDIs.  In addition to hers, I’d like to add a few more. Some of these I’ve already implemented for myself, others are aspirational. Some may be more practical in some geographic areas than others:

  • work with Deaf colleagues and the local Deaf community to determine what an increased public presence of Deaf signers, including but not limited to CDIs, might look like and how to work towards making that presence a reality;
  • enlist as allies any hearing hiring agents who understand the value of CDIs;
  • consider working, on occasion, for reduced rates or pro bono in order to get more hiring entities to try using Deaf/hearing interpreting teams. This may be a controversial idea, but I believe that, used judiciously, it can be an effective tactic in getting more native ASL out where hearing people will see it;
  • share exceptional Deaf- or Coda-made videos on social media, along with a description to hearing friends of what makes them exceptional.
  • And finally, develop the reflex to step aside and team with a qualified Deaf colleague at every opportunity that comports with your own community’s values. Deaf people, even CDIs, may disagree strongly about when it’s necessary or even just preferred to have a Deaf face as the public face of ASL. It’s a process. I choose not to hinder that process, but to foster it.
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VRS Reform: Will Anyone Wade in to Save the Sign Language Interpreter?

Sign language interpreter under water

As the FCC continues to reform VRS under its mission to reduce “waste, fraud, and abuse,” Brandon Arthur urges sign language interpreters to maintain a presence in the decision-making process.

The October 15, 2012 Public Notice released by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has sent another wave of distress crashing over top of the already apprehensive sign language interpreters working in support the nation’s Video Relay Service (VRS). As these interpreters, awash in the regulatory storm of VRS reform, reach out for the relationships, practices, and leadership that have anchored them in the past, they appear to find themselves largely alone in rough and rising waters.

It has been nearly 12 months since the FCC dropped it’s December 15, 2011 FNPRM seeking substantial comment on the structure and practices of the nation’s VRS program, the last in Docket 10-51. With that filing, I found myself wondering if there is anyone—individual or entity—positioned to successfully snatch sign language interpreters from these troubled waters by prevailing upon regulators with a solution that more centrally considers functional equivalency and the plight of the sign language interpreter who makes that possible.

The Latest Signal From the FCC

The October 15, 2012 Public Notice released by the FCC is an indication to VRS stakeholders (consumers, interpreters, providers, educators, and industry associations) of it’s consideration of the TRS Fund Administrator’s (RLSA) October 15, 2012 Supplemental Filing, which proposes a transition to a cost-based model of reimbursement, resulting in deep cuts to the per minute reimbursement rate.

The RLSA proposes an immediate reduction of 11-15% to the rates paid to providers, with further reductions to follow in subsequent years. The aim being to move reimbursement rates towards the “weighted average cost per minute” of $3.51, as calculated by RLSA. The “initial” cut proposed, or something similar that the FCC ultimately approves, is likely to occur soon after the first of the year.

Unfortunately, for VRS users, sign language interpreters and providers, the targeted average cost of $3.51 per minute is 31%-44% below the current tiered reimbursement rates, which range from $6.24-$5.07 per minute. Adoption of a cost-based model and significant cuts to the current reimbursement rate will only intensify the impact of the reform on VRS users and sign language interpreters working to deliver it.

What’s the Impact?

In response to the December 15, 2011 FCC FNPRM referenced above, I wrote, Will Sign Language Interpreters Remain Silent on FCC VRS Reform? In that post I stated that should VRS reform occur without specific recognition for the cost and commitment of employing certified interpreters via a reimbursement rate differential, it would serve a damaging blow to the longevity of employing credentialed, qualified interpreters in VRS settings.

I offered then, and still believe, that the practical impacts of this fundamental failure are largely twofold:

1.   The ultimate compromise of the functional equivalency of VRS.

Should the proposed rate reduction occur, providers would be forced to make fundamental shifts in their businesses in order to survive. As stated in my post referenced above, some of these shifts will almost certainly include to amp up performance expectations, decrease wages, and hire less-qualified practitioners in order to find cost savings. The necessity of being more efficient will result in an erosion of the quality, and therefore the functional equivalency, of VRS.

2.    The destabilization of the sign language interpreting profession.

The cost pressures will inevitably be too much for the smallest of the handful of providers remaining today. As such, the sign language interpreting industry will continue to see a consolidation of opportunity. This consolidation and the tremendous pressure to be efficient will result in fewer opportunities for credentialed, qualified interpreters to work in VRS settings.

The natural consequence of this declining opportunity will be an imbalance in the industry’s supply (excess number of qualified, credentialed interpreters looking for work) vs. demand (organizations and agencies seeking to hire interpreters) equation. With a greater number of sign language interpreters competing for decreasing opportunity a dog-eat-dog erosion of the best practices—designed to protect the accuracy of an interpreter’s work and their very health and wellbeing—will ensue.

In my view, the results of this supply vs. demand imbalance and the erosion of best practices will also impact interpreters working in Community settings. With rates and opportunity decreasing in VRS, the more highly qualified interpreters will start competing for Community work, which will lead to reducing rates for community work.

There are no safe-havens from VRS reform.

In my mind, these impacts are as real and relevant today as the day they were offered last year. In some cases, they are already being seen and experienced as shared by Karen Graham in her piece, Sign Language Interpreters: The Unintended Victims of VRS Regulation Change.

Again, adoption of a cost based approach to rate setting and deep rate cuts, as proposed by RSLA, will only accelerate the impact of this reform on D/deaf and Hard-of-Hearing users of the service and sign language interpreters working to deliver it.

A Call for Heroes and Heroines

At this point, sign language interpreters need someone—individual or entity—with the expertise and resources willing to wade into the rough water. Interpreters need someone willing to demonstrate that the work they do is central to the meaning of functional equivalency. Further, that an interpreter’s continued commitment to their craft and profession is fundamental to the interests and success of all VRS stakeholders.

Unfortunately, the FCC’s mistrust of providers; their perception that providers are motivated by self-interest when advocating for interpreters; and the resource challenge historically faced by industry associations to organize and mobilize support, will likely continue to leave sign language interpreters awash in the reform.

Will anyone wade in and extend a hand to the sign language interpreter?

The Truth?

There will be no caped crusader, individual or entity.

Clearly, the FCC’s disposition relative to providers and cost-reduction won’t change quickly enough to position them to help. Industry associations will not suddenly find themselves with lined coffers and new infrastructure to organize and mobilize meaningful support. Sadly, the remaining VRS stakeholders will serve only to amplify the volume of the shouting and cross-direction offered regarding how and where sign language interpreters can find their footing and protect their interests in the reform.

Is there any hope?

Yes.

Survival is Up to Us!

We need to empower ourselves in order to survive!

Given the regulatory and economic environment and the relative progress of the reform, we must be organized, disciplined, and consistent. We need to ensure that the FCC understands the challenged position of the sign language interpreter in the reform and the responsibility they have to the human performance side of the VRS system.

What should we do?

Mobilize. Mobilize! Mobilize!!

In order to be recognized by the FCC, we are left with little choice but to muster our own motility.

How can we do this?

1.    File Public Comment

It is important that every sign language interpreter file comment with the FCC. In my post, FCC VRS Reform Part II: Sign Language Interpreters File Public Comment, I offered detailed instruction on how to post comment to the FCC.  We need to do this more now than ever.

It is important to note that we have until November 14th to file comment on the proposed rate structure—then an opportunity to file again prior to November 29th. Please follow the guidelines and remember that you are submitting comment on a public forum. Post responses from a solution orientation.

Join me in advocating for the future of our collective quality of life by filing comment?

Need talking points? You can find a few here.

2.    Enroll Our Partners

We need to enroll, prod if necessary, all those that share an interest in the functional equivalency of VRS. We need to request that they stand up and take action now. We need to place calls to each and every VRS stakeholders and communicate our expectation that they join in the effort.

Let’s not forget that our Senators and Congressional Representatives are also our partners.  We should be sending them letters as well seeking their support.

We should not assume that anyone is standing with us until they are.

3.    Petitions of Support

It is essential to demonstrate the impact of the reform on everyone touched by VRS. While friends and family members may not be inclined to file public comment, we should encourage them and all our colleagues to sign petitions in support of a rate differential for certified interpreters in order to protect functional equivalency.

Sign and forward this petition of support to get the ball rolling.

4.    Rally at the FCC

While it may be considered a tactic of the past, civil disobedience in the form of a rally would go far in gaining the attention of the FCC. Let’s be prepared to employ this tactic if it becomes necessary to convince the FCC that we do not intend to be a quiet casualty of the reform.

While I am not familiar with what it takes to organize a rally, I am certainly willing to help.  Anyone interested in helping to organize an effort? If yes, you can Facebook me here.

Donate to the effort by clicking here.

5.    Other Tactics

While I think filing public comments and a rally will go far to gain the attention of the FCC, I do think we should reinforce our plight with the FCC by doing the following:

A. Mobile Billboards. Organize an effort to drive billboards past the FCC reminding them to not forget the sign language interpreter in the reform.

Interested in helping to organize and coordinate this effort? If yes, you can Facebook me here.

Donate to the effort by clicking here.

B. Social Media Blitz. Organize an effort to bring VRS stakeholders together to talk about the impact of the proposed rate reduction on functional equivalency and the ability to hire certified interpreters. Publish the interviews widely.

Interested in helping to organize and coordinate an effort? Know a graphic designer or videographer? If yes, you can Facebook me here.

Donate to the effort by clicking here.

6.    Friends of the Sign Language Interpreter—Political Action Fund

In my mind, it is necessary for sign language interpreters to create and contribute to a fund to lobby congress and the FCC. This will position sign language interpreters to have an independent voice that is free from the politics, economic implications, inexperience and mistrust that has to date prevented interpreters from finding their footing.

Is someone familiar with setting up this type of thing? I have some ideas, but experience would speed up the effort. Interested in organizing, coordinating, and/or donating to the effort? If yes, Facebook me here.

Interested in donating to the effort? Facebook me and I will provide updates if we can get something set up.

Let’s Be Careful

While this is in fact a survival activity, it is important to maintain a level of respect for other VRS stakeholders. By maintaining respect, we are better able to thoughtfully consider how to best achieve our ambitions while maintaining relationships with our partners. It is essential that we remember that this isn’t a zero sum proposition. Each VRS stakeholder can be successful if we remember that every action has a reaction.

In addition to maintaining respect, we would do well to avoid the following:

1.    Knee Jerk Reactions.

We should not give control at the discussion table to anyone but us. Our partners haven’t done well representing our interests at the FCC. It is time for us to marshal our collective genius and do the dirty work we have avoided to date.

2.    Creating Inertia.

Placing the field or ourselves in a position that limits our ability to adapt quickly to a rapidly changing environment.

3.    Avoid Unionization.

We should not unionize. No one can better articulate the impacts of VRS reform without consideration for human performance than the sign language interpreter. Let’s set up a political action fund and do a more effective job without the long-term damage to the ability sign language interpreters have to represent themselves. Not to mention the time period for effective action on VRS rate reform is far too short for such an effort to be successful.

4.    Making it About the Money.

Avoid conversation about this being about money for the sign language interpreter. This is about pushing the FCC to recognize what it takes to offer a functionally equivalent service and the commitment interpreters make to their consumers and careers by pursuing certification.

This is urgent. We are nearly out of time to impact real change.

Let’s avoid engaging in actions that contribute to the erosion of the trust needed for consumers, interpreters, providers, industry associations and the FCC to navigate the reform to positive ends.

Conclusion

While it can be uncomfortable to be faced with the pace of continued change in VRS regulation, let’ not allow our own paralysis to enable the careless treatment of functional equivalency and the devaluation of the credentials and contributions of the sign language interpreter, to go on without adamant opposition.

At the end of the day, our survival in the reform depends on us. If you value your profession, the definition under which you do you work, and the diversity VRS brings sign language interpreting industry, you too have an interest in making your voice heard at the FCC.

While it appears that the FCC is prepared for an acceptable number of casualties in the name of efficiency, will you allow sign language interpreters be found among them?

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Sign Language Interpreters: The Unintended Victims of VRS Regulation Change

Distraught Sign Language Interpreter

Regulation changes from the FCC have impacted the VRS industry, providers, consumers, and sign language interpreters. Karen Kozlowski Graham questions the efficacy of these regulations in light of some of the unintented results.

About a year ago the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) implemented new rules regarding the structure and practices of Video Relay Services (VRS).  A year later we ask: Is the VRS industry a better place for having implemented the new regulations?

What Did it Achieve?

The intent of the rule was to root out fraud and make VRS a more manageable industry for the federal government. Did their action lessen the probability of VRS companies acting in a fraudulent manner? Most importantly, are Deaf people receiving better service now than they were a year ago? How did the great VRS shake-up shake out?

My VRS Story

I co-owned a company that rode on the VRS train virtually since its inception, SignOn: A Sign Language Interpreter Resource, based in Seattle.  We started out, as many things do in Seattle, with lots of collaboration, good intentions, and smudging with sage.

VRS played an important part in companies like ours because the volume of income gave us the opportunity to become a traditional workplace.

Our early endeavor with a VRS center and our community interpreting program allowed our sign language interpreters to work alternatively in the community or on a video platform; they’d get full- or part-time status complete with benefits, paid time off, and a 401K option. All that without having to track down payments from customers, find and schedule jobs for themselves, or worry about vacation time.

As are most sign language interpreters, we were intensely loyal to both our professional ethics and our consumers. It took us years to learn all the business “how-to’s”—figure out how to do the financial aspects of a business correctly and generally become a well-functioning company. Really, we just wanted to do good work and be happy.

I believe we were onto something, just something that is difficult to attain and then sustain—delivering quality services while simplifying the life of the interpreter.

Interpreters First

For nine years SignOn subcontracted with various certified VRS companies. We were considered a “white label” provider, which means we answered calls as if we were the certified provider. We rigorously upheld FCC rules and the usual high-level interpreter standards; we considered ourselves service providers–interpreting was our business. When the new regulations came down, we needed to make a decision as to whether we should try to attain certification to continue providing VRS or move away from the traditional workplace model that VRS had afforded.

To attain certification, we realized would require us to be in the business of dealing with complicated and expensive technology, wrangling with the federal government, and generally entering a faction of our industry that wasn’t in our wheelhouse. We were strong interpreters, not computer platform developers, or lawyers. That self-knowledge of our core competency led us to the decision to bow out of VRS. As a result, one of the larger VRS companies took over our call center. The community interpreting and VRI functions of our company was subsumed by a local non-profit.

The music ended and the ride was over.

Has More Regulation Helped?

So where have we all settled in? There have been numerous stakeholders in this drama: white-label providers, VRS providers who went on to certification, VRS interpreters, and most importantly the Deaf Community.

White-Label Providers

SignOn doesn’t exist in its original form any longer. In my case, I lost a livelihood. I’ve moved into a different field altogether and the days of monitoring the FCC announcements are a thing of the past. I would love to have traveled further down the road with our vision of an integrated workplace for sign language interpreters – a good place to work and a great place to grow the next batch of kick-ass practitioners. But some actors in this drama, like myself, were plumb out of luck – and out of work.

VRS Providers

One VRS provider who proceeded with certification suggested that the strictness of the rules was a challenge and perhaps limiting to efficient business operations. Requiring interpreters to be staff is often difficult in a freelance-oriented industry. Trying to discern the meaning of regulations, the increase in costs, and the impact on cash flow were some other concerns.

Sign Language Interpreters

The FCC changes definitely shuffled the interpreter deck. Their directive that more interpreters become “staff” forced a change in the composition of the VRS interpreting pool. Those sign language interpreters who wanted or needed the stability of employment took jobs at VRS companies.

Some interpreters, not liking elements of work with the bigger VRS companies (e.g. scheduling, strictness in operations) have left VRS altogether. Some of the interpreters, who had no intention of becoming freelance-only interpreters, were propelled into the freelance world by necessity. Others just needed this push to move on to full-time freelance work, something they had been considering anyway.

In my view, interpreters felt that they followed the FCC guidelines prior to the rule change and that they were no more conscientious and ethical than they were before the change. Then there was the question of home-based VRS interpreters. I don’t know what they’ve done and how they’ve compensated for losing that work.

Deaf Community

The FCC rule definitely forced a lot of hands (pun intended). How has this reshuffling affected the quality and quantity of interpreting work available to the Deaf community?  It appears as if the shift in balance moved some of the more experienced interpreters back to community freelance work as their primary source of income.  If so, how has that changed the quality of interpreting both in the community and in VRS? And then, of course, the ultimate question: Is VRS a better product for Deaf consumers now that it can be more tightly monitored?  Is there less opportunity for fraud and more control over the quality of services under the new regulations?

The Bottom Line

In my VRS story, most of our staff landed in the non-profit (providing community interpreting) or as staff at one of the remaining VRS companies – an outcome critical for SignOn’s founding owners. We didn’t want the FCC rule change and the disbanding of our company to leave anyone out of a job, and fortunately most everyone landed on their feet.  There were another 40 or so companies that scrambled to find their footing in the new world order sans VRS. Some were purchased by VRS companies pursuing certification, some dissolved, and some moved forward without a VRS complement.

My own little corner of the VRS universe went dark. I hear the groans of change and the opinions of a few interpreter survivors. I see some interpreters pining for the earlier days of VRS, while some are finding their niche in the new scheme of things. Some great interpreters have abandoned VRS altogether while others have made it their bread and butter. In the end, I’m wondering if all that hoopla was a real gain for either Deaf consumers or the sign language interpreters providing the service. It opens interesting questions and hopefully further thoughtful discussion.

My Opinion

In my opinion the changes haven’t necessarily helped. A few interpreters I spoke with said that they felt the VRS companies left in the pool would remain – and that having such job stability felt good. A few interpreters genuinely like the call center they work at – the staff and the atmosphere are good. Otherwise it seems as if the FCC changes have created more bureaucracy, without necessarily more quality. Perhaps the rule has eliminated fraud (has it?), which was its original intent, but many exemplary, law-abiding stakeholders became unintended victims.

Well, I guess you’d expect me to say all that since I lost my company. Okay, fair enough. But what about you? How have the FCC changes affected your work and your participation in VRS? Are we all better off now for the stricter regulation of VRS? Most of you have opinions. Share them.

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Sign Language Interpreting: The Danger of the Idea That Transformed the Profession

How has the push for the professionalization of sign language interpreters affected our influence on larger systems, and on our related stakeholders? Brandon Arthur asks us to reflect on how we got to where we are, and how to redirect our engagement to the industry.

Decades have seen the sign language interpreting profession quietly transformed by a single, powerful idea—sign language interpreters are professionals.  This single idea has created the momentum necessary to move the field from a hand written list of volunteers to a vast web of public and private entities, interest groups and regulation—an industry.

Is it possible that the power of this ideal has left us, the sign language interpreter, with a dangerous blind spot when engaging with the broader industry? Meaning, has the dogged determination to qualify as a profession prevented us from seeing what is necessary to effectively govern one?

What follows are a few things that gave me pause as I considered this possibility.

Interconnectivity

It occurs to me that the opportunities and threats faced by our profession is no longer the result of industry stakeholders (consumers, sign language interpreters, associations, businesses, service providers, educational institutions) being divided, but rather as a result of them being connected.  One might consider the sweeping impact FCC VRS reform has had, and will yet have, on the sign language industry as an example.  If this interconnectivity is real, and I believe we have examples to demonstrate that it is, we could logically conclude that the industry has evolved into an integrated system of stakeholders; where each is directly or indirectly impacted by the action of another.

If the industry is in fact integrated, wouldn’t the very basis of our engagement with other stakeholders need to change? Might this suggest that we are attempting to address current issues with an antiquated approach.

If yes, have we, the profession, stumbled over our own feet?

Weak Engagement

In seeking the specialized knowledge and skills to qualify as a profession and as professionals, it occurs to me that we appear to be failing to prioritize an important aspect of our long-term viability—expert knowledge of the broader industry.  One might consider state licensure laws passing in the face of outraged interpreters as an example of why this is gives me pause.

Is late or weak engagement by sign language interpreters on broader industry issues because we are indifferent to what occurs around us or is it that we are simply unaware that the issues even exist?  Or, is it because we don’t have the know-how to obtain the information needed to form an opinion? Worse yet is it our view that, “there is no industry without the interpreter” and it will work itself out?

If we are unable to effectively form an opinion and engage on industry related issues ourselves, is it possible to collaborate with industry stakeholders on broader issues?

In my view, for the profession to be effective long-term, ignorance can’t possibly be bliss in this instance.

Sparse Information

In an environment where the stakes are high and the pace of change quick, it seems important that sign language interpreters are able to quickly equip themselves with information.  Do we have the channels necessary to effectively deliver information across the profession and industry?  Can these channels effectively mobilize interpreters if necessary?  If no, does that suggest our infrastructure is insufficient to effectively administer the profession?

If we don’t have an infrastructure of size, does it mean we have information siloes and expensive duplications of effort brewing?

What I do know is that if people don’t have sufficient information to form an opinion regarding the system they are part of, they will feel overwhelmed by it, homogenized by it, and/or unwilling to invest in it.

I don’t believe interpreters are any different.

A Refocus

As a profession, we have made great strides over the past 40+ years.  Again, the early momentum of the sign language interpreting profession was possible because of our dogged determination to be recognized as a profession.

In my view, we need to refocus this determination on a few things.

How to:

-Leverage our interconnectivity to other industry stakeholders

-Remain aware of industry threats and opportunities in real-time

-Effectively distribute information across the profession and industry

-Extend our passion for skill development to the acquisition of broader knowledge

A focus on these items will assist us in effectively navigating the challenges of administering the profession long-term, which I believe is necessary if we are to maintain our position and success within the industry.

Is there other action we should consider?

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FCC VRS Reform Part II – Sign Language Interpreters File Public Comment

Censored Sign Language Interpreter Working in Video Relay

When there is an opportunity for sign language interpreters and stakeholders to participate in creating the direction of the VRS industry, participation is critical. Brandon Arthur suggests that even more importantly, that participation should be well-informed, well-framed, and professionally presented. 

The charge of emotion sign language interpreters received at the hand of VRS Reform, while important in prompting us to action, can be detrimental if not checked when filing comment with the FCC. Though appreciative of the sign language interpreter who overcame the inertia of apathy and filed this comment with the FCC, I believe their filing would be taken more seriously were they to have checked their emotion and considered what follows prior to submitting comment.

When Filing FCC Comment

First Things First

When filing comment with the FCC, remember you are submitting comment in a public forum. To dispense with formalities is poor form and a demonstration of one’s lack of competency related to public proceedings. Consequently, please be sure to address your comment to:

Ms. Marlene H. Dortch
Secretary
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20554

Further, it is important to reference the docket number for which you are filing comment. The FCC and the general public need to be able to quickly reference the matter upon which you are responding. Yes, this should be a given. In this instance the docket number for the Structure and Practices of the Video Relay Service Program is:

CG Docket No. 1051

Be Specific

When crafting your comment, please be cognizant that the readers of your submission will not have the reference points found in your head (crazy I know). Therefore, be specific in your comments and recommendations. Comment without sufficient context and specificity are of no use to FCC when considering the impact and development of their proposed rule-making.

The No-No

It is critical to remember when filing a comment that to villainize the FCC, VRS providers, your employer or any organizations is inappropriate and frankly misguided. While we may feel justified in doing so due to the negative impact a proposed rule may have on sign language interpreters, it is important that we refrain.

Callout the Benefits

It works to the merit of your comment to specifically point out the public and stakeholder benefits—which includes the FCC—in all recommendations offered. Further, it is important to consider that recommendations must work on a broad scale, which means any recommendation will inherently work to the exclusion of some.

How to File Comment

To file a formal comment via letter, you need to use the ECFS Expert Form.

The following is required:

  1. Proceeding Number (already entered if you click on the link above, if not enter 10-51)
  2. Name of Filer (your name if filing personal comments)
  3. Type of filing (‘Comment’ should already be selected)
  4. Address
  5. Upload document
  6. Review & Confirm your submission

FCC tips on how to file can be found by clicking here.

Will You Join Me?

In most grassroots attempts to persuade a public entity to adopt a certain perspective, people talk a tough game, but fail to support the effort with their time and/or resources. Well, here goes less talk and more walk.

I have drafted a both a comment to file with the FCC and talking points (at the end) that you can freely incorporate into your own FCC filing.  You can find them both here.

I am hopeful that you will join with me in filing comment on this important issue.  Remember, we only have approximately 35 days to get our comments in.

Let’s not let our careers be victimized by our own apathy.

 

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Sign Language Interpreting, Leadership, and Messy Relationships; What They Have in Common

Leadership and relationships for sign language interpreters

Sign language interpreters regularly perform complex interpersonal tasks which require presence and energy. Amy Seiberlich suggests self-awareness and openness are required to achieve personal and professional success.

Sign language interpreting and Leading are alike – the success of each is largely dependent on one’s quality of character and ability to navigate complex interpersonal dynamics. Yet when we talk about either we generally focus our attention on the technical skills required to accomplish the task ahead. Technical skills aside, there is much to learn about improving the quality of our interpreting if we simply turn our attention towards matters of leadership.

Worldview

Leadership involves managing people, and people are messy. Each person is a system of individual experiences, memories, belief systems and values that form a viewing window for the world. No two people combine these elements in the same manner. Even siblings who grew up in the same family of origin and who share these elements have formed different windows. We are each a unique expression of how our journey has unfolded and that impacts our work as sign language interpreters. At its core then, leadership is about managing complicated and messy relationships – with others, and with self.

Developing a Relationship with Self

A teacher once told me that you must first be able to lead self before you can lead others. I later realized what he meant was that I needed to understand and develop a strong relationship with myself before I could expect to do the same with others. So the authentic leadership journey begins at our own front door!

Starting with these simple tips is a first step towards deepening your relationship with, and successfully leading self.

  • Attend to matters of the heart. The heart is where we carry our wounds, and our joy. Identify, work through and clear your being of emotional wounds, then consciously choose to fill the space with joy. Bring this joy into every sign language interpreting event and observe the quality of your interactions and work improve!
  • Spend time in reflection. Take time during the day to reflect upon how you are feeling about the life you have created, and how you participate in that life. Do your daily activities generate or deplete your energy? Be honest about how living in a depleted state affects your ability to be present in sign language interpreting interactions. Then take measures to eliminate or restructure activities that deplete your life force.
  • Tap into your inner five year old. View the world around you with childlike curiosity and wonder. Enter interpreting situations with an “I wonder why I have been placed here today, in this situation…what am I here to learn?” mindset.

Cultivating the ability to successfully lead self gently flows into becoming fully present in each moment, and a clearer channel of communication for others.

Do for Yourself

If you neglect self, you will neglect others – you cannot do for others what you refuse to do for yourself. Leadership efforts may result in some work being done, but the process will be painful rather than joyful. Interpreting assignments will be the same. We must own the quality of our character, and be self and other aware, in order to develop into the leader or sign language interpreter we aspire to be, and the Deaf community expects us to be.

Now is the time to stop focusing our attention outside of self to learn to be a better leader or interpreter…to be either, take an honest look inside.

Your journey begins within, start today.