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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!

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What Are We Really Saying? Perceptions of Sign Language Interpreting

Sign Language Interpreter Framing Their Work

Kelly Decker examines common ways sign language interpreters frame the task of interpreting and peels back some of the implications and impact on the field and the larger communities served.

 

Sign language interpreters are taught that meaning is conveyed through accurate word choice. Do we give the same considerations to word choice when we label and describe interpreting itself? How do our words and actions frame our work?

As a professional sign language interpreter, I would like to address some of the language used when conversing with colleagues, training new interpreters, and depicting the profession to the mainstream media. The frames we use, as a profession, have the power to devalue the work we do, and by extension, the communities we serve. Continued reinforcement of these frames impacts public perception of sign language interpreting.

[Click to view post in ASL.]

It takes years of intentional practice, reflection, and dedication to develop competence as a sign language interpreter. Platforms such as Street Leverage allow us to continually highlight and examine the ways we have yet to grow. MJ Bienvenu’s Bilingualism: Are Sign Language Interpreters Bilingual and Carol Padden’s Do Sign Language Interpreter Accents Compromise Comprehension? illustrate two fundamental problems we face in the field.

While we have begun to address the language we use to talk about our work, there is more work to do. I have selected four examples which demonstrate various ways interpreters contribute to current understandings of our work. There are many other examples that could be analyzed. I encourage you to contribute to this conversation online and with your colleagues to further examine how our use of language can contribute to a misperception of our profession and the disenfranchisement of the Deaf community. These types of conversations lead to greater awareness, which can be a catalyst for change.

The Labels We Use: “Terp”

It is not clear to me where this abbreviation came from. A cursory search on the internet found that it is cited as slang for “interpreter” and paired with the word ‘deaf’. We work with marginalized communities who are continuously disenfranchised regardless of the abundance of evidence and research regarding language, intelligence, and Deaf Gain [1]. We deflate our profession and the work we do for the sake of a few saved keystrokes.

This word “terp” (and I call it a word since it has become commonplace nomenclature and somewhat of a phenomenon within our field [i.e. TERPexpo],) is used primarily in written English when interpreters communicate with and refer to each other, and when interpreting agencies make requests for “terps”. The use of the term “Terp” does not stop within sign language interpreting circles. Since it has become somewhat the norm internally, it has spilled out into the larger community as the preferred label for what many interpreters want to be called. I feel this does a disservice to the field. I am an interpreter.

Misleading Terminology

“Hands-up”

As I understand it, in most instances, this phrase refers to actual interpreting. I come across it when dialoguing with ASL/English interpreting students. This term is used in practicum to indicate a requirement that is different from observation hours – the need for “hands-up” hours.

When sign language interpreters in the field and educators in interpreter education programs use this term to talk about the work we do, it implies that interpreters only interpret in one direction, into American Sign Language. It implies that Deaf people have nothing to say nor contribute. In reality, our work is working between – at least – two languages. This misguided idea is further bolstered by how our national organization frames the act of interpreting. The interpreter certification exam tests interpreting capabilities and decision-making. Yet ASL vlogs, created by RID, refer to the performance portion of the interpreting exam using a gloss that gives the literal impression that the exam is a “signing test”[2].

As explained above, “hands-up” addresses only half of the work we do. Or does it? When colleagues say “I prefer to work into ASL, it’s easier” or “I don’t do any ASL to spoken English work,” is it because interpreters, too, believe that interpreting is only done in one direction?

Additionally, the term “hands-up” perpetuates the erroneous notion that sign language interpreters, most of whom are second language learners of ASL, prefer to work into ASL because they are “comfortable”, “have more experience working into ASL,” or “feel they are clear”.  Substantial evidence is to the contrary [3].

Interpreting, and more broadly, signed languages, have little to do with the hands. While sign language is expressed in a visual modality, the hands are but one element of that mode. Language is rich and complex. It conveys thoughts, emotions, and abstract ideas and it results in human connections. Language is influenced by and interwoven with culture. It is impacted by generational, intersectional and regional influences. Reducing an entire language to its modality is a prime example of how the dominant language and culture exerts power over and diminishes a linguistic and cultural minority.

“Voicing”

This term “voicing” has become commonplace within our field as a descriptor for the spoken language work we do as interpreters. It is a descriptor that oversimplifies the nature of the work, as if it requires no cognitive decision-making by the interpreter, nor cultural brokering between the two languages, and that the interpreter functions simply as a sign-by-sign voice over.  In Jessica Bentley-Sassaman’s article, Taking Ownership: Defining Our Work As Sign Language Interpreters, she states “voicing” does not appropriately state what we do, what does is naming what we are actually doing when interpreting.

As the profession continues to use the term “voicing”, I believe that we perpetuate a medical perspective on deafness. It bolsters the idea, that when deaf people use sign language they need to be fixed somehow, given a voice, and that’s what interpreters are doing.

This portrayal of the work reinforces a view held by the majority culture that  the language used by the Deaf community is somehow deficient. This misconception is propagated by the Alexander Graham Bell Association, whose position was made public [4] after the televised accomplishments of Nyle DiMarco, that desirable language development and outcomes for deaf children are only possible when focusing on listening and speaking, both of which are deeply rooted in the deficit-based medical model of what it means to be deaf.

As sign language interpreters, I believe we ought to unpack the implications and impacts of how we frame our work.

Perceptions of Professional Interpreters: Shake It Off [Interpreter Version] [5]

This video was so popular on social media after its release in December 2014, that the video’s participants were a part of the entertainment during RID’s 2015 national conference in New Orleans, LA. I have cited this piece not based on its participants but as an example of how we portray who we are, what our work entails, and how we approach the task of interpreting.

From what I gather, this video was made as a parody, a day-in-the-life of a sign language interpreter. All joking aside, what I cannot shake off while watching this video without audio input, is that it clearly represents misconceptions about the work we do:

(1) we only work into sign language, as the tired arms, hands and fingers portray;

(2) we only do this work for the money, as the interpreter runs off screen following the dollar bills;

(3) we self-medicate, as the abundance of pills clearly shows; and

(4) we can brush off the significance of the task of interpreting, as the title of the song conveys.

This day-in-the-life video makes no mention of the substantial cognitive work we do, which is the foundation of the product we produce. The sole focus is the self-aggrandizement of the interpreter. We must consider how this can contribute to the  mainstream media’s abundance of misleading and demeaning pieces about sign language interpreters while #DeafTalent continues to go unnoticed.

Holding Ourselves Accountable

These examples are both subtle and not so subtle. As these flawed representations proliferate, we, as practitioners, as educators, and as a professional organization, become complacent and immune to the deleterious effect they have on our profession. We may dismiss it, saying, “This is the way we’ve always talked about the work,” “This how my interpreter training program said it,” or “I never really thought about it.”

We need to think about it. We need to talk about it. We need to question and remind each other when we use language that trivializes our work.

Mastery of interpreting is no easy feat. It is a labor of love, a demanding cognitive endeavor, and a dedication to craft. Above all, we are collectively accountable to representing our work with the utmost respect for the Deaf community.

How will you model talking about the work we do?

Questions for Consideration:

  1. The ways in which we, as a profession, talk about the work we do is anchored upon our understanding of what interpreting means. Are the ways we portray the work, the profession, and the communities we serve accurate?
  2. How do you think the ways that we talk about the work impact the profession?
  3. Do you have examples of times when dialoguing with colleagues where how they were talking about the work just did not sit right?
  4. With those examples in mind, how can you further explore what it is that did not sit right?

References:

[1] Bauman, H-Dirksen and Murray, Joseph. Editors. Deaf Gain Raising the Stakes for Human Diversity. University of Minnesota Press. October 2014.

[2] Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc. RID Announces Moratorium on Credentialing You Tube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6PM4a1tR7E Posted 9 Aug 2015.

[3] Nicodemus, Brenda and Emmorey, Karen. Directionality in ASL-English interpreting Accuracy and articulation quality in L1 and L2. Interpreting. Vol 17:2. 2015. p. 145-166.

[4] Sugar, Meredith. Dispelling myths about deafness. Online: http://www.agbell.org/inthe-news/response-nyle-dimarco/ Posted 1 April 2016

[5] Ott, Stephanie. Shake It Off [Interpreter Version] You Tube https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=DS2UdoXS3xA Posted 13 Dec 2014.

 

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Sign Language Interpreters: Team Interpreting and its Ethical Consequences

Sign Language Interpreter Considering the Ethics of Her Team

Accepting team assignments with sign language interpreters who continually violate the CPC is tantamount to approving and participating in ethical breeches. How can we better hold our colleagues – and ourselves – accountable?

For various reasons we, as interpreters, decline assignments. These reasons may include, but are not limited to: one’s level of familiarity with content, a conflict of interest, a lack of availability, gaps in training, and a respect for the interpreter preference of the communities we serve. How many times is it that we decline work based on the ethics and integrity of our team?

We are all accountable for ourselves and for the ethical challenges we are faced with while working. Within this accountability is discretion about teaming – discretion that employs itself when we accept or decline work.

When an interpreter continually violates the NAD-RID Code of Professional Conduct (CPC) (1), that interpreter blatantly oppresses the communities we serve and is harming peoples’ lives; we are all affected. I have often heard “I work with ‘so-and-so’ interpreter, and even though I know and have seen these behaviors that interpreter has done nothing to me.”

These are comments I do not understand.

The rationale behind the comment, “ . . . that interpreter has done nothing to me,” is astounding. When interpreters are destructive on the job and breach the ethics they are bound to uphold, they are directly affecting our profession and, consequently, the communities we serve. These behaviors imply to all parties involved that this is what interpreters do and should be doing.

Doing Nothing is Doing Something

To do nothing is to passively accept unethical actions.

To do nothing is to shirk the responsibility of holding each other accountable.

Unethical behavior takes all shapes and sizes: fraudulent business practices, threats of retaliation, withholding information from the parties involved, stealing information from the parties involved, disregarding professional boundaries while on the job, disclosing confidential information, accepting work continuously in a setting for which one is unqualified… the list goes go on and on.

While the above-mentioned acts all violate the current rules-based (2) CPC, I would like to go one step further, to acts where one asserts their power and privilege while interpreting. This unethical behavior is audism. Examples of audist behavior could include, but are not limited to: using spoken English to co-opt an interpreted interaction for the interpreter’s benefit, making side comments to the hearing participants unbeknownst to the Deaf individual(s), having rudimentary language fluency, ignoring the request for a Deaf interpreter, and possessing minimal Deaf world cultural context, all of which are tactics of disempowerment (3).

As Lewis Merkin points out in his recent vlog (4), audism can be experienced in many forms, some even covert. As we take a deeper look into why and when we turn down work, we also need to consider that accepting assignments with an unethical interpreter as your team is a form covert audism.

While working in a teamed situation we are seen as one. When we choose to work with unethical interpreters we are clearly showing, to all parties involved, that we have consented to work with these individuals and that we support each other. This consent condones past behaviors, supports current ones, and perpetuates the opportunity for further occurrences. When we accept work with unethical teams we are complicit in the infractions; what’s more, we are reinforcing the offers of work available on teamed assignments.

The Current Frame for Ethical Guidance

During the 2012 RID Region I Conference in Atlantic City, NJ, RID Ethical Practices System (EPS) (5) representatives gave an overview of EPS policies and procedures, as well as the occurrences of grievances filed within the past few years. The number of accepted complaints was in the single digits.

These representatives explained that, though they receive dozens of grievances, many grievances are not accepted due to the following: time lapse since the occurrence, complaints against working, but not RID-certified interpreters, and/or complaints against interpreter agencies.

In my mind, the EPS procedure is inordinately lengthy. In order for any person to file a complaint, one must have a comprehensive understanding of the 37 page handbook, and trust the system from which it originated.

Could this be the reason the number of grievances are in the single digits?

Case in Point

A couple of examples.

Example One

(reference at approximately 3:04 and 5:20 into video)

As is indicated in example one (6), RID’s response to the grievance was that the 90-day time limit was up, and that “This case will now be dismissed and she [the interpreter] will not be notified of this.” What is the rationale for not notifying the interpreter that a grievance had been filed against her? Notification would make the interpreter aware that the decisions she is making are causing harm and, albeit past the 90-day limit, a grievance has been filed against her. Instead, by doing nothing, her behavior has been endorsed.

Example Two

As we see in example two (7), the grievance was filed and a request was made for expediency due to the severity of the situation and extenuating circumstances. Even so, the process took two years for a final decision. Within this final decision the interpreter was cited to have violated four of the seven tenets within the CPC. The resolution to the matter – the interpreter is to take an online course.

Unfortunately, this system sends a clear message that the Deaf experience of prolonged encounters with egregious and oppressive interpreter behavior, two years of costly waiting, and four serious violations of the CPC, all amounts to a measly slap on the wrist and an online course.

To me, this is hardly a resolution.

While the number of public grievances may be small, unethical behavior is still running rampant. As it stands, RID is the sole vehicle to certification. Revoking someone’s certification as a sanction for unethical behavior is critical to protecting the value of certification.

What Should be Done?

As interpreters, we have the duty to make decisions based on discretion. This discretion is powerful. We have the ability to choose where, when, and with whom we team and work. If the people with whom we work create discord in our ethical conscience, it is time to reevaluate.

Suppose we were to reframe the ways in which we accept work? What if we all stood on the grounds of doing the most good and upholding the linguistic rights of the communities we serve and ultimately are a part of, (8) each and every time?

We may be faced with discomfort in telling an agency or a requestor: “I am available, but I have an ethical conflict with this interpreter. Therefore I am unable to accept this assignment.” In doing so, we are taking the initiative to create change (9) and shift the paradigm.

We may be met with resistance since we are “that interpreter” who questions teaming decisions made by the gatekeepers in our profession. The beauty of that resistance is the opportunity for dialogue and deeper exploration as to why ethical teams and practices matter.

I invite you to be the catalyst for an ethical support community and delve into this idea of declining work based upon the unethical history of our potential team. In this ethical support community, let’s talk about how this idea and practice affect us as individual practitioners, affect the communities we serve, affect our overall working rapport, and ultimately, reflect our accountability.

What lasting impression will you create?

 

Works Cited

(1) Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, NAD-RID Code of Professional Conduct, May 2013

(2) Kidder, Rushworth How Good People Make Tough Choices New York: Harper, 2009. Print.

(3) Suggs,Trudy Street Leverage, Deaf Disempowerment and Today’s Interpreter, Posted December 11, 2012 Retrieved May 2013

(4) Lewis Merkin You Tube personal vlog, Posted April 24, 2013 Retrieved May 2013 https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=XIeSlSmOyIg_

(5) Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Ethical Practice Systems Policy Manual, May 2013

(6) Dottie Stafford Griffith personal vlog, Posted April 22, 2013 Retrieved May 2013

(7) Paul Shreeman You Tube personal vlog, Posted January 14, 2013 Retrieved May 2013

(8) Cokely, Dennis “Exploring Ethics: A Case for Revisiting the Code of Ethics”, 2000

(9) Street Leverage, Sign Language Interpreters Embody the Change You Want to See, Posted May 8, 2013 Retrieved May 2013