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Sign Language Interpreting’s Long Adolescence

Sign Language Interpreting's Long Adolescence

The field of sign language interpreting has the opportunity to leave organizational adolescence behind. By connecting their emotions to the challenging tasks ahead, interpreters can foster growth and move the field to the next level.

Historical Context

Last summer I was unable to attend RID’s Convention in New Orleans, or even watch the livestreaming. Instead I followed developments through Facebook friends’ posts and comments and tweets at the conference hashtag, #RIDNOLA15. Through the lens of social media, there were two conferences: one full of camaraderie, fellowship and happy reunions, the other full of angst. Meanwhile, the bold move by the Board to suspend certification testing was not completely without warning. I remember last year (2014), at the RID Region 1 Conference in Boston, President Dawn Whitcher did mention that the Board was exploring the possibility of alternative structures. The open question now is whether RID can grow up enough to pass through this coming-of-age opportunity.

[Click to view post in ASL]

Since I joined the profession in the late 1980s/early 1990s, I have been astonished and fascinated by the organizational and cultural dynamics. The general behavior patterns today compared with then—twenty-five years ago—are essentially the same. On the one hand, this is discouraging. On the other hand, Deaf presence and authority has increased, so there is obvious change! But new people entering the field continue to exhibit problematic behaviors and react to feedback in the same ways as most did back then, and Deaf people are still complaining about the same kinds of problems (especially inadequate fluency and lack of intercultural skills). In light of this, we do still have a professional organization dedicated to sign language interpreting! It is an incredible testament to our Past Presidents, Board Members and Staff that RID has never imploded from the pressure cooker of oppression versus social justice.

Making Sense of Where We Are, Here and Now

A tool that helps me make sense of the oppression-social justice pressure cooker is a descriptive model of group development called “the life cycle of groups” (Weber, 1982). Weber’s model draws on Bruce Tuckman’s (1965) famous four stages of group development (forming, storming, norming, performing) and refines it. Weber’s additional details on the interpersonal, leadership and task issues that a group has to resolve at each stage provide insight into some of the long-standing issues RID members must face.

Weber renames the stages Infancy, Adolescence, Adulthood and Transforming. As you can guess, Adolescence corresponds with Tuckman’s Storming phase. The behavior patterns of a group’s Adolescence include emotional responses (e.g., anger, frustration, confusion) to the demands of being an organization (such as developing and following rules), attacks on leadership, and a need for order (which may or may not be a conscious realization of every member). What are the interpersonal, leadership and task issues of a group that bring out such emotionally-inspired behavior?

For a group to move through Adolescence to Adulthood, members have to deal with matters of power and influence while maintaining individuality and questioning differences. This is a tall order for anyone, in every group! The acid test involves the decision-making process: coming to agreement on how the organization says it will make decisions, and then how well the organization conforms to how it says it will make decisions.

In short, individuals a) need confidence in the group’s processes and b) to work through their personal needs for control in order for the group, overall, to grow.

Inside/Out

I happened to see the Pixar movie about emotions soon after the conference ended. Inside/Out is a dramatization of the inner life of a young girl whose life gets upended when her parents move from a town in Minnesota to San Francisco. We witness the play of the five basic emotions—joy, sadness, anger, fear, disgust—in her mind, and also see the results of how she’s feeling in her behavior. Two comments from friends who also saw the movie stuck with me. One friend was glad that the film “showed the reality that you cannot have joy without sadness.” The other friend noticed “how hard joy has to work in order to have any effect.”

Applying Pixar to RID, I realized that what I first thought of as two different conferences (as it appeared via social media) was instead a demonstration of how different people (or the same person at different times) at #RIDNOLA15 were expressing only three of the basic emotions: anger, disgust and joy. Missing were fear and sadness. While watching Inside/Out, I noticed something about the relationships among all five emotions. I actually went back to watch it a second time in order to confirm my observation. In the daughter’s mind, Joy is the leader. She corrals and herds Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger, and they look to her to do this.

The mom’s mind is different.

A Counter-Intuitive Way Forward?

The mom’s emotions are guided by Sadness.

This has left me wondering if the members of RID are locked into something called “Basic Assumption Groups.” The idea comes from a psychoanalytic approach to reading the unconscious of a group based on the behaviors of its members. Are we locked into sides: anger and disgust battling joy?  Meanwhile, fear is largely unexpressed (except disguised as anger or disgust), and sadness rarely enters the conversation (even though it is ever-present).

If we consider Weber’s “life cycle of groups” seriously, it offers insight into why groups get stuck in adolescence. There’s foundational work that needs to be done in “infancy,” the stage before the storm. If this is left un-done (or not done well, or needs to be re-done), group members do not share enough common expectations about what the organization can and should do.

The major intra-personal and interpersonal task of the infancy/forming stage of a group involves membership criteria. Individual members have to work through their own inclusion issues: if they do or do not want to belong. It seems that President Whitcher and the Board have given us a chance to rebirth the organization and re-define RID from the ground up.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you agree with the author that the patterns of behavior in the organization are about the same as they were twenty-five years ago? Why or why not?
  2. Does the framework of the “life cycle of groups” seem like a good tool for analyzing what’s going on with the organization and its members? Why or why not?
  3. Do you have different or additional ideas about the emotions expressed during/about the 2015 RID Convention?
  4. How do you managed your personal need for control?

Related Posts:

Interpreter Education: History is a Relentless Master with Dennis Cokely and Anna Witter-Merithew

Does the Past Hold the Answer to the Future of Sign Language Interpreting? by Carolyn Ball

Modern Questor: Connecting the Past to the Future of the Field by Lynnette Taylor

References:

Tuckman, Bruce. (1965). “Developmental Sequence in Small Groups.” Psychological Bulletin63(6): 384-399.

Weber, Richard C. (1982). The Group: A Cycle from Birth to Death, in Reading Book for Human Relations Training, 7th Edition. L. Porter and B. Mohr, Eds. Alexandria, VA: NTL Institute.

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Interpreter Education: History is a Relentless Master

Historical Reflections

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

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

You can find the PPT deck for their presentation here.

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

[Click here to view presentation in ASL]

Interpreter Education: History is a Relentless Master

Wing Butler:

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

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

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

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

 

Anna and Dennis:

Thank you.

 

Anna:

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

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

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

Next slide please.

Webinar Goal and Objectives

Anna:

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

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

Next slide.

Socio-Political Context in Which Interpreter Education Exists

Anna:

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

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

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

Dennis, did you want to say something?

Dennis:

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

Anna:

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

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

Dennis:

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

Anna:

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

Dennis:

Right. Yes.

Anna:

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

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

Dennis:

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

Anna:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dennis:

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

Anna:

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

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

Next slide.

Interpreter Education: Early Mindset

Anna:

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

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

Next slide.

Early Recruitment

Anna:

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

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

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

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

Next slide.

Program Expansion

Dennis:

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

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

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

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

Next slide.

Federal Funding for Interpreter Education

Dennis:

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

Anna:

That’s amazing.

Dennis:

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

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

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

Next slide.

Anna:

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

Dennis:

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

Anna:

Were there seven or eight of you?

Dennis:

Seven – there were seven of us.

Anna:

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

Dennis:

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

Anna:

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

Dennis:

Yes, right. That’s right.

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

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

Anna:

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

Dennis:

No, they don’t.

Anna:

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

Dennis:

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

Anna: 

Yes – NSF or maybe NIDRR.

Dennis:

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

New slide.

Federal Funding for Interpreter Education Cont.

Dennis:

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

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

Anna:

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

Dennis:

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

Anna:

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

Dennis:

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

Anna:

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

Dennis:

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

Next slide.

Market Disorder

Anna:

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

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

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

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

Dennis:

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

Next slide.

Behind the Eight Ball

Anna:

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

Dennis:

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

Anna:

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

Next slide.

Deaf Community Involvement in Interpreter Education

Anna:

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

Next slide.

Recurring Issues in Interpreter Education

Anna:

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

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

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

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

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

Dennis:

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

Anna:

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

Dennis:

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

Anna:

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

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

Dennis:

Well, I guess that’s it.

Anna:

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

That’s fine. We’re good.

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

Dennis:

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

Anna:

Agreed.

Wing:

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

Anna:

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

Dennis:

Absolutely. We are indebted.

Wing:

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

Anna:

What color is it? What color did we add?

Wing:

I don’t know – something new and different. 

Anna:

Something old? The color of old?

Wing:

No, no. Just something different and inspiring.

Dennis:

No, no, no.

Anna:

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

Laughter all around.

Dennis:

Old and feeling old are two different things.

Wing:

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

Anna:

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

Dennis:

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

Anna:

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

Wing:

Thanks everyone! Take care!  Bye now!

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What can Sign Language Interpreter Education Learn from Wild Birds?

What can Sign Language Interpreter Education Learn from Wild Birds?

Birds raised in captivity often struggle to acquire natural communication and instincts. So too do sign language interpreters brought up in ITPs, with limited Deaf community connections and interaction. Kimberly Hale considers how interpreter education can borrow strategies from nature in raising the next generation of sign language interpreters.

The current state of interpreter education reminds me of an attempt to return rehabilitated, injured or orphaned birds to the wild, rather than allowing the natural developmental process of wild birds to occur.

[View post in ASL]

Natural Versus Artificial Development            

In the wild, chicks are nurtured and learn the way of the bird through instincts, observation, and imitation of older birds. Mature birds protect chicks and model bird behavior. Astute mother birds perceiving just the right time to send the chick off into the world, push the fledglings from the nest. Wild birds effectively raise their young who behave as birds and function effectively in their natural habitats.

In contrast to the natural development process is the artificial process employed when injured, orphaned, or captivity-bred birds are rehabilitated and released into the wild. These birds, much like student interpreters, learn the way of the bird in an artificial environment removed from natural developmental stimuli.

Gatekeepers – The Natural Approach

Historically, trusted individuals were sought out and encouraged by members of the Deaf community to act as sign language interpreters. Just as chicks are pushed from the nest by astute mother birds, these chosen fledgling interpreters were pushed into a wider variety of settings as their performance and success warranted.  As members of the “wild bird” community, they naturally gained values, skills, and knowledge needed to function as birds, albeit with unique responsibilities.

The System – Bred and Raised in Captivity

In contrast, the current model of interpreter education creates sign language interpreters bred and raised in captivity and then released into the wild. Many interpreters-in-training have never encountered the Deaf Community in its natural state and have a limited understanding of Deaf Community interactions, yet they want to join the “flock”. Initial interactions are often mediated, controlled, and contrived by the Interpreter Trainer(s), similar to the artificial environments created by bird rehabilitation specialists.  A large portion of training time is spent with other interpreters-in-training or with videos of ASL users and interpreter samples, rather than spending time with the “flock”.

Limited Exposure Limits Competence

Often rehabilitated birds are released to the wild as adults or older juveniles. They spend their formative years learning to act like birds based solely on instincts and the bird trainer’s teaching. They miss the benefit of natural imitation opportunities, protection from older birds, and the natural pecking order process. Prior to release they frequently have limited contact with wild birds. This may lead to difficulty upon release into nature.

Interpreters “raised” in interpreter education programs, just as birds raised in captivity, may lack skills in negotiating the flock.  They do not communicate and behave as naturally as those who are raised and groomed naturally within the flock. Specifically, they are more hesitant and awkward in seeking clarification. By not learning language primarily via natural interactions, they miss the opportunity to naturally learn appropriate birdcalls and signals for clarification and correcting misunderstandings, which is a critical skill for sign language interpreters.

Early Exposure Unintentionally Disrupts the Flock

Quality Interpreting Education Programs attempt to assist interpreters-in-training form connections and appropriate behaviors within the community by requiring community interactions and event attendance before release. This does not mirror the natural process either. Interpreters-in-training, without connections or formal welcome (because they are unknown to the flock), insert themselves into the wild flock. Unfortunately, this “forced” introduction and acceptance model disturbs the natural order of the flock. New awkward birds invade the wild bird territory, and the wild birds are expected to embrace, accept, and nurture the interpreters-in-training.

Early Release

Given the growing interest in the wild flock, the limited numbers of rehabilitation facilities, and the structure of those facilities (i.e., colleges and universities), bird rehabilitation programs are specified lengths. More often than not, there are not specific competency based exams to ensure that birds-in-training are ready to be pushed from the nest and fend for themselves.

Because they are pushed from the nest before they are ready to function independently and are left to fend for themselves they end up under the tree instead of in the branches among the flock.  These released birds often become the unintended recipients of wild bird droppings. Stronger birds will strive and will, eventually, learn to fly thereby officially joining the flock.  Others, especially those without appropriate support, never get off the ground.

We Need to Invest

Investment in wild bird habitat and creative habilitation solutions for birds-in-training is essential to facilitate natural wild bird interactions and nurturing throughout the development process. We – wild birds, successful captive-release birds, and bird trainers – must facilitate the renewal of natural wild-bird model of sign language interpreter education. A more effective habilitation and release program must be created. Creative thinking from all segments is required. Leaders have begun to address the concern.  It is time for those who are not yet leaders, but who are in their prime and ready to nurture the next generation of interpreters into existence to join the conversation. The nesting grounds and habilitation programs are ready for the next generation of brooders, hatchers, pushers, and trainers to join the discussion. 

Conclusion

I am hopeful that CIT’s partnership with Street Leverage to host this year’s conference will engender dialog that should continue long after the conference ends. Join the discussion of how best to habilitate new wild bird interpreters by sharing your chirps, caws, coos, or tweets.

References

The captivity-raised concept presented here is similar to Molly Wilson’s conceptualization that she eloquently describes in By-passing Deaf World in Terp Training. Interpreter education generally bypasses the Deaf community – opting instead for an artificial captivity-based training model.

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It Takes a Village to Raise a Sign Language Interpreter

The transition from student to working interpreter can be challenging when current practitioners are hesitant to step forward as guides. Brian Morrison pushes back on some negative mindsets regarding passing the torch, and makes suggestions on how to reach out to the next generation.

With fall upon us, students in interpreter training programs all over the country have begun another semester on their journey to becoming a sign language interpreter. Along with the classroom lectures and hands-on practice teachers are planning, they are also reaching out to the interpreting community for one of the most crucial pieces of the students’ development, observation and mentoring opportunities. However, these opportunities are becoming increasingly difficult to find. While some of the scarcity can be attributed to specific requirements of the situation, some of the difficulty is also due to a lack of support by the sign language interpreting community.

“Why would I train students to take my jobs?”

The statement above is a common one given as an explanation as to why sign language interpreters don’t want to work with students.  This statement saddens me not only as an interpreter, but as an interpreter educator as well. Personally, I wouldn’t have achieved what I have today if it wasn’t for the mentors and interpreters that I looked up to and served as models during my early development. As an educator who is striving to find opportunities for students, it’s equally frustrating.

How many of us benefited from these types of relationships that our students are striving to find and often cannot? What if, while we were developing our own skills, interpreters had given us the same reply? Would we be the interpreters we are today?

Where’s the disconnect? All interpreters who have gone through an Interpreter Education Program (IEP) experienced similar requirements for working with interpreters as students are doing now. Has it been so long that we’ve forgotten what it was once like when we were in their shoes?

Overall, students in these programs truly want to become interpreters and be contributing members of the profession. They sacrifice their time to focus on their skills and are committed to that process. As Stacey Webb highlights in her article, The Value of Networking for the Developing Sign Language Interpreter:

In order for students to be successful sign-language interpreters, prior to graduating it is critical that they develop a relationship with both the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community (DHHC) and current-working professionals within the DHHC.  This would include interpreters, educators and DHHC advocates. By fostering these relationships, students will create educational, professional and personal opportunities that would not be available to them outside of the classroom environment.”

So while students do make attempts at networking to cultivate these opportunities, it is very often a struggle.

“They have no respect for the elders in the profession”

This statement above, and variations of it, is another common sentiment towards students. While I don’t deny that attitudes reflective of this statement do exist among students, I also have to wonder how much responsibility can be attributed to the current state of the ‘system’?  What I have learned is that students are very observant.  They learn by watching and they often emulate what they see. In our reluctance to work with students, have we conveyed to them that we don’t value them or their work?   Have we somehow systematically disrespected the label “student” through our actions or lack thereof? In her article, What Role Does Civility Play in the Sign Language Interpreting Profession?, Carolyn Ball stresses the importance of civility in the field of interpreting and interpreter education. She states:

If all interpreters, educated through formal training, were given a clear sense of the importance of civility in the workplace and in interactions with colleagues, perhaps more recent graduates would benefit from repeat business and high levels of job satisfaction.”

As educators, cultivating an attitude of civility is definitely something that we can incorporate into our interpreter education programs. In turn, as experienced interpreters, we can also be the models of civility that we want them to emulate by embracing these students and guiding them into the profession.

As a profession, we recognize there is a shortage of qualified sign language interpreters. While several factors contribute to this, the fact is that most of these graduates will go on to work as interpreters. Many of them, like most of us when we started working as interpreters, will not be as prepared as they should be. Additionally, at some point, they will become our colleagues. If, as a profession, we made a commitment to being more involved with students early on in their professional lives, we could be training the team member we will want to work successfully with later. The latter scenario also suggests apossibility, the interpreted interaction as much more successful.

“I can’t believe you don’t know that!”

Interpreter education programs have a finite amount of time. We know that they aren’t able to teach everything we would like students to know before they enter the field. The field of sign language interpreter education has grown in the last several years thanks to organizations such as the Conference of Interpreter Trainers (CIT), the Commission on Collegiate Interpreter Education (CCIE), and National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers (NCIEC). New research, new curricula, and improved standards for education programs are now available and these programs have access to materials and information which weren’t previously available.  Rather than viewing interpreter education programs negatively or putting the sole onus on them for having not taught students all they need to know, we can shift our focus to building on their existing foundation. To echo Kate Block’s sentiment in her article, Mentorship: Sign Language Interpreters Embrace Your Elders, take advantage of this new information that the students can bring to our work. Imagine the outcomes when the new student and the experienced interpreter learn and grow from sharing their knowledge with each other.

“What can I do?

I think first and foremost, we can be the manifestation of the theme, “I Am Change”, as StreetLeverage challenges us to do through this website. Interpreter education programs and students cannot be ignored, so as a responsibility to our profession, we can decide to step up and support our novices.

How can we make that change? There are several things that as individuals we can do right now.

Remember your passion.

Reflect back on your journey to becoming an interpreter. Remember what it was like to be that student…eager to learn and wanting experiences.

Offer observation.

Offer 2-3 opportunities a month to the local ITP for student observations. While much of the work may not be suitable or possible to have students present, we often do have situations that would be perfect.

Present.

Offer to go and speak to students at the local ITP. If you can’t offer them observations, offer them your wisdom in the classroom.

Sponsor a student.

Become a “Big Brother/Big Sister” to an ITP student. I think if we all look back to our early days, at least one name will come to mind as someone who “took us under their wing” and got us through. Be that person to a student. Be the interpreter you want to see the students grow to become.

Host an induction.

As a community and/or alumni association, host an induction ceremony for a graduating group of interpreting students. Acknowledge their hard work and dedication while welcoming them into this sometimes crazy, always wonderful world of interpreting.

Start a group.

Establish reflective practitioner groups that include students and new interpreters. StreetLeverage articles provide excellent discussion material for all levels of sign language interpreters. Case conferencing allows for insightful discussions of the decision making process based on actual scenarios.

I’m a strong believer in the idea of “it takes a village.” This is our profession and as such, we need to actively commit to the next generation of interpreters. Let’s face it, as individuals we will not be in the field forever. In order to preserve our legacy, we can leave positive impressions on the lives of the next generation. Let’s raise them well.

What will your contribution be?

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Leadership in Sign Language Interpreting: Where are We?

Sign Language Interpreter Wondering Where the Field is with Leadership

Amy Seiberlich takes a look back at the history of leadership in our field and suggests ways the profession can educate and inspire a new generation of leaders.

History of Leadership

It is difficult to discuss the history of leadership in the field of sign language interpreting without first selecting a starting point for our history as a “field.”  Some consider this point the juncture at which the shift from volunteer interpreter to paid interpreter began, and the time at which training standards and rules of conduct for the practice of sign language interpreting started to become formalized.

Birth of a Field

The juncture at which this shift from volunteer to paid interpreter is most easily identified as June 17, 1964 – the opening date of the Workshop on Interpreting for the Deaf at Ball State Teachers College in Muncie, Indiana. The purpose of this workshop, and later of RID, was

“…to establish standards for interpreters for the deaf; to suggest training, curricula, and criteria for admission to training courses for interpreters; to develop a manual and/or other guidelines for interpreters for the deaf, both for the hearing and the deaf individuals involved; and to collect and identify the manuals and booklets dealing with dactylogy” (Fant, 1989, p.2).

It was at this workshop that two men, and later a total of 64 workshop participants, discussed the idea of forming an organization of interpreters that could also “assess interpreter competency and maintain a registry of them so consumers could be assured of receiving quality service” (Fant, 1989, p.1-2).  RID was born as a result, and thus marks our official beginning as a “field.”

Relevant Experience

Our early leaders, like sign language interpreters at the time, were deeply embedded in the Deaf community and Culture.  They were individuals who held full-time jobs but who interpreted when they could, for free.  For many, those full-time jobs were held in management or leadership positions in organizations that served the Deaf or were somehow affiliated with Deafness. Our early leaders, then, came to their positions in RID with both first-hand knowledge of Deafness and relevant leadership experience.

A Slow Shift

As time has gone by the relative number of interpreters from within the “inner circle” of community has diminished. Much has been written about this shift lately. For the purposes of this discussion this shift simply means that fewer leaders come from within the heart of the community.  Dennis Cokely refers to this shift and the subsequent impact on leadership in RID in his article “Vanquished Native Voices.” As we further professionalize the field, more and more interpreters (and potential leaders) are entering the field at a younger age, and with less professional work and life experience than their predecessors.

This has led to leaders coming to their positions with neither first-hand knowledge of Deafness and little to no relevant leadership experience. It’s hard to imagine RID having gotten off the ground under these circumstances; it’s harder still to imagine continuing to grow under the same circumstances. Yet this is exactly what we are attempting to do.

The Need for Training

This has created a situation clearly articulated by former RID President Janet Bailey in Chapter 9 of the RID Affiliate Chapter Handbook. She states:

“Affiliate chapters tend to experience cycles with periods of healthy participation and times of relative inactivity. Some local leaders take the responsibility, run with it – often successfully – but then become burned out when they realize they cannot do it all. When a new member steps up to take on a leadership role, everyone gives a long sigh of relief and disappears – leaving the new “leader” to do it all. This vicious cycle is played out again and again and the only solution is for a group to step up to share the responsibilities.

Experts on board service talk about the stages of growth in an organization. Some characterize the stages by comparing the organization to the development of a child. RID has been around for many years and yet because of the volunteer status, the nomad existence of running an organization without walls, and the constant changing of personnel, our affiliate chapters rarely have the luxury of developing beyond adolescence. 

Many joke about the lack of contested elections within RID. Consider the old joke where a volunteer is called for and everyone in line steps back leaving one bewildered person elected. There have been many, myself included, who took on the responsibilities of an office because no one else was willing. The new uninitiated leader is expected to figure out what to do next. Because most affiliate chapters have no physical office, the administrative reins are often turned over (unceremoniously) with the passing of assorted ring binders, file folders and boxes from the home office, basement or car trunk of the previous officer. [More recently the bulk of this transfer has minimized with the advent of computers, discs and CDs.]

With no official training, we roll up our sleeves, take a deep breath and fake it. Usually this means focusing on the uncompleted tasks left over from the previous administration: perhaps planning the upcoming conference, budget concerns, membership renewals, newsletter publication. 

Rarely do we consider the task, analyze staffing needs and create a work plan. But that is exactly what we should do.” (RID, 2006, pg. 90-91).

Could it be then, that one of the greatest needs for our leaders revolves around relevant training or prior leadership experience?

Status of Leadership in Interpreting

In 2006 I completed a Master’s thesis on Leadership in the field of interpreting.  As a part of my research I investigated the degree of leadership training those working on a State and local level within the RID structure had undergone.  Forty-two percent of respondents to the survey used indicated that they had received some degree of leadership training prior to serving as an officer in RID.  The highest percentage of responses as to where this training was received fell into the “other” category – meaning that their leadership training was not provided with the interpreting and Deaf communities in mind.

While some may argue that many leadership skills are generalizable to any audience, it can also be argued that one of the strengths of our earlier leaders is that they had knowledge of the community, the interpreting task, and leadership experience in occupations that were tied, in some way, to Deafness.

When we look at the situation through this lens it is a little easier to understand why we are seeing many elections for leadership positions on every level of the organization go uncontested and other positions unfilled. I have had multiple conversations with interpreters and students who are interested in service but who are overwhelmed by a history they have no knowledge of and the interpersonal dynamics that have been created as a result of this history.  In light of this, I offered suggestions for personal preparation for leadership service in an article titled “Sign Language Interpreting, Leadership , and Messy Relationships: What They Have in Common.”  Yet even outside of what individuals can do to prepare for leadership positions, we need to ask ourselves as a broader group the question as to whether or not we are doing a good enough job preparing our leaders for service.

My, How We’ve Changed!

One of the most promising changes I have seen in recent years is coursework developed specifically for leaders in the field.  One example is The University of Northern Colorado’s Distance Opportunities for Interpreter Training Center (DO IT Center) where coursework is offered in both Leadership and Supervision of interpreters. This type of educational approach helps to fill the gap between the knowledge and experience our former leaders brought to the field, and the knowledge and experience potential new leaders are bringing to our organizations.

What We Will Need to Succeed

While we are making strides in preparing leaders for service we are still in dire need of support.  If you are someone interested in leadership but unsure of where to begin here are a few suggestions:

  • Start small. Talk to local leaders about what positions are available in your area.
  • Become self-aware. Assess your current knowledge and skill set, as well as your area of interest, in relation to the positions that are available.
  • Be willing to grow. Assess what knowledge and skills you may be lacking, and seek out resources to help you develop these areas.
  • Seek out additional education. Be willing to get back into the classroom to investigate everything from interpersonal and group dynamics, communication and conflict management to the history of RID and interpreting.
  • Become an active member of your organization. Attend meetings, get to know other members and leadership teams, read your local and national newsletters, journals and blogs.  Familiarize yourself with the current state of affairs.
  • Become an active member of your community. Get out and interact with members of your local Deaf community. Talk to them about their history, their community’s history, and how interpreting has changed over the years.
  • Be open. Be open to hearing and seeing whatever you hear and see, learning what you are being taught, and to using whatever gifts you have to serve others from the most compassionate, caring place in your heart.

While we cannot individually possess all of the experience, knowledge and skills our field and organizations need, we can each commit to developing our individual gifts and innate abilities. Then, together, we can co-create the kind of magical leadership teams our field and our communities need to carry us forward!

What unique gifts do you possess that, if put into action, could benefit our communities and our field? And what’s keeping you from using those gifts?

 

Resources

Fant, L. (1989). Silver Threads: A Personal Look at the First Twenty-five Years of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. Silver Spring, MD; RID Publications.

RID (2006). Affiliate Chapter Handbook, Third Edition. Silver Spring, MD; RID Affiliate Chapter Relations Committee.

Seiberlich, A. (2006). “Interpreters as Leaders.” Unpublished Master’s Thesis completed at the University of Denver.