Posted on

#Doable: Creating Safe Spaces for Sign Language Interpreters

Creating Safe Spaces for Sign Language Interpreters

Creating safe spaces for sign language interpreters can satisfy a need for community, connection and cohesion. Jean Miller provides simple steps for creating a safe space in your community.

Throughout my career as a sign language interpreter, I have been fortunate to have the most generous and giving mentors imaginable. I have always had a safe place to land when I needed support or professional advice and have always been given room to grow as a practitioner and professional. While I didn’t set out to create a “pay it forward” opportunity, I realize that was exactly what this adventure had become.

A Deeper Connection

After working as an interpreter service manager for nearly a decade, I missed a deeper connection to interpreting and decided to find ways to reintegrate that part of my work life. Engaging practicing sign language interpreters and student interpreters in conversation, I found that there was a similar need to connect with other interpreters but very few ideas about how to create those opportunities.

At the same time, I noticed novice and student interpreters were finding it difficult to network with experienced interpreters which was leading to limited observation and mentoring opportunities (both formal and informal) and some disenchantment with what was seen as a lack of welcome for them in the field. This is a huge concern.  In Brian Morrison’s article, It Takes a Village to Raise a Sign Language Interpreter, he discusses the need for all of us to participate in the raising of future sign language interpreters. Finding ways to bridge the gap between the students and the professional interpreters in meaningful and non-threatening ways is daunting, but not impossible. Careful thought and good intentions can take you farther than you know.

In November 2012, after the death of good friend and colleague, Amy Fehrenbacher McFarland, I knew it was time to act. Amy was a warm and welcoming interpreter, mentor and friend. She believed in reciprocity and mentoring and made student and novice sign language interpreters feel welcome in our profession and community. In some small way, I thought that I could find a way to honor her commitment to creating safe spaces for interpreters.  After gathering feedback from friends in the community, I developed a plan and set about implementing it.

The Birth of TerpTalk

WestSide TerpTalk was created in February 2013. It is a three-hour interpreter gathering on the first Saturday morning of the month in our local area. The gathering is “drop in” style and folks can stay as long or as little as they would like. General topics are related to sign language interpreting and the lives of interpreters but anything is fair game. While we don’t have a theme, I try to come prepared to open the conversation if needed. It hasn’t been necessary up to this point. Some months, the ITP students may come with homework or burning questions from their studies, but more often than not, the conversations are lively and free-flowing.

On March 1, 2014, WestSide TerpTalk celebrated a milestone – thirteen months and counting! We have had up to 18 participants with a lovely mix of seasoned sign language interpreters, newer interpreters and students. Interpreters have driven from across the state to attend our little group. Conversations have included interpreting Shakespeare, the recent Wall Street Journal article and response about sign language interpreters, the new NIC news from RID, the FCC summary from Shane Feldman at RID, local business practices and many other topics. Driving away from the event this past Saturday, I realized that my selfish plan to reconnect with my interpreter identity had become something completely different. In my tiny corner of the world, I have been able to put my hand out to help create a safe space for interpreters.

#Doable Action: Creating a Safe Space for Interpreters

If you are looking for opportunities to create safe spaces for interpreters and interpreting students, if you are looking to join the village in raising our future sign language interpreters or if you just want to reconnect with your sign language interpreter self, I hope you will consider creating a discussion group of some kind in your community.

What follows are suggestions for creating a discussion group in your area,

  1. Study the current needs in your community.

There may be other opportunities, but is there a gap? Consider days of the week, time of day, venues, static versus dynamic locations, etc.

WestSide TerpTalk is the opposite of our local IPAHH (Interpreter Professionals at Happy Hour). I didn’t want to take anything away from IPAHH, but there was still a need. For WestSide TerpTalk, we have a static location every time, set in the morning in a non-alcoholic environment. The goal is professional conversation so if a significant other or child is present, they should be prepared to endure shop talk. All are welcome – students, novice interpreters, seasoned interpreters, CDIs, as well as Deaf and Hard of Hearing community members.

  1. Consider venue carefully.

Do they have a minimum per person spending requirement? Do they allow “loitering”? What times of day would be most accommodating for the needs of your group? What is the parking situation? Will it fit the budget of students to well-established interpreters? Is the venue lighted well? Is there loud or live music? Knowing the reasons people aren’t attending other social opportunities helps inform you when creating a new one. Is there an area of town where sign language interpreters live but few events take place?

  1. Consider continuity.

The idea of going to a new place every month is appealing to some people, but for some, consistency is the key. In our busy lives, one less thing to look up or look for can be the determining factor in someone attending. For me, the ever-changing location of IPAHH is a deterrent, even though I acknowledge my desire for social connection with interpreters.

  1. Social Media is your friend.

Getting the word out on Facebook, Twitter or any other popular social media outlet will help increase your success rate. Set a date for the first event and start getting the word out well ahead of time. Include the location’s address every time.

  1. Enlist the local ITP for help.

Find out what their needs are and try to figure out if you can meet some of them. Ask them to post announcements on their events board – students are great at getting the word out about something that will benefit them in their studies and future careers.

  1. Patience is a virtue.

I was fully committed to showing up for WestSide TerpTalk for four months with book/journal/magazine in hand, just in case no one showed up. If, after four months of trying, no one ever showed up, I would know that this wasn’t what our community was looking for. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. Thirteen months and going strong!

7. Choose a memorable name.

I don’t love the term “terp” as a general rule, but it came in handy when I was trying to come up with a name for the gathering.  I picked WestSide because we meet on the West side of Portland, Oregon.  TerpTalk was my other selection because I wanted the name to indicate that we were interpreters and we were probably going to talk shop.  Pick a name that suits your community, but make it memorable.  I am finding now, that many folks just call our gathering “TerpTalk”. I’m good with that.

8. Have Fun!

WestSide TerpTalk has allowed me to connect with interpreters I’ve known for a long time but don’t see often, with interpreters new to the area, student interpreters and interpreters I have known by name but had never met until they attended. It’s lively and fun and I find that I always leave with a huge smile on my face.

Final Thoughts

We each have the opportunity to create safe spaces, large and small, in the sign language interpreting community and everywhere. It doesn’t have to be complicated or grandiose. I’m very grateful to be able to have embarked on this journey.  In keeping with Brandon Arthur’s article, Sign Language Interpreters and the Karma of Gratitude, I’d like to take a moment to thank the people who have made WestSide TerpTalk such a success – Lydia Dewey Pickard and Erin Trine for making me think this crazy idea just might work, Portland Community College’s Sign Language Interpreter Program and the students who have faithfully attended since the beginning, and all the professional interpreters who have given their time and energy to supporting this endeavor and the intention behind it.

Posted on

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?

Posted on

The Value of Networking for the Developing Sign Language Interpreter

The Value of Networking for Sign Language Interpreters

In the world of ubiquitous social networks, Stacey Webb explores the significant value of networking offline for emerging sign language interpreters.

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. Personally, I would not be as successful in my career had the DHHC and Interpreter Community not provided me guidance.  These communities did not seek me out to help; rather, I became involved in community-related endeavors and positioned myself to become a well-connected member.

Importance of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community

In order for sign language interpreters to be successful, a relationship with the DHHC is paramount, as suggested by Trudy Suggs in her post, A Deaf Perspective: Cultural Respect in Sign Language Interpreting .  An interpreter in California once stated, “If you call yourself an Interpreter and you have never had a deaf person in your home – shame on you!”  In order to be an effective interpreter, one must create a relationship with the community in which you will serve.  Through this relationship, doors are opened which provides for a greater understanding of the people and language epitomizing the culture.  As a participant in the community, interpreters are able to represent and interpret messages more accurately and equivalently.

It is important that interpreters understand their personal and professional roles within the DHHC.  Historical analysis of the role of the sign language interpreter is helpful in developing and understanding the role of today’s interpreter.  For the role has ranged from overzealous inclusion with the community, known as the “helper model,” to almost-complete detachment from the community, also known as the “conduit model.”  As the interpreting profession has evolved through its peeks and valleys, one sentiment has become absolute—relationships with the DHHC are essential and their importance should not be underestimated.

Socializing with Language Users is Essential

Unfortunately, the DHHC is often a stopping point for opportunistic students who simply wish to only learn American Sign Language.  After getting a basic understanding of the language, either by graduating from a program or earning an interpreter certification, opportunists leave with little to no continuing relationship with the DHHC.  I cannot stress the importance of undeviating involvement.  To learn American Sign Language well, interpreters must immerse and socialize with language users.  By starting networks early in ones career, it provides the perfect opportunity for interpreters to create life long friendships that will add richness to their personal journey into the Deaf world. This also creates a link for future professional opportunities.

Relationships With Working Interpreters

Robert Kiyosaki, an American investor and author stated, “If you want to go somewhere, it is better to find someone who has already been there.” As a graduate, whether you feel completely confident and capable in your skill set, or you feel insecure about your abilities, actual work experiences are invaluable.  Work experiences are continually enhanced through professional relationships with interpreters of all facets. The interpreter profession is growing in popularity, constantly evolving as new research is being discovered, and flourishing with educational opportunities.  These changes have helped create a field of professionals with various skills, abilities, and knowledge, all of which have strengthened the profession.

By developing relationships with others in the field, the opportunities for professional development become endless and help to create a “career,” not simply a “job.”  These relationships create increased opportunities for jobs, provide teaming and mentorship possibilities, allow for professional dialoging and workshop attendance and allow interpreters to meet other professionals that will help advance their careers.

Networking Creates a Strong Community

Having a drive to connect with others, your roots will grow within the profession and you will want to become an interpreter who gives back to the profession by assisting upcoming interpreters in their career endeavors.  Networking aids in creating a strong community of reflective practitioners who work together to become highly qualified while preparing the next generation of interpreters.   This profession has been likened to working on an isolated island, but in my opinion, if that is true, the island I work on must be the most populated island in existence.

Relationships With Professionals Outside of the Deaf Community

Interpreters often operate as the middleman between the DHHC and Hearing Community.  Therefore, they have opportunities to educate both populations on the particulars of each community and its respective culture.  Further, these professionals are often responsible for the hiring and contracting of other interpreters.  Therefore, remember that anyone you meet has the opportunity to have a deaf client or host a public event that openly caters to the DHHC.  As interpreters, we have all been to public events that would have been enhanced had the venue or organizer provided an interpreter to cater to their DHH patrons.

By networking with other types of professionals, you have the opportunity to educate, which creates a platform for change in accessibility and equal access.  Several business professionals, educators and even government officials that I have communicated with were unaware of the particulars of the Americans with Disability Act and because of my background, I have been able to inform them on the needs for equal access.  It is often through edifying conversations that misconceptions are broken, innocent ignorant stereotypes are overcome and personal responsibilities are accepted.  It is important that you strive to be a resource and a liaison for your DHHC, thus aiding in your professional endeavors, while leaving a considerable and lasting impact on both the DHHC and interpreting profession.

Relationships Build Long-Term Success

Regardless of your years of experience, career satisfaction occurs through improved working relationships with peers, coworkers, students and customers. Sign language interpreters who immerse themselves into the field by staying visible to the people they come in contact with, while avoiding the traps of isolation, and clock watching have a fuller career.  Career expectations come in all shapes and sizes.  When expectations are realized through service as a friend, mentor, teacher, and advocate, you will make a difference for the people you meet along your professional journey.  Below are some tips for all interpreters on how to create and retain your networks.

Creating & Retaining Your Networks

  • Discover Deaf Events: Involve yourself in your local DHHC by actively participating in silent dinners, deaf professional happy hours and workshops particular to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. Attending these events will enable you to immerse yourself in the Deaf culture and will help you come in contact with future clients.
  • Remember Reciprocity: Unfortunately, there are often interpreting needs not covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act.  As an interpreter, you have spent time learning a language so you can help the DHHC and Hearing Communities interact with each other.  It is important to remember the needs of DHHC will also be supporting you financially.  Be willing to work pro bono when the appropriate time arises—for example, interpret weddings, funerals and baby showers as a way to give back to the community
  • Professional Development:  Attend workshops and conferences to expand your professional network. This will enable you to meet interpreters from all over the country and could potentially lead to new job opportunities.  When in attendance, dress professionally, and be willing to meet new people.  If you simply pair up with the one person you know at the event, you will be limiting your professional opportunities.
  • Professional Affiliations:  Join the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) the National Association of the Deaf and local affiliate chapters of both organizations.  Further, if you have any specific interests in the field, join those organizations as well. Whether your interest lies with the Conference of Interpreter Trainers, the National Association of Black Interpreters, or the American Sign Language Teaching Association. You do not have to simply be a cardholder in the organizations. You can join a committee, task force or hold an officer position to become an active member and agent of change.  When you take on such roles, you will meet other stakeholders in the profession and form new relationships.
  • Stay Current:  Read current publications and journals that are well received by the interpreting profession.  RID publishes the Views quarterly and the Journal of Interpretation yearly. Gallaudet University Press also publications and resources relating to the most current research related to American Sign Language linguistics and education, as well as cultural studies of individuals who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH). Additionally, trending blogs and vlogs, bring attention to current topics and issues affecting the DHHC and interpreting profession. These mediums all you to participate in professional dialogues, allowing you to speak knowledgably, credibly and genuinely with your peers.
  • Community Involvement: Become involved in local organizations, such as your local Chamber of Commerce, Sertoma club or hiking group.  By expanding your network of personal contacts, you will also be expanding your network of potential professional contact and will be creating business opportunities for yourself, accessibility for the DHHC and ultimately helping to close gaps between the Deaf and Hearing worlds.
  • Create Opportunities: Do not wait for people to approach you and integrate themselves into your life.  Remember to be friendly, smile and be willing to create conversations with strangers.  Don’t just focus on yourself; ask others questions and learn about their lives and careers.  By helping others achieve their goals, they will often assist you on your journey as well.  Stay at the conference site hotel, arrive to events early, ask questions, share your passions and follow up.

Be Grateful

People live extremely busy lives.  Regardless of whom you meet be grateful for the person’s time.  When appropriate, shake hands, offer a hug and always follow up with a thank you card.  If someone donates their time to you and provides you with the opportunity to take them out for coffee or lunch, remember to always pay and articulate your gratitude.

How have your relationships and professional networks enriched your professional career and personal journey?