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Deaf Interpreters and Repatriation

Deaf Interpreters and Repatriation

This is a cri de coeur that in our headlong rush to commoditization, we not forget our community roots.

For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? Mark 8:36

Not long ago, Sign Language interpreting was snug in the hands of deaf communities. Deaf people exerted great influence over the field, as practitioners and as leaders. There was little question then of where interpreting belonged or to whom the benefits of interpreting should accrue. The events of the past 50 years have changed much of this. The re-emergence of Deaf interpreters is hailed as a lifeline to our original purpose as interpreters.

[Click to view post in ASL]

Remembering the Past

Until October 10, 1973, I lurked in the shadows of Deaf World. On that day some of us were hanging around a television. We were actors in a touring theater company, and Harry Reasoner and ABC News were telling us that Vice President Spiro Agnew Had Just Resigned! At least they were telling those who could hear. Some of us who couldn’t hear, were rather too quick, I thought, to demand that I make known physically what Harry Reasoner and ABC News were going on about.

At this point I was nine weeks into Deaf World. I soon discovered some things from my old world that were no longer available; things like literacy and sense of humor in particular. In Deaf World my main schtick of being verbal was less useful, most of the time, than the ability to be funny, smart and/or skilled in physical ways.

But I was an actor, and I had seen interpreters work. I knew I could play the role of interpreter, if not do the job of interpreting. I remember fondly the encouragement from some of my audience, who assured me that my performance was certain to improve with practice and experience.

This was the way it had ever been. Interpreters were forged in the crucible of Deaf communities. Deaf people actively participated in the selection of who would interpret for them and when, and often, how. Deaf people in positions of authority in interpreting were the norm. The adolescent RID from Maryland, USA still lived in its parents’ basement on Thayer Avenue.

But adolescents grow up and grow away. RID moved into its own place and before you know it, here it is 2015, and CDIs are a welcome and growing presence. Of course, deaf people have been involved in interpreting for deaf people ab ovo. Shared access to information is woven into the culture. The RSCs of yesteryear are today rack focused as CDIs.

From Community to Curriculum

For 40 years, interpreting education has wandered the scholastic wilderness: finding prosperity in some few hospitable locations, but barely subsisting in many others. IEPs are often ‘orphan’ programs in their institutions. Sometimes housed in Language departments, but sometimes in Communicative Disorders. Sometimes yoked to vocational programs like air conditioning repair and auto mechanics. The relatively small number of students enrolled makes it difficult for many programs to secure adequate funding from their schools.

There has long been a desire to move interpreting education back, closer to its community roots. Deaf interpreters are an assurance that deaf people will remain strongly represented in and by our field going forward. Both community and interpreting have moved significantly in the last 50 years. Here is a rare opportunity to bridge that gap. By making deaf interpreters stakeholders in our educational programs and in our practice, we are respecting the past and protecting the future.

But why is it so much easier to champion this cause than to accomplish it?

From Curriculum to Commodity

The curricular impact of including deaf students into interpreting education programs is enormous. The inclusion of deaf students into IEPs demands the re-examination and revision of the entire curriculum in terms of standards, equity, and outcomes. This inclusion can have many wonderful benefits, but benefits that might come at significant cost.  The plight of plugging deaf students into existing curricular structures designed for hearing students is considerable. The simple solution of offering instruction exclusively in ASL grossly oversimplifies the problem. Students who cannot yet express themselves adequately in their L1 are not advantaged by being forced prematurely into an L2-only mode. It also disregards the needs of those deaf students whose English fluency wants improvement. MJ Bienvenu does well in reminding us of the importance of interpreters being bilingual.

Similar challenges exist in melding deaf interpreters into existing workforces. Fundamental aspects of team interpreting with deaf interpreters are little understood, little explored. Roles, boundaries, responsibilities, and workloads vary widely, as do standards for education, training, and certification. Much work needs be done on creating norms for teams of deaf and hearing interpreters and for the inclusion of deaf interpreters into the practice of interpreting. NCIEC has done some early, brilliant work in this regard.

It is still early days in this most recent episode of the evolution of sign language interpreting and interpreting education. Those in positions of influence ought to explore deaf interpreting and to do whatever possible to support its natural growth and development. This is the best chance we’ve had in a very long time to bring our practice into balance with our original purpose.

But how do we best support this? Blanket provision of DIs in the absence of demonstrated need simply will not fly in most places. Of all the changes wrought in interpreting over the past half-century, one of the most profound is commoditization. Today Interpreters are both cross-cultural mediators and variables in profit maximization formulae. Interpreting has become a highly competitive billion-dollar industry. Interpretation is a commodity that is readily available at a wide variety of price points.  In this economic climate, it is critical to distinguish need from preference, and cost from value.  Given our recent history, it is not hard to foresee the implementation of Deaf Interpreters being underbid by providers more dedicated to profit than to best practice.

Where Does Interpreting Belong?

Who is to say where interpreting belongs today? Both the defining of interpreters and the definition of interpreting have become quite elastic, allowing for new, remarkable perspectives on the provenance of our craft. Culture and Community have always held strong sway on interpreting. Now, Business clamors about having a proprietary interest as well. Whither interpreting?

The resurgence in Deaf Interpreters could not come at a more auspicious time.

Questions to consider:

  1. Regarding interpreting, how do community standards, academic standards, and professional standards align?
  2. How best to include deaf students in our IEPs and deaf interpreters into our practice
  3. How do we reconcile the new “commodity” value of interpreting with the old “community” value of interpreting?

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Giving Back: Have Sign Language Interpreters Forgotten Their Roots?

A reflection on the meaning of reciprocity in the sign language interpreting community and a proposal to extend CEU credit through service to reinvigorate “giving back to the Deaf community”.

 

[Click to view post in ASL]

When thoughts about volunteering personal time to interpret come to my mind, they are often associated with working with DeafBlind people. For me, it began in 1992 while I was serving as President of Deaf Studies Association at California State University at Northridge (CSUN). A vibrant group of 400 strangers changed my life forever. This group of people communicated in a different mode than I had ever experienced before; they communicated tactilely. When the week ended, I was saying goodbye to new friends who made a difference in my life. People I would still be in touch with twenty years later.

The Times They Are Changing

With legislative protections in place and employers recognizing their responsibility to provide communication accessibility for Deaf and DeafBlind individuals, work opportunities are increasing for sign language interpreters. DeafBlind individuals, in particular, are becoming more empowered and visible. They are coming out of their homes where they have lived in isolation and are becoming socially active and joining the workforce. This represents a new market for the sign language interpreting profession. However, there are still life events and activities where the only stakeholder is the Deaf or DeafBlind individual. No agency is offering a service that would mandate hiring a sign language interpreter or Support Service Providers (SSP).

Have you ever stopped to think about how many SSPs it takes for DeafBlind people to attend an event and listen to a presenter? There are always more service providers than consumers in the room. Why is it so hard to find good and plentiful help? The frustrations that Deaf consumers may have in adequately staffing an event with pro bono interpreters is greatly magnified at DeafBlind events where services are usually needed on a one-to-one basis instead of the one-to-many basis seen at many Deaf events.

Unfortunately, many sign language interpreters do not know how to provide effective DeafBlind Interpreting (DBI) or are apprehensive because they haven’t worked with a DeafBlind consumer before. Working with DeafBlind people is more than just a service. We are often an integral link to their world, which many of us cannot begin to imagine.

We need to consider some solutions as a profession. Volunteerism and pro bono service will help develop some new, potentially long-term revenue streams for service providers and, at the same time, provide needed services in the communities we serve.

Our Actions, Our Values

Our profession struggles with defining the parameters for using a volunteer versus a request for pro bono work. If the IRS views volunteering and pro bono work separately, why do sign language interpreters interchange the meanings? Why does it feel as though colleagues are asking, “What’s in it for me?” When did our profession become so entitled?  Why does it seem okay to ask for volunteers for AA meetings, but not job interviews? Are we saying that recovery is less valued than a person’s career? Why am I left with more questions than answers? And why is it so difficult to get people on the same page?

Pro bono vs. Volunteerism

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines pro bono services as “being, involving, or doing professional and especially legal work donated especially for the public good,” whereas a volunteer is defined as “a person who does work without getting paid to do it.”

Significantly, in the field of sign language interpreting, perceptions about the difference between the two categories are boundary-based. Where pro bono services are seen as professional and follow the same guidelines as paid assignments, volunteerism appears to have a more flexible set of boundaries. This can often confuse and/or blur the lines for both the consumer and the interpreter, potentially creating unsustainable expectations. The significant impact on the physical, emotional and mental state of both parties may act as a disincentive for sign language interpreters to provide volunteer services on a sustained basis. A pro bono service model, which seems to provide clearer boundaries for consumers and interpreters, may encourage more participation.

Donating time doesn’t require sacrificing oneself physically, mentally, and emotionally, yet it sometimes feels as if it does. The inability to say no and the tendency to volunteer too much, combined with the high expectations of consumers receiving free service, can be detrimental to good overall health. If we sacrifice too much, we may lose a sense of our self-worth and find ourselves questioning a job that can seem thankless and where we often feel our intentions are misunderstood.

Defining the Issues

The problem is two-fold: a) we do not have a structured industry standard for providing pro bono services, and b) there is a very real need within the community we serve for daily access to communication when there isn’t an entity to fund the provision. The result: an unsustainable imbalance that taxes the few who do volunteer for any significant length of time throughout their career.

As a volunteer, I fully admit that there are times when my ability to contribute proves to be extremely challenging. I may face periods of emotional turmoil or feel unable to meet the needs of consumers who may over-rely on me because they cannot easily find a reasonable pool of volunteers to cover their needs. At times, I might become angry and question why I continue giving back. But ‘giving back’ is the operative phrase, and more often than not, I feel a sense of pride and accomplishment from contributing to a community that has given so much to me in my life and career via many life-affirming experiences.

It takes a special kind of mentality and willingness to engage in a practice of integrated volunteerism throughout one’s career. It is no wonder the pool of much-needed volunteers is significantly smaller than it should be.

Credit for Service Through CEUs

As sign language interpreting students and interns, we are often required to volunteer an exorbitant number of hours in the community to gain the experience and knowledge that will shape us into better interpreters. Why is it that when we graduate or obtain certification many stop volunteering and only attend professional development opportunities to satisfy CEU requirements? Why are so many reluctant to give back to the community and engage in reciprocity? These are some of the core values which build and define the Deaf community.

What if sign language interpreters could earn CEUs for our volunteer work? What if we could get credit for learning new subject matter, methods, or for expanding our skill base? Why have motions for mandatory hours of pro bono work per CEU cycle been deferred to committees or failed when brought to the floor of a business meeting? (Motion D, RID business meeting August 2013)

RID Continuing Education Units (CEUs) are mandated to ensure awareness of the continuing evolutionary changes in language, community and service provision. Yet, the hands-on experiences expected from new entrants to the profession are not expected of our existing professionals. Why the disparity? Experience over time does sharpen one’s skills, but volunteering offers experiences that grow us exponentially in communication, increasing the breadth and depth of concept development in uncharted topic domains. Don’t we want to ensure that practicing professionals have those same enriching experiences throughout their careers?

Where Does RID Stand on Pro bono Credits?

How can sign language interpreters demonstrate the experience we gain at actual community events where our volunteerism often goes undocumented? How can we quantify these experiences in a meaningful way?

Attitudes on pro bono service need to start with RID. Isn’t it RID’s responsibility to encourage and foster professional growth, much like they do with professional development and CEUs today?

In the RID Vision Statement, “RID envisions a world where…the interpreting profession is formally recognized and is advanced by robust professional development, standards of conduct, and credentials.” Could requiring mandatory pro bono hours help to make that vision a reality? Why is there resistance to investigating the possibilities?

Will the conversation about voluntary membership in RID make it harder for us to enforce professional development of any kind?

In reality, workshops do not always mimic real-life experiences. However well-intentioned the CEU concept was, many interpreters attend workshops to ensure certification maintenance without ever intending to use the tools/concepts learned.  In effect, the CEU concept has lost its way. Volunteer and pro bono opportunities, to a greater extent, contribute to skills development while workshops broaden knowledge base.

Adding a pro bono crediting system to supplement RID’s CEU tracking system, could ensure the value of the profession as a whole, because community service would provide a structure for sign language interpreters to go out and experience a variety of real-life situations. A structured pro bono service process led by RID would address this issue, remedy the unintended failings of the CEU system, create a standard of protection for over-taxed volunteers by expanding the pool of available interpreters. At the same time, the system would raise awareness about important community evolutions through direct and active participation, enhance professional expertise, and provide an industry-wide demonstration of goodwill and contribution to the communities we serve. When you think of these outcomes, can you deny that pro bono accreditation is an absolute necessity for the sign language interpreting profession? The excuses against creating a pro bono system can no longer be the accepted norm.

Additionally, establishing clear professional boundaries in a pro bono environment should motivate more sign language interpreters to contribute time to community events. This will greatly expand the pool of available interpreters, reducing the stresses placed upon the small pool of volunteers that exist today, and the challenges the community experiences in attempting to provide communication access within their own events. The results would be positive for all parties involved.

Pro bono work and volunteerism have their place. We just need to recognize how to create a more effective system in our profession. After all, isn’t the ideology behind giving back be good? This type of work provides a real hands-on experience for situations that may otherwise not be possible.

Parting Thoughts

Nagging questions remain for me: What are the emotional, physical and mental costs of giving my time? How much of my life have I sacrificed to give back? Am I justified in feeling angry when I think people have taken advantage of me? Are my core values that different from those interpreters who don’t serve on committees, boards, community planning teams? Why do we see the same people giving their time to the community over and over? Why do we open ourselves up as volunteers to be ridiculed? Why are we willing to put ourselves out there? Why do people question our intentions/motivations? Why can’t I just punch in my 9-5 interpreter card and be done when my job is over for the day? Most importantly, why isn’t RID, our professional organization moving forward in a determined way to address the important issues stated in this article? Am I simply asking too much?

While I cannot answer these questions fully, I know that giving back comes from a deep place in my heart, a place that feels like home when I am there and when I am with people who appreciate my time, my skills, and me. In those moments when a DeafBlind person sees something for the first time and experiences something they have never experienced before, it is there. It’s a place of peace, a place where, if I were to die tomorrow, I would know that I made a mark on this place we call Earth and I made a difference in someone’s life. I give back to people who have given me the tools to communicate, the skills to have a full time job doing something I love with people I respect and admire. Not everyone can be happy deep down; not everyone can give the gift of connection. I serve because I want to and I am a better person for it.

And while I join with others who call for a pro bono credit system, I promise you that at the end of the day, the feeling of self-worth and accomplishment from a successful contribution will dwarf the value of the actual credit you’ve earned for that day. You have my word.

Questions to Consider

1. What is your community’s stance on pro bono interpreting and volunteer interpreting? What is your personal perspective and why?

2. Why do you think some people oppose credit for volunteer/pro bono service through CEUs?
Would you support RID if they implemented a Credit for Services program for pro bono and/or volunteer work? Why or why not?

3. What are some ways that interpreters can continue to support the value of reciprocity and still maintain healthy boundaries and good self-care?

Related StreetLeverage Posts

5 Easy Career Enhancers by Brandon Arthur

Knowledge Brokering: Emerging Art for Sign Language Interpreters? by Laurie Shaffer

#Doable: How Do Sign Language Interpreters Restore Relationships with the Deaf Community? by Tammy Richards

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Knowledge Brokering: Emerging Art for Sign Language Interpreters?

Knowledge Brokering: Emerging Art for Sign Language Interpreters?

With various demands on time and attention, sign language interpreters may find it difficult to keep abreast of the latest trends, research and practices in the profession. Laurie Shaffer describes how the field can apply collaborative Knowledge Brokering approach to stay current.

Whether you are a community interpreter working 50 hour weeks, a staff interpreter, or a Deaf community member spending hours engaged in local advocacy, little time is left for the pursuit of the academic side of the profession at the end of the day.

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There is a level of risk involved in operating with blind spots in best practices, recent regulatory changes, or cutting-edge research on the field of sign language interpreting. The consequences of missing these evolutionary changes in the field cover the full range from minor to potentially life-changing.  Utilizing Knowledge Brokers may provide the solution we need in the evolving field of sign language interpreting.

What is a Knowledge Broker?

A Knowledge Broker is someone who moves information from the research arena to various audiences (Meyer, 2010). The role appears to have emerged organically in response to information glut and time shortage in our modern world. There is a plethora of research out there, too much for one individual to stay abreast of even if one focuses solely on a particular discipline. Thus the Broker comes into being as one who not only makes the esoteric understandable but also applicable to the reality of the chosen audience. Where does a Knowledge Broker fit in the field of sign language interpreting?

From a historical perspective, Knowledge Brokering has played a critical role in the establishment of the field of sign language interpreting and the traditions within the profession. This process, based strongly in oral tradition, is the reason the field has progressed in the last 50 years. Without pioneering spirits in the Deaf community and interpreters in our field acting in a Knowledge Brokering capacity, the evolution and advancement of the field might look very different than the current landscape. It is also important to understand that we all can participate in the process on various levels.

In our profession, a Knowledge Broker would be one who moves between the rapidly expanding numbers of colleagues, both Deaf and non-Deaf, pursuing advanced degrees, spending countless hours producing research to better our understandings, and the people on the frontline. The Broker may help to harvest information from the world of academia that specifically responds to the query presented by the day-to-day practitioner.   In addition, she or he may assist the practitioner in digesting information in more easily accessed pieces.

What are the characteristics of a Knowledge Broker? I asked several colleagues this question and although I collected several responses, this one in particular sums it up:

“For me, a knowledge broker is someone who has valuable, sought after, and/or in depth knowledge or experience—general or specific—and is willing to share. (Who) does so generously, completely; thoroughly and thoughtfully, (and who) has an attitude of advancing one advances us all.”

Another factor to consider is that not everyone is immediately aware of his or her question.  Again one respondent says it best:

“In addition to trust, I value the ability to assist in finding the question, before looking for an answer. I don’t know what I don’t know. When discussing my questions with a valuable ‘knowledge broker,’ he or she helps me figure out my real need and then look for answers with me. I value the honest interest in my work and studies; the relationship of trust, so that I can ask the questions; the guidance and back-channeling to lead me to my real questions; the information sent, or resources suggested; and the follow-up to make sure I received everything I could from our conversation.”

How Does Knowledge Brokering Work?

Knowledge Brokers may not be used to full advantage in the field of interpreting at present. We, as practitioners, don’t always know what to do or where to go. We often know we need support but we can’t define it. Finding individuals who have more experience in the landscape should be part of the answer.

I have been on both sides of the interaction; as one seeking and as one providing.

The Seeker

As a seeker, there are specific things I am looking for:

  • Providers – students, faculty, friends, family. Colleagues and community members may all be used as a constant resource and sounding board for questions
  • Access – in person conversations, telephone conversations, as well as electronic interactions, may all be of benefit and can range from lengthy to telegraphically short.
  • Resources – all kinds of communications can be valuable resources including conversations, articles, research links, opinion-sharing, etc.
The Provider

As a provider, I work with the seeker to determine the need. Some examples of this type of work include but are not limited to:

  • working with people to identify literature and/or evidence to allow for the creation of strategies for critical conversations.
  • Assisting in the design of online coursework and assessment materials
  • Collaboration with Deaf professionals on a range of topics (Deaf Professional/Designated Interpreter, Deaf/Hearing Interpreter Teams, etc.)

There may be circumstances where an individual acts equally as seeker and provider. These experiences can be very rich and enlightening experience on many levels. One critical note: It is important is to be clear about what can actually be accomplished. Asking the right questions about timelines and clarifying dates, setting boundaries and expectations clearly at the outset allow for a successful interaction. In this way, we preserve our resources and maintain the trust that is so critical in this process.

Considerations for Seeking a Knowledge Broker

It is important to keep in mind that to ask for Knowledge Brokering is not easy. Another who was kind enough to respond to my questions on the topic of Knowledge Brokering shared that there are several hidden factors when people ask for the support of a knowledge broker.

A seeker must:

1. Be willing to be vulnerable before asking for information

2. Be willing to admit they don’t have all the answers.

3. Be willing to be humble and ask for help

4. Seek out role models they seek to emulate

5. Build trust relationships over time

6. Rely on trust relationships to gather additional knowledge

7. Maintain a level of awareness of how privilege may enter into this process.

And so we honor each other; respecting our vulnerability, taking to heart the trust we have been offered, thanking the other for sharing their wisdom.

Paying it Forward

Reciprocity, language brokering, and knowledge sharing are not new concepts to the Deaf community, to the children of that community and to interpreting professionals who have worked to become aware of the values of the community.  In her 1983 article, What goes around, comes around: Reciprocity and interpreters, in The Reflector,  Dr.Theresa Smith, calls out the importance of reciprocity in our profession, stating,“…within the Deaf community, reciprocity is the norm…. In a reciprocal system, every person has a role…Interpreters, like Deaf people, are expected to contribute knowledge, skill, time, and energy”  (Smith, 1983).

In a transcript of Bonnie Kraft‘s recent keynote speech for the 2014 Region I RID conference, she takes time to look back and reflect on experiences, both painful and encouraging, that inspired her to share her knowledge, wisdom and wealth of experience with others:

“sharing was the only way to go…. because not to do so intimately and ultimately hurts the Deaf and Interpreting communities…It was a time of sharing that knowledge as widely as possible, and hoping someone somewhere would learn something useful and pay it forward.”

Incorporating Knowledge Brokers in Professional Practice

In this modern age, we are living in a paradox of not enough time and exponential access to information. Today there is a great need to work together to truly advance us ALL.  And as Bonnie said, ”If we don’t have two minutes for each other, then who are we and why are we here?”

Suggestions:
  • Consider the idea that knowledge brokers are all around you, not limited to academia.  The Broker you need is influenced by the knowledge you seek.
  • Aim for a frame of abundance rather than scarcity.  In this case, we often feel we don’t have time to seek a Knowledge Broker.  However, while I provide for you, another is doing the same for me.  A Broker who already knows saves time I would have spent spinning my wheels.
  • Don’t be afraid to not know – this applies to providers as well as seekers.  It may be that we end up seeking together which only creates more learning.
  • Come to the conversation open, listening deeply and respectfully to each other.

And keep in mind, the opportunities are endless.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Bonnie Kraft, Pam Whitney, Carrie Humphrey, Jean Miller and Brandon Arthur for working with me to craft this article.  And of course, thank you to all of my knowledge brokers and to those who have honored me by seeking me out as a broker for them.

Namaste to you all.

References

Kraft, B (2014) Keynote speech delivered at Region I RID conference.  Transcript quoted with permission from the author

Meyer, M. (2010). The rise of the knowledge broker. Science Communication, 32(1), 118-127.

Smith, T. (1983). What goes around, comes around: Reciprocity and interpreters. The Reflector 5 (Winter)  5-7.

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#Doable: How Sign Language Interpreters Restore Relationships With The Deaf Community

Sign language interpreters have an obligation to improve our profession while empowering the Deaf community in which we work. What #doable actions will you take to build relationships and become an ally?

I was privileged enough to serve as a full-time conference interpreter at the 2013 RID Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. I was, as always, thrilled to have the opportunity to work with incredible colleagues, meet new people, and reconnect with old friends. After nearly 25 years in the field of sign language interpreting it is like a delicious treat to revisit those with whom you have created history, and to re-imagine the future that could be.

One of the unique features of this conference was the Community Forum. While this forum may have been a difficult process for many of the participants, the critical take-away message that I found quite heartening was: “The Deaf Community wants you and misses you and wonders where things broke down.” The “you” in this observation is “sign language interpreters,” all interpreters.

The #Doable Challenge

The challenge extended by leaders of the Community Forum was to find actions that were “doable” in our quest to reunite the Deaf and interpreting communities. The challenge included using these actions as a jumping-off point from which to fortify these relationships and the profession that all of us have worked so hard to build. The Twitter hashtag used during the conference was #doable.

Finding #Doable Actions

There are four primary ways you can uncover #doable actions:

1. Look Inward

It is a harsh reality, but despite one’s best intentions, even the most vigilant interpreters (and I count myself among them) can engage in audism. This unwitting participation in what has become the most insidious type of oppression is hard to take once you realize you have, and may still be, engaged in it. Take a look at your own internal beliefs and practices. Are you doing something as “innocuous” as choosing the Deaf participant’s seat at an event at which you are providing interpreting services? Are you answering questions from a hearing participant that would be better answered by the Deaf participant?

Are you collaborating with the Deaf participant or dictating to them instead? Look for the opportunities to work as an ally and collaborator rather than persisting in maintaining a hierarchical relationship. 

2. Look Outward

What opportunities are there to create change in your immediate geographic area or community? How can you show your commitment to the field of sign language interpreting while simultaneously showing your gratitude for the Deaf Community and the career it allows you to have? What kinds of things can you do to outwardly express the richness that ASL and the Deaf Community have brought to your life?

3. Look Backward

Since the 2013 RID Conference was RID’s 50th year anniversary event, history was a critical component of celebrating what is still a relatively young field. I was inspired to see some of the original founders of RID at this convention and to feel their passion as they shared experiences from their journey over the last half-century. You can see some of it via the StreetLeverage social media coverage of the conference.

One of the things that struck me was the passion of those CODAs who spoke about their earliest experiences interpreting for their parents, and what the changes in the field of sign language interpreting (in which they must feel so much ownership) has meant to them and their families. I have so much respect for CODAs who never “leave” the Deaf Community and “go home.” The Deaf Community, for them, is home. Small wonder why they are so protective of it. There is so much value in learning from those who have come before you. Spend time with these members of your community. Ask them to share their experiences. Take advantage of the opportunity to learn from what they share: both the successes and trials.

4. Look Forward

One of the things that excites me more than anything else is student interpreters and recent interpreter program graduates. These folks are excited, energized, and ready to be the next communication bridges between the Deaf and hearing worlds. There is nothing more inspiring to me than watching a new sign language interpreter suddenly become a colleague. Get involved in the future of the interpreting field. Try to find ways to help impact the future of the field for the better. As shared in the StreetLeverage – Live 2013 | Atlanta I am change video and to quote an often used adage, “Be the change you would like to see in the world.” While learning from and valuing our past is important, not dwelling on it is also good advice.

Taking #Doable Action

There are so many things that we can choose to engage in to both support one another as colleagues and to support the Deaf Community as Allies. I couldn’t hope to list them all here, but I wanted to give you a short list of actions we can all take to begin to repair the seeming void that has fragmented our shared world:

1. Patronize Deaf Businesses/Service Providers

Support the folks who are in the Community that gives you business by giving some back to them! A few ways you can do this are to:

    • Encourage the use of CDIs
    • Patronize Deaf businesses where possible
    • Refer people seeking resources back to the Deaf Community

As Trudy Suggs suggests in her StreetLeverage – Live talk, Deaf Disempowerment and Today’s Interpreter, this reciprocity–choices to patronize deaf businesses–empowers the deaf community while fortifying the relationship between the two communities.

2. Get Involved in the Local Deaf Community

This can seem daunting in the age of fewer and fewer Deaf clubs, and fewer and fewer regular gatherings of Deaf people. However, there are always opportunities to volunteer at Deaf events like theatrical productions, residential school programs, Deaf group homes for the elderly, Deaf Sports teams, or other organizations that cater to whatever facet of Deaf society you might find compelling. Don’t let technology get in the way of real, 3-D interaction. Find a way to make it happen!!

3. Engage in Pro-Bono Work

This idea is often met with contention. Many sign language interpreters believe if they engage in pro-bono work that requesting entities will assume all interpreters will work “for free” and that ultimately doing such work will undermine the efficacy of such laws as the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, there are opportunities to donate your services to organizations that are well-deserving or otherwise not covered under the various accommodations laws we have in place. Think about things like Oxford House meetings (for recovering substance abusers), AA or NA meetings, religious services or events, non-profit events such as Race for the Cure (Breast Cancer). Find what speaks to you and donate a few hours of service. More on how pro bono work can enhance your work can be found in Brandon Arthur’s article, 5 Easy Career Enhancers for Sign Language Interpreters.

4. Define the Future

Be a resource not only to Deaf Community members who seek information, but also to those up-and-coming sign language interpreters who strive to do right by serving the Deaf Community and the field of interpreting admirably. Volunteer to speak at your local interpreter training program about a topic that you are passionate about. Host a Q&A of veteran interpreters, giving new interpreters opportunity to ask their burning questions. Host a Deaf Community Panel where Deaf panelists can speak about the qualities they look for when hiring an interpreter, as well as those qualities they don’t find so desirable. Mentor new interpreters whenever you can. The idea that mentoring someone new is somehow putting oneself out of a job is ludicrous. It is our responsibility as veteran interpreters to ensure that when we are gone, there are other incredible interpreters out there to take our places, as Brian Morrison so eloquently stated in his post, It Takes a Village to Raise a Sign Language Interpreter.

In order to preserve our legacy, we must leave positive impressions on the lives of the next generation.

5. Leave Your Ego at the Door

It is hard to receive criticism (constructive or otherwise), and it is even harder to do so without being defensive. Work on ways to accept such feedback without defending yourself. Kendra Keller’s article, Case Discussion: Sign Language Interpreters Contain Their Inner “What the …!!!?”, helps us consider ways to think about what is being expressed as a genuine gift and something that can be used to improve future interactions. Even if, after reflecting on a situation, you decide that you still disagree with the criticism, consider the perception of the person who gave you the feedback and realize that something in the setting compelled them to give you that feedback. Figure out if there is anything you can do to improve the situation for the next time.

6. Gratitude

Remember to express your gratitude.

I am so lucky. I fell into the field of interpreting by chance. I am grateful to have been accepted into an incredible new culture while learning a completely new language. Here it is, 25 years later, and I can’t begin to count the people, both Deaf and hearing, who have guided me on this path. In keeping with Brandon Arthur’s article, Sign Language Interpreters and the Karma of Gratitude, I offer my thanks to those who have shared in my journey.

To all of you who taught me: thank you. To all of you who helped me grow: thank you. For all the unique and incredible experiences: thank you! To all of you who will graciously teach me new things each day: thank you.

Let’s always remember where we came from, how we got to where we are today, and those who have shared in our journeys.

In Conclusion

This is our profession and, as such, we need to commit to being actively engaged in shaping the future in order to preserve a legacy of which we can be proud.  It starts by individually leaving positive impressions with every interaction. When I look back at the impressions I have left on my field and the Deaf Community, I want to see that in some way I have helped to improve the profession while empowering the community in which I work.  It isn’t money, status, or recognition that makes someone a good interpreter– it is integrity, respect for the language and culture, and a commitment to betterment of oneself while empowering the community.

Make these ideals your mission and become another ally in the quest to build sign language interpreter/Deaf Community relationships.

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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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5 Ways Sign Language Interpreters Can Stay Inspired

Feel like your professional practice is running on empty? Brandon Arthur suggests five ways sign language interpreters can refill their tank and find renewed motivation.

How do you sustain the passion for your work as a sign language interpreter? This is a question interpreters’ and those that employ them are asking, particularly during these times of uncertainty and anxiety.

Whether you have found yourself on the receiving end of a salary reduction or are considered an artist in demand by your sign language interpreter peers, each of us experience moments in our career when we need a renewed sense of motivation.

Is the answer simply to reach inside and stir the goo that is responsible for leading us to the field of sign language interpreting? Unfortunately, the issue of reigniting passion is never simple.

How to Keep the Fire Alive

What follows are five considerations when you find yourself in need of an injection of passion for the profession we love and the important work sign language interpreters do.

Frame.  Put your “daily grind” in the right context.

When considering your daily motivation for the work, it is important to consider the context in which you evaluate your contribution. If you were to compare your 45-minute assignment at the local Post Office to working a meeting of international WASLI & WFD collaborators, you might feel as though there isn’t much to be passionate about.

Alternatively, if you put your work into the context of the person you are working with you find a different system of value. To the person at the Post Office, this 45-minute meeting may mean the difference between being able to fund their child’s college education and not. To them, your work may mean the difference. If you lack motivation, one place to find it is in the eyes of those you work with.

How do you endeavor to maintain the proper context for your work?

Create.  Develop meaningful relationships.

The sign language interpreting profession is entirely about relationships. Should you be plagued with low levels of inspiration for the work, ask yourself if you are truly connecting with your interpreter colleagues and the consumers you work in support of.

If you’re failing to consistently making these micro-investments in humanity, make it a point to do so. The time spent building relationships of trust with colleagues and consumers will not only assist you in providing better service in the moment, but will also serve to connect you to like-minded people interested in positive outcomes. Similar to iron sharpening iron, to connect is to inspire.

How do you work to create relationships of trust with your fellow sign language interpreter and the consumers you serve?

Give.  Make the time to give back.

There is tremendous power invoked by the act of giving. As sign language interpreters, the act of giving of our services is unequaled in its ability to reignite the passion we have for the work we do.

By giving, we acknowledge the karma of gratitude in bringing us to this point in our careers. This acknowledgement appropriately puts into context—at least subconsciously—the good fortune and enrichment received daily working as a sign language interpreter. When grateful for our position, we are easily able to overcome the inertia of entitlement and become the inspiration we need.

Why is giving important to you?

Teach.  Find opportunities to pay it forward.

Mentoring relationships, formal or informal, provide developing and seasoned sign language interpreters with a valuable source of support. Regardless of where we are in our professional development, taking the time to act as a mentor is a surefire way to reconnect us with our passion for the profession.

The act of mentoring elicits an awareness of the challenges and temptations we have overcome and the skill building we have invested in to get to this point in our careers. Consciously considering this iterative, transformational process reminds us that the joy is in the journey. By sharing these small victories as mentors, we lend propulsion to individual interpreters and the sign language interpreting profession as a whole. In so doing, we become a body in motion.

In what ways has your mentor, formal or informal, motivated you?

Ponder.  Take time away to gain or regain perspective.

Clearly, life and professional priorities will vary from sign language interpreter to sign language interpreter, but the result of taking time to evaluate and refocus on these priorities will reinvigorate our motivation for the work.

It shouldn’t be a secret that the sign language interpreter who has their priorities calibrated is more effective in their daily work and more adept at surviving a professional shakedown. This clarity helps them identify the symptoms of their waning motivation and quickly act to blunt its progression. The result is that these sign language interpreters maintain higher levels of motivation throughout their careers, which ultimately accounts for greater career satisfaction.

When was the last time you took time away to ponder your priorities? 

Life Manifests What We Think About

Life has a funny way of manifesting what we think about; so if you are feeling uninspired about the work you do as a sign language interpreter, I would encourage you to embrace the 5 considerations offered above. These considerations are intended to adjust our thinking in regard to the daily contributions we make by placing our work in the appropriate context. Further, they are to remind us of the importance of remaining connected to one’s true motivation for the work.

You can do a lot to stay inspired, but when finding yourself unmotivated don’t be too hard on yourself. Expecting to never feel uninspired is not realistic. When feeling uninspired pick one of the 5 considerations above and focus on it until you are comfortable taking on another one. Over time you will find the passion return for the work you love and the community that makes it possible.

What do you do to reignite your passion for the work?