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Where Do We Go From Here? 5 Stages of Change for Sign Language Interpreters

Where Do We Go From Here? 5 Stages of Change for Sign Language Interpreters

As sign language interpreters, we stand at a crossroads. Do we maintain the status quo or act as change agents by investing & engaging, collectively, in the transformation of our profession?


People in our field are talking a lot about change. Our attitudes toward the Deaf community and fellow sign language interpreters have to change. Our professionalism has to change. There is a call for greater transparency. StreetLeverage contributors have written about the need for change in our national organization. The discussion about change is everywhere.

[Click to view post in ASL]

In “Sign Language Interpreters: Is it Me?”, Brian Morrison points to the questions we should be asking ourselves, and guides us from examining how to solve problems to examining our commitment to change. The question I find myself now exploring is, “How does change happen?”

Transtheoretical Model

Many have written on the subject of change. In 1983, Prochaska and DiClementi developed the “Transtheoretical Model”1 , which I will use to frame my discussion here. The model describes five stages of change: pre-contemplation, contemplation, determination, action, and maintenance.

In the pre-contemplation stage, a person is unaware that there is a problem. They may think that others who point out a problem are just exaggerating, being judgmental, or imagining it. They may complain about the same problem in others yet fail to see it in themselves. Prochaska and DiClementi define four types of pre-contemplators.

  1. Reluctant pre-contemplators are those who, through lack of knowledge or inertia, do not want to consider change. They have not become fully conscious of the impact of the problem. In our profession a reluctant pre-contemplator may think, “I continue to get hired, so my interpreting work must be fine.”
  2. Rebellious pre-contemplators have a heavy investment in their current behavior and in making their own decisions. They are resistant to being told what to do. Such a person in our field may say, “That person is always critical of interpreters. It’s not about me.”
  3. Resigned pre-contemplators have given up hope about the possibility of change and are overwhelmed by the problem. This person may concede, “Second language learners of ASL will never be as clear as native language users. There’s nothing I can do about it.”
  4. Rationalizing pre-contemplators have all the answers. They come armed with reasons why their behavior is not a problem. This interpreter may justify, “The Deaf people I work with are highly educated. I tell them what I hear, and they figure it out.”

The second stage of change is contemplation. In this stage a person is willing to accept that there may be a problem. They are also willing to consider the pros and cons of changing but may still be ambivalent about the need to take action.

The third, fourth and fifth stages are ascribed to those who have made a clear decision to change. They have identified what needs to change (Stage 3 – Determination), taken steps toward their goal (Stage 4 – Action), and work to maintain their path of improvement (Stage 5 – Maintenance).

When we are open to change, we spend our time learning, analyzing, and asking questions. Every job is seen as an opportunity to grow. That is the character of the third, fourth and fifth stages of change.

Getting Beyond Pre-contemplation

What happens when others see what I could change but I don’t see it myself? When I try to examine my own problems, what might I be missing? If I don’t see a problem, how can I know if one exists? These conundrums put us squarely at the first stage, pre-contemplation.

Fortunately, there are multiple roads out of pre-contemplation. Some of these roads we seek out and deliberately walk. Others we must be led to. Below, I have outlined four forms that these roads can take: 1) honest self-inquiry, 2) a life threatening condition, 3) public outcry, or 4) a trusted colleague opening a door for us to gain self-awareness.

  1. Honest self-inquiry begins when there is a willingness to look at whatever comes up. An opportunity arises when a certain personal trait or habit becomes apparent. At a particular moment, something that I did, thought, or said makes me question my behavior or habit. In bringing my attention to this behavior, I see it more clearly. Recognizing it changes my understanding of the behavior and of myself. It is possible that, over time and with continued attention, the behavior will shift or even be replaced with something more congruent with my sense of self.

For example, I find myself saying small, cutting remarks to my spouse. I conveniently ignore that I do this because it is too painful to admit to having this unloving, horrible characteristic. In a moment when I am more present, I notice his reaction to one such cutting remark. I stay attuned to myself, watching my impulse to cut him down. The emotion or thought that sparked the cutting remark is revealed. It is old, rooted in my childhood. In that moment there is new understanding, and I am changed. The impulse to cut him down dissolves. A change has occurred that I didn’t “make” in the traditional sense, but it occurred as a result of examining the impulse.

  1. A life-threatening condition is another road out of pre-contemplation. Often when we confront our mortality, the reality of having a finite time on earth can spark increased introspection. Old grudges may dissolve and die-hard opinions seem less important. Change occurs because I re-examine my values. While one doesn’t invite a walk down this road, when it presents itself, there is opportunity.
  1. Public outcry can backfire and may lead to hurt feelings and resistance. In our field, demands to revoke a sign language interpreter’s certification or remove a person from a position of power can garner support. But the target of this outcry rarely perceives it as designed to inspire positive change. Still, it can be an important tool. I remember when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. The ensuing outcry sparked many to look at their own attitudes toward race. Recent racialized events have sparked similar self-reflection.
  1. A trusted colleague, finally, is key to fostering change. This is an important relationship. When I am actively engaged with this colleague, we work to develop the mutual trust needed to broach sensitive subjects. I don’t have an ulterior motive to change the person, but instead have a wish to understand their perspective. We see each other as we are – peers. We start by being willing to find out where we stand, what we think, and what our wishes are. The process itself becomes the influencing factor for conscious change.

Together, we can investigate and reveal our flaws, share our inner processes, and examine our values. Together, we can discuss what we personally can do to include more Deaf people in RID. Together, we can look at available jobs and consider what skills and qualities are required to do them. Together, we can explore the difficulty that arises when a team interpreter doesn’t want to discuss the work. It is important that we invite our colleagues to the party, not drag them there.

From Interpersonal to Organizational

RID is made up of individuals, each at their own stage on the path. Some are contemplating their role in improving conditions, while others are in pre-contemplation. Each person is worthy of our time if we are invested in change, but it will never happen through complaining, finger-pointing, ignoring, or backstabbing. It will come only through a willingness to work together. For my part, I was drawn to this profession not only because of an interest in people and a knack for language, but also because it provided opportunities for self-exploration and improvement as a human being in relation to others.

So, I turn the question back to us as professionals. Are we prepared to enter into this type of relationship with our fellow interpreters? If yes, then we need to be willing to spend time in the process. While the stages of change provide a framework for understanding how change happens, our work is to observe, engage, and enter into meaningful dialogue in order to understand multiple perspectives. I believe that each of us can be an agent of change in a way that promotes the profession, our organization, and ultimately, our humanity. Will you join me?

Questions for Consideration

  1. What can I do to be more proactive and interactive with others in the field?
  2. What are my experiences of moments of change?  How do those experiences help me understand this process?
  3. Among the four types of pre-contemplator, which type am I? (We are all pre-contemplators about something.)
  4. What holds me back from being an agent of change? What would I need in order to begin?

Related Posts

Sign Language Interpreting’s Long Adolescence by Stephanie Jo Kent

Replenishing Sign Language Interpreting: Extraction Exchange by Sandra Maloney

Accountability: A First Step to Harmony Among Sign Language Interpreters by Sabrina Smith


Gold, M. (2013). Stages of Change. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 19, 2015, from

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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.


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


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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Tribal Communication: Evolving Expectations in the Field of Sign Language Interpreting

Tribal Elders Within The Field of Sign Language Interpreting

As membership in RID has grown exponentially, so has how we communicate between leadership and members. Dora Veith’s research examines changing communication norms from interpreting’s tribal roots to today’s “container” method.

San Francisco, 2007. My very first Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) national conference. I had been working in the field for two years and I was thrilled to be attending the national business meeting with my heroes in the field.

As I entered the meeting room, I heard a rumbling. Members were agitated. There was a recent leadership decision and members were unhappy. I heard, “How could they make that decision without including us? That is not our culture, our roots!” I understood. RID is a member-driven organization and leadership decisions should reflect member needs and goals. But, wait – I also heard leaders saying, “We did ask you! We sent emails asking for input. We posted requests for feedback on the website! We printed articles in RIDViews!” Hmmmm. I left the meeting wondering: how could such drastic miscommunication happen in an organization filled with communicators?!

Fast forward to 2012. I am sitting in front of my computer reading the course materials for my online class, Leadership Principles, through Regis University in Denver, Colorado. There is a brief lesson in the course about communication models, specifically comparing Tribal and Container communication models. I read how tribal communication is person-to-person, oral traditions and history passed on from mentor to mentee, how elders are revered and sought out, how decisions are based on what’s best for the community. I instantly think about RID’s history, a history rooted in reciprocity, mentorship, service, and partnership; the tribal description resonates.

Then I read about container communication and its dependency on technology, general announcements and reports, feelings of hierarchy in leadership, and how the decisions are often made for individual benefit, not the community. I am instantly transported to the 2007 business meeting. That’s it! That is what happened! We had container communication trying to satisfy tribal expectations. No wonder we struggled!

From Tribe to Container

Since 2007, I have heard mention in casual conversation that the sign language interpreting profession has changed because so many practitioners do not come from Deaf roots. Many, like me, have entered the interpreting profession through training programs and had no connection to the Deaf community before pursuing this career. Deaf consumers and practitioners complain that the cultural competency of practitioners is in decline because of this lack of connection. In her article, Sign Language Interpreters and the Quest for a Deaf Heart, Betty Colonomos highlights this in a poignant way.

RID started with a tribal communication model. I have heard more than one of our seasoned interpreters say, “I used to be able to go to conference and know everyone there!” We have grown from that small founding group to a large organization. In addition, where we used to train other sign language interpreters through one-to-one mentorship, we now have formal degree programs. Out of necessity, we have become reliant on technology to communicate, and organizational communication comes in the form of general announcements and reports. We have become a container organization at the national level.

I think concerns about the change in RID, and the sign language interpreting profession as a whole, are valid, but I also suspect we are being a bit myopic. I am curious: if we step outside the cauldron of Hearing heart vs. Deaf heart and look at RID as a whole, what might we find? Is it possible that we are simply experiencing the results of unplanned organizational transformation caused by simple rapid growth as a profession?

Communication Style and Participation: A Closer Look

In 2013, when it became time to pursue my senior capstone at Regis, I was still haunted by the tribal vs. container lesson and decided to make it the cornerstone of my project. I tried to find other research about tribal and container communication, but other than a brief blurb in my old textbook, Leadership: A Communication Perspective (Hackman & Johnson, 2008), I was unable to find any research directly tied to this phenomenon. Most of the research is focused on proving or disproving Putnam’s theory of decline in social capital (Bowling Alone, 1995/2000) – that there has been a national trend of decline in membership organizations, resulting in fewer people building connections and supporting their community since 1952. I was unable to find any research about communication changes as grass root organizations grow and transform and the impact of this change on membership.

Consequently, I decided to do my own research. I developed a research question and a survey to see if there was a link between communication models and membership participation. I posted a link to the survey on the RID and BLeGIT Facebook pages. I also posted it to my local chapter, ColoradoRID, Facebook page and emailed it to local members.

What We Found

There were 70 respondents to the survey. Participants ranged in age from 20-something novice interpreters to 70+ -year-old semi-retired working sign language interpreters. Education levels ranged from associate degrees to master’s degrees. The survey participants were required to be ASL-to-English interpreting practitioners. Survey respondents remained anonymous.

With respect to experience, the respondents were split evenly: 50% had 0-10 years of interpreting experience and 50% had 11-30+ years of experience. This demonstrated a balanced perspective among respondents with significant history within the RID structure. 80% of respondents were trained in an IPP/ITP and 30% grew up in the Deaf community. 17% of respondents were introduced to the Deaf community through mentors, while 60% were introduced through their training program. While 97% of respondents were current RID members, only 76% belonged to their local chapters. 46% could not identify organizational leaders.

Communication Preferences

In terms of communication habits and preferences, the most significant findings were that 63% prefer to network in person at community socials or events. However, when asked to identify preferences, the number one preferred way to receive information from national and local RID groups was email, with social media a distant second. When I discussed this contrast with a colleague she said, “Of course! We want personal contact, but we don’t have time for it!”

While the data I collected was interesting and informative, it did not really answer the research question. However, I continued to analyze RID communication in light of the tribal model, since I was relatively new to the profession and had less personal experience with it.

The Tribe: A Closer Look at Who’s Who


So who is our tribe? Tribes have elders, water carriers, and general members. Elders can be defined pretty quickly as our most experienced interpreters and RID members. I also suggest that every interpreter with a Deaf parent is an elder by nature of their cultural intuition, regardless of their “professional” interpreting experience. In addition, every D/deaf person we meet is an elder in our tribe. They are the culture we try to serve, it is their language we use, who better to be offered the respect of a tribal elder?

Water Carriers

Max De Pree (1993), in Leadership Jazz, defines water carriers as those members who introduce new members to cultural norms and who share oral history. They help the new members of the tribe acclimate and avoid embarrassing pitfalls. As we have evolved, we have abdicated the water carrier role to our training programs. Maybe it is time for the local tribe to reclaim its water carrier responsibilities. The act of unpaid, casual mentorship of new interpreters strengthens connections and community ties while supporting the continuity of our cultural roots.


The other, very important part of a tribe is that each member has a place – a role – and is a potential leader. We have identifiable leaders in our organization, people who have been vocal and visible for decades. It is easy to leave leadership to others. However, for a stronger organization, each member needs to take an active part in defining, contributing, and creating their local tribe and how their tribe interacts with the organization as a whole.

Bridging Container Communication and Tribal Expectations

As I apply the theory of tribal and container communication to our professional organization, I think logically—at a national and regional level—RID must continue as a container organization. Its efforts to engage members with social media have a role, but they don’t replace personal connections. Members have an opportunity to respond to RID issues in real-time, but the result is often a point-counterpoint interaction, not a real discussion.

I see that many local chapters have modeled their communication after the national office of RID; mass emails and social media have replaced personal interaction. I believe there is a better approach. The local chapter would be well suited to bring the benefits of tribal communication to members, acting as a bridge between container communication and tribal expectations. The local chapter can create a meaningful personal connection.

An example of how the tribe could bridge the container is the recent vote regarding the Deaf Parent Member at Large position on the RID Board. Almost all of the information regarding the motion and discussion about the motion rested on email and social media technologies (unless you were fortunate enough to attend the national conference). Even after Adam Bartley made an elegant plea in Mea Culpa: We Failed RID & Sign Language Interpreters with Deaf Parents, our container communication failed the second vote too. The fact that less than 10% of members voted nationwide is evidence of a system failure.

What would have happened if local chapters had offered this issue as a discussion point during local meetings? I suspect members would have become more invested in the outcome and more willing to cast a vote. Members might have felt invited into the discussion. It is easy to ignore an anonymous electronic invitation to, but that invitation has strength and impact when it is paired with an experience involving friends and colleagues.

Tribal and Container: The Best of Both

I believe RID has more options than just a container or a tribal communication model. I believe there is an ‘and’. It is a blend of both models that will lead us from the conflicts of organizational transition and toward a better, healthier, and effective professional organization.

Beyond the tribe. Beyond the container. We can become something more. After all, regardless of personal background, a commitment to effective communication is the common heart of every sign language interpreter.


De Pree, M. (1993). Watercarriers. Leadership Jazz. New York: Dell Publishing Company: 51-58 (kindle edition).

Hackman, M. & Johnson, C. (2008) Leadership: A communication perspective (5th ed). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, Inc. 238-241.

Putnam, R. (1995 & 2000). Bowling alone. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.

Regis University. (Fall, 2012). COM 470 Leadership Principles.

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Sign Language Interpreters and the Future of Ethical Practice

Sign Language Interpreter Ethics

At the forefront of quality interpreting is a strong ethical practice. Matthew O’Hara reviews the evolution of the RID CPC and relates how individuals can make a difference in understanding and applying its tenets.

The dawn of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) 2013-2016 Strategic Plan and heightened attention on the RID Ethical Practices System (EPS) has brought the perfect time to examine the ethical landscape of our industry.  As we look back and look ahead, we cannot plot any course without remembering the value system that guides our profession – ethics.  RID founders saw the need to codify a set of ethics that would shape generations of sign language interpreters to come.  The minutes of the June 16, 1964 organizational meeting reveal that developing a code of ethics was the second priority listed, with the first aiming to define the purpose of the organization.

Plotting a Course

As the organization embarks on the next 50 years, there is no better time for the consumer and interpreter communities to reflect on the NAD-RID Code of Professional Conduct (CPC).  A code of ethics, or Code of Professional Conduct in our case, becomes the stated values that shape our practice and communicate to the public what they can expect of practitioners in the sign language interpreting profession.  As we consider the future of the NAD-RID CPC, we must ask ourselves, where have we been? What roadmap(s) did we use to get where we are?  Where are we headed?  What is our “true north?”

The 2013-2016 Strategic Plan commits our association to the goal of “Strengthen the Ethical Practices System efficiency and consistency in its enforcement of the NAD-RID Code of Professional Conduct.”   Furthermore, RID members voted at the 2013 Business Meeting to commission a group of NAD and RID members to strengthen the CPC. How do we accomplish these organization-wide goals and measure our success in achieving them?

Tools For Our Journey

When discussing the CPC, we must agree that a sign language interpreter’s ethical code is the cornerstone of our industry’s standards.  Certification means meeting a peer-reviewed measure of one’s knowledge, skills and abilities at the time of examination.  Those certified must agree to follow a set of ethical standards.  These standards are, in turn, the individuals, and the certification body’s promise to the public.  NAD and RID have jointly adopted an ethical code whereby consumers of sign language interpreting services can expect professional conduct consistent with values shared by each organization.

The task for each of us – hearing and Deaf – is to consider the values, and principles that must guide interpreters moving forward.  The sun is a critical component in order to calibrate a compass.  Perhaps the “sun” for our industry is the values, principles, rules and aspirations articulated in a practitioner’s “compass” which is the CPC.

The Program

In evaluating the EPS program, RID has pulled together statistics on the program since the adoption of the current CPC in 2005.  We hope that this data will create a dialogue. Adherence to the CPC is a community-wide priority.

We can analyze the philosophies behind confidentiality, professionalism, respect, and other guiding values.  We can talk about how to apply the CPC in various settings and situations.  However, let us not forget Aristotle’s “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.  The individual tenets of the CPC are woven together and applied as a whole set of values.  Application of one tenet does not occur in isolation. The authors of the current CPC reminded us that the tenets of the CPC “are to be viewed holistically and as a guide to professional behavior.”

As we consider anew the CPC, and what it might look like in the coming years, we need to ask which parts of the CPC are enforceable and which are not.  Are some concepts of the CPC more aspirational in nature, and if so, what does that mean in practice?  For instance, how does one measure or evaluate “Respect”? We know respect, trust and attitude are highly valued attributes of a sign language interpreter.  That said, do we have a shared meaning of professional respect? Does that behavior look the same to everyone? And finally, how is it properly enforced?  Interpreters ought to have internalized the core values that drive their work. 

Looking Back

Beyond analyzing the ethical landscape of our industry, it is time to take a hard look at the ethics enforcement system, too.  It is not solely about what the EPS can do, but what can each of us do.  How should each of us respond to clear or perceived breaches of the CPC?  We all know that NAD and RID have responsibilities to the public, but we need to challenge ourselves to consider what our personal responsibilities are as individuals – abiding by the intent of the CPC, setting an example, challenging those who stray from the code, and contributing feedback to the CPC review process.

Another area ripe for dialogue is the appropriate consequences for violations. In her article, Sign Language Interpreters: Team Interpreting and its Ethical Consequences, Kelly Decker asked a very important practical question about when we should we avoid teaming with a sign language interpreter who has exhibited unethical behavior?  When do we need to go one step farther and report the ethical misconduct?  At what point should RID remove an interpreter’s certification?  And finally, when does an interpreter deserve to be expelled from the industry?

What Does the Data Show?

Starting in 2013, RID has dedicated more resources to the Ethical Practices System (EPS).   Benefits of this renewed commitment to upholding the ethical standards include more timely case management, enhanced customer service, increased public awareness and education, strengthened policies, and program analysis and statistics, with more to come.

Ethical Practice System complaints about sign language interpretersAs part of the commitment to the EPS program, the EPS staff has begun compiling data to help facilitate informed dialogue. The data compiled here reflects the years following the adoption of the CPC in 2005.

From 2006 to 2012, there were 161 complaints filed with roughly 80% filed by concerned consumers who are Deaf.  With over 16,000 members, should we expect more or fewer complaints filed in over a 6-year period? Why or why not? RID recognizes that countless potential complaints may not have been filed because the complainant may not have been aware of the RID EPS, because they knew that their interpreter was not a member or certified and thus the complaint would not have been processed, the consumer may not have known that video complaints can be filed, or other technical barriers. RID is committed to learning more about these barriers and will distribute a survey on this topic.

It is important to note that the average time it took from filing a complaint to resolution was about 7-8 months.  This time frame is something that needs careful review moving forward.   The integrity of the program must be paramount, including how long cases take to process from start to finish and the resources required.

All complaints are taken seriously and efforts are made to elicit the appropriate information to initiate a formal due process.  The RID staff is taking measures to increase access and awareness and is taking the EPS on the road by presenting to stakeholders wherever resources allow.  Most importantly, RID is listening and is open to constructive feedback for how the EPS can be more accessible.

The Grievance Process

Ethical Practice System - Mediator TeamsRID utilizes a grievance system that includes a punitive component and also encourages communication, mediation, the resolution of conflict with a rebuilding of trust and confidence. This process is designed to be both corrective and educational in nature.

The jewel of the EPS is its mediation program and sincere desire to offer the community legitimate formalized process to come together and discuss allegations of misconduct. If nothing else, the mediators, who are NAD and RID members, assist parties with analyzing the problem themselves. Any agreement must be acceptable to both parties or the complaint is submitted to a panel of adjudicators.

Since the mediation program began in 2000, the mediators have worked mostly in pairs all across the country.  Mediators are assigned to cases much like interpreters are matched with consumers – considering the language, culture, backgrounds, and experience of the mediators and matching such with the parties.


The majority of cases are resolved at mediation. Further study is needed about the types of issues brought forth and resolved during mediation to better inform the effectiveness of the CPC.

With the majority of cases addressed at the mediation level, only a fraction of cases escalate to adjudication.  Since 2006, adjudicators reviewed 18 cases.

Ethical Practices System - Adjudication Panel CompositionTo date, there has been no formal study on the correlation between failed mediations and violations at adjudication.  This may be a necessary step to assess the effectiveness of the program, examining whether the adjudication phase lacks rigor. Another possibility is that those cases that do not end in mutual agreement at mediation might be where the parties remain at odds and the interpreter is confident that his/her actions were in compliance with the CPC.People have asked why so few violations are published in VIEWS.  Most cases do not go beyond mediation because both parties voluntarily agree to and embrace their resolution to the situation.  While some might prefer to see more sign language interpreters brought before a jury of peers, the philosophy behind the RID mediation program has always been that the parties should be actively engaged in the EPS process, which often starts with mediation.

All adjudication decisions are made solely on the basis of the panels’ judgment.  The panelists are experts in ethical decision-making.  All adjudicators, hearing and Deaf, are seasoned certified members of RID.  The average number of certified years of adjudicators is almost 27 years.

What’s Next?

What’s next is dialogue! How can we ensure the CPC is relevant and reflects the principles and values interpreters and Deaf people consider essential?  How can we effectively and responsibly ensure fidelity to the CPC?  As leaders in our profession, we must look for strategic ways to move forward. It’s imperative that dialogue happen in every direction – peer to peer, amongst the Deaf community, within affiliate chapters, during regional and national conferences.  Be part of the conversation locally, regionally and nationally by any format that works for you – read articles, engage in conversation, share your ideas, and join a committee.  The opportunity is here. Please grab your compass and head for the conversations to come!



Fant, Lou.  (1990). Silver Threads.  Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc.

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Sign Language Interpreters: Team Interpreting and its Ethical Consequences

Sign Language Interpreter Considering the Ethics of Her Team

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

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

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

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

These are comments I do not understand.

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

Doing Nothing is Doing Something

To do nothing is to passively accept unethical actions.

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

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

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

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

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

The Current Frame for Ethical Guidance

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

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

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

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

Case in Point

A couple of examples.

Example One

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

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

Example Two

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

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

To me, this is hardly a resolution.

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

What Should be Done?

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

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

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

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

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

What lasting impression will you create?


Works Cited

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

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

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

(4) Lewis Merkin You Tube personal vlog, Posted April 24, 2013 Retrieved May 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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RID: Retraction Leaves Interpreters with Deaf Parents in Doubt

Sign Language Interpreters With Deaf Parents Stunned

Brandon Arthur interviews Laurie Nash, Vice Chair of the Interpreters with Deaf Parents (IDP) Member Section of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), on the stunning  retraction of the referendum, that if passed, would have established a designated position on the RID Board of Directors for an IDP Member at Large position.


“Many of us felt that the passage of this referendum was important in order to help RID reconnect with the deaf community and the values that were the foundation of the establishment of RID 50 years ago.”

“I am here to talk about IDP but I do want to acknowledge that other members feel disenfranchised by RID as well. I cannot speak for them but they do have similar feelings of not being involved in the decision making process. IDP believed that if we had a position on the board then that would guarantee a place at the decision making table.”

“The president somehow misunderstood that a 2/3 majority of the vote was required as opposed to the a simple majority she used to determine the initial passage of the referendum.”

“We were told this late on Wednesday night and the announcement from the board was made Thursday. Obviously the RID board had already prepared their announcement and video and were ready to announce this to the membership.”

“I think for many IDP members there is a desire for our organization and our members to recognize that indeed many interpreters with deaf parents bring something unique to our field.”

“I think it is important to emphasize that respectful dialogue is the key to moving forward. I encourage all members of RID be mindful of respecting each other as we move forward.”

Interview Transcript

Brandon: Hello everyone. I am Brandon Arthur from I am here with Laurie Nash, Vice-Chair of RID’s Interpreters with Deaf Parents Member Section. Welcome Laurie.

Laurie: Hello. Thank you for hosting this dialogue and inviting me.

Brandon: We are here to discuss RID’s announcement from last week about Motion E, the referendum that if passed, would have established a designated position on the RID board of directors for an IDP member at large.  With the announcement that the referendum did not pass, I imagine there to be a lot of emotional responses to the announcement. Before we get into the retraction and the response from IDP, I’d like to back up a little bit to the beginning of March when RID announced the historic passage of a bylaws referendum that would establish an IDP seat on the Board of Directors.  Can you share with us the feeling and thoughts that the IDP membership had when they learned of the referendum’s passage?

Laurie: Clearly many people, including IDP members, who supported this motion, felt that after a long time we would be getting some change in the direction of RID. Many of us felt that the passage of this referendum was important in order to help RID reconnect with the deaf community and the values that were the foundation of the establishment of RID 50 years ago.  So yes, many people were relieved and happy. I know for myself, I felt that after many years, I now have a way to reconnect with RID.  The passage of the referendum gave me faith in RID again.  Learning that the referendum has passed in the first week of March left people feeling positive and pleased with all of the hard work done to get the referendum to vote

Brandon: You mention “having faith”’ in RID again. So, describe for us what the leadership of IDP, members of RID, and allies feel that this position represents for the future of RID.

Laurie: I believe that IDP members are not unique in feeling that they are underrepresented within RID. There are other groups of interpreters that feel the same way. We have all felt frustrated at some of the decisions made by the RID Board of Directors. These decisions show again a divergence from the communities we serve; their culture, their norms, their values. We have strayed away from that. So an IDP position on the board, we felt, would guarantee that along with the Deaf member at large that is already a part of the board, there would be a stronger connection to native language users and deaf-world natives  and those board members would be involved with the decisions of RID from this point forward. Historically there have been a lot of frustrations among many groups. I am here to talk about IDP but I do want to acknowledge that other members feel disenfranchised by RID as well. I cannot speak for them but they do have similar feelings of not being involved in the decision making process. IDP believed that if we had a position on the board then that would guarantee a place at the decision making table. This motion was initially made taking into consideration the current structure of RID. Many people have brought up different ideas for a restructuring of the board and changing the composition of the board.   I think that re-evaluating the board is a good idea but that’s not our current reality.  The current board composition is what was in mind when the motion was made. Let me clarify, the motion came out of the 2010 Region II conference. The motion carried and was then brought to the floor of the national conference in 2011. A lot of people were involved in the discussions to ensure that the position would work within the current board structure.  Members were both in support and opposition for various reasons but for the collective IDP membership was in support of this motion and the concept behind it: that our voice was missing from the board. Our current board has 3 people who are interpreters with deaf parents. 2 are deaf and 1 is hearing but that was not always the case. For many, many years there were no native voices on the rid board.

Brandon: You have recognized that IDP is not the only group within RID who may not feel that they have access to the decision making tables of the organization and by extension our field. That being said, to be told that you had a place at the table and then for that place to be taken away with the retraction must create an environment where there is little to no trust in the leadership of RID.  How did the news that the referendum did not pass actually unfold for IDP? How were you notified?

Laurie:  Well the announcement came out last Thursday. On Wednesday at 9pm, the 4 members of the IDP executive council, participated in a video conference call with President Prudhom and many members of the board of directors. On that call, we were told that there was a mistake made in determining the required number of votes needed to pass the referendum. The president somehow misunderstood that a 2/3 majority of the vote was required as opposed to the a simple majority she used to determine the initial passage of the referendum. Now you should know that during the drafting of this referendum it was clearly understood by everyone involved that a 2/3 majority vote was needed to pass. This referendum was a change in our bylaws and required a higher standard than other referendums. So, she seemingly made a mistake and erroneously informed Shane Feldman, the Executive Director of RID, and others that the referendum passed.  We were told this late on Wednesday night and the announcement from the board was made Thursday. Obviously the RID board had already prepared their announcement and video and were ready to announce this to the membership. Hearing this news, we were floored and were at a loss on how were we to respond and we wondered how our members would respond to this announcement.  We asked President Prudhom for some time to organize and coordinate a respond. They gave us a little time but by 3pm on Thursday, the announcement went out to the general membership. As a result, the IDP council was unable to prepare a coordinated response right away. Unfortunately RID went ahead with their announcement.

Brandon: So what would IDP like to have seen done differently in a situation like this in the future. If we as an organization have learned anything from this, it won’t happen again but if you could advise the board on how better to handle something like this, what would you ask them to do?

Laurie: Well…when we learned that the referendum did not in fact pass we were of course disappointed. Many people worked very hard on this referendum, however; it was compounded by the lack of checks and balances and the realization that RID made a mistake.  We were left wondering,  How could something like this happen? Is it possible that only one person is counting the vote? It was very hard to understand how this could have happened. We are collecting a vote on a referendum that impacts the bylaws of our organization. Not a business as usual item.  These are the guiding rules of our organization, our bylaws.  We were disappointed that the referendum did not pass but we could move on from there. Our disappointment was further exacerbated by this mishandling of the vote and our experience that this was also one more example in a series of blunders the membership has experienced from the RID board. We believe that the IDP membership should have received a personal apology. The president of RID made a general public apology to the membership; however, this motion held great significance to many people connected to IDP. This general apology did not recognize the significance of the referendum and did not recognize that many members had very strong connections to it.  This fact seemed to be overlooked by the board of directors and I think that is just another example of perhaps a cultural disconnect from the membership. RID does have members of diverse backgrounds. President Prudhom’s manner of apology and announcement did not give enough attention to the significance of this referendum to members of IDP.

Brandon: Thank you. What do you hope the membership, the RID board of directors, and even the national office staff can learn from this situation?

Laurie: I wish they didn’t have to learn anything at all. I wish this didn’t have to be a learning experience for them to begin with. However, I think all members of RID, after seeing this; can agree that mistakes are consistently made within RID. This is not an isolated instance.  I am not sure what kind of oversight may be needed and I am unsure how the board functions. For vote counting, do they work together? Who is responsible for vote collecting? How does it work when voting happens through the internet? There need to be safeguards in place to make sure this kind of thing ever happens.  With a mistake of this magnitude, we all have to question how it came to be. I believe RID members have a right to know how this kind of mistake happened. It certainly shouldn’t have happened on such a large issue as the bylaws and leads us to wonder if this kind of mistake is allowed to happen, then what other mistakes are happening? I don’t want to get off the point here but we do need to wonder what is going on. I think the mistakes issue is not simply an IDP complaint. It is a systemic organizational and leadership problem that all of us have to be very concerned about.

Brandon: Clearly, you have said that representation at the decision making tables of our field is important to interpreters with deaf parents and other underserved groups. In considering the future of RID and perhaps the perspective of people seeing this interview, people who will see the passion that IDP has about this issue, what do you want them to know about your collective desire for more representation and collective diversity at the decision making tables of RID?

Laurie: I think for many IDP members there is a desire for our organization and our members to recognize that indeed many interpreters with deaf parents bring something unique to our field. We have a variety of deaf-world experiences that many if not most of our members within RID do not have.  Each interpreter brings their unique set of life experiences to their work.  The experiences of an someone who grew up in a deaf parented home instills the values and norms of the community in their work. Interpreters with deaf parents possess the ability to broker meaning in culturally appropriate ways. That is the value we need to have on the board. I think many of our members historically have felt those inherent skills have been negated in a systematic way within RID.  On an individual level, interpreters with deaf parents have certainly felt valued by many colleagues but we feel this must be a integral part of the board. During the national conference in Atlanta in 2011, Dennis Cokely commented on the logo for the conference. The logo was a tree. On the stage at the business meeting, he pointed out that the tree was missing its roots.  The roots have been missing for a very long time and It’s not just interpreters with deaf parents who feel this way. There are many people in our field, including leaders in our field, who believe that interpreters with deaf parents have something unique to offer. We recognize a unique skill at play but we believe that recognition of this skill needs to be an integral part of our national organization, RID. There may be talk about restructuring  and changing the composition of the board. I think that may be a great idea but let’s work together to make it happen if the membership agrees that to be our goal.  For now, the board structure is the way it is. We can work toward improvements but again with the kind of mistake that took place we have slipped back and the membership has lost faith once again.

Brandon: If you had the opportunity to send a message to the general membership and to IDP members what  would you say about the desire to again reconnect with our roots?

Laurie: To the general membership, I think it is important for us to consider why we do what we do. If we claim to value the deaf community and value their norms and culture, if that indeed is what we are saying, then great.  Let’s move on and do it in our actions and in our words. Live it. Show it. Prove it. And if not, then if people do not want to achieve that then why are we here talking about this? Why does RID even exist?   We need to figure out our organizational purpose, values and goals. What we do is not just collecting a paycheck. For many of us our profession is not simply a job. Unfortunately for some it appears that they are here only to collect a paycheck and there is no authentic connection to the deaf community and certainly no investment.  For those of us vested, it feels exploitative of those interpreters. We really need to figure out why we do the work we do. To IDP members, I think it is important to say that your hard work bringing this referendum forward and the progress that we made was successful in many ways. The discussion we are having now is also housed within a broader context. We have all had our individual discussions and experiences with each other and with our colleagues. We have also had our experiences discounted and shunned.  It is time to move forward. We are now having a bigger discussion and this process is necessary in order for us to recover from the last 50 years.

Brandon: I really appreciate you being here with me today to lay out the issues. I hope this dialogue will help create some perspective for the people who are seeing all of the thoughts, emotion, and dissention on this issue.    At the end of the day, I hope that as an organization we can keep our eyes on the mission of service. If we can dialogue with respect then we can move forward. Thank you for taking the time to be here today.

Laurie: I am happy to be here but I do want to add something if you don’t mind. I think it is important to emphasize that respectful dialogue is the key to moving forward. I encourage all members of RID be mindful of respecting each other as we move forward.  Unfortunately, some public comments have been made that were not respectful and for many were insulting.  If we truly want our field and our organization to recover we have to maintain a respectful dialogue. I hope we can all remember the person receiving the message when posting comments via any open forum. Keep it honest and respectful.

Brandon: we try to create an environment where people feel comfortable expressing themselves so I can appreciate you bringing respect up. Laurie, thank you for your time. I appreciate you making time in your schedule for this discussion.  I hope that this dialogue will help others who have wondered about the debate and differing opinions surrounding this referendum so that we can all move forward to a successful future. Thanks again.

Laurie: Thank you.

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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?



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.

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Sign Language Interpreters Seek Clarity to Defend RID NIC Certification

Sign Language Interpreter Seeking Clarity

Dennis Cokely shares the RID/NAD written response to his initial letter requesting clarification on the “enhanced” NIC test with annotations on the report provided by the governing entities.

I want to thank StreetLeverage for creating a forum where issues affecting sign language interpreters and the field of sign language interpreting can be raised and discussed thoughtfully and respectfully. This forum has allowed me the opportunity to share my communications with the RID Board on questions I believe need to be answered regarding the “enhanced” NIC certification test. My last posting on this topic resulted in a rich and stimulating discussion.

The questions raised in my post, Defenders of Certification: Sign Language Interpreters Question “Enhanced” RID NIC Test, and that will be raised here, are not raised out of nostalgic ties; not raised out of a desire to cling to the past; not raised out of a desire to foment dissent. In truth, I raise these questions to provide certified sign language interpreters (and, indeed, all members of RID) with the information and facts necessary for us to serve as defenders, not critics, of the current NIC evaluation. Sadly I believe that, to date, we have not been provided with such information or facts.

What follows is a letter I sent to the RID Board on June 25, 2012 in response to the “comprehensive report” that was released by the Board on June 7, 2012, which was in response to my March 18, 2012 letter questioning aspects of the “enhanced” NIC test.

My Intent

I want to explicitly state my intent in writing these letters and raising these questions is not to spur divisiveness but rather to garner transparency and to seek the underlying rationale for decisions that were made without full involvement of the certified membership. To date I have not received a response from the Board to this letter, although I have received an acknowledgement that my email letter has been received.

I truly hope that a meaningful response to the issues I have raised will be provided in a timely and public manner. If such a response is forthcoming, I would suggest that the approach of “It is because we say it is” is decidedly not a useful strategy in addressing an issue as important to RID certified members as this is; the response must be one that comports well with the more than forty years of experience RID has assessing interpreting competency and that comports with the real world experiences of practitioners.

My hope is that my postings on this issue can, and will, spur discussions that can better inform our decision-making process and, ultimately, improve our assessment of who is qualified to become “one of us”.

My Letter

June 25, 2012

To Presidents Prudhom and Scoggins and members of the RID Board:

Thank you for your letter dated June 7 and for the “comprehensive report” that was attached. Following you will find my response to the report and some additional issues/questions I have that were raised by the report.

You are correct that my letter was made public. But, please know that it was made public only after more than a month had passed after I had sent the letter to all members of the Board during which time its receipt was not even acknowledged by the Board. While I appreciate the demands on a volunteer Board, I would suggest that the serious questions I raised deserved a much more timely response (and at least the courtesy of an acknowledgment of receipt by the Board) and the answers which I requested should not have taken three months to assemble. I also believe that the “community discussion” its release created is definitely a positive discussion and one that should have occurred as the “enhancements” were conceived and most definitely before they were implemented. I hope that continued, open and public discussion will only help to strengthen our decisions and more fully engage the RID membership in these critical decisions and programs. I must tell you that I do intend to post this letter to you in a public forum in a couple of weeks – I firmly believe that providing a forum for members discuss these issues not only allows a fuller airing of issues, but also allows the Board to have a more accurate picture of the pulse of the membership than it appears to have on this issue.

I am sure you can appreciate the fact that the report that was generated in response to my letter is, based on the numerous emails I have received and numerous postings on social media, viewed by many as quite a defensive, reactive and inadequate response. My intent here, and throughout, is not to create an atmosphere of confrontation or to incite divisiveness. Rather, my intent is that, unlike decisions taken in the past, we can all agree that the decisions we make in the certification program are based on empirical data, not the feelings or beliefs of a small group that may not well-represent the membership. In your letter to me you state “NAD and RID fully support the work and direction of the enhanced NIC…”. I humbly and respectfully strongly disagree. At the very least in the case of RID, I think it is much more accurate and truthful to state that the RID Board fully supports the “enhanced” NIC. I say this because there is considerable discontent and unrest among the membership regarding the “enhanced” NIC. I also believe there has been anything but acceptable and appropriate levels of transparency regarding decisions surrounding these “enhancements” which is quite surprising for what the Board claims is a “membership driven” organization. I think that it is fair to say that for many members there is a clear sense that critical decisions that define who we are as interpreters have been made without significant and meaningful involvement of, and engagement with, the members and most definitely without meaningful discussion at our regional and national conferences, again belying the notion of RID as a “membership driven” organization. I certainly urge you to make good on your pledge to “…dedicated communication effort…now and in the future” and hope you do so proactively rather than reactively.

The “comprehensive report” provided many statements that asserted that the “enhanced” NIC was valid and reliable but provided no empirical or psychometric data to support such assertions. Unfortunately I see no proactive involvement of the membership in many of the issues I have raised; I see no checks and balances built into the current “enhanced” NIC that can ensure impartiality and objectivity; I see no independent checks and balances of the design and implement work off the consulting group; I see no concern for the negative reactions and responses of members that this “enhanced” NIC is not based on sound empirical data; and unfortunately I see no evidence in the Board’s actions that can support its claim that RID, in this arena at least, is a “membership-driven” organization.

I fully appreciate the pressures and demands on an all-volunteer Board having been there myself. I trust you will accept my response and the questions I raise below in the spirit of moving toward a stronger and more cohesive RID.  However, as I stated before, the fact is that there is growing discontent among the membership with the manner in which decisions are taken within the organization and a growing feeling of complete disenfranchisement within the organization. There already is a growing number of members and an increasing number of states in the US who believe that RID certification has become meaningless and irrelevant. More importantly, there is an increasing chorus of RID members crying for an alternate organization and that chorus grows as members take the “enhanced” NIC. I, for one, am saddened to see that number grow. But if sound, logical answers to the questions I have previously raised and also raise below cannot be provided then, unfortunately, I would have no option but to join their number and advocate loudly and passionately for creation of an alternate organization. I would be incredibly saddened should that come to pass.

I thank you for your willingness to engage in this discussion and I am willing to continue this very important discussion in any forum you feel will be beneficial (email, VideoPhone, phone, face-to-face meetings, etc.).

I eagerly await your response.



Dennis Cokely, Professor
Director, American Sign Language Program
Director, World Languages Center
Chair, Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures
Northeastern University
Boston, MA 02115

My Response to the June 7, 2012 “Comprehensive Report” on the NIC “enhancements

1) Before raising specific questions generated by the report, I ask that the Board offer an explanation to the membership for why the same consultant firm that was directly responsible for the design and implementation of the “enhanced” NIC was also asked to write the interim report which asserts that the “enhanced” NIC is valid and reliable. While I, in no way, intend to cast aspersions on the Caviart group, I believe it is incumbent upon the Board explain why this is not a clear conflict of interest and why an independent psychometrician was not engaged to review the overall process and write the report? Given the catastrophic recent NIC history and the absolute appearance of a possible conflict of interest, I would urge the Board to address this as quickly as possible. Why should we have faith in the validity of the Caviart report? Why is this not a conflict of interest given that Caviart has a vested interest in convincing the Board and members that its initial test development is valid and reliable?

2) It comes as quite a surprise to me and I am sure to most RID members that, on page #2 of the report, we learn that the profile of a “certified NIC (level 1) interpreter” was developed by 14 members of the NIC Task Force, an NIC Scoring Group (whose composition is unknown) and an unidentified group of “subject-matter experts”. This means that, if one includes the Board (which, I assume, approved the profile), it would appear that fewer than 100 members had a hand in determining this profile. This represents less than .009% of the membership. Why was this profile not circulated to the membership for comment and input? How is not circulating this profile consistent with claims of a “membership driven” organization?

3) It is also troubling is that the profile of a “certified NIC (level 1) interpreter” is offered without any rational, explanation or justification. What empirical basis is there to support this profile? What data is there to suggest that a “…vocabulary at a first year undergraduate level…” is appropriate? What is meant by “…quickly adapt to different situations and communication styles”?

4) But what is even more troubling on page #2 is the incredibly dismissive tone in the report intended for those who might question or challenge (“That is fine.”). While it is certainly true that “…no profile will satisfy everyone”, I believe that the leadership owes it to the members to create an environment in which questions and challenges are welcomed because, presumably, the leadership has data to support its choices and decisions and thus can appropriately respond to such questions and challenges. The tone here smacks of “it is because we say it is”. If this tone emanates from the consultant group then perhaps we have retained the wrong group. If the tone emanates from the leadership, then the situation is even worse that I thought and we definitely have a crisis of leadership. How is such a tone consistent with a “membership driven” organization? Does the membership not, at least, deserve the courtesy of opportunities to discuss the definition of the threshold that marks who is “one of us”?

5) Also, on page #2, it appears that a decision has been made that there will be “levels” to the NIC (“currently called Level 1”). If this is indeed the case, this represents a significant departure from past practice (the recently aborted iteration of the NIC notwithstanding) in which we have had a “generalist then specialist” approach to certification. I ask that the Board release the overall comprehensive master plan mentioned on page #3 for the certification program as well as the specific criteria for determining “…higher and specialized levels”. What is the overall master plan for the certification program?

6) Again on page #2, I believe it is totally inaccurate to make the claim that “…this statement summarizes what both organizations believe…”. At the present time I believe that it is accurate to say, in the case of RID at least, that this statement summarizes what the Board, the NIC Task Force and an NIC Scoring Group whose composition is unknown believes. The membership were not at all engaged in this discussion nor invited to provide feedback on this issue.  Can the RID Board explain how it purports to represent the membership on this issue when it has not fully engaged the membership?

7) On page #3, it is extremely troublesome to read that the claim “…more interpreter/consumer interactions occurred remotely…” is based on the feelings of the NIC Task Force rather than on empirical data. In fact, according to a recently completed survey of RID Certified and Associate members conducted by the National Interpreter Education Center, 70% of interpreters who responded report they do absolutely no work in VRS and 92% do no work in VRI. These data make it clear that it is still the case that from interpreters’ experience, the overwhelming majority of the work that interpreters do is conducted in face-to-face interactions.  While it may be that Deaf people are using more VRS/VRI, at this point in our history the fact is that the vast majority of interpreters do not work in those settings. This begs the question of why we developed an assessment approach that appears predicated on beliefs, settings, assumptions in which only 30% and 8% of us work?

8 ) Given the fact that some members of the NIC Task force have VRS/VRI ties, one also has to wonder again about the wisdom of relying on feelings rather than empirical data. Why are feelings used over empirical data? Again I do not intend to cast aspersions, but when segments on the “enhanced” NIC have durations of three to five minutes (which resemble durations found in VRS calls), one wonders what response the Board might have to the fact that there is the appearance of a conflict of interest for members of the NIC Task force who do have VRS/VRI ties?

9) On page 5 the process by which the “content and format” of the “enhanced” NIC is described. The logic of this process seems, to me, to be somewhat circular and rather flawed. If I understand the process correctly, raters used the previous NIC exam, material with which they were intimately familiar having viewed the material dozens and dozens of times. They were then asked to identify portions of that material that they believed “…most effectively discriminated the skills of interpreters at the level described”. From a linguistic and sociolinguistic perspective, what is critical is that they selected these portions from within a larger context and those portions were taken from within a larger sample of a candidate’s work. Thus raters had significant background information influencing the choice of segments that they believed “…most effectively discriminated the skills of interpreters at the level described”.  Scoring criteria were then identified using a “proven algorithm”. While the algorithm may be “proven”, the elements (and the empirical support for those elements) to which the algorithm was applied need to be known. This is especially true since the previous iteration of the NIC listed rating elements that conflated language elements (e.g. articulation, use of space) with interpretation elements. What are the elements to which raters will apply the scoring algorithm and what is the empirical basis for those elements?

10) Having demonstrated that portions from within a larger context and taken from within a larger sample of a candidate’s work could be reliably rated, how then is it reasonable to conclude that portions generated with no larger context and from no larger work sample could or would suffice as a valid indicant of a candidate’s competence?

11) Having the Scoring Group finalize the profile, develop the scoring criteria, rate previously rated samples and then discuss their holistic ratings, places enormous and unchecked power in the hands of a small group. Why was there no independent confirmation of the Scoring Group’s work? Why were not different groups engaged in segments of this undertaking? How large was the Scoring Group? Who were its members?

12) On page 6 we are told that the final vignettes were “…believed, by the Scoring Group, to have the most appropriate content, vocabulary and stimulus material”. The Scoring Group then developed new scoring criteria – again enormous and unchecked power in the hands of a small group. Is there a rationale for this? Are we to believe that there is a different set of criteria for each vignette? If so, what is the full set of criteria used to rate a candidate and what is the empirical basis for each criterion? Why should we believe the Scoring Group is qualified to make such determinations?

13) I submit that the assertion that “While content validity is critical, face validity is not” critical completely ignores the recent past with regard to the NIC and reflects a complete lack of understanding of our assessment and institutional history. Certainly face validity is unquestionably important for market acceptance. And most certainly one incredibly important segment of that market is the RID Certified and Associate membership and students in Interpreter Education Programs. If certification is to have any value, these stakeholders simply must feel and believe that the high-stakes assessment that is the NIC, at least looks like what interpreters do regularly. While it may be true that an assessment of interpretation skills does not have to look like what interpreters do regularly, one would think that, given the last significantly flawed iteration of the NIC, the Board would most definitely want the assessment to look like what interpreters do regularly. Given the incredibly negative issues surrounding the last iteration of the NIC, why would the Board, the NIC Task Force and the NIC Scoring Group endorse an assessment approach that most clearly lacks face validity and seems not to be widely supported?

14) On page 8 the dismissive tone of this report continues with the assertion that there is “…absolutely no merit to this suggestion.” In the present climate, I assert precisely the opposite – if the members of RID do not believe that the assessment is valid and looks valid, if we cannot defend it, if we cannot/will not encourage those who are not yet certified to seek certification, then the assessment process is seriouslyflawed. I believe that there is incredible merit to the need for face validity of the NIC. The report asserts that the “enhanced” NIC “…has significant face validity…”, but this is just another example of “it is because we say it is”. No empirical data is offered here. However, candidates who have taken the “enhanced” NIC and who have contacted me almost unanimously say that they think that the “enhanced” NIC did not fairly sample their interpreting skills, did not look like what they do on a regular basis and did not allow them to demonstrate what they do when they interpret. Can the Board, the NIC Task Force or the NIC Scoring Group provide empirical data that candidates do indeed feel the “enhanced” NIC fairly samples and assesses their work? What percent of those who have taken the “enhanced” NIC report that it “fairly sampled” their interpreting competence? I doubt such data even exists or is collected.

15) On page 8 the report states that panels were asked to “…identify the amount of time that it takes to accurately assess a candidate’s skill.” Again I ask whether there is any empirical data to support this approach; what we have is self-report data, drawn from an individual’s various experiences that are based on samples that are highly contextualized. If I state that in a given real-world context I can determine in two or three minutes whether I can accurately assess skill for this particular situation, I cannot validly apply that determination to other contexts. Why have we have taken timing information based on contextualized self-reports and applied that timing information to de-contextualized vignettes? Is there any empirical support for doing so? Are we asking raters trained to assess the former NIC to make this determination? If so, by what justification? Or is this another instance in which the ubiquitous Scoring Group

16) The unidentified subject matter “experts” (number and qualifications unknown) believe that “niceties” can be excluded because they “…provide little information about a candidate’s skill”. It certainly is true that, from an interpreter’s perspective, the beginnings of interactions are often not challenging and thus may not be fully representative of a candidate’s skill set. However, there is clear linguistic empirical data to show that these “niceties” are often essential to an interpreter’s overall ease, comfort and comprehension of a speaker/signer and thus important to rendering successful interpretations. Indeed, one cannot “…go right to the heart of the communication encounter.” Linguists and Sociolinguists have shown clearly that successful communication is an evolved and negotiated interaction; one cannot properly and fully understand “the heart” of an interaction while ignoring or not having access to the “skeleton” and the “flesh” that surround the “heart”. We return again to the face validity question. How is it that we can warrant that those who pass the NIC can “…relay the essence of a message…” when our assessment strips away all of the context, linguistic background and interactional unfolding that leads up to “…the essence of a message…”? What is the empirical data to support this decision? Certainly the “comprehensive report” does not address this question.

17) The use of “tower crane operators” is an insulting and ignorant analogy at best (no offense intended to tower crane operators). Granted there is considerable pressure in being a crane operator. However, there is also a clear “right and wrong” result, the ball is manipulated correctly or it is not; the result is black or white. The results on a crane operator test are plain for all to see – the wall comes down or it does not (true some might be more efficient than others; but ultimately if the wall does not come down the operator has not been successful). However, as any interpreter knows, interpreting is anything but a “black or white” cognitive task. There are a finite number of moves that are possible with a tower crane. However, as any interpreter knows there are myriad possibilities for rendering successful interpretations in any interaction because we are dealing with people not machines. And while the obstacles through which crane operators must move to demonstrate their skill are finite, interpreters clearly know that because communication involves a range of human beings, a range of situations, and a range of communicative goals, the obstacles through which we must maneuver are virtually infinite. It does not follow logically that because tower crane operators can be assessed by an examination that lacks face validity that interpreters should accept, much less endorse, any examination that lacks face validity. Why should we accept a lack of face validity?

18) The use of “police officers” is also not an appropriate analogy for our purposes. Police officers spend months and months training at the police academy; they do not get to take their performance exam until/unless they have performed well in their training routines during which they have fired their guns countless times. The police officer test itself is valid because it presumes months and months of training that is specific to being a police officer. However, in our case, the claim that NIC “…standards include requirements for education…”(pg. 6), make using police officer testing a false analogy. Our forthcoming “requirement for education” is, at this point, only a BA/BS degree but not a degree in interpreting. So, even though the police officer test may not be indicative of what they do on a daily basis, police cadets have had months of training and practice to demonstrate what they will do on a daily basis. RID has no such warrantied, specific interpreter educational background requirement for NIC candidates. Lacking the focused, specific training/education that is required of police officers (and tower crane operators) and that forms the foundation on which their tests can rest, why would we adopt an assessment approach that presumes such focused, specified training/education when we do not yet have such focused, specified training/education?

19) On page 9 the report asserts that a testing program is fair if “…every candidate has the same opportunity to demonstrate his or her competence.” Again, based on the numerous comments I have received from those who have taken the “enhanced” NIC, the majority feel they did not have an opportunity to demonstrate their competence. All candidates may be presented with the same logistically structured opportunity with the NIC, but if that opportunity is believed by a majority of candidates not to afford them an “…opportunity to demonstrate his or her competence” or is believed by them to be a flawed opportunity, how can such a program be judged as fair? How does the Board respond to candidates who feel they did not have an opportunity to demonstrate their competence?

20) Page 9 states that there is “…no evidence…that suggests that physical endurance is required for the job.” This patently ignores significant research in signed and spoken language interpreting research on this matter.  It patently fails to realize that physical endurance is not the critical issue in interpretation — cognitive endurance definitely is!!!! This is extremely well documented in the literature. With the “enhanced” NIC vignettes ranging from only three minutes to five minutes in length (although one LTA emailed me saying that they carefully timed each scenario and the actual range was between 1:20 and 3:20!!), it is virtually impossible to see how we assess cognitive endurance. This is, after all, one of the most important reasons why we advocate for the use of teams in many situations. If there is no evidence in the “Role Delineation Study” that speaks to cognitive fatigue, then I suggest that that study is seriously flawed. If there is such evidence in the Study and the “enhanced NIC” ignores this, then the program is seriously flawed. Why do we think that cognitive fatigue is not a critical factor to assess? And why was the “Role Delineation Study” not more widely vetted and shared?

21) Page 10 states that “…RID has carefully specified the testing conditions…”. Based on information I have received from candidates who have taken the “enhanced” RID, this means that candidates must be seated and must remain so for the duration of the test. As any interpreter knows, when an interpreter is seated, his/her range of motion is severely restricted and thus his/her use of space for semantic/linguistic purposes is also restricted. Given that we have never restricted candidates in this manner, what empirical evidence is there that placing interpreters in such restricted conditions will produce samples of their work that are indicative of their overall competence? Why would we want to restrict/constrain the use of semantic/linguistic space?

22) Page 11 proclaims the hope that the “enhanced” NIC will “…earn the value and respect from consumers that it deserves”. I submit that the “enhanced” NIC cannot earn respect from consumers until and unless it is accepted, embraced and valued by practitioners. This status report references a number of reports and studies that, to my knowledge, have not been made available to the RID membership. When can members expect release of all reports that are referenced in the Status Report?

My Previous Questions

In my initial letter to the Board, I asked nine questions. I was told that a “comprehensive report” would be issued that would address these questions. Unfortunately, I do not believe that any of the questions has been answered satisfactorily.

1) RID members need a more thorough explanation of why time and a simple mathematical formula should be the primary drivers behind the format of the certification test; if this is not true, then a clear explanation should be provided for how the current 4-minute per vignette test segmentation was determined.

Answer provided in the “comprehensive report” is inadequate

2) An explanation for the process/principles used in the selection of and/or development of the vignettes be made known to the membership.

Answer provided in the “comprehensive report” is inadequate

3) A full explanation of the empirical justification for this 4-minute approach must be provided to the membership.

Answer provided in the “comprehensive report” is inadequate

4) A clear explanation of the rationale and justification for placing candidates at such an interpreting disadvantage must be provided to the membership.

Answer provided in the “comprehensive report” is inadequate

5) A detailed explanation of the rational for, and empirical support for this decision and this deviation from forty years of experience is also needed by the membership.

Answer provided in the “comprehensive report” is inadequate

6) If there is evidence that supports the claim that a 4-miute sample can validly and reliably assess a candidate’s ability to assess sustained quality over time, then it must be made known to the membership.

Answer provided in the “comprehensive report” is inadequate

7) What are the various English and ASL grammatical and semantic features in vignettes that raters will be assessing and do these five 4-minute vignettes provide sufficient linguistic and discourse variation to elicit an appropriate range of English and ASL grammatical and semantic features?

Answer provided in the “comprehensive report” is inadequate

8 ) Since using discretion in selecting assignments is one of the core operating principles of our long-standing Code, the rationale for adopting an “all or nothing” approach must be made clear to the membership.

Answer provided in the “comprehensive report” is inadequate

9) A clear, empirically supported explanation of why the current NIC assessment is valid and can be reliably assessed by raters must be provided to the membership.

Answer provided in the “comprehensive report” is inadequate

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Defenders of Certification: Sign Language Interpreters Question “Enhanced” RID NIC Test

Sign Language Interpreters - Defenders of Certification

The advent of the tiered NIC test brought with it a host of questions and concerns among members of RID. Dennis Cokely shares a personal letter sent to the RID Board and outlines his requests for explanation regarding the format and procedures of the current certification process.

At this point in our history, the NIC assessment is the foundation for determining who is “one of us” and, as such, certified members of RID should be the defenders of the certification process. However, the fact that certified RID members are unsure of the validity of the current NIC assessment is unacceptable. I believe that the NIC Task Force and the Board of Directors have implemented changes to the RID assessment process the validity of which has not all been transparent to the certified membership. And so, instead of being defenders of the process, we find ourselves in the position of questioning, challenging and/or belittling the recent RID assessments procedures.

My Letter

On March 18,2012, I sent an email letter to each member of the RID Board of Directors in which I raised a number of questions regarding the new “enhancements” to the NIC test. That letter is reprinted below.

Before reading the letter, it is important to me that you understand the spirit in which that letter was sent.

My intent in sending the letter was neither to create or enflame divisiveness within RID nor was it to attack the current leadership of the RID. Rather it was a request that the Board provide the information necessary so that the RID membership, especially the certified membership, could feel confident and secure in the knowledge that the “enhanced NIC” was indeed valid and reliable; information that was not made available for the previous iteration of the NIC.

Until the day when RID (and we are RID) has a transparently valid and reliable certification process that determines who will be “one of us”, we will always have division and animus (parenthetically, I believe this can only be avoided if we, RID, decide to divest ourselves of the assessment process). My letter was sent to the Board requesting that all the information and documentation that provided the psychometric basis for the “enhanced NIC” be made available to all of the members. The Board has committed to releasing a report that would address the questions I raised.

RID Response

On April 22 I received an email from the RID President that stated, in part: “…the board of directors and national office staff agree the comprehensive report would be shared with the entire membership.  Therefore, this will take some time and resources to complete and request your patience and continued support to allow us the time to complete this comprehensive report. In fact, the work has been underway since the receipt of your letter.”

To be sure, it is unclear to me why the answers to the questions I raised should “…take some time and resources to complete.” After all the questions I raise are the essential questions one must ask and the evidence one must have in advance of implementing such a radically new assessment approach. The information should be readily available; if it has to be created in response to the questions I raise, there are even more serious questions about the process by which this iteration of the NIC was developed and implemented. Nevertheless, I applaud the fact that the RID Board will share full information regarding the new NIC with the membership. Hopefully that report will be issued in a timely manner and, in my opinion, it certainly must happen in advance of the regional conferences.

Reactions — Keep Them in Check

Given all of this, I trust you will read the following letter in the spirit in which it was intended. I sincerely hope that any reaction you may have will be held in check until we all receive the “comprehensive report” from the Board. I believe that any action prior to receipt of the “comprehensive report” would be premature and uniformed.

Letter Reprint

Members of the Board of Directors
Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf

333 Commerce Street
Alexandria, VA 22314 

March 18, 2012

To Members of the Board,

I am writing this letter to the Board, one of the very few I have written since 1972, as a concerned and dedicated member of RID for over forty years and as a Past President of RID. Specifically, I am extremely concerned about the new “enhancements” to the NIC test. I think it goes without saying that the last iteration of the NIC was significantly flawed. Claiming, as we did, (lacking both the sophistication and the empirical data) that a three-tiered certification based on a single evaluation test was valid and defensible, was clearly shown to be a serious mistake (one which we made earlier in our first effort at testing – CI/CT/CSC). With this latest unsubstantiated testing attempt, not only did we damage the credibility of the NIC and the RID itself in the minds of many RID members but perhaps more importantly in the minds of many Deaf people. Both interpreters and Deaf people saw that the test results and tiered certifications awarded often did not match the reality experienced by the “eyes on the street”.

I believe that the lesson that must be learned here is clear — we should definitely not advance an approach to testing that is not directly supported by empirical data on sign language interpretation and that we must make that empirical data clearly and widely known to interpreters and Deaf people.

Make no mistake, I applaud some of the changes to the NIC, specifically uploading a candidate’s video data to a secure server and having those video data available to be viewed by multiple raters. Unfortunately I believe we have made the same fatal mistake – lack of empirical data – with the newest iteration of the NIC as we made with the last iteration and as we made in 1972. Unless there is evidence that has not been made publically available, I believe that the current NIC testing approach lacks face validity — it does not look like what interpreters regularly do. Perhaps better stated, I believe the current test cannot claim to validly certify a candidate’s ability to interpret in a way that reflects real world practice. Certainly there is nothing in the research literature relevant to sign language interpreters of which I am aware that would support the current testing approach. I make the following statements and raise the following questions and concerns based on the new Candidate Handbook 2011 and on conversations with several candidates who have taken the current NIC.

1. It appears that someone predetermined that the test should last only an hour and then the resultant math determined that each of the two ethical and five performance scenarios would last only 4 minutes. If true, RID members need a more thorough explanation of why time and a simple mathematical formula should be the primary drivers behind the format of the certification test; if this is not true, then a clear explanation should be provided for how the current 4-minute per vignette test segmentation was determined.

2. I agree that that it may be possible to make a marginally valid, albeit shallow, determination of one’s approach to ethical decision-making and one’s knowledge of the Code of Professional Conduct from two 4-minute vignettes. However, one would hope that the vignettes are sufficiently complex that they will elicit higher levels of ethical thinking than mere regurgitation of the Code of Professional Conduct. A description of the guiding principles used to develop and/or select the ethical vignettes must be provided to the RID membership. Note I am not asking for the rating rubrics (I agree that teaching to the rubrics was a significant issue in the last iteration), I am simply asking that an explanation for the process/principles used in the selection of and/or development of the vignettes be made known to the membership.

3. I am aware of no research that provides evidence that a 4-minute sample of a piece of interpretation is sufficient to make a determination of overall interpretation competence. What the research does show is that during the first five minutes of a twenty minute monologue an interpreter’s work is often “less challenging” because it is the most predictable – introductions, niceties, setting an overall tone for a talk or meeting, etc. This is also true of the last five minutes of an interpreter’s work – summaries, next steps, closings, etc. Consequently, if all of the five performance vignettes were from the first five minutes of interactions, we would only be sampling and rating the “less challenging” parts of interactions and thus would not be presented with a true and valid representative sample of a candidate’s overall interpreting proficiency. I might agree that if we had five 20-minute samples of an interpreter’s work and we wished to select 4-minute samples from each 20-minute sample (some from the beginning, some from the middle and some from the end) then perhaps we might have a more thorough and more time efficient way of rating an interpreter’s work. But what we have here with the current NIC is clearly not 4-minute samples from longer samples of work. A full explanation of the empirical justification for this 4-minute sampling approach must be provided to the membership.

4. According to the Candidate Handbook, however, some of the vignettes will require that the candidate begin interpreting in the middle portions of interactions after providing the candidate with only a written synopsis of what has transpired up to that point in the interaction. Here again, I contend there is no empirical data that can justify this as a valid approach to obtaining a true and valid sample of a candidate’s overall interpreting competence. As any experienced interpreter knows, by the mid-point of any interpreted interaction the interpreter has developed some content background information (which I presume the NIC proposes to present in printed form). But more importantly the interpreter has a sense of communicative preferences, interactional rhythm, signing style, accents, spoken/signing speeds, prosodic features, etc. None of this can be presented in printed form in any manner that assists the candidate nor can it be presented in a manner that validly replicates what happens in real life.

On this basis alone, I would contend that this 4-minute assessment approach does not provide the essential cognitive, discourse or linguistic tools/knowledge that are available and that unfold in “real life” situations. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, by the halfway point in any interaction the interpreter has acquired an “interactional schema”. As any experienced interpreter knows, this relates directly to critical areas such as over-arching goals, what counts as success and the overall interactional rhythm and flow. Absolutely none of this is accessible to a candidate suddenly instructed to begin in the middle of an interaction for which only written background content information has been provided. Of necessity, the written background will be about content, but none of this is what is most important to interpreters. A clear explanation of the rationale and justification for placing candidates at such an interpreting disadvantage must be provided to the membership.

5) Given that each performance vignette provides only 4 minutes of a candidate’s work, it would appear that we, as an organization, are no longer concerned about the ability to sustain quality of work during an interpreted interaction. For the past forty years the RID evaluations have contained interactions (monologues and/or dialogues) that have lasted 15-20 minutes in length. This was essentially due to the fact that this most closely reflected the real world work and experience of interpreters and then raters could sample within interactions, not across what are essentially 4-minute, flawed interactions. A detailed explanation of the rational for, and empirical support for this decision and this deviation from forty years experience is also needed by the membership.

6. Given that each performance vignette provides only 4 minutes of a candidate’s work, it would appear that we, as an organization, are no longer interested in the ability to produce work of sustained quality over time. Clearly, a 4-minute text simply does not allow time for the candidate to demonstrate or time for the rater to assess meaning sustained over time. The rater has no opportunity to assess features such as consistent use of grammatical features (manual and non-manual), consistent use of space, consistent use of deitic markers, etc. Simply put, a 4-minute sample simply does not provide sufficient opportunity to demonstrate a candidate’s ability to sustain quality work over time. If there is evidence that supports the claim that a 4-miute sample can validly and reliably assess a candidate’s ability to assess sustained quality over time, then it must be made known to the membership.

7. With a 4-miute segment to assess, the question must be asked “What are the raters looking for?”. It is clear that there is a new rating paradigm (pass/marginal pass, fail/marginal fail) and one could make a solid case for this. Certainly raters for the signed portions should be looking for grammatical features such as agreement, consistent use of “nonce signs” (signs established for this situation only), the use of coordinated and reflexive space, etc. But it is unclear what raters would be asked to assess in a 4-minute sample of work. Certainly raters are unable to assess the full range of linguistic competencies that interpreters must posses in order to able to interpret (if there evidence to support this it must be made public).  What are the various English and ASL grammatical and semantic features in vignettes that raters will be assessing and do these five 4-minute vignettes provide sufficient linguistics and discourse variation to elicit an appropriate range of English and ASL grammatical and semantic features?

8. As was true with the last iteration of the NIC we offer the candidate no opportunity to demonstrate the exercise of discretion. This clearly begs the question of whether there is any research that demonstrates that the five performance vignettes somehow represent “seminal” vignettes, i.e. vignettes for which no candidate would ever deem that he or she was an unsuitable fit. Clearly the message sent to candidates taking the NIC and to interpreters in general that one “must interpret everything presented to them” stands in stark contrast to our long held organizational belief that discretion in accepting assignments is critical. Since using discretion in selecting assignments is one of the core operating principles of our long-standing Code, the rationale for adopting an “all or nothing” approach must be made clear to the membership.

9. Virtually all of the candidate’s with whom I have spoken have the same reaction and response to the 4-minute performance vignettes. They state “They [the vignettes] were too short”; “I was just getting warmed up”; “I didn’t have the right information to start in the middle [of a vignette]”; “I don’t think it was a fair sample of my work”; “I needed more time to get over my nerves”; “This isn’t what I do everyday”. These comments are, to me as I hope they are to you, extremely troubling. Even if we assume there is a valid and reliable empirical basis for the “4-minute vignette” approach, the experience of the candidates is quite at odds with that basis. The danger here is that the candidates will, rightly or wrongly, begin to spread these perceptions to certified and not-yet certified interpreters. The end result will be that we return to the set of circumstances that resulted in abandoning the former iteration of the NIC – acting in the absence of empirical data to guide our decision-making. A clear, empirically supported explanation of why the current NIC assessment is valid and can be reliably assessed by raters must be provided to the membership.

The issue of how and the process by which we determine who will be viewed “as one of us” (i.e. who is certified) is of grave concern to many in the membership. As you should well know, it has clearly created some very, very deep rifts within the organization. So deep are the rifts that there is on-going discussion of creating an alternate organization. Yet, we in RID continue to move forward without the necessary empirical support we need to offer a credible approach to the testing process. The “alphabet soup” of certification that we have produced sadly moves us closer and closer to being quite laughable in the eyes of those who view professional organizations as knowing clearly how to determine who will be viewed as “one of us”.

In an ideal world, we would out-source the testing process so that RID could be the “assessment watch-dog” and thus RID could avoid any appearance of conflict of interest. Lacking that possibility at the present time, I believe that the Board should muster the political and moral will to insist on a truly valid and reliable certification test, accepted by the certified members. Then the Board should declare a phased in process by which ALL former certificates (save SC:L and CDI) would be declared invalid and no longer recognized. A staggered timeline would be put in place by which ALL those holding any certificate prior to the valid and reliable test would have to be retested and the “alphabet soup” would eventually no longer exist.

But we are where we are and that is that we have the current iteration of the NIC.

On behalf of the membership and all those who have served in positions of leadership, I am asking for a much greater level of transparency regarding the crafting of the current iteration of the NIC. If there is research data to support the decisions underlying the format of this iteration of the NIC those data must be made very public. I, for one, need to see the consultant’s report on why they believe this approach/format is valid and reliable before I can support this approach. I know that many of my colleagues, who are both members and organizational leaders, feel the same way.

Please know that I raise these questions and ask for this unprecedented level of public transparency in the best interests of RID the organization, of RID members and of Deaf people. I am happy to discuss any of these questions and concerns with the Board, individual or collectively, and/or the psychometric consultants hired to oversee the new NIC test.

Please let me know if you have any questions or need further clarification on any of the issues/questions raised. I eagerly await and expect your response to the questions and issues I have raised in this letter in a timely manner.

Dennis Cokely
Director, American Sign Language Program
Director, World Languages Center
Chair, Department of Languages, Literatures & Cultures


Overall Frame

We should definitely not advance an approach to testing that is not directly supported by empirical data on sign language interpretation and that we must make those empirical data clearly and widely known to interpreters and Deaf people

The Questions that Need Answers

1. RID members need a more thorough explanation of why time and a simple mathematical formula should be the primary drivers behind the format of the certification test; if this is not true, then a clear explanation should be provided for how the current 4-minute per vignette test segmentation was determined.

2. An explanation for the process/principles used in the selection of and/or development of the vignettes be made known to the membership.

3. A full explanation of the empirical justification for this 4-minute approach must be provided to the membership.

4. A clear explanation of the rationale and justification for placing candidates at such an interpreting disadvantage must be provided to the membership.

5. A detailed explanation of the rational for, and empirical support for this decision and this deviation from forty years experience is also needed by the membership.

6. If there is evidence that supports the claim that a 4-miute sample can validly and reliably assess a candidate’s ability to assess sustained quality over time, then it must be made known to the membership.

7. What are the various English and ASL grammatical and semantic features in vignettes that raters will be assessing and do these five 4-minute vignettes provide sufficient linguistic and discourse variation to elicit an appropriate range of English and ASL grammatical and semantic features?

8. Since using discretion in selecting assignments is one of the core operating principles of our long-standing Code, the rationale for adopting an “all or nothing” approach must be made clear to the membership.

9. A clear, empirically supported explanation of why the current NIC assessment is valid and can be reliably assessed by raters must be provided to the membership.


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RID Increases Dues: An Interview with President Brenda Walker-Prudhom

Brandon Arthur interviews the President of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), Brenda Walker-Prudhom, on the increase in dues and fees announced on March 30, 2012.

In the interview Brenda reiterates the 4 driving priorities of RID, the reasoning behind the priorities, and how she and the Board plan to develop greater transparency throughout the organization.

RID Priorities

  1. Search for Executive Director
  2. Certification of NIC, CDI, SC:L and Oral
  3. Technology in the delivery of certification tests and communication
  4. Relationships with Stake holders, affiliate chapters and members

Notable Quotes by Brenda

“As we got together we realized we had a strategic plan, but that we needed to examine and determine our priorities..”

“One thing that I want the members to realize is that, yes, the $260,000 deficit is significant but some of that is a result of unexpected things like the fraud that was discovered and the budget necessary in order to investigate and make it right..”

“What makes it appear so significant is the CMP fees and EPS fees which haven’t been increased since their inception. So, we are talking about 15 to 20 years of the same fees for those two programs.”

“..the Board knows and is confident that they [National Office Staff] are working in our best interests to prevent a deficit and restore our finances for the future.”

“..what I saw was the management or mismanagement of funds, it’s really not mismanagement at all. It’s attempting to manage through years of constrained resources to support the membership’s needs, wants, and desires..”

“I would request that members recognize that we are a huge organization of diverse members with diverse needs. As much as we want to please all of them daily, we have to budget and we have to plan…”

[Speaking of outsourcing certification testing] “As of right now, I don’t see that going away or giving it to another organization to run. As President, I don’t see that happening any time soon. But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.”

“I am hoping the members will see that we want each member to have a complete picture of RID.”