Posted on 11 Comments

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.

Posted on Leave a comment

Performance Testing Suspended: What Else Happened at the 2015 RID Conference?

Community Forum 2015

A look back at the 2015 RID National Conference reveals that recent moves by leadership and by membership have made the workings of the organization more inclusive – and more controversial.

Community Forum 2015As the noise of Bourbon Street fades to allow a framing of the developments at the 2015 RID conference held August 8-12th in New Orleans, LA, questions linger regarding the suspension of performance testing. With some time and the visibility sought from the results of the risk assessment expected in November, we hope for greater clarity for the path forward. For more coverage on the credentialing moratorium click here.

The Future Redefined

Though the suspension decision made by the RID leadership is in question, the membership in attendance recharted the future of the organization through a number of historic endorsements. For details on these and other motions during the business meeting, click here.

ASL Adopted as Official Conference Language

American Sign Language (ASL) was formally adopted as the official language of RID regional and national conferences. This is set to begin at the 2016 RID Regional Conferences. Note, ASL interpretation will be provided in workshops and presentations focused on spoken language.

This motion, Motion A, passed with a count of 249 of 368 in favor. Upon the reading of the results there was an audible expression of relief from proponents.

Continuing Education Gets an Injection of Power, Privilege, and Oppression

Continuing Education within the RID Certification Maintenance Program (CMP) will be adjusted to include a 1.0 Power, Privilege, and Oppression CEU requirement. Of the 6.0 required Professional Studies CEUs [RID requires 8.0 total CEUs per development cycle], 1.0 will now be required to be on topics of Power, Privilege and Oppression.

The discussions were lengthy and spirited. The motion required 186 votes in support. It narrowly passed with 188 in favor, 89 opposed and 15 abstentions.

A More Inclusive Approach to Publishing the JOI and RID Views

In light of the recent announcement of the RID Views going strictly digital, the membership in attendance endorsed publication of the JOI and the RID Views in both ASL and English. The dual format approach to publication is set to begin with the first digital copy of the RID Views and the next volume of the JOI.

A call for the vote left a number of waiting members unable to comment. The motion, Motion L, carried with 188 votes in support and 56 in opposition.

Leadership Commitments

Despite an undercurrent of dissatisfaction among many members, the RID leadership affirmed their commitment to the future governance of RID from the stage at the conference and in interviews with StreetLeverage.

Ritchie Bryant

Increasing The Number of Deaf People and People of Color within RID

Ritchie BryantRitchie Bryant, new Deaf Member-at-Large, sits down with Brandon Arthur and shares his perspective on increasing the number of Deaf people and People of Color within RID.

LaVona Andrew

The Importance of Representing the Perspective of the Membership to the RID Board

LaVona AndrewLaVona Andrew sits down with Brandon Arthur and shares her perspective on representing the interest of the membership to the RID Board of Directors.

Lewis Merkin

When Will RID get a New Executive Director?

Lewis Merkin

Lewis Merkin sits down with Brandon Arthur and shares where RID is with hiring a new Executive Director.

Dawn Witcher

Dawn Witcher Reflects on her Term as RID President 

Dawn Witcher

Dawn Witcher sits down with Brandon Arthur and reflects on her term as RID President and shares what she hopes to accomplish over the next 2 years.

Wing Butler

How is RID’s Financial Health?

Wing Butler

Wing Butler sits down with Brandon Arthur and shared insight on the financial health of RID.

A Discourse Framework

The format of the conference offered daily sessions promoting social and political awareness, broader inclusion, and an exploration of the challenges facing the field of sign language interpreting. These provocative, introspective forums served as the platform to elevate the level of discourse at the conference and extend a blueprint to attendees for use in their local communities.

Please find an overview of the dialogue that assisted in framing the discourse during the conference.

Community Forum

This session addressed a range of issues including generational differences, the implications of the Deafhood movement for interpreters, the power of our words and exploring the difference between having access and having to ask for access, our interface with the emerging field of CDI’s and future trends in the Deaf and interpreting communities. For comprehensive microblog coverage, click here.

Social Justice Roundtable

The Social Justice Roundtable encouraged participants to engage in meaningful exchanges around anti-oppression and social justice issues. For comprehensive microblog coverage, click here.

StreetLeverage – X

This fast moving, interactive session was designed to spark reflection, critical thinking and personal accountability among sign language interpreters on issues of possessing an extraction mindset, impacts of power and privilege, dedicating space for Deaf Interpreters, and the importance of industry gatekeepers.  For comprehensive microblog coverage, click here.

The Big Think

The Big ThinkThis session engaged panelists and audience members in a collective analysis of a few of the challenges troubling the field of sign language interpreting and how they might be addressed. For comprehensive microblog coverage, click here.

Session Perspective

The various conference sessions reflected a broad range of perspectives within the field as well as  a diversity of thought and practice that exists among practitioners and educators. In addition to the standard glass of social media served up by the StreetLeverage social ninjas, they also did a deeper dive on a number of conference sessions.

To view these session summaries, click here.

Active Reinvestment

The StreetLeverage endeavor to extend the 2015 RID Conference to the many dedicated interpreters unable to attend would not have been possible without those possessing ample helpings of generosity, reciprocity, and humility.

Special thanks to the following organizations and individuals for their vision to actively reinvest in their communities.



ASL Services

Deaf Access Solutions


Social Ninjas

Jean Miller, Lance Pickett, Amy Williamson, Deborah Perry, Kate O’Regan, Dan Cook, Sean Benson, Liz Hollingsworth, and Amanda Moyer


We are grateful for the vision of Dawn Witcher, Anna Witter-Merithew, and Tina Maggio who endorsed the StreetLeverage endeavor to extend the important dialogue from the 2015 RID Conference to those seeking indicators of change and progress within the field.

In the End

Although the discourse of the conference may be overshadowed by the bombshell announcement of the suspension of performance testing, a level of momentum has been generated by the events at the 2015 RID Conference in New Orleans.

Attendees appeared to leave with a greater sense of purpose, an awareness of the gravity of the work ahead, and a new found courage to engage in the reflection required to redefine the field, organization, and what it means to be a sign language interpreter.