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What Can Groupies Teach Sign Language Interpreters About Social Networking?

Sign Language Interpreters and Social Networking

In a dynamic field it can be hard to keep pace and have deeper engagement in current interpreting issues. In this article, Wing Butler draws parallels between strategies pre- and post- social media and extols the benefits of continued connection to spur change.

Several months ago I watched an edited for TV movie, “Almost Famous”, a story of a young boy on the doorstep of the 70s rock scene, tasked by Rolling Stones magazine to write a gritty behind-the-scenes article of an up and coming fictional band. What ensues is his journey as a “groupie” that captures the essence of the 70’s classic rock movement woven in with a coming of age introduction to the world and the struggle of the young journalist. No doubt history repeats itself, and while our work is a far stretch to musicians in the music industry, I consider many of my sign language interpreter friends “rockstars.”

Before I go on, I have to offer up a confession, I am a StreetLeverage “groupie.” I should also offer up a disclaimer, it was a little over two years ago that Brandon called me with an idea, If you’re reading this as a result of your interest in the site’s content, then it may seem to you a no brainer to pitch in. Although at the time, in the desert of creativity that nothingness was the unknown. I remember late night discussions about content, strategies, and the regular question—were we the only audience of the site.

With my interpreter toolkit slung over my shoulder and a leap of faith in the vision, I got on the StreetLeverage tour bus and provided a couple articles on my favorite business tool—social media—and a year and a half later presented at the first StreetLeverage – Live event. While this article may seem a selfless plug of something I am passionate about, I believe there are lessons to be learned from my backstage access to the StreetLeverage story.

(Thanks to Brandon for graciously honoring the wager that allowed me to publish this article. Never under-estimate the power of thumb-wrestling.)

Dare to Dream

As you may know, the most recent stop for StreetLeverage was in Indianapolis, IN to provide social media coverage of the 2013 RID national conference. The online access to conference sessions via Facebook, Twitter, video interviews and photo sharing was unprecedented in our field, and better, the offsite and virtual discussions amongst sign language interpreters will echo conference topics long after the conference now ended.

Shortly after the event I was talking with an interpreter friend of mine, a rockstar by the way, unable to attend the national conference. She commented that after watching the StreetLeverage coverage from her social-web streams that she was inspired to be present at the next RID conference and to stand and be counted.

I share this because her comment embodies the entire ambition of StreetLeverage when it dared to dream that a community of reflective practitioners amplified by social media could inspire action within the sign language interpreting industry.

To me, understanding the online path StreetLeverage has taken offers a type and shadow for anyone looking to leverage socially oriented communication to coalesce a group of people around a vision.

Be Intentional

What people may not necessarily be aware of is that StreetLeverage began more intentionally exploring the power of social networking beyond blogging with StreetLeverage-Live 2012 | Baltimore, which offered a new format for professional dialogue and professional development within the sign language interpreting field. StreetLeverage – Live introduced a TED-like presentation format with social media coverage on Facebook and Twitter to complement. The event was followed with the posting of the recorded presentations online for free viewing and sharing.

StreetLeverage expanded its exploration of social networking with StreetLeverage – Live 2013 | Atlanta and the 2013 RID national conference in Indiana by creating a content delivery team to better capture and share intelligent, insightful, and germane content with the broader sign language interpreting industry. StreetLeverage will perpetuate further live and digital dialogue on strengthening and building the industry with StreetLeverage – Live 2014 | Austin May 1 – 4 and other projects underway.

Aside from the obvious benefits of immediate access to sharing information and connecting with people on a larger scale, StreetLeverage has intentionally and strategically explored how to use social networking to introduce and connect its vision of change to sign language interpreters.

What I have learned watching all this connecting, amplification, and vision casting is that if people will dare to make a difference and take that challenging first step to share it, others will follow. It is bringing people together to reflect on the field that has made the StreetLeverage story so special.

The positive engagement that StreetLeverage has generated over the last couple of years is proof that using social generosity, connection, and amplification to create a shared vision is applicable to our industry too.

What Has Come into View

Why has StreetLeverage been so successful in bringing people together? To me, it is because there is an understanding four basic principles of social media.

Online Transparency Builds Relationships

The quick one-liner interactions in bits and bytes online may not seem like much, but they can go far in developing trust and engagement. Interacting offers a sense of empathy and understanding, and its only when people feel understood that they will begin to listen to your message.

Strength in Numbers

There are more sign language interpreters “out there” using social media than there are “in here” attending events designed to create change, which should give pause to any organization to prioritize their communication planning. And therein lies one of the greatest benefits, the more an organization communicates “out there” the more likely individuals will join you “in here.”

No Hostages

Crowd sourcing online comments on a particular topic offers a wider cross-section of sign language interpreter disposition, preventing the “one” public comment or the “loudest” to stand as representation of the interpreter masses. Social media provides an outlet to engage those less willing to take the stage or find themselves supporting a more unpopular opinion.


The awareness that anyone anywhere could be tweeting, posting and recording your actions or words increases the level of accountability. While it may sound, “big brother-ish,” it incentivizes industry stakeholders, leaders, and practitioners to say what they mean, mean what they say. And yes, opinions will be formed. With everyone only a mobile app away from broadcasting, our virtual community compels action and professional restraint.

The sign language interpreting profession needs people willing to consider that they are accountable for the future of the field. With all the good that social media can do, it behooves every member of the sign language interpreting profession to sharpen the tools in their social media toolkits and strategically add their perspective.

Where can this knowledge and accountability take you?

The Secret Sauce

Not all individuals and organizations are equipped with the social media structures to pull off fantastic social media campaigns like StreetLeverage did with its coverage of the 2013 RID conference. While there is no “one size fits all” solution, with some strategic thinking you and potentially your organization could be broadcasting with transparency and efficiency. Both individuals and organizations within the field are at a distinct advantage because content grows organically from within, and sign language interpreter niche content isn’t crowded, at least for now.

Assuming that one identifies with the benefits of communicating through social media; greater inclusion, accountability and stronger personal and organizational branding, the question is how? At the risk of giving away the StreetLeverage secret sauce here’s how you and your organization can create an online presence to promote greater communication, thus greater engagement to drive real tangible change.

Create a Platform

Start Small

Create your online presence and focus on communicating within one domain. Once you’ve got it down, expand to another social medium.

Set a schedule

Take a few minutes to consider how much time you can spend focused on social media, sketch out a schedule, and stick to it.

Create a Social Media Statement

Create a statement to help you guide your thinking, both as an individual and as an organization, to proactively think through how you would like to make use of social media. How to respond to social media interactions? How to respond to conflict or negative interactions? What should be posted? Finally, what do we want to accomplish with our social networking?

Content, content, content.

Produce quality content quickly, economically and often.

In a world big on ideas and short on implementation, I hope that you are able to take full advantage of social media communication. How do you know its working? Engagement, measured in the amount of shares, likes, re-tweets and comments are a few of the indicators that gauge effectiveness.

United Strong

Like the bands of the 1970s and as StreetLeverage has demonstrated as of late, our community has always been greater than the sum of our parts. But, it’s the consistent functions of individual components that keep us moving forward.

As Stephanie Feyne so eloquently put it in her recent article, Authenticity: The Impact of a Sign Language Interpreter’s Choices, “This means we interpreters have a great deal of power. And we have a tremendous responsibility. The hearing parties are relying upon our language to help form their impressions of whether the Deaf party is genuine and credible (and vice versa).”

While this speaks specifically to the sign language interpreting process (our language choices), the same could be said about our communication choices online. What kind of impression does your social media activity leave? Are you contributing to the betterment of the field?

<Cue John Lennon’s “Imagine”> Grab your online toolkits and I’ll see you at the next sign language interpreter event.

Do you have any online or social networking tips? Share them with us.

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Can Blogging Protect the Interests of Sign Language Interpreters?



How can sign language interpreters stay informed and engaged with legislation affecting their work? Whitney Hill discusses the power a simple blog post can have in enacting change.

During these times of economic crisis many states are making decisions and cuts that have a real impact on sign language interpreters. It is times like these when it is even more vital to pay attention to the decisions your state is making. Gathering and disseminating information on the activities impacting sign language interpreters in your state is surprisingly simple and powerfully important.

How We do it in Washington State

The Washington State Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (WSRID) has a legislative committee with only two committee members (myself and the talented Emily Deleon). When I took over the position of committee chair in December of 2011, my knowledge of how the legislative process worked consisted mostly of a certain School House Rock song. My technical expertise could be described as “basic” at best. Now, we manage a blog that tracks issues around the state and it has been surprisingly successful and easy to do. What’s our secret to keeping interpreters informed?

 A Blog

Before the legislative committee implemented our legislative blog we had no real efficient way to share information. WSRID had some established channels for sharing information with members and interested parties, such as a quarterly newsletter, website, e-mail blasts, Facebook page, and our annual conference. Dawn Piegdon, the Legislative Committee Chair at the time, found repeated frustration in that these channels didn’t work particularly well for disseminating legislative information in a real-time, concise manner.

The best solution appeared to be to start a blog. We have found blogging to be perfect for the dissemination of legislative information. You can view our blog here to get an idea.

Why Blogging Works

There are a couple of key reasons blogging works:

1)   Reader Friendliness: If you are reading this article now, chances are I don’t have to preach to you about the ease of reading things in a blog format. If you are able to click on a link, you can access a blog. Blogs make it easy to post information real-time on the web. It is also very simple to post visual information like charts, graphs and pictures. I get regular and positive feedback about the visual information posted on our blog.

Another great thing about a blog is that it works as an archive for information. In order to ensure information is quickly accessed, we keep our posts short. If I had to explain everything going on in each post it would be difficult for readers to digest and impossible to maintain. Using a blog format allows visitors to look back at older blog posts to get caught up on the issues. 

2)   Technical Friendliness: With a blog you won’t need an IT professional or web designer on hand, which means the cost of setting up a blog and maintaining it are minimal to none. Once its set up and you have a feel for how the controls work you can post information on developments as they happen.

Ease of maintaining and updating our blog was really important to Dawn.  She happened to choose for the WSRID blog, but there are a few free blog sites out there that anyone with a computer can figure out. I find easy to navigate and I would recommend it to anyone thinking of starting a blog.

A Couple of Considerations

As I said before, the blog serves two of the most essential functions of the legislative committee, organizing and disseminating information. If you would like to start a blog here are some things you should consider.

1)   Decide on a Site. Play around with a few different blog sites and see which one is easiest for you to navigate. Most blogs will walk first time users through the basic set-up options. You might want to only use your blog to report on issues in your state, or you may want the blog to act more like a website that houses a collection of different resources for interpreters. Our blog happens to do both and it works well for us.

2)   Decide Your Approach. You have to decide how you want to leverage use of a blog for your legislative committee or watchdog organization. There are two different extremes to the approach your committee or group can take, each one has it’s own pros and cons, we happen to use a mixture of both.

a)   Be Neutral. You can be neutral and just report on the facts, this is the approach watchdog groups such as Amnesty International take, even though all the articles on our blog are written with a bias toward supporting interpreter, I find taking a neutral approach is just easier for writing.

b)   Support a Position. You can also take the activist approach. Activism is how a larger scale group such as Green Peace functions. As the WSRID legislative committee, we do get involved in activism activities at times such as lobbying.

 How We Collect Information

There are a plethora of avenues in which your state impacts the profession. If you are starting from scratch in developing contacts or gathering information I would suggest you consider what follows:

1)   Start by first looking at what legislation your state has already passed related to sign language interpreting. Then find out who the representatives are that sponsored those particular bills and contact them by phone or email and try to have them point you to other resources. Also, when talking with these individuals express interest in working with them on bills in the future.

Note, many states at least have bills related to educational interpreter standards and/or interpreter licensure.

2)   Find out who else is out there with similar interests.  Disability activist in your state are usually larger groups with established relationships with state representatives. Of course, if your local chapter of the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) has a legislative or watchdog committee, reach out to them.

3)   State Contracts. Understand how your state works with interpreters. Here in Washington State we spend a lot of time watching state entities such as the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). They are one of the largest consumers of sign language interpreter services in the state; hence they have a very large contract with sign language interpreters. Often times, that contract is used as basis for the development of other contracts involving sign language interpreters so it is important to watch for changes to these agreements.

4)   Ask for information! Also, this may sound overly obvious, but something that continues to surprise me, is that the state will largely tell you want to know if you just ask. In Washington, we have a public disclosure request law (Chapter 42.56 RCW, The Public Records Act) to enable us to gather information on contracts the state holds with sign language interpreters. Freedom of information legislation entitles you to any data the state holds that does not harm others. These laws are often referred to as open legislation, or sunshine laws.

5)   The Legislature. Don’t be intimidated to talk to your representatives! A good starting place is your own representatives. Figuring out who your representatives are and how to contact them is quick and easy to do with help of the Internet. They make it easy because they want to hear from you.

6)   Collaborate. Here in Washington, we work with groups that seek to protect the interests of people with disabilities to meet our representatives. Also, we try to go to legislative Meet-and-Greets to spread awareness to our representatives about current issues or general awareness of what sign language interpreters do.

The connections you form with your representatives are invaluable. They will remember you later when they are faced with making decisions about the issues that affect our field.

7)   Watch Bills and Budgets. There is no way that one person could pour over every bill and budget looking for potential impacts on sign language interpreters, and I would never have the time or the patience to do that myself. What I have done is develop contacts with the people who are paid to do that, for example state agencies or Deaf centers usually have many eyes on funding and legislative changes. Chances are that if something has come up in a bill or a budget involving sign language interpreters, they can point me in the direction of where to find it.

I also highly recommend developing contacts with organized spoken language interpreter groups. We try to get on email subscriptions lists and list serves to stay current on their information. Also, we try to show up at their meetings to stay abreast of the issues they face around the state.

The reason why it is important to connect with the people who write legislation is that they do not understand the difference between sign language and spoken language interpreters, and often times overlook the distinction when writing a bill or policy. The results can have unintended consequences on us as sign language interpreters. We have also found, here in Washington, in an attempt to save costs entities are trying to combine both sign/spoken language interpreters into shared contracts. Because of the recent unionization of spoken language interpreters in our state, this makes those contracting issues even more complex.

How We Disseminate Information

Now that you have gathered information how do you get people to read it? Our current process has been mostly to rely on WSRID’s already established channels of communication with members and affiliates, but we are always trying to find new ways to get the blog out there.

The WSRID board has been very supportive in using their established forms of communication such as e-mail blasts, the newsletter, their website, and their Facebook page to alert interested parties to updates on the blog. Word of mouth and personal connections are old fashioned techniques but still the most effective way to get interpreters interested in the information we have gathered.

Other Ideas to Consider

Some other ideas that I have been thinking about, but have not yet implemented are:

1)   Working together with local Deaf organizations to share information impacting sign language interpreters with their members. Involving our Deaf allies is always a priority because issues that impact sign language interpreters never really only impact sign language interpreters.

2)   Using a vlog as a supplement to the current blog with a native ASL user is something we would also love to implement. The current technology allows us to add this feature quite easily, finding volunteers for the task has proven to be the bigger challenge.

3)   Lobbying together with local Deaf organizations is another great avenue for collaboration. Unfortunately, we have not yet had the opportunity to do this, but hopefully that will arise in the near future.

4)   Twitter is another social media outlet I have toyed with the idea of using. I use it myself but do not see enough of my peers using it to consider it a viable option to increase visibility for the blog yet.

5)   Using town halls or open forums: this is another old-fashioned technique that works really well when you can pull off all of the logistics. WSRID  organized a town hall recently to address a divisive issue related to our contract with Medicaid that came up.  It was very successful.

You Can Do It!

I hope the idea of starting your own blog to keep sign language interpreters informed sounds a little less frightening to you now. There are no prerequisites for the job except for an interest in the issues impacting our field, a computer, and an Internet connection. Good luck to you all out there. We all are the stewards of our profession and are the ones responsible for eliciting positive change from the people we elect to represent us.

What is being done in your state to share information?