Posted on

What Did 2016 Teach Sign Language Interpreters About Success in 2017?

What 2016 Taught Sign Language Interpreters about Success in 2017

It is tempting to write 2016 off and move immediately into the new year, but that would mean overlooking some of the profound and fundamental lessons shared by StreetLeverage contributors last year.

While public speaking is one of the most fearful things humans can do, expressing one’s thoughts and perspectives via social media in two languages is probably a close second. Still, StreetLeverage contributors continue to inspire and amaze, bringing new insights and conversations to the table on a regular basis.  If we were to measure the year in the depth and breadth of perspectives shared, 2016 would definitely be setting us up for success in 2017. So, before we bid 2016 adieu, we wanted to highlight a few examples of the generosity and courageousness shown by sign language interpreters and industry stakeholders in the last 12 months.

For Auld Lang Syne

Before we dive into our retrospective, we’d like to express our deepest gratitude to everyone who contributed, in large and small ways, to the StreetLeverage endeavor. Without the writers, readers, volunteers, thought-leaders, videographers, editors, and friends who volunteer their time and efforts to support us, StreetLeverage could not begin to amplify the voice of sign language interpreters or attempt to change the way we understand, practice, and tell the story of the sign language interpreter. For all your work, we say: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

2016’s Nine Building Blocks for Success

1.  Bring Social Consciousness to the Fore

Joseph Hill

As practitioners in the field of communication access, social consciousness is a critical aspect of the work of all signed language interpreters. Joseph Hill’s presentation, Sign Language Interpreters: Practicing with a Socially Conscious Approachat StreetLeverage – Live 2015 provides an avenue for us to start looking at identity and interpreting through a social justice lens. As we continue to delve into the skewed relationship between interpreter demographics and consumer realities, we look to thought leaders to help us find greater understanding and paths to improvement.

2.  Reach Out to Deaf Interpreters

Where’s the Welcome Mat? Opening the Door to Deaf Interpreters

Another evolution in the field of interpreting that continued to manifest itself in 2016 was the reintroduction and strengthening of the presence of Deaf Interpreters in the field. While this evolution is happening, progress is slow and sometimes arduous as Jeremy Rogers explains in his article, Where’s the Welcome Mat? Opening the Door to Deaf Interpreters.

3.  Look at Insider Discourse Under a Microscope

Sign Language Interpreter Framing Their Work

Semantics matter. As sign language interpreters, language is our currency. Despite this fact, we don’t always consider the impact language has on perspectives when it comes to the words we use to describe our work. Kelly Decker’s article, What Are We Really Saying? Perceptions of Sign Language Interpreting, showcases some current examples of language we use in our insider discourse that may impact perceptions about the work we do and those with whom we work. With lively conversation, this article lit up our comments board, and we hope it continues to do so.

4.  Inject Humor and Humility into Our Practice

Sharon Neumann Solow

As one of the field’s most beloved teachers and mentors, Sharon Neumann Solow inserts equal parts humor, humility, and straight-forward talk into the conversation in her StreetLeverage – Live 2015 presentation, Genuine Confidence: Why Can’t It Be All About Me?. By sharing personal stories, Sharon’s presentation provides context for looking at confidence versus spotlight-stealing and illustrates why the differences matter.

5.  Support Ethics with Pre-Assignment Considerations

Accept or Decline? Questions Sign Language Interpreters Should Ponder

Job readiness is a topic that comes up in most conversations about sign language interpreting at some point, whether one-on-one or at a conference. Michael Ballard provides a consumer’s perspective on the kind of preparation sign language interpreters could do to help determine their level of preparedness for an assignment in his article, Accept or Decline? Questions Sign Language Interpreters Should Ponder.

6.  Join the Civility Revolution

A Civility Revolution: A Call to Arms for Sign Language Interpreters

With bullying and trolling in the news constantly, it was refreshing to have a conversation about civil discourse. Providing tools and suggestions for action, Diana MacDougall invited sign language interpreters to join a kinder, gentler conversation and revolution in her article, A Civility Revolution: A Call to Arms for Sign Language Interpreters.

7.  Explore the Realities of the Modern World

Keeping Sign Language Interpreters Safe in a Violent World

In a year where violence of all kinds dominated headlines and conversations around the country and the world, Stephen Holter’s article, Keeping Sign Language Interpreters Safe in a Violent World, struck a chord with readers who also shared some of their own experiences and strategies for staying safe. While we hope no interpreter ever needs to utilize these tips and tools, it’s an important conversation to engage in.

8.  Uncover the Intangible

Wing Butler

In his deeply personal and profound StreetLeverage – Live 2015 presentation, Status Transaction: The “It” Factor in Sign Language Interpreting, Wing Butler shared his thoughts on the “It Factor” for sign language interpreters. In his exploration of the intangible qualities that raise community esteem for one sign language interpreter over another, Wing also gives us a formula for success. Skills are important, but there are other factors that create the elusive “It” interpreter.

9.  Examine Personal Cultural Competence

IGNITE Workbook

Our final selection is a compilation of exemplary work from some of the brilliant minds in our field. Our 2016 workbook, Ignite, is a collection of posts designed to lead sign language interpreters and sign language interpreting students through a process of self-discovery regarding cultural competence. This free-to-download offering is an opportunity to look at a specific topic through a variety of lenses in order to gain a more well-rounded perspective. We hope this inaugural edition will be the first of many such workbooks.

Please Continue to Join Us in 2017 and Beyond

We hope this look back on 2016 will provide you with some valuable takeaways that can be foundations for a successful year ahead. Again, thank you for your support, sharing, comments, viewings, and readership. We hope you will continue to join us here on the blog and register to come meet us in St. Paul, MN for StreetLeverage – Live. Please join us in raising our glasses in a toast to a bright new year. Welcome to 2017!

Posted on

Building Trust: Accepting the Mantle of Sign Language Interpreter

Building Trust - Accepting the Mantle of Sign Language Interpreter

Trustworthiness is a trait all sign language interpreters must embody. Wing Butler posits that it is our duty to display our commitment and trustworthiness at all times, on-the-job and off.

Trust is a huge part of the sign language interpreting profession. As ASL interpreters, we are representatives of our clients, our profession, and at times the entire Deaf community. At the end of the day, our job is a commitment to honor those we represent and the mantle they’ve entrusted to us.

[View post in ASL.]

The Epitome of Honor

That much responsibility can feel daunting, but sign language interpreting isn’t the only occupation with such a high level of trust. One of my favorite examples of taking on a mantle for a job—and one that comes with high expectations of conduct—is the elite Tomb Guard of Arlington Cemetery.

These sentinels guard the famous Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. According to their official website, those who train for this rigorous assignment must meet the highest standards, “including following strict rules, training guidelines, and the need for complete dedication and commitment to the Tomb.” The Tomb Guard have been watching this tomb 24 hours a day, 7 days a week since 1937! No matter what the weather is like, there is always a Tomb Guard present.

After 9 months of service at the tomb, these soldiers receive the Tomb Guard Identification Badge (TGIB). This award is symbolic of their dedication to the tomb, a dedication they are expected to honor for the rest of their days. Even when the guards become civilians, the TGIB can be revoked for committing a serious offense that discredits the Tomb of the Unknowns.

In many ways, I feel that sign language interpreters should honor our position just like the Tomb Guard. Ours is a job that can be called on at any time, in any condition. Beyond that, sign language interpreters protect the communities we serve. We’re defenders, helping people navigate tricky situations that could end disastrously if we aren’t doing our job right. And often, no one will ever know if we’re doing our jobs correctly or not. This high level of trust is precisely why our actions and words matter, even when we’re off the clock. Recently I’ve noticed that many in our community are not living up to our professional standards the way we should.

An Awkward Situation

Just this year, I was in a group of interpreters at a regional event, waiting for our next assignment. I was an interpreter from out of state, and the downtime gave me a chance to meet the local interpreter professionals. As many conversations do, it turned into a discussion about our profession: ethics, organizational decisions, and the injustices some find in our craft. Then the discussion turned to the ever-common topic of the national professional organization’s financial decisions—and how much my peers disagreed with them, to the point of emotional vitriol.

As the criticism became harsher and harsher, I found myself slipping to the back of the group. These interpreters had no idea I had left the treasurer position just a couple of months prior. I tried to diffuse the situation by asking if anyone in the group had watched the treasurer’s latest report. The video addressed many of the issues they were complaining about. But they didn’t follow my lead. Instead, the blaming and ill-will finding marched on until I finally told them the truth: that I had recently left the treasurer position. All the interpreters stared at me in shock—and quickly moved the entire conversation to a more supportive, civil place.

Consider The Shadows We Cast

Loud complaining always has the potential to embarrass the complainer, but that isn’t why I’m sharing this story. I’m more concerned about the deeper consequences of being publicly hostile toward viewpoints we disagree with. And how simple venting and unproductive negativity is harming our professionalism as interpreters. Whether we like it or not, our behavior directly impacts our integrity and our trustworthiness as representatives and guests of the Deaf community. We must pay special attention to our actions at all times so we can be worthy of greater trust through greater professionalism.

The Path to Greater Professionalism

How do we become more trustworthy? Our Code of Professional Conduct is a great place to start, but here are some other suggestions to help us stay professional as sign language interpreters.

1.  Show Respect through Restraint

No matter how you shake it, our public behavior off the clock—whether that’s in person or over social media—has consequences for our reputations as interpreters. This is exactly why we need to honor our profession through thoughtful consideration of our actions.

Too many of us are taking our role lightly by posting anything and everything online. Even when we’re expressing disagreement or sharing ideas, the key to showing professional restraint is keeping our expression civil even when it’s tempting not to. In the spirit of keeping things civil, there are certainly opinions that shouldn’t be expressed in public at all. To know which ones, try out the elevator test outlined in my StreetLeverage article “Does Social Networking Impair Sign Language Interpreter Ethics?”

2.  Watch Out for Intergroup Bias

Humans naturally identify with other humans that are like them, whether it’s a sports team, a family, hearing people, deaf people, or people who share a common profession—like sign language interpreting. We all naturally favor the “us” that’s like you and disfavor the “them” that’s unlike you. Psychologists call this concept intergroup bias. According to Professor Mina Cikara, research suggests that an “us versus them” mentality is one of the key factors that drives groups to collective violence. This violence can be as small as hostile discussion or as widespread as genocide.

Intergroup bias is running rampant in our society, but I would suggest that our interpreting community has much more to lose by engaging in intergroup bias. As we’re striving to be trustworthy in our profession, we must all make a concerted effort to stop vilifying others around us. Let’s stop looking for a “them” to blame for our problems and start listening as we try to understand perspectives different from our own.

3.  Share Opinions in a Spirit of Empathy

This one is always a good idea. Are we expressing opinions to share of ourselves and build up the world around us? Are we open to thoughtful, understanding discussions? Even with people who disagree with our beliefs?

In my StreetLeverage Live presentation “Status Transactions: The ‘It’ Factor in Sign Language Interpreting,” I talked all about the power of humility in an interpreter. It is truly an act of humility to slow down, listen to others, and consider both sides. It takes time and it certainly requires effort, but giving other people the benefit of the doubt can improve both our professional and personal lives. Empathetic listening and seeking the truth is the fastest way to come up with creative solutions to our problems. Which brings me to my final point . . .

4.  Focus on Positive Action

Going back to my experience with my fellow interpreters, that entire situation could have gone very differently. All of us could have participated in a thoughtful, civil discussion about our organization’s finances. Maybe we could have watched their annual report together for context. If everyone still felt unsatisfied with the status quo, we could have drafted a letter to the Board proposing a solution in a respectful yet assertive fashion. This whole experience could have turned into positive action to make our sign language interpreter community better.

In a world that’s already filled with harsh critique, we’re going to make a much bigger difference by turning our opinions into meaningful actions. After all, having opinions isn’t nearly as important as how you live by them; that is what makes you a trustworthy interpreter.

Greater Trust is One Decision Away

To me, being worthy of trust boils down to one simple choice: committing to a higher standard of professionalism. If we all strive for a spirit of civility and positive restraint, we’ll already be changing ourselves and interpreting for the better. That is how all of us will truly become guardians of our profession and those we serve.

Questions to Consider:

  1. Think of the most trusted interpreter in your community. What traits do they display which set them apart from other sign language interpreters? Do you share these traits? If not, how can you develop them?
  2. In what ways are you actively seeking to decrease intergroup bias in your professional circles? What is one step you can take to dismantle an “us versus them” paradigm?
  3. Would you be willing to invite an interpreting colleague to join you in committing to a higher professional standard? What would that accountability relationship look like for you?

 

Posted on

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, StreetLeverage.com. 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.

Accountability

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.

Posted on

A Salute to Big Thinking Sign Language Interpreters

StreetLeverage-Live - Thought Leadership Event

StreetLeverage-Live - Thought Leadership EventWhat do projectile vomiting, cancelled and delayed flights, and an unrelenting Nor’easter have in common? StreetLeverage—Live. As anyone who has organized a live event will tell you, there are always unforeseen challenges that arise and StreetLeverage—Live had its fair share. Despite these challenges, the event was a success.

Talent Salute

I salute Nigel Howard, Trudy Suggs, Lynette Taylor, and Wing Butler, the inaugural speakers of StreetLeverage—Live, for their commitment to the field and its next evolution, the courage to openly share their big ideas, and the considerable effort made to effectively pack these ideas into a concise 20-ish minute talk. No small task to be sure. These independent thinkers are people who require more of themselves, those around them, and of the status quo.

Nigel, Trudy, Lynnette and Wing, you guys killed it! Nicely done.

A Recap

Nigel HowardNigel Howard

Nigel presented, Deaf Interpreters: The State of Inclusion. His talk explored some of the perceptions that challenge better integration of deaf interpreters into the field and into daily practice. Most notably, the perception that ASL-English interpreters have that requesting to work with a deaf interpreter is an indication of an inferior skill-set.

Additionally, he highlighted that the definitions ASL-English and deaf interpreters hold of each other, correct or not, is the basis of their effectiveness working together and that both have equal responsibility for the processing of information and outcome of the communication.

Finally, Nigel offered that there is a need to broaden the view of how and why deaf interpreters are used in order to improve their inclusion and contribution to the field.

Trudy SuggsTrudy Suggs

Trudy presented, Deaf Disempowerment and Today’s Interpreter. Her talk examined how the choices sign language interpreters make while delivering communication access can, and often do, contribute to the economic and situational disempowerment of deaf people.

Trudy offered that interpreters can avoid stripping power from those they work with, and the broader Deaf community, by remembering who are the owners of the communication. Further, that it is essential to defer to these owners and Deaf community representatives rather than speak on their behalf. Additionally, that true empowerment begins when a consciousness is achieved that results in the referring of opportunity to back to the Deaf community.

Finally, she offered that anything less than full and mutual respect, regardless of the situation and/or opportunity at stake, is a failure to support true empowerment.

Lynnette TaylorLynnette Taylor

Lynette presented, Modern Questor: Connecting the Past to the Future of the Field. Her talk explored, how the dwindling numbers of deaf-centric service agencies and shared gathering places for the Deaf community and sign language interpreters is impacting the sign language interpreting field.

Lynnette offered that the elimination of these agencies and places of gathering is resulting in the disappearance of the stories and storytellers that serve to connect the two communities—and practitioners to each other—through a common understanding of the struggles and sacrifices known, victories achieved, and destination aimed for.

Finally, she suggested that without this common bond and shared understanding of history, sign language interpreters are left adrift—powerless against the definitions imposed upon them and their work. 

Wing ButlerWing Butler

Wing presented, Onsite Sign Language Interpreters Face Extinction. His talk examined the legislation and technology developments of the 90’s that defined the values of the “Onsite Era” and how these values are now being replaced by the values of a “Virtual Presence Era.”

He offered that some of the key values of the Onsite Era that are being replaced are, a relational approach to the work, interpreters are service professionals, quality means certified, specialty skill-sets and individual representation are valuable, and success is achieved through reciprocity.

Wing suggested that the iterative realignment of these values leaves sign language interpreters vulnerable to a number of dangerous pitfalls. Pitfalls that can be avoided by working to protect the value of certification, collaborating with industry partners, preparing the leaders of the future, and leveraging technology to create a learning culture within the field.

A Giant Thank You 

Access Interpreting

I would like to thank Access Interpreting for being the Thought Leadership Sponsor of the PCRID conference. Their leadership and support was directly responsible for making the inaugural StreetLeverage–Live event possible.Lyle Vold, Brad Leon, and Ryan Leon

 

Lyle, Brad, and Ryan, thanks for your vision and generosity in giving back to the field. asdfasdf

 

PCRID

I would like to offer my thanks to the PCRID conference co-chairs, Josh Hughes and Jennifer Bell and the PCRID Board for their support of StreetLeverage and live thought leadership at the conference. You all did a great job.

Participants

Thanks to the many people who actively participated in the event. It was your engagement and shared insight that multiplied, exponentially, the value of the speakers sharing their ideas and perspectives.

The Takeaway 

What quickly became obvious during the event is that there is an interest in openly discussing the developments and forces at play within the field in a live, real-time environment.

Let us collectively consider how we can personally work to include our deaf interpreter counterparts, avoid disempowering those we serve, find ways to share our collective stories, and avoid the pitfalls before us as our field continues to evolve.

Be on the lookout, as videos for each of the talks will be individually released on StreetLeverage.com in future.

Have a question for Nigel, Trudy, Lynnette, and/or Wing? Ask away!

Posted on

Interprenomics: A Decoder Ring for Sign Language Interpreters

Do interpreters understand the business side of service provision as well as they should? Wing Butler gives a step by step for sign language interpreters to reevaluate and reposition themselves in a competitive market.

At some point every sign language interpreter is faced with the task of valuing and selling their art. As a craftsperson, the value of a sign language interpreter’s work is not found in the dollars and cents of a transaction, but in the impact their work has on the person receiving it.

Faced with the challenging task of valuing their art when compared to their peers, it is easy to see why sign language interpreters often possess business related skills that are underdeveloped or worse, non-existent.

To successfully decode the conflict–real or perceived–of balancing the art and the business sides of sign language interpreting industry, interpreters need to be familiar with the concepts and exercises that offer context and insight into the value of their work.

Enter, interprenomics.

Big Bang Theory – The Interpreting Economy

In order to understand interprenomics, it is important to consider the zone of primary events that are responsible for the foundations of the sign language interpreting economy—the formation of the sign language interpreting industry.

  • Founding of Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID): The beginning of professional standards, practices, and certification for sign language interpreters.
  • Enacting of Federal Laws: The Education of the Deaf Act (1986), The Rehabilitation Act (1973), Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (Reauthorization 1997), Americans with Disabilities Act (1990). These laws embedded the role of the sign language interpreter in mainstream America.
  • Reimbursement of Video Relay Services: In 2002 the U.S. FCC begins the reimbursement of interstate VRS providers via the interstate TRS fund.

Without the resulting reaction and expansion of these events coming together, the economic disposition of the sign language interpreter would be less of an explosion of opportunity and more of a slow creep toward legitimacy.

Interprenomics

There is power in using timely and relevant information to act. Interprenomics is the examination of the availability, compensation and purchasing of sign language interpreting services.  Like decoding sudoku, understanding interprenomics assists sign language interpreters in decoding the challenges of placing value on their art and making sound business decisions.

Components of Interprenomics:

  • Availability: the number of sign language interpreters, the availability of the various types of credentialed interpreters, how and why certain interpreters are selected for the work.
  • Compensation: how the income and the opportunity (short and long-term) to earn it is distributed among sign language interpreters and/or the agencies that hire them.
  • Purchasing: the transaction between individuals and/or organizations to buy sign language interpreting services.

             * More detail on the components/application of interprenomics can be found below.

Simply, interprenomics is the examination of the buying and selling of sign language interpreting services.

Availability

The Big Bang that created the sign language interpreting economy has traditionally afforded interpreters the advantage in the supply vs. demand equation–known as availability.

Availability, as defined in interprenomics, is the single greatest factor impacting economic opportunities for sign language interpreters. To understand availability positions an interpreter to be more successful in representing themselves and their rate of pay within their local interpreting economy.  There are four inescapable drivers of availability and only one can be true at any given moment:

1.  If demand increases and interpreter supply remains unchanged, it leads to higher interpreter wages and more opportunity.

2.  If demand decreases and interpreter supply remains unchanged, it leads to lower interpreter wages and less opportunity.

3.  If interpreter supply increases and demand remains unchanged, it leads to lower interpreter wages and less opportunity.

4.  If interpreter supply decreases and demand remains unchanged, it leads to higher interpreter wages and more opportunity.

As mentioned, in large part sign language interpreters have experienced Availability driver #1.  This scarcity of supply driven by legislation has ensured interpreters a rich wage and abounding opportunity. Consequently, sign language interpreters have, until recently, enjoyed an above the average median wage.

Compensation

Compensations is the flow of greenbacks that support the local sign language interpreting economy. For the purpose of interprenomics, compensation is the total revenues (i.e. monies) generated in a local interpreting economy and its distribution among sign language interpreters and the agencies that hire them.

Understanding how this compensation is divvied up between these local interpreting economy stakeholders can do four things for a sign language interpreter:

  • Determine if the amount of work accessed by an interpreter is appropriate given the total amount of work being performed in a local area.
  • asdf
  • Determine where work is most readily available and who is receiving it.
  • Identify which opportunities are most financially beneficial given the time investment.
  • Gain insight into the appropriateness of a rate being paid or charged by an interpreter.

There is power in the context provided by understanding the compensation dynamics of a local interpreting economy. Particularly, if what Brandon Arthur stated in his article, Will Sign Language Interpreters Remain Silent of VRS Reform, regarding falling compensation, under valued credentials, and supply exceeding demand holds true.

To apply interprenomics to your work be sure to read the Use Interprenomics section below.

Purchasing

The temperature gauge of any local interpreting economy is Purchasing. The act of customers buying validates the true value of an interpreter’s availability and the compensation that is distributed as a result.  Measuring the trends associated with purchasing provides an interpreter with a general indication of the health of their local interpreting economy.

Purchasing trends give sign language interpreters insight into:

  • The competitiveness of the service offering made by individual interpreters and agencies.
  • The frequency, volume, and costs at which services are bought and sold.
  • What customers find compelling about the service delivery experience.

The value of this type of information to the local sign language interpreter is that it assists them in aligning their service offerings with the core values of their paying customer.

Using Interprenomics

The power of interprenomics is contained in its application. While some sign language interpreters remain content with a “wait and see” approach, others are compelled to seek opportunities to act and in so doing improve their position in their local sign language interpreting economy.

For those sign language interpreters seeking to improve their position, the following two-step process will assist them in leveraging interprenomics to more effectively navigate their local interpreting economy to better ends.

Step One: Gather Information to Create Context

In order for sign language interpreters to align themselves more effectively with their customer’s core values, they must first gain an understanding of their current position in their local marketplace. In order to do this, one must gather sufficient and detailed information to answer the following questions:

In relation to Availability:

  • How many interpreters and agencies am I competing with?
  • How many hours per week am I working?
  • How many hours on average are interpreters in the area working per week?
  • What is the total number of hours worked throughout the local area?
  • What is the range and average rate of pay for interpreters and agencies in the area?

In relation to Compensation:

  • How much money is spent annually on sign language interpreting in your local area?
  • What credentials and skillsets do interpreters/agencies have who get the most of the work?
  • Calculate Compensation using the following formula below:

Total Number of Interpreters x Hours of Interpreter Availability = Local Economy Compensation

Example: 30 interpreters x  32 hrs/wk = 960 hrs/week

In relation to Purchasing:

  • What are the core values of my customers?
  • Do I embody the core values of my customer and meet their skillset expectations?
  • What do customers and interpreting agencies want in a sign language interpreters?
  • Is what I offer competitive? Is my rate of pay competitive?
  • Do I have as much works as my fellow colleagues?

While challenging, the genuine examination of the information gathered will assist a sign language interpreter to use interprenomics and reposition themselves within their local interpreting economy.

Step Two: The Evaluation & Repositioning Process

An examination of the information gathered will identify a baseline of competitive points among local interpreters. This baseline will provide an interpreter with the ability to evaluate their competitive position on the various aspects of their service offering.

If a sign language interpreter determines their service offering is not competitive, it becomes necessary to begin the repositioning process.  In addition to challenging the assumptions on the various points of competition, sign language interpreters also have to confront the assumptions on their skillset, personal brand, rates and practices, and the current value of certification.

This confrontation is essential in order to enhance their competitive edge.

Additional areas worthy of challenging assumption:

  • Hourly rate competitiveness
  • Level of professionalism
  • Likability and soft-skills
  • Strength of reputation
  • Impact on team dynamics
  • Level of flexibility
  • Supporting industry standard practices

The process of evaluating and repositioning is difficult work. It requires a sign language interpreter to step outside their comfort zone, challenge their personal perceptions, and confront the need to change. With that said, it is the most impactful work that an interpreter can do to position themselves for success long-term.

How Are You Positioned?

In most cases, the career path tread by sign language interpreters begins with a journey of discovery, and unfortunately the school of hard knocks when it comes to positioning themselves successfully within the local sign language interpreting economy. For some interpreters a quick study on foundational interprenomics could have helped them to avoid career bankruptcy and provide a basis for successful integration into their local interpreting community.

What changes in your local market have you concerned?
asdf
Posted on

Does Social Networking Impair Sign Language Interpreter Ethics?

Does Social Networking Impair Sign Language Interpreter Ethics?

Social media and online behavior is a fact of life in the 21st Century. Wing Butler provides insight on the topic and challenges sign language interpreters to participate in the evolution of the RID Code of Professional Conduct.

The distance between our physical world and the virtual world of social media often invites behavior one would never project in real life. This virtual world introduces a whole new context of social norms and acceptable personal expression. Unfortunately, it appears in many cases that sign language interpreters appear to lack an awareness of the impact of social networking expression on their careers. What’s more, when you combine this lack of awareness with the view that the right to self-expression precedes all obligations, the result is an ethical distortion that undermines the sanctity of the relationship interpreters have with the D/deaf community.

The Ethical Distortion of Social Media

A large part of a sign language interpreter’s skillset is a keen situational awareness that is guided by ethical standards intended to protect consumers, the integrity of the profession, and allow the interpreting process to flow unobstructed.

This professional skillset blends with our personal image and influences how we conduct ourselves publically, even off the clock. Because we identify so strongly with the tangibility of our physical space, what we call “real life,” the consequences of our behavior and personal expression are easy to identify. As a result, we are more easily able to avoid potential conflict.

Unfortunately, the cognitive distance between our physical world and the virtual world combined with this lack of awareness of the impact of social networking expression creates an illusion that impairs a sign language interpreter’s situational awareness. This impairment leads to a distorted view and understanding of what is ethically acceptable online. Sadly, the result is a large number of interpreters who are unaware that some of their social networking activity is a breach of their professional ethics.

The 4 Symptoms of Distortion

Because online communication mirrors our real world experience, identifying the 4 primary symptoms of a social networking induced distortion offers clarity on potential ethical missteps.

The following content is being used to exemplify the symptoms of ethical distortion and to elicit our reaction to them within the framework of our ethical obligations as sign language interpreters.

Symptom 1: The interpreter prioritizes the right of online self-expression above ethical responsibilities.

 Distortion Symptom 1

Symptom 2: The interpreter believes their social media page is an intimate private space.

 Distortion Symptom 2

Symptom 3: The interpreter assumes that only close friends, familiar with their personal circumstances, view them online. Notwithstanding the regular practice of “Googling” someone to obtain a character reference.

 Distortion Symptom 3Symptom 4: The Interpreter views digital content as temporary. They fail to understand that digital content, particularly images, will remain forever.

Jizzed my PantsWhen interpreters telegraph opposing political opinions, an emotional disposition, or intimate windows into their personal life, it may lead to reasons for incompatibility with the consumer, and thus the assignment.  You may have noticed in the comment section of Brandon Arthur’s post, How do Sign Language Interpreters Increase Opportunity in a Weak Economy?, Lucky expresses concern about the social networking activities of sign language interpreters.

This illusion induced ethical impairment is, and will be, responsible for an increasing amount of professional suicides among members of the sign language interpreting profession.

How Do We Intervene?

The premise of the Code of Professional Conduct (CPC) by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) was crafted to offer professional interpreters a behavioral compass of sorts. Clearly, the authors of this compass weren’t considering the impacts of social media when it was drafted. Having said that, in my view, any attempt to use the CPC as currently written to gauge the ethical boundaries of the intersection of social networking expression and sign language interpreter ethics will likely leave you scratching your head.

To answer the invite inconspicuously stated in the CPC, “This Code of Professional Conduct is a working document that is expected to change over time … [RID] members are encouraged to recommend changes for future updates.” Perhaps, we should consider adding an 8th tenet to the CPC to specifically address the ethical behavior displayed by sign language interpreters as a result of the proliferation of social media.

While this proposed addition to the CPC is not perfect, your feed is welcome and encouraged Note, the proposed tenet below is modeled after the American Medical Association’s Policy on social media.

Tenet 8:  Interpreters Conduct Themselves Professionally Online

The Internet has created the ability for sign language interpreters and the sign language community to communicate and share information quickly and with millions of people easily. Participating in social networking and other similar Internet opportunities can support interpreter’s personal expression, enable individual interpreters to have a professional presence online, foster collegiality and camaraderie within the profession, provide opportunity to widely disseminate industry related information and community-centric messages and other valuable communication. Social networks, blogs, and other forms of communication online also pose new challenges to the relationship between interpreters and their consumers. Interpreters should weigh a number of considerations when maintaining a presence online:

8.1 Interpreters should be cognizant of the standards of consumer privacy and confidentiality that must be maintained in all environments, including online, and must refrain from posting identifiable assignment information online.

8.2 When using the Internet for social networking, interpreters should use privacy settings to safeguard personal information and content to the extent possible, but should realize that privacy settings are not absolute and that once on the Internet, content is likely there permanently. Thus, interpreters should routinely monitor their own Internet presence to ensure that their personal and professional information on their own sites and, to the extent possible, content posted about them by others, is accurate and appropriate.

8.3 If they interact with the D/deaf community on the Internet, interpreters must appropriately maintain the boundaries of the interpreter-consumer relationship in accordance with ethical guidelines within the CPC, just as they would in any other context.

8.4 To maintain appropriate professional boundaries interpreters should consider separating personal and professional content online.

8.5 When interpreters see content posted by colleagues that appear unprofessional they have a responsibility to bring that content to the attention of the individual, so that he or she can remove it and/or take other appropriate action. If the behavior significantly violates professional norms and ethical standards and the individual does not take appropriate action to resolve the situation, the interpreter should refer to the EPS (Ethical Practices System) to file a complaint.

8.6 Interpreters must recognize that actions and content posted online may negatively affect their reputations among consumers and colleagues, may have negative consequences for their interpreting careers, and can undermine the public trust in the sign language interpreting profession.

8.7 Interpreters must recognize that the sign language community is a highly compact demography with significant bias to overcome. Therefore greater responsibility and sensitivity on the interpreter’s impact to community culture and consumers is necessary.

Again, feel free to share feedback on Tenet 8 above.

Pause Before You Post

As we wait on the time needed to see industry practices evolve to address current working realities, consider what follows as a guide for staying in bounds when you express yourself online.

First, try the “elevator test.”  You can do this by simply imagining that if you verbalized your post in a crowded elevator would it be considered unprofessional or call your ethics into question?

Second, make sure you can answer yes to the following questions:

1) I have removed identifying assignment information from my post?

2) Are my privacy settings on?

3) Have I considered the professional and ethical impact of this post?

4) Am I following the same ethical rules I would in the “real world?”

Personal Accountability

With the quickening dog years of technology and the increasing convergence of our on-and-offline lives, it is imperative that sign language interpreters are armed with modern day tools and know-how and guidance. We need to work to ensure these tools are present in order to raise the bar in our online behavior and deepen the credibility of the industry.

Because professional ethics are the bedrock of the sign language interpreting profession, we should be asking ourselves what actions can be taken to reinforce the ethical position of sign language interpreters.

What can you do?