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Deaf Interpreters: The Value of Formative Experience

Jimmy Beldon presented Deaf Interpreters: The Value of Formative Experience at StreetLeverage – Live 2016 | Fremont. His presentation examines how leveraging Deaf Interpreters and their formative experiences can enhance communication equity in interpreted situations.

You can find the PPT deck for his presentation here

[Note from StreetLeverage: What follows is an English translation of Jimmy’s StreetLeverage – Live 2016 presentation. We would encourage each of you to watch the video and access Jimmy’s original presentation directly.]

If you enjoy this presentation and accompanying article, consider going to StreetLeverage – Live 2017.

Deaf Interpreters: The Value of Formative Experience

To begin let us consider the meaning of the word “formative”. One dictionary’s definition of the term is “serving to form something, especially having a profound and lasting influence on a person’s development.” “Formative” experience is the accumulation of experiences, which results in the formation of one’s identity. This can include the development of a person’s skills, thoughts, and beliefs among other things.

I would like to share a little bit of my formative journey. I was raised in a Deaf family. I am the third generation of Deaf people in my family, and my children are the fourth generation. I have seen a multitude of interpreters throughout my life. I had the chance to compare my grandparents’ experiences of interpreters, my parents’ experiences, my own experiences and now my children’s experience. Across these generations, I have observed a shift in the field of sign language interpreting.

Now the question that remains is has the profession changed for the better? And if so, what is that positive change? This is a topic that is yet to be discussed. Yes, some changes are apparent throughout the profession, but how have these changes manifested in actual interpreted situations? The power dynamics and life experience varies in any given situation, but I will focus on what the interpreter can do to put the Deaf consumer at ease and equalize communication. In the past, interpreters have at times been unable to alleviate the inequality between hearing and deaf parties and become a barrier to cohesive communication.

Looking at the history of Deaf interpreters, this change in the profession is apparent as well. A Reverse Skill Certificate or RSC was the original terminology for the certification granted to Deaf Interpreters. What we now know as CDIs were originally known as individuals who held RSCs. My mother obtained this certification. After learning about her experience in the field, I soon became involved in the world of interpreting, as well. I began my career as an interpreter in 1993 before formal certification was available. Then in 2001, when certification was finally implemented, I obtained my certification, and my interpreting career progressed from that point. I realized, however, that my experience and my mother’s experience within the profession were vastly different. Now I have trained in a multitude of arenas; I have developed curriculum for the education of Deaf interpreters through the National Consortium Interpreter Education Center (NCIEC), and I continue to observe these changes within the profession. These changes include the provision of the RID certification examination, which is now a bit different. The individuals who make up the pool of interpreters has changed. RID’s CDI Standard Practice Paper (SPP) is outdated and in need of revision. The document has not been revised, however,  because the work of CDIs has changed and is still being determined. There are incongruencies and differing perspectives about what it means to be a Certified Deaf Interpreter.

Now let us revisit this term “formative” and it’s relation to interpreting. The ultimate objective of interpreting is communication equity. This is essential, but what does communication equity actually mean? I will explore this crucial concept and how it relates to formative experience. Then further along in my presentation, I will share with you the formula to an ideal interpretation in any given situation. To begin, I would like to help you imagine what it might be like for a deaf person to walk into an interpreted situation. You are already accustomed to American society; so let me instead draw an example outside the United States that parallels the experience of a deaf person.

Imagine you are visiting an unfamiliar country for the first time. You plan to vacation there, but when you arrive disaster strikes and you end up in the court system, a juvenile court or an emergency room.

These are all very high-risk situations. A low-risk situation is one in which you are able to take care of quickly with any interpreter. In these three situations, the risk is higher. While dealing with the government, the stakes are high and therefore these situations will typically require the use of a qualified interpreter, someone to interpret the native language of that particular country. At this point, you might consider who this interpreter will be. You would hope this individual is not only proficient in the country’s native language and culture, but your own language and culture, as well. Thus, as you are American, your interpreter should be knowledgeable about American culture and all that entails. They should be able to put you at ease, to clarify intricate cultural differences that you are unfamiliar with so that you may connect with the professionals around you. On the other hand, if this individual had minimal English skills and was unfamiliar with American culture, communication would be problematic. You may be unable to get your point across, or worse; you could be imprisoned for life. You may not even understand the punishment you are being given. You could be fined, put on death row, beheaded, any number of things. Or decisions regarding your medical care could be miscommunicated. You may not want surgery or would prefer to return to your home country for treatment and this is misinterpreted. Even a single sentence interpreted incorrectly may influence the final outcome.

American vs. Deaf American Formative Experience

Next, I will explain a little bit about the American formative experience. This is essentially the acquisition of experiences throughout your life. Last night, Aaron Brace discussed enculturation, the process of learning American culture because you grew up here. Over time, people naturally become knowledgeable about common values, present systems, language, and cultural norms, among other things. They are competent in legal, medical and educational systems because they navigate through them in their daily life and these daily experiences result in competence.  

Jimmy Beldon
Jimmy Beldon

With this in mind, what do the formative experiences of Deaf individuals look like? Deaf people’s lives, at home, at work, and in public places include oppression, lack of understanding systems, communication barriers, lack of access to current events, language deprivations, and lack of empowerment in their own culture.

I am sure many of you are aware of the obstacles deaf people face and by no means would I imply otherwise. But consider for a moment, the multitude of people who experience these obstacles. My grandparents, my parents and so many others did not have the same privileges that you now have. Their lives were quite different. Growing up in a Deaf family, as I did, was ideal because communication was readily available. Those who are raised in hearing families often lack full communication access.  If an individual works in manufacturing or agriculture in a rural area, it is rare they will ever be able to meet and interact with other deaf people. In total, these communication obstacles make life extraordinarily difficult. These individuals experience oppression every day of their lives. Upon entering the workforce, they are often the only deaf employee and make do with very little communication. They go to work simply to make ends meet and with few interactions with their coworkers. When they go to the grocery store or out to eat, they once again have to muddle through conversations with minimal gestures and written communication. In the end, it is deaf people who suffer in these subpar interactions. This is their everyday reality.

Then, when a Deaf person enters an interpreted situation, for any number of reasons, they find themselves surrounded by a room full of hearing people and an interpreter who is hearing as well. At this point, all they can do is desperately hope that this interpreter is competent. This competency is not simply a skill set, it encompasses the attitude an interpreter brings. The same attitude you would hope for if you required the use of interpreter while abroad. It is how the interpreter navigates the interaction; clarifying cultural differences for the deaf individual and supporting communication equity in the exchange so that the Deaf person can understand and be understood.  

An interpreter’s ability to equalize communication is paramount. Although Deaf people may always hope for an interpreter who brings this attitude, there are days when they will not be so lucky. They simply have to make do with the interpreter who shows up; however, in doing so, they compromise their personal opinions, ideas, and needs. Once again they are forced to revert to survival mode, as they do at home and their place of employment. They scrape by with the information they can gather and try to fit the pieces together, all the while holding back all the questions they wanted to ask. In the end, they just abandon the hope of understanding and conform. This is not what interpreting is meant to be; this system is desperately in need of revision.  In short, interpreters’ formative experiences become relevant at this point.

Some interpreters do not have the necessary formative experience to equalize communication. CDIs can be utilized at these times.The use of CDIs across the nation is increasing, and this is an exciting time for us. But as our field grows, it is important that we determine how and when a CDI’s services should be implemented.

[See “How can an interpreter ensure everyone in the room is at the same playing field?” in video presentation at 10:01]

Leveling the Playing Field

In yesterday’s and this morning’s sessions, we have discussed interpreter’s accountability, boundaries, feedback and unwritten rules. An interpreter who brings all of this to their work can level the playing field for all parties. Through the interpreter’s work, the Deaf individual can feel at ease in their communication. The interpreter is able to manage the equilibrium of communication. Throughout my work, I often hear, “Well, you’re a Deaf interpreters, so you have more flexibility in the work you do. You can stretch the boundaries, hearing interpreters can’t do that.” There is no separate, secret RID Code of Professional Conduct for Deaf interpreters; CDIs adhere to the same code of professional conduct as all other interpreters. CDIs do not stretch the boundaries; however, due to their formative experience, they do have a unique relationship with the Deaf consumers. CDIs can accommodate the needs of someone with a different dialect, language challenges, minimal language skills, cultural differences, or a lack of understanding about hearing world systems. It’s a common misconception that a Deaf person with a graduate degree will not need a CDI. But imagine you are appearing in court for the first time, you may appreciate this accommodation. A CDI could relieve the linguistic and cultural pressures, enabling a Deaf individual to focus on their case and defense. It is these small components, which equalize communication, that make up Deaf Space.  

Deaf Space

You may have heard this term Deaf Space before. It is typically associated with the actual architectural design of a building, an open floor plan with easy visibility and mobility. This is not specifically what I am speaking of, but rather, a similar principle, the open exchange of communication through interpreters. How interpreters ensure open communication parallel this concept. This could mean including a CDI in the interpretation process or it could mean assessing the interpretation for possible modifications. Formative learning is an ongoing process and an interpreter can continue to add to their repertoire through extensive practice and experience or acculturation.

Enculturation, as previously mentioned, is the way by which you acquired American culture; acculturation, on the other hand, is the acquisition of a novel culture. Acculturation is how you develop skills as an interpreter. If you have not yet acquired these skills, you can use a CDI to support your interpretation. I will further describe this concept using a model by a good friend, Trenton Marsh. After seeing him present this model, I adopted the idea and tweaked it. However, the model was originally his and the idea remains the same. You can see it here.

The Acculturation Gap        

As indicated on the power point slide, there are two sets of arrows pointing toward one another. We will discuss the bottom set later on. For now, let us focus on the top. The left side represents the Deaf world and the use of American Sign Language; and the right side, the hearing world and use of English. For example, a deaf individual with no formal language would fall outside this spectrum on the left side. They would be further distanced from the English side of the model than someone with ASL skills. The same would hold true for a hearing person who does not speak English; they would fall outside the ASL-English spectrum on the right side, farthest from the ASL side. In regards to culture, a Deaf individual who has acquired more linguistic and cultural knowledge will be better able to evaluate their own culture. They can differentiate and recognize their own culture from others. Therefore this individual will be capable of covering a larger portion of the cultural spectrum, starting from the Deaf side (the left) towards the center. Furthermore, a deaf person who lacks this knowledge will remain closer to the left side of the spectrum. This could include a lack of knowledge about particular settings, such as the court system or juvenile court. It could be an individual’s first time experiencing heart surgery and they are unsure of what heart surgery entails. This lack of knowledge will decrease their freedom to swing towards the hearing side of the continuum. Although they are fully fluent in ASL and Deaf culture, the lack of competency in a particular setting will influence their flexibility on the continuum.

Now, an interpreter, who has learned ASL as a second language, despite significant proficiency in the language will never fully reach the Deaf side of the continuum. As they continually develop their skills, they will move progressively from the right towards the center. This is the process of formative learning. Cultural competency is an additional component to this process; interpreters develop this skill through socialization in the Deaf community. As MJ Bienvenu has said, only 20 percent of interpreters actually socialize within the community. That leaves 80% of interpreters who may end up interpreting high-risk cases, but do not engage in the Deaf community. Nonetheless, these interpreters can still interpret effectively. I will explain this solution using the bottom portion of the Acculturated Gap model.

First, Deaf interpreters, due to specialized training, are more knowledgeable of ASL and English, Deaf culture and necessary systems. These skills allow them the flexibility to swing closer to the English side of the continuum. Then, when paired with a skilled hearing interpreter, who has had formative experiences within the Deaf and hearing communities, the two interpreters’ competencies will overlap, bridging the communication gap between the two worlds. You can see this represented again on the slide.

Now, you can see on the bottom of the slide, the hearing and Deaf interpreters spectrums’ of competency overlap. You can imagine how this might make a difference in an actual interpreted situation; hence, the reason people find utilizing a Deaf interpreter to be so beneficial. By pairing the receptive formative experience of both interpreters and through a trusting relationship, a bridge of communication is built between the two communities. Often, upon realizing that one of their interpreters is deaf, you will see, as I have seen many times myself, the d/Deaf consumer’s eyes light up and their body relax. They become more articulate.  They become more willing to ask questions and Deaf people tend to be highly inquisitive. American culture discourages questions because questions are an admittance of ignorance and should be kept to a minimum. But with an interpreter who shares the same formative experiences and culture, Deaf people can feel more confident and take advantage of the opportunity to freely ask their questions without feeling out of place in a foreign culture. With these benefits in mind, we must think about how to infuse more CDIs into the interpreting profession.

Effective Interpreter Formula

I was involved in one particular research project which addressed this topic. The project was lead by Dr. Leah Subak and topic was of cultural acquisition among interpreters. This research resulted in a five-part formula on how to become an effective interpreter. The formula uses the abbreviation EI to mean “effective interpreter;” to clear up any confusion, it does not refer to the more common abbreviation for emotional intelligence.  

[See “Effective Interpreter Formula”, 17:56.]

CDI – Deaf Formative Formula: L1/L2 + C1/C2 + ELK = EI (Effective Interpreter)

L1/L2 means fluency in both languages. C1/C2, or proficiency in both cultures, is where many interpreters are lacking; they do not possess the ability to effectively communicate within Deaf culture. This draws us back to the statistics that I mentioned earlier: only twenty percent of interpreters are actively involved in the Deaf community and experience the necessary level of enculturation. The other eighty percent are only proficient in their own American culture and are not familiar with Deaf norms. Finally, ELK refers to “extra-linguistic knowledge,” which researcher, Daniel Gile, describes as the familiarity with and understanding of a particular situation. Interpreters who have experienced the same situation in the past have greater knowledge of things like specific terminology and what a normal interaction in that setting looks like. The interpreter who accomplishes all three of these aspects is considered an effective interpreter, and the response by deaf consumers is generally one of relief and confidence because they know that they can communicate across barriers while on an even playing field.

The Value of Formative Experience

In summary, I will show you one final slide on the value of formative experience. (speaker indicates slide.)

Let me explain. I have previously attended several presentations by Nigel Howard and he introduced to me the concept of “co-” or co-communicating. Often interpreters become tied up in the limitations of their role and forget to act naturally. They treat their work like a formalized process in which everyone must follow a rigid, stipulated set of guidelines, instead of treating it like a direct and free-flowing interaction. Interpreters whose work allows for that freedom of interaction are rare. But if an interpreter can come into a situation with the necessary mindset, they can “co-”communicate. For example, in a courtroom setting, an effective interpreter will be fully prepared to take on the very persona of the prosecution or defense in their commentary and arguments. The interpreter who does this is co-communicating or communicating the message as if they were the lawyer. This skill requires formative experience.This interpreter should be able to explain the finer points of the content with the expertise of those lawyers. Many interpreters don’t have that kind of skill. Moreover, they must have the ability to express that message with high-academic ASL to match the environment and the characters involved.

I’ll give you another example. A medical appointment during which the doctor is explaining some medical information;  a substandard interpretation will pass on the jargon while trying to figure out the meaning on the fly. An effective interpreter will have the formative experience to understand medical jargon and will have a discussion with the doctor prior to the visit to ensure that all of the information is prepared and correct so that the interpreter can, in essence, become the doctor and provide an equivalent message in ASL. The interpreter will put aside his or her own persona and become the doctor to provide that even playing field and encourage a d/Deaf consumer to pursue more information. That is the concept of co-communicating.

Breaking Away from the Status Quo

For the rest of this afternoon, we will be discussing how interpreters can achieve this “co-communication”, and the formative experiences required to make an effective interpretation. I propose that there is a different way, and I challenge us to break away from the current status quo. Now, if we want to make the change, we need to think long-term. How do we implement these changes in the long run, and how do we instill the new status quo in the next generation of interpreters?

We need to stop forgetting about the importance of Deaf Space, and instead, make it a standard. Earlier, Pamela Collins spoke about operating procedures in interpreting agencies; she mentioned that requests for CDIs are rare and that interpreters carry on without ever thinking about the need for one. We need to be more responsible, and determine in advance whether an interpreting situation is conducive to Deaf space; if it is not, then the request for a CDI to bridge that gap should be an automatic and smooth process. There are some places across the country that are prepared to call in CDIs at the drop of a hat and feel comfortable doing so even if it is later determined that the CDI is not necessary and can be dismissed.

I would much rather have a CDI be called in initially, and have that CDI excused when not needed than be called in last minute, which causes scheduling conflicts and postponements at the d/Deaf consumer’s expense. The current conditions in the field of interpreting do not allow for last-minute requests, even for urgent situations. That is the unfortunate reality, and we need to change our approach. For now, I will leave it at that and we can discuss more this afternoon.

Thank you.

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Pulling Back the Curtain: How Unwritten Rules Impact Sign Language Interpreters

Ritchie Bryant presented Pulling Back the Curtain: How Unwritten Rules Impact Sign Language Interpreters at StreetLeverage – Live 2016 | Fremont. His presentation examines how “unwritten rules” of behavior influence sign language interpreters’ actions and impact their working relationship with the Deaf community.

You can find the PPT deck for his presentation here

[Note from StreetLeverage: What follows is an English translation of Ritchie’s StreetLeverage – Live 2016 presentation. We would encourage each of you to watch the video and access Ritchie’s original presentation directly.]

If you enjoy this presentation and accompanying article, consider going to StreetLeverage – Live 2017.

Pulling Back the Curtain: How Unwritten Rules Impact Sign Language Interpreters

In keeping with Deaf Cultural traditions, I’d like to start off my comments with a story. There once was a young, hearing, black gentleman named Jamal, with an outstanding work ethic, was employed as an office manager. He was well-respected by his co-workers for his skill and reliability. His supervisor prized his competence in ironing out issues from Jamal’s predecessor to deliver consistently top quality results. One day, the supervisor invited Jamal out for a round of golf. Hesitant because he didn’t know the game well, Jamal politely declined. Shortly after, the supervisor made an announcement that he had been promoted and his prior position was open. He had given Jamal encouragement to apply, and Jamal went through the interview process with ease and seeming success. But when time came to announce the winning candidate, another applicant had been chosen. Jamal was distressed and at a loss- why had this person, with only three years at the company, been chosen over him? He meticulously reviewed the interview process in an attempt to discover where he could have made a mistake, but he came up empty. Finally, he approached his supervisor to ask what had gone wrong. His supervisor asked him, “Remember when I invited you to join me for golf, and you passed? Our regular Wednesday golf games are when members of upper management assess up-and-coming employees we’re considering for management positions. If someone we invite ends up having a good rapport with everyone, we know they’re a good fit for the job.” What Jamal didn’t know was that in the corporate environment, business is regularly done in informal settings, and handshake deals are commonplace on the golf course. He had unknowingly missed a crucial opportunity for promotion.

“Good Is Not Enough”

This is an example of an unwritten rule. You’ll never see golf game attendance in any employee handbook. And yet, these unwritten rules are everywhere. If you take a look at the slide, you’ll see an image of the book “Good is Not Enough: And Other Unwritten Rules for Minority Professionals.” This book has been an inspiration to me and led to developing this presentation. This text delves into the reasons behind what many women and people of color experience in their professional lives – barriers known as glass ceilings – or the inability to achieve beyond a certain point because there is a lack of awareness of these unwritten rules: rules that inevitably govern our chances of success. Again, they don’t appear in any employee handbook; they are unspoken and inherent to those niches and circles to which they are privy.

Unwritten Rules in the Deaf and Interpreting Communities?

My question to you is: do the Deaf and interpreter communities have unwritten rules? How does that impact those communities, and the relationships within them? From my surveying and personal experiences growing up, I’ve identified eight possible unwritten rules I think apply. I’m pretty certain more than eight exist! This is just a taste of what I’ll be covering later this afternoon in my workshop.

Overgeneralized use of Misplaced Credentials

One such unwritten rule has to do with the RID certification. Have you ever noticed that most job postings for ASL instructors in institutions of higher education, etc., state “RID certified preferred” as a requirement? I’d wager it’s often overlooked. How does RID certification relate to a person’s qualifications for teaching ASL? What does attendance at an interpreter training program have to do with teaching ASL? The assumption is made that if a person possesses RID certification, they have free license to run the gamut of related fields.

Double Standard

Another unwritten rule appears in the Deaf and interpreter community as double standards regarding pre-certification work opportunities. It seems common that hearing interpreters who have graduated from a training program but have yet to become certified are presented with a wealth of opportunity to practice among mentors until gaining certification. Deaf interpreters in similar situations, on the other hand, receive the message “wait.” “Not yet.” “After you’re certified, you can work.” It seems our community is applying two different and unequal standards to these groups.

Financial Obstacles

My next unwritten rule applies to a similar disparity. In order to gain and maintain professional growth and certification standing, interpreters are called on to attend workshops, training, and other costly endeavors to continue practicing. Given the stark difference between the amount of work given/available to Deaf interpreters as compared to hearing interpreters, how can the expectation of professional development be applied uniformly to all? It is less economically feasible to complete requirements if one is a Deaf interpreter working today compared to one who is hearing.

Engaging and Networking

Deaf people, in general, face substantial challenges when it comes to networking, especially those Deaf who do not have use of speech or auditory input. Connecting to the larger society and developing ties with others is difficult due to communication barriers. Hearing individuals, including interpreters, can navigate and develop networks more seamlessly, even getting referrals and work opportunities- hosting a training for a school system, for example. Rarely do these hearing folk collaborate with Deaf individuals for counsel or advice on topics relevant to them and their community, thereby further exploiting the networking gap.

Deviation from Social Norms

This next image refers to social norms or the ways in which we behave to show concurrence and acceptance of social rules and expectations. An example: faculty at a school that has a Deaf and hard of hearing program attends an in-service training. The topic for discussion is whether or not faculty should sign while in public spaces in the school. Personally, I find that that is a topic for discussion inherently bizarre. If this were a teaching environment in Mexico, would teachers gather to debate whether it was appropriate to speak Spanish while in public places? The same norm of communication holds true for a Deaf environment. For those who would choose to challenge the need to sign in Deaf spaces, where a majority of children and adults are Deaf and sign, serious self-analysis needs to be undertaken on their part. What rights or dominance do they feel that so supersede social norms of respect and deference to a culture’s home environment?

Inequality of Resources Allocation

The inequitable allotment of resources is an issue very much present in our field. There is a dearth of resources available to Deaf interpreter’s professional development prior to certification as compared to those for hearing interpreters, especially when one considers the time and expense. Training specifically geared toward Deaf interpreters are few and far between, meaning Deaf interpreters must travel significantly more than hearing interpreters in order to have regular access to skills training.

The Role of the Enabler

I’d next like to talk about the practice of enabling. Some interpreters’ approach to Deaf people, their treatment of Deaf consumers,  leans toward a more stoic relationship rather than one of sharing information freely. If a Deaf consumer displays culturally inappropriate behavior, does the interpreter intervene or provide correction or information? Typically not. If we fail to intervene in some manner, these culturally conflicting behaviors continue, often to the detriment of the consumer. That silence, that lack of input, poses a hazard and can lead to potential conflict in those relationships.

Credentialing by Hearing Proxy

The next image speaks to the phenomena of credentialing by hearing proxy.  It is often the case that hearing interpreters are looked upon and given credence to be able to speak for the Deaf community, rather than looking to members of the community themselves. But do we condone men’s organizations to speak on women’s issues, or White organizations to speak on behalf of Black organizations? The misguided notion of proxy, when put into other cultural contexts, is self-evident.

”Controversy is only dreaded by the advocates of error.”

Benjamin Rush, the author of this quote, was a signatory to the Declaration of Independence. His quote points to the habit of justifying errors rather than correcting them. This process of justification and obfuscation in the face of clear error is problematic. Hearing interpreters, however conflict-averse, must not shrink from controversy or error. In fact, it is that hesitance to engage in potential controversy that can lead to Deaf disempowerment – a topic Trudy Suggs covered in her first StreetLeverage presentation. Disempowerment can create significant barriers to a Deaf professional’s career advancement.

“Who Moved My Cheese?”

This image you may recognize from the well-known 90s book by Spencer Johnson. The book’s message is simple: change is inevitable. With that in mind, one should always be prepared for and able to adapt to change. This applies to unwritten rules within the Deaf community (many exist!). Perhaps the biggest unkept secret, or unwritten rule, is that, in general, the Deaf community has a tenuous, and often frustrating, relationship with sign language interpreters. We are in a constant struggle to persevere despite unqualified interpreters and make sure to share our experiences with particular interpreters with our community in an attempt at minimizing any further negative impact.

It’s past time that we collectively acknowledge the lack of quality interpreting as our elephant in the room. It is the critical issue of our time. Addressing that together as Deaf community members and interpreters means we must be willing to face some hard truths. Some may not be ready or willing. How do we have the fortitude to think outside of the box, to take the interpreting field to the next level?

Despite nearly thirty years since the dawn of interpreting training programs, there continues to be a stagnation of skill and ability among graduates. Let’s take a step back and rethink how we train interpreters. Instead of having a bachelor’s degree as a requirement to sit for the certification exam, why not instead provide documentation of a strong foundation in ASL? Or perhaps the Deaf community should take more ownership of the interpreting process? That happened in the Bay Area- one particular group established an initiative during which Deaf consumers completed an evaluation form with a rating after working with an assigned interpreter. However, the practice was not well-received among the interpreters. Were they not willing to receive feedback in the interest of their own improvement? Is it a resistance to change? We just saw a presentation- and now I’m blanking on the presenter’s name- about the importance of receiving feedback well.

Closing Thoughts

In the book “Who Moved my Cheese?” the mice, Hem and Haw, were reluctant to change, while their compatriots, Sniff and Scurry, were more than amenable. The old model of interpreter training, in cheese standards, is well past the expiration date. The time has come to begin the exciting search for fresh, innovative models. Collectively, among our communities, we can discover the cheese we’re meant for. It’s uncomfortable perhaps, but necessary. In developing a process for sharing of our unwritten rules, we can create successful win-win partnerships. Those of us here at StreetLeverage – Live are aspiring to achieve that goal.  Thank you.

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Behind the Screens: The Ethics of Medical VRI & Sign Language Interpreters

Shelly Hansen explores the ethical implications of VRI in medical settings, especially the impacts of dropped connections during sensitive consultations and loss of consumer choice regarding live, on-site sign language interpretation.

Behind the Screens: The Ethics of Medical VRI & Sign Language Interpreters

It’s all the rage. Those smooth little carts with satisfying clicks and keys. Sweet control, right here at my fingertips for your eyes. No more waiting for a live interpreter to arrive. No more scheduling…it is on demand 24/7/365. No more incorporating another breathing human being into the interaction; we’ve gone high-tech and modern, happy to share our space with a “machine interpreter”, the term used locally by health care provider staff for Video Remote Interpreting/VRI. The medical facility loves this kind of sterile control.

[View post in ASL]

The patient, on the other hand, may have a mixed response to the cyber–signer. Like cafeteria food and military MRE’s, this is a one-size-fits-all solution. If a person has vision issues, is not a strong signer and/or struggles with the style, speed or information from the “machine interpreter”, if they are dizzy, lying down awkwardly, giving birth, going into a radiology department, are from a foreign country and need a specialized sign language, are elderly and prefer a familiar interpreter, are an active child with attention issues or a CODA utilizing the interpreter, would benefit from techniques used by CDIs such as physical movement, drawings or references to visual aids in the immediate environment (including the current meds list on the computer charting screen), or struggle with paperwork and literacy challenges, they are out of luck. Not only are these individuals out of luck, they now need to self-advocate against a large medical institution or physician who has already invested in a “solution” to this communication barrier, and who feels that due diligence has been satisfied.

Communication in Context

When I step back and consider these experiences as a whole, the impact of VRI appears to be greatest on vulnerable adults. We can all find ourselves vulnerable at times, and some individuals may consistently interact as vulnerable adults. I have noticed that communication is most effective in the context of relationship when interpreting for these encounters. The negotiated meaning within a tangible human relationship provides a context for effective communication that mitigates barriers for vulnerable adults and provides a level of comfort needed to genuinely engage with others. While it may seem an overstatement, trust in the interpreter allows for depth of conversation that is not possible for some clients via technology which has an “outside, looking-glass” quality. I consistently hear feedback about “not remembering what they said”, “not understanding but agreeing anyway” and being told there “weren’t any live interpreters available” when those facilities aren’t calling live interpreters any longer as a standard procedure.

“Do No Harm”

RID Certified sign language interpreters historically have been vigilant to “do no harm”, maintaining high professional standards of ethical conduct, creating ethical codes of conduct, establishing ethical review boards and making every effort to provide quality service to the Deaf, Hard of Hearing, DeafBlind, Late-Deafened, and Hearing communities as allies and professionals. This commitment to the profession has enabled increased access to places of public accommodation throughout society and is a source of quiet pride and job satisfaction for many sign language interpreters who are committed to increased equality, autonomy, and self-actualization.

As a freelance community sign language interpreter, I have seen a dramatic shift in medical interpreting assignments from live interpreting to VRI supported interactions. As I sit on the cyber-fence, wanting to continue the work I love and provide services to people who need, want, and are requesting live interpreters, I am faced with an ethical dilemma. Do I participate in a flawed and “do some harm” medical VRI system because my livelihood is being affected by marketplace shifts?

Sample Scenario of a Botched VRI Appointment

A patient goes to a medical appointment in a facility to discuss the results from a recent scan with a specialist. The office uses a VRI system. The patient is optimistic about VRI, despite prior frustrations with freezing screens and dropped connections resulting in re-scheduled appointments with a local, familiar, RID certified “live” sign language interpreter. The doctor begins to review the results of the scan along with the possible issues that may be causing symptoms of concern. The “worst case scenario” is discussed and then the VRI starts to cut out, freezing. The tech issues cannot be resolved, again. The doctor, exasperated says, “This is not a service, it’s a DIS-service.” The appointment is abruptly curtailed and a follow-up appointment is scheduled for next week with an onsite, “live” interpreter.

Shelly Hansen

When the appointment begins the following week, the “live” interpreter is unaware of the previous snafu. The doctor begins again to explain the medical condition, and informs the patient that s/he does NOT have the fatal condition. The patient breaks down. For an entire week, the last message about the fatal flaw and partially explained scan image had left the person believing that they had the dreaded malformation and the condition was terminal. The visible relief on the face of the patient is combined with frustration and anger. Both the patient and doctor commit to no further VRI appointments, expressing relief to have an in-person sign language interpreter on site. They agree that using VRI just isn’t worth the frustration, miscommunication and emotional duress.

If the “live” sign language interpreter left the room at the moment of diagnosis, s/he could lose her/his certification for ethical malpractice. The patient could file an ethical complaint with RID stating that the interpreter violated NAD-RID Code of Professional Conduct tenets 6.2 and 6.4 (see below).

Unintended Consequences

In my area, an older gentleman took his own life after receiving a terminal diagnosis. His family found him alone in the backyard. To my knowledge, this was not an interpreted interaction. However, it is possible that someone could react with serious consequences to a misunderstood partial-diagnosis. A scenario like this happened January 2017 at the Limerick Hospital in Ireland. A man received a terminal cancer diagnosis and took his own life in the hospital chapel.

Codes of Professional Conduct

Let’s look at some pertinent codes of conduct for medical sign language interpreters.

IMIA (International Medical Interpreters Association)

“Responsibility Toward Ensuring Adequate Working Conditions” The interpreter shall strive to ensure effective and productive communication in any professional situation and make every effort to have working conditions in place that will allow him or her to provide quality interpretation services.

“Right to equal treatment” Patients have a right to receive treatment in a language they understand; these rights are governed by federal anti-discrimination laws and the ADA.

“Informed consent” Patients should be aware of treatment options and consent to treatment only after understanding these options. Communicating information accurately is essential to informed consent.

“Beneficence” The health and wellbeing of patients is a core value in all health care professions, as well as in medical interpreting.

The NAD/RID Code of Professional Conduct

4.0 Respect for Consumers

4.1 Consider consumer requests or needs regarding language preferences, and render the message accordingly (interpreted or transliterated).

4.4 Facilitate communication access and equality, and support the full interaction and independence of consumers.

6.0 Business Practices

6.2 Honor professional commitments and terminate assignments only when fair and justifiable grounds exist.

6.4 Inform appropriate parties in a timely manner when delayed or unable to fulfill assignments.

6.5 Reserve the option to decline or discontinue assignments if working conditions are not safe, healthy or conducive to interpreting.

Similarly, the National Code of Ethics for Interpreters in Health Care includes “beneficence” and “do no harm,” along with “fidelity”:

“The essence of the interpreter role is encapsulated in the value of fidelity. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language describes fidelity as involving the unfailing fulfillment of one’s duties and obligations and the keeping of one’s word or vows.”

More Questions than Answers

How can a career medical interpreter agree to work as a VRI medical interpreter with the knowledge that predictable and unresolved VRI technical issues, including consistently disrupted and poor quality connections and communications, are occurring throughout the healthcare system and political practice issues in which “one size fits all” approaches that dictate language use without options for live on-site sign language interpreters are creating barriers for consumers that violate medical and RID certified interpreter ethical standards? Does the interpreter ignore these issues and shift that duty to the health care system and VRI employer, and ignore the systemic impact of complicit participation in a flawed approach to health care interpreting?

At the moment, I am working triage. Those failed VRI encounters, re-scheduled appointments, miscommunicated partial diagnoses are creating a clean-up tier of work for live interpreters. I’m holding out for “live” interpreting, despite the economic uncertainty of increased VRI use and the lower hourly wages those positions offer. Do I want to be part of the machine interpreter phenomenon? How can I ethically participate in quality healthcare interpretation in 2017 and beyond?

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Questions to Consider:

  1. What protections are in place for consumers of medical VRI? Are there rating or feedback mechanisms available to track customer and provider satisfaction post-appointment?
  2. What alternatives are available or recourse do consumers have in the event a VRI appointment fails and are there systems in place to allow patients to pre-select live or VRI preferences especially for sensitive or technical appointments?
  3. What duty does an RID certified interpreter have in medical VRI settings and is that duty usurped by VRI companies and medical facilities choosing to eliminate live on-site interpreting in favor of machine interpreting?


The National Council On Interpreting In Health Care, and Working Papers Series. A NATIONAL CODE OF ETHICS FOR INTERPRETERS IN HEALTH CARE (July 2004.): 8. Web. 21 Mar. 2017.

Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc. “NAD_RID Code of Professional Conduct.pdf.” N.p., 2005. Web. 21 Mar. 2017.

“International Medical Interpreters Association Code of Ethics.” IMIA – International Medical Interpreters Association. International Medical Interpreters Association, n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2017.

Collins, Pamela. “Bringing Scheduling Into View: A Look at the Business of Sign Language Interpreting.” Street Leverage. N.p., 17 Aug. 2016. Web. 21 Mar. 2017.

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Sign Language Interpreting: The Benefits of Think Aloud Protocols

Marty Taylor presented Sign Language Interpreting: The Benefits of Think Aloud Protocols at StreetLeverage – Live 2016 | Fremont. Her presentation discusses how focusing on process can result in more effective and nuanced interpretations.

You can find the PPT deck for her presentation here.

[Note from StreetLeverage: What follows is an English translation of Marty’s StreetLeverage – Live 2016 presentation. We would encourage each of you to watch the video and access Marty’s original presentation directly.]

If you enjoy this presentation and accompanying article, consider going to StreetLeverage – Live 2017.

Sign Language Interpreting: The Benefits of Think Aloud Protocols

My topic today is “Sign Language Interpreting: The Benefits of Think Aloud Protocols.” Think Aloud Protocols, abbreviated as T.A.P., refer to the process of talking about thinking. This is a commonly researched topic for discovering how people think and identifying qualitative and quantitative data. Think Aloud Protocols (T.A.P.) have been studied regularly since the 1960s with increasing frequency. We need to apply the data from this research to sign language interpreting and to our work as practitioners. In addition to applying the research, we can also apply T.A.P. directly to our work. That is what I’d like to talk about with you today.

Think Aloud Protocols as a System

First, let’s talk about protocols. When we talk about protocols, we are looking at a system – something that can be replicated and shared with other sign language interpreters. They represent ways we can discuss and debate our thought processes. The establishment and use of a system allow us to take our interpreting work to a more advanced level.

Usually, when we talk about Think Aloud Protocols (T.A.P.), we are talking about a simultaneous process. While a person is performing their work – regardless of the type of task – they talk about or sign about their work. As sign language interpreters, it would be impossible to talk about what we are doing while simultaneously interpreting. There is no way to do that. If a person is translating from a written text, it would be possible to talk about the translation process. So there is also what is called, “Think After Protocol” which is much like “Think Aloud Protocols.” They are similar processes.  For “Think After Protocols,” an interpreter would perform the work and once they had completed the task, they could look back on their work through self-analysis, asking, “What did I do? What could I do next time? How can I apply this learning to the future?”

It is important to have a system rather than a random method of looking at our work. Instead of having endless approaches, T.A.P. focus on specific ways to examine our thinking, the meanings behind those thinking processes, and the reasons for making each decision. These protocols help us to gather information about the whole process. This is what we are looking for in the T.A.P. experience.

Thinking about Thinking

We often hear the terms “cognitive thinking process” and “metacognition” which is thinking about thinking. So, thinking about thinking. We can do that. What we are doing with T.A.P. is taking our thinking and talking about it. Sharing information, learning, and teaching other people about our process.

Each individual has their particular way of thinking. There is no “right” or “wrong” answer in this case. There is simply process. Some people process information in a structured, methodical way. My thinking process is not like that. My thoughts typically meander from point to point. I will eventually get to the main topic, but my thoughts usually take a circuitous route. As a nonlinear thinker, I’m fascinated by a linear thinker’s process. How do they accomplish such structured thinking? It’s almost like meditation. And again, everyone is different. We all think differently. While I may be thinking about children, babies, interpreting, life and world travel, you all may be thinking about StreetLeverage – Live, about interpreting, about going to work tomorrow. You may be thinking, “I hope the presenters today are interesting or I’m out of here!” Today, you have to think about which workshops you will attend in the afternoon. Hopefully, you are clear that the four speakers will present their longer workshops twice in the afternoon. The workshops are an hour and a half each and we present them twice. This means you can select two presenters and attend their workshops – mine and one other. So, you may be thinking that one workshop isn’t interesting to you, but you know you can select two of the others.  Unfortunately, you can’t attend them all.

The point is that we each think differently. This is an important thing. The diversity of thinking benefits us. I can learn how you think, what you think about, how you feel, how you express yourself, the topics you discuss.  For example, a person might talk about animals or their love of photography, or their interest in baseball. You may know that I live in Canada and that I am a proud Canadian.

The Venditte Rule

A rule means that a new situation has emerged and thought is given to examine, discuss, and decide how to proceed in this new situation. In baseball –  Do you like sports? Some of you may be thinking, “I am so not going to that workshop this afternoon if Marty Taylor is going to talk about sports!”  That’s perfectly all right.  Back to the “Venditte Rule.” As you may know, some batters are more proficient batting left or right. That’s a fairly common occurrence. A pitcher who can pitch proficiently with either arm is not common at all.

Marty Taylor

The “Venditte Rule” requires the pitcher to declare to the batter which hand he will use before each pitch. Every time. This allows the batter to decide whether to bat left- or right-handed. Clearly, you can see my prowess on the baseball field by my stance here on the stage. That is the “Venditte Rule.”  The pitcher can change their approach every pitch and the batter can switch batting sides, as well. This illustrates a different way of thinking. So, Canada has one baseball team for the entire country as compared to the numerous teams in the United States. We also have an ambidextrous pitcher who is equally proficient pitching with either arm, striking players out with regularity. As an aside, in baseball, a strike is represented by a K. Two strikes is KK and three strikes is represented as KKK. This is just an FYI for everyone. This is the truth. They don’t use XXX for strikes in baseball. Just sharing my T.A.P. knowledge with you. I’m keeping you all informed and now you know about baseball’s special rule.

Focus on the Process

There have been numerous people who have researched Think Aloud Protocols (T.A.P.) related to a variety of topics. In our field of interpreting and translating, for both spoken language and signed language interpreting, there is some research available.  Not a lot, but there is some. For example, Debbie Russell, Betsy Winston, and Jemina Napier have all done some research. I’ve borrowed from their work, as well as research from other disciplines, whether it be research on children, mathematics, geography, technology, computers, etc.  In the vast body of research these disciplines represent, a common theme emerged, indicating that the most experienced, the leaders and top practitioners in these disciplines, all model and focus on process. They focus on the process of doing the work at least 75% of the time. The remaining 25% of the time is focused on product. It is interesting to note that we typically think about the product – the thing we produce, the things we can see, the result of our work. So, for our purposes, T.A.P. encourages us to focus on process.

Looking Deeper

It seems that research in the field of interpreting and translating, whether spoken or signed languages are involved, has come to similar conclusions cited above. If a sign language interpreter is able to utilize more advanced thinking skills or thinks more deeply, their interpretation is going to be more successful. That’s pretty obvious. So, when I say “deeper”, you might be wondering what I mean. I’ll give you a few examples.

  1. When a sign language interpreter considers the speaker’s intent, they are able to focus on the deeper meanings within the message. If they consider the speaker’s purpose, they will ultimately produce a more effective interpretation.
  2. Consider audience/participant needs. We have to look at the makeup of the audience – who is present? Are they Deaf or hearing? Is the audience comprised of U.S. residents or are there some Canadians in the audience? Today, we at least have one Canadian present, maybe more. I don’t know – I haven’t seen anyone yet. So, considering audience make-up is important.
  3. Finally, the interpreting process has to be considered.

If we can incorporate these three considerations in our process – speaker’s intent, audience needs and preferences, and the interpreting process itself, we typically see a more advanced, more successful work product. By including these three aspects, we are able to demonstrate our experience and our level of proficiency as compared to novice or less experienced interpreters.

Knowledge Lean vs. Knowledge Rich Skills

If we look at “knowledge lean skills” versus “knowledge rich skills”, we can see that “knowledge lean skills” represent more simple meanings. For example, an interpreter who is focused on vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure/syntax, will provide a more limited, superficial interpretation. This is focusing on product. This knowledge lean view may also include some language “challenges” that the interpreter must work through and resolve.

In contrast, “Knowledge Rich Skills” focus on process, deeper meaning, and context. We consider all the participants involved, the purpose of the communication. We also look at the interpreter’s purpose – why are they there? Are they doing a good job? All these things are part of the process. Again, if we are looking at process 75% of the time, we are good to go. I’m sure you are all spending 75% of your time looking at process. I’m sure you are all doing just fine.

“Knowledge Rich Skills” also examines social interactions. Most commonly, we see Deaf individuals in isolation. If we think about a Deaf child who is mainstreamed – they are usually isolated. Where is that social interaction for them? Where do they get social exposure to develop relationships? If we look at situations involving Deaf adults, even if the purpose of a meeting is informational, there is still a social component to it. It is so important to consider those deeper meanings and pieces of information in order to use these “knowledge rich” skills.

Interpreters are more sensitive and aware of social cues. In recognizing the emotional tenor of participants, sign language interpreters can incorporate that information in their process, not just staying on the more surface-level product.

Think Process

Regardless of our status as introverts or extroverts, our goal is to think about the system, the process of interpreting. In this afternoon’s workshops, I will expand on T.A.P. in more detail. For now, consider this:  Think Aloud Protocols can benefit our interpreting practice. Think hard. Think wisely. Think process.

Hand waves to you all!

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Linguistic Flexibility: Success Decoded for K-12 Sign Language Interpreters

Decoding language requires linguistic competence and flexibility. Jessica Carter discusses the importance of flexible bilingualism for sign language interpreters, especially those working in K-12 and educational settings.

Linguistic Flexibility: Success Decoded for K-12 Sign Language Interpreters

As bilinguals, as in having proficiency in two languages, ASL interpreters code switch on a daily basis, at a moment’s notice. ASL-English interpreters typically do this by borrowing English lexicon or formats for specificity, to match the language considerations of consumers, and to derive equivalent messages from the source to target language. However, code switching goes deeper than that.

[View post in ASL.]

Applied Linguistics

Code switching is defined in linguistics as the mixing of two or more languages or language varieties in production. This term is often used interchangeably in the various fields of linguistic study with the term code mixing. It is displayed throughout phases of language learning, both holistically and as new vocabulary is introduced in order to fill gaps in language skills. While in the past we may have thought of code mixing as a weakness in the target language, e.g. borrowing an English word by fingerspelling or not knowing the English term and choosing to display the concept in ASL, more recent sociolinguistic research is suggesting that code switching is a tool of bilinguals. This has been seen in bilingual education and TESOL settings worldwide. Discussions conclude that bilinguals (and multilinguals) use this tool repeatedly in various ways: unconsciously as a bilingual individual, to fit in with others, to develop skills and relationships, to tell a secret, and to help express a thought. On a personal and professional level, I believe that we can all derive at least one of our own stories of code switching for each of these five reasons. This is what is being called flexible bilingualism1,2. Some examples might include:

  • matching a consumer’s language preference whether that means transliterating PSE, tactile signing (TASL), SEE-like signing, or ASL
  • stealthy signing to a friend across a room of non-signers
  • classifier-like iconic gesturing while speaking in English to describe an object

Flexible bilingualism is the thought that pragmatic language in the bilingual brain is adjustable, accommodating, and even pliable. ASL/English users are bilingual and multimodal; we are able to use the aspects and lexicon of two languages to achieve our goals rather than being constrained by one set of rules and expression. The Deaf/hard of hearing community exhibits this diglossic behavior and way of thinking instantaneously as a way of life and means for education and communication. Diglossia is explained as using two languages, or language varieties, under different circumstances. For the ASL using community this is seen in their need to have knowledge of two languages in order to socialize within their community and access interpreting, as well as in order to read, write, and access education, and/or to independently communicate with non-signers. This community exhibits code switching as diglossic people by using both ASL and English as a means for daily life by shifting between the two languages on a constant. Not to mention their abilities to switch between signing variations in the U.S. (SEE, PSE, etc.) in order to meet the needs of communication in their given circumstances while navigating the Deaf and Hearing worlds. This is a powerful tool and communication advantage – keep it close by and refine it.

The flexible bilingualism that native users of ASL have, and will develop throughout their lives and education, is an aspect of their variation and language power as a community. To notice this as interpreters is a descriptivist point of view. Descriptivists take a nonjudgmental point of view that accepts language as it is used and can be tweaked in use for a variety of reasons. A previously noted trend in sign language interpreter education to lean toward prescriptivism3, a predetermined notion of the rules that govern a language to create a pure or superior form of language, limits an interpreter’s opportunity for flexibility. Prescriptivism has its place in language. When writing an academic paper, I am a prescriptivist; when interpreting, I am largely descriptivist. Native English speakers exhibit flexibility in language (L1) use often with diverse speech patterns. For example, we may speak in an accent for affect, stress an atypical phoneme in a word, or toss in a word or phrase of a second language known. Capisce? Now, we can use the same techniques as a bilingual to create similar effects in our L2, ASL, production patterns – similar to the ways that we observe native ASL users.

Educational Interpreting

In an educational setting, most particularly K-12 educational interpreting, flexible bilingualism is an advantage that can be elevated beyond matching students’ language needs. It can be used in a variety of settings that students may be in, i.e. speech and language pathology settings, reading programs, English lexicon decoding, English phonics/syllable learning, affect and intonation, academic vocabulary recognition, etc. Keep thinking and expanding this list.

Jessica Carter
Jessica Carter

I encountered a student who uses flexible bilingualism in order to display phonetic aspects of English by applying syllabic fingerspelling in a functional way at the decoding level. That is POWER. At the sight of this power, I adjusted and learned from the student to both meet the student’s needs and enhance my interpreting skills. This is how educational interpreting should be – flexible. The idea is for sign language interpreters in education to heighten flexibility skills to allow for further accommodation of language modeling and teaching in academic settings. Educational interpreters can supply students and educators not only with an interpretation, but a closure of the power imbalance by modeling language, including strategies of flexible bilingualism, and improving academic language in a parallel and equivalent manner between English and ASL.

As interpreters, we are guided to understand that “qualified educational interpreters/transliterators are a critical part of the educational day for children who are deaf or hard of hearing” (RID, 2010)4. Part of being qualified is knowing our students and using our tools appropriately. The ingenuity of our tools and our flexibility in using them can guide in facilitating learning in all settings. When a sign language interpreter fingerspells key words and academic language, he/she is providing access to academic English vocabulary and contributing to the students’ ability to decode English words and recognize them by signs and concepts5. Meanwhile, the students’ knowledge of ASL, a visual, conceptual language, provides them with an on-the-spot dictionary in their bilingual brain as they read in English. The leverage that an educational interpreter holds in providing a parallel between English and ASL has an effect on children’s language skills in both decoding and fluency. This is influential, especially in regards to their diglossic status. So as educational interpreters, let’s start thinking in terms of language education. We can do this by focusing on our status as bilinguals and the advantages that status offers us. It takes years for people to develop fluency in their native language and users have mastery at various levels dependent on education, ability, and efforts. Language development for bilinguals is similar, requiring continuous cultivation and expansion of the L2. Bilinguals are lifelong language learners.

Addressing the Linguistic Minority Dilemma

Whether we have experienced the subjugation of ASL ourselves or have only seen/heard stories of misunderstandings and the language oppression of ASL users, we know that it exists. Varying autocratic behaviors which portray Sign languages as inferior (e.g. “not a real language,” “a language of disability,” “a manual representation of English,” “universal language,” etc.) exist heavily in mainstream education. This may be one of the most difficult parts of an educational interpreter’s job, linguistic advocacy. Educational interpreters must possess the linguistic competency to explain the comparison of languages, bridge sociocultural gaps, and support deaf literacy and academia in order to ameliorate this issue. To expose mainstream educators to the diversity in language, the limitations of translation and assistive technology, the tools of a bilingual, and to what interpreters do is to lead the change in their knowledge and perspectives on educating the deaf/hard of hearing. Admittedly this is a heavy burden to carry, so as professionals we must humanistically approach each linguistic encounter to learn. It’s high time we raise the expectations and reputations of interpreted education. Keep cultivating your tools, be rooted in the Deaf community, and exhibit flexibility in educational interpreting.

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Questions to consider:

  1. Can you recall an experience when you adhered to a prescriptivist view of language?
  2. How familiar are you with the IEP/504 processes?
  3. On a personal note – what is your involvement with the Deaf community outside of your 9:00 am – 5:00 pm profession?


1An excellent study on identity and language prejudice in regards to flexible bilingualism, Preece, Sian. “An Identity Transformation? Social Class, Language Prejudice and the Erasure of Multilingual Capital in Higher Education.” The Routledge Handbook of Language and Identity.

2For flexible bilingualism in schools relating to bilingual education see, Creese, A., & Blackledge, A. (2011, April). Separate and Flexible Bilingualism in Complementary Schools: Multiple Language Practices in Interrelationship. Retrieved November, 2016, from

3For thoughts on prescriptivism in sign language interpreter education see “Respecting Language: Sign Language Interpreters as Linguistic Descriptivists” by Steven Surrency, available at

4RID standard practice paper for K-12 interpreting, An overview of K-12 educational interpreting. (2010). Retrieved November, 2016, from

5Educational interpreting guidelines of the EIPA from

Related Posts:

  1. Respecting Language: Sign Language Interpreters as Linguistic Descriptivists by Steven Surrency 
  2. Bilingualism: Are Sign Language Interpreters Bilinguals? By MJ Bienvenu
  3. The Value of Networking for the Developing Sign Language Interpreter by Stacy Webb
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Josh’s Draft

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