Sign language interpreters constantly strive to be better practitioners. Often it is a flash of perspective that gives context to the challenges they face and assists them in moving along their path to actualization.
Let’s admit it, being a sign language interpreter can be tough. Sometimes a little sprinkle of perspective can contextualize the challenges we face as practitioners. From language fluency to connecting with the community, from confronting social justice issues and inaccurate assumptions to maintaining our integrity and leaving a legacy, these flashes of insight can lead us to becoming the interpreters we aspire to be. What follows are sprinkles of goodness that will, in fact, make you a better sign language interpreter.
1. Dennis Cokely | Sign Language Interpreters: The Importance of the Day Before
In his StreetLeverage – Live | Atlanta presentation, Sign Language Interpreters: The Importance of the Day Before, Dennis Cokely discusses the dangers of unchallenged assumptions and the “one thing” sign language interpreters must always remember in order to render more effective, meaningful, and culturally appropriate interpretations.
2. Deb Russell | Sign Language Interpreters: Discover & Recover an Enduring Legacy
Deb Russell’s StreetLeverage – Live | Atlanta presentation, Sign Language Interpreters: Discover & Recover an Enduring Legacy, recognizes the importance of uncovering and acknowledging the contributions and traits of leaders who have significantly impacted the field of interpreting. In order to move forward, we must first understand where we have come from.
3. Betty Colonomos | Sign Language Interpreters: Fostering Integrity
In her presentation, Sign Language Interpreters: Fostering Integrity, from StreetLeverage – Live | Atlanta, Betty Colonomos defines integrity and highlights the critical need for accountability in the field of sign language interpreting.
4. Doug Bowen Bailey | Transforming Perspectives: The Power of One-to-One Conversations For Sign Language Interpreters
Doug Bowen-Bailey’s StreetLeverage – Live | Austin presentation, Transforming Perspectives: The Power of One-to-One Conversations for Sign Language Interpreters, explores the concept of one-to-one conversations as a means of connecting with the Deaf community and other interpreters.
6. MJ Bienvenu | Bilingualism: Are Sign Language Interpreters Bilinguals?
MJ Bienvenu’s StreetLeverage – Live | Austin presentation, Bilingualism: Are Sign Language Interpreters Bilingual?, explores the deeper questions involved in determining whether sign language interpreters are, in fact, bilingual.
While these presentations represent a small part of the wisdom and insight shared at StreetLeverage – Live events, we hope this retrospective provides you with some tools, ideas and information to support your journey to becoming the sign language interpreter you’ve imagined yourself to be.
Betty presented “Sign Language Interpreters Fostering Integrity” at StreetLeverage – Live 2013 | Atlanta. Her talk explored how sign language interpreters operate with integrity and the professional measures needed to ensure the highest standards are, in fact, upheld.
You can find the PPT deck for is presentation here.
The Power of Integrity
First, let me thank Dave Coyne for my opening. His talk about Transactional Leadership presented several traits (e.g. inspiration, idealization, intellectualism) that are present in leaders. My talk adds another to the list: “Integrity.”
My talk this morning looks at the concept of Integrity as it applies to our society in general. I hope you will join this afternoon’s workshop, where we will be taking a deeper look at integrity as it applies to our field and our relationships with the Deaf community.
The Meaning of Integrity
“Integrity is when what you say, think and do are in harmony.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
This quote from Gandhi captures the essence of the meaning of integrity. Perhaps an example from my experience will illustrate this further. As a woman born during World War II, I clearly remember the prevalent racist beliefs of that time. Although we haven’t yet eradicated racism from our country, we have made progress. Many of us value equality among all people regardless of differences. Yet we have been in social environments where racist comments were made and we kept quiet. This behavior contradicts our values. Many of us now openly express disapproval at overt racist speech because we want to maintain our integrity.
Here is another way to capture the concept of Integrity using slightly different language. It relates to Shane Feldman’s talk about RID’s mission and the beliefs it communicates: welcoming membership involvement, creating policies through interaction, and making sure that our By-Laws are actions that express these beliefs. He pointed out that there is a disconnect between actions and beliefs. This state of affairs impacts perceptions about RID’s integrity.
I am so grateful to my mother who, despite suffering great hardships, fostered my love of truth. As a child I was often reminded: “when in doubt, tell the truth.” Of course my truths then (which were, no doubt, always the “right” truths) were based solely on feelings and opinions. Now, the benefit of education, observable data collection, observation, and my wealth of experience contribute to what I consider to be more credible truths. This also means that there may be other truths that are accepted by others as norms. Living one’s life with integrity is difficult and complicated. We see behaviors and opinions that do not fit with our professed beliefs every day.
Integrity Requires Sacrifice
We know that mainstream Americans value success, and that is demonstrated by the accumulation of materialistic symbols such as a big(ger) house, a fancy car, a degree from a prestigious university, and a highly paid job. The actions, language, and beliefs about being successful do show certain congruence; however, the question we may want to consider here is how this may or may not fit our definition of integrity.
There is inherent conflict in a culture of privilege that purports to cherish freedom, equality, morality, and the Golden Rule. The pressures and stresses that confront us in our daily lives mean that “doing the right thing” often competes with meeting our needs. There are sacrifices that must be made.
There are challenging decisions we must make to live with integrity.
The Faces of Integrity
With regard to people and how integrity interfaces with their lives, there are three distinct groups: Individuals with Integrity (Congruous Integrity), Individuals who believe they have Integrity (Fractional Integrity), and Individuals for whom Integrity is not a priority (Absent Integrity).
The first group, people who have integrity, feel good about themselves. They have a sense of purpose and are optimistic about life. There are many such people and I could point out the actions, behaviors, and beliefs that make them our heroes, but my time is limited here and I will only mention two such people. Rosa Parks took the bold action of sitting in the front of the segregated bus despite the hostile climate. Her brave actions had a profound impact on the Civil Rights movement that has led us to our continuing dialogue today in America and elsewhere.
Abraham Lincoln, who was a man who believed that no one should live as a slave, paid a high price to uphold his integrity. The country endured a Civil War that took thousands of lives to uphold the right of people who were enslaved to be free; he continued acting out his beliefs through his actions and speeches despite great suffering, both personal and political.
The second group consists of people whose expressed beliefs are not consistently congruent with their actions. These are people who advocate good deeds and kindness to others, but use words and display actions that are viewed as “hateful” by others. Similarly, in our community, we advocate for equality and access for Deaf people, yet we say and do things that are hypocritical and oppressive.
Anna Witter-Merithew, in her presentation, illustrated this point very well. The interpreter who makes an error in her interpretation and hides it from consumers is concerned with embarrassment or negative judgments, and allows those concerns to take precedence over disclosure. When interpreters are accountable for their interpretations by being honest and resolving the issue with consumers, they are much more likely to be trusted and respected. In other words, they demonstrate their integrity.
The third group of people we readily identify: they do not care about integrity. This is evident with those who would bilk people out of their life savings with no remorse. They are the con artists, those who prey on uninformed and powerless people.
Let us briefly examine how other professions strive to maintain agreed-upon standards and maintain their integrity. This list is not comprehensive, as time does not permit a thorough review.
Integrity Requires Accountability
If we look at the medical profession, we see that there is a mechanism of peer review that addresses questionable or poor practices. There are serious consequences for those who repeatedly violate standards, including suspension of hospital privileges and revocation of one’s license to practice. These review procedures are conducted by other doctors (colleagues), rather than patients (consumers). Patients seek recourse in the legal system. This is in sharp contrast to our field, where we expect consumers to initiate grievances and do not encourage colleagues to protect the profession.
Many interpreters have recounted their experiences with colleagues committing serious violations of the CPC. Upon questioning their reluctance to file a complaint, they may justify their inaction by expressions of fear (of reprisal, of being blacklisted, etc.), discomfort, and the amount of effort needed. How does this speak to our perceptions of integrity in our field?
Another form of professional monitoring is seen in the system of licensure.
Licenses are often awarded on the basis of other credentials, such as a medical degree and completion of residency requirements. For us, a license is often a rubber stamp given to someone who has received certification. Enforcement by the licensing entity is difficult, so the legal system is used. We can sue for malpractice and other offenses; however, we don’t hear much about this in the interpreting arena.
We do employ a form of supervision, using the term “mentorship” to identify a range of mechanisms for giving feedback and support to novice interpreters. The mentorship protocols offered to mentees vary within and across communities. Mentoring can mean assessing vocabulary production and selection, in-depth dialogue focusing on internal processes, and everything in between. It might serve us well to identify the most beneficial forms of mentoring for our profession and ourselves.
Just a few words here about the afternoon session:
The workshop will analyze numerous scenarios where decisions are made; we will talk about how interpreters with integrity might handle these challenges.
We will not look at poor decisions or failures — we have enough of those recounted every day. Let’s move beyond the “horror stories” and share viable options. We want to learn from each other what actions, beliefs, and words reflect our integrity. We want to fill ourselves with possibilities and things we can do.
Operating With Integrity
Really, the concept of integrity is woven throughout the entire weekend in presentations, workshops, conversations, and the environment. In a way, I see “integrity” as the umbrella that embraces the beliefs we hold, the decisions we make, and the processes that bring them to life.
We cannot police everyone. We can work together to make this a reality.
Contrary to popular belief, leaders and people with integrity are not perfect. They make mistakes because they are human.
We need to think about our integrity now more than ever: our field is in dire need of change. We know that it will take a long time to get there, but we can get through these growing pains if we are honest and operate with integrity.
Not everyone will become the best interpreter around; not everyone will sign like a native. But we all can strive to be the best interpreters we can be.
With a common goal and effort we uphold our integrity, and with that we can succeed together.
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Deb presented, Sign Language Interpreters: Discover & Recover and Enduring Legacy, at StreetLeverage – Live 2013 | Atlanta, GA. Her talk encouraged sign language interpreters to consider the opportunity before them to uncover, discover, and recover the gifts from previous leaders in the field. Further, Deb explored how interpreters can emulate the traits of these leaders in their own actions in order to leave a legacy of meaning.
You can find the PPT deck for her presentation here.
I am from Canada and we have a way of opening a meeting, which is to thank and recognize that we are standing on ground previously owned by the Aboriginal people. I also want to open this talk by thanking and recognizing the Deaf community, who taught me their language, culture and their experience of seeing the world. So thank you to my local Deaf community and the communities across Canada. I am fortunate, as I have the opportunity to travel widely in Canada and throughout the world, which means many Deaf communities have taught me, while sharing their experiences with me. Thank you to the CODAs, many of you in this room have taught me about your life experience, and I thank each of you. We have one CODA here today from Canada, Janice, thank you for sharing your insights and helping me envision what each of us can do. I never attended or graduated from an interpreter training program – the Deaf community taught me how to interpret, and they still do teach me, helping me understand how to match what they expect, prefer, and want to have happen with interpreters from their point of view. Based on that experience, I share this talk.
Importance of Looking Back
Now, my topic is about understanding our legacies and why it is crucial to look back. If we don’t understand our histories, we are destined to continue to make errors, and lose our way. I think it is important to look back and identify those who lead us, taught us, and ask if we need to find ways to embrace their teachings in a healthy way. Understand that I have been given twenty minutes, which means it is impossible to recognize all of the leaders that have contributed at the local, state or provincial, or national or international levels. So I have chosen some key people – people who have taught me and key people who have contributed greatly to our profession, and some that are still contributing. You may look at the list today and point out those I have not mentioned – to those people, I thank them for their contributions and hope they will accept my apologies for not including them today.
As I began the research for this presentation, I thought it was important to uncover the stories, the many positive stories that we can continue to learn from. For example, we can learn about our successes, and how we define success. If we forget those stories then we ultimately block our future success. It can prevent us from setting goals, and making progress on those goals that can result in improving our profession. So today is a chance to look back and see what those people contributed to our field and what we must learn from their legacy.
A legacy can be defined as our history, and also how we remember a person, or what we pass on to others. A legacy can be positive or negative – it is for you to decide.
I start with Lilian Beard. As I look out at the audience, as soon as Lilian’s photo came up, you immediately smiled. Why? How do we remember Lilian? Many of you never had the chance to meet her, but we have a collective memory of her many contributions to our field. How many of you remember her from 2009 at RID in Philadelphia, regaling us with story after story and everyone in the audience being captivated by her. Her contributions are numerous. This quote speaks volumes:
“…our friendship (with Deaf people) was never affected because they knew I was always there to support them.”
She was a CODA and this quote speaks to her relationship with the Deaf community, how she was always there to support the Deaf community. My question is this: are we still supporting Deaf people in the same way? If Lilian were here today, what advice would she offer us? How would she guide us in solving problems? Remember what she said when she started the Texas chapter – she began by talking with Deaf people, with, not talking to, not talking about, but talking with Deaf people. She was a wise woman and that sage advice still is true for us today.
As I remember Lilian, I am struck by the following characteristics: humble – she was indeed 100% humble, and she was collaborative, with interpreters, Deaf people and people who were not involved in the Deaf community. Her big heart was open to everyone. I think she had a Deaf heart – well before we began talking about what it means to have a Deaf heart – she demonstrated what it meant. She also knew the value of recognizing and thanking people for their contributions. She did so much, but one key event was her role in creating the Texas Registry of Interpreters. She admitted that she didn’t know how to create an organization so she found someone who knew how to do that and engaged their support.
“I did not do it myself, but I found someone who knew how to create the registry…”
“I think my strong suit was giving acknowledgement to people in the right proportions…”
This is similar to what Anna Witter-Merithew mentioned on Friday night at this conference – each of us must find allies, collaborators, and supporters in order to be successful. As I said, Lilian’s strength was to recognize and thank others for their service and contributions. I wonder, if we were take a good look at ourselves now, does our profession currently recognize the contributions of others? Or, are we so busy complaining, that we are forgetting to recognize and thank people? Lilian was a founding member of RID in 1964, which is well before some of you here were born! As a founding member, what was her vision for the organization? Maybe our organization has gone through many changes, however one of the original visions was to build the organization with Deaf people, and that Deaf people would remain integral in the organization.
Lou Fant – same response as when you looked at Lilian’s photo. We all remember him with such fondness and affection. Let’s look at some of Lou’s characteristics, and there are many of note! For me, Lou was a pioneer. He forged a way for us, leading us without us knowing he was leading us! He was also a CODA, and also very humble. He had a Deaf heart, and for me, he was a teacher, and a builder – a builder of organizations and a people-builder. He constantly encouraged us to improve as individuals and as organizations. Those traits are all things that we should value and strive to emulate. I went back and re-read Lou’s obituary and this line so resonated with me: “Lou Fant heard the Deaf with his heart.” That line says it all. Lou listened to the Deaf community with his heart, which says everything to me. Lou, like Lilian, was a CODA and he loved sign language. As I recall Lou, he stressed that we must treasure American Sign Language – and not the version of ASL that many of us as interpreters use, but the way Deaf people use their language! His first book, AMESLAN, is a book I still have on my shelf. It is also very interesting for me to see that some Deaf leaders and teachers throughout Canada and the US are talking about their community as an Ameslan community, not as a Deaf community, but rather an Ameslan community. Lou gave generously of his time to create organizations like RID, CIT, the National Theatre of the Deaf, and the list of contributions and successes goes on. Despite his long legacy, Lou never boasted of his involvement in our field.
1. RID certification – reasonable alternative to contract with an agency that specialized in devising, administering and scoring examinations…
2. Two important benefits to us:
– RID no vested interest, certification on more objective footing
– Home office staff and local affiliate personnel would be freed up to attend to what ought to be the main business of RID, fostering the professional growth in all of us…
Sometimes I wonder what Lou would advise us to do about our current challenges with certification. While his book, Silver Threads, is over 25 years old, I think his comments then about certification are food for thought for us today. We are still debating certification all these years later, but Lou’s idea was to take certification out of our organization and put it into the hands of an organization that specializes in assessment. Doing so would leave the RID staff with the time to focus on the business of RID: to promote the development and growth of our profession. Interesting, isn’t it?
Many people have contributed to the development of our profession, and throughout that process there were others that also recognized the value of creating an organization for interpreter educators. I know that many were involved in that movement; however, I have chosen Anna Witter-Merithew, who is with us today. I could use the whole 20 minutes to talk about Anna’s contributions, but the point is this: she has been actively involved in RID, serving multiple terms as President and Vice-President. She has served as the President of CIT twice. She has developed curriculum for teaching interpreters, she has created interpreter education programs, and more recently we note her work in the area of ethics and decision-making. She is nothing short of an amazing leader and an amazing contributor.
Let’s look at MJ Bienvenu, who is still so actively involved. As I look back on my 30 years in the field, MJ has been present everywhere – RID, CIT, and more! MJ is one who deeply understands the Deaf experience, equality and what it means to meaningfully include Deaf people in a movement. How would we define her? I think as an activist, an activist with the goal of equality.
“It’s about… Love for justice and equality for all. Love for basic human rights. Love for civil rights for all people…”
–Nov 7, 2012 Planet Deaf Queer
Many of you will have studied the “green books,” so you know her face, or remember her involvement in the Deaf President Now movement. She was also the co-founder of the TBC during 1997. That organization was the first organization to bring interpreters and Deaf people together to have conversations about power, and what was happening between the sign language interpreting and Deaf communities. She is a phenomenal leader!
As our field developed and we saw the emergence of many interpreting businesses, others questioned whether a business model was what was most effective for our field. Betty Colonomos was one of those people, and she found a way to create a business that also valued and embedded Deaf culture into every aspect of the business. Again, we can see that Betty has persisted in contributing to the community, and after 30 plus years, she is continuing to write, present, teach, and encourage us to reflect deeply. Her interpreting model is one that is taught daily in programs across this country. Her work with the Etna group is teaching the next generation to be reflective practitioners. Her contributions are countless.
Another example of someone who has contributed hugely to our field is Ed Bosson. Ed is known as the “father of VRS,” and there is no doubt that technology has dramatically changed our profession. We need to thank Ed for his vision of what equal communication access for Deaf people could be. He has impacted each of us.
Have We Lost Our Way?
But sometimes I wonder, like Shane Feldman said this weekend, if its like driving a car aimlessly – and sometimes we simply are lost. Have we lost some of those key characteristics that our previous leaders so generously modeled for us? Now we see more and more interpreters obsessing about the financial aspects of being interpreters, and not thinking about contributing. We also see tensions among our colleagues, and camps that have emerged. Yesterday, Nancy Blanchard spoke of the tension between the concepts of business and service. Is business the primary driver, or is service? Additionally, our relationship with the Deaf community appears to be fading, and our relationship with each other as colleagues is changing.
Can we recover some of those traits? My answer is a resounding yes! As we have heard yesterday and today, one of the first things we can do to recover as a profession is to regain our relationship with the Deaf community, in meaningful ways, not just to discuss business practices but to connect to the heart of the community. Another action we can all take is to commit to leadership with integrity, leadership with honesty. We can also all commit to everyday doing something that will improve our community. We sometimes speak of wanting to change the world, change our organizations, and change the field. But let’s shift that attention inward, where maybe we have to start changing ourselves first. We can take action that will result in positive change, and everyday that requires us to do something with the possibilities in front of us. You can take actions such as acting as an ally, which requires that you continue to have hope.
This next slide comes from some research that my friend and colleague Risa Shaw and I are doing related to power and legal interpreting. I think the model is relevant to this conversation. We need to explore what it is we envision when we talk about the task of interpreting. Do we see interpreting as merely the act of relaying words and signs, and see ourselves as passive? Or, do we see interpreting as something that requires us to be actively involved in the Deaf community, supporting Deaf people, and looking carefully at our decisions and actions that can oppress Deaf people? The model shows a “sense of agency,” which speaks to the inner control where we have to take responsibility for the work, for our profession, and ultimately for each other. It’s a huge discussion. And finally, the model addresses training. How are we teaching interpreters? I am an interpreter educator and I am nervous about how we teach interpreters now. All three of the circles on the slide feed into the area of “power” and that’s been our discussion this weekend. How do we share power? How do we recognize our power and acknowledge the impact of negative power? I think if we explore these areas in depth we can recover, as a field.
“I have felt several emotions as I wrote this book: joy, dismay, excitement, anger, and hope… Joy because of how much we have accomplished; anger at our inability to make decisions… and hope for our success. The one emotion I did not, nor do not feel, is despair…” P. 89
The above quote is from Lou’s book, where he talks about the many emotions that surfaced during the writing process, and Lou stressed that never once did he feel despair, which represents his ability to maintain hope as an ally. I think each of us here at StreetLeverage – Live | Atlanta feels that same sense of hope – I know that I very much feel that sense of hope from this event, and feel hope from each of you.
Connect and Collaborate
6 Steps to Becoming an Ally – Heather Bishop (2002)
1. Understand roots of oppression
2. Understand different oppressions – similarities & differences
3. Consciousness & healing
4. Working for own liberation
5. Becoming an Ally
6. Maintaining Hope
Sometimes our students learn this material from Bishop, from her book entitled “Becoming an Ally.” I appreciated Anna’s comments yesterday about the stages of “becoming,” and while we may not be there yet, we are “becoming.” So, we are learning all over again how to connect and collaborate, and thus how to become an ally. Bishop’s last three steps talk about healing and consciousness raising, and that certainly has been our focus this weekend. When we look at the step, “becoming an ally,” we need to ask what does that look like from the Deaf community’s point of view, and what does it mean for interpreters, and CODAs? That will require a great deal of conversation and dialogue. The final step of maintaining hope is our job!
What lies ahead is an opportunity for us to uncover, discover, and recover the gifts from our previous leaders’ many contributions, and to look at how we can emulate their traits in our actions. As a graduate of WADS University – remember that is Lou’s phrase, “Watch and Do the Same,” I graduated from that university – I watched our leaders and found ways to copy their actions and that is where we can find hope! So now I ask each of you to think about what your legacy will be for this field. You have an opportunity to change yourself and change the field.
What will your contribution be?
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In the afterglow of StreetLeverage – Live | Atlanta the words of Seth Godin resonate strongly, “The art of moving forward lies in understanding what to leave behind.” As I have contemplated the myriad of questions asked and the rich diversity of perspectives shared, it occurs to me that there was consensus around one singular idea—to leave behind the current definition of what it means to be a successful sign language interpreter.
This was repeatedly evidenced in the many sentiments shared urging one another, and every practitioner in the field, to return to the artistry of our craft and refocus on the fundamentals that the profession was founded upon—permission, trust, humility, and level of connectedness to the Deaf Community.
Simply, the only sustainable determination of success for a sign language interpreter is intrinsically tied to the real world experience they have both with and within the Deaf Community.
The ‘I am Change’ Manifesto
If positioned to do so, I believe those who attended StreetLeverage – Live | Atlanta would collectively invite every sign language interpreter to be the change they want to see in the profession.
To dare to stand in contrast to the iterative adjustments to the meaning of success that have replaced the permission, humanity, and applause of the community we serve with a preoccupation with proscribed practices, specialization, and financial reciprocity.
Will you stand with them?
StreetLeverage – Live, and streetleverage.com for that matter, would not be possible without the daring contributions of people willing to make a difference in the field by contributing their time, resources, perspectives, and ideas.
I would like to extend my appreciation to each of the inspiring speakers at StreetLeverage – Live | Atlanta for their thought provoking talks and calls to action.
Talk | Marginalization Within the Sign Language Interpreting Profession: Where is the Deaf Perspective?
We will be releasing videos of these talks here on streetleverage.com in the coming weeks and months. Stay tuned. The first release is next week!
It is difficult to express the profound sense of gratitude I have for the many people who volunteered their time to ensure our time in Atlanta was enjoyable and productive. I would like to thank the following people for their immeasurable contribution to the success of StreetLeverage – Live | Atlanta.
You are the reason StreetLeverage is possible. Thank you for allowing me to chase big dreams. Words cannot capture the gratitude I have for your encouraging smile and unwavering support. Thank you for coordinating the hospitality efforts at the event. Mwah!
Your command of registration was impressive, appreciated and noted by all in attendance. Thank you. Also, thanks for supporting the social web coverage of the event.
You are a social web giant! Thank you for leading the social media coverage of the event and for lending your incredible talent to the StreetLeverage effort.
Your work to coordinate the volunteers and continuing education components of the event were masterful. Thank you for engendering a pay-it-forward perspective.
Your utility was amazing. Thanks for being everywhere support was needed. Badging and registration were better because you came. You are wise beyond your years. Thank you.
Special thanks to Jarvis Avery, Henry Bruce, Brittany Gailey, Julie Garbison, Desiree Hines, Brandi Meriwether, Venise Nichole Niles, Erin Powell, Emma Jane Rozenzweig, and Jillian Wright for your support of the event and reminding us of the importance of the coming generation of industry stewards.
Your AV muscle and vision for room set-up were incredible. Thank you for leading the thankless work that is facility and technology management. Your comedic tendencies are only surpassed by your abundant generosity.
Events like StreetLeverage – Live would not be possible except for the generous and progressive support of our partners. I would like to thank each of them for their contribution and support of the effort to create change in the sign language interpreting industry.
As we work to leave behind the current definition of what it means to be a successful sign language interpreter, let us continue to be inspired by the importance of leaving a legacy of generosity for those who follow. It is only our generous contribution to the betterment and advancement of the field that will endure. Lets be the change we want to see in the profession.
Thanks again to everyone who participated. See closing comments here.
We have already begun preparing for next year. Mark your calendars! We will be holding next year’s StreetLeverage – Live May 1 – 4, 2014.
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Betty explores how we want to believe that all professionals providing services to our citizens uphold the highest standards of integrity. To maintain public and collegial trust and safety, professions have mechanisms such as peer review boards, licensure, censure, and mandatory supervision to deal with those who violate these standards. Does Sign Language interpreting demonstrate professional integrity? Can we call ourselves a profession without effective measures to ensure integrity of our practitioners?
Please take opportunity to dialogue with Betty on this topic prior to the event by submitting comments below.
Workshop | Building a Path to Integrity
Integrity, like most other social concepts, is culturally defined. When we live and work in more than one culture, the tenets of integrity become blurred. In this workshop we will discuss the meaning of ‘integrity’ and then examine the ways in which we demonstrate or violate the tenets of integrity in our profession. Through group activities we will posit changes we might make to communicate among ourselves and with our consumers/clients these values of integrity. We will also consider the ways in which we can incorporate these markers of integrity into our professional code and our literature.
A recurrent phrase that has been appearing in frequent discussions is “Deaf heart.” Our national interpreter organization, RID, has long been characterized as needing a Deaf heart. Recently, changes have been made to move RID to a more Deaf-centered perspective on the field of interpretation. The most recent evidence of this is the addition of Shane Feldman, who is Deaf, as the new Executive Director. Although institutional shifts are possible with changes in policies and practices, there is much misunderstanding of the concept as it applies to practicing interpreters.
In the 1990’s there were many efforts to address this concern. New England states held a series of Ally Conferences that focused on the Deaf view of interpreters and their behaviors. This resulted in many discussions and workshops to clarify the meaning of an interpreter-as-ally. There was–and still is—debate about the fine line between ethical practices and ally responses. Today, it is considered acceptable and even desirable to provide information to hearing and Deaf consumers regarding accommodations, cultural differences, and resources. The emergence of Deaf Interpreters in our profession has contributed to the dissemination of information about accessibility and Deaf people, and has helped to educate the Deaf Community about their own power.
Deaf Activists & Social Dynamics
In the 21st century we looked to models from minority groups that view societal privilege and oppression to explain and understand the relationship between interpreters and the Deaf Community. Deaf activists are helping the community of interpreters and Deaf people to understand the social dynamics that create marginalization, audism, and racial/ethnic prejudices.
These robust and healthy discussions about privilege are paving the way for a change in the way we think about minority communities and cultures that goes beyond the medical and pathological view of Deaf people.
Internalization of Deaf Heart
But what about ‘Deaf heart’? In my travels and conversations with many interpreters, codas, and members of the Deaf Community it has become clearer that we still are not adequately capturing the qualities and behaviors of Deaf-heart interpreters. It is not about laws, services, ethics (at least from majority/privilege perspective), or training. It is something that can’t be taught. It is difficult to explain, yet palpably absent.
The internalization of a Deaf heart must come from the interpreter’s own sense of justice and morality.
A number of contributors to StreetLeverage have expressed this quality in different ways.
Dennis Cokely, in his article, Sign Language Interpreters: Complicit in a Devil’s Bargain?, provides a historical context that demonstrates the shift from earlier times when having ‘Deaf heart’ was intrinsic for interpreters to the indicators that this has significantly diminished. He explains:
How do we justify learning their language and profiting from it without giving back? In becoming a “profession” have we simply become parasites?”
What are we willing to do as individuals to become reconnected with Deaf people? Are we willing to adjust our work choices to accommodate the rhythm of Deaf people’s lives?”
This type of knowledge (schools for the deaf) is an important element of Deaf culture for many people. Not recognizing its importance, or dismissing it when someone shares this information speaks volumes to cultural (il) literacy.
A participant from that group suddenly said with an incredulous look, “I don’t understand why you’re so upset that video interpreters don’t know city names? That’s really ridiculous. It’s such a small thing.” I was momentarily caught off-guard by her flippant response. I quickly clarified that I wasn’t upset, saying, “Quite the contrary. It’s just one of those things that Deaf people have to live with. It does become cumbersome if you have to make several calls a day and each video interpreter you encounter doesn’t know a city sign or town where a deaf school is.”
“Do we think of ourselves as bystanders—present from a distance, and therefore, not involved? Have we internalized the neutrality we are to bring to our task as non-involvement and disinterest [versus objectivity and emotional maturity]?
What do we believe about ourselves, our work and our contribution to the good of the Deaf society? As we explore the answer to this and other hard questions, we must consider the implications of our history of behaving as if invisible and its potential contribution to the diffusion of responsibility.”
Part of having a Deaf heart is caring enough about the well being of Deaf people and their communities to put them above ego, pride, and unwillingness to fight for what is right. For example, I have interpreted in Juvenile Court many times and have come across several instances when parents/guardians should have the services of Deaf interpreters. It is obvious at the first meeting that the consumers have limited education, cognitive deficits, idiosyncratic language, or some combination of these. I inform their attorneys of this and find out that this case has been ongoing (sometimes up to three years) and the attorneys had no idea about this. Often these lawyers and social service personnel indicate that they “felt that something was not right” about their interactions with clients. Numerous interpreters have been working on these cases. They are deemed qualified to work in court; they are certified; all have had some degree of legal training. Why didn’t they recognize this? Intervene? Advocate for Deaf Interpreters?
Absence of Context
My professional experiences are replete with markers of the lack of “Deaf heart.” I have heard English interpretations of texts where Deaf people are proudly sharing their generational Deafness (e.g. fifth generation Deaf) conveyed as a matter-of-fact piece of information about having deaf children in each generation. The critical meaning of Deaf “royalty” is absent, leaving the possibility that the non-deaf audience might see this as a genetic flaw or “problem.”
In workshops I see many interpreters–student and experienced alike—who do not recognize ASL discourse that is representing a community’s point of view. For example, Deaf people often convey narrative that on the surface seems to be about them (an “I” Deaf text) when in fact the message is about the “We” Deaf story. The consequence is that the Deaf person appears to be discussing an isolated event, when the issue is really about a community with shared experiences. Which do you think has a greater impact on the audience? Being around Deaf people often allows interpreters to know how to distinguish “I” from “We” Deaf texts.
Interpreters who have no interactions with Deaf people outside of work miss much of the collective history and current burning issues that show up in interpreted interactions and collegial discussions. How can interpreters who hide behind their interpretation of the Code of Professional Conduct–instead of taking responsibility to intervene–employ strategies that are culturally appropriate to solve problems?
Accountability is the Beginning
Interpreters who demonstrate the qualities of Deaf heart are those who reflect on how their choices and decisions affect the Deaf Community; they question their practices that seem to be oppressive or damaging to the lives of Deaf people; they own their mistakes and share them with others. Most importantly, they seek input and advice from Deaf people and are not afraid to be uncomfortable with Deaf people’s responses and viewpoint.
“…my customers are not well served by a quasi-messianic philosophy that valorizes my role far above theirs. It’s also simply inaccurate; customers often communicate effectively despite my excellent service rather than because of it.”
“I’m not sure I’ll ever fully understand my duality as both ally and enemy in the lives of Deaf people without some measure of guilt. Like many members of privileged groups, I hope to learn the right way to behave toward an oppressed group—once— and never again have to feel unsure of myself or guilty about my privilege.
When I demonstrate a fuller understanding of both what I give and what I take, it is returned by Deaf people, not with a sneering pleasure at my knowing my place, but with greater trust, friendship, and welcome.”
Gina Oliva, in her challenge to us in, Sign Language Interpreters in Mainstream Classrooms: Heartbroken and Gagged, boldly brings forth the role played by sign language interpreters in mainstream education and the significant impact this has on future generations of Deaf people. We have remained silent for too long about our part in harming deaf children and their potential for successful lives. We have allowed interpreters to present themselves as adequate language models and carriers of negative views of Deaf people. We have done little to admit to this injustice and have put our needs for employment above the lives of innocent children.
“ It is important to find opportunities to talk with Deaf consumers about our work as sign language interpreters and to ask them to help us consider the implications of role implementation for their experiences.”
“…remember that if a deaf person expresses frustration at disempowerment, it doesn’t necessarily mean she or he is angry, divisive or separatist. Rather, take a look at the situation, and figure out how, if at all, you or other interpreters might have contributed to the situation. “
Important Enough to Act?
The only question that remains is whether or not the practitioners in our field care enough about this to want to do something about it. Do we need to bring these discussions to the forefront of our public professional discourse? Should we insist that our programs for training interpreters address this issue and involve Deaf people much more in educating future interpreters? When will we uphold the integrity of our profession by supporting novices and by renouncing those who cast a pall over us?
When will we appreciate the valuable insights of codas to help us nurture the Deaf heart in us? Why do we vigorously debate whether a permanent seat on RID’s Board for an IDP (interpreter with Deaf Parents) is necessary when we know how much it will enhance the Deaf heart perspective in the organization? When will we acknowledge that Deaf Studies courses and programs are helpful in understanding, but they do not replace the need for feeling the stories?
We have a wonderful opportunity before us. Deaf people and codas are more aware of their own Deaf hearts and they are willing to talk about it and to help others recognize their own unconscious anti-Deaf heart actions. Why aren’t we eagerly seeking their input and guidance? Why aren’t we thankful for how they enrich us?
It is hard to walk in another’s shoes, but our work depends on the ability to see the world through the lenses of our consumers and clients. Without this, how can we become the noble profession we envision?
There is always room for a Deaf Heart…you are invited.
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