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IEP: Faculty Composition Impacts Sign Language Interpreter Readiness

By investing in a faculty rich in diversity, skills and experience, Joseph Featherstone believes Interpreter Education Programs can enhance sign language interpreting students’ readiness while upholding high standards of practice.

IEP: Faculty Composition Impacts Sign Language Interpreter Readiness

There’s been a lot of focus on interpreter readiness, especially for recent graduates of Interpreter Education Programs (IEP). As a Deaf person who often uses sign language interpreting services, as an educator teaching university-level ASL courses, and as a CDI, I want to share some observations and insights that will increase the likelihood that an IEP will turn out graduates who are ready to function as effective interpreters.

[View post in ASL]

Identifying Gatekeepers

I remember once getting a call from a friend who teaches ASL. She had a question about a former student of mine.

“Should I accept her into the program? Or is she going to waste a spot for a potential interpreter?”

It hadn’t occurred to me how my ASL classes impact the Deaf community by feeding ITPs and educating prospective interpreters.

At that moment, I realized, as an ASL instructor, I was a gatekeeper.     

Historically, Deaf community members acted as exclusive gatekeepers and chose who would become interpreters (Ball, 2013., Cokely, 2005., & Fant, 1990). In the 1960s and ‘70s, sign language interpreters were most often those who were already connected to the Deaf Community – children of Deaf parents, close friends, siblings, and pastors of congregations (Cokely, 2005). With time, though, government support for sign language interpreting grew, new trends emerged, and the mode of gatekeeping shifted.

Nowadays, the most common way to become an interpreter is via classroom education through schools and interpreter training programs (Ball, 2013). Due to this change, the role of gatekeeper has now expanded to include a variety of instructors from these schools and programs.

In his article, It Takes a Village to Raise a Sign Language Interpreter, Brian Morrison says, “Rather than viewing interpreter education programs negatively or putting the sole onus on them for having not taught students all they need to know, we can shift our focus to building on their existing foundation.”

I couldn’t agree more.

After the phone call from my friend, my epiphany snowballed. I realized that as an instructor and a gatekeeper, I had the unique opportunity to prepare my students to connect into the Deaf community. I wasn’t on just one side anymore; I had a responsibility to set high standards and teach my students to these standards.

And I’m not the only one. Every instructor along a student’s journey, from those teaching introductory ASL to those teaching the most advanced IEP courses, have a dual role—teaching and gatekeeping. Everyone.

As Morrison says, it takes a village.

For that reason, I encourage IEP directors to evaluate their faculty’s backgrounds and experiences. It does take a village to raise a sign language interpreter, and it takes a village to keep the standards of sign language interpreting high.

StreetLeverage - Sign Language Interpreter Education Month

The Village

The village, like the gatekeeper, is a metaphor. Village members represent members of the Deaf community in all their variety. In earlier times, the village helped mentor and nurture a budding interpreter to grow in language and cultural fluency.

Today, sign language interpreters are graduating and passing certifications without being immersed in that surrounding village, leaving a gap between them and the Deaf community.

As an interpreter, instructor, and Deaf individual, I’ve seen how this gap affects all of us involved in the IEP student’s journey and how it affects our roles as gatekeepers.

In addition to more and more encouragement (or a requirement) to go out and spend precious time participating in the Deaf community, I propose that IEP directors and boards bring a little bit of the village to the interpreter—for preparation and evaluation.

This sampling of the village cannot replace the knowledge, skills, and experience interpreting students gain by spending time in the Deaf community. But, a faculty that reflects the diversity of the village can help students more quickly build their knowledge, skills, and cultural fluency. And time is short to prepare interpreters to reach graduation.

Who, then, do we bring in from the village?

I’d like to introduce you to four of what I call the village elders: the Native English-Speaker, the Native ASL Signer, the Bilingual Native, and the CDI.

The Village Elders

The Native English-Speaker:

Instructors who are English natives, for whom ASL is an acquired language, aren’t difficult to find. These are hearing instructors. Because they are common, their role in the village can become ambiguous without the context of the other faculty.

As a Native English-Speaker, this elder has the distinct trait of native fluency in English. They share this English first language acquisition with most of their interpreting students. The depth of their understanding of the nuances of English can only help as they interpret in situations rich with jargon or cultural queues (e.g., a hospital visit).

In large part, Native English-Speakers can identify with their interpreter students’ journey because it is one they had to make themselves: they once had to pass by gatekeepers and gain entrance to the Deaf community and the village.

The Native ASL Signer:

Joseph Featherstone
Joseph Featherstone

Typically a deaf teacher with native ASL fluency, having a Native ASL Signer teaching ASL or ITP classes cannot be undervalued. It’s always preferable in terms of language acquisition to have a native speaker teaching the mother tongue rather than someone who learned it later. Often, the ASL native not only has a primary language learner’s understanding of ASL but also can share their experience and knowledge as a member of the Deaf community.

In the classroom, they represent the Deaf perspective on sign language interpreting. Through their instruction, IEP students can gain a better appreciation for the Deaf community and can develop a basic cultural fluency to build on outside of class.

Many IEPs do not employ Native ASL Signers for classes other than ASL. There are classes that could benefit from a Deaf native’s perspective, like ethics and translation. Wouldn’t it be amazing if each of these village elders could teach an ethics course each semester and offer their different perspectives?

The Bilingual Native:

Bilingual Natives have native fluency in both ASL and English, such as Children of Deaf Adults (CODA). Because they most likely grew up with ASL as their first language, the Bilingual Native more intimately understands the Deaf way. That’s not to say that that they are more invested in the Deaf community than those who learned ASL in school, but that their relationship with the Deaf community is more direct, and as such, they are greatly impacted by the state of the Deaf community.

Bilingual Natives also have a strong understanding of English and can teach on the intersection between the Deaf and Hearing communities, especially as it relates to interpreting.

The CDI:

This may be the most under-utilized Village Elder. A CDI can be instrumental in the holistic development of an interpreting student. Their experience as a Deaf community member and a certified interpreter helps them bridge the perspective gap between ITP students and the Deaf community. They understand the feelings of being a client, and they understand the pressures of being a sign language interpreter.

Sometimes interpreting students view Deaf teachers as skilled in the language but less able to identify with the mechanics of interpreting. CDIs like myself are able to relate on both levels. We are Deaf. We are also not just interpreters, but interpreters who are more often called in for extreme, high-stress, high-stakes interpreting situations. We typically have more experience in the trenches where interpreting mistakes can be disastrous.

The unique CDI role provides us with a distinct perspective and understanding of the interpreting process, the Code of Professional Conduct established by RID, as well as the feelings of interpreters and the recipients of interpreting services—not to mention, CDIs know firsthand the best practices for team interpreting with other CDIs and hearing interpreters.

CDIs have a lot to offer IEP students. It’s been my experience that recent graduates from programs with a CDI on faculty exhibit a more refined situational awareness.

In The End

To rephrase Morrison: “Imagine the outcomes when the new student and the [Village Elders] learn and grow from sharing their knowledge with each other.”  Skill development is quickest when in the community. For our students, that means taking every opportunity to encourage their interaction with allies, advocates, and members of the Deaf community and providing them with a faculty that reflects the strength and diversity of our community.

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Questions For Consideration

  1. What skills or perspectives do you and your faculty have that contribute to the sense of the village in your program? What additional skills or perspectives could benefit your program?  
  2. How do you think IEPs can better build a sense of the village and gatekeeping?
  3. Why do you think it takes a village to raise a sign language interpreter?


  1. Ball, C. (2013). Legacies and legends: History of interpreter education from 1800 to the 21st century. Edmonton, AB: Interpreting Consolidated.
  2. Cokely, D. (2005). Shifting positionality: A critical examination of the turning point in the relationship of interpreters and the deaf community. In M. Marshcark, R. Peterson & E.
  3. Fant, L. (1990). Silver threads: A personal look at the first twenty-five years of the registry of interpreters for the deaf. Silver Spring, MD: RID Publications.
  4. Morrison, B. (2013). It Takes a Village to Raise a Sign Language Interpreter. Retrieved September 28, 2016, from
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Civility Within the Interpreting Profession: A Novice’s Perspective

Recommitting to the principles of civility aligns sign language interpreters with the Code of Professional Conduct while fostering positive interactions both online and in person.

Civility Within the Interpreting Profession

I have always believed strongly in the school of hard knocks. As a sign language interpreter, I have held the opinion that sensitivity is not a luxury we can afford if we want to make it in this field; if you cannot accept criticism, this is not the job for you. My opinion in the last several weeks has changed.

[Click to view post in ASL]

According to the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), sign language interpreters are required to “maintain civility towards colleagues, interns and students of the profession.” (RID code of professional conduct, Tenet 5.1, 2009).  Unfortunately, with the proliferation of websites like Facebook, Twitter, personal web pages, public forums, and other forms of social media, this tenet seems to be disappearing into the abyss of the internet faster than you can say “LOL J/K everyone.” I can assure you that not everyone is “laughing out loud,” and commentators are not “just kidding.”

I often find myself bearing witness to those who are using the internet as a platform to discuss their distaste for novice interpreters. Previously, when I would check my usual blogs, forums, and Facebook pages, I would ignore these comments. I did not realize, however, that it was not only novices who were the targets of these comments on the internet; seasoned and certified interpreters were being targeted as well.  Despite the fact that these comments sometimes hurt or have made me doubt myself, I ignored them and kept practicing. After all, criticism comes with the territory – if we are not struggling, we are not growing.

How Far is too Far?

One day, I was shown an interpreter’s personal website which was used to promote their services. However, I noticed that this interpreter also used this website as a platform to discredit other interpreters who were deemed “unfit” by this person. This included sharing an – in their opinion – “unqualified” interpreter’s picture, full name and a detailed account of their interpreting errors. A few weeks later, on a different forum, an interpreter posted an image of a novice interpreting and commented that this novice should not be interpreting. To the credit of the forum’s administrator, this post was later removed with a disclaimer stating that this kind of behavior was unacceptable, but as we all know, the internet is forever. Accepting a job you are not qualified to interpret is most certainly unethical, but there must be a better and more ethical way to resolve the issue of qualification that does not involve potentially slanderous behavior.

Time for Change

Shortly after witnessing these actions on the internet, I attended Street Leverage’s Street Tour along with a diverse group of sign language interpreters ranging from current ITP students to seasoned nationally certified interpreters with more than 20 years of experience. Betty Colonomos stood before us and asked a very profound question: “What are you afraid of ?” We each took turns writing down our interpreting-related fears on posters. The result was astounding. Everyone in the room had the exact same fear: fear of being judged by other sign language interpreters.

After realizing we all were sharing the same fears, Betty encouraged us to dig a little deeper; what came to the surface was some serious interpreter-on-interpreter crime. As it turns out, not only were the novices being treated unfairly, but those with many years of experience felt that they, too, were being looked down upon for not having the training or education that some of the new interpreters had. I listened as interpreter after interpreter shared their own stories of slander. ITP students, novices, certified interpreters, and veterans of our field, at one point or another, had all experienced other interpreters tearing them down. I learned that this issue started long before the internet, and it is having a pervasive impact on our community. After listening to us all weekend, Betty left us with a final thought, “instead of being a victim, become an activist.” This is exactly what I intend to do.

A Case for Civility

Gina DiFiore-Ridolph
Gina DiFiore-Ridolph

P.M. Forni, the author of Choosing Civility and the co-founder of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project, describes civility as

“being aware of others and weaving restraint, respect and consideration into the very fabric of this awareness…It is not just an attitude of benevolent and thoughtful relating to other individuals; it also entails active interest in the well-being of our communities” (2002).

This is a concept that we, as professional sign language interpreters, are quickly losing sight of. This lack of civility is creating a chasm in our community. It needs to stop. Maintaining civility towards one another is the only way to bring us together. Without adopting a civil attitude, we are going to  continue to tear each other apart.  

It Starts With Accountability

In 2012, Carolyn Ball wrote a similar article for Street Leverage asking us what role civility has in the interpreting profession. Civility begins with ourselves. If each sign language interpreter were to promise never to tear down another interpreter, to maintain civility and to keep the best interests of their counterparts in mind; the change would be enormous. We can repair this rift we have created. I still believe in the school of hard knocks, I still believe that you need to struggle in order to grow; I believe in civility, too. It is possible to believe in both. If we promise to support one another and be mindful of our actions, both on and off the internet, we can create an environment that is more conducive to effective interpreting.  


If you find yourself frequently frustrated by other sign language interpreters, reach out, instead of calling them out. I highly recommend Forni’s book, Choosing Civility. As a person who used to think civility was just “being nice” or “sugar coating things,” I learned, after reading this book, that this is not the case at all. You can still have grit and be gracious. You can still be assertive and agreeable. It all starts with a choice to hold ourselves accountable both on and off the internet.

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Questions for Consideration:

  1. What are three things you can do to increase the level of civility in your professional life?
  2. How can you hold yourself and others accountable for internet interactions regarding other interpreters?
  3. What can you do to support other interpreters in supporting the concept of civility in the profession?
  4. Can you list several concrete ways we can model civility to our peers both online and in person?

Related Posts:

Accountability: A First Step to Harmony Among Sign Language Interpreters? Sabrina Smith

It Takes a Village to Raise a Sign Language Interpreter by Brian Morrison

The Value of Networking for the Developing Sign Language Interpreter by Stacey Webb


Ball, C. (2012). What Role Does Civility Play in the Sign Language Interpreting Profession. Retrieved October 21st, 2015 from http//

Forni, P.M (2002). Choosing Civility: The Twenty Five Rules of Considerate Conduct. New York, New York: St. Martin’s Press.

NAD-RID Code of Professional Conduct. (2009) Retrieved October 26th, 2015 from http//

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Critical Path: A Reboot of Sign Language Interpreter Education

It’s time for a reboot of sign language interpreter education.  Two year interpreting programs should become pre-professional programs that lead to a bachelor’s degree in interpreting.

Critical Path: A Reboot of Sign Language Interpreter EducationAs professional sign language interpreters and sign language interpreter educators, we all understand the difficult work we are tasked with and we recognize when it’s working and when it’s not. Recently, four such professionals met over a three-day period to think about the current state of interpreter education and how sign language interpreter preparation needs to change. Each of us in that group of four brought differing experiences to the table and more professional hats than we care to count. We believe that many in the field have known this conversation is desperately needed, but more than that, it is time to act.

[Click to view post in ASL]

Our group includes interpreter educators, a Deaf professional, an interpreter educator with Deaf parents, a parent of Deaf children, and a leader in a post-secondary interpreter education program. We worry about the skills of the interpreter who arrives to interpret for our Deaf mother and father, about whether our Deaf children will understand the interpreter who comes to basketball practice, and if we will be able to find an interpreter who is adequately prepared for the highly academic and intellectual meeting we attend. We each choose to believe we can make a difference. It was Margaret Mead who stated, to “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

It is time to radically examine how we prepare sign language interpreters nationwide. For far too long we have recognized that the preparation of an interpreter is nearly impossible to do in a two-year time period – whether those two years are part of a two-year associate degree program or the last two years of a baccalaureate degree program. We believe it is now time for community action. Collectively, we need to rethink how we prepare sign language interpreters and recognize that it takes a village to fully prepare interpreters. We are answering the call to action asked for by Cindy Volk in her Street Leverage article Sign Language Interpreter Education: Time for a National Call to Action.

The proposed reformation is a three-legged stool; that is, the seat is a new way of preparing sign language interpreters who are linguistically and culturally empowered to making a lasting difference, and the three legs are what we need to do to support this change, namely empowering educators, enhancing the curriculum and establishing a strong foundation in language and culture.

Empowering Educators

More often than not, we teach how we were taught. This is a widely accepted notion and one that rings true in many fields of study. Consequently, there is a need to provide training on how to effectively teach, assess our students on their progress towards mastering course outcomes and develop the curriculum. If we are to reform how we educate sign language interpreters, we have to first give educators the tools they need to not only rethink interpreter education but to change it. We need to prepare educators of today to be the leaders of tomorrow.

Enhancing the Curriculum

It has often been stated that the challenge of preparing a student to be a sign language interpreter in a two-year program is simply insurmountable. The four of us have heard repeatedly from faculty in associate level programs that they just can’t get it all in the allotted number of courses. We’ve heard from faculty at baccalaureate level programs that all too often they receive students from associate programs who do not possess the necessary language skills to proceed. We all need to be held accountable and take action to correct this.

Four-year programs need to be able to depend on two-year programs to fully prepare students for entry into the major of sign language interpreting. Two-year programs need to depend upon four-year programs to close the circle and complete the preparation so that students leaving are well-prepared for the field. Both two-year and four-year programs need to be involved with preparing interpreters in a complementary way rather than a competing or exclusive manner.

We suggest a reconsideration of the purpose of two-year programs. They should be pre-professional programs, with a focus on the foundations of interpreting. Courses should include ASL, translation, social justice, Deaf culture, pre-interpreting skills, and a stronger emphasis on the English language. In addition, interpreting programs should capitalize on the general education curriculum by creating a two year initial sequence that enhances the outcomes of students who are fully prepared to enter into interpreting programs with all the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to succeed.

 Ensuring Strong Foundations in Language and Culture 

As Lou Fant stated in 1974, “Prime prerequisite for an interpreter of any language is mastery of the languages he wishes to interpret. It seems so obvious that one feels embarrassed, almost, to mention it, yet I fear it is too often not given sufficient attention.”1 We would all agree that one of the most critical aspects of preparing future sign language interpreters is the development of a strong foundation in the languages they will use as interpreters. It is impossible to learn skills in interpreting, while also learning a second language. As a field, it is time we acknowledge this and require a strong foundation in ASL and English before entry into a sign language interpreting program. Rather than use two-year college programs to try and prepare students for the interpreting profession, why not use such programs to give students the linguistic and cultural foundations needed to then enter an interpreter education program?


  • Establish a taskforce to examine a Deaf/hearing co-teaching model to develop foundational fluency in ASL for students entering interpreter training programs.

  • Establish a track at the CIT biennial conference to address the need for reformation.

  • Begin discussions about the possibility of adding specialty areas of preparation (education, legal, medical, etc.) to interpreter education programs.

  • Examine the proliferation of interpreter education programs to determine if the need truly exists for so many programs.

  • Begin a discussion between program directors from both two-year and four-year programs on how to develop a national interpreter education curriculum and outcomes.

  • Research how competency-based education may be a model for our field.

  • Research how theories, models and frameworks of spoken language apply to the preparation of signed language interpreters.

Back: Cindy Volk, Len Roberson. Front: Carolyn Ball, Taralynn Petrites
Back: Cindy Volk, Len Roberson. Front: Carolyn Ball, Taralynn Petrites

An Example

An example of how two groups (e.g., two-year and four-year programs) can work together is the recent efforts of University of Arizona (UA) and Pima Community College (PCC).  Currently, these two institutions are collaborating on the development of a framework that will  address many of the issues raised in this article. The goal is to create a 2+2 program whereby students will begin at PCC with a focus on ASL skills and pre-interpreting skills. Students would then transfer to UA where they will study the interpreting process and further refine their skills as sign language interpreters. The language and culture foundations developed at PCC will be critical to the success of the students at UA. Both PCC and UA encourage other such programs in the United States to engage in similar collaborative efforts and, thus, reform how interpreters are prepared.


This type of reformation needs leadership and direction. We recommend that the three key organizations in sign language interpreter education – the Conference of Interpreter Trainers (CIT), the American Sign Language Teachers’ Association (ASLTA), and the Commission on Collegiate Interpreter Education (CCIE) come together and move forward in realizing this vision. It is our recommendation that the Presidents of these three organizations meet to examine how they can individually contribute to, collaborate on, and lead this reformation.

Reforming sign language interpreter education to graduate skilled, well-prepared interpreters should not be the concern of only a few people, but rather an urgent priority for all stakeholders, including sign language interpreting agencies, VRS companies, parents of Deaf children, children of Deaf parents, ITPs, and Deaf people. The time is indeed now – we must reform sign language interpreter education.

We want to acknowledge the ideas and contributions of several people who helped frame the ideas we’ve presented here. Thank you to Leslie Greer, Jimmy Beldon, and Amy June Rowley.

Questions for Consideration:

  1. How can your program make significant reformations in interpreter education?
  2. Do you think the time is now for such reformation in sign language interpreter education? Why or why not?
  3. Are the ideas presented in this article feasible/possible in your community, state, and in the nation?  If not, why not?

Dr. Carolyn Ball has been an interpreter educator for over 25 years, teaching at Brigham Young University, Salt Lake Community College, William Woods University and the University of North Florida. Currently, she is the Executive Director of the VRS Interpreting Institute (VRSII) in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Taralynn Petrites, M.Ed., is the lead faculty of Sign Language and Interpreter Training as well as Department Chair of Behavioral Sciences at Pima Community College (PCC) in Tucson, Arizona. Taralynn has been teaching American Sign Language and Interpreting courses since 2002. She is currently working on her dissertation toward a Ph.D. in Higher Education Leadership.

Len Roberson, Ph.D., SC:L, CI, CT, has been involved in the fields of deaf education and interpreting for over 28 years. He is an active researcher, interpreter, and interpreter educator. Dr. Roberson is currently Associate Vice-President of Academic Technology and Innovation at the University of North Florida (UNF) and a tenured professor. His current research interests include the study of interpreting in legal settings, distance learning effectiveness, and service-learning in interpreter education.


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1Fant, L. (1974) JADARA (Journal of Rehabilitation of the Deaf) Volume 7, Issue 3, 1974 (pp. 47 – 69).

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Does the Past Hold the Answer to the Future of Sign Language Interpreting?

Carolyn Ball presented Does the Past Hold the Answer to the Future of Sign Language Interpreting? at StreetLeverage – Live 2014 | Austin. Her talk will examine how the profession of sign language interpreting might be very different if 50 years of recommendations had not gone ignored.

You can find the PPT deck for her presentation here.

[Note from StreetLeverage: What follows is an English translation of Carolyn’s talk from StreetLeverage – Live 2014 | Austin.  We would encourage each of you to watch the video and access Carolyn’s talk directly.]

Lighting the Way

As I look around the room today, I am in awe. There are many of you who have been involved with this wonderful profession of interpreting since its inception.  Because of your background in this field, you have become a light, much like a match and an influence for those around you. Your light is like the one match that can be lit, and then spreads to all of the other matches and can influence change.

You would not be here unless you wanted to change this profession.  We all want to be better, we want to teach better, we want to interpret better, and we want to ensure that the Deaf Community has the skilled interpreters they deserve.  That’s why we are here and that is why we try so hard to make this profession better. You literally have the power to change this profession. Each of you has something inside of you that has and will change this profession.

I will show you three examples of lights (people) that have influenced our profession. Those people who have come before us in our profession have taught us many lessons.

Dr. Lottie Reikehof

It has become my personal goal to interview as many pioneers in our field as I can, to capture their impact on our field before they pass away and before we miss what they provided us with their beautiful candle.

Recently, I flew to Virginia to interview and film Dr. Lottie Riekehof.  I will expand on three people that I have interviewed so that we can remember their contributions to our field and how their light has influenced us. While interviewing Lottie, I learned many things about her and why her heart understands what it means to need an interpreter for complete communication.

Did you know that Lottie Riekehof and her family were immigrants from Germany when she was three and came to America?  Lottie did not speak a word of English and when she was in kindergarten, at the age of five, she did not speak English, so she did not understand what was going on in the classroom nor was she able to speak to her classmates.  Luckily, she had a little friend who would sit by her and, ultimately, became her personal interpreter.  She learned what it truly meant to rely on an interpreter, which, in turn, helped her to become a much better interpreter herself.  She knew what it felt like to rely on the interpreter and this impacted her future interpreting for Deaf people and helped her to have a Deaf Heart. We will come back to Lottie.

Sharon Neumann Solow

The next pioneer that has had a huge impact in our field is Sharon Neumann Solow. Many of you may not be aware that Sharon was not an advocate of the Vietnam War. While Sharon was attending college and also working as an interpreter, she was involved in many causes to show the dislike that many college students’ felt towards the Vietnam War.

During this time in the 1960’s, many of the students who were involved with the protests would run from classroom to classroom and open the door to the class where a teacher was lecturing, and the protester would yell, “Shut it Down!” This meant that the classes should not continue and that all should be involved in stopping the war.  This protest was how the students were showing their united feelings about not wanting the war to continue. Sharon Neumann Solow, being a wonderful activist for peace, was, of course, involved with these efforts to run to each classroom and open the door to scream, “Shut it down”, and close the school. They were boycotting the system. Each of the people in the group Sharon was involved with would take turns running into the classrooms and telling them to shut it down. The group would divide the classrooms on the campus and continue this revolt, as they did not want the war to continue.

During this same time that the protestors were running around the campus trying to get it shut down, Sharon was an interpreter for many classes that Deaf people were taking at the college. Even though Sharon felt strongly about the war, she knew it was her job to interpret.  So, when it was time, Sharon would go to the classroom and interpret for Deaf people who were taking classes at the college, even though this was against the uprising that she believed in so firmly against the war.  Sharon felt that her duty and responsibility as an interpreter was not to take away Deaf people’s choices to choose whether or not they wanted to be involved.

One time, when Sharon was interpreting, one of the people from the protest, opened the door to the classroom that Sharon was interpreting in and yelled, “Shut it Down, Close the College”.  He was so shocked to see Sharon sitting there interpreting that he paused, and looked at Sharon, asking her, “What are you doing here?”  He just stared at her and couldn’t believe his eyes. Sharon responded to her friend, with no shame, that it was her job to interpret and she was doing her job.  Sharon felt strongly that it was not her right to tell Deaf people what they should or shouldn’t do when it came to being involved in the protest against the war. Sharon teaches us a great lesson with her example- no matter what our own opinions are, we do not have the right to impose those same emotions and expectations on those we interpret for.

JoAnn Dobecki Shopbell

The next person (pioneer) that we will learn about is JoAnn Dobecki Shopbell. JoAnn Dobecki Shopbell, where is Carla Mathers? Oh, she is out… of course she is out when I want to make a wonderful point about her. Hahaha!  JoAnn was Carla’s teacher when she was learning to be an interpreter at the College of Southern Idaho (CSI).

Because JoAnn has been an important pioneer in our field, I flew to Idaho to interview her.  It was a wonderful experience for me to be able to learn so much from JoAnn. JoAnn is a Child of Deaf Parents (CODA). Oh, there is Carla… please put the picture back up of JoAnn for Carla to see.

While I interviewed JoAnn, I wanted to know why she became an interpreter and an interpreter educator and why she was involved with this field. It was during this interview that JoAnn explained how she became an interpreter at a very early age.

JoAnn had Deaf Parents and during WWII, JoAnn became a very important part of the neighborhood where she grew up.  JoAnn was five years old and remembers a particular event that impacted her life forever. JoAnn had a baby sister and her father made an amazing light system so that when the baby cried, the lights in the house would flash on and off. This would alert the family that the baby was crying. The baby would cry and the lights would go off and the whole house would light up.

One day a man walked sternly to the house and pounded on the door.  He was not happy. JoAnn’s parents allowed the man into their home and the warden began to try and explain to JoAnn’s parents that they could not use the lighting system any more at night. Remember that JoAnn was five years old and she was trying to interpret what the warden was saying for her parents. The warden told the family that they could not use the light system that they had rigged up any more. The reason for this was that the enemy would see the flashing lights and think it was a signal, then send their enemy planes and drop a bomb on the house. This was very dangerous.

In my interview with JoAnn, she tells this story about the warden and that at the very young age of five, she didn’t know how to sign that the lights might be sending a message to the enemy.  She didn’t know the words, or how to sign that the enemy could drop a bomb on the house because they thought the flashing lights were a code.

So, rather than not understand what the words meant, JoAnn was determined to learn about language and how to interpret so that her parents and other members of the Deaf Community would be able to know what was going on.  JoAnn explains that because of this situation she felt that she needed to learn all that she could so that she could understand what was being said.  Then she could interpret it more clearly.

This led to the Deaf Community thinking that JoAnn was a very clever girl. When her family would go to the Deaf Club, the adults would bring their documents and papers waiting for her.  The very important lesson that JoAnn learned from these experiences was that she was not there to make decisions for Deaf people, but to interpret the information and then they would make their own decisions.

So, from these three pioneers, we learn wonderful lessons. Lottie, Sharon and JoAnn are perfect examples of what we need to remember about our profession today.

We Have a Problem

Even though we have so many examples for the past, we have a problem in our field today. We don’t have enough interpreters, we don’t have enough skilled interpreters, we don’t have enough sign language interpreters that have Deaf hearts and we don’t have enough skilled interpreter educators. We want to know how to make have good interpreters and this consumes our energy. We need to have more interpreters that have the same characteristics and values as Lottie, Sharon and JoAnn.

What would the world look like if we had so many sign language interpreters that were fluent in ASL who had Deaf hearts, who knew how to be involved in the Deaf Community and we had interpreter educators who were fluent in ASL? Imagine if we had this world?

The Importance of Capturing History

It is vital that we look to the past, look at our history, in order to help us imagine this future world. But, history is powerless unless we can capture it.  If we don’t take the time to interview people and learn from our pioneers like Lottie, Sharon and JoAnn, then we do not know how to have the “perfect world” for interpreters. By learning about our past, we can make a perfect world again.

My goal has been to interview as many people as I can, to learn from them and to document the lessons that we can learn from the pioneers in our field.  Just by learning about Lottie, Sharon and JoAnn, we can learn great lessons. Additionally, learning about other people who have been in our field and helped build and mold it will help us understand where our profession came from, and where it needs to go. We can capture the stories of these wonderful pioneers and help the new generation of interpreters understand the dedication, the love, and the work that has helped our field become what it is today.

Carolyn Ball
Carolyn Ball

We can capture our past; we can influence the field. For example: When I was a little girl, my parents would read to me. I was always connected to the people that were from the past. I would love to learn about the stories of those who had lived before me. I remember a story about a person named Peter Pan. Peter Pan could fly, so at age five, I decided that I wanted to try and fly.  So, I jumped off a picnic table and thought I could fly.  But, it didn’t turn out so well, and I broke my arm. The important point was that I felt connected with Peter Pan; I didn’t care about my broken arm.

In this next photo, you can see that I really wanted to be a cowboy. I read everything that I could about Buffalo Bill.  As I read these stories, I wanted to go back in time to interview them and learn from them. Even though they were not alive, I could not stop thinking about how much I wanted to interview them and so I wanted to read and also to dress up just like them, as you can see from the photo.  This is how I began my love of learning from the past.

This is where my love for the past came about and why I have been driven to learn from the past and try to document how we can pass this knowledge onto the current generation of interpreters and interpreter educators.

Applying Lessons to the Present and Future

How do we learn the past and apply it to the present or future? If we don’t become like the little girl or boy who wants to learn so much about the past, and begin to interview our pioneers, if we don’t document what has happened in the past, what will happen to our field?  As a profession, we will not be able to look forward and plan without looking back and learning from those who came before us.  So, as we look for the perfect world that I talked about earlier, the world that had skilled teachers and skilled interpreters, we must learn from those who came before us. Whether the events were deemed as good or bad doesn’t matter; we need to document the events and learn from them in order to improve the future of our field.

Why would anyone want to know this?

Many people, younger students today that I have a chance to meet and teach, will learn about the historical events that I have learned about our profession.  I will also describe the people who we need to love and respect and even tell the stories that I have learned from interviewing our pioneers.  Many of the students today don’t understand why this is important, why should they need to learn about the past? This is very unfortunate. Perhaps we need more people to write about history, to document their memories, to interview more people who have been in this field for a long time, people that we can learn from. Just like I showed in the beginning, the candles that are still lit, still here, we can take advantage of our time and learn from these great lit candles (people). We need to do this before those candles are gone.

For example, do you remember the wonderful interpreter named Gary Sanderson? I was teaching a workshop about history a while ago at RID Region V. Gary was sitting in the front row and he would add so much information to what I was explaining about in my presentation. Unfortunately, I did not write down the information that Gary was telling me and when Gary passed away all of that information was lost.  That made a huge impact on me as a person and made me realize that I did not have time to waste. So, I rolled up my sleeves and was determined to find out as much as I could and interview as many people as I could about our history. I knew that it was time that I began to ask questions, to ask important questions. The courage was what I needed. This reminded me of my own mother and a story she used to tell us.

(Presentation shows picture of Mom when she was 16.)

That picture is of my mother when she was 16. My mom tells us this story about when she was in high school and her best friend moved away. Her friend told her to come and visit her on the train and my mom wanted to go so badly. But, she never did because she was afraid to ask her mom because she knew she would say no.  Years later, Mom asked her mother if she would have let her go on that train and her mother told her absolutely. She told her she could have taken that train. This story, about my mom being afraid to ask if she could ride the train to visit her friend, teaches us a great lesson about not being afraid to ask for something that we need or want.

 Be Brave Enough to Ask

It’s not easy to look back or to call people and ask them if we can talk with them about their history. It’s not easy to call and ask if we can call and interview them to capture the past. But, if we don’t do this and be brave enough to ask, we will not have the opportunity to take advantage of the time we have, or the time that that person has as a lit candle in our community. We need to capture them and their memories before their candle goes out.

If we do this then we can remember that perfect world that we talked about earlier, with qualified and skilled sign language interpreters and educators. If we are brave and we ask the questions of why and how we can change the things that seem to never improve, then we can change them. Just like the lessons that we learned by asking Lottie, Sharon and JoAnn about their lives. We can learn from them and help the profession to be the wonderful place that it can be. We need to capture all of your stories and your histories.

The most important thing is to remember the lesson from my mom. Don’t be afraid of the train; don’t be afraid to ask if we can ride the train. As a profession, let’s hop on the train and look back when we need, and keep the train moving. Let’s be brave and learn from the past, ask those who came before and study all that we can about the building of this wonderful field

Thank you.


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What Role Does Civility Play in the Sign Language Interpreting Profession?

Sign Language Interpreter Demonstrating CivilityIf the work we do as sign language interpreters requires that we convey messages not only with words but also with our demeanor, shouldn’t we consider what our demeanor conveys?  I propose that demeanor is the face of civility and the effective use of civil behavior can enhance all aspects of the sign language interpreting profession.


The significance of civility was summarized succinctly in a single sentence by Sheila Suess Kennedy (1997), “We cannot find common ground without civility, and we cannot solve our problems without finding common ground” (p. 164).   Additionally, Sara Hakala (2012) suggests,  “Polite and respectful behavior is vanishing from our world today. Bullying, hostile and polarizing political interactions, tasteless and tactless comments delivered without discretion, everyone talking at once but nobody listening — we are treating one another badly in our day-to-day lives and our relationships are fragmenting and deteriorating as a result” (pp. 1-2).

We see examples of incivility daily.  On television, during an award ceremony a famous musician has the microphone ripped out of her hand by another musician while delivering her acceptance speech. On the road, we are cut off and it ruins the rest of our day. We are angered that this person dares to get away with this type of behavior. In our work, when an interpreting colleague offers a “feed” at a time that is not appropriate for our own interpreting process.  Or when an interpreter colleague offers critical feedback that was not sought out by the working interpreter? Small instances of incivility like these can cause further spinoffs of incivility that send ripples forward to other people we encounter.

Dr. P. M. Forni (2010) shares, “In opinion surveys, Americans say incivility is a national problem – one that has been getting worse” (p. 146).

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can end the cycle. Sara Hacala (2012), champions the idea that civility is a mind-set that encompasses values and attitudes that help us embrace our shared humanity and society.

Forni’s work emphasizes how closely civility and ethics are tied. But what is civility and how does it apply to sign language interpreting? Although we talk frequently about a professional code of conduct, and respect for those we encounter, have we left civility out of our fundamental, daily practice?

The Fundamentals

Beyond a code of conduct, understanding the importance and value of a code of decency has the potential to lead us to a more civil approach to life. Decency can take on many forms and yet, at times, is very difficult to exemplify.  With the dawn of technology and in a world of quick responses, clearly conveying meaning can be difficult.  A quick email from a colleague may be taken as an impersonal and cold communication, but in reality, intentions may be overlooked.  Perhaps in writing the email, they were simply in a hurry. Rather than assuming the best, we often are insulted at the rudeness of the email. How can we increase awareness regarding the importance of civility in a world that relies on speed?  How can we increase awareness when a lack of regard for how others may perceive our messages is standard place?

What about civility and decency in sign language interpreting and interpreter education? Would increased civility in the field of interpreting allow us to find solutions to the problems and challenges currently facing the field? Would an increased awareness of civility allow us to support our colleagues, find solutions to the thorny problems surrounding certification, and better help our future interpreters work and interact with the world with equanimity?

Carolyn Ball
Carolyn Ball

Civility & Leadership

In considering the importance of civility we must also consider how civility relates to leadership, and vice versa. Leadership is commonly thought of as a process in which an individual leads or influences others. Great leaders embody civility.  According to Forni (2010), choosing to be a civil leader should be a central concern in our lives. He also believes that civility is not a philosophical abstraction but a code of decency that can be applied in everyday life.

Franklin Roosevelt said, “Without leadership that is alert and sensitive to change, …we lose our way” (Leuchtenburg, 1995, p. 28). Strong attributes of civility and decency often epitomize strong and revered leaders.  Do the leaders of our profession embody civil leadership?  Is there room for change?

Sign language interpreters and interpreter educators alike can benefit from increasing leadership skills that increase sensitivity and responsiveness; both imbue civility. Interpreter educators have wide reaching spheres of influence and lead many students headlong into their careers.  But, do they see themselves as leaders who demonstrate civility? Do they see themselves as leaders at all? By placing a strong and explicit emphasis on civility, new interpreters are more likely to be successful. For example, it is clear that working in the interpreting profession depends on repeat business.  Interpreters who have strong interpersonal skills are more likely to be employed and remain employed. Further, patrons of interpreting services prefer, and even seek services from, companies and individuals who have a good command of civility.


Interpreter educators can facilitate civility in the classroom by teaching compassionately. Compassionate teaching includes respect for students, helping them realize their full potential. In order to reach full potential as well-integrated members of society and the sign language interpreting profession, students must be exposed to civility through educators and curriculum.

Compassionate teachers increase their students’ awareness of civility and, as a result, students will be able to develop civility in self-expression and become mindful of civility.  This will play out in their demeanor, the face of civility.  Resulting in the advancement and promotion of effective business communication strategies that will, in turn, have a positive and cascading effect on those with whom they interact. Conversely, an underdeveloped expression of civility will have a negative effect and may play a role in consumer dissatisfaction.

Civility & Repeat Business

If all interpreters, educated through formal training, were given a clear sense of the importance of civility in the workplace and in interactions with colleagues, perhaps more recent graduates would benefit from repeat business and high levels of job satisfaction.  We might also expect them to go on to become leaders in the field, or even educators themselves.   Instead, many new interpreters and graduates get burned out without ever fully understanding why.

With the current shortage of sign language interpreters, do interpreter educators have an obligation to convey the importance of civility to their students?

I acknowledge the room for disagreement in the house of civility.  But to close, I will side with Emerson and his belief that, “life is not so short, but there is always time for courtesy” (1894).

What role can civility play in interpreting?




Bain, K. (2004) What the best college teachers do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Emerson, R. W. (1894). The sage of concord. M. Watkins (Ed.), American Literature. New York: American Book Company.

Forni, P.M., (2010, July 20). Why civility is necessary for society’s survival.

Dallas News.  Retrieved on September 13, 2012 at

Forni, P. M., (2002) Choosing civility the twenty-five rules of considerate conduct.  New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Hacala, S., (2012). Saving Civility: 52 Ways to tame rude, crude and attitude for a polite planet. Skylight Paths, Woodstock, VT.

Kennedy, Sheila Suess. (1997) What’s a nice republican girl like me doing in the ACLU. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.