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2016 Reboot: 7 Must Have Apps for Sign Language Interpreters

With apps available for everything, recommendations can narrow the search. In his 2016 reboot, Brandon Arthur highlights apps that make communication, commuting and productivity easier, faster and safer for sign language interpreters.


What a difference a few years make! In 2013, StreetLeverage featured Leave Now, Google Maps, Evernote, Expensify and Bump as must-have apps. In the years since that post, daily life for even the most tech-averse sign language interpreter has evolved. As a group, sign language interpreters are likely some of the most teched-up, tech-savvy professionals around. It’s probably hard for most of us to remember what life was like before we had the ability to manage the intersection of our work and personal lives with the swipe of a finger.

With the bazillions of apps released annually, which ones are particularly useful for sign language interpreters? Below are seven more apps that may help you communicate more effectively, reclaim some of your sanity, and be more productive in the process.

1. Glide

“Live Video Messenger. Experience lightning fast, back and forth video chat.”

I still remember the horrifying moment when a Deaf colleague said, “Wow. You are really behind the times. You need to get Glide. Send me a message when you do.” I later learned that the first Deaf Interpreter Conference was planned entirely through Glide communication. There is no better match of technology and sign language interpreter than the Glide app. Combine the perfection of being able to send messages in ASL to Deaf friends and colleagues with Glide’s interest in supporting the Deaf community and you have a no-brainer.

Here is just one example of the way Glide is engaging with the Deaf Community: Dear Hearing People – video made by Glider users and Glide Community Manager, Sarah Snow.  

Cost:  FREE  

Downloads Available: App store, Google Play, Microsoft Store


2. Uber

“Uber is the smartest way to get around. One tap and a car comes directly to you. Your driver knows exactly where to go. And payment is completely cashless.

Another ubiquitous app attending to users in the Deaf community is Uber. As the popularity of Uber spreads, so, too, do opportunities for Deaf and Hard of Hearing drivers. For sign language interpreters who prefer not to use a personal vehicle or want to move between assignments without paying the high price of urban parking, supporting Uber gets you there quickly and inexpensively while supporting the Deaf ecosystem. What more could you want in a free app?

Watch this latest example of Uber’s work to support the Deaf community.

Cost:  FREE 

Downloads Available: App store, Google Play, Microsoft Store


3. Cyberdust

Private Messaging. Private Networking. Send private, encrypted, disappearing messages to friends or co-workers.”

Private, encrypted texting which disappears after reading, Cyberdust’s app supports one of the major values of sign language interpreters – confidentiality. Messages disappear after they are read and do not touch any hard drive in the process. Unlike other “private” messaging apps, Cyberdust messages are not stored. Unread messages disappear after 24 hours.

Cost:  FREE 

Downloads Available: App store, Google Play, Microsoft Store


4. SignEasy

Many sign language interpreters have to manage multiple invoices, forms and other pieces of vital business paperwork. SignEasy allows you to sign documents in various formats from almost anywhere.  Easy to use, this app’s most basic form is free, but for additional features, users will have to pay a fee.

Cost:  FREE for basic functions

Downloads Available: App store, Google Play, Desktop download


5. Tasker

Looking for an Android enabled app that does everything but fix the kitchen sink? Tasker may just be the one you want. Listed as one of the most powerful productivity apps available, Tasker has more than 200 different actions including LED flashing for text messages, a screen dimmer you set for specific times of the day, and home screen buttons you can program to send standard text messages like “on-the-way-home”. Most reviews indicate there is a learning curve, but this app may be worth it.

Cost:  FREE 

Downloads Available: Google Play for Android


6. Dictionary

Language is every interpreter’s superpower, except when it isn’t. Need a pronunciation or a definition while you are stuck in the basement of a University classroom with no signal? This Dictionary app works offline, so definitions, word spellings, origins, and synonyms are literally at your fingertips. With more than 2,000,000 English language definitions, you can find idioms, slang, and specialized vocabulary to suit any interpreting situation. With the Dictionary app, you’ll always be wearing your smarty pants.

Cost:  FREE 

Downloads Available: App store, Google Play


7. SafeTrek

While we hope that sign language interpreters don’t find themselves in risky situations, SafeTrek is an app that can keep you safe. There are times when interpreters have felt unsafe walking back to their car after a late appointment or find themselves in other uncomfortable circumstances. With a “Hold until safe” button, users let go of the phone in the event something happens, activating the phone to call the police. SafeTrek has been highly rated as one of the top safety apps available.

Cost: Free 30 day trial/$2.99 per month or $29.99 annually  

Downloads Available: App store, Google Play


Harness Your Life One App at a Time

As sign language interpreters, we have a keen sense that time is our most valuable asset. I am hopeful that you will find these apps helpful in adding time back to your life.

After all, in a world that is increasingly busy, anything that takes our mind off of the logistics of the job, enhances our ability to communicate effectively and efficiently, and helps us focus on the work at hand is a good thing, no?

What apps have made a difference managing your work?


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Status Transactions: The “It” Factor in Sign Language Interpreting?

Wing Butler presented Status Transactions: The “It” Factor in Sign Language Interpreting? at StreetLeverage – Live 2015 | Boston. Wing highlights the important role of status transactions in sign language interpreting and explores how interpreters can employ meta- and micro-behaviors to create successful dynamics.

You can find the PPT deck for his presentation here.

[Note from StreetLeverage: What follows is an English translation of Wing’s presentation from StreetLeverage – Live 2015 | Boston. We would encourage each of you to watch the video and access Wing’s presentation directly.]

Status Transactions: The “It” Factor in Sign Language Interpreting?

When it comes to attending a StreetLeverage-Live event, and enjoying the line-up of speakers presented throughout, StreetLeverage would do well to provide safety equipment to cushion us from the mind-blowing and stunning effects of the topics shared here.

I want to warn you that what I have to share with you may be as difficult as describing the flavor of salt. Today’s topic can also be like trying to explain the experience of a slight breeze blowing across your skin. You see, describing wind is complicated. It is one of those things that you can feel, but you can’t see. Today, the topic I have to share with you will be my attempt at describing what may seem to be the intangible “wind” (The IT factor in Sign Language Interpreting), and unless you’ve felt it before it may be an elusive discussion. To do this I’m going to need your help. As I speak today, some of you will be familiar with what I’m talking about; you will relate to your own experiences that validate your own sense of “knowing” what the subtle breezes are that make a successful interpreter. Others of you might feel like you’re attempting to grasp the concept of what I’m talking about for the first time and while you understand bits and pieces of it, the rest only touches upon you briefly before flying away (much like the wind), no matter how hard you try to hold on to it. Regardless of where you’re at, know that we will be experiencing this journey together.

The Eyes of Hope

Before I continue, I’d like to introduce my parents to you. I’ve brought a picture of them and I ask that as you look at it, you look into their eyes. My father was born and raised in California and graduated from the Riverside School for the Deaf. My mother was born in China and in their attempt to escape communism, her family moved to Hong Kong. From there, her family worked hard and finally saved enough money for them to immigrate to the United States.

It was here in the U.S. that my parents met and fell in love and had six children together. Together, my parents formed a dream. That dream was to own their own home. They purchased a five-acre piece of land nestled against the Rocky Mountains and overlooking the whole of Utah Valley, including Utah Lake, one of the largest lakes in the West. In order to accomplish their dream, they split that five-acre parcel into three pieces, selling off two of the parcels for the down payment on a new custom home. Working towards this dream was a huge endeavor, if not lofty goal, for the both of them. I watched my parent’s laborious efforts towards that dream each day. My mother worked two full-time jobs. During that time, I rarely saw her, as she only came home between eight-hour shifts. My father attempted unsuccessfully to find employment many times. As a result, his source of income came from government disability benefits. Despite their struggles, the American dream was still very much alive for them.

In high school, I remember I was often called out of my classes to report to the office. I calmly collected my things and headed to the office, just as I did week after week. When I arrived to the office, my father was there, waiting to check me out of school for the day. That alone was exciting, but I also never knew where we were going until we arrived at our destination. My weekly routine included interpreting the various appointments related to the building of their dream home. Among those appointments were visits with the city planners for the appropriate approvals for building a home, the permitting department for the many permits required, and even meeting with equipment operators and inspectors to arrange for the various tests needed, such as testing the water table and percolation factors of the soil. At the time, I was only fifteen years old.

Hope Is Found on the Top Floor

It was during this time period that I witnessed a pivotal moment, something life-changing. I remember a day when everything changed. On that day, we drove an hour north to Salt Lake City. For me, this was an exciting trip into the “big city.” We arrived and entered what seemed to me to be the biggest high-rise building in all of Utah. On top of the building, in huge letters, were the words “WELLS FARGO”. I remember entering the building and seeing immaculate marble floors that we crossed carefully so as not to leave a mark. As we entered the elevator, we saw that even the elevator was ornately decorated with rich, dark woods and mirrors on all sides.

We turned around to face the elevator doors and waited patiently as the elevator stopped at various floors, letting people on and off until we reached the top floor. As we exited the elevator, we entered a foyer with elaborate lighting sconces gilded with gold. We took it all in with amazement. A secretary waved us on toward the office with large, heavy, double doors. We passed through the foyer into a spacious office with glass windows on every side.  

Wing Butler
Wing Butler

In the distant corner, a man at a desk waved us over as if to give his permission to enter. The chairs we sat in were comfortable, despite their enormous size that seemed to engulf me. My father asked a single question. ”Why was my loan application denied?” Now here’s something you need to understand. I did not use sophisticated language to interpret my father’s signs. I gave a direct, word-for-word interpretation of what my father signed. I was only fifteen at the time and hadn’t been trained in the nuances of cultural mediation. My exact words were, “Why did you turn me down for the loan?” In response, the banker behind the desk began to give an explanation in banker terminology. I realized that I could not interpret what he was saying. I sat in a stupor as I tried to derive some kind of meaning. My father, impatient, tapped me on my shoulder and signed repeatedly, “What is the man saying?” I was grasping for the message; searching for words, searching for something that I could understand. Looking back now, I realize he was probably saying something about a FICO score, debt-to-income ratio, and down payments. For me at the time, this vocabulary was beyond my understanding. I knew that he was communicating “something”, perhaps a breeze that at a gut level meant “you don’t have enough money”. So that is what I signed to my father. My father looked at me for a brief moment before taking his hand and sweeping it across the man’s desk, clearing off the contents in an instant. I learned new signs, signs that my father had never before used. I sat in awe and shock. He sealed his final thoughts to the situation by slamming his boot up against the face of the desk, leaving a formidable crack upon the naked desk.

The Common Uncommon Story of Hope

Now, you should know a few things about my father. He loves reading about history. He can tell you about the beginning of different civilizations and communities, how technology emerged and changed over time, how people responded to different events, and even about how the landscape changed over time. I enjoyed it when he took a moment to share it with me. What I learned from this moment was not something he directly taught, but something that he slowly taught over time. He taught me about the multi-layered levels of oppression. We now call this “macro-oppression.”  You see…”the system” was not set up for my father’s success. There is also “meso-oppression” – Wells Fargo was not set up to help my father succeed either.  I want to let you in on a secret about that day. That was the day my father broke. Something in him broke beyond repair. He was never the same. Before that, he was a man who stood with pride, goals, and ambition.  He had dreams. He had hope. After that day, he lowered his head, sat down and let go of hope. He accepted what the world (these organizations and systems) said to him. My family changed.

The last few days have been filled with workshops with a common theme involving the topic of “status” and more specifically areas of unequal status. I witnessed my father’s journey through the meso-layers of oppression. Each layer weighed down on him until he reached a point where he could not bear the weight of it any longer.  

Community of Hope

I tell the story of my father, but in actuality, this story is about you, me, and all of us as human beings. Each of us carries a cornucopia of identity, behavioral expectations, and framed experiences. Our heritage, things we pass down from one generation to the next, we carry all of this and it makes us who we are. I share my father’s story only because as professionals, we tend to talk about people as groups. There are groups of Deaf people, hearing people, and interpreters, but this story is about all of us.  

Take a moment to imagine that we could eliminate all those experiences and weights we carry with us. If we were able to do that we would still have a problem. We are human. We will make mistakes. Even if we manage to remove all the layers of systemic oppression, science and theology agree that “man is innately selfish”, and constantly seeks ways to conquer and survive over others. So while the work of removing systemic oppression is a good one, it is the meta-level (human-to-human) interactions between us as individuals that may impact the greater change. It is in these interpersonal exchanges that we increase/decrease the status gap between us. And for the rest of this talk, I’d like to attempt to define the specific meta-behaviors that may perpetuate better equality amongst us. Do we behave in a way that allows for shared alignment of privileges? Do we believe shared status is achievable?

The ‘IT’ Formula

In my day job, I deal with complaints and compliments for VRS interpreters, as part of my duties. The number one comment in both complaints and compliments has to do with interpreter’s attitudes. I’ve come to believe that attitudes have a relationship with the meta-behaviors we have been discussing.  

Here’s an example:

A deaf person complains that they “didn’t feel connected to the interpreter,” and, therefore, consider the interpreter as a terrible interpreter. When asked, interpreters often give varied responses such as perhaps they were having a bad day, or may have made some minor missteps that were misunderstood, but never anything definitive.  Interestingly, on the compliments side of things, it was generally the same interpreters who continually received compliments month after month. I decided to go and meet those frequently complimented interpreters to see if maybe there was something they had in common. I hoped to find the DNA that made them successful. To my delight, they all seem to carry three common traits.

H2 + G x R = Status Agility

Recently, Dennis Cokely was stuck with me for four hours in heavy Los Angeles traffic. With the zeal of the ultimate fanboy, my head was full of questions that I wanted to barrage him with but I was hesitant to bother him since I knew he’d rather be relaxing in the comfort of his hotel room. Dennis was nice enough to oblige by engaging in deep conversation with me. As we discussed several topics, a common theme – the role of Humility in an interpreter’s work – kept coming up. Interpreters that seem to possess humility, “the acceptance of unseen circumstances and dynamics,” were able to consistently receive compliments in their work. They were not focused on their own perception of the world or broadcasting that perception to others. Rather, they practiced humility by understanding the constraints of another’s status (privileges) and sought to equalize the power relationship. Not less or more, but shared.  

Many years ago, I went to New York to take a workshop taught by Lynette Taylor, Candace Broecker-Penn, Alan Champion, and Stephanie Feyne. They introduced me to the Alexander Method, a theatrical approach to thinking and responding to situations. Frederick Alexander’s method was created in the 1900’s as a way to overcome ways of thinking or physical habits by awareness of one’s thinking and physical response. For example, when we drive in the fog, as a response to this stressful situation, we tighten our grip on the wheel, move closer to the window, and our eyes focus closely on the road ahead. The Alexander Method teaches us to take a step back from the situation, to look at it from outside of ourselves and ask if our behaviors are really improving the situation. If we did this, we could see that these behaviors don’t actually help us by allowing us to respond any quicker. Instead, by relaxing our primal response, we can respond to the road conditions better and recover control of the vehicle.  

The primary principles behind Alexander’s technique can be useful in interpreting. The primary driver of Alexander’s methods suggests that generosity, an attribute developed from the well-spring of humility, is the disposition we offer to ourselves and the community we serve by acceptance that one’s awareness has inaccuracies. There are two important points to the gift of Generosity. First, that we take for granted that one’s awareness of one’s own self is inaccurate. Second, a person that has been using himself wrongly for a long time could not trust himself.

Such is found in interpreters with the IT factor:

Humility – Respect for status and a willingness to negotiate between others’ realities and our own.  

Generosity – A realization and willingness to “give” to the other person.

Reciprocity – Choosing to behave in ways that decrease status gaps. Not at the organizational level, rather it is at a personal level, including at the meta-levels.  

To help you grasp this concept, I’ll give an example. Say I’m working as an interpreter in a medical setting. I first introduce myself to the Deaf client as the interpreter.  I happen to be standing and that single behavior results in me looking down on that Deaf person during our first interaction. I have unknowingly created a situation of unequal status.  

Another example is this situation. I sit several chairs away from the Deaf person because I want to “give them space.” Again, this behavior communicates status and increases the status gap. Once the doctor arrives in the room, I begin interpreting and the Deaf person’s eyes are on me. This creates a feeling of disconnect for the doctor; which also increases the status gap between the medical professional and the Deaf person. These behaviors may seem insignificant, but they are the foundation for these status transactions.

I’d like to go back to the beginning. As I look out into the audience, I see people who have a desire to learn about improving the relationship between interpreters and the Deaf community. My experience suggests that if we look at the H, G , and R qualities and ways to infuse these qualities into every single interpreter, we would succeed. Behaviors communicate a great deal. If we encourage certain behaviors, we can decrease the status gap.

When interpreters embody Humility and Generosity, they are led to culturally appropriate expressions of Reciprocity, understanding that “Every inflection and movement implies a status. No action is due to chance, or really motiveless”. So the “IT” formula is:

Humility2 + Generosity x Reciprocity = Status Agility

My father’s question, directly translated was “For, for, turn down loan?” There is a chance that my father’s response would have been the same, notwithstanding my interpreting capabilities – one of anger and frustration. Insert an interpreter with the IT factor (Humility2 + Generosity x Reciprocity) as part of their professional skill set; they would recognize that the distance between the doors to desk implies a higher status. The banker’s subtle body language served to increase that status gap further. Perhaps an interpreter could have responded at an interpersonal level that closed the status gap to the point that my father’s real question would be manifest — “Why did you treat my application differently than the others?” That discussion may have created a totally different outcome.


Are you going to StreetLeverage – Live 2016 in Fremont, CA, April 15-17th? 

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Deafhood: Liberation, Healing, and the Sign Language Interpreter

Marvin Miller presented Deafhood: Liberation, Healing, and the Sign Language Interpreter at StreetLeverage – Live 2015 | Boston. Marvin explored the Deafhood journey –the internal and external dialogue on what it means to be a healthy Deaf person today– and the role sign language interpreters have and can yet play in that journey.

You can find the PPT deck for his presentation here.

[Note from StreetLeverage: What follows is an English translation of Marvin’s presentation from StreetLeverage – Live 2015 | Boston. We would encourage each of you to watch the video and access Marvin’s presentation directly.]

Deafhood: Liberation, Healing, and the Sign Language Interpreter

I have spent a lot of time thinking about my presentation today. This morning’s lectures were astonishing and impactful. They were all fantastic. Those of you just joining via the live stream missed out, but you can view them later when they are posted. The presentations correspond nicely with topics addressed in the Deafhood curriculum –  they create a similar sense of discomfort, anxiety, loss of equilibrium, and conflicted feelings. We often label these issues systemic problems. We say the problem lies with “the system” as if it is one huge monolithic system. The system itself works at multiple levelsat the educational level, the interpreter training program level, the community level, and the world level, and these levels all interact with one another. More and more, weve seen discussion about identities, which has given rise to the term intersectionality. This is an important concept, because, as Amy Williamson said, for her its not a question of being either hearing or Deaf. She’s both in one. To choose would be impossible. Our community must grapple with the complexity of these multiple levels of identity. Left to wonder how I could neatly package for you the Deafhood course, training that is comprised of three separate sections, each lasting 20 hours, I had to pick carefully which aspects I could share with you all. I truly wish I could transfer the needed understanding a la “The Matrix.” (see video at 1:45)

It would be so nice if you could just be rapidly injected with the wisdom and knowledge necessary to navigate this world. How many of you dread the thought of going to the gym to work out, or having to practice a skill to become proficient? For those who are studying to become interpreters, entering the Deaf community and learning to sign, I wish we could just exchange our experiences, and in an instant, just like Neo, suddenly get it. Sorry, StreetLeverage, youd be out of business. I wish it could be done that way, but it cant. So, what do we do? We come to events like this. We learn from these talks; we discuss these ideas, and then the discussion grows and evolves. It enters the larger discourse and continues to morph and develop until it becomes our reality. [Bill Ashcroft, cited in Paddy Ladd’s book:] points out that people think discourses is all about discussing what reality is. No. Its the discussion and the germination of ideas that create and shape the reality. Take this hotel – the building, the grounds. Someone had an idea. They needed to create something in this space, came up with a design – an idea of what everything should look like from the grounds to the pond, to the floor plans. Take this conference. It began with an idea. With each step of the process, everything had to be considered: Where the conference would be held, in what kind of space, with what kind of draping behind the stage? It all starts as an idea. Every decision was analyzed and discussed until it became for us a reality. That very process is crucial.

I didnt come here to lecture you, or to explain how to accomplish this task, or to list all the things you should do. Im not an interpreter myself. Im not a CDI. I am Deaf, my parents are Deaf, and I have four Deaf children. Im engaged in the community, and I work with many interpreters. So, while I bring that set of experiences, I wont preach at you. What I would like to do is share something with you – my Deafhood journey.

My Deafhood Journey

This is my journey. As I share my personal journey, I want you to have some realizations of your own. Again, I wont tell you how to apply this knowledge or how to think about it. Have the discussions, do the analysis. As Sharon Neumann-Solow said this morning, it wont be comfortable. As you uncover some truths about yourself, youll be tempted to hide them, to deny them, to refocus on otherswork in this process. Dont. 

Ironically, my journey began while I was teaching the Deafhood course. Its true! People say, You already knew all about Deafhood before!, but thats what happened. I had been serving on the board of the Deafhood Foundation and had gone through the course training on the job when I became President of the Indiana Association of the Deaf, which has an ASL program that offers non-credit classes to the wider hearing community. The ASL program was great, but it dawned on me that while it was perfectly fine to provide courses to the larger hearing community, we weren’t providing those same opportunities and training to the Deaf community. Deaf people would derive an enormous benefit from the course. The potential for growth and development in the community was immense, but the course wasnt offered to Deaf people. I was stunned. It was time to establish a course on Deafhood for the Deaf community. We got the approvals, built the curriculum, gathered the materials, created the power points, pored over the readings, and began teaching the course. In the first class, the stories were incredible. Everyone from seniors to youth, from the grassroots to the college-educated, all shared their stories and had lively discussions about their experiences. Class after class has been like that ever since, and now, four years later, weve just completed our 26th and most recent training here in Boston. A few of you here took it. It was terrific.

That has been my journey to a greater understanding of Deafhood.We know of the oppression of Deaf people. We know the struggle, the colonization of language and culture, the history of bans, and on and on, but to engage in the deeper analysis is different. People often say, Well, Im a Deaf person, I sign and know Deaf culture, Im fine. Why do I need this course?When you take the course, its astonishing. Its truly an eye-opening experience. Once you learn some key pieces of information, youre able to reframe your entire understanding of our experience. Its extremely powerful.

Now, I want you to take a few seconds to look at the next slide. (7:12)


You see that we have two columns, one depicting hearing values, and the other depicting Deaf values. I want to make note of a couple of things. First, notice that the top value under the Deaf column is “visual”. As Deaf people, we cherish our vision. We treasure ASL, so vision is very important. Further down we see tactile. I would say that order should be reversed. The tactile is more important than the visual. We know this because the Deafblind community is still a part of the Deaf community. They still use ASL. They still embody Deaf culture even though they dont see. Were known to say that we cherish our vision, and vision for us is indeed important, but we must recognize that the culture and the language are still transmitted regardless of visual ability. The other thing I want you to notice is that one of the Deaf values is 3-D space while its hearing counterpart is linearity. Pat Graybill remarked that ASL can express two events simultaneously, using two hands. A spoken language cannot divide the tongue to achieve this. So, linearity belongs to the hearing world, and three-dimensionality belongs to the Deaf world. We each prize our respective values. Music is an important value of hearing people. I often see people grooving to music through earphones. You see it everywhere. Hearing culture holds music as a high value. Music is also an integral part of almost all movies, as I learned from a friend. Its even used in car chase scenes. I hadnt realized that music was used throughout the film in this way before.

So, we see these two different sets of values, yet each value is no better or worse than its counterpart. Theyre equally valued as important, and should be respected as such. Understanding the values of these two worlds gives us a rich opportunity to engage, share, learn, and even borrow from one another. When the power is shared equally across that exchange, it is wonderful. Do we in the Deaf community see an equal exchange of ideas and values across these two worlds today? Do those in education and other systems of power who make decisions about our language and culture regard us as equals? No. They do not. It looks something more like this slide. (9:51)

Unequal and Unhealthy

The Deafhood movement is the culmination of the work of Dr. Paddy Ladd, who spent over ten years studying and unpacking our experience until he arrived at a framework that helps us to more deeply understand the forces of oppression, forces which include audism, racismwhich has permeated our history, and linguicism. The thread that ties it all together is this concept of hegemony, the colonizing force that seizes power and control over our language and culture, demeans it, and compels us to adopt the language and culture of the dominant, powerful class until we internalize its false superiority. The vicious, intentional, and persistent practice of degrading a people and then replacing their culture and language with that of the powerful class continues today. The message is, Our way is better. Its a hearing world. Spoken language is better. English predominates. Work opportunities only exist in the hearing world.” Despite our protestations and pleas, despite our saying, We are capable. We can do it. Sign language is important,they just continue, “You can always learn ASL later. Its important that you practice speech now.This ideology is prevalent throughout society. Thats why I was so inspired yesterday by the students from The Learning Center, who were here sharing their poems and stories. It was spine-tingling. The children were expressing their experiences, showing us the depths of their hearts in beautiful ASL. I couldnt have done that in my day. Our teachers, some of whom I loved, were mostly hearing. They signed in English, and I internalized their colonialist message. But the children yesterday were expressing themselves in ASL. They have internalized a different message. Brenda Schertz has said we are making some progress, but sometimes I just want us to make quantum leaps. Internalizing a positive cultural identity happens for some, but I must remind you that the kids from The Learning Center and my four Deaf kids do not represent the vast majority of Deaf childrens experiences. Those who are proficient in ASL, who have internalized Deaf culture through Deaf adult role models, only amount to 5% or 6% of us. The Indiana School for the Deaf is fantastic. Its a bilingual-bicultural program where over 80% of the administration is Deaf, including the superintendent and principal. Over 80% of the teachers are Deaf. While we applaud them for their program, we also see that, sadly, most Deaf schools cannot boast those numbers. 

Again, once we recognize that the brutal, demeaning, forceful replacement of culture and language is our lived experience, examining that hegemony helps us to understand how it impacts us, not only culturally, but at every single level. It impacts how parents interact with their childrenCODAs, SODAs, and hearing children. It impacts how interpreter training programs are run. It impacts how teachers in those programs teach. It impacts how we frame our thinking and how applications are made according to that frame. For Deaf people, that framing is drastically skewed, which forces us to work extremely hard to make sense of it. When we look at our Deaf and hearing values side by side, we see that the Deaf values are utterly suppressed and supplanted by the hearing values. That suppression has a lasting, crushing effect on our people.

Marvin Miller
Marvin Miller

This colonization is so ingrained that the moment a Deaf baby is born, they are automatically victim to its crushing effect. They aren’t aware that its not normal. They assume that its okay. I grew up this way myself, as did many of you, thinking that this is normal. The Deafhood course instructs us to look within, to recognize the position were in, to say, Wait a minute. This is not okay,and to challenge the colonizer to step off. But when we do challenge the status quo, the answer is, Youre going to start complaining? This is not new. This is how things have always been. This is just the reality. Theres nothing to be done.We answer, No, this is not reality.But then as we get on with our lives, all of our subsequent conversationswith sign language interpreters, at RID conventions, at StreetLeverage, in the community, in Deaf education, at CEASDhappen under this paradigm of cultural suppression, with our values rendered subservient to hearing values. We are powerless in the discourse. As we attempt to discuss working together as allies, were situated in this dizzying, skewed frame. We try to talk about collaboration with sign language interpreters who get paid to work in mainstream settings with Deaf children, and were agonizing in our disempowered position. Can that conversation be a healthy, equal exchange? Its incredibly hard. Equality is simply not there.

I talk with CODAs, and I agree that the Deaf community should get together with CODAs and discuss how we can raise our children, both Deaf and CODA. Often the Deaf community has mixed feelings about CODAs, and I dont want to disparage them, as there are many tremendous CODAs out there. But, as an example, the governor of South Dakota, Dennis Daugaard, is a CODA. I met his father who is very sweet and fluent in ASL. We’ve had lovely conversations. I also met Dennis before he was governor and chatted with him. Did he do anything in his tenure as governor to protect the Deaf school? No. It has closed. Now it is just an outreach center. That was very upsetting. Of course, I dont blame him personally. It goes back to how we were raised and the messages we internalized growing up. Having these conversations in the context of an unequal power relationship is extraordinarily difficult. This concept is very important to understand. All of this leads to false divisions. (slide at 16:13).

False Divisions

Our community has been divided and compartmentalized under a host of different labels. Audism plays a huge role here. Your child cant hear? She failed the hearing test? We must hurry and start speech training, never mind what those people over there are saying.This notion of ignoring our input, coercing us onto their path, and rendering us helpless, divides our community. Among the many important lessons we can take from Ladds work on Deafhood, there is one critical message. 

“All Deaf people are our brothers and sisters.”

Now is the time for the community. We often dismiss members of our community who attempt to assimilate into the hearing world or who have been mainstreamed. We shut them out. We say, What can I do? How can I help 80% of our people? Privacy laws prevent me from contacting them. It’s impossible to reach parents and early hearing detection and intervention (EDHI) groups.We dont take responsibility. Are we to become an ever smaller, elite group? No. Now is the time to recognize that they are all our brothers and sisters. Their culture, their language, their very nature has been stripped of them, brutally replaced by the ideology of the dominant majority. We have to say, no more. Many Deaf and hard of hearing people are out there today with a very weak sense of identity, and their lives are a struggle. We need to step in on their behalf. At the same time, the reality is that Deaf people often do not have have the power to fight the system. With little to no power to fight against the system, it is hard to imagine how we can create change. Along my journey Ive thought this through and discussed it with others. I’ve come to realize that something out there is stopping us, blocking us from making progress. Rosa Lee Timm expressed it beautifully yesterday in her performance, that desire for a Deaf ideology to get through. But sadly, too often our ideas dont penetrate. Despite our amassing all the scientific evidence, all the cognitive research to support sign language, our attempts to share that evidence are ignored. Today, 90% of parents still choose an oral-only approach. They dont sign at all with their Deaf children. I watched Ryan Commersons graduate thesis, Re-Defining D-E-A-F, and one part struck me. The whole thesis is great, but I keep coming back to one section, which Ill share with you now. (video clip from Ryan Commerson’s thesis at 19:20)

Reframing Perceptions

Stuart Hall is a well-known Black sociologist who studied the impact of mass media on how people perceive the Black community. It is profound work, and he examines the idea of how our perceptions get locked into the subconscious where they become understood as common sense. Honestly, how many people in the world assume it is common sense that Deaf people cannot read beyond a 4th or 5th-grade level, or that it is common sense that Deaf people should not drive or do a whole host of things. These subconscious perceptions affect not only Deaf people and their myriad identities but also CODAs and interpreters, too. We assume that many of these perceptions are common sense, and we see these assumptions reflected throughout the discourse.

That got me thinking, how can we get inside the subconscious of the colonizing forces and expose the distortion? To Ryans point, we cant only promote the positive aspects of our people and culture, saying, Deaf is beautiful! ASL is beautiful!We must also expose the distorted beliefs of the powerful. We must disrupt their belief system, and in doing so, open up the possibility of new interpretations and new meanings. This has to happen in the discourse. Afterward, we can instill the positive attributes of the culture and foster their new understanding.

In the Deafhood coursework, we talk a lot about reframing. Reframing is powerful. In political discourse, we see Democrats and Republicans constantly reframing the issues. They play games with reframing to bolster their positions. For us, it must involve understanding that our subconscious perceptions frame our assumptions. When we research facts and find that they dont comport with our frame, we discard those facts wholesale. They cant penetrate our subconscious. That is why facts get ignored. Often the Deaf community says, We need more research. We need to educate them!No. Stop it. We cant beat them over the head with it. We cant get through to them that way. This applies to me personally as a white, straight man. I have privilege. I experience oppression as a Deaf person, but I have major privileges which are rooted in my subconscious. So, I have to ask myself, do I think about Deafblind people? Am I considering Deaf people of color? Do I think about Deaf people with disabilities? No. My frame is still locked in my subconscious. The board of one Deaf organization was talking about bringing in more Deafblind members, more Deaf members who have a disability, and more Deaf people of color. We wanted to build genuine relationships, not just hold them up as tokens and pat ourselves on the back. We realized it would require entering authentic dialogue to achieve real understanding, and that only from that place could we move forward together. While I agreed with this stance, I was also confronted with my privileged frame. When we were discussing Deafblind board involvement, I immediately thought about our non-profit status as an organization, about the cost of SSPs, and the extended time we would need for our meetings. I was fidgeting nervously. This was my subconscious frame preventing me from moving forward. My impulse was to say, Lets deal with this later. We can talk about this in a year or two when were ready. Lets wait.Recognizing these thoughts was shocking to me. I was horrified that I wanted to say, Wait.This familiar, hurtful command had been stored inside my subconscious, and I was about to make the same demand of others.

Last weekend, the board of Deafhood Foundation (DHF) invited Najma Johnson from a group called, Together All in Solidarity (TAS), for training on intersectionality. It was an introductory, 4-hour course. We barely scratched the surface. The dialogue was amazing, though, and it was a phenomenal training. However, some people responded that while the training was good, they felt encumbered by the notion that theyd have first to look at the issue of intersectionality, then at Deaf issues, then at educational issues, then at early intervention issues, then at interpreting issues, and so on. But intersectionality is not an isolated issue that we discuss and then shelve while we tackle each other issue in turn. It cannot be divorced from all of these other issues. You must study, learn, and train on intersectionality until it permeates your thinking about everything until it becomes a part of your lens. How we see the world must be infused with intersectionality. It is no small feat. We must incorporate intersectionality wholly, such that how I view the Deaf Black community, the Deaf Mexican community, the Deaf disabled community, the Deafblind community, has to change. The time is now. No more of the message, Wait. We need to put Deaf people first. Well put the rest of you on hold. Just wait.How long have they been waiting? Are we building actual relationships this way? No.

Now, I want to close with a discussion about a very important word. (25:40)

On Vulnerability

Do you want change? Do you want to foster creativity and innovation? You get there by opening yourselves up to reflection and examination, by apologizing for the things you do and say that are hurtful or problematic, and by being willing to engage in dynamic discussions about them. Also, you must recognize the power structure within our different organizations. Who are the decision makers? If its a white majority, what do you do? What if its all Deaf, yet all white? It is time for us to stop, to say, No more.How do we step back and make sure that were on equal footing? Often, we who have the power say, Come on! Lets talk!But it doesnt work that way. People in disempowered positions feel afraid, uncomfortable, and unsafe. We have to figure out how to make sure that the power dynamic in the discourse is equal. Only then will a productive conversation ensue. 

We need to heal. We have a lot of healing to do together.

Thank you.

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Genuine Confidence: Why Can’t It Be All About Me?

Sharon Neumann Solow presented Genuine Confidence: Why Can’t It Be All About Me? at StreetLeverage – Live 2015 | Boston. Her presentation examines healthy and less helpful uses of ego in the work of sign language interpreters and why genuine confidence is a comfort to be around.

You can find the PPT deck for her presentation here

[Note from StreetLeverage: What follows is the article that served as the basis for Sharon’s StreetLeverage – Live 2015 presentation. We would encourage each of you to watch the video and access Sharon’s original presentation directly.]

Genuine Confidence: Why Can’t It Be All About Me?

While interpreting for a wedding with our legendary colleague, Lou Fant, I learned a huge lesson. We exited the church after the ceremony and Lou gently guided me away from the doors, advising me to stay away for a bit to allow all the attention to go to the couple and their party. He reminded me that everyone always rushes to let us know we did a good job. We can’t help but draw some attention while working but sometimes we can choose to wait in the wings for them to get the entire spotlight until we’re needed again. We can work at ways to deflect the attention from ourselves, so that it is focused on the people who are central in the experience.

Walking a Fine Line

When I think of this story, it makes me think of all the times I’ve seen speakers with an expectant smile as people are rushing toward them. It’s a look that indicates the expectation of a compliment or at least of attention coming their way. Too often, when they work with sign language interpreters, their faces drop as the crowd gathers around the interpreters to congratulate them on a job well done, or to commiserate over challenges faced while interpreting.  I’ve overheard people even criticizing the speaker – spoke too quickly, jumped all over the place, and so on. I worry that the speaker might overhear such comments, further deepening this concern that Lou helped me understand when I was a young interpreter.

Sign language interpreters walk a fine line between needing to be comfortable in the spotlight and being cautious and self-effacing. We are often in the front of the room, and our work is fascinating to many, so it is natural that attention will be drawn to us. It’s sometimes hard for the participants to share or lose that attention. Most speakers, teachers, preachers and so on are accustomed to a great deal of attention. For some it’s not easy sharing that attention. The interpreter can soften that difficulty with gracious and conscious effort. I see sign language interpreters handing off many questions about their work and particularly about ASL or individual signs to the Deaf participants so that Deaf people are afforded respect and attention. A lovely thing I’ve witnessed is the sharing of a compliment, such as the interpreter suggesting that the work was better because the presenter was so clear and organized.

Gracious handling can take many forms. It might be as simple as stepping away and remaining out of obvious sight, but ready to work; or the interpreters might make conscious efforts to place the attention back on the Deaf and hearing clients.

Focus on the Work

Our focus is best kept on the work as we negotiate this challenging tightrope of being comfortable with attention and yet being as invisible as possible. Even when the situation is not about stealing or sharing attention, our position as that extra person puts us in a position that requires incredible discretion. Most people would prefer to keep their business to themselves. So many little things are shared with interpreters. Imagine having a stranger or other outsider present while getting a cancer diagnosis, being in therapy sessions, being disciplined by a Vice Principal, and a million other scenarios. Our capacity to put our own egos aside and focus on the needs of the participants will make us the best we can be.

Feeds and Feedback

One way in which we can focus on the situation rather than our egos is to be open to feed and feedback. How many times have you heard sign language interpreters thank their partners for a feed? That does not help the interpretation to be understood, and it may be extremely confusing to the people relying on the interpretation. There’s no need to take care of the interpreters’ egos; just take the feed and keep interpreting. Thank your partner later.

Sometimes the problem is defensiveness. When getting or giving feedback we are sometimes posturing or defensive or both. If you are feeling defensive, my suggestion is to simply note the feedback you get on a piece of paper or your phone and visit it later with as little comment as possible. We can practice saying things like, “Thank you. I’m so frazzled I’ll have to think about this when my mind is back in my head.” or “Thank you for sharing this. I need to think about it more.” If we practice gracious ways to receive feedback, the likelihood is that we will receive more, which can help us improve by seeing things from other people’s perspectives.

It’s Not Always About Us

Sharon Neumann Solow
Sharon Neumann Solow

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that it’s not all about us. There are times when sign language interpreters simply take up too much bandwidth. A friend was complaining that the interpreter he hired for his child’s special performance bugged him for a music stand the entire time he was greeting guests. He asked her to wait until a more appropriate time, but the interpreter made him drop his hosting duties and get her the music stand then and there. Who doesn’t feel for that interpreter? We know that certain things are essential to our work, but it is also essential that the people involved are comfortable and have a positive experience on many levels.

Once I was on my way to a very important appointment to sit as a participant in front of a professional panel. Traffic and parking had been a nightmare and I was in a rush to get to the assigned room. I hopped on the elevator and an interpreter slid in as the doors were closing. It turned out she was an interpreter for this panel situation. When the elevator stopped, she pushed in front of me to arrive first. Somehow that deeply offended me. It slowed me down, and I was in a hurry, too, and it felt like it was all about her. This was a situation in which I was nervous and in actuality, it was much more all about me than the interpreter.

A Different Perspective

Another strange thing has happened to me that may be unique to the experience of having interpreters when I am, myself, an interpreter. Sometimes the interpreter steps in and makes a comment or a joke, or plays with me as the speaker. It’s as if the rules are not in effect because we are colleagues. When this happens, I sense how a speaker must feel having people so fascinated with the interpreter. It’s a strange sensation. I feel foolish for even noticing that the attention is not all on me. I feel embarrassed that I might care and I feel uncomfortable with the possible poor modeling that is occurring (it’s often the case that I’m lecturing to new as well as seasoned interpreters). I feel a bit offended at the intrusion; once in a while, it has actually taken me way off track and affected my teaching. It’s good for me to have a window into how our clients might feel, so the lesson has been worth it.

Another experience that puts me in the shoes of our clients is that I do a great deal of foreign travel. I have had interpreters assigned to interpret for interviews, lectures and discussions. Very few of those interpreters are memorable other than being charming outside of the work, like at lunch or in the coordination discussions. Once I went to lunch with members of the media in France. They had asked to talk to me about our television show, “Say It With Sign.” All through lunch, the interpreter chatted with the reporters. I was peripheral to the event, yet it was supposed to be about me. These experiences are remarkable in a very negative way.

Self-Awareness is the Key

In the end, we have to think about where we get our jollies. If attention is something you enjoy, make sure you are savoring the proper attention you get while interpreting, not drawing undue attention to yourself. Find other ways to get healthy attention, such as joining Toastmasters, lecturing, performing or just being sure you have enough social outlets in which you can attract as much attention as you enjoy.

Are you going to StreetLeverage – Live 2016 in Fremont, CA, April 15-17th? 

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Sign Language Interpreters: Practicing with a Socially Conscious Approach

Joseph Hill presented Sign Language Interpreters: Practicing with a Socially Conscious Approach at StreetLeverage – Live 2015 | Boston. His presentation explores the importance of reflective practice as a means of examining one’s perspective on language ideology, social injustice, and the development of a socially conscious approach to interpreting.

You can find the PPT deck for his presentation here.

[Note from StreetLeverage: What follows is an English version of Joseph’s presentation from StreetLeverage – Live 2015 | Boston.  We would encourage each of you to watch the video and access Joseph’s presentation directly.]

Sign Language Interpreters: Practicing with a Socially Conscious Approach

This talk can apply to all social issues that we have been dealing with in our lives and we need to keep in mind that these issues are always interconnected. We all have more than just one identity. Our identities tie to the systems that can either benefit or hurt us depending on our social positions in our community during a given period, the circumstances of our birth, and the choices we make. Unfortunately, due to the limited time for this talk, I’ve chosen to focus on a single issue that is relevant to me as a black deaf person so I can give you some specific examples that I have seen, that I have read, and that I have heard. This issue is something that we are all familiar with: racism. Now this makes you wake up this morning so you can pay attention to this topic. Racism is still a sensitive social issue for many people, but for marginalized people, the issue is more than just sensitive. It is a barrier. It is a social poison. It is a life and death issue. Typically, when we think of racism, we think about how it negatively affects people of color, but we rarely think about how it also affects white people and their relationships with people of color.

Journey of Black ASL Research

About eight years ago, I was in a fortunate position to be involved in a sociolinguistic project that focused on the sign language variety of African-American deaf signers that we called “Black ASL.” Dr. Ceil Lucas, who is a leading researcher in sociolinguistics of sign languages in deaf communities,  Dr. Carolyn McCaskill, and Dr. Robert Bayley asked me to be part of the team. I was a doctoral student at the time, so of course I was eager to be part of it. There weren’t many opportunities like this one. Before this, there were a very small number of studies on the language and communication of black deaf signers, so this project could make a great impact.

For the next couple years, we traveled to six Southern states and collected data from black deaf participants. We picked the South because of the history of segregation that was part of the public institutions,  that influenced the social networks, and prevented language contact between white and black deaf children at schools. We could just focus on the interesting linguistic features of Black ASL, but we could not ignore the history of Black ASL because whatever happened in the history still has an effect today on those who have lived through segregation. We also focused on younger black deaf signers who were generations removed from the state-sanctioned segregation and their educational context was different compared to the educational context before the segregation, but still, the distinctive linguistic differences could be found in their signing.

After finishing our data analysis, we traveled to different venues to give the presentations on the findings of Black ASL. Our project was written up in The Washington Post. We published our work so the public could learn more about it. We were involved in a Q & A online chat session on the Washington Post. There were positive comments but there were negative comments as well. For example, one negative comment said that people always see race in everything. Another example of the negative comment was this, “You mean the color of your skin affects how you communicate?” My answer was no, it wasn’t what we meant. It was the situational context that influenced how you communicated based on how you were perceived.

Anyway, we started going to different places and giving our presentation on Black ASL. The black deaf community members appreciated our effort to shine the spotlight on their language variety and had their stories told in our book and on the DVD. This kind of validation was rare for them. The deaf community, in general, enjoyed learning about this as well because it was rarely told to them. The audience of hearing people who knew least about sign language were pleasantly surprised about the fact that there were more than one variety of sign language. And of course, sign language interpreters loved to learn about anything related to sign language. Following the presentations, there were questions that kept coming up:

  1. Where can I take a class on Black ASL?
  2. Where can I buy a dictionary of Black ASL?
  3. Should I use Black English when I interpret for my black deaf clients?
  4. How can I apply it to my work?

I have been getting these questions for about four years now and for some reason, I feel uneasy with these questions. They seem innocuous enough, but in the past year when I started thinking deeply about the underlying social issues, I began to see the significance of these questions. They are based on the assumption that this information is widely available in academic settings which are far removed from the social contexts. They are based on the audience’s lack of relationships with the black deaf community who use the language in the specific social contexts. This is part of the general trend where more people can learn about ASL without being involved in the deaf community.  The operative word is “general” because if something negative happens to the deaf community in general, it is usually the worst for the members with marginalized identities.  

Number Matters

Joseph Hill
Joseph Hill

I want you to visualize how marginalized some social groups are. As you can see from the numbers on the RID member demographics, we have about 95% of RID members who are female, so the interpreter profession is female-dominant. If we look at race, we have 87% of RID members who are white. That leaves 13% who are RID members of color. Almost 5% of them are African American/Black (RID Views, Winter 2014). We have about 320 million people living in United States and 12% of them are African American/Black (38 million); 17% of them are Hispanics (54 million); 5% are Asian (18 million).  You can see the discrepancy with the numbers. Let’s think about the number of African American/Black deaf and hard of hearing consumers. Out of 20 million deaf and hard of hearing people, 1.2 million of them are Black and they see white interpreters more often than they see black interpreters. Let’s think about the number of black deaf people who graduated with Ph.D degrees. The number is 13 and I am one of the recent ones in 2011. Two years ago, two of the thirteen passed away. The number gets smaller. Going back to what I said about prior research studies on Black ASL, which were few, if we wait for someone like me and Dr. Carolyn McCaskill (who might retire someday) to publish more on Black ASL, our research output will not be a lot. That is related to the system that doesn’t allow for people of color to produce necessary work. I am talking about the system in America.

To see how widespread the problem of underrepresentation is for people of color, let’s think about the number of children’s books that contain characters of color. It was based on a report in 2012 that covered 3,600 books. Around 93% of the books were about white characters and 3% were about black characters, and 4% included Latinos, Native Americans, and Asian Pacific Americans. Why do these numbers matter? Let me give you an example to show why they matter.

In “Dark Girls” which is a documentary released in 2011, there was one particular scene that was heartbreaking. It showed a young black girl, around the age of 5, sitting with a psychologist. Between them was a picture of 5 children who looked and dressed the same except for the skin color. From left to right, the shade of the skin color went from light to dark. Each time the psychologist told the girl to point out which child was smart, which child was beautiful, which child was good, the girl always pointed to the one with the lightest skin color. Each time the psychologist told the girl to point out which child was dumb, ugly, and bad, she always pointed to the one with the darkest skin color. This girl, who was raised with a black family, somehow internalized the negative messages about people with dark skin. We could say that the girl was exposed to the explicit messages about black people, but these days, some people are very good with being careful about what to say so the messages are not always explicit. But the girl could pick up on the implicit messages. How many children’s books have black characters? How many magazines feature black models on the covers? How many TV programs have black characters that she could relate to? Did her white friends have other black friends? How did people interact with her and a white child? What did people assume about her before they talked with her? If she noticed the large number of white people anywhere she went and they received positive treatment, she would interpret “whiteness” as the norm and she would assign positive attributes to it. Anything opposite that she would interpret it as negative.

Now let’s think about white children who were exposed to the same implicit messages and they had fewer or no black friends. Imagine that they grew up the same way and became the interpreters as you see on the 2014 RID member demographics. Now these same interpreters work with deaf and hard of hearing people of color. I want to show you the perspective of a black deaf consumer on this issue.

Video: “As a black deaf woman, I feel oppressed by the system. When I was growing up, I noticed how people looked at me, expressed doubts about me, asked me what I was doing here and telling me to get away. I noticed them and felt confused. But I went and lived as I was living. But then when I got older, I realized that it was the system and it was so powerful. The system is too big to challenge. It makes me afraid for myself. My other concern is related to interpreters. For example, when I made my doctor’s appointment, I requested a specific interpreter. I wanted a black interpreter. The office looked for one and found none. So I went ahead and accepted an interpreter who was not a person of color. I felt like I had to erase my language identity, my cultural identity. It was not effective for me with the interpreter. There was a lot of misunderstandings. So we ended up rescheduling the appointment. I did not feel good about that. During that encounter, I felt uncomfortable. I didn’t want to look like I wasn’t smart. I had to work harder so I could appear to have better language. It didn’t feel right to me. Within the deaf community, it is pretty diverse. In the interpreter community, there are more members but the problem is that it is not diverse enough with people of color, people with disabilities, and other identities. If both communities reflect each other in terms of diversity, it will be much better.”

Obviously, we want to do something about that. We want to change the way we work. We want to expand our vocabulary and linguistic knowledge to match our consumers. We want to learn more strategies to be able to interpret better. We want to be culturally competent in order to serve our consumers. But those things are the tip of the iceberg. They are about work. We want to address our views of the world that shape our interactions. I want to tell you a story about a couple who chose to live on the farm so they could grow their own food organically. They wanted to live and eat healthy. So they grew vegetables and handled their animals. Over time, they became sicker and sicker. They were not sure what caused them to get sick. Eventually, they found out that the soil was contaminated with toxic waste left by a company long ago and it was never reported. The toxic waste contaminated everything that was raised on the soil, including the food that the couple grew organically. Metaphorically, the soil is the systems we are in and the toxic waste is racism that was left by a powerful group of people who profited from it.  We have to do something about our soil before we can plant our seeds.

Roots of Social Consciousness

Social consciousness means we need to be aware of the social discrepancies and recognize them. But we don’t always recognize them in the same way. For example, we can have an acquired social consciousness which means that we follow the system as it is. We won’t be involved in a situation that involves a problem. We contribute to oppression. Next, we have an awakened social consciousness which means we recognize the problem and we can’t ignore it. We fight with the system. We focus something outside of ourselves, rather than looking within us. Another one is an expanded social consciousness which requires us to be aware of our roles in the system, the actions we need to take to change, and the strategies to change. We will discuss more about them later in the workshop.

I have one example for you to think about. A black interpreter has a mentor who is white. The interpreter is assigned with a white deaf consumer but the consumer makes racist remarks against the interpreter and it throws the interpreter off. After the assignment, the interpreter shares with the mentor about her experience. What does the mentor do in this situation? The mentor says, “you just have to deal with it. It is part of the job.” My question for you, is that right? Is that appropriate? Why would the mentor say that? This is why we need to talk about this because we don’t have to accept this.

Comfortable being uncomfortable

Clearly, we have to talk about it. If we try to push it down, it will be toxic for us, like the metaphor I shared with you. We have to unpack. We have to be open. When we are willing to become vulnerable, we will recognize our place in the system. We can’t deny it and say that this is not our problem. We are part of the problem. We have to get involved in the discussion, engage in a dialogue. Dialogue is not just a form of talking. We exchange our ideas through communication to help ourselves in understanding each other’s perspective and recognizing the stories. We don’t cast doubt on someone’s story and push it down. We should be open and recognize someone’s lived experience. Conversation will lead to change.                                                

Are you going to StreetLeverage – Live 2016 in Fremont, CA, April 15-17th? 

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Seriously!? Do Sign Language Interpreters Still Need to Talk About Diversity?

Angela Roth presented Seriously!? Do Sign Language Interpreters Still Need to Talk About Diversity? at StreetLeverage – Live 2014 | Austin. Her presentation addressed the depth of the challenges our profession still faces addressing individual and collective cross-cultural reality, respect and responsibility.

You can find the PPT deck for her presentation here.

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

Seriously!? Do Sign Language Interpreters Still Need to Talk About Diversity?

Good morning. First, I have to admit that when Brandon called me to invite me to present at Street Leverage, my reaction when I hung up the phone was panicked: Why did I say yes?! What am I thinking? But I’m thrilled to be here and see so many beautiful people gathered here today.

A common expression in American English is “good job” or “good work.” When I interpret into Spanish, the expression we use might be signed BEAUTIFUL [speaker mouths Spanish word]. In our community, the concept of “pretty” is not ocular, rather it means beauty exuding from the soul. Since I’m aware of the implications of your presence here today, I can describe you all as beautiful souls.

Slide: Seriously!? Do Sign Language Interpreters Still Need to Talk About Diversity?

The question I ask in the title of this presentation may have many possible answers. I’d like to ask you to think back to workshops and presentations you’ve attended in the past. How often were you asked to take action? Many people’s response to a call to action is “but how?” The response is usually that action requires self-analysis and reflection. Often the answer is “Create relationships or partnerships.” If that’s the case, do some self-analysis and reflection, create relationships and work with your partners. OK? Great, that’s it for my presentation!

My point is that that’s truly where the work begins. Someone once said “be careful of your thoughts, because your thoughts become your words. Be careful of your words, because your words become your actions.” There is much emphasis on taking action, but the words and thoughts behind the actions deserve a deeper look.

When you leave today you may find yourself with more questions than answers. For now, I want to share some views on what may hinder our ability to look critically at our thought to action process and reasons behind those barriers. Despite our best efforts, that analysis remains a difficult task. I’d like to highlight three such barriers and the causes behind each.

External Bias

First, I’d like to look externally. If I were to ask you to tell the person sitting beside you about something in the news that held bias, perhaps a negative view of a particular group or event, you could do it easily. That’s an example of bias coming from an outside source. But biases and judgments originate within communities of which we’re a part. No community is immune to that dynamic. We carry and internalize the larger world’s paradigms within us, and they, in turn, affect our relationships.

This phenomenon is not unique to sign language interpreters, although it happens to be our focus today. We must remember that there is diversity in every interaction we have throughout our day, in every person with whom we have contact. For every relationship that we have, don’t have, or desire, appearances may be misleading. A seemingly pleasant relationship, even with those we love, could conceal issues below the surface. In that vein, I’d like to return to addressing the three barriers.

Slide: “The DEPTH of the unconscious effect on each of us from our communities is the proverbial iceberg”

We need to understand our unconscious selves at the deepest level, and that depth of analysis requires a lot of work. Despite it being a sensitive topic, we must proceed regardless.


The first of the three unconscious barriers we face comes from a book called “The Righteous Mind.”1 Even the best of individuals still may heartily disagree on issues such as religion and politics. The reasons behind this are numerous; however, one, in particular, can be referred to as “groupishness.” [Slide at 6:50 on video.] This refers to the fact that people tend to gather and align themselves with one another. This is not in and of itself a negative thing, but we should be cautious of that behavior then leading to the gradual widening of the gap between affiliated versus non-affiliated groups. Studies have shown that the tighter-knit a group becomes, the more likely members are to dismiss and discount views that differed from their own. [Slide at 7:48 on video.] I’ll pause a moment; it seems the audience wanted more time to read the previous slide. All set? The wall projection takes longer to load than my teleprompter.

The Dangers of “Only”

So, the slide says that groups become so entrenched that members are unable to even understand opposing views. This is significant. Often it leads such groups to the next point, which is “only.”[ Slide at 8:50 on video] This is a dangerous place to be. As an example, my mother and I once were walking to the mall, chatting as we went. All of a sudden, a man passing by stopped in front of us and forcefully ordered us to “speak English!” I was in disbelief. What would lead him to do that? He was obviously speaking from an entrenched group perspective where only one view existed.

This manifests in ideas like “only the wealthy allowed here,” “only people from this certain family,” “only Whites,” “only oral-educated,” and “only English.” Such homogeneity can be a comfort to some, but be careful: allowing the practice of “only” creates walls dividing groups even further. Those who wish to connect across the divide must work even harder to bridge the gap, and once dismantling one wall and connecting to a new group may find they have alienated themselves from their original affiliation. In aligning to one group, one loses ties to others. This is one example of a barrier.

Emotions vs. Reason

Emotions overpower rational thought. Despite our best intentions to be thoughtful in emotional situations, studies have shown that this is the case. When in a confrontational situation, we may automatically make assumptions about the person based on our emotional reaction. Past events are triggered when we become emotional, and we unconsciously and mistakenly can tie memories to our current experience to form a judgment on what’s happening.

Angela Roth - Sign Language Interpreter
Angela Roth

Picture entering a room where you must speak with a receptionist. She is currently on the phone and gestures for you to wait a moment. One person in that situation may be nonplussed while another might take great offense at being ignored. An explanation for the difference between the two reactions could be that the offended person had had a negative formative experience with a classmate with red hair, made a snap judgment based on emotion, and was now projecting that experience of humiliation onto the current situation. Whether you agree or not, there’s more evidence of this happening than you may think.

Another example of premature judgment occurred in a room where I sat with another White interpreter. A man came in briefly and asked the White interpreter about a word he wasn’t familiar with. The interpreter shrugged, and the man left without asking me if I knew. He had assumed by looking at me that I would not have known–that I had a deficiency in some way. Remember that as much as we may stand by our initial reactions, our emotional memory is sloppy. Therefore, our reactions may be inaccurate. 

The Case for Further Conversation about Diversity and Inclusion

The third kind of barrier to self-awareness relates to conversation. As much as lip service is paid to the desire to foster open dialogue on critical issues, this cannot occur without the potential for barriers. The compulsion to be seen as correct for reasons of personal security can be strong, as can be the narrow, limited or “local” lens some take on issues being discussed. Still others might attempt to dismiss the need to discuss issues at all and silence debates with what they may view as high-minded logic. The consequences of the conversational barrier results in either one-sided doctrinal rhetoric or a shutting out of minority views completely.

This kind of barrier is of course not unique to me or my experience. It can occur anywhere in our lives and work, on any level from interpersonal interactions to our agencies, organizations and in wider society. It is a common thread woven among all with minority status.

Reality, Respect and Responsibility

I want to talk now about three people who exhibit the following qualities: Reality, Respect, and Responsibility. One individual expressed that when they started learning American Sign Language, they experienced judgment from a CODA for not being a native user. When that person chose not to attend an interpreter training program they were judged as unprofessional. But the Deaf community beckoned to that person regardless.

I remember when I was a new, awkward signer and still wet behind the ears as an interpreter. An old Deaf woman asked me if I was a CODA, and I ducked my head and shook it, “no.” She looked at her daughter and  said that I signed like family. I will remember that incredibly touching comment until the day I die, because you see, in my culture we equate the concept of family with a deep cultural understanding, much as Deaf culture defines it.

I remember a situation at a past RID conference where, long story short, there was a strong effort made to at last have more diversity represented among interpreters- because of course, sign language interpreter demographics are notoriously and unceasingly White. One of the  coordinators was MJ Bienvenu. There were unending announcements and comments emphasizing the efforts toward diversity. I decided to approach two of the coordinators and expressed that if the only reason that I was present at the conference was because of the color of my skin and not due to my skill as an interpreter, then I didn’t want to be there. I saw in MJ’s eyes her solidarity with and deep understanding of my words, and in that moment we connected completely. I can understand how if the response to my comment was instead deflecting to my feelings of discomfort, life for me might have looked totally different. But because of the intense emotional connection I experienced, I’m still here today. Thank you, dear MJ.

The third person in our field I want to mention is Bonnie Kraft. I remember that I was offered an opportunity to interpret at what I saw was a very important conference, and I was incredibly excited to have merited an invitation. During one session, I was interpreting for a very fast speaker and was, therefore, signing very quickly. Upon seeing my team’s strategy, I realized I was using the wrong approach. My team eliminated some affect in favor of signing clearly. Seeing the “game” for what it was, I decided to follow suit. You must understand, however, that in my culture, we value a person’s style and affect highly, so I naturally prioritize incorporation of a speaker’s personality into the interpretation. But most of the White Deaf audience did not prefer that and instead favored an approach that prioritized the content. I was very receptive to that feedback and understood that perspective entirely. Unfortunately, before I had a chance to modify my work, it was arranged that another interpreter replace me for the next segment. I was unhappy and tearful, but then my team, Bonnie, responded with “Oh, you’re replacing us? That’s just fine.” As we prepared to leave, the coordinator tried to explain that only I was being replaced, to which Bonnie said “We’re a team. If you replace her, you replace me too.” For her to say that took astounding courage and responsibility.

Why don’t we have the courage to look around and ask ourselves who is not present, and if they were, if they would truly be a part of the group?

In Conclusion

Now, I love sign language for many reasons. I find it very compelling. I speak Spanish, English and a little French and German, but when I discovered ASL I found that I loved the visual medium. I think we can learn a lot from signs themselves if we let them teach us. For example, the sign for DIVERSITY. What do you see in the production of that sign? (Please reference ASL video at 19:37.) There are many equal yet different moving elements in the sign. Now consider the sign for HARMONY. (Please reference ASL video at 19:54.) It also represents many of something, beginning in one place then moving to another, all the while becoming stronger. I’d like to turn to your neighbor now and try to produce the sign HARMONY, each contributing one hand to this two-handed sign. It’s not easy, is it? That means that to have harmony, it takes work- as the last poet- I think it was the poet, right?- mentioned this morning. Next slide.

“Give me the courage to accept the ones I cannot change, the courage to change the one I can, and the wisdom to know it’s me.”

Thank you.

Are you going to StreetLeverage – Live 2016 in Fremont, CA April 15-17th? 

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Haidt, J. (2012). The righteous mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion. New York: Pantheon Books.

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Where Do We Go From Here? 5 Stages of Change for Sign Language Interpreters

As sign language interpreters, we stand at a crossroads. Do we maintain the status quo or act as change agents by investing & engaging, collectively, in the transformation of our profession?

Where Do We Go From Here? 5 Stages of Change for Sign Language Interpreters

People in our field are talking a lot about change. Our attitudes toward the Deaf community and fellow sign language interpreters have to change. Our professionalism has to change. There is a call for greater transparency. StreetLeverage contributors have written about the need for change in our national organization. The discussion about change is everywhere.

[Click to view post in ASL]

In “Sign Language Interpreters: Is it Me?”, Brian Morrison points to the questions we should be asking ourselves, and guides us from examining how to solve problems to examining our commitment to change. The question I find myself now exploring is, “How does change happen?”

Transtheoretical Model

Many have written on the subject of change. In 1983, Prochaska and DiClementi developed the “Transtheoretical Model”1 , which I will use to frame my discussion here. The model describes five stages of change: pre-contemplation, contemplation, determination, action, and maintenance.

In the pre-contemplation stage, a person is unaware that there is a problem. They may think that others who point out a problem are just exaggerating, being judgmental, or imagining it. They may complain about the same problem in others yet fail to see it in themselves. Prochaska and DiClementi define four types of pre-contemplators.

  1. Reluctant pre-contemplators are those who, through lack of knowledge or inertia, do not want to consider change. They have not become fully conscious of the impact of the problem. In our profession a reluctant pre-contemplator may think, “I continue to get hired, so my interpreting work must be fine.”
  2. Rebellious pre-contemplators have a heavy investment in their current behavior and in making their own decisions. They are resistant to being told what to do. Such a person in our field may say, “That person is always critical of interpreters. It’s not about me.”
  3. Resigned pre-contemplators have given up hope about the possibility of change and are overwhelmed by the problem. This person may concede, “Second language learners of ASL will never be as clear as native language users. There’s nothing I can do about it.”
  4. Rationalizing pre-contemplators have all the answers. They come armed with reasons why their behavior is not a problem. This interpreter may justify, “The Deaf people I work with are highly educated. I tell them what I hear, and they figure it out.”

The second stage of change is contemplation. In this stage a person is willing to accept that there may be a problem. They are also willing to consider the pros and cons of changing but may still be ambivalent about the need to take action.

The third, fourth and fifth stages are ascribed to those who have made a clear decision to change. They have identified what needs to change (Stage 3 – Determination), taken steps toward their goal (Stage 4 – Action), and work to maintain their path of improvement (Stage 5 – Maintenance).

When we are open to change, we spend our time learning, analyzing, and asking questions. Every job is seen as an opportunity to grow. That is the character of the third, fourth and fifth stages of change.

Getting Beyond Pre-contemplation

What happens when others see what I could change but I don’t see it myself? When I try to examine my own problems, what might I be missing? If I don’t see a problem, how can I know if one exists? These conundrums put us squarely at the first stage, pre-contemplation.

Fortunately, there are multiple roads out of pre-contemplation. Some of these roads we seek out and deliberately walk. Others we must be led to. Below, I have outlined four forms that these roads can take: 1) honest self-inquiry, 2) a life threatening condition, 3) public outcry, or 4) a trusted colleague opening a door for us to gain self-awareness.

  1. Honest self-inquiry begins when there is a willingness to look at whatever comes up. An opportunity arises when a certain personal trait or habit becomes apparent. At a particular moment, something that I did, thought, or said makes me question my behavior or habit. In bringing my attention to this behavior, I see it more clearly. Recognizing it changes my understanding of the behavior and of myself. It is possible that, over time and with continued attention, the behavior will shift or even be replaced with something more congruent with my sense of self.
Nancy Berlove
Nancy Berlove

For example, I find myself saying small, cutting remarks to my spouse. I conveniently ignore that I do this because it is too painful to admit to having this unloving, horrible characteristic. In a moment when I am more present, I notice his reaction to one such cutting remark. I stay attuned to myself, watching my impulse to cut him down. The emotion or thought that sparked the cutting remark is revealed. It is old, rooted in my childhood. In that moment there is new understanding, and I am changed. The impulse to cut him down dissolves. A change has occurred that I didn’t “make” in the traditional sense, but it occurred as a result of examining the impulse.

  1. A life-threatening condition is another road out of pre-contemplation. Often when we confront our mortality, the reality of having a finite time on earth can spark increased introspection. Old grudges may dissolve and die-hard opinions seem less important. Change occurs because I re-examine my values. While one doesn’t invite a walk down this road, when it presents itself, there is opportunity.
  1. Public outcry can backfire and may lead to hurt feelings and resistance. In our field, demands to revoke a sign language interpreter’s certification or remove a person from a position of power can garner support. But the target of this outcry rarely perceives it as designed to inspire positive change. Still, it can be an important tool. I remember when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. The ensuing outcry sparked many to look at their own attitudes toward race. Recent racialized events have sparked similar self-reflection.
  1. A trusted colleague, finally, is key to fostering change. This is an important relationship. When I am actively engaged with this colleague, we work to develop the mutual trust needed to broach sensitive subjects. I don’t have an ulterior motive to change the person, but instead have a wish to understand their perspective. We see each other as we are – peers. We start by being willing to find out where we stand, what we think, and what our wishes are. The process itself becomes the influencing factor for conscious change.

Together, we can investigate and reveal our flaws, share our inner processes, and examine our values. Together, we can discuss what we personally can do to include more Deaf people in RID. Together, we can look at available jobs and consider what skills and qualities are required to do them. Together, we can explore the difficulty that arises when a team interpreter doesn’t want to discuss the work. It is important that we invite our colleagues to the party, not drag them there.

From Interpersonal to Organizational

RID is made up of individuals, each at their own stage on the path. Some are contemplating their role in improving conditions, while others are in pre-contemplation. Each person is worthy of our time if we are invested in change, but it will never happen through complaining, finger-pointing, ignoring, or backstabbing. It will come only through a willingness to work together. For my part, I was drawn to this profession not only because of an interest in people and a knack for language, but also because it provided opportunities for self-exploration and improvement as a human being in relation to others.

So, I turn the question back to us as professionals. Are we prepared to enter into this type of relationship with our fellow interpreters? If yes, then we need to be willing to spend time in the process. While the stages of change provide a framework for understanding how change happens, our work is to observe, engage, and enter into meaningful dialogue in order to understand multiple perspectives. I believe that each of us can be an agent of change in a way that promotes the profession, our organization, and ultimately, our humanity. Will you join me?

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Questions for Consideration

  1. What can I do to be more proactive and interactive with others in the field?
  2. What are my experiences of moments of change?  How do those experiences help me understand this process?
  3. Among the four types of pre-contemplator, which type am I? (We are all pre-contemplators about something.)
  4. What holds me back from being an agent of change? What would I need in order to begin?

Related Posts

Sign Language Interpreting’s Long Adolescence by Stephanie Jo Kent

Replenishing Sign Language Interpreting: Extraction Exchange by Sandra Maloney

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


Gold, M. (2013). Stages of Change. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 19, 2015, from

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Replenishing Sign Language Interpreting: Extraction Exchange

Sandra Maloney presented Replenishing Sign Language Interpreting: Extraction Exchange at StreetLeverage – X | RID Conference 2015.  Her presentation explores the concept of the “extraction mindset,” applications to the field of sign language interpreting, and how to combat this thinking.

You can find the PPT deck for her presentation here.

[Note from StreetLeverage: What follows is an English rendition of Sandra’s talk from StreetLeverage – X | RID Conference 2015.  We would encourage each of you to watch the video and access Sandra’s talk directly.]

Replenishing Sign Language Interpreting: Extraction Exchange

Good morning.

It’s amazing to see so many of you here.

When Brandon Arthur asked me to participate in this morning’s event, I was honored to be asked, particularly in light of previous StreetLeverage presenters. Then I thought, “What will I talk about?” I’m interested and passionate about any number of subjects. I could talk about RID but since this morning comes towards the end of the conference, I decided I didn’t want to focus on RID. I could talk about my graduate research, but that didn’t feel right. Then someone sent me a link to a blog by a person who is not an interpreter nor a member of the Deaf Community. The blog is written by a man named Seth Godin. As I read, I realized I had found my topic – I knew I had to talk about this today. Seth’s post topic was the “Extraction Mindset.” I read the post- I’ll explain more about the blog later on, but first, I want to talk about this idea. As I read, I wondered about the meaning of the term “extraction mindset,” and, being a graduate student, I did my research to gather more information.

Defining the “Extraction Mindset”

The concept of extraction mindset can be applied to various circumstances. For example, consider the rainforest. A person identifies the need for wood and proceeds to clearcut an area, extract all the useful wood, and burns the ground, leaving nothing behind. All resources have been depleted, leaving a barren, useless landscape. Another version of this mindset can be illustrated in sign language interpreters’ addiction to their smartphones, for example, the iPhone. Whenever a new version is released, everyone rushes to buy the latest device in an effort to be the first to have it.The length of the line demonstrates the drive, the hurry to get the latest version. So that idea, that mindset that is “I must get it before others can” is a part of the “extraction mindset.”

Now, I’ll show you a paragraph taken from Seth’s blog and how I envision how it applies to our field.

When I read that, I got goosebumps and my mind started racing with the many potential applications to our field. There are so many ways we can apply this theory. And the results of this “take it now before someone else gets it” mindset…the results are depleted resources. So I started thinking about applications to the field of interpreting – perhaps your minds are working on the possibilities, as well.

Applications to the Field of Sign Language Interpreting

For me, one area that immediately came to mind was freelance interpreting. Wouldn’t you agree? Freelance Interpreting has no set schedule. We don’t know when the next job will come. What that means is that when an assignment is presented to us, we have to decide whether to accept or decline. In the ideal world, before we accept a job, we would consider things like, “Am I the right person for this assignment? Is this assignment at the right time? What is my next assignment after this one?” There numerous other considerations. But often, in the real world, we think about the medical appointment we have the following week, that our child’s schedule is also busy, so we go ahead and accept the job. Often, I see my colleagues accept assignments. They know that they have an 8:00 am meeting to interpret the next morning. When they get a last minute emergency call to the hospital that may mean working through the night, they still accept the job even knowing they will have to interpret in the morning. That’s a prime example of that “take it now” mindset without considering the repercussions. Because we don’t know what is coming next, we focus on immediate things like our income, our bills. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but what is the ultimate impact?

I had another thought about this on an organizational level. Often, we find a good volunteer. Once we find out that they are willing to serve, we get very excited about giving them multiple jobs because it benefits our organization, but what about the benefits to the volunteer? They started out wanting to give back, but how are they benefiting in the long run? As organizations, we need to consider the benefits to volunteers as well as ways to train future generations of volunteers. I think we’ve lost the concept of “training behind” a bit. So now, when we task someone with a project, we don’t provide the necessary resources. We don’t have individuals who can support that next generation person in taking over. That concept has been lost.

Results of the Extraction Mindset

We see this at work in the Deaf community, as well. We want language models; we want people to participate and get involved. We take advantage of their resources.  The Deaf community does want to help interpreters, to help improve the community, to work in partnership with interpreters. But often, people say things like, “I’m done. Let someone else take that on. Let them do it. I’m done.” That response is really a result of the extraction mindset. That type of thinking results in burnout.

results mindset pic

So the result of the extraction mindset is burnout. I’ve noticed recently on several Facebook pages – I’ve joined a number of pages as a participant. I don’t often comment, but I do watch the discussions. I’ve noticed we have a problem in that interpreters are leaving the field to pursue other careers. They no longer work as interpreters. They get tired and become social workers, psychologists, nurses, something other than interpreters. They aren’t continuing to work as full-time interpreters. My thought is that this is due to the “take it all now” mentality and the depletion of our resources. There’s nothing left for them, and we aren’t providing appropriate supports.

On an organizational level…. I often work with affiliate chapters (of RID) who talk about the apathy of the members. “They don’t want to be involved. They aren’t volunteering.” Okay, but what are we providing for them? “They” are tired. “They” don’t know the benefits of volunteering. This has to be a partnership. It has to be. If not, this is what happens – we have problems. We aren’t able to do what is needed. We feel paralyzed because there is no partnership.

The Path Forward: Extraction Exchange

So, how can we succeed? If we are stuck in this short-sighted mentality and solely focused on looking out for ourselves without considering how our decisions impact future outcomes, the problems will only persist, and our successes will be few and far between.

If you’ve focused on that extraction mindset, if you’ve focused on your own gains, don’t be discouraged or disheartened. There is still hope. Any time we identify a problem, it is important that we come up with ideas to create solutions or alternative ways to approach an issue.

the path forward pic

As I researched “extraction mindset,”I also found a concept called “extraction exchange”. That business model requires interaction. Extraction exchange always considers the future – not only for the self, but for the organization and the community. Thinking about the future allows us to examine decisions and their effects on the present and the future and all parties involved.

Preparing the Soil

This week, I’ve gone into numerous workshops where people have said, “You must plant the seed.” Plant the seed. My challenge to you is to go back even further and prepare the soil. That means each of us looking at ourselves and asking, “What can I contribute? What can I give back…to my community? to my local affiliate chapter? to my organization?” We can’t opt out and expect that “they” will fix it. We can’t. We have to act. I’ve seen some examples this week [at the 2015 RID Conference]. For example, at the Business Meeting, someone mentioned that we have to take action on our own and partner with organizations to determine how we can work together. We can’t just set our expectations and hand them off to our organizations and say, “You do it.” We have to figure out how to work together to succeed. We can work together with trust, with information, by determining where the value is and by exchanging ideas.

So, what will your contribution be? I ask you to think about how you can contribute on an individual level, a community level and on a systemic level. How will you contribute?

Thank you.

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Missing Narratives in Interpreting and Interpreter Education

Erica West Oyedele presented Missing Narratives in Interpreting and Interpreter Education at StreetLeverage – X | RID Conference 2015.  Her presentation explores the lack of diversity within the predominantly White, female field of sign language interpreting and provides a call to action for potential allies.

You can find the PPT deck for her presentation here.

[Note from StreetLeverage: What follows is an English rendition of Erica’s talk from StreetLeverage – X | RID Conference 2015.  We would encourage each of you to watch the video and access Erica’s talk directly.]

Missing Narratives in Interpreting and Interpreter Education

Thank you, StreetLeverage, for giving me the opportunity to be here with all of you. This presentation is based on the research I conducted during graduate school that looked into the experiences of African American/Black interpreters, and took into consideration African American/Black Deaf consumers and their experiences with interpreting services. However, my comments today are not just for them. Rather, they are for all of you. Additionally, it is important for me to thank all of the interpreters of color and all of the Deaf people of color who participated in my research study.

Today I want to talk with you about the narratives that I believe are missing from the field of interpreting and interpreter education. Initially, I planned to show a slide that included the demographics of the field of interpreting. Two days ago, I changed that slide because every day this week there has been a presentation that has shown us the demographics of the RID membership. Hopefully, you’ve paid attention as those numbers have been presented. If you were paying attention to the statistics, then you know that approximately 88% of the RID membership is made up of White interpreters. Therefore, the remaining 12% of RID’s membership are interpreters of color. This slide is a representation of our 12%.

ITOC forum 2015
Photo by Bill Millios

If you attended the ITOC (Interpreters and Transliterators of Color) Member Section forum, then you also would have seen as a part of the presentation a slideshow of various interpreters of color. We make up a diverse population. We are from a wide range of backgrounds. We are hearing, Deaf, straight, gay, lesbian, Codas, and so much more. For interpreters of color in our organization there is a wealth of diversity beyond race.

As I mentioned, we’ve already seen the numbers presented to us throughout the conference so that will not be the focus of this presentation. To be quite honest, for those of you who have seen those numbers presented (88% White interpreters and 12% interpreters of color) and responded with surprise, I ask, why? I can tell you that these numbers are of no surprise to the 12% of interpreters of color within RID. The numbers have been the same for many years! Of course there is some small fluctuation in these numbers from year to year, but the percentages have been consistent. So instead of talking again about the numbers, let’s talk about the impact of these numbers. The impact to interpreters of color, consumers of color, and the impact to all of you, our White allies. You notice that it is my hope that you will become our allies.

True Story

I want to begin with a story. This story comes from one interpreter who participated in my research study. I have to warn you that this story contains language that will be uncomfortable for you and that’s okay! When you start to notice your own discomfort, breathe in, and then analyze the source of your discomfort. Then we’ll discuss some more.


True Story - Erica West Oyedele Presentation at StreetLeverage - XOne of the reasons we are challenged to engage in these types of discussions is because of the fear we hold around this type of topic. I want to let you know that the fear I am referring to extends to me too. Again, that is normal. Right now, my fear has to do with how I will be perceived by my colleagues as a hearing interpreter of color, who has just been sworn in to the RID board. All of those thoughts I recognize right now are a part of who I am. Furthermore, this topic is not easy, yet it is easy for me to become a target when bringing forward this type of discussion. I’ve made the decision that the discussion is important enough that it needs to be addressed.

When you read this story, I want you to recognize that this is the experience of interpreters of color. Although this particular story took place after the interpreter had completed their work, we have to acknowledge that interpreters of color confront systems of oppression before, after, and during their work. What is most unfortunate is that while they are working they often face this discrimination from consumers and colleagues alike. That is the impact of the numbers we have seen but that we have failed to discuss. Perhaps if we have these candid discussions we might come to a place where we would see the number of interpreters of color rise.

When I look at this story, I also recognize the interpreter’s emotional response. Again, it is a normal emotional response, yet I am personally often aware of not wanting to be labeled as the angry (fill in the blank) person: the angry Black person, Deaf person…the angry something! But if we look at what happened, you notice that the interpreter experienced a range of emotions that included confusion and fear, in addition to anger. This is because having to confront systems of oppression becomes an additional demand for interpreters of color. When I speak of demands I am referring to the Demand-Control Schema as presented by Dean and Pollard. Taking into consideration their theory, I think it’s fair to say that interpreters of color have additional demands they have to confront when they go to work. Why isn’t this discussion taking place in interpreter education programs and in workshops in our field? If we truly want to see an increase in the number (or percentage)  of interpreters of color, we need to consider what doable actions we might take to acknowledge this reality in our field.

Erica West Oyedele
Erica West Oyedele

Why Should You Care?

My aim is not for you to read this story and then leave here today feeling sorry for interpreters of color. We don’t want your pity. We want action. Because these stories are not shared in workshops, and because these stories are not shared in interpreter education programs, interpreters of color are not being prepared for the field of interpreting that they will actually face. It also means that the 88% of White interpreters are not learning how to become allies.

Impacts of Power and Privilege


Are interpreters of color really being prepared for the field of interpreting? Are White interpreters prepared to work with us as allies? I don’t know. I think we would be more prepared if we figured out ways to work together. We have to acknowledge the impacts of power, privilege and oppression within this field. The number of African American/Black study participants in my research was 116. 72% shared that they experienced overt acts of discrimination and oppression while they were working. I am no longer talking about before or after work. The majority of Black interpreters experienced oppression from consumers and colleagues at some point while they were working.


Participants in the Black Deaf focus group that I conducted also shared their concerns regarding the field of interpreting. We have long discussed in this field the relationship between language and culture. We have acknowledged that for a complete understanding of language to be present, we must first understand the underlying influences of culture. This is not a new discussion for us. Yet, most of the Black Deaf participants in my focus group felt that interpreters did not have an understanding of their culture. Let’s consider what that means for consumers of color. It means they are working overtime to assimilate to the needs of interpreters, instead of interpreters working to accommodate their needs. Interestingly, for the Black Deaf focus group in particular, they overwhelmingly shared that they felt a sense of relief when they had access to interpreters of color. They felt understood.  They perceived interpreters of color to be both linguistically and culturally competent. I of course followed up by asking how often they had access to interpreters of color. Every Black Deaf focus group participant said that it was rare for them to have access to interpreters of color.


For those of you who are mentors or educators in this field, the majority of interpreters in my study (around 63%) felt that their mentors and educators were ineffective when it came to discussing multicultural issues or addressing issues of cultural competency. 86 of the participants who were in my study completed a formal interpreter education program. So again, 63% to 64% felt that their instructors were ineffective at addressing issues of multiculturalism or cultural competency. An additional 14% stated that they could not respond to my question because there was no discussion of multiculturalism or cultural competency in their programs at all. Frequently, research participants shared that when discussions of multiculturalism or cultural competency took place, those discussions were limited to Deaf and hearing cultures only. They addressed a Deaf-hearing binary that oversimplifies the two cultural groups, because we know that Deaf and hearing individuals come from a multitude of diverse backgrounds. People of color can be trilingual interpreters, they can be Codas, etc. They have a whole host of identities beyond being hearing or Deaf that impact who they are. That is intersectionality. So when we are not discussing culture beyond the Deaf and hearing binary, we are marginalizing the communities that we serve, we are dismissing who they are, and we are not doing good work.

What Can You Do?

So, perhaps we can’t stop situations like the one I shared with you at the beginning of this talk with the interpreter of color who was innocently walking to her car and confronted discrimination. There is no expectation that we will change the system overnight. But we can start with ourselves. We can start at home!

Allyship Skills

This message is for all of you, the 88%. Develop your allyship skills. Often we use the word ally as a badge, as though it is who we are. I mentioned briefly during the community forum a few nights back a range of different skillsets for allies. On one side, we have avoidance. That’s a skill. You can see oppression happening around you and choose to do nothing. On the other side, we have allyship, which means actively doing anti-oppression work.

Build Cultural Competence

Develop your cultural competence. I realize many people don’t know what that means. I’ve seen many different frameworks that help to describe cultural competency. I have not included that information in this presentation for the sake of time but if you contact me, I am happy to share resources with you. The point is, if you are working with interpreters of color, think about how you are going to connect those interpreters with communities of color. If you are an educator and you are working with interpreters of color, what types of resources are you utilizing in your interpreting program? There are resources out there for you. Are you utilizing the NMIP (National Multicultural Interpreter Project) curriculum to supplement your instruction and as a part of your mentoring resources?  

The NCIEC (National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers) recently released their social justice module for infusion within interpreter preparation programs. Are you incorporating those messages into your curriculum? When you require students to read articles or books, who are the authors? When you invite people of color to come to your classes and workshops to present, do you invite them to discuss race only or do you invite them to talk about the whole of their experiences and who they are? When you extend invitations to people of color, and you only ask them to talk about race, that looks like tokenism to me.

Invest in Social Capital

My closing comment is this.  Invest in social capital for interpreters of color. In short, social capital is a term used to describe the quality of relationships people have within a particular group. If you have good, strong, relationships, and you have a large network within your community to interact with, then your social capital is strong. However, if your relationship ties are weak or your network is small, then your social capital is weak. So in your interpreting programs and in the workshops you teach, when you name RID or NAD, make sure you also name NAOBI, name Mano a Mano, name NBDA, name the Asian Deaf Congress, and the many other organizations of color that are out there. Connect interpreters of color with organizations and communities of color, and while you’re at it, check these organizations out for yourself, too. That is a way for you, the 88%, to partner with us.

Thank you.


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Deaf Interpreter Conference Finish: Do Do Now?

Ray Kenney presented Deaf Interpreter Conference Finish: Do Do Now? at StreetLeverage – X | RID Conference 2015His presentation provides an insider’s view from the historic Deaf Interpreter Conference held in June 2015.

You can find the PPT deck for his presentation here.

[Note from StreetLeverage: What follows is an English rendition of Ray’s talk from StreetLeverage – X | RID Conference 2015.  We would encourage each of you to watch the video and access Ray’s talk directly.]

StreetLeverage – X

I would like to thank Sandra Maloney, Betty M. Colonomos, and Erica West Oyedele, the presenters before me here at StreetLeverage-X. They said many of the things I had planned to say, so I do not need to repeat it.

How many of you here today went to the Deaf Interpreter Conference (DIC)?  I see quite a few. Forgive me for doing this on stage but I am proud to show this off…this is my tee shirt from the conference. It helps me feel connected. (To see the StreetLeverage coverage of the conference, please click here.)

Big thanks to all the committee members, Jimmy Beldon and Janis Cole for taking the lead to make the Deaf Interpreter Conference a reality. The committee communicated only with Glide using ASL – no emails or texting. The committee would get anywhere from few messages a day to hundreds a day as the Conference drew nearer. They accomplished this huge task in less than 6 months.

Deaf Interpreter Conference

This historic conference, the first of its kind, took place June 20-24, 2015 at St. Catherine University, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Everyone involved was Deaf, the only hearing people I saw were probably the cafeteria staff.

The Conference drew 208 attendees: some CDIs, DIs with experience, and others with no experience. Many of the attendees without experience wanted to become DIs but were not sure how to do it. The DIC had three workshop tracks: Advanced, Beginner and Mixed, so there was something for everyone who attended. Topics presented there are similar what you would find at the RID Conference: Legal, Medical, the mechanics of interpreting, where to go for training; detailed, specialized topics as well as more global topics were covered.

On opening day, the conference held a reframing workshop where we came up with CELT. This concept became our theme for the rest of the conference. I will explain that in a moment, but first understand that when we first arrived, there was a bit of awkwardness as we met, discovered who was there, why they were there, etc. CELT is Compassion, Empathy, Listening and Transparency, and it became our motto for the week. Though the conference only lasted 5 days, it felt like a week!

Another consistent theme that ran throughout the week was the need to educate- educate Hearing interpreters, consumers, everyone.

Characteristics of Deaf Interpreters (DIs) and Hearing Interpreters (HIs)

I have two slides I will be showing you comparing Deaf interpreters (DIs) to Hearing interpreters (HIs).

Themes: DI

What are some characteristics of DIs? DIs are Lifelong Interpreters: we have been interpreters most of our lives. I remember when I was about seven years old, I was in class with several Deaf classmates. The teacher was trying to teach us some lesson. As soon as the teacher turned her back, someone would ask me what she had just said. We would discuss/collaborate/interpret the lesson. We found that was a common experience shared by many of us at DIC: we all relied on each other to understand what was said. These experiences ingrained that role in us and led most of us to continue the practice in the form of the role of DI.

Deaf norms:

I am sure many of you are familiar with Deaf Norms, but one example is the need to have collaborative discussions to understand what is said. This is not true for Hearing people. This dialogical approach is utilized by most experienced DIs as we work with consumers.

Although a Deaf person commonly engages in conversation with the DI, this is not typical for many HIs. While the DI is engaged with the Deaf person, the DI takes in more messages and questions via the HI. We simply keep the dialogue going and incorporate the new information in our conversation. The concept of an interpreter as the conveyor of messages between consumers, without dialogue, is not the norm with DIs. Nor is the idea that if the Deaf person doesn’t understand something – too bad!  This shift to a dialogic approach to interpreting was validated for me at the conference.

In our conversations through the week, we noted a major difference when a DI interprets the Deaf person’s message to the HI. With a DI present, the Deaf person can see the DI’s interpretation and, if needed, correct the information/message. If a DI is not present, the Deaf person never knows if they were understood or if their message was properly interpreted to the Hearing person. This is one critical piece that is missing in more typical interpreting situations. This lack of access has lead to much abuse of power and privilege.

In discussions about our expectations of the HI, particularly in terms of language, there was no consensus among DIC attendees. When considering DIs’ preferences in terms of the language used by HI, styles of interpreting vary from job to job. Some assignments may be at a much higher register than others. The message is the same regardless of how it is conveyed.

Conference attendees also explored ways DIs/HIs might collaborate as a team. One point of consensus was that team members must make agreements prior to the job.

Themes: HI

Ray Kenney
Ray Kenney

Of course, much discussion took place about Hearing interpreters throughout the week. Complaints were raised, for sure, but I want to focus on the qualities of HIs that enhance our work as DIs. We are all learning to be collaborators in the interpreting process.

One practice DIs appreciate is when the HI trusts the DI to handle the on-site introductions. This approach alleviates the awkwardness that occurs when the HI tries to explain “who we are,” etc., while signing simultaneously. The DI can introduce the team and explain the process while the HI interprets providing simultaneous explanation to both the Hearing and Deaf person. Developing a rapport between the HI and DI is key for this kind of confidence to develop.

I want to acknowledge Amy Williamson for sharing the concept of “Brokering” at the 2015 Street Leverage Live event I attended in Boston. She provided a term for what we do: this process of working together to communicate the information/message to both Deaf and Hearing parties.

Another characteristic DIs appreciate is the willingness to “Pre-Brief” before a job.  I don’t think “pre-brief” is a word in English, but I am using it to describe the meeting that should take place before we begin to interpret. Typically, DIs also like to debrief after the job is completed.

How much time do I have left? (Presenter asks timekeeper at the session.)

StreetLeverage – X Reflection

I want to reflect on the previous presenters and how their presentations connect to what took place at DIC.

Sandra Maloney talked about the “Extraction Mindset” – thinking outside of the box and being open to new ideas. This relates to a wish many DIs expressed at DIC: DIs wish to be welcomed by HIs. We want to work with you. Yes, DIs have our preferences but we recognize the need to be more flexible and learn to work with all HIs.

Betty Colonomos’ concept of gatekeeper is also relevant. At DIC, we discussed this very topic and believe it should be the responsibility of the DIs to manage gatekeeping. Invite DIs to be part of the team and we will take care of the gatekeeping. The key word Betty uses is respect. Respect the fact that DIs are here. Mutual respect for each other and our work will go a long way instead of being treated like extra, unnecessary baggage.

Erica West Oyedele’s topic, People of Color, brought to mind many similarities between POC and Deaf people. Like the Black community, Deaf people, including myself, are angry. We are finding power in talking with each other. I have had HIs describe the sigh of relief they hear from the Deaf person when they realize a DI is there. I’ve experienced this sigh of relief before going into court when the Deaf consumer realized that I was deaf and would be there for him. That should tell you something.

In Closing

The need to educate is not new. Universities, even in the present day, have resisted including Deaf people in their interpreter education programs. This needs to stop. Deaf interpreting must be included in interpreter preparation programs, both in training Deaf people to become interpreters and in teaching the hearing students what DIs do and how to work with us. If you open the door to DIs, we will help all interpreters improve by learning how we can team and work together. As it is today, I personally do not know how to team with some of you HIs.

I guarantee you will be seeing more of us, both out there in the community and at our conferences. It is unfortunate that the 2015 RID conference fell right after DIC as many DIs were not able to attend both conferences.

Thank you.

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