Posted on 2 Comments

Deaf Interpreters: The Value of Formative Experience

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

You can find the PPT deck for his presentation here

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

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

Deaf Interpreters: The Value of Formative Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

American vs. Deaf American Formative Experience

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

Jimmy Beldon
Jimmy Beldon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leveling the Playing Field

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

Deaf Space

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

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

The Acculturation Gap        

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

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

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

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

Effective Interpreter Formula

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

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

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

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

The Value of Formative Experience

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

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

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

Breaking Away from the Status Quo

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

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

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

Thank you.

* Interested in receiving StreetLeverage posts in your inbox?

Simply enter your name and email in the field above the green “Sign Me Up!” button (upper right-hand side of this page) and click “Sign Me Up!”

Posted on Leave a comment

Interpreting Without a Deaf Interpreter is an RID CPC Violation

Interpreting Without a Deaf Interpreter is an RID CPC Violation

Crackers or crack cocaine?  If a potential Deaf witness used a signed reference to crackers during a police interview, would you immediately understand the meaning? Fortunately, in this situation, the hearing interpreter (who was top-notch) knew enough to team up with a Deaf interpreter who immediately figured out that the witness was not talking about the food cracker but about crack cocaine.  Because of the presence of the Deaf-Hearing interpreting team, effective communication occurred.

[Click to view post in ASL]

Unfortunately, thousands of Deaf people experience serious settings and situations without the services of an interpreter team made up of a Deaf interpreter and a hearing team interpreter. This exclusion of the Deaf interpreter results in unnecessary life-altering experiences for Deaf individuals. A new ethical and financial paradigm is needed to ensure the presence of Deaf interpreters in those settings and situations.

Excluding Deaf interpreters in these setting/situations is a violation of the CPC.

Why The Resistance?

It Requires Hearing Interpreter Involvement

Hearing interpreters worry that if they ask for a Deaf team interpreter, they will be perceived as incompetent[i] even though the very best interpreters recognize that even they need Deaf interpreters. Carla Mathers, a renowned practicing attorney and interpreter remarked recently in a StreetLeverage presentation, “My best interpretation, however, will never equal the value, skills and contributions of a Deaf interpreter.”[ii]

These hearing interpreters are also concerned about losing the assignment to a less competent or less ethical interpreter who could perhaps do greater damage. They may also be unaware of settings or situations that mandate the use of a CDI. As a result, they just plow ahead and hope for the best.

The National Consortium of Interpreter Education Center stated that “the initial determination is left to the [hearing] interpreter, it is of critical importance that legal interpreters undertake this analysis and to subordinate any feelings of inadequacy in the event that a deaf interpreter would be able to assist, improve or enhance the quality of the interpretation. The decision to recommend a deaf interpreter is an indication of professionalism, not a sign of incompetence.”[iii][iv]

RID Must Revise their Definition of a CDI

The realities highlighted above make it difficult to implement the NAD-RID Code of Professional Conduct (CPC), which makes it clear that hearing interpreters need to ensure the presence of a Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI) in specific settings and situations.  However, CPC Illustrative Behaviors 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, 2.6, 4.1 and 6.3 are all places where one could make a case that the exclusion of Deaf interpreters is a violation.

First and foremost, the current RID Standard Practice Paper “Use of a Certified Deaf Interpreter” must be updated. This version is antiquated and perpetuates the myth that a CDI is needed only in unusual situations where the “communication mode of a deaf consumer is so unique that it cannot be adequately accessed by interpreters who are hearing.” Historically, Deaf interpreters have been involved in all types of communication situations long before the establishment of RID or interpreter training programs, effectively navigating between languages and providing important cultural perspectives and experiences that make an interpretation more accurate.

Systemic Bias

Two of the common reasons for the ongoing systematic failure to include Deaf interpreters in those settings and situations are as follows:

1)      The payer of the services will seek the lowest bidder, or

2)      The hearing interpreter is burdened with decision of whether to bring in a Deaf interpreter and worried about the various possible negative consequences that could result from a request for a Deaf team interpreter.

We recognize that courts, police departments, hospitals and other entities often seek the lowest price structure for interpreters. Bidders of those contracts, whether by interpreting agencies or by free-lance sign language interpreters, are thus incentivized to exclude Deaf interpreters in their proposals in order to win those contracts. [v] As a result, the Deaf consumer frequently suffers and is impacted negatively.

How to Resolve the Problem

Hearing interpreters work in various life-altering situations on a daily basis without the presence of Deaf interpreters. Excluding Deaf interpreters in those settings or situations is a violation of the CPC. The question now is how can we make it easier for ethical interpreters to uphold the CPC in their business practices? A solution is desperately needed here.

We propose a new standard practice paper by the Registry of Interpreters that would require interpreting contracts to automatically establish the presence of Deaf interpreters in specific situations.

The revised standard practice paper should clearly state that it is unethical to place hearing interpreters without deaf interpreters in defined settings. The standard practice paper would also clearly define best practices which would automatically include Deaf interpreters from the onset for any contracts with hospitals, courts, and other legal settings.[vi] The standard practice paper would then tie the CPC into the hearing interpreter’s obligation to automatically require a Deaf interpreter team in those specific settings.

With this new standard practice paper in place, agencies bidding for contracts can confidently include the use of Deaf interpreters in their proposals and point out that competitor proposals without the inclusion of Deaf interpreters are unethical, illegitimate and represent a violation of RID standard practices and also violate the CPC.

This structure will relieve the hearing interpreter of the burden of assessing the linguistic need of the Deaf consumer, the burden of trying to suggest that a Deaf interpreter is necessary and avoid the awkwardness of trying to explain that the presence of a Deaf interpreter does not reflect on the interpreting skills of the hearing interpreter.  With this structure built into the contracts, agencies can more confidently send Deaf interpreters without worrying about the additional expenses.

Pioneering Radical Change

Kelby Brick
Kelby Brick

The California court system’s approach to Deaf interpreters is one place to build on for models elsewhere. The Administrative Office of the Courts in California establishes the presumption that a Deaf interpreter is needed for much broader scenarios including dealing with juveniles or dealing with adults with mental health issues. The Courts also state that CDIs are necessary when dealing with a Deaf person who “relies on uniquely deaf experiences that are unfamiliar to the hearing interpreter.”[vii]

This last line recognizes that CDI is necessary in almost all settings and situations. Accordingly, the California Court states that a Deaf interpreter should be

provided in all civil and criminal actions in which the service is needed for effective communication and in which the deaf or hard-of-hearing individual is a party or witness in a case. These include traffic or other infractions, small claims court proceedings, juvenile court proceedings, family court proceedings, hearings to determine mental competency, and court-ordered or court-provided alternative dispute resolution, including mediation and arbitration.”[viii]      

The Deaf-Hearing Communication Centre (DHCC) in Southeast Pennsylvania spells out from the onset that a Deaf/hearing interpreting team is automatically used in “major life-altering situations such as legal and mental health assignments.”[ix] DHCC explains further that

“Police and medical emergencies can have life-altering consequences. Therefore, a Deaf/hearing team of interpreters is usually required to ensure accurate, effective communication. This team approach has proven to be the most effective way to handle police and medical emergencies especially when the communication skills of the Deaf person are unknown.”[x]

Instead of being an exception, DHCC’s model should be the rule across the country. The first step needed to make that happen is the revision of the standard practice paper issued by RID. In the meantime, we urge ethical hearing interpreters and interpreter agencies to take the initiative to comply with the CPC and start requiring the automatic presence of Deaf interpreters in “life-altering” situations.[xi] We also invite readers to participate in dialogue to modify the current interpreter model to mandate the presence of Deaf interpreters in order to ensure Deaf individuals have accurate and effective communications in any setting. We also encourage readers to share this article with local interpreting agencies and institutions (such as the court, hospitals and police) to spark conversations on how they can start routinely ensuring the presence of CDIs along with hearing interpreters in those life-altering settings.

The use of CDIs in specific settings and situations should be the standard and normal practice. Just like a general medical practitioner would bring in specialized doctors (a cardiologist, for example) for some common situations, a hearing interpreter should bring in a specialized (Deaf) interpreter in some common situations.  The skilled Deaf interpreter has contextual and cultural competency that far exceeds hearing interpreters’ ability to fully provide cultural and linguistic access to the Deaf user in situations that are typically at high risk for life-altering experiences.

The National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers (NCIEC) has published a document, Deaf Interpreters in Court: An Accommodation that is More than Reasonable, that provides various citations where “deaf interpreters have proven their worth.”[xii] The evidence in this document and other documents cited here regarding the need for Deaf interpreters in specific settings and situations is overwhelming.

NCIEC has already outlined best practices for interpretation in court and legal settings, stating that deaf interpreters should be present in all court and legal settings and situations involving a deaf party, especially if deaf minors are involved.[xiii] This should go without saying:

Deaf interpreters should automatically be called for legal or medical situations. 

Who Can Help and What Can They Do?

Interpreter agencies and hearing sign language interpreters need to be insistent in requiring the presence of Deaf interpreters in specific settings and situations.  Interpreters (and agencies) need to turn down contracts that would put Hearing interpreters in the role of enabling oppression of Deaf individuals through their failure to ensure effective communications.  The signing community also needs to work with institutions such as medical providers, courts and police departments to ensure that they require the presence of Deaf interpreters every time a sign language interpreter is requested.  We also need make it clear within the interpreter community that the presence of a hearing interpreter without a Deaf interpreter team is tantamount to exploitation of the Deaf individual for the pecuniary or personal gain of the hearing interpreter.  To initiate this conversation with agencies and hiring parties, all interpreters, Deaf and Hearing, and consumers are encouraged to share this article with others.


The interpreting profession has grown exponentially since the enactment of various civil rights laws including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1974.  We should not, however, confuse the growth of the interpreting profession with the assumption that Deaf people are receiving effective communications.  As ethical interpreters, each of us has an obligation to “render the message faithfully by conveying the content and spirit of what is being communicated, using language most readily understood by consumers.”[xiv] In many situations and settings, doing so requires the presence of a Deaf interpreter team. We also should require interpreting agencies and hiring parties to ensure the presence of Deaf interpreters as well. We can all do more. It’s the right thing to do.

What steps will you take in your community to initiate this conversation?


* Interested in receiving StreetLeverage posts in your inbox?

Simply enter your name and email in the field above the green “Sign Me Up!” button (upper right-hand side of this page) and click “Sign Me Up!”


Jimmy Beldon
Jimmy Beldon

Co-Author, Jimmy Beldon, CDI, M.A., has been a professional involved in the interpreting field on many levels. Jimmy is the co-owner of Keystone Interpreting Solution, a consulting and interpreter referral business. He currently teaches in the Interpreter Training Program at St. Catherine University in St   Paul, Minnesota. A renowned interpreter in the court system, Jimmy is a former Vice-President of the National Registry of Interpreters (RID) and the current Vice-President of the National Conference of Interpreter Trainer (CIT).



[i] The resistance to bringing into a Deaf Interpreter has been well documented. For example, Tiffany J. Burns, CI/CT writes in “Who needs a Deaf Interpreter? I do” (Views, November 1999) that I have noticed paranoia among many hearing interpreters, that in asking for a Deaf interpreter, they will appear unqualified or incompetent. I cannot stress enough what a misconception that is.”

[ii] “Perception Conflicts: The Role of Sign Language Interpreters in Court,” Carla Mathers, Esq., CSC, SC:L. StreetLeverage – Live 2014 | Austin.

[iii] “Deaf Interpreters in Court: An accommodation that is more than reasonable,” prepared by Carla Mathers, Esq., CSC, SC:L. The National Consortium of InterpreterEducationCenter, March 2009.

[iv] It is relevant to quote Carla Mather here from her Street Leverage presentation: A Deaf interpreter possesses the skills and innate understanding of the language and Deaf experience which allows them to use language that is most accessible to the Deaf party, to apply expansion of concepts appropriately in order to ensure the communication is clear and accurately conveys the intended meaning. By ensuring that Deaf interpreters are involved in courtroom interpreting, we reduce the oppressive nature of the environment and we ensure that the support and advocacy needed are available to the Deaf parties involved. In addition to the linguistic expertise a Deaf interpreter brings to the courtroom, they are also often able to navigate the strict conventions and rules of the court. The Deaf interpreter may be able to provide perspectives and explanations regarding the seemingly oppressive court system that will allow the Deaf party to understand the system and its rules more clearly. At the very least, a Deaf interpreter may make navigating the systemic conflicts more palatable.”

[v] Octavian Robinson discusses, for example, that courts sells “contracts to the lowest bidder and sacrificing quality and more important, justice. The lowest bidding agency does not assure certified or competent interpreters. This creates a situation where a deaf person’s legal right, regardless of guilt, to a fair trial is compromised.” Robinson also explains that the penny pinching results in the exclusion of CDIs and thus causes Deaf people to lose out in the justice system. See

[vi] In those rare cases where it is found that a Deaf interpreter is not needed, the Deaf interpreter can then be excused.

[vii] “Recommended Guidelines for the Use of Deaf Intermediary Interpreters,” Judicial Council of California/Administrative Office of the Courts. 2010.

[viii] Ibid.

[x] DHCC explains, “four interpreters (two hearing and two Deaf) are on-call every evening, weekend and holiday. This way, we are prepared for multiple emergencies. A Deaf/hearing team – one interpreter who is Deaf and one interpreter who is hearing – ensures that we are prepared for any level of communication.”

[xi] While a lot of the citations here focus on legal settings, DHCC is correct here in saying that CDIs are necessary in other life-altering situations. This would include, among others, health settings and any settings involving juveniles.

[xii] “Deaf Interpreters in Court: An accommodation that is more than reasonable,” prepared by Carla Mathers, Esq., CSC, SC:L. The National Consortium of InterpreterEducationCenter, March 2009.

[xiii] “Best Practices American Sign Language and English Interpretation within Court and Legal Settings,” by Kellie Stewart, Anna Witter-Merithew and Margaret Cobb, Legal Interpreting Workgroup Members. The National Consortium of InterpreterEducationCenter, March 2009.

[xiv] NAD-RID Code of Professional Conduct.

Posted on Leave a comment

Institute on Legal Interpreting: Backstage Access for Sign Language Interpreters

Anna Witter-Merithew Bids Farewell to ILI Attendees

Is it possible to create a learning environment that effectively supports taking 220+ sign language interpreters on a guided exploration of their work, while offering real-world advice on how to enhance this work, and do it all in three days? Prior to attending the 2014 Institute on Legal Interpreting (ILI) in Denver, Colorado August 21st-23rd, I would have said, Possible? Yes. Likely? No.

If you attended the 2014 ILI you know, not only is it possible, it happened and was amazing!

Behind the Scenes

StreetLeverage is excited to have partnered with Anna Witter-Merithew and the good folks at the MARIE Center to extend backstage access to the 2014 ILI. What follows is a summary of the StreetLeverage coverage.

How ILI Got Started

Anna Witter-Merithew sat down and shared how the Institute on Legal Interpreting got started, the important role of Deaf interpreters at ILI, and the significant contribution made by Diane Fowler in the promotion of advanced legal training for sign language interpreters.

Anna Witter-Merithew Sits Down With Brandon Arthur From StreetLeverage


Watch Interview Now

Setting the Tone

During any type of guided exploration, it is important to set a tone of collaboration and safety. This task was left to keynote speakers and meta facilitators, Carol-lee Aquiline and Sharon Neumann Solow.

They sat down and shared their hopes for conference attendees and their excitement to see Deaf and Hearing interpreters exploring strategies to effectively work together.

Carol and Sharon 2

Watch Interview Now

You can watch both their keynote and endnote addresses below.

Keynote | Looking Out – Looking In – Reaching: The Role and Function of Critical Analysis of Interpreting Performance

Keynote Address: Carol-lee Aquiline and Sharon Neumann Solow

Watch Keynote Now

Endnote | Looking Out – Looking In – Reaching: Next Steps

Carol-lee Aquiline and Sharon Neumann Solow - Endnote Address

Watch Endnote Now

Interpreters at the Core

At the center of the conference was the examination of the work of 5 teams of sign language interpreters comprised of Deaf-Hearing and Hearing-Hearing interpreters. This served as the basis of examination for all sessions and group discussions.

These good interpreters shared insights into their teaming and work experience during two panel sessions. You can watch them here:

Panel One: Deaf-Hearing Interpreting Team Reflections

ILI Panel One: Reflections on Deaf and Hearing Interpreter Teams

Watch Panel Discussion Now

Panel Two: Deaf-Hearing Interpreting Team Reflections on Preparation Sessions

ILI Panel Two: Deaf-Hearing Interpreter Team Reflections on Preparation Sessions

Watch Panel Discussion Now

Better with a Deaf Team

A prominent theme running throughout the conference was the importance of Deaf and Hearing interpreters working together effectively as a team. Jimmy Beldon, Carla Mathers and Kelby Brick share insights into how to this can be done effectively.

Jimmy Beldon Offers Insight on Supporting Deaf Interpreters and the Importance of the ILI

Jimmy Beldon Offers Insight on Supporting Deaf Interpreters and the Importance of the ILI

Watch Interview Now

Carla Mathers Shares About the Work of Bringing the 2014 ILI to Life

Carla Mathers Shares About the Work of Bringing the 2014 ILI to Life

Watch Interview Now

Kelby Brick Sits Down With Brandon Arthur at the 2014 ILI

Kelby Brick at the 2014 ILI Conference

Watch Interview Now

The Diane Fowler Award

With the passing of Legal Eagle, Diane Fowler, founder of the Iron Sharpens Iron conference (the precursor to the ILI), the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) Legal Interpreter Member Section (LIMS) Chair, Liz Mendoza, announced the establishment of the Diane Fowler Award.

Liz Mendoza Announces the Creation of the Diane Fowler Award

Watch Interview Now



There are a couple of real standout developments at the 2014 ILI.  The ILI had 54 Deaf interpreters attend over the weekend. This is the largest of gathering of Deaf interpreters in the field in recent memory (maybe, ever). Perhaps, it is because, in the words of Jimmy Beldon, “The ILI is a ‘home’ for CDIs.”

Deaf Interpreters at the 2014 ILI

The 2014 ILI had 26 facilitators working throughout the weekend in order to support and encourage meaningful discussion and learning. These folks deserve a medal of honor for their tremendous work.

2014 ILI Facilitators


The coverage at the Institute on Legal Interpreting was only possible with the support of several amazing and talented people. I would like to extend my sincere appreciation to those magic makers that brought the ILI coverage to life.

StreetTeam - 2014 ILI






Special thanks (left to right) to: Lance Pickett, Jean Miller, Kristy Bradley, John Lestina, and Wing Butler (not seen here).


I would like to extend my thanks to Anna Witter-Merithew, Carla Mathers, and the good folks at the MARIE Center for their vision and the opportunity to partner with them to extend the reach of the ILI to the broader Deaf and sign language interpreting communities.

Brandon Arthur | Closes up the StreetLeverage Coverage of the 2014 ILI

Brandon Arthur Closes up the StreetLeverage Coverage of the 2014 Institute on Legal Interpreting


Watch Closing Remarks Now