As a way to welcome 2016, we handpicked 10 posts that inspired reflection, demonstrated courageous thinking, or generated spirited conversation. It is our guess that you were moved by some of these 2015 gems as well. If you missed one, take a moment to enjoy the goodness. *Posts not listed in any particular order.
1. Sign Language Interpreters and the “F” Word
One Headline We Wish We had Created Ourselves
Provocative headline aside, Jackie Emmart brings forward the art of asking for and receiving feedback. While the jury is still out on whether “feedback” is a four-letter word or not, it’s a topic that isn’t going away.
Looking back in our history and comparing the statistics shared in Erica West Oyedele’s StreetLeverage – X presentation, not much has changed in the demographics of the profession. Hopefully, as we extend our vision and open our hearts to truly understand, we can invite and support interpreters from underrepresented groups which, in turn, supports the Deaf community in all its diversity.
4. Station Meditation: VRS, Compassion and Sign Language Interpreters
A Positive Outlook on VRS Interpreting
While not as uncommon as one might think, it was refreshing to read a post about VRS that displayed some of the positive aspects of interpreting in video relay. Judi Webb’s long-term experience as a video interpreter shows that longevity in VRS is possible with the right attitude and practice.
5. Do Sign Language Interpreter “Accents” Compromise Comprehension?
A Post that Made Me Conscious of My “Accent” In a Good Way
Carol Padden’s StreetLeverage – Live presentation on sign language interpreter accent will likely resonate for many readers, particularly non-native second language learners. Rather than perpetuating signing errors and disfluent language use, this is an opportunity for interpreters to reflect on their own accent and how they might remedy some of the issues with a little concentrated effort.
6. Self-Awareness: How Sign Language Interpreters Acknowledge Privilege and Oppression
I Wanted to Call the Presenter So We Could Have Coffee and Talk
Powerfully, Stacey Storme reminds sign language interpreters that while the situations we enter into as interpreters have nothing to do with us, “Our work has everything to do with us.” The interpreter is the third context in an interpreted communication and it behooves us never to forget that fact.
7. Horizontal Violence: Can Sign Language Interpreters Break the Cycle?
The Most Popular Post This Year
Clearly, many sign language interpreters have had negative experiences with colleagues which could fall into categories like bullying, harassment or intimidation. Kate Block explores how reflective practice might positively impact the interpreting field. It appears that people agree.
8. Deaf Interpreters: Shaping the Future of the Sign Language Interpreting Profession
A New Paradigm Emerging for Hearing Interpreters
Eileen Forestal’s StreetLeverage – Live presentation explores the dissonance many hearing interpreters feel about working with Deaf Interpreters and encourages practitioners to come to the table open to the possibility that both groups have something to offer as professionals.
While this wasn’t a post, our 2015 list of goodness would not be complete without one important addition. StreetLeverage was proud to honor Patrick Graybill at StreetLeverage – Live 2015 as the first StreetLeverage – National Treasure honoree.
Horizontal Violence is a prevalent concern in the profession of interpreting. It causes disharmony, burn out and unsuccessful work. The Demand Control Schema approach to discussing our work could be the answer to lessening the internal strife of our profession.
When did it become acceptable to judge our interpreter colleagues? How did we learn that negatively judging someone’s skills, decisions and professionalism was a good way to behave in our profession? Carl Rogers spoke of unconditional positive regard as a psychological approach to allow a person to reach their full potential as a human being. “The main factor in an unconditional positive regard is the ability to be able to isolate behaviors from the person who commits them” (Rogers, 1961). What if we, as sign language interpreters, could adopt that approach to advance our profession? Overly-critical perspectives of each other have detrimental effects on the collaborative environment required for working interpreters to be successful. Yet this tendency is prevalent in the field, leads to interpreter burn out and plagues our ITPs. So where did it start and most importantly, how do we stop it?
Fellow interpreter, Emily Ott, focused her Master’s thesis on intergenerational communication concerns in the sign language interpreting community and found a disturbing trend in our field, horizontal violence.
“Begley and Glacken (2004) characterized the behaviors of horizontal violence as a broad range of antagonism, including “gossiping, criticism, innuendo, scapegoating, undermining, intimidation, passive aggression, withholding information, insubordination, and verbal and physical aggression. Other specific behaviors include…subtle or overt insults and ridicule, ignoring the victim, making demands that are impossible for the victim to fulfill, or devaluing a person’s work or efforts” (Ott, 2012).
Due to lack of specific research on sign language interpreters, Ott’s research focused predominately on other professional fields with similar characteristics to the sign language interpreting community. “…the fields of nursing and education, which, like interpreting, are service professions where work is done with people. Also, like interpreting, those fields are both comprised of more than 75% women (Ott, 2012). As I read more about the topic of horizontal violence, I realized I had witnessed some of these behaviors personally, and/or had worked with mentees who described such experiences as they worked with colleagues. I felt a sense of relief in discovering that these experiences had a name and that other professions are plagued by the same behaviors. Then, I was filled with dread, knowing the phenomenon of horizontal violence has a name and it was prevalent enough as to be researched and identified.
The field of sign language interpreting is young and the growing pains have been rough. Rotating certifications, increasing education requirements, price competition and progressive use of technology at the cost of best practices have taken their toll. Rather than working together and striving towards the greater good of communication access for an underserved community, sign language interpreters draw lines, build walls and work in fear. We claim we want to be allies for the Deaf community. First, however, we should learn to be allies with ourselves; we should start with our colleagues.
“Harvey (2008) found that interpreters tend to be critical and unkind toward one another as a consequence of witnessing oppression regularly, a situation that causes interpreters to behave like oppressed groups. Freire (1992) would argue that the gender composition of the interpreting field, at 87% female, is the reason interpreters behave like an oppressed group, because the field’s members experience oppression themselves” (Ott, 2012).
Whatever the underlying cause, the symptoms of Horizontal Violence are prevalent. The tendency to point out colleagues’ shortcomings creates hurt feelings, distrust, burn-out and shrinks the qualified interpreter pool as sign language interpreters seek more affirming professional outlets. If we are approaching our work from a basis of fear of judgment, we will never do our best, take chances or advance to a better place.
Focus on the Work
Sign language interpreters are taught how to identify language errors very early in our careers, but we are not taught how to collaborate towards a common goal in our work or how to talk about our work in a safe, neutral way. The words “you did” and “I would have done” fall out of our mouths like old habits. We often focus on the person, rather than the work product. We forget that interpreting is an art, not a science and immediately fall into the “right sign, wrong sign” mode, which we know is not the true way we operate. We know sign language interpreters live in an “it depends” world of work, and yet we take the deontological, or rules-based, approach to judge other professionals’ choices without insight into the unique contexts and thought processes that resulted in that choice. I would suggest that this is not the best approach to our work; do we not have an obligation to rise above?
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to join a supervision or reflective practice group rooted in the demand control- schema (DC-S). For more information, see Robin Dean’s post, Ethical Development: A Sign of the Times for Sign Language Interpreters? At first, I did not feel qualified to be a part of the group and hesitated to join. While I have seen Robyn Dean and Dr. Pollard lecture on several occasions and felt I had a good working knowledge of DC-S, I knew I still struggled to articulate the aspects of the DC-S and lacked the skill of properly identifying the demands and controls of an interpreting assignment. Nevertheless, I joined; the group consisted of a small group with members from the U.S. and abroad which met online twice a month for two hours for five months. My group facilitator had a wealth of knowledge and understanding of DC-S and had been specifically trained to be a group Supervisor. As the meetings progressed, I realized that I was not alone in my struggles and the facilitator assured the other members and me to “stay with the (DC-S) structure, and trust the process.”
As I got ready to present my first case, I was nervous. Preparing to present gave me the opportunity to reflect on all the demands I was dealing with in this situation – multiple players, politics, medical views of Deaf and Hard of Hearing people, power dynamics, systems barriers, etc. As Kenda Keller states in her article, Case Discussion: Sign Language Interpreters Contain Their Inner “What the…!!!?” , the self-discovery of this process (reflective practice) is profound. Merely taking the time to write down all the demands I encountered during the assignment, as well as the controls I employed, was enough to help me realize (after the fact) just how complicated this situation was to interpret.
As presentation day approached, I focused on the case and the ground rules that had been established at the start of the sessions:
-No judgment language
– Keep the dialogue focused on the case
– Speak when moved
– Agree to Disagree
– Unconditional Positive Regard
As I presented and the discussion progressed, I felt enormous relief – as if a weight I had been carrying was suddenly lightened. The ability to speak freely about the choices I made and the reasons I made them allowed for an honest discussion about what interpreters do in our daily work and how we affect the dynamics of an often fluid and ever-changing situation. Ironically, immediately after this interpreting job, I had felt bad and guilty about some of the controls I had employed but after reflecting with my group, I realized all the decisions I had made were based in real professional values. Additionally, I realized the resulting demands did not always have anything to do with me and my applied controls. At the end of our meeting, my interpreting case was not ‘solved’ but having other professional view points, neutral perspectives and new ideas for controls allowed me to go back into this job with a fresh perspective. I may not change applied controls drastically but I will know that I now have more options and a thorough understanding of the reasons behind my choices.
In the end I was grateful for the opportunity and look forward to doing it again. I also look forward to working a case with fellow colleagues in this group, and future groups. Sign language interpreters know the work is difficult. We use controls during an assignment that we sometimes later wish we could take back. But, at the time, and in the moment while we are working, those controls were the best option we felt we had, knowing what we knew. Hindsight is 20/20. Rather than criticizing each other (or ourselves), we need to take those experiences, discuss them in a professional, positive manner and grow. In order to be true practice professionals, we must incorporate case conferencing into the education of future interpreters, as well as our current approach to work.
“Much as horizontal violence leads to professionals being wary of supervision, Catalano and Tillie (1991) found that teachers at all levels who participated in supervision and mentorship felt more engaged, connected and empowered to develop as professionals” (Ott, 2012).
All practice professions need to have a safe place that allows them to honestly analyze, understand, and critique their work. This is no different for the sign language interpreting profession, as Dean and Pollard have pointed out (Dean and Pollard, 2013). Only then will this profession advance and become the effective and ethical profession it can be. It is natural to feel that when we do something, it is with the best intentions. However, we often do not extend that consideration to others. Let us work together to change, so that we may assume of others what we assume of ourselves.
For more information on interpreter case conference opportunities please visit http://demandcontrolschema.com/ and sign up for the e-mail blasts from Robyn Dean and Dr. Pollard.
Questions to Consider
What are some of the underlying causes of horizontal violence?
Where do you believe horizontal violence is learned in our field and can we prevent it?
How does Horizontal Violence affect the communities we work with?
What have some of your experiences been with DC-S?
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Dean, R., & Pollard, R. (2004). A practice-profession model of ethical reasoning. Views, 21(9), 25-28.
Dean, R. K., & Pollard, R. (2001). Application of demand-control theory to sign language interpreting: Implications for stress and interpreter training. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 6(1), 1-14.
Ott, Emily K., “Do We Eat Our Young and One Another? Horizontal Violence Among Signed Language Interpreters” (2012). Master’s Theses. Paper 1.
Rogers, C. R. (1961). On becoming a person: a therapist’s view of psychotherapy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
I was talking with a fellow sign language interpreter and she mentioned another colleague of ours who had just received her national certification. I commented that it was a good thing and that I had been mentored by this particular person. This fellow interpreter I was speaking with looked at me in horror and asked, “Why would you mentor with her?! She is way too ‘old-school’ to provide good mentoring.”
Unfortunately, this is not the first time I have heard that comment about some of my mentors. I came into the field from another career that was developed based on hands-on experience and learning from a professional with more years in the field. I brought that philosophy with me to sign language interpreting and I have never regretted that decision. Some of the most valuable lessons I have learned are from interpreters who have lived and breathed this field for 30+ years. Most of these people did not go through interpreter training programs, were interpreting before RID even existed, and helped establish the first RID certification exams. These are the sign language interpreters that have been tested by life and work and have a wealth of knowledge because of that experience. As shared by Stacey Webb in her post, The Value of Networking for the Developing Sign Language Interpreter: to be successful, young interpreters need to develop a relationship with both the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community (DHHC) and current-working professionals.
Yet in this field, we do not seem to value those experiences unless the interpreter has the right letters behind his/her name.
For the life of me I cannot figure out why we, as a field, have become so credential-obsessed. In focusing so much on certification, we ignore what truly makes a good interpreter: experience, language skills, and wisdom. Wisdom is defined as: “the quality or state of being wise; knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action.” A person can only gain such a quality by working in a profession for an extended length of time. This is not a skill that can be taught, read about, or tested. Our obsession with credentialing causes us to push aside our founders, original teachers, and valuable living resources of these experienced and wise interpreters. These are the people that have worked to establish this field as a profession and, in turn, have allowed many of us to interpret for a living. With all the uncertainty and anger surrounding certification, why do we seek out mentors that are specifically certified? Why do we rely on certification standards that are in question to improve our own skills when we have a plethora of seasoned interpreters still working in our field?
The drive to seek out a mentor who has received national credentials could be motivated by fear and desire to “pass” the test. The testing process is expensive and time-consuming. Many states do not have a permanent testing site, so candidates have to take time off of work and accrue travel expenses in order to sit for the exam. With the inconsistent results seen from the test??, interpreters are frustrated and angry at being stuck in a circle of uncertainty that affects their ability to work.
I am concerned about this newly-established testing system that does not value the experience and knowledge of the seasoned working interpreter.
Newer interpreters have to prioritize passing the test over actually gaining critical knowledge, experience, and the people skills required to be a truly competent interpreter in the field. The shifting of priorities is causing a split within the field that is affecting not only sign language interpreters but our consumers, as well.
If interpreting is considered a practice profession, why do we not follow the lead set in other practicing professions of our time? Lawyers, Doctors, and skilled craftsmen learn from the most experienced members of their field, not the newest professionals that have just passed a certification test. Each of the professions mentioned have standard certifications that are well-known and respected inside and outside their field. Learning in a practice profession comes from those who have “practiced.” In his post, New Lamps for Old Apprenticeship in Sign Language Interpreting, Rico Peterson argues that exposure to real work in real settings is fundamental to mixing and refining the palette of skills that sign language interpreting requires.
Mentorships and skill development are based in the pairing of a newer professional with a seasoned one and allowing them to learn from each other. No one ever said you have to agree with your mentor 100% of the time. The key is to observe, question, and discuss in hopes to gain insight into decisions. Only then can we truly grow as a profession.
The Value of New
This does not mean that newer interpreters have nothing to offer the profession– far from it. The newest research and interpreting theories are being taught in the ITPs. Interpreters who are working in the field every day can greatly benefit from working with someone who has just learned that information. Also, newer interpreters are hungry for knowledge, language, and experiences. Those of us who have worked in this profession for several years get tired and can sometimes lose the passion we had for the field when we first arrived. Being around newer interpreters can rekindle our desire to learn and further develop. I often find working with an intern causes me to analyze my work in a deeper way and that benefits me greatly. The partnership of newer and seasoned interpreters can be a win-win for all of us and the profession as a whole.
Our ITPs have a limited time with new interpreters and can’t teach them everything. Further, there is a limit to what one can learn in a classroom and from a book. At a certain point, new sign language interpreters have to get out in the field and do the work with an experienced mentor that can help them navigate the bumps along the way. Mentors do not need to pass a specific exam to prove they are qualified to interpret or mentor. Their qualifications are proven in the stories they share, the horrors and joys they carry, the language skills they have developed and the wisdom they can pass on to those growing in this field. These interpreters are our teachers and deserve our respect for what they have accomplished.
Seasoned interpreters also have an obligation. They have an obligation to remain present in the field, to keep learning and growing and striving, and to join the younger generation in continued research and development of the field. Stating “I am too old school for that” is not acceptable, but is a cop-out for striving for what is best for both the sign language interpreting community and the Deaf community. Learn alongside newer interpreters and add your wisdom and experience. Offer to mentor a new professional in the field, audit a class at your local ITP, or just make yourself available to newer interpreters for questions and discussion. Your skills and knowledge are valuable; the current teachings and research are a benefit as well– for each of us.
A Mentor is “a wise and trusted counselor or teacher; an influential senior sponsor or supporter.” Let us not forget this definition as we continue to progress the profession of sign language interpreting forward.
We must learn from our past, which includes the people who lived it. Because an interpreter does not have the perfect certification letters behind their name does not make them insignificant to our community. Our predecessors have much to teach us about language, community, and culture, and we must not forget to include their wisdom in our daily practice.
How has a seasoned professional helped your work?
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