It is tempting to write 2016 off and move immediately into the new year, but that would mean overlooking some of the profound and fundamental lessons shared by StreetLeverage contributors last year.
While public speaking is one of the most fearful things humans can do, expressing one’s thoughts and perspectives via social media in two languages is probably a close second. Still, StreetLeverage contributors continue to inspire and amaze, bringing new insights and conversations to the table on a regular basis. If we were to measure the year in the depth and breadth of perspectives shared, 2016 would definitely be setting us up for success in 2017. So, before we bid 2016 adieu, we wanted to highlight a few examples of the generosity and courageousness shown by sign language interpreters and industry stakeholders in the last 12 months.
For Auld Lang Syne
Before we dive into our retrospective, we’d like to express our deepest gratitude to everyone who contributed, in large and small ways, to the StreetLeverage endeavor. Without the writers, readers, volunteers, thought-leaders, videographers, editors, and friends who volunteer their time and efforts to support us, StreetLeverage could not begin to amplify the voice of sign language interpreters or attempt to change the way we understand, practice, and tell the story of the sign language interpreter. For all your work, we say: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
2016’s Nine Building Blocks for Success
1. Bring Social Consciousness to the Fore
As practitioners in the field of communication access, social consciousness is a critical aspect of the work of all signed language interpreters. Joseph Hill’s presentation, Sign Language Interpreters: Practicing with a Socially Conscious Approach, at StreetLeverage – Live 2015 provides an avenue for us to start looking at identity and interpreting through a social justice lens. As we continue to delve into the skewed relationship between interpreter demographics and consumer realities, we look to thought leaders to help us find greater understanding and paths to improvement.
2. Reach Out to Deaf Interpreters
Another evolution in the field of interpreting that continued to manifest itself in 2016 was the reintroduction and strengthening of the presence of Deaf Interpreters in the field. While this evolution is happening, progress is slow and sometimes arduous as Jeremy Rogers explains in his article, Where’s the Welcome Mat? Opening the Door to Deaf Interpreters.
3. Look at Insider Discourse Under a Microscope
Semantics matter. As sign language interpreters, language is our currency. Despite this fact, we don’t always consider the impact language has on perspectives when it comes to the words we use to describe our work. Kelly Decker’s article, What Are We Really Saying? Perceptions of Sign Language Interpreting, showcases some current examples of language we use in our insider discourse that may impact perceptions about the work we do and those with whom we work. With lively conversation, this article lit up our comments board, and we hope it continues to do so.
4. Inject Humor and Humility into Our Practice
As one of the field’s most beloved teachers and mentors, Sharon Neumann Solow inserts equal parts humor, humility, and straight-forward talk into the conversation in her StreetLeverage – Live 2015 presentation, Genuine Confidence: Why Can’t It Be All About Me?. By sharing personal stories, Sharon’s presentation provides context for looking at confidence versus spotlight-stealing and illustrates why the differences matter.
5. Support Ethics with Pre-Assignment Considerations
Job readiness is a topic that comes up in most conversations about sign language interpreting at some point, whether one-on-one or at a conference. Michael Ballard provides a consumer’s perspective on the kind of preparation sign language interpreters could do to help determine their level of preparedness for an assignment in his article, Accept or Decline? Questions Sign Language Interpreters Should Ponder.
6. Join the Civility Revolution
With bullying and trolling in the news constantly, it was refreshing to have a conversation about civil discourse. Providing tools and suggestions for action, Diana MacDougall invited sign language interpreters to join a kinder, gentler conversation and revolution in her article, A Civility Revolution: A Call to Arms for Sign Language Interpreters.
7. Explore the Realities of the Modern World
In a year where violence of all kinds dominated headlines and conversations around the country and the world, Stephen Holter’s article, Keeping Sign Language Interpreters Safe in a Violent World, struck a chord with readers who also shared some of their own experiences and strategies for staying safe. While we hope no interpreter ever needs to utilize these tips and tools, it’s an important conversation to engage in.
8. Uncover the Intangible
In his deeply personal and profound StreetLeverage – Live 2015 presentation, Status Transaction: The “It” Factor in Sign Language Interpreting, Wing Butler shared his thoughts on the “It Factor” for sign language interpreters. In his exploration of the intangible qualities that raise community esteem for one sign language interpreter over another, Wing also gives us a formula for success. Skills are important, but there are other factors that create the elusive “It” interpreter.
9. Examine Personal Cultural Competence
Our final selection is a compilation of exemplary work from some of the brilliant minds in our field. Our 2016 workbook, Ignite, is a collection of posts designed to lead sign language interpreters and sign language interpreting students through a process of self-discovery regarding cultural competence. This free-to-download offering is an opportunity to look at a specific topic through a variety of lenses in order to gain a more well-rounded perspective. We hope this inaugural edition will be the first of many such workbooks.
Please Continue to Join Us in 2017 and Beyond
We hope this look back on 2016 will provide you with some valuable takeaways that can be foundations for a successful year ahead. Again, thank you for your support, sharing, comments, viewings, and readership. We hope you will continue to join us here on the blog and register to come meet us in St. Paul, MN for StreetLeverage – Live 2017. Please join us in raising our glasses in a toast to a bright new year. Welcome to 2017!
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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 levels—at 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, we’ve seen discussion about identities, which has given rise to the term intersectionality. This is an important concept, because, as Amy Williamson said, for her it’s 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, you’d be out of business. I wish it could be done that way, but it can’t. 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. It’s 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 didn’t come here to lecture you, or to explain how to accomplish this task, or to list all the things you should do. I’m not an interpreter myself. I’m not a CDI. I am Deaf, my parents are Deaf, and I have four Deaf children. I’m engaged in the community, and I work with many interpreters. So, while I bring that set of experiences, I won’t 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 won’t 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 won’t be comfortable. As you uncover some truths about yourself, you’ll be tempted to hide them, to deny them, to refocus on others’ work in this process. Don’t.
Ironically, my journey began while I was teaching the Deafhood course. It’s true! People say, “You already knew all about Deafhood before!”, but that’s 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 wasn’t 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, we’ve 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, I’m a Deaf person, I sign and know Deaf culture, I’m fine. Why do I need this course?” When you take the course, it’s astonishing. It’s truly an eye-opening experience. Once you learn some key pieces of information, you’re able to reframe your entire understanding of our experience. It’s 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 don’t see. We’re 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. It’s even used in car chase scenes. I hadn’t 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. They’re 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, racism—which 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. It’s 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, “Weare capable. We can do it. Sign language is important,” they just continue, “You can always learn ASL later. It’s important that you practice speech now.” This ideology is prevalent throughout society. That’s 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 couldn’t 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 weare 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 children’s 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. It’s 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 children—CODAs, 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.
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 it’s not normal. They assume that it’s 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 we’re 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, “You’re going to start complaining? This is not new. This is how things have always been. This is just the reality. There’s nothing to be done.” We answer, “No, this is not reality.” But then as we get on with our lives, all of our subsequent conversations—with sign language interpreters, at RID conventions, at StreetLeverage, in the community, in Deaf education, at CEASD—happen 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, we’re 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 we’re agonizing in our disempowered position. Can that conversation be a healthy, equal exchange? It’s 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 don’t 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 don’t 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).
Our community has been divided and compartmentalized under a host of different labels. Audism plays a huge role here. “Your child can’t 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 Ladd’s 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 don’t 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 I’ve 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 don’t 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 don’t sign at all with their Deaf children. I watched Ryan Commerson’s 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 I’ll share with you now. (video clip from Ryan Commerson’s thesis at 19:20)
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 itis 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 Ryan’s point, we can’t 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 don’t comport with our frame, we discard those facts wholesale. They can’t 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 can’t beat them over the head with it. We can’t 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, “Let’s deal with this later. We can talk about this in a year or two when we’re ready. Let’s 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 they’d 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. We’ll 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)
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 it’s a white majority, what do you do? What if it’s 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 we’re on equal footing? Often, we who have the power say, “Come on! Let’s talk!” But it doesn’t 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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