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Pulling Back the Curtain: How Unwritten Rules Impact Sign Language Interpreters

Ritchie Bryant presented Pulling Back the Curtain: How Unwritten Rules Impact Sign Language Interpreters at StreetLeverage – Live 2016 | Fremont. His presentation examines how “unwritten rules” of behavior influence sign language interpreters’ actions and impact their working relationship with the Deaf community.

You can find the PPT deck for his presentation here

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

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

Pulling Back the Curtain: How Unwritten Rules Impact Sign Language Interpreters

In keeping with Deaf Cultural traditions, I’d like to start off my comments with a story. There once was a young, hearing, black gentleman named Jamal, with an outstanding work ethic, was employed as an office manager. He was well-respected by his co-workers for his skill and reliability. His supervisor prized his competence in ironing out issues from Jamal’s predecessor to deliver consistently top quality results. One day, the supervisor invited Jamal out for a round of golf. Hesitant because he didn’t know the game well, Jamal politely declined. Shortly after, the supervisor made an announcement that he had been promoted and his prior position was open. He had given Jamal encouragement to apply, and Jamal went through the interview process with ease and seeming success. But when time came to announce the winning candidate, another applicant had been chosen. Jamal was distressed and at a loss- why had this person, with only three years at the company, been chosen over him? He meticulously reviewed the interview process in an attempt to discover where he could have made a mistake, but he came up empty. Finally, he approached his supervisor to ask what had gone wrong. His supervisor asked him, “Remember when I invited you to join me for golf, and you passed? Our regular Wednesday golf games are when members of upper management assess up-and-coming employees we’re considering for management positions. If someone we invite ends up having a good rapport with everyone, we know they’re a good fit for the job.” What Jamal didn’t know was that in the corporate environment, business is regularly done in informal settings, and handshake deals are commonplace on the golf course. He had unknowingly missed a crucial opportunity for promotion.

“Good Is Not Enough”

This is an example of an unwritten rule. You’ll never see golf game attendance in any employee handbook. And yet, these unwritten rules are everywhere. If you take a look at the slide, you’ll see an image of the book “Good is Not Enough: And Other Unwritten Rules for Minority Professionals.” This book has been an inspiration to me and led to developing this presentation. This text delves into the reasons behind what many women and people of color experience in their professional lives – barriers known as glass ceilings – or the inability to achieve beyond a certain point because there is a lack of awareness of these unwritten rules: rules that inevitably govern our chances of success. Again, they don’t appear in any employee handbook; they are unspoken and inherent to those niches and circles to which they are privy.

Unwritten Rules in the Deaf and Interpreting Communities?

My question to you is: do the Deaf and interpreter communities have unwritten rules? How does that impact those communities, and the relationships within them? From my surveying and personal experiences growing up, I’ve identified eight possible unwritten rules I think apply. I’m pretty certain more than eight exist! This is just a taste of what I’ll be covering later this afternoon in my workshop.

Overgeneralized use of Misplaced Credentials

One such unwritten rule has to do with the RID certification. Have you ever noticed that most job postings for ASL instructors in institutions of higher education, etc., state “RID certified preferred” as a requirement? I’d wager it’s often overlooked. How does RID certification relate to a person’s qualifications for teaching ASL? What does attendance at an interpreter training program have to do with teaching ASL? The assumption is made that if a person possesses RID certification, they have free license to run the gamut of related fields.

Double Standard

Another unwritten rule appears in the Deaf and interpreter community as double standards regarding pre-certification work opportunities. It seems common that hearing interpreters who have graduated from a training program but have yet to become certified are presented with a wealth of opportunity to practice among mentors until gaining certification. Deaf interpreters in similar situations, on the other hand, receive the message “wait.” “Not yet.” “After you’re certified, you can work.” It seems our community is applying two different and unequal standards to these groups.

Financial Obstacles

My next unwritten rule applies to a similar disparity. In order to gain and maintain professional growth and certification standing, interpreters are called on to attend workshops, training, and other costly endeavors to continue practicing. Given the stark difference between the amount of work given/available to Deaf interpreters as compared to hearing interpreters, how can the expectation of professional development be applied uniformly to all? It is less economically feasible to complete requirements if one is a Deaf interpreter working today compared to one who is hearing.

Engaging and Networking

Deaf people, in general, face substantial challenges when it comes to networking, especially those Deaf who do not have use of speech or auditory input. Connecting to the larger society and developing ties with others is difficult due to communication barriers. Hearing individuals, including interpreters, can navigate and develop networks more seamlessly, even getting referrals and work opportunities- hosting a training for a school system, for example. Rarely do these hearing folk collaborate with Deaf individuals for counsel or advice on topics relevant to them and their community, thereby further exploiting the networking gap.

Deviation from Social Norms

This next image refers to social norms or the ways in which we behave to show concurrence and acceptance of social rules and expectations. An example: faculty at a school that has a Deaf and hard of hearing program attends an in-service training. The topic for discussion is whether or not faculty should sign while in public spaces in the school. Personally, I find that that is a topic for discussion inherently bizarre. If this were a teaching environment in Mexico, would teachers gather to debate whether it was appropriate to speak Spanish while in public places? The same norm of communication holds true for a Deaf environment. For those who would choose to challenge the need to sign in Deaf spaces, where a majority of children and adults are Deaf and sign, serious self-analysis needs to be undertaken on their part. What rights or dominance do they feel that so supersede social norms of respect and deference to a culture’s home environment?

Inequality of Resources Allocation

The inequitable allotment of resources is an issue very much present in our field. There is a dearth of resources available to Deaf interpreter’s professional development prior to certification as compared to those for hearing interpreters, especially when one considers the time and expense. Training specifically geared toward Deaf interpreters are few and far between, meaning Deaf interpreters must travel significantly more than hearing interpreters in order to have regular access to skills training.

The Role of the Enabler

I’d next like to talk about the practice of enabling. Some interpreters’ approach to Deaf people, their treatment of Deaf consumers,  leans toward a more stoic relationship rather than one of sharing information freely. If a Deaf consumer displays culturally inappropriate behavior, does the interpreter intervene or provide correction or information? Typically not. If we fail to intervene in some manner, these culturally conflicting behaviors continue, often to the detriment of the consumer. That silence, that lack of input, poses a hazard and can lead to potential conflict in those relationships.

Credentialing by Hearing Proxy

The next image speaks to the phenomena of credentialing by hearing proxy.  It is often the case that hearing interpreters are looked upon and given credence to be able to speak for the Deaf community, rather than looking to members of the community themselves. But do we condone men’s organizations to speak on women’s issues, or White organizations to speak on behalf of Black organizations? The misguided notion of proxy, when put into other cultural contexts, is self-evident.

”Controversy is only dreaded by the advocates of error.”

Benjamin Rush, the author of this quote, was a signatory to the Declaration of Independence. His quote points to the habit of justifying errors rather than correcting them. This process of justification and obfuscation in the face of clear error is problematic. Hearing interpreters, however conflict-averse, must not shrink from controversy or error. In fact, it is that hesitance to engage in potential controversy that can lead to Deaf disempowerment – a topic Trudy Suggs covered in her first StreetLeverage presentation. Disempowerment can create significant barriers to a Deaf professional’s career advancement.

“Who Moved My Cheese?”

This image you may recognize from the well-known 90s book by Spencer Johnson. The book’s message is simple: change is inevitable. With that in mind, one should always be prepared for and able to adapt to change. This applies to unwritten rules within the Deaf community (many exist!). Perhaps the biggest unkept secret, or unwritten rule, is that, in general, the Deaf community has a tenuous, and often frustrating, relationship with sign language interpreters. We are in a constant struggle to persevere despite unqualified interpreters and make sure to share our experiences with particular interpreters with our community in an attempt at minimizing any further negative impact.

It’s past time that we collectively acknowledge the lack of quality interpreting as our elephant in the room. It is the critical issue of our time. Addressing that together as Deaf community members and interpreters means we must be willing to face some hard truths. Some may not be ready or willing. How do we have the fortitude to think outside of the box, to take the interpreting field to the next level?

Despite nearly thirty years since the dawn of interpreting training programs, there continues to be a stagnation of skill and ability among graduates. Let’s take a step back and rethink how we train interpreters. Instead of having a bachelor’s degree as a requirement to sit for the certification exam, why not instead provide documentation of a strong foundation in ASL? Or perhaps the Deaf community should take more ownership of the interpreting process? That happened in the Bay Area- one particular group established an initiative during which Deaf consumers completed an evaluation form with a rating after working with an assigned interpreter. However, the practice was not well-received among the interpreters. Were they not willing to receive feedback in the interest of their own improvement? Is it a resistance to change? We just saw a presentation- and now I’m blanking on the presenter’s name- about the importance of receiving feedback well.

Closing Thoughts

In the book “Who Moved my Cheese?” the mice, Hem and Haw, were reluctant to change, while their compatriots, Sniff and Scurry, were more than amenable. The old model of interpreter training, in cheese standards, is well past the expiration date. The time has come to begin the exciting search for fresh, innovative models. Collectively, among our communities, we can discover the cheese we’re meant for. It’s uncomfortable perhaps, but necessary. In developing a process for sharing of our unwritten rules, we can create successful win-win partnerships. Those of us here at StreetLeverage – Live are aspiring to achieve that goal.  Thank you.

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Sign Language Interpreting: The Benefits of Think Aloud Protocols

Marty Taylor presented Sign Language Interpreting: The Benefits of Think Aloud Protocols at StreetLeverage – Live 2016 | Fremont. Her presentation discusses how focusing on process can result in more effective and nuanced interpretations.

You can find the PPT deck for her presentation here.

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

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

Sign Language Interpreting: The Benefits of Think Aloud Protocols

My topic today is “Sign Language Interpreting: The Benefits of Think Aloud Protocols.” Think Aloud Protocols, abbreviated as T.A.P., refer to the process of talking about thinking. This is a commonly researched topic for discovering how people think and identifying qualitative and quantitative data. Think Aloud Protocols (T.A.P.) have been studied regularly since the 1960s with increasing frequency. We need to apply the data from this research to sign language interpreting and to our work as practitioners. In addition to applying the research, we can also apply T.A.P. directly to our work. That is what I’d like to talk about with you today.

Think Aloud Protocols as a System

First, let’s talk about protocols. When we talk about protocols, we are looking at a system – something that can be replicated and shared with other sign language interpreters. They represent ways we can discuss and debate our thought processes. The establishment and use of a system allow us to take our interpreting work to a more advanced level.

Usually, when we talk about Think Aloud Protocols (T.A.P.), we are talking about a simultaneous process. While a person is performing their work – regardless of the type of task – they talk about or sign about their work. As sign language interpreters, it would be impossible to talk about what we are doing while simultaneously interpreting. There is no way to do that. If a person is translating from a written text, it would be possible to talk about the translation process. So there is also what is called, “Think After Protocol” which is much like “Think Aloud Protocols.” They are similar processes.  For “Think After Protocols,” an interpreter would perform the work and once they had completed the task, they could look back on their work through self-analysis, asking, “What did I do? What could I do next time? How can I apply this learning to the future?”

It is important to have a system rather than a random method of looking at our work. Instead of having endless approaches, T.A.P. focus on specific ways to examine our thinking, the meanings behind those thinking processes, and the reasons for making each decision. These protocols help us to gather information about the whole process. This is what we are looking for in the T.A.P. experience.

Thinking about Thinking

We often hear the terms “cognitive thinking process” and “metacognition” which is thinking about thinking. So, thinking about thinking. We can do that. What we are doing with T.A.P. is taking our thinking and talking about it. Sharing information, learning, and teaching other people about our process.

Each individual has their particular way of thinking. There is no “right” or “wrong” answer in this case. There is simply process. Some people process information in a structured, methodical way. My thinking process is not like that. My thoughts typically meander from point to point. I will eventually get to the main topic, but my thoughts usually take a circuitous route. As a nonlinear thinker, I’m fascinated by a linear thinker’s process. How do they accomplish such structured thinking? It’s almost like meditation. And again, everyone is different. We all think differently. While I may be thinking about children, babies, interpreting, life and world travel, you all may be thinking about StreetLeverage – Live, about interpreting, about going to work tomorrow. You may be thinking, “I hope the presenters today are interesting or I’m out of here!” Today, you have to think about which workshops you will attend in the afternoon. Hopefully, you are clear that the four speakers will present their longer workshops twice in the afternoon. The workshops are an hour and a half each and we present them twice. This means you can select two presenters and attend their workshops – mine and one other. So, you may be thinking that one workshop isn’t interesting to you, but you know you can select two of the others.  Unfortunately, you can’t attend them all.

The point is that we each think differently. This is an important thing. The diversity of thinking benefits us. I can learn how you think, what you think about, how you feel, how you express yourself, the topics you discuss.  For example, a person might talk about animals or their love of photography, or their interest in baseball. You may know that I live in Canada and that I am a proud Canadian.

The Venditte Rule

A rule means that a new situation has emerged and thought is given to examine, discuss, and decide how to proceed in this new situation. In baseball –  Do you like sports? Some of you may be thinking, “I am so not going to that workshop this afternoon if Marty Taylor is going to talk about sports!”  That’s perfectly all right.  Back to the “Venditte Rule.” As you may know, some batters are more proficient batting left or right. That’s a fairly common occurrence. A pitcher who can pitch proficiently with either arm is not common at all.

Marty Taylor

The “Venditte Rule” requires the pitcher to declare to the batter which hand he will use before each pitch. Every time. This allows the batter to decide whether to bat left- or right-handed. Clearly, you can see my prowess on the baseball field by my stance here on the stage. That is the “Venditte Rule.”  The pitcher can change their approach every pitch and the batter can switch batting sides, as well. This illustrates a different way of thinking. So, Canada has one baseball team for the entire country as compared to the numerous teams in the United States. We also have an ambidextrous pitcher who is equally proficient pitching with either arm, striking players out with regularity. As an aside, in baseball, a strike is represented by a K. Two strikes is KK and three strikes is represented as KKK. This is just an FYI for everyone. This is the truth. They don’t use XXX for strikes in baseball. Just sharing my T.A.P. knowledge with you. I’m keeping you all informed and now you know about baseball’s special rule.

Focus on the Process

There have been numerous people who have researched Think Aloud Protocols (T.A.P.) related to a variety of topics. In our field of interpreting and translating, for both spoken language and signed language interpreting, there is some research available.  Not a lot, but there is some. For example, Debbie Russell, Betsy Winston, and Jemina Napier have all done some research. I’ve borrowed from their work, as well as research from other disciplines, whether it be research on children, mathematics, geography, technology, computers, etc.  In the vast body of research these disciplines represent, a common theme emerged, indicating that the most experienced, the leaders and top practitioners in these disciplines, all model and focus on process. They focus on the process of doing the work at least 75% of the time. The remaining 25% of the time is focused on product. It is interesting to note that we typically think about the product – the thing we produce, the things we can see, the result of our work. So, for our purposes, T.A.P. encourages us to focus on process.

Looking Deeper

It seems that research in the field of interpreting and translating, whether spoken or signed languages are involved, has come to similar conclusions cited above. If a sign language interpreter is able to utilize more advanced thinking skills or thinks more deeply, their interpretation is going to be more successful. That’s pretty obvious. So, when I say “deeper”, you might be wondering what I mean. I’ll give you a few examples.

  1. When a sign language interpreter considers the speaker’s intent, they are able to focus on the deeper meanings within the message. If they consider the speaker’s purpose, they will ultimately produce a more effective interpretation.
  2. Consider audience/participant needs. We have to look at the makeup of the audience – who is present? Are they Deaf or hearing? Is the audience comprised of U.S. residents or are there some Canadians in the audience? Today, we at least have one Canadian present, maybe more. I don’t know – I haven’t seen anyone yet. So, considering audience make-up is important.
  3. Finally, the interpreting process has to be considered.

If we can incorporate these three considerations in our process – speaker’s intent, audience needs and preferences, and the interpreting process itself, we typically see a more advanced, more successful work product. By including these three aspects, we are able to demonstrate our experience and our level of proficiency as compared to novice or less experienced interpreters.

Knowledge Lean vs. Knowledge Rich Skills

If we look at “knowledge lean skills” versus “knowledge rich skills”, we can see that “knowledge lean skills” represent more simple meanings. For example, an interpreter who is focused on vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure/syntax, will provide a more limited, superficial interpretation. This is focusing on product. This knowledge lean view may also include some language “challenges” that the interpreter must work through and resolve.

In contrast, “Knowledge Rich Skills” focus on process, deeper meaning, and context. We consider all the participants involved, the purpose of the communication. We also look at the interpreter’s purpose – why are they there? Are they doing a good job? All these things are part of the process. Again, if we are looking at process 75% of the time, we are good to go. I’m sure you are all spending 75% of your time looking at process. I’m sure you are all doing just fine.

“Knowledge Rich Skills” also examines social interactions. Most commonly, we see Deaf individuals in isolation. If we think about a Deaf child who is mainstreamed – they are usually isolated. Where is that social interaction for them? Where do they get social exposure to develop relationships? If we look at situations involving Deaf adults, even if the purpose of a meeting is informational, there is still a social component to it. It is so important to consider those deeper meanings and pieces of information in order to use these “knowledge rich” skills.

Interpreters are more sensitive and aware of social cues. In recognizing the emotional tenor of participants, sign language interpreters can incorporate that information in their process, not just staying on the more surface-level product.

Think Process

Regardless of our status as introverts or extroverts, our goal is to think about the system, the process of interpreting. In this afternoon’s workshops, I will expand on T.A.P. in more detail. For now, consider this:  Think Aloud Protocols can benefit our interpreting practice. Think hard. Think wisely. Think process.

Hand waves to you all!

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The Speed of Change: Is Sign Language Interpreting Keeping Pace?

Wayne Betts, Jr. presented The Speed of Change: Is Sign Language Interpreting Keeping Pace? at StreetLeverage – Live 2016 | Fremont. His presentation highlights the need for evolution in the field of sign language interpreting to better meet the needs of Deaf consumers.

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

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

First, could you bring up the house lights, please? Wow! I can see all your faces! Hello, everyone. Greetings!  I’d like to take a quick demographic survey of the audience today. Go ahead and raise your hand when you fit into the category mentioned. If you’re a sign language interpreter, can you raise your hand? Almost the whole room raised their hands. Okay. Where are the interpreting students? Interpreters in training? A good number. Who is here as a visitor? A few. What about Deaf consumers? Some people are raising their hands. Do we have CDIs? I see a few. Great! Thank you! We can go ahead and dim the lights now. Thank you.

A number of topics have been discussed here this weekend – boundaries, accountability, feedback, and through it all, there is one term that stands out – Deaf consumers. That term includes me, as well. If you raised your hand for that group, we’re in this together. My status as a Deaf consumer isn’t something I chose; it was automatically granted the day I was born.

Life With Interpreters

I’ve had interpreters in my life since the day I was born. This is evident in my family’s photos. I’m from a Deaf family. Both my parents and my brother are Deaf. Even in my first family photo, complete with my dad and his ‘80s hair, mustache, and hospital scrubs, and my exhausted, but elated, mother holding me, there was a third person decked out in scrubs, photo-bombing my first picture – the interpreter. Our family’s interpreter for the birth experience was there in my very first baby photo. So, I have had interpreters in my life since birth. A few years later, it was time for me to enter elementary school. Although my parents were Deaf, they decided to place me in a mainstream program. They thought it might be a good way for me to get a strong foundation in language and learning. And I had an interpreter. When I looked at my school photos, I see interpreter after interpreter. I don’t have photos with my teachers or classmates. I don’t really remember any of them – but I do remember the interpreters. Interpreters have played an integral role in my life – they were part of the family. I viewed some as friends – they have been so intimately involved in my life.

As I got older, I witnessed a lot watching my parents struggle with interpreting services – for example during IEP meetings. I’ve seen both sides of interpreter service provision – some interpreters were excellent, and others were terrible. Through it all, my family survived. That’s my experience. We took care of our own, and so it is with the broader community. The Deaf community shares information. The community knows and shares the interpreters to avoid, those who should never be permitted to interpret. This information-sharing goes on all the time. When it comes time for a meeting or appointment, and one of “those” interpreters show up, we put on our poker faces and deal with it, while in the back of our mind, we know we are sunk. As we watch the interpreter in these situations, the resentment stirs and builds with each request for clearer communication while we try to make due. Imagine being stuck in a meeting with that interpreter, and then, when they show up again, having to deal with it again. The minute one of “those” interpreters leave, we have to explain what happened and why. That’s the kind of experience I had growing up.

The Age of Technology

When I started college, technology was transitioning. In the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, technology exploded onto the scene. Back in the day, Deaf people used TTYs (teletypes) to communicate. We typed a message which printed out on a strip of paper. When I was a kid, I watched my mom type her conversations, and when she was done, I would read those strips. It took me about six months to figure out what GA and SK meant. I had no idea. I asked around until I finally found out that GA meant “go ahead” and SK meant “stop keying”.That was the technology of the time. Then captioning came along and the technology continued to boom until there was an explosion of new devices – pagers, etc. As a Deaf person, I felt like the world was opening up and becoming accessible through these amazing technological advances.

TTYs eventually gave way to video relay services (VRS). The creation of VRS meant that Deaf people could use their first language, American Sign Language (ASL). Gone were the days when we had to type or text everything in our second language. I was able to use my first language and BE myself. Amazing. Technology allowed that to happen. Incredible.

At the same time, in a parallel universe, from the day I was born, throughout my school years, my college years, and to the creation of VRS, something was off. The interpreter could be the most incredible interpreter in the world, but there is always a dissonance. Jimmy Beldon mentioned this concept in his presentation. From the moment you meet an interpreter and pass communication through them to another person, there is a sense of uneasiness in having to involve a third party at all. It’s that same feeling that Jimmy described in his presentation. This internal conflict is a common experience among my family and those in the community which is a shared burden.

Video Relay Services

Now, let’s talk about VRS. VRS is where I immersed myself in these issues. I was on the creative path as a filmmaker and artist, and then, life took a turn; I found myself working within the VRS industry. It was in the very beginning, the inception of VRS, in 2002-2003. My first job was in video production for a VRS company. In 2003, one of the big issues surrounding VRS was that people didn’t understand what VRS was. They just didn’t get it. It was brand new, and people didn’t know what to make of it. When I asked my parents about VRS and using the service, they were extremely resistant. They didn’t want people peering into their home and they didn’t want to have to dress up every time they wanted to make a phone call. They were adamantly opposed and clung to their TTY and IP Relay service.

So, my first job was to clearly define VRS using videos and graphics to describe how it all worked. To do that, I first had to understand how it worked for myself. I needed to understand it all, from the technology to the “why” – the rationale behind the design of the interface, the reason the interpreters behaved in certain ways, etc. It was then that I was transported into a completely different world. I left the existence I’d always known to enter a different space. As I asked questions in the new world, I was able to reflect on my own experiences and fill in gaps in my understanding about why interpreters did the things they do. I had a lot of lightbulbs go off during those conversations. At the same time, the technology in this new world was moving fast – evolving. The interpreters were not moving at the same pace; they remained static.

Coming Full Circle

Wayne Betts, Jr.

Last year, I had a son. He’s one year old now. I’ve come full circle. I’m the parent now. I’m that dad in the picture with his hospital scrub hat taking a picture with my wife and newborn son. And, we did have an interpreter in the room. This interpreter was top-notch – amazing- and only available for one day. My wife’s hospital stay lasted a week. During that time, the baby experienced some distress. The situation was terrifying. My son was in ICU for a week. I can honestly say this was one of the worst experiences of my life, not only because of my son’s situation but because of the communication, including issues with interpreters. This happened just last year! We have all this advanced technology exploding into our lives, and still, we haven’t found a way to resolve these issues with interpreters. Don’t misunderstand my point. I’m not speaking about a single interpreter. This is systemic – it’s the whole thing. The systems we use haven’t changed since my parent’s era. The systems that are in place are archaic.

While we were at the hospital that week, I had a variety of experiences with interpreters. At one point, I was trying to explain to one of the interpreters that the baby had a fever and that I needed to get some clarification. The interpreter watched me, nodding without speaking and finally signed, “It will be fine. He’ll be fine.” I wasn’t even sure who was talking at that point – was it the doctor or the interpreter? I asked the interpreter if the doctor had said that and the interpreter indicated no and continued to sign, “He’ll be fine. It’ll be all right.” The interpreter was telling me my baby would be fine with the doctor standing right there. The interpreter was giving me the answer. I know multitudes of interpreters who are stellar, but this person? I wanted to ask them why they were there. Who are they to give me medical advice about my newborn child? How does that happen in this day and age? It is happening. Still. It just happened. It defies logic. My mind was racing with questions: Where is the accountability? Who can I go to? How do I find a contact to deal with a situation like this? In the end, I was exhausted and worried about my newborn child. I decided to say nothing and take matters into my own hands. I started writing notes and communicating through written English. That’s just one example of what I’m talking about. That’s an example from my own experiences from being immersed in the Deaf world. There are broader applications to these ideas if we look at the larger society – the Deaf experience is one microcosm that represents the whole.

In Search of a Safety Net

If we go back to the explosion of technology that has happened, we have to recognize something else that has happened. In the past, we could count on various avenues of support. Government entities, programs, and organizations provided resources and support for jobs and programs and projects. This included the work of nonprofit organizations and fundraising efforts to support programs and community needs. Those support mechanisms were game changers. They acted as champions for people’s rights. Where are those champions now? I’m not talking about Deaf rights, specifically, but more generally. Who are the agents of change in our world now? Who is out there fighting the good fight for our rights these days? Is it government or these support organizations? No.

Did anyone watch Tim Cook battle the FBI to protect Apple products and users’ privacy? His argument against allowing the FBI access to iPhones was that our phones are an extension of our lives. All of our personal information has been gathered and downloaded onto a smartphone. To allow the government access to that information – to our lives- represents a violation equivalent to accessing our minds. Plugging into someone’s phone is like plugging into their brain. Cook was adamant that this kind of surveillance cannot be allowed. Our phones are reflections of us. Now, this is Apple. A private sector, for-profit corporation which is in business to earn money. And they are standing up to say no to injustice. The world has taken notice. Conversations are starting to happen. People are trying to discern meaning from this action. Google has fought mightily for net neutrality to maintain equal access for all users without interference. This is Google, fighting for the democratization of information-sharing. Tesla has proposed designs for an electric train to combat fossil fuel use and emissions. I could cite example after example. This is the new world. This is evolution. With Facebook and Twitter, we all start to bear responsibility for our communities, and the Earth. These days, if a company has money and resources, they are accountable, too.

A Brave New World?

There’s one more critical piece to discuss. You’ve seen presenters talk about it here this weekend. We need to create safe spaces where we can come together to process. You may be wondering what we need in order to process some of these issues. First, we need a diverse group of people to come together, each with their own experiences. We need to have goals and conversations about how we can work together to achieve them. Once a consensus is reached, we need entities willing to stand up for what is right. That’s what is happening in today’s world.

So now, we bring it back here, to me, as a Deaf person. I can say, without making judgments, change is happening. If we look at our history, the hub of the Deaf community was the Deaf school. It was the centerpiece for everything in the Deaf community. Organizations like Jr. NAD and NAD had strong roles in the schools. If something happened, the community looked to NAD, to Gallaudet, to the Deaf schools for guidance. I don’t believe that is the case in today’s world. That’s just not the way anymore. More and more, we look around, and in the absence of guidance, we start to push accountability onto others. NAD should do it. Gallaudet should do it. We cast accountability away with “shoulds.” But the world has changed. The old ways worked in the old days, but they don’t work anymore. The longer it takes for us to realize it, the further behind we get. We have more private businesses who have money in positions where they can make a difference now. Think about it.

Be the Change

As an interpreter, there are a plethora of agencies and businesses, VRS providers, and multitudes of other options. As an independent contractor, I would consider myself a business, as well. Each one of you is in a position to make a difference. Every one of you. You don’t need to wait for communication or permission. What are you waiting for? You have the people; you have the connections, you are in a position to provide services. As a paid interpreter, you have expectations you have to meet. We are all in a position to create change. Right here, right now. It’s working in that “other” world.

I am one of the founders of Convo. You may not agree, but I believe VRS has been a bit of a blessing. It has been a blessing because VRS requires interpreters to congregate under one roof, and this coming together isn’t about competition. In general, there is a desire to raise standards to better meet the needs of consumers. The reality is that, as Deaf consumers using VRS, we never know what we are going to get when we place a call. FCC rules do not permit consumers to pick their interpreter or request preferred interpreters. With that in mind, our focus has been to standardize quality overall for VRS consumers. The only way to do that is to come together. Convo is one of those safe spaces I mentioned. Our Deaf owners, Deaf designers, and engineers can come together with our interpreters, codas, and non-codas. The whole range of experience and perspective are included for one singular purpose.

Convo: A Case In Point

After about four years at Convo, and after we had accomplished our primary goals, we needed to explore Convo’s identity. What did we have to offer the world? We put together a retreat that included our interpreters and Deaf staff from a variety of departments, and we all came together. It was much like StreetLeverage – all ASL, all the time. There was no need to establish “language rules” – it was just common sense that the group would communicate in ASL. The communication was great – fluid, easy. Then, one of the first topics came to the fore.

The first issue was one I brought forward, one that had bothered me since VRS started. I dislike the way VRS is “announced.” Why do we do that? I place a call, and the minute the interpreter answers, they turn away from the camera, disengaging from the screen to talk to the person I’m calling. It usually goes something like this. The interpreter says, “I have a Deaf caller here on a video screen. I can see them and will interpret what they are signing. You can speak directly to him.”  What is that? Meanwhile, I’m sitting there, cooling my heels, waiting to make my call. When the interpreter is finally done with their spiel, the hearing person usually responds with something like, “So…you’re talking to him? Is he with you? Tell him…” which leads to the interpreter explaining that the caller should address me directly. The interpreter may say, “as if I’m not here” or some variation. Now, wait a minute. The interpreter has already blown up the conversation by first stating, “I’m here,” and now they are saying, “Pay no attention to me. Pretend I’m not here.” Which is it?

So, there we were at this retreat. For me, I was still carrying that old model from my family – say nothing, grin and bear it, and discuss amongst yourselves later. At the retreat, at that moment, I was there and the interpreters were present. We were all using a shared language with direct communication. It felt like a safe space for me, and the interpreters, as well. I explained my experience and got affirmation from the other Deaf participants. We asked the question, “How can we change this?” The interpreters were in agreement about wanting to eliminate the announcement of VRS calls, but in their opinion, hearing people were not ready – yet. They believed the time was drawing near, but we weren’t there yet. They alluded to the continuing struggle many hearing people have receiving VRS calls. The interpreters talked about phone culture and the speed of turn-taking. If one side falters or breaks rhythm, it creates confusion and leads to hang ups. That is information about their world, and while the Deaf staff championed our ability to just place our phone calls, the interpreters reminded us how often hearing people simply hang up when misunderstandings occur. This was a big epiphany for me and gave me pause. How can we get the call back into the hands of the Deaf consumer? How do we give them ownership of their phone conversation? How would that work?

Creating the Illusion

Have you ever been to a magic show? People usually enjoy watching a magician at work. They always perform such amazing tricks, like having a helicopter on a giant stage and making it disappear by dropping a curtain over it, saying a few words, and viola! The helicopter is gone. The audiences are amazed and confused as they wonder how the magician could do such a thing. The secret is the behind-the-scenes magic with smoke and mirrors and wires helping to create the illusion. Even when you know it’s all an illusion; it’s still worth the price of admission.

That principle applies to our VRS situation. In that safe space, we all came together and realized the trick was a slight of hand, an illusion to shift perception. That shift makes the illusion feel real. And it worked. At Convo, we changed the way we “announce” VRS calls. When our interpreters open the call with the hearing party, they simply say, “Hello. I am speaking through a sign language interpreter.”

Hello. I am speaking through a sign language interpreter.

While they say it, they are indicating the video caller with an honorific, open hand. The call may proceed from there, or if the hearing caller is confused, they may say, “So, you are speaking through a sign language interpreter? How does that work?” Immediately, I am empowered. I have the opportunity to explain how VRS works. Some hearing people breeze on into the conversation. But either way, they are addressing ME. The interpreter is no longer front and center in the conversation. They are relieved of the responsibility of explaining and are left to focus on the task of interpreting. Much of the awkward call management that happens can be eliminated with this simple phrasing.

In that meeting – remember, we established a safe space – the interpreters expressed concern. Were they “lying” or being deceptive? With the Deaf staff members present, we were able to come to an agreement that this method works and that we did not see it as deceptive. With that endorsement, the interpreters were willing to move forward and give it a try, so we decided to try it. We’ve been opening calls that way for almost three years now. Maybe you didn’t realize? You can probably catch it on the interpreters’ lips when you have them onscreen. “I am speaking through a sign language interpreter.” Boom. The focus shifts to the Deaf caller. Done. It’s your call. You own it.

Creating Change In Sign Language Interpreting

So, my point today is about creating spaces for progress. This weekend, we’ve discussed boundaries. As companies, agencies, interpreters, independent contractors – we have spaces where we gather to process. Now, we need to examine this process. The discussions are critical, yes, but the next steps are to take the information to discover and identify solutions.

Remember earlier when I asked for the interpreters, Deaf consumers, and others to identify themselves? How many owners and business people are here? We are here, together, in this room. My workshop this afternoon will focus on real world applications for these thoughts. I’m going to plant some seeds, and you are going to talk about the smoke and mirrors needed to accomplish your goals. We’re going to make the helicopter disappear. The how doesn’t matter if it works and we all walk away feeling we have accomplished our goal. Find out more in my workshop later today.

Thank you.

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[Archives] Sign Language Interpreters: The Importance of the Day Before

Our archives are filled with the generosity of our presenters and contributors. It is often enlightening to look back at the path which leads to the present. To that end, we offer this glimpse into the StreetLeverage archives. This presentation was originally published on March 18, 2014.

Dennis presented Sign Language Interpreters: The Importance of the Day Before at StreetLeverage – Live 2013 in Atlanta, GA. His talk encouraged sign language interpreters to consider that the secret to successful interpretations often rests on “One thing. Just one thing” – remembering “the day before”. He suggests that a sign language interpreter’s failure to remember “the day before” means that they act on assumptions that generally result in a lack of meaning equivalence their interpretations.

You can find the PPT deck for the presentation by clicking here.

[Note from Dennis. What follows is generally based on my presentation at StreetLeverage – Live in Atlanta 2013. It is not a translation of that presentation but uses the presentation as a general outline for this written piece. In places, I have slightly expanded on the ideas presented during that presentation. I suggest that you view the presentation first and then read what follows.]

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

Challenge Assumptions

I’d like to begin with a brief history lesson. Our lesson begins with Euclid – the Greek philosopher and mathematician who is widely recognized as the first person to demand that we challenge assumptions on which solutions to a problem are based. Throughout history we see examples of assumed realities and assumptions being challenged by direct experience.

Consider the “Day Before Magellan”. In 1544, people who lived in the “Day Before Magellan” believed that the earth rested on the backs of three elephants, which, in turn, rested on the shell of a giant turtle, which swam in a vast sea. In the time of the “Day Before Magellan” people believed that the earth was flat. However, after Magellan and his crew circumnavigated the globe their direct, firsthand experience couldn’t be reconciled with the assumptions of people still living in the “Day Before Magellan”. When Magellan’s crew spoke about the earth, they did so from quite a different reality than those still living in the “Day Before”.

Consider next the astronomer, Nicolas Copernicus. People who lived in the “Day Before Copernicus” believed that the earth was the center of the universe and that the sun, moon, and stars all revolved around the earth. But Copernicus, after thoroughly studying the galaxy proposed a model that placed the sun at the center of the universe. In his model, which was proven to be correct, the assumptions of those believing in the centrality of the earth were shown to be wrong. His model couldn’t be reconciled with the assumptions of people still living in the “Day Before Copernicus”. When Copernicus spoke about the galaxy, he did so from quite a different reality than those in the “Day Before”.

First ContactDennis Cokely

Consider now the “Day Before First Contact”. In the past, people of European descent generally believed that those of African descent or those who were Native Americans were decidedly inferior, were subhuman, were savages who had no values, culture or language and thus were essentially worthless. But then, a number of people of European descent began to have firsthand interactions with people of African descent or Native Americans. Those people learned that, indeed, those of African descent and Native Americans did indeed have languages, values, and cultures. When those Europeans spoke of Africans or Native Americans they did so from quite a different reality than those in the “Day Before”.

We all have assumptions and when we communicate with each other we generally do so believing that generally, we share assumptions. Certainly, that is the case when we all use the same words. But when we have new experiences they often challenge and change our prior assumptions.

Our Own Day Before

We each have our own “Day Before” regardless of our identity as coda, IDP, Deaf, or non-deaf. I can’t possible know about your “Day Before” so I can only talk about my own “Day Before”. What follows are reflections on my “Day Before” and the impact of my own “first contact” interactions with Deaf people.

I grew up with absolutely no Deaf people in my life. To me being deaf meant you weren’t intelligent, couldn’t read or write, couldn’t hear. If you were deaf you were disabled and you were to be pitied. And then in 1968 when I was in graduate school I met a Deaf man by the name of Patrick Graybill.

I was stunned – a Deaf man in graduate school???!!! This was most definitely not in keeping with my life-long assumptions about people who were deaf.

In the time of the “Day Before Pat” I assumed that Deaf people communicated by gesturing, pointing or using mime. But then I learned that Deaf people had a complex, structured, rule-governed language, which meant many of my assumptions in the time of the “Day Before Pat” were wrong.

In the time of the “Day Before Pat”, the notion that Deaf people had a culture was simply unthinkable because they had no language. The idea that they had values was also meaningless and preposterous. But through firsthand interactions I learned that Deaf people do have a rich and vibrant culture. My firsthand experiences and my long-held assumptions were radically different. And I had to reconcile my assumptions from the time of the “Day Before Pat” with my firsthand experience.

I thought that all of my long-standing assumptions when I lived in the time of the “Day Before Pat” were totally correct – being deaf means you can’t hear; being deaf is all about how a person’s hearing is defective. And then I learned that to be Deaf means, “to be one of us”; I learned that there is a Deaf Community. And again, I had to reconcile my assumptions from the “Day Before Pat” with my firsthand experience. And then another of my assumptions was shattered when I learned that Deaf people don’t see themselves as handicapped; they just see themselves as having a different language and culture. Again I had to reconcile my assumptions from the “Day Before Pat” with my firsthand experience. And when I spoke about Deaf people, I did so from quite a different reality than those who still lived in the time of the “Day Before Pat”.

Dennis Cokely
Dennis Cokely

And yet another long-standing and self-evident assumption that Deaf people were abnormal was also destroyed. That assumption was destroyed when firsthand experience showed me that Deaf people see themselves as “normal”. After all, Deaf people do have a language, a culture, a community, values, traditions, etc. Those who still lived in the time of the “Day Before Pat” had their assumptions, assumptions that I had once shared. But I now had Deaf friends and firsthand experiences that stood in contrast to those assumptions. And so again, I had to reconcile my assumptions from the “Day Before Pat” with my firsthand experience.

Another assumption held by those who still lived in the time of the “Day Before Pat” was that Deaf people couldn’t possibly be linguistically oppressed because they have no language. After all, they have to be taught to speak and lipread, they have to be trained to use their hearing. But from my Deaf friends I learned that their language, ASL, wasn’t taught or used in schools, that there were few Deaf teachers and that there were many other ways in which they were linguistically oppressed.

Like most people who still live in the time of the “Day Before Pat”, I grew up with quite a list of assumptions about Deaf people that were rooted in fiction and what passed for “common sense”; but those assumptions were not based in facts. But after interacting with Deaf people, my new set of assumptions was rooted in reality and experience. And so how could I possibly communicate that with those who still lived in the time of the “Day Before Pat”? My interactions with Deaf people had changed my life and definitely had changed my perspectives on Deaf people.

New Assumptions

But although I now had a new set of assumptions about Deaf people, the language and spoken words I used remained the same as they had all my life, my life in the time of the “Day Before Pat”. So, for example, I continued to use the word “deaf” and when I said that word, those who still lived in the time of the “Day Before Pat” thought I meant “can’t hear”, “disabled” “defective”, “inferior” and “less than”. Although my new assumptions, perspectives, and firsthand experiences had changed, my language and words did not change to reflect those new assumptions, perspectives, and experiences. Because my words and language in talking about Deaf people remained unchanged, those still living in the time of the “Day Before Pat” thought that we continued to share the same assumptions. It seemed logical to them – our words and language, the language of the “Day Before Pat”, were the same, so surely our assumptions must be the same. But my assumptions were clearly quite different than theirs.  But because I still talked like those still living in the time of the “Day Before Pat” their assumptions were not and could not be challenged and opportunities to confront or discuss their assumptions were missed. Those still living in the time of the “Day Before Pat” continued to think that because we talked the same we must think the same and have the same assumptions.

The Same Old Words

Imagine interpreting for a Deaf person addressing a group of people who aren’t Deaf. The Deaf person begins by signing the following [see the videotape at 9:46 — 9:59]. In the past, my spoken English interpretation would have been something like “My name is Pat. I’m deaf [and then there would be the typical and sometimes audible response of pity from those in the time of the “Day Before”] and you are hearing [to which there would be a quizzical or puzzled reaction].” That would have been what I said in my interpretation, but what I said is clearly not what Pat meant.

How could I accurately reflect what Pat meant by using words that were so deeply attached to the flawed assumptions held by those still living in the time of the “Day Before Pat”? Those words (“deaf”, “hearing” and others) had taken on new meanings for me but those still living in the time of the “Day Before Pat” had not yet acquired those new meanings. Using the same old words that I used in the time of the “Day Before Pat” meant that my spoken English interpretations could not possibly be successful. Those same old words simply reinforced the flawed assumptions of those still living in the time of the “Day Before Pat”; those words continued to reinforce a devalued view of Deaf people.

For many years Deaf people have been trying to tell those who are not deaf that Deaf people have a language, a culture, a community, values, traditions, etc. and have assumed that sign language interpreters were accurately conveying their meaning and intent.  But my spoken English interpretations (and I daresay those of most other interpreters) do not always accurately reflect the intended meanings of Deaf people. My interpretations that used the same old words as those still living in the time of the “Day Before Pat”, merely reinforced their negative view of Deaf people. I couldn’t possibly expect those still living in the time of the “Day Before Pat” to understand my experiences or to appreciate how my interactions with Deaf people had changed my perspective on Deaf people. Absent interaction and firsthand experience, those still living in the time of the “Day Before Pat” had not and could not attach my new meanings to “the same old words”.

For decades Deaf people, proud members of a Community, have been trying to tell those still living in the time of the “Day Before” about their proud Community, language, and culture. But when we interpreters use the word “deaf” the only thing that those still living in the time of the “Day Before” hear is “can’t hear”, “can’t hear”, “can’t hear”. But I believe that’s not what Deaf people mean or intend and as a result of our interpretations that use the same old words, Deaf people suffer.

Change Words and Change Assumptions

And so I have decided to change my words and my language. By changing my words and language, the assumptions of those still living in the time of “Day Before” can be challenged. Changing my words and language does not in any way change the meaning or intent of Deaf people, not at all. On the contrary, I believe that my changed words much more accurately reflect their intent and meaning.

Rather than automatically using the word “deaf”, I have decided to use the phrase “member of the Deaf Community” unless it is clear that what is meant is “can’t hear” (which I believe is rare). Thus those still living in the time of the “Day Before” are presented with a different framing of Deaf people and one that, I believe, more accurately represents what Deaf people have been trying to say to those still living in the time of the “Day Before”. That new framing is one that does not fit with the assumptions of those still living in the time of the “Day Before”. And gradually the assumptions about Deaf people of those still living in the time of the “Day Before” begin to change.

Thus I believe Deaf people’s meanings and intentions can finally and more accurately be conveyed to those still living in the time of “Day Before”. And Deaf people’s meanings and intentions are more clearly conveyed precisely because I have changed my oppressive language. And when we, as sign language interpreters, understand Deaf people’s meaning and intent and when we change our language accordingly, Deaf people’s true meaning and intent can finally be understood by those still living in the “Day Before”. Failure to change our language means that the assumptions of those still living in the tome of the “Day Before” will persist and Deaf people will continue to be oppressed and continue to be viewed as abnormal, defective and inferior.

One Thing. Just One Thing.

If you’ve seen the movie “City Slickers” you know one of the dramatic high points of the story – Curly, a tough, weather-beaten old cowboy asks Mitch (who is from the city) a question: “Mitch, do you know what the secret of life is?” Mitch says he doesn’t, and asks Curly to tell him. Curly replies that the secret to life is “One thing. Just one thing.” Unfortunately, in one of the worst possible cases of bad timing, Curly dies and so we never learn the one thing that is the secret to life.

And so, in memory of Curly, I’d like to suggest that for sign language interpreters the secret to successful interpretations might be “One thing. Just one thing”. But unlike Curly, I do plan to live long enough to tell you the secret. That one thing is — never forget living in the time of the “Day Before”. Those who are still living in the “Day Before” are usually one-third of the interpreting triad. As interpreters, remembering the assumptions of those still living in the time of the “Day Before” will help us better frame our interpretations. Remembering when we lived in the time of the “Day Before” will help us better craft our interpretations to more accurately reflect the meanings and intentions of Deaf people.

In closing, StreetLeverage – Live is all about change and becoming a change agent. I suggest that one very doable change each of us can make on a personal level is to change our words, change our language so that our interpretations more accurately represent the meanings and intentions of Deaf people.  Remembering the time we spent living in the time of the “Day Before” and the assumptions we held at that time, helps us avoid oppressive language and words that merely reinforce the assumptions of those still living in the “Day Before”. And so I encourage you to find and hold near your own “Day Before Pat”.

Enjoy this talk and accompanying article? Consider going to StreetLeverage – Live 2017.

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[Archives] Marginalization Within the Sign Language Interpreting Profession: Where is the Deaf Perspective?

Our archives are filled with the generosity of our presenters and contributors. It is often enlightening to look back at the path which leads to the present. To that end, we offer this glimpse into the StreetLeverage archives. This presentation was originally published on April 23, 2014.

Nancy presented Marginalization Within the Sign Language Interpreting Profession: Where is the Deaf Perspective? at StreetLeverage – Live 2013 | Atlanta. Her talk explored how the intersectional dynamic between the deaf and sign language interpreting communities has literally been lost in translation amid dramatic and still-evolving changes within the field of sign language interpreting.

You can find the PPT deck for is presentation here.

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

Marginalization Within the Sign Language Interpreting Profession: Where is the Deaf Perspective?

Nearly 50 Years of Advancement

Where do we actually find the perspective of Deaf people (Deaf community) within the interpreting profession? Actually, the answer to this question may better be answered by asking, “Who here is Deaf?”  Please raise your hand if you are Deaf. Point made. There are few of us here so where do you get our perspective?

There has been a large number of dramatic changes over the relatively short history of RID and we have come a long way in the establishment of the profession. When I say dramatic changes, I do not mean to imply that change is bad. There have been wonderful advancements and many, many very positive outcomes. I value my personal and professional relationships with interpreters and many in the Deaf community feel the same way. In spite of those sometimes very strong relationships, I would like to focus this presentation on how to better involve deaf people within the decision-making structure of the sign language interpreting profession.

Marginalization – and Underrepresentation – of Deaf Persons

I feel that just as there are few deaf voices represented here, there are just as few represented in other areas as well. Deaf people need to be not only welcomed but invited to the decision-making tables of the interpreting field. At the profession’s birth and infancy, the Deaf voice had a stronger presence and over the 50-year history of RID, that voice has been less and less present. We have been underrepresented in all aspects of the interpreting field and industry and I will share with you some ways that can change.

Deaf Perspectives & Contributions Consistently Undervalued

I opened my talk by saying that there have been many positive advancements in the interpreting field over the last 50 years, but with those changes, there have also been some inherent weaknesses that have become clear. One such weakness is not including Deaf people in the evolutionary progress of the field and industry. This fact leads to the important step of asking ourselves why this has happened.

Before I go any further, I do want to apologize for depending on my notes so much. I have recently gone through treatment for cancer and the medications have left me unable to rely on my memory like I used to.

When I say that Deaf people have not been involved in the evolutionary progress of the field, I am pointing a finger at the whole industry. I see the same trend in interpreter education, ethics, testing, certification, professional development, national, regional, and local service organizations, research, mentorship, interpreting service providers/agencies, and joint efforts by the Deaf and interpreting communities, and so on. By not including Deaf people in all of the advancements within the industry, the field misses out on the benefits and contributions that can be gained by their inclusion. The Deaf-Gain.

The Deaf community has not only felt unwelcome and unvalued, we have been uninvited. At this point, we need a personal invite to know that we are welcome and valued. I challenge each of you to invite a Deaf person to the next StreetLeverage Live. Deaf people from within the field but also anyone that the industry could benefit from hearing from should attend. I intend to go as a participant and I hope to see an audience of half deaf and half hearing. Let’s commit to making that happen so that we all can benefit from each other.

Duplication of Effort

Another trend I have seen over time is the duplication of efforts within the Deaf and sign language interpreting communities. I would encourage everyone to look across the fence to see how you can create successful collaborations toward better outcomes for everyone. For example, I am aware that in some states the RID chapters have a close working relationship with the NAD state association but in other states that is not the case. Take a look at your own area and let the states that are doing this successfully be your guide. Work to establish strong collaborations in your local area in order to better support each other’s efforts.

It is high time to weave Deaf people into the tapestry or mosaic of the interpreting field. With a critical eye, we need to look within to examine why there has developed and remains such divisiveness between the Deaf and sign language interpreting communities and between niche groups within both communities. We need to do that important work before we can move forward.

I have always viewed interpreters as my ally or my partner. I do not want to work with any service provider, whether they be my doctor or anyone else, unless they view me as their partner, too. The idea of partnering between the Deaf person and the interpreter is not a mindset I see enough in my local area, of St. Augustine, Florida. I lived in Maryland for 34 years and was very fortunate to work with so many interpreters that did approach our relationship as a partnership so moving to Florida where I have not found that to be the norm has been a little bit of a culture shock. I have taken it upon myself to share my experience and informally mentor a few interpreters with the hopes that they can change their model.

I do have a vested interest in seeing the field of interpreting grow. I say this because I see the domino effect of what can happen when the field includes more Deaf perspective (Deaf-Gain). It improves the quality of the work sign language interpreters, which in turn will make the efforts of both the Deaf and interpreting community more effective. We have not even begun to tap into the potential of that collaboration.

Deaf people can be valued, contributing, and equal players in the interpreting field’s growth.

“For Hearing Interpreters Only” Mindset

There are many examples where this statement plays out. I have been to countless interpreter events on local, state, and national levels where the predominant language being used is English. That simple act by the attendees leaves me feeling left out, unwelcome, and disrespected. The result is that I feel as if I am an outcast in my own community and if you have experienced this, you know it is definitely not a good feeling to have.

Nancy Bloch
Nancy Bloch

I have been to some events where the speaker is using English and sign language interpreters are provided but there is someone signing ASL on one far side of the stage and someone else signing a different way on the far side of the stage. As a participant, that scenario is confusing at best. I never know where to look when what I really want to be doing is looking at the speaker and an interpreter that I understand within the same field of view. A simple request but you would be surprised how often it does not happen. Over time, the trend to move the interpreter closer to the speaker has been occurring but it is still not as good as having the presenter sign for themselves. Seeing a message from the source is better than through an interpreter so I say the way to get beyond the ‘for hearing interpreter only’ mindset is to establish the expectation that at events for interpreters and Deaf people, everyone will use the common language of ASL.

Unlike spoken languages that have a geographical location where the language is used, there are so few opportunities for sign language interpreters to use ASL exclusively for an extended period of time. Interpreting-related events like conferences are the perfect opportunity for a language immersion experience. This creates a rich opportunity for learning, giving and sharing, and a win-win for everyone. When Deaf people feel welcome at interpreter events, then the collaboration between our two communities has a better chance of occurring.

The unintentional consequence of using English predominantly at conferences and other events is that new and potential interpreters are getting exposed to and modeled a defacto standard that has to stop. If interpreters are not just giving lip service to wanting to be involved in the Deaf community more, then the predominant language needs to be ASL.

I’d like to share a scenario that I witnessed to illustrate the significance of an all-signing environment. I attended an RID conference while Jimmy Beldon was on the national board. He was the only Deaf board member at the time and in the large conference hall where the board was sitting on the stage in a row behind tables. The meeting had not started yet and as I was sitting in the audience with about 2000 other RID members. I saw two hearing board members who were quite able to use sign language speak to each other over Jimmy who was sitting between them. I actually had to check myself to make sure I was seeing things correctly. It made no sense to me and I know that Jimmy felt incredibly awkward and unsure how to handle that situation. This happened because those hearing board members had been using English to communicate during the conference and just continued to do so right in front of, literally, a Deaf colleague.

I can not say it any more plainly, a lot of good things can happen if the playing field is simply leveled by providing direct communication access to every participant. Doing so creates a mutually respectful environment where everyone can participate.

Economics Over Culture and Community

Since I only have 5 minutes left, I am going to tell you a funny…well, maybe not so funny…story. While I was working at the NAD, a private company hired us to organize a few focus groups to do some marketing research. One of the groups was made up of signing Deaf people but there was one participant that was hard-of-hearing and did not sign fluently so we hired interpreters for that person. When we hired the interpreters we made sure to tell them that this hard-of-hearing person needed to be able to see their mouth. Additionally, this particular focus group was of interest to the company so the company’s executives were with me watching the focus group through a one-way mirror.

One of the sign language interpreters was slouching, signing sloppily, and I was concerned that the hard-of-hearing participant would not understand him, so I wrote a note and had someone take it in and give it to him to ask him to sign more clearly and to sit up. He complied but when the focus group ended, he came around to the room that I was in and complained that he should not have been asked to change his way of signing. He said that he wanted to talk to the person that was in charge and that hired him. When I told him that it was me that had asked him to change the way he was signing and that it was me that had hired him he continued to argue. Unfortunately, this situation did not end well because when I gave feedback to the agency we had hired to secure the interpreters, I was met with a curt response of, “We will take your feedback into consideration.” This type of response was received by this agency more than once. I won’t say which agency it was, even though Anna Witter-Merithew has been teasing me that I should say who it was. We laugh about it but the situation was unsatisfactory.


Since Brandon has asked me to keep my talk positive, what we have seen lately is that more and more Deaf people are getting involved in hiring sign language interpreters and running agencies and that can only be a good thing.

This afternoon’s workshop will focus more on how we can transform the profession. Transformation is not easy and certainly does not happen overnight. It has to start at the individual level to create a paradigm shift for far-reaching, positive, and lasting impact. We also need to see active involvement of Deaf persons and sign language interpreting-Deaf community alliances throughout industry. Alliances that have been successful in the past, like the Allies conferences of the 90’s, can be a good model for us. Involving Deaf people on every level of the sign language interpreting field will ensure core “Deaf Heart” values, beliefs and practices are reflected throughout the industry.

Without this paradigm shift within the sign language interpreting profession, we would not be true to the to the original reason the industry was established. Together we can and should work together.

We, the Deaf community, cannot be lost in translation.

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6 Presentations That Will Make You a Better Sign Language Interpreter

Sign language interpreters constantly strive to be better practitioners. Often it is a flash of perspective that gives context to the challenges they face and assists them in moving along their path to actualization.

6 Presentations That Will Make You a Better Sign Language Interpreter

Let’s admit it, being a sign language interpreter can be tough. Sometimes a little sprinkle of perspective can contextualize the challenges we face as practitioners. From language fluency to connecting with the community, from confronting social justice issues and inaccurate assumptions to maintaining our integrity and leaving a legacy, these flashes of insight can lead us to becoming the interpreters we aspire to be. What follows are sprinkles of goodness that will, in fact, make you a better sign language interpreter.

1.  Dennis Cokely | Sign Language Interpreters: The Importance of the Day Before

Dennis Cokely

In his StreetLeverage – Live | Atlanta presentation, Sign Language Interpreters: The Importance of the Day Before, Dennis Cokely discusses the dangers of unchallenged assumptions and the “one thing” sign language interpreters must always remember in order to render more effective, meaningful, and culturally appropriate interpretations.

View the ASL, English and PPT here.

2.  Deb Russell | Sign Language Interpreters: Discover & Recover an Enduring Legacy

Debra Russell

Deb Russell’s StreetLeverage – Live | Atlanta presentation, Sign Language Interpreters: Discover & Recover an Enduring Legacy, recognizes the importance of uncovering and acknowledging the contributions and traits of leaders who have significantly impacted the field of interpreting. In order to move forward, we must first understand where we have come from.

View the ASL, English, and PPT here.

3.  Betty Colonomos | Sign Language Interpreters: Fostering Integrity

Betty Colonomos

In her presentation, Sign Language Interpreters: Fostering Integrity, from StreetLeverage – Live | Atlanta, Betty Colonomos defines integrity and highlights the critical need for accountability in the field of sign language interpreting.

View the ASL, English and PPT here.

4.  Doug Bowen Bailey | Transforming Perspectives: The Power of One-to-One Conversations For Sign Language Interpreters

doug bowen bailey

Doug Bowen-Bailey’s StreetLeverage – Live | Austin presentation, Transforming Perspectives: The Power of One-to-One Conversations for Sign Language Interpreters, explores the concept of one-to-one conversations as a means of connecting with the Deaf community and other interpreters.

View the ASL, English, and PPT here.

5.  Trudy Suggs | Deaf Disempowerment and Today’s Interpreter

Trudy Suggs - Deaf Disempowerment and Today's Interpreter

Trudy Suggs’ StreetLeverage – Live | Baltimore presentation, Deaf Disempowerment and Today’s Interpreter, powerfully explores both financial and situational disempowerment within the Deaf Community.

View the ASL, English and PPT here. 

6.  MJ Bienvenu | Bilingualism: Are Sign Language Interpreters Bilinguals?

MJ Bienvenu - StreetLeverage - Live 2015

MJ Bienvenu’s StreetLeverage – Live | Austin presentation, Bilingualism: Are Sign Language Interpreters Bilingual?, explores the deeper questions involved in determining whether sign language interpreters are, in fact, bilingual.

View the ASL, English and PPT here.

The Whole is More than the Sum of its Parts

While these presentations represent a small part of the wisdom and insight shared at StreetLeverage – Live events, we hope this retrospective provides you with some tools, ideas and information to support your journey to becoming the sign language interpreter you’ve imagined yourself to be.

* Enjoy these presentations? Join us at StreetLeverage – Live 2016.

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Interpret + Person: Presentation of Self and Sign Language Interpreters

Robert Lee presented Interpret + Person: Presentation of Self and Sign Language Interpreters at StreetLeverage – Live 2014 | Austin. His talk explored how the identities of sign language interpreters as individuals cannot be removed from the communicative interactions of their work or the relations they have with the people with whom they work.

You can find the PPT deck for his presentation here.

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

Interpret + Person: Presentation of Self and Sign Language Interpreters

Hello, everyone. I’m going to start with a story.

I started learning to sign, and I do mean sign – it was not American Sign Language (ASL) – when I was about fifteen or sixteen. My father and I were going to take an adult education class together. When we saw a listing for “sign language” in the course catalogue, we thought it sounded good and signed up. We went to the class, but my father gave up after the first week. I persevered. The instructor for this class was hearing. I remember, on the first night of class, the person told us they would be teaching us to “sign” not that other thing that Deaf people did. Not knowing any better at the time, I continued in the class and learned to “sign”.  Later on, I read about ASL. I was intrigued and wanted to learn more. ASL classes weren’t available in the Deaf Education programs at the time, and there were no Deaf Studies programs then. That left the Interpreter Training Program, so I entered the ITP with Eileen Forestal, fortunately for me.

Before entering the Interpreter Training Program though, I could “sign”. When I was working at a department store, I remember a situation that came up. One day, in the appliance department next to mine, a Deaf couple came in, signing with the hearing salesperson who was struggling to communicate. I approached them, signing in an attempt to work with them. They were an older married couple and both seemed very nice. They were trying to purchase a microwave that day. I worked with them as they decided on their purchase and everything worked out pretty well. When they were checking out, the clerk asked if they were interested in having a credit card. They were, so the wife proceeded to fill out the application and signed it. The clerk then indicated that the husband would need to sign the form, as well. When the gentleman signed the form, he merely wrote an “X” on the paper. I was struck by that moment – not in judgment. I was intrigued and perplexed by the situation. Anyway, later on, I went into the Interpreter Training Program and ended up at the Deaf Club. This was my first time there, so I was nervously sitting there when someone tapped me on the shoulder. When I turned, I was surprised to see the man from the department store. He remembered our encounter with enthusiasm and gave me his stamp of approval with a “two-thumbs-up” endorsement. That acceptance was a milestone for me. Where I had previously been a hearing person named #Robert #Lee (first and last name fingerspelled), I became “ROBERT LEE” (Speaker indicates name sign of the combined fingerspelled letters ‘R’ and ‘L’ shaken in neutral space on the right hand). In that moment, I became INTERPRETER, even though I hadn’t completed my training yet. He recognized “who I was” in that moment. It was the beginning of my personal journey.

“I am large. I contain multitudes.” – Walt Whitman

Angela Roth said it’s poetry day today, so in keeping with that theme, a quote from a poem, “I am large, I contain multitudes.” (Speaker indicates waistline when signing “I am large,” laughs and continues.) We each have many identities within us and various identities come to the forefront at different times. We’ll discuss that more later today.

Imagine an Interpreted Interaction

We can all imagine what an interpreted interaction looks like, am I right? In a given situation, we have the interpreter, and minimally, we have a Deaf person and a hearing person. The interpreter is in the middle between the other two participants, so to speak. Let’s talk about “who we are” as the interpreter standing at the center of this interaction and what we represent to the other participants in the interpreted event. Both parties have their own perspective.

Layers of Identity

The multitudes of identity referenced earlier are layers of identity. We are going to focus on three primary layers in this instance. The first layer, and the last one we learn as interpreters, is the professional layer. It is the one we learn in school as we become interpreters. In her plenary presentation, Bilingualism: Are Sign Language Interpreters Bilinguals?, MJ Bienvenu talked about how interpreters use the mantra, “Code of Ethics, Code of Ethics, Code of Ethics,” as they take on a mechanized interpreter persona. She talks about how interpreters wear their professional identity as a shield rather than interacting and collaborating with others. As interpreters, we do have cultural and linguistic identities but they are subjugated by our professional identity. Essentially, we have discarded our human selves in favor of this mechanical “professional” interpreter identity. We keep ourselves separated by merely interpreting the words that are said and do not allow our other identities to surface. That behavior is odd. It’s odd and it is destructive. As interpreters, we stand between two people who do not share a language and therefore, cannot easily interact on their own. By removing our selves and trying to maintain that mechanical “professional” persona exclusively, by not utilizing the cultural and linguistic identities we have to communicate between the Deaf and Hearing parties more naturally, we end up creating more problems.

Interpreter – Interpret (verb) + Person (noun)

Angela Roth mentioned that it’s interesting what we learn by using a language. So, we have the ASL sign that represents “interpreter” – INTERPRET + PERSON. In English, the same concept is represented by the word “interpreter”, a single word utterance. Now, I’ve been pondering this idea. The ASL representation for “interpreter” consists of two parts: INTERPRET – an action, what we do, and PERSON – a noun, who does the action.

If we return to our interpreted interaction with a Deaf and Hearing person and our interpreter in the middle, what are those individuals seeing when they interact with the interpreter? Do they see the same identity? Do they see the identity the interpreter thinks they are portraying? The hearing party likely sees “hearing professional” but the interpreter may not have fully explored who they think they are. Ultimately, we have to question the likelihood that participants in interpreted events see interpreters the way they see themselves.

Identity: Experience vs. Perception

As an individual, I experience my own identity while others perceive it. Sometimes, the experience and the perception are the same, and other times, they are not. A famous British sociologist, Richard Jenkins, studied social identity. He said that we can’t create our identity on our own. Rather, we build identity through our relationships with other people. We cannot create identity for ourselves in isolation. We build our identities through interactions, our experiences and other people’s perceptions.

Tom Humphries and Carol Padden both talked about the physical body of the sign language interpreter. We use our bodies to interpret. American Sign Language, British Sign Language – other signed languages – are visual in nature.  If you are using a written language, a person can record a translation in writing and pass that translation along, completely separate from the physical body of the translator. With signed languages, our “self” must always be present, whether we are interpreting on-site in 3D space or on video, interpreting to and from a flat screen, our body, our physical self, is always present. There is no way to remove ourselves from those interactions.

Presentation of Self: I Can Not Interpret Without My “Self”

Robert Lee
Robert Lee

As an interpreter, the only tool I have is me – my physical body, my facial expressions, my hands, my arms. I can’t become another person. I can use my body to express meaning for both parties in an interpreted event, but my physical self is always present. That’s important to remember. As a profession (and I confess, I’m guilty, as well), I think we have missed the mark in our attempts to ensure that we don’t influence the situations where we interpret. By virtue of taking on that “professional” persona, we are negatively impacting the interaction. This is a problem.

As interpreters, we don’t want to influence situations and we want to ensure that we are conveying meaning between the participants. At the same time, who we are – our selves – part of us, is still present. For example, I’m here presenting right now. Imagine if someone else came to present on this exact topic. Can you picture them? You are probably still seeing me as the presenter. Unfortunately, I’ve influenced you. You see me presenting this topic and it would be a challenge if someone came in and took over in the middle of the presentation. It would be quite jarring if someone came along and we tag-teamed the presentation. That would seem strange and yet, we use this technique all the time in interpreted interactions. We regularly switch interpreters midstream and believe, somehow, the meaning will still be conveyed. We tell ourselves that the Deaf people will adapt. Will they? It’s something to consider. I think we need to start being more aware of our selves as ourselves.

If we go back to the interaction we imagined, we have our interpreter and we have the perceptions the Deaf and hearing consumers have about the interpreter. What do they see? The problem is that they see what we choose to show them, whether on purpose or by accident.

I want to talk a little bit about some research done on racism.  Often, we see a person’s actions and we interpret the meaning of their actions. In her talk, Self-Awareness: How Sign Language Interpreters Acknowledge Privilege and Influence, Stacey Storme talked about how we see an “angry Deaf person” and we wonder what they are so angry about. It’s interesting when you look at it. I think this next slide will help us understand our reaction.

Observer vs. Actor Perspective

We have an actor – a person. The person carries all kinds of context with them, consisting of their experiences, background, etc. In any given interaction, we see a tiny portion of that context. We only have access to small parts of an individual’s context. The rest of it is inaccessible to us. If we think about Stacey’s example yesterday with the “angry Deaf person” or MJ’s example that people only see black instead of seeing a whole person – we only see a miniscule part of any given person’s context. As interpreters, our job is to provide that context, to convey it to the participants in interpreted events.

Let’s look at the next slide.

Observer vs. Actor Perspective – Interpreted Interaction

The issue is that we have the interpreter, a person, standing in the middle of a situation with two other people who don’t share a language. The Deaf consumer may see one part of the interpreter’s context while the hearing consumer may see something different. No one can see all of another person’s context. Our job as interpreters is to reveal context, but the problem is that we are always in the middle of the situation. It is difficult to separate how we use language, how we talk about the work and how we discuss our work with others. What kinds of language do we use when working with the Deaf consumer versus the hearing consumer? How can we convey more of the context that is implicit in the communication so that we can make more of each person’s context more explicit? Unfortunately, we haven’t had these conversations much yet. We need some way to provide consumers the opportunity to see through the interpreter’s presence to the reality of the other participants in the situation.

We Are Lenses, but Lenses Can Be Tinted

The context we bring to any situation can be considered a “tint”. For example, I’m a man. I’m white. I’m hearing and I’m an American. I started thinking about this particular topic when I moved to England six years ago. After I moved, I started to meet Deaf people there, started to learn British Sign Language, and started interacting with the language skills that I had. Interestingly, the British Deaf people I’ve met refer to me as “Interpreter.” I don’t interpret in England. I teach interpreting, but I don’t work as a sign language interpreter there – I never have. Still, their perception of me is “interpreter.” That’s how I fit into their community, their schema, their lens. I don’t fit any of their typical categories – my parents are hearing – I’m not a CODA, I’m not Deaf. The category that seems to fit best for that community is “interpreter” – that’s the label I’ve been assigned. I don’t have any issue with that – it’s fine with me. That label is how I fit into their world – it provides context about me. Those people have an idea of what “interpreter” means to them. This is similar to the story I told earlier about the older gentleman at the Deaf Club. Once I had his seal of approval, it served to say to others in the community, “He can be with us.” I was accepted and given a role.

It has been interesting to see that even though I don’t interpret in England, “interpreter” is my assigned role. That’s how the Deaf Community perceives me. Even after numerous attempts to explain that I’m a teacher, the community maintains their perception. I accept the label – I don’t mind being referred to in that way. It’s important to realize that this is a social identity – that identity was created through interactions and relationships I have had. It would be inappropriate for me to declare my own identity as “teacher” when that is not my social identity. My paychecks may say I’m a teacher, but the community’s view is that I’m an interpreter. That’s fine. It’s important for us, regardless of our contexts – interpreter, co-worker, Deaf Community member, etc., to consider the fact that other people’s perceptions and our own may not always match. What we think we are presenting as our identity, our context, may not be what others perceive. How we partner, how we express that is critical. This issue is very important for us. So, what should we be thinking about in terms of how we present ourselves?

Presentation of Self: Identities, Privilege(s) and Language(s)

Some of our identities are obvious. Things like race, gender, general age range, can be seen while others may be less obvious or visible. In England, I can “pass” as a British person until I speak. Once I do, it is easy for people to identify that I am not British. I’m not working towards picking up a fake British accent – at all. Some of my vocabulary has changed since moving to England, but still, when I speak, people can easily and swiftly recognize that I am not British.

I had an interesting experience with this. One night, I went to a pub with a British friend of mine who was hearing. After I ordered a drink, I noticed a man staring at me pretty intently. I acknowledged him and he finally asked if I was Canadian. I corrected him, letting him know that I was an American. He responded to the news by calling out to others that I was American. I was a little taken aback, but asked him about his response. Obviously, my accent is different, but I didn’t know why he had assumed I was Canadian. He explained that he knew I wasn’t British due to my accent, but after observing me in the pub, he realized that I seemed to know the cultural norms of the pub and how to behave appropriately.

To briefly explain, pub behavior in the U.K. is different than in the United States. For example, in the U.S., once patrons have paid for their drinks at the bar, they tend to leave their change there as their tab. In Britain, patrons put their change away after receiving it – they never leave the change on the table the way Americans do. That’s one example of a social rule. Another rule is related to tipping. In England, if a patron likes the service they receive, they may offer the server money to buy a drink for themselves instead of a tip as we know it in the United States.

I’ve learned some of these pub rules and follow them. So, while it was clear that I was a foreigner based on my accent, the man also noted my adherence to pub social rules, so he started ruling out options until he was left with Canadian or American. From there, he made an assumption based on what he had experienced with other Americans. He noted that Americans tend to be loud and exhibit brash behavior and struggle with British currency. When I did not behave that way, he guessed that I was Canadian. I wasn’t sure if I was being complimented, but I thanked him for discussing his perceptions with me.

In this instance, I was obviously an “other” – not “THE other”, but it did take some time for him to determine which “other” I was.  My own experience is that I’m an American, but his perception of me was different based on my behavior and his experience. Again, in MJ’s talk, she discussed the way interpreters behave while interpreting versus when they are interacting and how they move between the two. We must recognize that our behavior is how we present ourselves to others.

So, we have our identity and we also have our privilege(s). Stacey talked about privilege in her sessions. My privileges – I’m white, male, I work at a University – I carry multiple privileges. There are other parts of my identity which are not privileged – being gay – sometimes that is not privileged. So, we each carry a balance of privileges and areas where we are not privileged. Ultimately, I choose how I present myself and to whom.

In terms of languages, MJ talked about bi-lingualism and Angela talked about multi-lingualism. I know ASL and English and also I use British Sign Language (BSL) on a daily basis, so that is my third language and a part of how I present myself.

Carol Padden talked about the concept of accent in her talk, Do Sign Language Interpreter Accents Compromise Comprehension? When I sign BSL, most BSL users can immediately note that I am not a native BSL user. They see something about my accent that identifies me as a foreign user of the language. It’s fascinating. So, language is important – how and when we choose to use our language(s) is important. Here at StreetLeverage – Live 2014  in Austin, everyone is using ASL. If we decided not to use ASL here, what would that mean? If I know the language of a country and I refuse to use the language while I’m there, what does that imply? In that instance, that particular identity is not at the forefront. It is, in effect, removed from view. Purposely withholding parts of our identity from other people is a powerful statement. As interpreters, standing in the middle of interpreted interactions, we have to proceed with caution and care. We are in a powerful position.

Recall – INTERPRET (verb) PERSON (noun)

If you remember, we started with the sign for “interpreter” – INTERPRET + PERSON. Again, by using the language, using the ASL sign for “interpreter”, we can come to many understandings about the work, the person behind the work, etc. Maybe we have this concept wrong. Maybe we should consider something else.

Maybe Instead: PERSON (noun) INTERPRET (verb)

We could change the order from INTERPRET+PERSON to PERSON+INTERPRET. We need to explore who we are, our baggage. We need to unpack that baggage, straighten up our clothes a bit and then we can present ourselves to others. Only then can we begin to interpret. Without this self-exploration, everything else is meaningless. The problem MJ talked about – the “interpreter-as-machine” phenomenon – that model is the verb only. It is interpreting without the person. It is important to know the person – who they are. That occurs through negotiations with the Deaf and hearing participants in the interpreted event. Whether the interpreter should present more or less of their personal self can be negotiated. In some situations, it may be appropriate to reveal more of oneself – in settings where the interpreter works on a regular or daily basis, perhaps. Compare that to one-time-only interpreting assignments. At this type of event, it would be inappropriate to be overly effusive with the participants, even if the interpreter knows them well. The negotiation process is critical. It is important to consider how we negotiate and with whom, when we negotiate, etc.

In closing, if we consider the interpreter as a person first, remembering who we are and what we bring, we can then effectively interpret.

Thank you.


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Deaf Interpreters: Shaping the Future of the Sign Language Interpreting Profession

Eileen Forestal presented Deaf Interpreters: Shaping the Future of the Sign Language Interpreting Profession at StreetLeverage – Live 2014 | Austin. Her talk examines the paradigm shift occurring within the sign language interpreting profession as Deaf interpreters challenge traditional interpreting service models.

You can find the PPT deck for her presentation here.

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

Deaf Interpreters: Shaping the Future of the Sign Language Interpreting Profession

Good morning. It is so great to see all these beautiful people here today. Everyone is here supporting our field – the interpreting field and the field including Deaf Interpreters.

Deaf Interpreters truly are shaping the future of the sign language interpreting profession. Currently, the interpreting profession is experiencing a social transformation. This transformation stems from a variety of origins; there is research being done to develop best practices, StreetLeverage is encouraging new ideas and new ways to dialogue and view professional issues from a wider lens, bringing us together to engage with open hearts and minds.  Deaf Interpreters have been involved every step of the way since the beginning of the profession. Deaf Interpreters are here to stay. We will shape the future of the profession for all interpreters whose work includes American Sign Language and English.

Historical Perspectives

I want to talk a little bit about history. Although there were no formal labels like “Deaf Interpreter” in the Deaf Community early on, their presence was felt. Where there is Deaf Community, there is reciprocity – Deaf people taking care of each other. Sharing skills, knowledge and information has always been an integral part of the Deaf Experience. This idea is nothing new to us.

I’ll share a story from my own experience. I attended oral school as the only Deaf child in my hearing family. During my oral school years, I was constantly in trouble. At recess and outside of the classroom, on the playground, the other Deaf students would come to me for explanation and clarification. I would try, through our own version of gestures, signs and mouthing, the lessons and pieces the other students had missed. When I got caught doing this, I was punished with a ruler to my hands. It was innocent enough – they wanted to understand. We were young – only 8-10 years old, if you can imagine.

Later on, when I was in high school, my Deaf classmates would come to my house regularly. I was mainstreamed in high school. The St. Louis educational system was staunchly in favor of mainstreaming and students were spread out around the community in their school programs. On the weekends, the high school students would all come together. Those gatherings were my saving grace. At these weekend gatherings, the other high school students would come to me for help understanding their work.  It always made me think about how I could explain and describe the material – how to make the information clear and understandable in ASL.  As time went on, these interactions progressed to job seekers concerned and looking for help with their interview skills, etc. I would provide them with cues and assistance as best I could. Those experiences were powerful- I felt a deep sense of obligation. Obligation in the most positive sense – I was fulfilling my duties by providing reciprocity to the community. My participation played a part in maintaining that strong value in the community.

Even after I was married, Deaf community members sought me out at our home. There were even times when the police would come to the door. Bear in mind, this was before we had door bell signalers. My hearing children would awaken to knocking on the door and come to get my husband and I, letting us know the police were at the front door. The police would indicate that one of us needed to go with them to assist a Deaf Community member. My husband and I would determine which of us would go with the police and which of us would stay home with the children. On scene with the police, we would use all manner of communication – written, signed, whatever was required – to work through communication for clarity. As you can see, I’ve been interpreting and translating for quite some time now.

At some point, there was an epiphany that Deaf people can interpret. This realization led to many Deaf people being placed in a variety of situations to act as a professional interpreter by default. Eventually, after being thrust into situation after situation, Deaf people started to realize they could find work as a professional interpreter, part-time or full-time. Professional interpreting wasn’t a known career path – no one was in high schools talking to Deaf students about interpreting as a potential career. We see that starting now, this career path idea is making progress and slowly, but surely, the word is getting out. Gallaudet and a handful of other colleges and universities are on the forefront of the movement to encourage Deaf individuals to consider becoming a professional Deaf Interpreter, to consider interpreting as a career path.

As a result of this growing opportunity, the pool of Deaf Interpreters is expanding rapidly. While this expansion is positive, we still don’t have a sufficient body of research focused on how Deaf Interpreters approach the interpreting task. This research gap created a hole which hearing interpreters sought to fill – defining the function and role of Deaf Interpreters, but from a very limited perspective. In that model, hearing interpreters would take the lead and the Deaf Interpreter’s role was to follow that lead and sign for the Deaf consumer.

I’ve experienced this dynamic in my own work. One particular situation comes to mind. I was called to a hospital I had been to on numerous occasions. This was in the mid-1980s, maybe 1985, or so. I had worked with the hearing interpreter on numerous occasions in medical, legal and law enforcement situations. Even with those shared experiences, the hearing interpreter was very directive and insistent that they were the lead interpreter. At times, the hearing interpreter went as far as telling me when and what I should tell the Deaf consumer. Although I was a bit taken aback, I continued to try to interpret. The hearing interpreter, feeling I had somehow misunderstood their instructions, interrupted the process, indicating that I should follow their lead and “sign” for the person. This limited understanding of the Deaf Interpreter’s role completely disregards my innate sense of turn-taking and discourse flow within the cultural and linguistic norms of ASL. Rather than allow for a natural dialogic flow, the hearing interpreter tried to impose their views about a Deaf Interpreter’s role on my work, expecting machine-like behavior and utterances. Their insistence that I take on this foreign role, one which does not allow for development of rapport and natural language, created a sense of discord in me. Many Deaf Interpreters report similar experiences and feelings.

Hearing Interpreters Have Been Making Decisions About Interpreting By Themselves

Since its inception in the early 1960s, the profession of sign language interpretation has utilized a number of service models. There was the conduit or machine model, the communication facilitator model, etc. The Deaf Community has always had their own rubric for what makes a good interpreter and what good interpreting looks like. Unfortunately, those community expectations were not heard by those with decision-making power in the interpreting field. If you look at the professionalization of sign language interpreting, you can see, from the Code of Ethics to the service models used (conduit, communication facilitator, etc.), all these decisions have been made by hearing interpreters.

If we look to spoken language interpreters for a comparison, the decision-making process is quite different. The users of each language represented in a given situation are included in the decision-making process, and any relevant cultural considerations are also taken into account. In the sign language interpreting arena, hearing interpreters have traditionally made all the decisions, often stating, through the lenses of disability and paternalism,“We know what is best for you.” This perspective disregards the historical reality that Deaf people have been interpreting, supporting and deciding what is best for the community all along. This has been the reality since the beginning of the interpreting profession.

Eileen Forestal
Eileen Forestal

Now, as Deaf Interpreters enter the picture, there is a radical shift to a new paradigm. This shift is creating a level of dissonance for many hearing interpreters. The expectation that the hearing interpreter is the professional and the Deaf person is the client is an old paradigm. When that expectation is not met, hearing interpreters experience some uncertainty. They may feel off-balance – if the Deaf person isn’t the client, who are they? How do I do my job in this new landscape? This dissonance also impacts the Deaf Interpreter as they are left trying to respond to hearing interpreters in flux. Deaf Interpreters are clear on their function in an interpreting setting – they follow the interactive rules of ASL, as well as the natural discourse flow, using rapport and cultural knowledge to guide the interaction. They use their inherent understanding of the cultural and linguistic needs of the Deaf consumer(s) to manage and mediate between participants and to coordinate the process as a whole. When those tasks and roles are denied, it creates a dichotomy between hearing and Deaf Interpreters.

Deaf Interpreters have an expectation that they will be permitted to use the more traditional “community based” model of interpreting as described previously. To discard that model to utilize the “machine” model, as prescribed by hearing interpreters, also creates some tension and unease. This other way of interpreting is the antithesis of our approach, our practice, our work. We then become linguistic and cultural brokers. The expectation that our interpretations should be produced simultaneously is not our norm. Simultaneous interpreting is not the norm for a Deaf Interpreter – the pace, the speed is not natural. For a Deaf consumer, having signs thrown at them in rapid-fire succession does not equate to communication, does not encourage comprehension. Let’s set aside conversation about simultaneous interpreting for a moment and look at consecutive and dialogic interpreting. The interactive nature and the more natural pacing of these styles of interpreting do encourage and support comprehension.

(Aside to the moderator: Do you have the time? How much time is left? Great.)

Let’s look at research for a moment. There is a substantial body of research on the European approach to interpreting. In a situation where two spoken languages are present, for example, French and Spanish, the interpreter whose “mother tongue” or native language is Spanish would interpret from French (their second language) into their native Spanish. Working in their native language allows the interpreter to use their expertise with the linguistic and cultural aspects of their own language to accurately interpret from the other language. This has been the European process for interpreting. If we follow that line of reasoning, it is logical to use Deaf Interpreters’ “mother hands” in interpreting situations where ASL is the language being produced.

We stand at a crossroads as Deaf Interpreters seek a return to the “community based” model of interpreting. Some hearing interpreters accept this change process to varying degrees, while others are firmly resistant. We see a lot of resistance to the mere idea of standing and working alongside a Deaf Interpreter. There can be a variety of reasons behind their resistance. Perhaps the interpreter feels threatened or disheartened. They may question their own skills and qualifications or fear judgment from the Deaf Interpreters. There is a whole host of potential issues. It’s important to remember that hearing interpreters do have skills, they do possess valuable knowledge, particularly related to the English language, hearing cultural norms, etc. These skills, this knowledge creates successful interactions with hearing English speakers. Deaf Interpreters have their own experiences, their innate understanding of the Deaf Experience, their intuition, their cognitive frame – the way Deaf people see and understand the world.  All these skills and traits allow Deaf Interpreters to find the linguistic and cultural equivalents that provide for more cohesive interpretations and result in clearer communication for Deaf consumers.

If we, Deaf and hearing interpreters alike, begin to recognize and acknowledge the skills, knowledge and abilities each group contributes to interpreted situations, if we come to the interpreting task as equals, the experiences for the Deaf consumer and the hearing consumer have been powerfully enhanced. After all, who do we serve? Our consumers.

A Demanding Presence of Deaf Perspective and the Emergence of Deaf Interpreters

I’ve already discussed some of the points from the previous slide. Today, Deaf Interpreters are here (at StreetLeverage Live – Austin). I see a number of them scattered around the room. In yesterday’s session, there were 30-35 Deaf Interpreters in attendance. I’m starting to see larger numbers of Deaf Interpreters attending various conferences. In fact, Deaf Interpreters are becoming more active in every aspect of interpreting from conference attendance to linguistic research, Deaf studies, etc. The truth of the matter is that Deaf Interpreters are making regular and rich contributions to the field of sign language interpreting by virtue of their knowledge, skills and experiences.

We also have to recognize the shift in positioning that is taking place. Until recently, hearing interpreters have worked comfortably within the status quo, making decisions and going about the business of interpreting. When Deaf Interpreters enter the picture, many have experienced a moment of discomfort as they confront this shifting reality. This is a normal reaction. We, as Deaf Interpreters, have to create an environment where both Deaf and hearing interpreters can come together as a team. We can work together as allies, as partners. Deaf Interpreters aren’t here to take power away from hearing interpreters. We can share communication, share the power of that. Historically, Deaf people have had communicative power. Now, as Deaf Interpreters enter the scene more frequently, we can share our power with hearing interpreters. We will build meaning together.  We can’t do it separately. Deaf and hearing interpreters will own our interpretations, as will the Deaf and hearing consumers. As a unit, we can work through interpreted events to ensure that all consumers ultimately benefit from this teamwork and gain a clearer understanding of the interpreted message.

“Community Based” Interpreting Model vs. “Mainstream” Interpreting Model

Let’s talk about “community-based” interpreting and how we, as Deaf Interpreters, approach our work, versus the “mainstream” model of interpreting, the more machine-like, simultaneous, fast-paced interpreting. The “mainstream” model of interpreting goes “against the grain” for Deaf Interpreters.  That model of interpreting focuses primarily on speed, on the fast-paced production of information in an unending stream. Speed is really the only goal for this model. “Community-based” interpreting, on the other hand, focuses on more holistic goals: relationship/rapport, message comprehension, maintaining linguistic and cultural identity and community cohesion. As Deaf Interpreters, we have to recognize that “mainstream” interpreting does have its place. At the same time, we need to make some shifts to utilize the “community-based” interpreting model more frequently.

Reclaiming the “Deaf Interpreter Norm”

It is time. It’s time to reclaim the “Deaf Interpreter norm.” The rich contributions Deaf Interpreters make need to be infused and incorporated into the sign language interpreting profession. Along with the influx of Deaf interpreters I’ve described, there are also a host of Deaf researchers who are looking at translation, interpretation, culture and any number of other relevant topics. The expansion of Deaf participation in the field is not intended to exclude hearing interpreters but to embrace them and bring us all together. At times, hearing interpreters may feel we are pushing them away, but that is not the case. We are all working toward the same goals. It is remember that. By the same token, hearing interpreters need to give Deaf Interpreters the power to make decisions about how and when translations and interpretations should happen.

When we reclaim our “Deaf Interpreter norms”, you will see increased collaboration between Deaf and hearing interpreters, elevated conversation and discussion about language and interpreting choices and much more.  Deaf and hearing interpreters will be working as true teams, coming together as a unit in courtrooms, mental health and medical settings, job trainings, education, performing arts – the list of possibilities is endless.

I remember one instance – as you know, I’ve worked extensively as a Deaf Interpreter in the courts, etc. At one point, I was called to be an expert witness in court. The court had a Deaf Interpreter working throughout the proceedings. When I was called to testify, I took the stand and I realized that I felt a sense of freedom by having that Deaf Interpreter there. I knew that I  wasn’t bound by speed in this setting.

The first question came and I began to give my answer, feeling relaxed and confident. The Deaf Interpreter signed to me rapidly appearing to be concerned about hearing cultural norms and the impatience hearing people often feel with confronted by silence. By so doing they were suggesting that interpreter are unable to take the time needed to ensure communication truly occurs. While that may be the status quo as we know it, we need to make time. We must make time for communication to happen. As we do that, we will build more collaboration between Deaf and hearing interpreters.

I’d like to close with a poem. This poem will utilize the “1” and “5” hand shapes. [Note from StreetLeverage: Please access Eileen’s ASL poem at 18:25 of the ASL version of her talk. No English equivalent is available.]

Thank you, everyone.


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

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

You can find the PPT deck for her presentation here.

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

Lighting the Way

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

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

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

Dr. Lottie Reikehof

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

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

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

Sharon Neumann Solow

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

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

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

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

JoAnn Dobecki Shopbell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Have a Problem

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

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

The Importance of Capturing History

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

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

Carolyn Ball
Carolyn Ball

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

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

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

Applying Lessons to the Present and Future

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

Why would anyone want to know this?

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

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

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

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

 Be Brave Enough to Ask

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

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

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

Thank you.


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Angela Roth Joins StreetLeverage – Live 2014 Speaker Line-Up

April 4, 2014:

Angela Roth - Sign Language InterpreterWe are pleased to welcome Angela Roth to the StreetLeverage – Live 2014 speaker line-up.

In her talk, Seriously!? Do Sign Language Interpreters Still Need to Talk About Diversity?, Angela will address the depth of the challenges our profession still faces addressing individual and collective cross-cultural realityrespect and responsibility.

Read Angela’s bio here and connect with her on Facebook below.

Join Angela and other industry thought leaders for a weekend of discussion and critical thinking about how we understand, practice and tell the story of the sign language interpreter?

StreetLeverage – Live 2014 is being held in the greater Austin, TX area May 1-4, 2014.

To register click here.

Connect With the 2014 StreetLeverage – Live Speakers:

Read speaker bios and more by clicking here. Connect with the StreetLeverage – Live 2014 Speakers on FaceBook by clicking on their name. Carolyn BallMj BienvenuDoug Bowen-BaileyEileen Forestal, Tom Humphries, Robert G. LeeCarla MathersGina A. OlivaCarol Padden, Angela RothStacey McIntosh Storme, and Chris Wagner.