There is a story, perhaps a bit apocryphal, that tells of two sailors aboard a ship loading the ship's cargo and laughing together over the safety regulations manual. They mock the lack of common sense the authors had to include such prohibitions like not storing toxic waste in the crew quarters. Overhearing the sailors, the commanding officer quietly cuts into the hilarity.
"Your regulations are written in blood."
Startled, the confused sailors lapse into silence. The officer continues, "someone once did that as a way to save money, valuing profit over human lives. They did it simply because no one told them that they could not. People died before that regulation was written into that manual. Your regulations are written in the blood of those lives lost."
In the controversies that have sprung up from the submission of a bill on licensing in the State of Maryland, I found my head echoing with the reverberation of this lesson. While there were some genuinely good discussions that were collaborative and filled with collegiality, many more of them were unnecessarily hostile, attacking the bill's authors and supporters instead of focusing on the content of the proposed legislation. Sadly, a number of commentators held forth opinions that were entirely selfish and self-serving and seems to have forgotten that the Deaf community we serve was watching.
Licensing of interpreters cannot be reduced to arguments against government oversight. Ideally, we could trust people to simply do the right thing and, surely, the right thing would be to always find the qualified interpreter for the job. We know that this just doesn't happen. Whether it is the weary late-night ER nurse tasked with finding an interpreter at 2 AM or the beleaguered event planner told two days before a massive event that there will be a Deaf participant, there is a legion of hearing people out there who are keeping the gates of access without any training or knowledge on how to handle the requests for entry.
To put it more succinctly: licensing is not about YOU. As an interpreter, you know the intricacies of our profession and what the credentials floating around mean. Expecting these gatekeepers of access to understand all of that is ludicrous and dangerous for the Deaf people seeking to access services via interpretation. Much like the tale told at the beginning, these people are prioritizing other values (i.e. profit, time, convenience, etc) over the right to qualified access. Licensing provides an interpretation of the word "qualified" (which is all the ADA says about us) for the states to use in a meaningful way.
Like all regulations, licensing is not a panacea. For every ten cases of a Deaf person using licensing to gain access previously barred to them, there will be a dozen more examples of people flouting laws, finding ways to skirt the requirements, or even leaving the state entirely in order to practice in a jurisdiction that is unregulated. However, licensing provides a powerful new tool in the arsenal of Deaf advocates.
One of the truths of the interpreting profession is that vicarious trauma is a real and present danger for us. Every interpreter I know can sit around a table and share story after story of places where we witnessed or even inadvertently participated in the oppression of Deaf people that lead to terrible consequences. Lives lost. Bodies damaged. Trauma caused.
Licensing of interpreters is a regulation written in blood. We can laugh at it, rail against it, attempt to skirt it. But doing so mocks the memories and experiences of the Deaf people who have suffered damage at the hands of unqualified and/or unethical people claiming to be interpreters.
Right now you are about to graduate from your Interpreter Training Program and you have NO idea what you are getting yourself into.
You don't know that your work will take you into the darkest corners of the human experience possible. You don't know that there are monsters who walk among us and disability does not discriminate in making those monsters. You are blissfully unaware of that oily, contaminated feeling you will get when you are forced to do things in your work that make you want to go home and wash your eyes, mouth, and hands in bleach.
Right now you have no sense of what it means to be present when someone is on their knees, weeping the tears of the broken because of something that YOU said to them. You will not remember that those words weren't yours because you were the one looking into their eyes when their entire world imploded around them.
You will learn to wear your hair in different styles so that rapists cannot easily control you by grabbing your braid or ponytail. You will select clothes that are contrasting and have suitably high necklines, but (more importantly) are easy for you to run and kick in and have pockets to carry to carry your links to freedom, a.k.a your phone and keys. Even your underwear will reflect your unwanted education as you choose bras without underwire that may be used as a weapon.
At around ten years in, you will be so burned out from not having a voice and from not even realizing that the cumulative load of the emotional burdens you've borne have overbalanced the weight of Atlas on your shoulders. You will struggle to get back up again and keep going because now it's been a decade and you've fallen in love with the Deaf community and can't bear to think of leaving them.
Even after you stagger back to your feet and learn to gird yourself against some of these psychic assaults, the tablecloth will be pulled out from you in ways you never even saw coming. It will come at you in the form of hate for interpreters from your beloved Deaf community. It will slap you in the face while you're voice interpreting and a Deaf person jumps up on stage and tears apart your mentor, a person you deeply care for, in front of a giant audience of colleagues, teachers, and students. And yet you had to put voice to those sentiments that make you shiver in recollection because you are a professional and you had to keep going.
You will be forced to interpret for racists, for religious zealots, and for people with opinions on subjects that are VERY different from yours and you will do it, to the best of your ability, because you are a GOOD interpreter and could do nothing less than your very best. Even when the message makes you want to hurl. Even when you fear your complicity in ideologies that you would shield your children from with every bone in your body. Because Deaf people are not children and it is not your job to stand between them and things you think are bad.
You will do all this, my darling, and so much more. And you will keep on doing it. Because it is WORTH IT. Because so many of your happy adult memories were made through interpreting. They were made with the friends (Deaf and hearing) that you connected with over jobs. They were made through the Boards you served on and the organizations you supported. The on-the-job memories that bring you such joy often made no one else happy, but you will be about to burst with the joy of seeing Deaf people achieve in Sisyphean conditions. It will occur to you afterwards that you contributed in some small part and you will feel pride swelling your chest, but mostly you'll remember the smiles on their faces and the glow that it brought to your heart.
You will do this for the babies you saw birthed. You will do this for the people who shuffled off the mortal coil while you stood in the room and watched the doctors frantically try to save them. You will do this for the 5-year-old Deaf child who flew into your arms in the emergency room because the parents were in surgery after an accident and you were the first friendly face to show up. You will do this for the moments when you find yourself standing on top of mountains, on ocean floors, inside laboratories, crawling through nuclear reactors, skydiving out of airplanes, mushing on dog sleds, swimming with dolphins, climbing glaciers, and going to so many other places you would never have seen if a Deaf person hadn't taken you along for the ride.
You will do all this because you love them all and you need no praise nor platitude about what you can bring to their lives. The fact that you were there at all will make your life rich beyond compare. You. Were. There. A silent witness. A fly on the wall. A living record of the best and worst moments of other people's lives. And nearly twenty years in, you will know what the burned out version of you had yet to figure out: You might change lives and you might not, but the effort will change you. And you will love it.
So, buckle up, my dear. It's gonna be a bumpy ride.
Unless you've been hiding from the world, you're probably aware of all the controversies swirling around the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) lately. This blog post is not about the controversies, but focuses instead on an idea that I keep seeing mentioned in various social media spaces and blog posts.
One idea currently bouncing around the social media echo chamber is that the time has come to explore competing organizations offering interpreting credentials. There is even a motion that has been referred to committee with the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) to do exactly that.
Focusing on the argument that monopolies are inherently bad, we first need to examine what monopolies actually are. A monopoly is an economic principle that suggests an entity has control of a particular commodity and can limit the available supply of that commodity. This is characterized by three key features: a lack of competition, a lack of viable substitute options, and a price point that is far above the seller's marginal cost that leads to an artificially high profit margin.
Let's take each of these features in turn.
First, the commodity that RID sells is an interpreting certification. In order for them to be a monopoly, they would have to be the only ones selling a certification. They aren't.
For a long time, NAD hosted their own interpreting certification. Texas instituted the Board of Evaluation of Interpreters (BEI) Certification Program, which is now used in whole or in part by several other states. Numerous states have hosted various incarnations of state qualification tests. Boys Town National Research Hospital answered the demand for educational credentialing by creating the Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment (EIPA). RID has never been in the business of chasing down other organizations and forcing them to close their services in order to protect their own branded credential.
RID's respectful distance to the BEI testing framework is notable. Offering certified status to EIPA holders was done in response to a concerned community wanting continuing education evaluation of interpreters in the exploding educational market and the interpreters practicing in that arena desperate for professionalization to bolster their wages and provide support to them in an often hostile and oppressive employment environment. Hardly a hostile takeover. The ill-fated collaboration with NAD to create the NIC was also never about defending RID's brand, but about responding to the demands of the community served by both organizations. The evolution may have been botched, but the foundation was never about killing off the NAD credential (which still many interpreters still proudly hold and rightly use to claim themselves as certified).
The second criteria is the lack of viable substitute options. As mentioned above, there are numerous other credentials floating around. We can argue whether those credentials are truly viable. RID is easily the most well-known provider of interpreting credentials. Plenty of hiring entities that use RID's credentials, and no others, as the minimum standard to consider an applicant for employment. However, RID is not responsible for the actions of a government employee who writes a requirement for RID certification into a solicitation or for a VRS company who requires a certification in order to achieve a certain wage point.
When people complain about a state license that is tied to an RID credential, that is the fault of those who wrote their law. I've been working for around nine years now to get license legislation passed in Maryland and our working group saw early the danger of tying a law to a single credential. When RID retired the Certificate of Interpretation (CI) and the Certificate of Transliteration (CT) for the National Interpreter Certification (NIC), several states scrambled to revise their laws to reflect the change in credentials. Writing a law that is too prescriptive is a mistake, but not RID's. When asked, they have offered us guidance in drafting our legislation, but they have never once demanded that RID be established as the standard in our state for licensing. Without a lobbying firm on retainer or even a consistent member of staff charged with lobbying activities, RID clearly lacks the capacity (not to mention the desire) to jealously guard their market share.
Now, let's examine the idea that RID is charging prices that artificially pad a high profit margin. Social media arguments repeatedly accuse RID of getting rich off of our testing fees. If you have been paying attention to the controversies, you have probably seen arguments around RID hemorrhaging cash for the very expensive fiasco of the New Orleans conference and a couple of pricey lawsuits. People with no idea how to read a financial statement look at the bottom line and cluck their tongues at the nearly $3 million dollars in "assets". They don't bother to actually read the report to see that only around $356K of that is actually cash in the bank and, of that, only $109K is available for general use. The rest of that $3 million figure is tied up in liabilities and debt.
We grouse about laying out money for the testing, but most of RID's income is from our membership dues. In 2017, RID collected only $54,867 in certification testing fees. Dues amounted to $1,423,570. Even looking at 2016, when certification fees were over half a million dollars, dues still represented three times the income of the organization. RID's net profit in 2017 was just $12 per member. In 2016 it was a measly $3. I hardly think that qualifies as a high profit margin. When more people take the test, more subsidizing from the membership pot is required as the fees collected do not cover the costs of testing.
RID contributed ~$190K to CASLI to support the development of the new test. Consider how much CASLI will have to charge per test to pay back the investment of development (which is not completed and will likely total around a million dollars), to pay for the costs of maintaining and operating the credential, and to set aside funds for future cycles of test development as the test ages and needs to be revised to reflect changing market trends.
Market Confusion Hinders Us
The features of a monopoly aside, the biggest problem with this argument is that we are conflating an economic principle with the issue of quality controls. No one seriously considers the Bar exam a monopoly. We don't look at the medical field and accept certifications outside of the Board examinations either. Why do we think it's a good idea to have multiple certifying bodies in our field? We've all dealt with clients who don't understand the alphabet soup of certifications floating around as it is. How many CDIs have been cold contacted by organizations looking for hearing interpreters? The acronyms in our field are rich with meaning for us, but mean very little to a naive reader.
RID seems to agree with the community that they've been doing a bad job of certification for quite some time now. CASLI is their attempt to fix that process by creating an independent organization that is solely responsible for certification, leaving RID free to pursue advocacy, scholarship, research, publication, and more. However, CASLI is going to cost us a great deal in the future as the price for testing will no longer be subsidized by the rich pot of annual membership dues. We already speak about pipeline problems (not enough qualified people entering the profession) and a supply problem (not enough qualified people now) that is only going to get worse as the older generation exits our top heavy field. How much of a barrier will a thousand dollar (or more) test constitute in the new world order?
There is a great deal to discuss around the idea of establishing an entirely new testing organization under the auspices of NAD. But using the argument that RID represents a "monopoly" isn't a valid point. In fact, as shown above, the abundance of competing credentials is an argument against yet another organization tossing more acronyms into the already confusing array of letters floating around our field.
Let's not muddy an already complicated discussion by drawing false comparisons to economic theories.
In the summer of 2015, the RID National Conference was a battleground of controversy fueled by anger and heartache over the extreme growing pains being suffered by our national organization. One of the issues that was addressed was the sunsetting of the Oral Transliteration Certification (OTC). The issue was swept up alongside RID's decisions to move for a moratorium on certification. The outcry was loud and largely resounded with a single theme: You didn't ask US first.
Faced with a loss of authority and fear of what would surely be significant changes, people at the conference rallied around issues where some small measures of power could be wrestled back into the hands of the membership. Two individuals passionately spoke onstage about their OTC credentials and the importance of serving this population. Seeing an opportunity to take back some power, the membership voted to overrule the board of RID and reinstate the OTC exam.
One of the arguments that struck me at the time was the notion that there was a significant population of people using the particular services verified by the OTC credential. Since 1999, the first year the OTC was offered, only 86 people have achieved this certification. That averages out to about five per year and represents only .6% of the total membership of RID. With such a vanishingly small number of providers, I think the argument of a significant client base for this skill set is unfounded from the beginning. In addition, there are arguments to be made that RID's name suggests that we serve people who are culturally "big D" Deaf and, therefore, users of sign language. Certifying oral methods of communication seems to be in conflict with that goal. I don't want to get too far into the politics of branding, but this line of thinking had me considering another option.
If you don't already know, Cued Speech is a system that allows access to the phonemes of English. That often shared statistic of only about 30% of English being visible on the lips is made moot by 8 handshapes, some locational specificity and mouth movements.
As a service provider, I have begun to see requests for Cued Speech as the generation of users first exposed to this method have aged into the marketplace. Cued Speech began to take hold in the 80s and, combined with the advent of mainstreaming programs seeking options to educate the deaf and hard of hearing children now mixed into their classrooms, means we are now seeing increasing numbers of adults embarking upon their professional lives using Cued Speech as their preferred accommodation.
Unfortunately, there are shockingly few providers of Cued Speech at this time. Even in the D/M/V (a.k.a Deaf mecca), there is not yet a critical mass of users to warrant training and certification of this skill set. I believe that to be changing and the market for Cued Speech will increase significantly in the next few years. Fortunately, there is already an organization supporting the training and certification of this skill set. In addition, there are training classes being offered around the country, including this one.
I don't think that hanging onto marginal credentials is the best way to serve the community. Looking towards the future and trying to position our skill sets to meet emerging needs is a better use of our time.
There is a new player in the world of interpreting. ASL Interpreter Grades is a new review site designed to allow people give ratings to their interpreter experiences. While I have some concerns about the implementation of the site, I've been very impressed and pleased with the responsiveness to community feedback. Enough so that I took the step to list myself in their database. You can find me here to leave a rating.
But this website has me thinking deeply about the idea of public reviews and there is one aspect of our work where I don't think people should be included on a site like this. I am talking about the fakers. These are the people who put themselves out there as interpreters because they happen to know some sign language and think they can do this job. I don't think it is very fair that these people should be included in a review database alongside those of us who have invested the time, resources, and effort into our professional training and credentials. I would propose that a site like ASL Interpreter Grades offer us a Rogues' Gallery so that we had a separate listing for people who shouldn't be operating as interpreters at all.
I first came across Mr. Sycamore when working at an on-call in a courthouse. In this particular location, a large number of cases are heard and enough Deaf people come to court to warrant an on-call interpreter. I was working through the afternoon docket of cases that I knew would need my attention when I suddenly realized that a case I had expected had long since past the appointed call time. I and the dispatch coordinator called the courtroom to find out when the case would be called. We were told that the case had already happened and that Mr. Sycamore had served as the interpreter (huh?). We listened to the court recording and were able to hear that this man misrepresented himself to the court as the appropriately qualified interpreter of record. The court, when made aware of this, was seriously upset. Having a person interpret on the record when they are not qualified and was not under the purview of the court's interpreting office put the case outcome in jeopardy, which could have resulted in harm to the case participants and a waste of the court's resources in re-hearing the matter.
Apparently, Mr. Sycamore had come to court with a Deaf caseworker on a city contract (escort interpreting or designated interpreter is a thing, when properly done). The fact that he didn't know enough about our profession to know that he would be entirely unsuitable to interpret in court as the interpreter of record (conflict of interest, lack of qualification, lack of skill, etc.) is the first indication that he doesn't have the knowledge to be doing this job. On the court recording, I could hear him subvocalizing the entire time which tells me that a) he is not signing in ASL and b) doesn't know enough about court to realize how sensitive the microphones are. In addition, there were at least three times in the short interaction (about five minutes) where I could hear him speaking what he was obviously signing at the same time, which tells me that he doesn't know enough to know that Sim-Com is strictly forbidden in court settings. At least one of these Sim-Com communications was a question for clarification that he was asking on behalf of himself and not translating for the court, which tells me that he doesn't understand court proceedings in regard to not communicating directly with participants while serving as the interpreter of record.
My initial investigations revealed that he is not a member of RID nor NAD. His professional resume on LinkedIn claims that he holds the VQAS Level II/III, but we'll return to this in a moment. He also claims to have partially completed the BAI program at Gallaudet and will return to finish it (that was four years ago and he has not returned). Would you go to a doctor who had just decided that two years of medical school was good enough to get by on?
The next three encounters with Mr. Sycamore are all experienced by other colleagues, but come with recordings (as court settings do) and a reliable electronic trail to support the claims I am making here. First, a colleague forwarded me a social media conversation where Mr. Sycamore was criticized by another interpreter (in a comment on Mr. Sycamore's sharing of a photograph of himself interpreting for the DC city mayor) for accepting assignments he is not qualified to do. In an attempt to shut down that interpreter's criticism, Mr. Sycamore posted a rather pithy response, citing the "respect for colleagues" portion of RID's Code of Professional Conduct. Clearly he is familiar with the text, but seems to only want to apply the portions that work to his advantage. He has completely ignored the requirement that interpreters only accept assignment for which they are qualified, which I would venture to say are NONE considering his demonstrable lack of skill and repeated ethical violations.
The next occasion was back in that same courthouse. Only this time the interpreter on-call actually spotted him in the court. When challenged in open court, he fled the premises.
The third occasion found him working in another jurisdiction as the interpreter of record. My colleague reported to me that she was present as the "table interpreter" (which gives the Deaf participant access to counsel during proceedings) and directly challenged Mr. Sycamore lack of qualifications. She was able to witness the truly horrible work he was producing (Example: Judge says "I'll give you my findings", which was interpreted as I WILL GIVE-TO-YOU MY FIND FIND FIND. For a grassroots ASL user). He even had the nerve to ask my colleague into the hall and try and dress her down for being disrespectful towards him in front of the court for challenging him.
However, there is more to that part of the story. Because my colleague's challenge was answered by the attorney with an extensive voir dire (where they ask the interpreter to verify their credentials for the record). To which Mr. Sycamore recounted that he was qualified to do the job because he holds the Virginia Quality Assurance Screenings II/III. This is incorrect in two ways. First, the II/III are defined as "screenings" NOT as "certifications." A Level II means that only 65% of the information was accurately conveyed and the Level III means only 80% is being accurately conveyed. Neither of these credentials would have qualified him to be in court. HOWEVER, all of this is moot because an email to the Virginia Department of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing yielded the following to me:
"Jamie Stephens had a VQAS Level III in Transliterating, Level II in Interpreting. However, those credentials expired in July of 2014." - Elaine S. Ziehl, VDDHH, VQAS/EIPA/ISP Specialist
Which means that he no longer holds this screening level. Which means he committed PERJURY.
This is the type of person I am talking about when I say that I don't fancy the idea of sharing a space online that would ostensibly hold him up as a peer in the work that I do. He is not a peer. He's been told at least three times that I know of that he is unqualified to do the work and yet he persists. He is doing a great deal of harm to our profession and to the Deaf people whose lives he is callously taking into his hands when he masquerades as a qualified interpreter. This is even more insidious than the fake interpreter at Mandela's funeral because Mr. Sycamore at least knows enough sign language to not be called an outright fraud.
But I am throwing the gauntlet down. Our licensing laws have yet to be realized and since he is not even a member of RID, I can't use their grievance process. So I will instead use the only tool I have to bring attention to this man. I offer him to you for consideration as the inaugural entry in a Rogues' Gallery.
Edit 22 JUN 15
In response to the surge of comments I've had on this post, I'd like to address three points.
1 - Defamation is a legal term that may occur via slander or libel. Both require that my statements be false. As I noted above, these incidents are matters of public record and are, therefore, not false. However, I now have heard roughly a dozen stories of worse offenses that I will not report as I do not have material to back up the claims being given to me.
2 - If you'd like yet another example of his utter inability to properly function as a professional interpreter, you can visit this appalling video.
3 - Yes, I have taken this issue as far as I can with the powers that be. However, as I am merely another interpreter and not an injured party, I lack standing to pursue direct legal action. If you have ever been on the fence about why interpreters should be licensed and regulated, then I offer this posting as testimony for why you should hop squarely on that bandwagon and work to see legislation passed in your jurisdiction.
It has come to my attention that Mr. Stephens now goes by Jamie S. Sycamore. I have update this blog to reflect the change in name.
There has been a lot of static in the field of ASL interpreting lately. Street Leverage, in particular, seems to have sighted down the barrel of "deaf heart" and decided to blow away any and all targets that don't conform to their particular world view of how interpreters should fit into the Deaf world (or even IF we fit into the Deaf world). The consensus from their parade of blogs? Hearing interpreters (except CODAs) all suck and can never hope to be competent, much less skilled. That's depressing.
As an interpreter working in this field for over 15 years, I am dismayed at the idea that I have given so much time and effort to a profession that is suddenly unappreciated and scorned by the very people we strive to serve. I understand that a lot of the negative criticism is not necessarily aimed at me. I've long seen the stories of the atrocities committed at the hands of unqualified quacks (I won't call them interpreters because they're usually not) and they make my heart hurt for my clients. Those stories give me guidance on how NOT to be an interpreter. They bring me inspiration that I can do a necessary function well, bringing solace to people's lives, and make a small difference every day I go to work. Now I'm being told that those ideas are wrong, that I suck, and that I am a part of the oppressive regime holding down Deaf people.
The problem is I'm not that guy. I treat my job as a practice profession that I am dedicated to improving every day. I didn't get into this field because I wanted to help those "poor deaf people" or even because the money is good. I got into it because my parents were spoken language interpreters and language has always fascinated me. I liked ASL because it was something different (French? *yawn* Done that. Japanese? *yikes* No thanks). I stuck with it because the job opportunities were amazing (not the money, you jaded wag. The experience.). My first gig out of school was with a dive school teaching a Deaf student to be an underwater welder who later went on to work on the oil rigs in the Gulf. I spent six hours a day in a dive suit on the floor of Puget Sound interpreting between the student underwater and the teacher in the control booth issuing guidance over a radio. I've climbed ice mountains, jumped out of planes, stood next to Presidents, been to the Middle East, cruised all over the world, danced with rock stars, been on international television, and learned more about every conceivable subject than I could ever possibly have imagined.
Do I do this job altruistically? Of course not. I make a good living that I can use to support my family and my own goals of travel and entertainment. The work itself is titillating. Not only do I get to sample knowledge from an indescribably vast array of sources, but I get to play with language in the process. I get to find shiny pebbles on the beach of language and share them with my clients and colleagues. And, in the process, I get to help really important outcomes occur. I get to be a part of babies being born, dreams being reached, worlds discovered (figuratively AND literally), and great, glorious connections being made. Sometimes, I even save lives.
I once had a battle royale with an ER nurse who wouldn't let me in to where the patient was being taken because he'd "already been intubated." It took a lot of arguing to get her to understand that a conscious patient always had a right to know what was being said to them, regardless of what language they used and that a Deaf patient could still communicate freely while intubated when they still had use of their hands. I got into the room mere seconds before they injected the patient with penicillin, which I happened to know from working with the guy before that he was allergic to that drug. I saved them from killing him or maiming him. I did that. And, yes, that felt pretty good. We can argue about whether my interjecting was a violation of the Code of Ethics (as it was then) or of the Code of Professional Conduct (as it is now), but my intervention saved his life and I would willingly take that action every time I was put in that situation.
Because here's the secret that this new anti-interpreter movement isn't telling you: most of us are human beings. We do our work because we believe that what we do is mutually beneficial. We get a good living doing something that matters and our consumers get access to each other's thoughts and ideas in a way that is (hopefully) transparent and smooth. We make mistakes. This field is new and the theory and practice is evolving at a frightening speed with which it is difficult to keep pace. Taking to the internet to vent the rage and frustration against interpreters is perfectly understandable and I will gladly attend and learn what I may so that I do not commit similar offense. Lumping us in with the hacks and quacks and dismissing us all as hopeless? Not an effective way to bring about positive change.
The only change I see this vitriol causing is the quiet departure of some of the best and brightest in our field. Aye, there's the rub. If you constantly cast aspersions upon us, we will get so beat down that we'll simply....leave. And then what?
Edit Update #1: This blog was translated to ASL and presented at the 2014 RID conference. This translation was not authorized and the specific use of this blog was not approved.
Edit Update #2: This blog was previously titled "Saving Lives" as an attempt to focus on professional interpreters making decisions that violate our rules, but do so for the sake of the Deaf community. However, this has been widely misinterpreted and most of the criticism I have received has focused on the perceived ego this title implies. I agree that this is easily misinterpreted. I have changed the title to "Casting Stones" to re-focus the argument on the public pillory we subject professional interpreters to while ignoring the fact that most of the worst stories feature individuals who are not interpreters by any yardstick we have available to measure and determine the awarding of that title.
I am about to begin my studies with the EUMASLI program next week. This program, the European Masters in Sign Language Interpreting, brings participants from all over the world to pursue graduate studies in visual language interpreting. It includes an overview of the languages used by the three partner universities (English, Finnish, German, and their corresponding sign languages) as well as International Sign Language.
I really can't tell you how excited I am for this opportunity. I think the field of ASL interpreters has had too narrow a focus for too long. Even worse, we have become complacent in our privilege. We are floundering right now as we argue and struggle with our identity and what "Deaf heart" means in our practice, but we forget about the dozens of countries where we don't even exist! We forget about the dozens more where interpreting is still in it's infancy. And, while we may be only toddlers at this point, we still have an awful lot to share with our colleagues across the globe.
I will be spending my time developing relationships and finding the gems of knowledge I can incorporate in my practice from all of the people in the program, especially those from developing interpreting paradigms. I hope that I will be able to advance their knowledge as well.
What part of our work do you think should be exported around the world?
There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg. Most of the criticism comes from the costs of "leaning in" to support workers like housekeepers and cooks for the modern working woman. Hey, if I could afford people to work those jobs, I would lean in like crazy. Like most working moms, however, I still have to manage my career and do those tasks at home. However, the principle of "leaning in" is something that applies to our work as interpreters in a big way. The very essence of our work is to give a boost to our Deaf clientele. They can do the things they do without us, but we can supercharge their upward mobility when they lean in on us and we support them successfully.
No one is a better example of this than the newly appointed White House Disability Liaison, Claudia Gordon. She is a dynamic, brilliant woman who is going just as far as her early days promised she would. However, I'm sure there is a small group of interpreters out there doing a tiny fist pump over her success since it represents a very real commendation to the quality of the work they've been doing over the years for Ms. Gordon. A successful partnership between a Deaf professional and their designated interpreters can truly eliminate barriers and even boost the careers of those Deaf professionals reaching for the very highest branches of success.
Understanding our client's communication goals is the primary feature of this successful relationship and informs most of the choices we make throughout the course of our working day. Does the client want to network at that training or are they focused solely on the lecture content? Will the doctor need a knowledgeable consent to a procedure or are they trying to get allergy information in a crisis situation? Knowing the ultimate goals of the parties involved can help the interpreter negotiate the most elegant and efficient interpretation possible.
Congratulations to Ms. Gordon on her new position. And a subtle fist bump to the interpreters that have done their small parts in helping Ms. Gordon be just as amazing as she can be. It's amazing to see what a world without barriers may begin to look like.
Today was another new milestone for me. I interpreted for a fashion show to benefit a charity cause that is near and dear to me. Anyone who knows me will understand how ridiculous it is for me to do such a job. It's not that I'm ignorant about fashion per se, but I truly consider myself lucky to make it out of the house every day with all the socially required pieces of clothing properly in place.
There is also nothing quite like being on stage with a traipsing parade of gazelles to underscore that special feeling of being caught in a spotlight where you don't belong. As I am given to accessorizing with cat hair and seek outfits that can do justice to what can only be described as a Botticelli figure, I find dressing for these types of work occasions particularly challenging. Here are a few tips that I find invaluable for the work:
1 - They told you to wear black in school. Please stop complaining and just do it. Unless you really do look like the Corpse Bride. In which case, throw on some bright red lipstick and embrace your inner zombie.
2 - They never told you to run that black outfit under some seriously bright lighting though, did they? Black is SEE THROUGH with the right material under strong lighting (you know, like when you're on stage or rocking the red carpet), so make sure you check that before you go public with the goods.
3 - Do NOT sacrifice comfort for fashion. There is nothing more unattractive and distracting in this world than a girl tugging at a hem line or hauling her neck line back into place repeatedly. Keep your outfit modest and comfortable.
4 - Tank tops are NEVER okay. I don't care what the assignment is. Unless you are interpreting somewhere in the desert and, even then, I'm sure you'd do better with a nice wicking material. Our job requires us to wave our hands in the air while our clients stare at us intently. No one wants to see your sweaty pits.
5 - Pockets. I really can't stress this enough. You will get caught at work with your cellphone, car keys, Chapstick, or some other small object that you can't/won't/don't want to get rid of. Either you run the risk of setting it down to be stolen or forgotten or you stash it somewhere. The bra is a bad choice (sweaty and insecure). Your waistband won't work either (guns seem to fit without slithering down your backside, but smaller objects can and will find the exact vector to travel at maximum velocity to the floor at the most awkward moment). Buy work clothes with pockets.
6 - Take a look around. See what the clients are wearing. You shouldn't be the best or worst-dressed person in the room. Keep some neutral jewelry in your bag. It's a quick fix to bling your outfit if you find yourself looking like a hobo in a room full of well-dressed people. Layers with more casual shells and underpinnings are an easy way to dress it down if you accidentally wear a power suit to someone's non-profit retreat where hemp fiber is the dress code. Think about ways you can manipulate your outfit so that your car doesn't wind up looking like a poorly organized hamper.
That reminds me. It's Sunday night. Time to go rotate laundry and sort my blacks from my.....who am I kidding? Everything goes is the darks cycle. 😀
One of the projects I have been working on is on licensing interpreters practicing in DC (and, hopefully, MD and VA). I have been embroiled in this controversy for several months now and I have fought my way through pounds of rhetoric, hours of arguments, and the piranha pool that is any political struggle. The Deaf consumers have a perspective, the hearing consumers (DC agencies, in this case) have their interests, and the poor interpreter is getting ground between the mortar and pestle of these opposing factions. I generally support the cause of licensing and the reasons are legion. Last night, I had a classic example of why I feel this way.
I am frequently called out to respond to police calls overnight. Last night I was called to a hospital to interpret for a detective investigating allegations of a sexual assault. I arrived on the scene to find an interpreter present for the hospital (this is normal). I introduced myself and explained my role, but I could tell she had no clue what I was talking about. I asked her name and the name of the company that sent her. A quick internet search revealed:
This "interpreter" is not even a member of RID, much less certified.
The company that sent her has three employees listed on the web, none of whom are certified interpreters in any way or have any kind of professional presence in this field beyond this company.
Neither the interpreter nor the company members are members of PCRID.
The doctor on staff gave the detective the run down on the information that had been given to her via the interpreter. When the detective and I tried to enter room, the interpreter (we'll call her SS, short for "Sunday Signer") followed us in. She proceeded to comment and respond to the detectives questions of the patient before I even had a chance to finish the interpretations. She was trying to communicate with the patient to add her own interpretations to the process. I finally had to kick her out of the room since she clearly didn't understand what was going on.
As the investigation proceeded, I discovered a multitude of factual errors from this interpreter's original work. To wit:
The name of the deaf patient was wrong (wrong first name).
The patient's birthdate was wrong (wrong month and year).
The patient's address was wrong (wrong street name and wrong apt number).
The location of the alleged attacker was wrong (wrong state).
The age of the attacker was wrong (30, not 70!!).
The date of the allegation was wrong (4, not 18).
And, most importantly, the basis of the complaint was WRONG. She never made an allegation of sexual assault. What she did sign could (maybe, possibly, if you were slightly drunk and had recently had a stick poked in you eye) have been misunderstood, but the Deaf gal was clear, repetitious and adamant about what had happened. I just don't know how SS could have messed that up so badly.
The tragedy of this is that there was a huge waste of resources to respond to this imaginary report. Since SS has no professional credentials, I have no one to go to and file a complaint. I have contacted the company who sent her to the hospital and I am hoping to find a resolution there. If not, I will escalate the issue with the hospital and the police department. I don't think it is fair that the DC government had to pay me and the detective to respond to that situation because a company failed to employ appropriate quality controls in staffing their assignments. I think it's horrifying that the patient had to undergo unnecessary examination, treatment, and extremely extended wait times because of these errors. Licensing of interpreters to practice would, hopefully, go a long way to regulating these fly-by-night interlopers. I have no problem with Sunday Signers learning the language and working in their local churches to support their communities. I have huge issues with these charlatans putting their shingle out to act as a professional interpreter, a career to which I devote an inordinate amount of time, money, and effort.