Random Thoughts and Musings by moi

Musings by a feisty, opinionated Deaf gal who wants nothing but the best for her community and her people

lundi 8 octobre 2007

Interpreters: an asset or a crutch?

Rant alert: Today we were treated (sarcasm intended) to a technology training workshop en masse. As if that weren't irritating enough, knowing that no one's needs were being met that way, the presenters, while well-meaning, were not prepared at all, screwing things up and not having what they needed prepared. That'd fry me all by itself, but something happened that had me absolutely, positively hopping mad before lunch.

We were supposed to split up into several groups for more hands-on training. The guy in charge, who seemed very nice and ill-prepared but inexplicably scared of us, said, "We don't have enough interpreters. One group will be without an interpreter. So maybe we could group all the hearing people together." *doink* Excusez-moi??? Someone stood up and said they'd prefer to be grouped by skill level, not by hearing level and that deaf people are skilled communicators who are perfectly able to communicate without interpreters. The dude looked a bit dumbfounded but nodded and said, "OK. Skill level is fine." He told us where to go for what type of training. I wasn't sure what group I should be in, so I went to one group first. After a few minutes, I realized I needed more advanced training, so I went to another group.

Much to my horror, I saw a colleague of mine interpreting. And the presenter was the guy who had been told interpreters were unnecessary. I wanted to say something so badly for several reasons. One, this guy was such a bad presenter that he'd go off onto a tangent. He didn't answer people's questions. So having an interpreter available wouldn't help communication much. Two, we had plenty of technology available to easily facilitate communication. Three, he had been told there was no need, for the love of Mike. I fumed for the entire thirty minutes then quickly asked a few people what the gol-darn had blinkin' *happened* here.

Apparently what happened was that Mr. Clueless came into the room, blinked, looked around, and asked, "Who's the interpreter?" People were quiet for a while, then Aforementioned Colleague apparently reluctantly volunteered. I didn't say anything because by the time I got there, things were in full swing and I didn't feel it'd be right to get all huffy and demand a change. It looked as if people were OK with what was going on. So who was I to march to the middle of the room, cross my arms, and demand that all interpreting cease? I let it go, though I took the opportunity to draw a picture of a deaf person using a crutch labeled "'TERPS"and entitled something along the lines of "When we accept this, we cripple ourselves."

I've been thinking about it for awhile, trying to figure out just what it is that set me off like that. I'm a fan of interpreters. Don't get me wrong. Interpreters have opened up venues previously inaccessible and unavailable to us. I'm grateful to have the option. However, I'm finding more and more that people appear unable to fathom the idea of not using interpreters for every little thing. Mr. Clueless still expected an interpreter, which was bad enough after he'd been told point-blank it wasn't going to be an issue. The *deaf* people I talked to asked me, "Well, how would we communicate without an interpreter?" This upset me more than anything else. I mean, hel-lo? Type? Write on the board? Gesture? We're not talking rocket science here, just how to use a piece of equipment hooked up to a computer. It's not that hard, people. Professional interpreters have been on the scene for only a few decades and already we're unable to talk to hearing people without interpreters? Give me a break. I'm upset with Mr. Clueless for reasons already delineated above. I'm upset with my colleague for giving in and interpreting, because I believe she was enabling him and other people. It was also a violation of professional ethics in my opinion. I'm upset with the hearing people for letting their colleague go ahead and interpret. I'm upset with the deaf people for just letting it happen and for thinking there was no other solution. I'm also *looking down sheepishly* ...upset with myself.

*sigh* Yes, you heard me. I didn't say anything at the time in order to keep the peace. If I'd said something, I'd have been painted as one of those so-called militants that you hear so much about both in and outside of DeafBlogLand. But it was *wrong.* I'd probably keep mum again if I had a chance to go back to the very moment I walked into that room so I wouldn't make waves. But I'm just upset with everyone involved, including myself.

I pose this question to you, the Teeming Millions: Have we become so dependent on interpreters that we are unable to function around hearing people without them? If not, when do we need them and when is it okay not to have them around? Before you respond, please bear in mind that I agree that there are situations where having an interpreter is important and situations where it is a matter of personal choice. I'm just wondering, generally speaking, what you guys think.


  • At 05:05, Blogger Wolfers said…

    In several ways I can see what you are talking about:
    if it is in familiar settings and if one knows what is going on, certainly doesn't need an interpreter. However for people who need to get all information as they can get, especially in workshops, trainings, classes, there is a need for interpreters- *I* certainly know THAT and I require interpeters in that area of need. I used to work somewhere that one would *THINK* I'd need an interpreter but I relied on paper and pen for communication since there wasn't much need for an interpreter (five minutes meeting,you need interpreter? my response: "Please.. NO, thanks")

  • At 07:18, Anonymous Anonyme said…

    I agree, interpreters aren't always necessary. Although there have been times that a teacher will start class before the interpreter arrives, in that case, I ask a signing friend what the gist is that the teacher's talking about. I would never accept a friend or other "signer" to interpret for me, because they are not trained, experienced, or certified, and would probably miss a lot of the information anyway.

  • At 08:33, Anonymous Anonyme said…

    I'm so glad you wrote about this.

    I keep up with research on educational interpreters and have noticed a disturbing trend in these recent years (well, actually since we started having educational interpreters). Since most ITPs do not provide pedagogy courses or specific training on working in a school environment, interpreters are seldom equipped to work with deaf children. So many different things can go wrong (a child's ASL development is very different from that of an adult's ASL usage, for example) but what really gets to me is how the teachers, classmates, and the deaf student all perceive the role of the interpreter. It is my sincere belief that interpreters impede the deaf student's access in the classroom - not just to classroom discourse but also to the rest of the people in the same room. People become afraid to communicate with the deaf student without the interpreter present, and even then, conversation is often stifled at best. How can a deaf student, even if receiving "quality education", truly flourish by using an interpreter?

    It is my hope that, since more and more parents are putting their deaf children in public schools, we come up with more inclusive strategies that do not wholly depend on the use of interpreters. And please do not assume I am promoting oralism here.


  • At 11:30, Blogger Belle said…

    I totally get you. Outside of the usual situations where an interpreter is absolutely necessary, e.g., classroom lectures, I do not get worked into a dither about communicating through text or gestures with hearing people. I think this is a useful survival skill and a mark of independence.

    A couple of thoughts though: may it be that some fear that if they do not assert their right to an interpreter at all times hearing people will think they can get away with not providing terps, especially when it counts; and may it be that some are not confident in their ability to communicate by text?

  • At 14:12, Blogger Dianrez said…

    You're talking about freedom to choose whether to have an interpreter or not.

    Just because you are deaf doesn't mean you need an interpreter every time, and should have the choice made by you, not by other people.

  • At 18:45, Anonymous Mr. Sandman said…

    Good post. I think the answer is in your last paragraph:

    "...there are situations where having an interpreter is important and situations where it is a matter of personal choice."

    But the important thing that we all need to know (and remember) is that the decision about which situations require interpreting or not should be up to the consumer(s), not others.

    I agree with some of the other commenters-- there are times when an interpreter is a necessity, and other times where it's not needed. I don't have an interpreter for my doctor's appointments, since I communicate pretty well with my doctor one-on-one, but you can bet that if I go into the hospital for surgery, I want an interpreter whenever possible.

  • At 23:02, Blogger BEG said…

    "may it be that some fear that if they do not assert their right to an interpreter at all times hearing people will think they can get away with not providing terps, especially when it counts"

    I definitely think that's going on, and it's certainly not an unreasonable fear.

    It's kind of funny though, since I've started learning to sign, the few hearing people that I know who sign, I prefer to sign with them and I ask them afterwards for the gist of somethings (I agree, I'd *never* ask them to interpret and I'm not quite at that proficiency myself :-) either)...and it's really nice...I know I'm not going to miss something. And I'm pretty darned functional in the hearing world. So there's some psychological element there, for sure.

    I do strongly agree that interpreters in situations like mainstreaming are very counterproductive because they isolate the student from everything else. And I don't think it's in the child's interest to mainstream and make them do something else (like writing back and forth), if they DO need the interpretation. They really should be in an ASL-run classroom, full stop. The communication needs to be complete between each student and the teacher and between the students themselves otherwise it does no good.

    There's a lot of nuances going on here.

  • At 13:59, Anonymous Anonyme said…

    Hi there, I just came across a very eloquent post on your blog from last August (8/25/06)and I would really like to quote you on how Deafblogland brings the community together. Would that be ok? Please let me know! Much appreciated!
    alexiss at bgsu dot edu

  • At 07:09, Anonymous Anonyme said…

    Hi Moi,

    I found this blog last night and have read most of the posts with great interest. I am a hearing mother to a child with a cochlear implant about to get a second implant. He is 2 years old.

    I very much want my son to learn ASL and have been working on building his vocabulary since he was 2 months old. He is a signing maniac. (And though implanted for one year already he continues to be non-verbal)

    I was wondering if you could direct me to any resources or experts in the area of teaching ASL to young deaf children. I am learning it as well, but we live in a very isolated area with no deaf adults or children or school for the deaf.

    If you can make any recommendations I'd be very grateful!

    Heather - heather@mediabrite.com


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