why we need to work in teams

because working alone leads to bad decisions. 🙁 Al Franken was terrific and I really wanted to be interpreting. But I’m not an exhibitionist. Truly. It is not fun or fulfilling to interpret for an audience of non-deaf people. The feedback, the interaction that makes it communication doesn’t happen. People like it, yes, but they don’t understand it!
It didn’t help that I was scheduled to work solo for 90 minutes. It’s a long time, longer than I usually do since that good ol’ repetitive motion injury, but I considered that the energy of the event would keep me going. However, not without an audience!


As it was, I stressed out the producer quite a bit worrying about the lighting situation. We got me placed decently, and without too much stress, but when I asked if the house lights were going to be dimmed and he said yes I knew we had a serious problem. It wasn’t going to work for me to be in the dark. (Remember the advice from your ITP to always travel with a portable spotlight?)
Poor guy. He hadn’t had time to think about lighting the interpreters in advance (a far too common experience) and 15 minutes before a live show it wasn’t exactly where he wanted to direct his energies. I was firm, though, and he pulled in another guy to discuss the issue. It was another couple of minutes before I (again) said it only mattered if the house lights were going to be dimmed. Not! So that problem was resolved.
I stood in the front, guarding a few seats in the packed auditorium, peering anxiously to the back for a familiar face or someone who looked like they were looking…. Al came out and gave some directions, I kept surveying the crowd. After he departed, I took a brisk walk to locate anyone drifting…no one. The show began, I kept looking, scanning the faces, watching people enter, look around, talk with someone, sit down. At the first break, another walk….no one. Bummer! 🙁
At the second break, someone came up and asked if the seats were empty. I said they were being held for Deaf folk but it didn’t seem anyone had come. He said I could interpret for everyone else. I lamented that I really wanted to be interpreting; that it would be so much fun! But, it feels creepy to do it when there’s no deaf audience. I don’t know how to explain it, fully. There’s the exhibitionist element. I know people watch but I tune them out. That’s the only way (for me) to do the job. Eye contact with people who understand the language is what makes it language. Otherwise, it’s something else. Not necessarily something less, but definitely not the professional purpose for which I’ve been trained and hired. Does anyone ever ask a spoken language interpreter to “just go ahead and interpret” so folks can listen to the sounds?
Anyway. All of this is to frame how hard my heart fell into my stomach when the producer came up to me after the third break and said he’d cancelled the other interpreter (scheduled to arrive for the last half of the show) and that, oh, btw, there was a deaf person here but they left when there was no interpreter.
I had thought, at one point, about signing a few minutes worth of the beginning talk and inserting my own question into the interpretation: are there any deaf people here? is there anyone who needs the interpretation? But, I had been there the entire time…from before the opening of the doors through everyone coming in, sitting down. I’d asked the ushers and producer whether any of the reserved tickets had been distributed, no one knew about the tickets, but they knew I was there! I thought I’d covered all the bases. 🙁 It didn’t seem necessary to put myself on display….then stop, and have to deal with people’s stuff about that.
Yeah, that’s what I’ve continued to think about: why didn’t the deaf person identify themself? Why didn’t they come to the front, look for the interpreter in the usual/standard place? Maybe they wanted to be anonymous? But I needed to know who they were, where they were, to do a good job. 🙁 And I have been criticized in the past for interpreting a few minutes and stopping. The question of re-injury is always on my mind, so doing the labor for no practical purpose has become even less palatable than it ever was. I love the language, the feel of it, the way it works in my body, but not for just for my sake – I’m not a poet, I’m not even a particularly good storyteller. I’m an interpreter of others’ words, and part of what inspires the interpretation are the watchers whose access to the story is the language they see. Without the feedback…ugh. I mean, it can be done. If I had known there was a deaf person in the audience I would have somehow managed to maintain the focus. But not knowing, in fact, being certain there wasn’t – that strain is too much.
Anyway. If there had a been a team we could have been each other’s audience (at the very least). We also would have supported each other in signing those first few minutes and then stopping if there was no response. If two of us decide, that always seems to quell complaints from voyeuristic “hearies” (non-deaf) who just want to oogle. As it was (and usually is), the general audience doesn’t know that the negotiated agreement was not to interpret if there was no need.
Bottom line? I feel terrible. 🙁 It would have been a great thing on many levels for the interpretation to have been done. Beyond access for the individual, there would have been evidence in the larger community of Deaf political awareness and interest. Should I have interpreted anyway? I don’t think so; I hold firm on that. The appearance of access and inclusion is not the same as actual presence. But I have been puzzling the right of a deaf person to remain anonymous if they choose. I think that should be ok, but some kind of communication mechanism ought to be in place to let the interpreters know…it really does matter if we have a real audience or not. Doesn’t it?

2 thoughts on “why we need to work in teams”

  1. basically, i think it does matter whether there’s an audience or not – and what the actual purpose of your interpretering was. and im skeptical as to why they would have wanted you to “interpret for everyone else” — its almost like they wanted to use you to “communicate” to everyone else that they were a conscious organization that accommates to the needs of deaf people, or even just a vague “other” (regardless of whether or not those people are present). cancelling the second interpreter shows that however “inclusive” they want to consider themselves, they were pretty clueless about true access and what it entails (not to mention the labor needs of an interpreter!) sometimes i worry that interpreters are viewed as some sort of personal aid, or charity to deaf people rather than as workers who have rights and physical needs and limitations. but i digress..

  2. In response:
    The one person who had specifically inquired about terps for this event, is probably the one that showed up.
    While I agree that an interpreter shouldn’t have to interpret if there are no Deaf, I do think the interpreter should do at least the first 20 minutes. Perhaps even announce before the actualy interpretation, but at the moment when it’s all starting (as opposed to making an announcement to an audience that may not yet be paying attention, that the interpreter will leave if no one is present requiring services. I would think with that said people would most of the time speak up.
    A very good friend of mine went to her high school son’s graduation…she and her husband are Deaf. They requested an interpreter in advance. When they got there and sat down, the interpreter interpreted the Pledge of Allegiance and then left. They were stunned. Apparently the interpreter had asked if anyone needed the interpreter , though they never saw this. So they sat through the whole thing without interpretation. AND to top it off, they said they never would have identified themselves ANYWAY, that the fact that they made the request should have been enough. Especially when their son was obviously there.
    So, it’s tricky.
    But best to err on the side of being accessible.
    I’m also wondering about the fact that you put up what the assignment was. Isn’t this supposed to be confidential, regardless of the nature of the event?

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