cross-cultural communication

I’m at the Vermont Deaf-Interpreter community forum. Of course I’m the only person strange enough to bring my laptop. 🙂 Nice to see folks I haven’t seen for awhile: Will, Missy, Nora, my old partner in crime Melody, Keri, I saw Elizabeth in Brattleboro yesterday: “You’re in the area!” Marge just said hi, she’s surprised how many people are here: “I didn’t know if it was going to be large or small, maybe only three people? So many!” 🙂

Most folks are mingling in proper Deaf cultural style: many hello’s and catching up on news. Ok, now Lynette is getting us under way. Bill just flashed the lights. We’re getting a history, why this Forum? A good fifteen years ago Eileen Forestal (whose picture looks about 15 years old!) came and led a discussion in this very room (Waterman Building, UVM, Burlington) about issues concerning Deaf persons and interpreting/interpreters. There are a few people here who were there at that first meeting. Janet is now interpreting some information about Keith Wann‘s performance at Austine next Saturday. The performance is a benefit for the Yolande Henry community fund. Yolande was one of the most important deaf leaders in southern Vermont, her presence is still missed by many.
David introduces today’s facilitator, Debbie McKinney, who is from neighboring New Hampshire. She begins with some good-natured teasing with the deaf-blind participants seated up front with their stellar team of four tactile interpreters, donning a black jacket to provide contrast with her hands and face. Looks like we’re going to start with a survey, Deaf get orange and hearing (non-deaf) get yellow and white (oo, oo, we get two!) Two of the survey questions caught my attention (it could be different for others): one asks if there are enough interpreters in Vermont and the other asks if I have a problem with a Deaf person do I know how to deal with it. I’m sure there are not enough Certified Deaf Interpreters in Vermont and I’m sure there are not enough Certified Legal Interpreters in Vermont. For the day-to-day regular work, are there enough interpreters? Well, I’m not sure of the number of people doing the work, but I am sure there are not enough CERTIFIED interpreters, especially among those doing mainstream work in the public schools.
As to resolving problems with a Deaf person, there are many variables, some cultural, some personal, some professional. Lianne just collected my surveys (one was for the institution tracking professional development credits). She said, “What do you think about this bicultural situation?” referring to (I’m guessing) both the survey as a written (English) text and the dual nature of surveying both groups differently. (I’m assuming not all of the questions were exactly the same, but maybe they are?) Debbie just explained the communication policy informing us to keep in mind not only the deaf-blind participants but some non-deaf hearing participants who are depending on voiced English interpretation. Of course everyone is asked to select either spoken English or signed ASL for public comments; no simultaneous signing/talking. Additional guidelines include a caution about passion, that even if we become upset we should not name particular individuals or make personal attacks but maintain respect for each other.
We’re going to divide into two groups to brainstorm for a bit.
Lianne is running the non-deaf group. She has already threatened to separate Kathleen and Gia. Bill just walked by and gestured that he couldn’t hear us. Funny Deaf guy! Lisa brought family and friends to swell our numbers (she’s also trying to get in good with me, some outrageous talk about framing my last Views article. HA!) Amy brought her little cutie-pie! There are twenty-three of us (and twice as many Deaf folk in the other group, an excellent turnout!) In addition to freelance interpreters (some certified, some not) we have teachers, a consultant for deaf education, the head of the interpreter referral service, and some mainstream interpreters (yeah!) Nancy just disabused any question of there being “enough” interpreters overall; many jobs are going unfilled and Deaf folk are having to reschedule multiple times. 🙁 We’ve plunged into a problem-solving discussion &emdash; how could we improve the rate of filling jobs and meeting this need? Lianne is doing a great job steering us back to the task (!) of brainstorming issues, we have two so far: one is a shortage of interpreters and a second is interpreters feeling the need to take other work in order to guarantee a steady income.
What do you think of a seniority system (based on age?!) to become the basis for assigning summer work (the slow season)? Seriously, Rochester apparently has a seniority system, presumably based on experience. 🙂 Here’s a theme I recognize from many previous workshops and conferences: interpreters wanting more feedback post-job with deaf users of interpreting services. Many of us have had this experience, especially during our interpreting training programs. I’ve got some questions about the larger implications of this desire. It makes sense, absolutely. But we (professional interpreters) and deaf users of interpreting services are in very different roles. I think we have to understand that interpreting is our job, our work, not theirs. They are just living their lives. It’s a squirrelly feeling I have, about a kind of dynamic that “makes” the consumer “responsible” for the professional’s skill and delivery of services. Yes, we need feedback, but putting the burden of it on consumers (unequally, notice!) seems possibly misdirected. (This is a minority opinion, no one else said anything of this kind whatsoever.)
When, by whom, and how we receive feedback are very serious issues that definitely need a broad-based effort to address effectively. I agree there are personal safety issues regarding our own egos and sense of confidence in performing this demanding work &emdash; we’re vulnerable doing it and even moreso when we actually invite critical feedback. At the same time, I think we have to figure out creative ways to read feedback (it doesn’t necessarily have to be direct, does it? Can’t we perceive if a job went well or not without being told?), and also to have the skill and grace to “take it” when we aren’t adequate, and – even more – to be willing to tell each other when we see or hear evidence of inadequate performance. I am wondering is if this is more an “internal” issue of us talking with each other about our standards and performance instead of trying to “contract” it out informally to persons who are not being paid to do this work.
Lisa (good grrl!) just spontaneously picked up the interpreting role for Debbie, who has has come to see what the heck we’re discussing. 🙂 Lynette, btw, is doing an awesome job on the flip chart. 🙂 In addition to generating issues and suggesting solutions, much of the discussion has involved sharing history of previous attempts to resolve recruitment, quality, and other persistent issues. Melody brought up a story in the current issue of Views about the need for more “warm bodies” (increasing the pool of available interpreters) that apparently suggests working in the public school (mainstreaming, which some Deaf people sign as one deaf person submerged in isolation within a sea of non-signing others) as the best place for interpreters to get training. Of course Mel points out how devastating this is to the deaf child for whom the interpreter acts as a crucial language model. The larger question here, brought up by Lianne, is the desire (or not) of the Deaf community to partner with interpreters in the mainstream public schools because of their own cultural imperative (as an adjective) to enculturate deaf children into ASL and formal American Deaf Culture.
Tooting our own horns (in the midst of trying to address seemingly intractable problems), Amy compared the Vermont interpreting community with those in three other states where she has worked and gave us very high marks for quality (Donna applauds!) and also the cohesiveness of the community itself (many nod heads in agreement). I echo this. When I arrived here from Indiana (where I had the most wonderful experience), I was amazed at the warmth of the welcome. “We’re really great and we love each other,” summarizes Lianne.
Now it’s time for the prioritization process &emdash; which three to five issues shall we report back to the whole group? The Deaf group will also report their top issues or concerns. Lynette will make our presentation; Lianne suggests we not use the concept of FEEDBACK, which has been identified as a “marked term” (it has a history and certain negative associations). My comment about the discourse was received with many nods but too abstract (I suspect) to be engaged directly. Well, abstract probably isn’t the right term &emdash; I’m suggesting we need to “perform” a new discourse, actually talk with each other in different ways (it might even mean about different issues, or from different angles to the familiar issues). Hmmmm. (We’re a bit behind schedule; who’s surprised?!!) 🙂
We’re still on lunch break. A few people have confessed (!) that they do read the blog (but only when I send it around). One of the exchanges with Wanda is popular. 🙂 I was aware, as I was speaking earlier (about discourse, although I didn’t use that word), that I became impassioned. It’s so funny/odd how that happens. I’m perfectly calm, think I have an important point to share, start to say it… get into a bit of explanation and the next thing I realize my voice has gotten loud and you’d think the world depends on what I’m saying! I remember my good friend Amy suggesting to me that it might be good for me to practice inhibiting. (The nerve!) Meanwhile, while we are waiting to reconvene and I’m typing away, Lea (“when two vowels go walking the first one does the talking”) is acquiring email addresses for me to distribute this extremely subjective “report” on today’s event. Thanks!
Marge! What did you do to Otis? tsk tsk tsk I am wearing my t-shirt commemorating my roommates from the RID conference in San Antonio: “What happens here, stays here.” Although none of us mangled any chairs! I can’t recall who I had the “BFE” “BFO” conversation with, was that you, Sylvia? Ok now, we’re starting, now, to reconvene for the afternoon. Lynette is giving kudos to all the organizers of this obviously successful event. Way to go everyone!!!!
Deb dons her black overcoat and we’re off!
The non-deaf/interpreters’ list of concerns is posted:
1) # of interpreters
2) more communication between Deaf and interpreters
3) educational interpreters &emdash; improve skills, improve pay, increase numbers
4) CDI’s (Here’s something from RID on “The Use of a Certified Deaf Interpreter
5) more training
The Deaf list of concerns is also posted:
1) Code of Ethics
2) Educate about CDI’s
3) # of interpreters
4) Need more male interpreters
5) More training (legal, medical, CDI, DeafBlind)
We’re going to divide into eight mixed groups now. Two will have interpreters for those not fluent in ASL; the rest will be conducted only in sign. Each group is being assigned one of the above issues to discuss.
I joined Group #1 which is talking about “more training”. I just met David (who thinks my name is webdog &emdash; he might not be the only one!) Carrie, Lynn, David, Nicole and I are supposed to come up with some ideas for addressing the needs for more training.
There seems to be some conflation between CDI and DeafBlind interpreting. CDIs often do DeafBlind interpreting but they can also interpret in other situations (and they do, with hearing teams), and hearing (non-deaf) interpreters can (and do) do DeafBlind interpreting. One issue is a central location for training, more in the middle of the state rather than all the way north or all the way south. How can we recruit teacher/trainers for CDIs? There must be people in Boston. We also need funding. Maybe VIRS or VTRID can pay or share the cost? Publicity can be done through the internet and perhaps regular mail.
We had difficulty identifying a local LEADER in the Deaf community on CDI issues. Some individuals are recognized as having the skills and/or practicing as CDIs, but they aren’t doing recruiting or teaching about being a CDI. Two excellent Deaf people doing CDI work who want to become certified (Michelle and David) have a difficult time being hired. It seems there is a need to educate the service providers (hospitals, courts, other institutional service providers) about the need for and usefulness of CDIs. They complain about cost (or use it as an excuse?) not to hire deaf interpreters. Maybe Michelle and/or David (or anyone else) needs to get the training and certification before they seek work? Others in the Deaf community may not trust that they know the different situations that they might be responsible to interpret without having had the training.
Somehow we’ve gotten off on lipreading skills. Is there an assumption that CDIs are better at lipreading than others? It seems fairly well-documented that the largest percentage of lipreading is guesswork. An individual might have very good luck with guessing from the context even though they only see 30% or so that can be reliable “read” from the lips (in English, I wonder if it is different for other languages?). Whatever the other cues are (context, familiarity with the person or situation, etc) it is still guessing.
For DeafBlind interpreting we really need a workshop or class series of 101, 202, 303, that deals both with the physical elements of tactile interpreting and with the range of content possibilities and contexts. It could be set up in advance (through the Helen Keller institute?) and include some kind of certification at the end of each phase which approves the person to move on only after they’ve mastered the set of skills at each level. Right now there is nothing in Vermont for DeafBlind interpreting.
The issue with legal and medical interpreters might be more about educating the Deaf community that these are specialized areas that require interpreters with special skills and certifications. Deaf people who do know that there are professional interpreters in these areas are often willing and able to fight the system until the proper access is provided. In truth, though, there are not enough legally-certified interpreters in Vermont.
We took a quick break and have reconvened as a large group to share our group work with each other. Big thanks to the Vermont RID Mentorship Program for sponsoring today and also to Larry McNall who took care of all the logistics (food and beverages especially).
Nicole and I gave the report for our group (mostly Nicole). Keri added a training issue we didn’t discuss (and I didn’t see it, sorry!) The last Group to present, #10, reported on the same topic. Will shared four ideas about setting up a training program through a consortium of UVM, CCV and other colleges in the State, more mentoring (perhaps for CEUs), do more outreach and recruiting, and specialized workshops (medical, legal, CDI, etc). Maybe some funding can be gathered from the disability community to support sending some Deaf people for the CDI training.
Group 2’s report about the need for more male interpreters is from Lynette, who just checked in with Rene to make sure he could see her clearly. (I didn’t do that, shame on me.) 🙁 This group covered a range of issues, including recruitment of men, dealing with un- or underqualified interpreters who need (to accept the need for) mentoring in order to improve, and the need to raise more funds on a regular basis for the Yolande Henry Community Fund.
The (small) number of interpreters discussed in Group 3 is reported by Bill and for Group 6 by a young woman I don’t know. Bill’s group asks, what are the reasons there are so few interpreters here? Is it because we’re a rural state? Is it because outsiders (sometimes called flatlanders, but Bill didn’t say that) think there are not very many Deaf Vermonters? What can be done to draw more interpreters here? We could establish more training programs and do serious, national advertising about programs and opportunities here. The other group had similar ideas and also discussed Deaf frustration with the lack of interpreters, suggesting some ways that members of the Deaf community could be more assertive in making sure interpreters are available when setting up appointments.
I don’t know the guy giving the Group 4 report on CDIs (and I can’t read his nametag from here; it looks like clear printing but I’m too far away). Several ideas about how to provide or get training.
Rene gives Group 5’s report on the Code of Ethics and concerns with interpreters not following it. More training seems necessary about what it is and what it means until interpreters have it drilled into our heads. Another suggestion is to improve the feedback between Deaf users of interpreting services and the interpreters. One idea might be to have postcard evaluations that could be filled out after a job and sent to VIRS for a star rating system to be posted next to our pictures. (It was meant as a joke but I’m not sure it’s a totally bad idea! Some kind of rating system could be combined with a seniority system as mentioned above…?)
As for communication between the Deaf community and interpreters, Group 7, the question was, “who is being passive?” Is it the Deaf person or the interpreter? Use time prior to the appointment to get to know each other. Start training Deaf people at a very young age how to use interpreters. Share criticisms with interpreters so that they can improve, for instance, regarding local or regional signs that might vary from wherever the interpreter learned ASL and/or was trained. Also, a bit of a warm-up period with the interpreters before going into a job would be nice.
Keri’s back now to lay it on us from Group 8. 🙂 This group focused specifically on educational interpreters, the need for more training and how the (insultingly) low pay discourages professional interpreters from working in the public schools. The Vermont Center does have an educational interpreter pool and some standards but many schools don’t follow them or take advantage of these resources. There might be a need for specific liaisons from each school with deaf children to be in direct and frequent communication with the State’s educational consultant for the Deaf. Would be great to institute EIPA here (Education Interpreters Performance Assessment) and also begin to advocate (again?) for the Deaf Children’s Bill of Rights.
That covers the Group reports! (Group 9 disbanded and joined other groups.) Debbie gave a brief wrap-up and offered the floor to anyone with comments. No one took the opportunity, so we have one paper left (evaluations) and Big Thanks to the six interpreters who worked today’s event. Shock of all shockers &emdash; we’re out early!

3 thoughts on “cross-cultural communication”

  1. Steph: Fun to get home and read your take on the day’s events. I think the day went well–the turnout was the high point. Having twice as many Deaf folks as not is perfect! Feedback forms were overwhelmingly positive with most folks hoping for further action steps, another day at some point in the future to check back on how things are going.
    I had a question after you shared with the whole group about the CDI issue. It has been somewhat answered by reading the blog, but I’m still wondering…….
    You talked about there being no leader in the Deaf Community for the CDI issue. Was that something that was discussed in your group? What exactly do you mean? When I saw you signing to the whole group, I understood your comments to be challenging, even a bit accusatory. Were they meant that way? I wasn’t clear when you shared whether or not this was your personal observation or something that had come up in the group.

  2. hi Lianne, I’m really glad you asked about the CDI question and the statement about there being no Deaf leader. It was raised spontaneously by one of the Deaf members in our group and the others agreed with it. We discussed it for two or three minutes. I realized that it might be a touchy thing for a Deaf person to say in public to everyone? Anyway, I thought it was important. When I realized Nicole wasn’t going to report it I thought I needed to do it.
    I don’t think the Deaf people who discussed it in our group felt “accusatory” about it, but I think they are disappointed (?) and a bit concerned. They WANT CDIs, but they also want to be able to TRUST them. The only way they will feel comfortable with a deaf interpreter is if that interpreter has gone through the same kinds of training that non-deaf interpreters have gone through.
    I guess I might have signed it strongly because I was nervous about saying it. I felt good after I sat down though, because the Deaf person who opened that conversation in our group looked at me and gave me a thumb’s up sign. Another man who wasn’t in the group also made eye contact with me from across the room and gave me a thumb’s up. And I had noticed nodding from one of the interpreters who works as a deaf interpreter (and who isn’t yet certified).
    If I characterized the kind of emotion I Hoped to put out while I was signing, it was more of a strong wishfulness for a leader to really take this on, not an accusation that someone hasn’t already. It seemed to me that the group was really clear on the double-bind: that those who want to work as CDIs have no guarantee they will get enough work to make the investment of time, energy, and money worthwhile, yet until they are trained there’s no way they can build a market for their services!
    I’m also aware that I rushed, which I probably didn’t need to do. Because I was typing so much I missed things and was afraid there was a time limit. Next time I’ll remember breathing. 🙂

  3. Steph,
    I am very grateful you send me this blog now and again. I am blog deficient and would never find it otherwise! I just wanted to remind folks that parents of Deaf children have more power in the public schools than they might know. It may take a fight, but they can require that a certified interpreter be used for their children in the schools, by making sure it is in a childs IEP or Individual Education Plan. Once it is in the IEP it becomes an issue of law and the school MUST provide the resources stipulated or they will be breaking the law. Parents sometimes have to act as strong advocates, however.

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