Make NERDAs the linguistic minority (proposal)

the future

Building on the potential for a paradigm shift is matter of recognition, marketing, and design. These processes can proactively influence each other, interacting and changing through the development of a project. All are contained within the conception and application of strategic planning.
Strategy has to involve conceptualizing the outcome in two different yet complementary ways. First, you must imagine what you want in terms of place. In the case of the next national conference of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID, US-based), the physical location will be some hotel in Atlanta, GA, but the more important issue is how the space of the place will be designed and implemented in order to generate the desired kinds of intercultural interaction. The second dimension that must be considered is time. By time, I do not mean the logistics of scheduling or considerations about the length of the event or even its parts. These are obviously important logistical factors that require detailed attention. However, the most important temporal factor to consider is how the conference contributes to long-term patterning of habits and attitudes for engaging in intercultural social interaction.

Not Even Related to a Deaf Adult: Buffered by Monolingualism
That would be me, and we NERDAs compose the largest percentage of the membership of RID. Most of us do not understand what it means to be Deaf. We want to understand, and we sure try hard, but our reality as native, hearing speakers of English in the United States is one of extreme linguistic privilege. No matter what other oppressions we may experience, we communicate with the same language as nearly everyone one else around us. NERDAs need to understand that we are affected by living in a society that has done more, historically, than any other country to enforce monolingualism. Unless you live or work in a dense urban city, it is quite possible that you never hear another language spoken in day-to-day living. Most Americans are protected from exposure to even tasting what it might be like to not know the language that would enable you to talk with your neighbor, your child’s teacher, shopkeepers and salespeople, peers in your classroom or a club, not to mention the doctor, police officer, realtor, banker, or the waitstaff at a restaurant where you must guarantee that there are no nuts or shellfish in the dish you want because you don’t want to risk anaphylactic shock.
NERDAs certainly cannot conceive of the intrapersonal, deliberate, conscious planning necessary to predict when and where and for how long we’ll need an interpreter, do not know the calculus of deciding why and for what reasons we’ll need an interpreter, and never have to weigh the costs – time, focused mental energy, unpredictable emotional surges – that come along with deciding, “Yes, in this situation I do need an interpreter,” or “No, in this situation I can manage without an interpreter.” Nor do we have to deal with the fallout from misjudging any of these factors: such as discovering an interpreter is necessary when it had not seemed so, or that the need is much longer/shorter than anticipated, or that the whole effort was a complete waste of time.

Atlanta 2011: Experimenting with New Norms
National conferences of professional associations occur for very specific reasons:

  • to further the organization’s business and
  • to provide members with professional development opportunities that are not available at home.

A critique offered by one of the other participants in the small group DEAF-FRIENDLY brainstorming sessions (described in the August 9 entry, “Embrace Change, Honor Tradition (RID 2009)” was that the conference focuses too much on training. In the immediate moment, I was most aware of the turn-taking dynamic – how her comment did not have any relation to mine – but I soon realized that her observation is significant. Why are we designing the national conference like an extension of an interpreter training program? Granted, many RID members are still in the early phases of their professional careers, but if we design the conference with students in mind, we generate a comfortable and familiar container for learning as usual.

No wonder, then, that many interpreters arrive and proceed to engage in comfortable, familiar, and usual ways! An alternative would be to take MJ Bienvenu’s deconstruction by reversal to the extreme. This would create a professional development experience that would use the capacities of our national organization to the fullest potential. We already have the technology:

  • knowledge of Deaf culture
  • linguistic fluency in ASL and English
  • professionally trained ASL-English interpreters
  • extensive experience with interpreter request systems and accommodation services…

What we need is the will to apply the tools in an altered configuration, and a rationale to convince people to come.

A one-time experiment of mutual discovery
Instead of following the dominant, inherently oppressive model (accessibility provided for the Deaf), we reverse it (accessibility provided for the Hearing). This would generate an experience like none other. In some respects it would resemble an ASL Immersion retreat, and in some respects it would resemble the environment at residential schools for the Deaf. What it would offer is the intellectual and empathy-building experience of being the one who has to ask.
There would not need to be any commitment or promise to continue: we can see what happens, evaluate it, and then decide. If the storming phase re-emerges – so be it, that will be an honest, deep indicator of the organization’s developmental status. If we do establish a foundation for new norms, well, that will be incredibly exciting and everyone who attends will have bragging rights for the rest of their life:

“I was there when…!”

Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf
Anaphylactic shock (Embrace Change, Honor Tradition (RID 2009), Reflexivity

3 thoughts on “Make NERDAs the linguistic minority (proposal)”

  1. Wow!
    I’ve just finished reading your last entry “the future” and I have to say I’m intrigued. Actually a better word is excited. The idea that RID conventions have become an extension of ITP’S in their providing further training (or sometimes un-training) is a huge draw for me. I fit the “beginner interpreter” model perfectly. I graduated my ITP in may 2008 (or was it 7) and had only been hands up for a year prior to that. I covet the ability to learn more from experienced interpreters in such a concentrated time and space.
    Then I read your blog entry. For all my enthusiasm to learn more and improve my part in communication, or to become the invisible interpreter (completely successful and seamless communication), I think the Idea of truly Immersing those I look to learn from would succeed in teaching more than a 6 hr WS. To subject the 90% population (guess) of NERDA’s into a Topsy Turvey world of non-accessibility would force a more clear understanding and thereby a truly unique and honest learning experience.
    Forget the “bragging rights” imagine the possibilities. That conference would begin to resemble the beginnings of RID ;when the meetings were out of a true need to learn, not for alphabet soup but for a real desire to implement the knowledge and make things better. Where do I sign up? What can I do to serve the greater good and make it happen? I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and learn something for real….. Do you think anyone else will join?
    ~Kyla Wilkenfeld, Escondido, California

  2. Imagine the possibilities!
    Kyla, I appreciate your excitement and agree with you: immersing NERDAs in (what you called) non-accessibility “would force a more clear understanding and thereby a truly unique and honest learning experience.”
    BUT, I think we have to be realistic about how much resistance might still be out there. Deliberately putting oneself into the minority position is a scary thing to do. What I like most about what you’ve written is a kind of confession &emdash; you like the national conference in the way that it is now structured as an extension of an ITP, but you can also perceive the benefits of trying to do the conference differently. Probably lots and lots of other newer/younger interpreters also like the conference as it is (and maybe some older ones too), so the question of helping is, I think, a matter of engaging in conversations with as many people as possible about their readiness or willingness to experiment.
    If RID was going to do something so radical, well, I am not sure how to name everything that would need to be considered! We would need a serious, deep, and pervasive engagement among the Membership and all levels of duly elected officers to imagine
    a) everything that could go wrong (and plan with prevention in mind) and
    b) what will be challenging to accomplish (and how to develop systems and processes to manage them).
    I have no idea, for instance, what the formal process is for providing input to the Atlanta Planning Team, but I am sure that there is already a solid team in place who have their own strong ideas about designing the conference. They need to be convinced of the merit and feasibility of reverse structuring, because they are the ones who will take the most direct heat for whatever stresses people encounter. We gotta protect the ones that we are asking to take such a bold step into uncharted territory!
    The Board of Directors is obviously another group with a certain kind of ultimate authority for crafting and implementing institutional vision. There is a decision-making system in place (which I am not a part of) that begins with affiliate and state chapters, continues through regional representatives, on up to the National Board and its resources, including Standing and Ad Hoc committees. So, the Atlanta Planning Team is coordinating (I imagine) very tightly with its Region Rep, who is in regular communication with the National Office, including President Cheryl Moose.
    On a grassroots level, my own vision of how to be helpful, is to participate in a thoughtful, reasoned, public knowledge-generating conversation about the pros and cons, hows and how nots, risks and possibilities of conducting such a conference. The more information we generate (emphasis on diversity and breadth of topics, concerns, questions, hopes, etc), the more informed the planners will be about what the Membership is truly ready for, and the better able they will be to prepare for the predictable outcomes. Ideally, we might even build organizational capacity to enable us all to deal better with the unpredictable stuff that will undoubtedly arise.

  3. I read your latest posts and thought back of what you wrote in Moving Forward for a Noble Cause (RID 2009) about the absence of non-deaf actors other than interpreters at the conference.
    Aren’t you forgetting them now in your proposals for the next conference? Were they ever properly invited to the RID conferences, has there been any serious attempt in the past to reach the groups/organizations of non-deaf users? Do you want to involve them?
    Then you have to take them into account, too, in your proposals; I am not sure you are at this stage.

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