The official blog of Safari Bill (Dr. William Vicars)-- Lexicographer, protologism developer, enchiridion author, ASL evangelist, and immersion excursion guide.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Can Interpreters Still Go to the Deaf Club?

In a message dated 11/16/2008 1:41:19 A.M. Pacific Standard Time, writes:
Dear Dr. Bill,

Hi! I'm an "unconventional student", still waiting to see the results of my first ever performance test to become a Sign Language Interpreter. By the time I finally found some resources (and friends) to teach me the ASL and PSE I've been interested in for more than 30 years, I had 3 children, a husband, and no money to spend on my own continuing education. Having one degree already made me ineligible for a PELL Grant. If it wasn't for my friends and primarily YOUR website, I would not know 90% of what I do now! So, first of all, THANK YOU SO MUCH!! I've also been able to learn a lot from the kindness of one interpreter's agency in my area; they have allowed me to study on my own for free in their library for just over a year now.

With very limited funding, I've still managed to go to the local Deaf Club to visit with the seniors and play bingo about once every 4 or 5 weeks. I've made some friends there, of course, and it feels like a family-environment to me. Even my husband (also hearing) managed to take off work on one Wed. morning and went to play bingo and to meet the great people I've been associating with since around May 2008.

I took my performance test on Aug. 5th, and I'm anxiously waiting for the results (now, late). Recently, a hearing teacher of Deaf Culture I was introduced to has told me that I should not go to the Deaf Club any more once I become an interpreter. She said it is very hard to maintain the professional distance needed to be unbiased.

I'm distressed and confused. Wasn't the whole purpose of learning ASL sopposed to be getting to know the people who use that language? For me, the prospect of interpreting is secondary. I agree that I will not be able to interpret for close friends because I might not be able to emotionally distance myself. But I disagree that I should stop going to the club once I've achieved my certification. To me, that's like using people as bugs in a science experiment! I'm not that kind of person.

I know I "have a long way to go" in learning, and I haven't had the circumstances to allow me to go through the great interpreting program at a nearby community college (Florissant Valley Community College in Florissant, MO)......but my gut tells me this lady is wrong.

Please help me to understand.

Many thanks,

Alana Dickson

Hello Alana,
As with most complex situations, if you ask enough experts you will eventually get an opinion that goes along with your own opinion. Most people stop asking at that point and go on with their lives. It doesn't mean they are actually right (or wrong), it just means they can now "feel" right because an expert has agreed with them.
So, for what it is worth, I agree with you.
That doesn't mean you and I are right. It just means you, in your limited amount of experience and me in my somewhat more extensive experience have come to the conclusion based on our experiences that it is okay, and even good, for an interpreter to interact with and be a part of the deaf community.
A bias is a preference for or dislike of something.
Distance is space separating two people, places, or things.
The opposite of bias is neutrality or "not caring."
The opposite of distance is closeness.
The heart of the "argument" comes down to should we give up membership in the Deaf Community so that we can (supposedly) maintain "professional distance" and "freedom from bias?"
I guess it depends on whether your clients actually want a "professionally distant (separated from the Deaf Community)" and unbiased interpreter.
It seems to me that the most sought after interpreters are CODAs -- Children of Deaf (Adults).
They understand our signs, our acronyms, our references, our namesigns, our lexicalized fingerspelling, our places, our issues, our peculiar phrases, and our biases. Their understanding of these things is what empowers them to be effective interpreters. Thus they are effective precisely because they are not distant from us. They are effective because they have biases -- our biases.
I believe it is impossible for a person to be unbiased.
Of course I don't want my interpreter, CODA or not, to misinterpret a speaker's message due to the interpreter's own biases.
The solution to bias is not to distance yourself from the Deaf Community but rather to have the professionalism and self-awareness to distance yourself from specific interpreting assignments.
If you are biased against a specific topic or individual then don't take that assignment.
Additionally it is a myth to think that because a person has biases that he or she can't do their job.
Hogwash. Professionals do it all the time. It's called self-control. Look at what professional actors do on a daily basis. They stand in-front of a camera or an audience and deliver a message. Do you think that an actor playing the role of a thief, rapist, or murderer is unbiased? Do you think he or she is neutral regarding the morality of murder? Of course not. But the actor is still able to do the job because he or she is a trained professional. They put their own believes on hold and do their job.
Do you think we are ever going to find an interpreter for a defense attorney in a child rape case who is unbiased?
"So, Bob, what do you think about the raping of children?"
"Well Bill, I'm neutral on that."
"That's great Bob, because I've been looking for an unbiased terp for an upcoming case."
Seems to me that rather than focusing on "professional distance" and being "unbiased" we should focus on "self awareness" and "learning to recognize ahead of time those situations in which we are (or are not) able to function professionally--and choose our assignments accordingly."
Dr. Bill