ASL Policy and Deaf Interpreters at RID Conference

Reflections on my recent experience at the RID Region V conference, the benefits of the policy of using ASL at all times during the conference (except in a few of the workshops that were interpreted), and the great contribution of deaf interpreters to the field. I also discuss my experience as a workshop presenter and my thoughts on how to make my discussions of interpreting less hearing-interpreter-centric, and more inclusive of all interpreters, especially Deaf interpreters.

Abstract

Reflections on my recent experience at the RID Region V conference, the benefits of the policy of using ASL at all times during the conference (except in a few of the workshops that were interpreted), and the great contribution of deaf interpreters to the field. I also discuss my experience as a workshop presenter and my thoughts on how to make my discussions of interpreting less hearing-interpreter-centric, and more inclusive of all interpreters, especially Deaf interpreters.

Transcript

Hi. My name is Daniel Greene, and to be honest with you, this is my third take on this video. I get so flustered and make so many mistakes, but I can’t retake again and again and again, so I hope the third time’s a charm.

I want to let you know about my experience at the RID Region V conference in Salt Lake City. It was awesome! I taught two workshops and that was really exciting. It was my first time presenting at a regional level. I had previously taught workshops on a local and state level, but this was my first time presenting at a regional conference. And, funnily enough, the next week I taught three workshops at NAOBI here in San Diego [Brain fart! I meant Phoenix, where I’ve lived for five-and-a-half years, not San Diego where I lived for 27 years —DG] — the National Alliance of Black Interpreters — and that was a national conference. So now I’ve taught at local, state, regional, and national levels. Anyway, it’s not just about me and my workshops. Yes, it was fun, it was great, and people came up to me and gave me tremendous feedback— this workshop is great, I love it, I’m learning a lot / benefiting from it, etc. And that’s terrific.

But what I really want to talk about is the ASL policy. The RID Region V policy was “all language here is ASL. We will use ASL at this conference.” Not “all language is ASL”– see? I told you I say things wrong. Dug! I mean “Duh!” See? I’m even fingerspelling wrong. Anyway! My point is that, “The language of this conference is ASL.” This means that people won’t speak in spoken language, they’ll speak in sign language. All of the plenary sessions were conducted in ASL. Whenever someone in the audience wanted to make a comment or ask a question — assuming that the speaker invited such participation — they would sign it. The speaker would call on them, they would stay seated, and the person on the stage interpreting for them would be a deaf interpreter. The interpreter would stand on the stage along with the speaker and copy the signing of the person in the audience. This was very helpful, because you could keep your eyes on the stage rather than having to scan the big ballroom to find out who was talking. And you wouldn’t have to worry about not being able to see the speaker or seeing only their back and not being able to see their signs. The best solution was to hire deaf interpreters to do platform mirror interpreting. And they had some fabulous deaf interpreters at that conference— fluent, top-notch, deaf interpreters. And it was really helpful to us hearing interpreters to be required to sign more.

You know, it’s easy when you’re interpreting and you can hear what a hearing person says and then process it, rehearse it, figure out how to sign it— not that you’re consciously thinking “How do I sign that?” but a part of your brain is working it out. But when you talk for yourself in sign, it’s a bit more immediate— it’s unrehearsed, spontaneous. It forces me to express myself in sign more naturally, or whatever. I really sometimes wish I had the native fluency of a deaf person. I wish I could “sign like a Deaf person.” And I aim for that although I doubt I will ever achieve it. But the point is communication.

I remember times when I would say to a deaf person, “I know I’m a little hearie who’s not fluent like you,” and several deaf people would tell me, “The point is to communicate. It doesn’t matter if you’re using PSE, ASL, or whatever, as long as you’re communicating— signing.”

And it was the same with the RID Region V conference. Yes, the conference policy was ASL, but that didn’t mean they would clamp your hands down if you didn’t sign pure ASL. It didn’t mean they would force you to instantly sign with the fluency of a culturally Deaf person who grew up using the language. No, that was not it. Besides, not all deaf people sign with equal fluency in gorgeous “perfect” ASL. So, there’s variety in all of it.

The point of it is so that deaf people know what you’re talking about. If a bunch of hearing interpreters are standing around talking (speaking English), the deaf people are left out of the conversation and it’s not fair. And, actually, nowadays more and more deaf people are interpreters. It’s not like in the past when deaf people were the clients and hearing people were the interpreters. Now it’s more integrated — hearing interpreters and deaf interpreters, HI’s and DI’s — all working together, learning together, improving together. That’s the great benefit of it. That’s big.

Oh, and in my experience as a workshop presenter, one thing I noticed about teaching was that I wanted to including the deaf participants (there were mostly hearing and a few deaf), and I thought, “how can I include them and make them feel it was equally beneficial, interesting, and entertaining?” And that’s hard. It’s a little bit of a challenge. I think most of the time if I sign and deliver the content of the workshop, all will benefit equally. But one thing I recognized in myself was that I tended to talk about the interpreting process as one of watching deaf people sign and hearing people talk. And I kept setting up deaf people and hearing people in signing space that showed the deaf person in front of my and the hearing person to my right. I guess that’s because I do a lot of video interpreting — video relay service — well, actually both VRS and VRI. Anyway, I realized that [division of hearing and deaf in signing space] is “hearing–interpreter–centric.” It would be better that I discuss the interpreting process in terms of “first speaker / second speaker; person expressing communication / person receiving communication; sender / receiver; expresser / receiver… or something.

But not deaf / hearing. Because deaf interpreters interpret between deaf and — well, not deaf, but hearing interpreters, not hearing speakers of English. So, deaf interpreters are not going between ASL and English— not spoken English anyway… well, maybe sometimes, but most of the time between hearing interpreters and deaf people. Both [of their interpreting tasks] are receiving sign and expressing sign. It is a challenge for me to think about how to talk about two interlocutors (two people who are talking to each other) and how to take one language and convey it to another. Maybe using more neutral space (from here to there and there to here), not “deaf in front of me and hearing at my side” or deaf/hearing, but more like “person A and person B” or something.

Maybe we as a profession need to think about how we discuss the interpreting process per se— not focused so much on English-to-ASL and ASL-to-English, but more like “one language to—” well, I know there are words for that, such as “Source Language (SL)” and “Target Language (TL).” Yes, we already have those words, so maybe we need to engage those words more often. Or maybe I have to do that myself as a teacher / presenter.🙂

So, I guess that’s all. I really had fun in Salt Lake City. I did sightseeing and took lots of photos— you can look at my Flickr— I have tons of photos (eleven thousand photos!). I love taking pictures. So, I will post them today. Promise! Anyway, if you want to follow me on Twitter, it’s my name danielgreene. I’m also a member of LinkedIn, and my name on that website is danieljgreene [it’s now danieljamesgreene]. Well, I enjoyed talking with you — I mean You, and thanks for your attention to this video!

Author: Daniel Greene

I facilitate communication between Deaf and hearing people, and I teach people American Sign Language (ASL) and interpreting. Apart from doing the work I love, my greatest joys are family & friends, entertainment, food, photography, and travel.

4 thoughts on “ASL Policy and Deaf Interpreters at RID Conference”

  1. Daniel, you really made me think. My first class is this fall, and we have a DI student in our ASl to English class. What you said is important — trying not to make it HI-centric. I think the hearing terps will benefit, too, if I try to focus more on the work we have in common and not just let the Deaf student glean what they can from a hearing-centric class. And you’re really right – the point of having an accessible conference isn’t showing how pretty our ASL/PSE/SEE/WhateEVER is, it is making our shared profession accessible to all of its members. At the tri training we had a bit of a conflict because those of us who were there to work on our Spanish felt that a Sign Always policy impeded our Spanish growth, and we have two minority languages to consider. But even with that added element, we all recognized the fairness of making our group inclusive of our colleagues. By the end, I think we all benefitted from striving to be more inclusive.

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