I was “the interpreter” who offered to coordinate interpreters for WordCamp Phoenix 2011. I wish I could remain silent, but the blog post I’m responding to has been viewed almost 900 times already and has already been sanctioned by a famous deaf blogger who I believe would think otherwise if he read my side of the story. So, before anyone else is misled, allow me to set the record straight.
I first spoke with Amanda, the conference organizer, on Thursday afternoon, January 14, and offered to interpret and coordinate. She told me the budget was $2,000 for a four–track conference which would need a maximum of eight interpreters. I figured I could get four professional interpreters to earn $50 an hour, get four students to volunteer their services pro bono, and that would still leave $400, half of which might go toward compensating me for coordinating services, and half of which might go toward gift cards for students.
That same night, I found out that Amanda had un–registered a deaf registrant because she didn’t like her attitude. I advocated for the ousted registrant, emailing Amanda, “Deaf people routinely face discrimination and have to fight for their rights. In light of this, I find the registrant’s demands assertive rather than aggressive.” I even followed this up another day and asked Amanda if she would please consider reinstating her. Amanda was immovable.
I should mention that the first deaf registrant had approached me around Thanksgiving about interpreting for WordCamp. I had said I would be interested and asked him to send me more information, but the holidays came and went before I saw an announcement from Amanda on the Arizona RID Yahoo Group. I knew how important it was for this deaf person to attend WordCamp, so I decided to provide for him even though I was not happy with Amanda’s handling of the other deaf registrant.
By the end of the week, I had offers from two other professionals and at least four other students. At this point, all I needed was one more professional if (and that’s a big “if”) there were deaf attendees in all four tracks on Saturday.
In the meantime, I wondered whether there were any deaf attendees registered for Friday. Amanda had not told me it was overbooked, only that she didn’t have the budget for it. I figured if we didn’t need eight interpreters on Saturday, we could provide services on Friday as well. On Friday the 14th, I emailed the attendee I knew was going Saturday and asked him if he were going Friday. Note that I didn’t “offer” to interpret Friday; I merely asked him if he had registered. I heard back from the Tuesday after the MLK weekend, and he verified that he had registered for Friday and Saturday both. He knew that interpreting services had not been promised for Friday, and I did not promise them.
Later that morning, I told Amanda that she did indeed have a deaf person registered for Friday, and I proposed that we leverage the budget designed to employ four professionals and four students for one day and instead employ two professionals for two days. Two pros working for $50 an hour for eight hours on Friday and nine hours on Saturday would cost $1700. I could take an honorarium of $200 for coordinating and still come in at $100 under budget.
At the very mention of providing interpreting services on Friday, however, Amanda blamed me for encouraging the deaf attendee to register for Friday and then accused me of promising him interpreting services. I assured her that I had promised nothing, and for all I knew he had registered long before I asked him if he were going (later he confirmed that he had registered for Friday way back around Thanksgiving). She told me the room was too small, was overbooked, and there would be no room for interpreters.
What’s more, she told me she was considering un–registering the deaf attendee for Friday because she would not be able to provide him with interpreters. I told her that we interpreters often fit into cramped spaces, that one of us could stand while interpreting, and the other could sit on the floor. I reasoned with her that it would be a shame to tell a deaf person he couldn’t attend a conference because there wasn’t enough room for his interpreters. She relented. She adamantly refused to let me work with another professional, but she would allow me to provide services on Friday as long as I worked with a student both Friday and Saturday. I relented. Such is the nature of negotiation and compromise.
Yet I was not satisfied, and it wasn’t about the money. I was unsatisfied with giving the client less than the best. This sort of “highly technical” conference is best suited to seasoned interpreters, so I didn’t want to use a student volunteer if I didn’t have to. We weren’t talking about an eight-interpreter deal anymore. We were talking about two interpreters working work two days. I had agreed with Amanda that I would provide all this for a total of $1050, so I was in a quandary: do I earn a normal wage and work with a student or do I see if I could get a pro to split the money with me so that we both made only about $30 per hour? I negotiated with one of the pros who had offered to work on the conference. We were each certified, licensed, experienced interpreters who had worked many “highly technical” events before. We were, if I may say so myself, a “dream team” for WordCamp. I offered to sacrifice my coordinator fee to supplement the two of us to work for 60% of our normal rate. I gave up a job Friday morning and s/he gave up a job Saturday afternoon so we could provide continuous coverage all day on both days. We were in it for the service to the deaf consumer, not for the money. I thought we had arrived at a great solution.
Then I read Amanda’s blog post.
This is what I wrote to her:
I am more interested in providing the *most* service and the *best* service to the deaf attendees than I am in making money. The way I saw it, if you could afford to give less than the best for one day, you could afford to give the best for two days. If I had “taken direction,” I would have made $650 in one day, the deaf attendees would have gotten less than the best, and they would have gotten no service on Friday. Since I advocated for *more* and *better*, I am earning only $525 for two days, the deaf get the best, and they get Friday as well as Saturday.
Call me greedy.
I thought over what a mess this had become. How uncomfortable I had felt ever since finding out that Amanda had un–registered a deaf attendee because she didn’t like her attitude. How Amanda had almost un–registered another deaf attendee because the room was too small. And, finally, how she had let loose upon the world this gross misrepresentation of what actually happened. I talked it over with colleagues. I slept on it. I discussed it with my team interpreter. We decided it would be best to remove ourselves before things got any worse.
Please, hearing readers, do not let Amanda dissuade you from providing interpreting services to the deaf. It doesn’t have to be this hard.
And please, deaf readers, consider both sides of the story before you lay the blame on interpreters. There’s a lot we can all learn from this and still respect each other.