Why don’t we call ourselves interpreters for the Hearing?

I mean, Hearing people are the ones who hire us, right? Hearing people need us to interpret for them because they are not fluent in sign language, and most of the time, Hearing people foot the bill. So why do we so often side with our Deaf consumers? We signed-spoken language interpreters probably all have our “Stupid Hearing People!” stories, but where would we be without them? (And remember, for the majority of us who are not CODAs, we used to be Stupid Hearing People ourselves.) Hearing people may be naïve about signed language, deafness, and Deaf culture, but most of them mean well. Hearing people who hire spoken-signed language interpreters want what we want: to make communication accessible so that Deaf and Hearing people can understand each other. They deserve our respect and compassion, not our condescension and contempt. I used to not understand why some hearing consumers made such a production of introducing the interpreters they hired. I thought it was paternalistic and patronizing to Deaf people to make such a show of “their wonderful interpreters.” Then I realized that Hearing people who hire us spend a lot of money for a reason– to prove a commitment to accessibility, build an audience, or develop business relationships. You know what? They pay for the right to use us as advertisement just as much as a company that buys a stadium or arena pays for the right to slap their name on it. Yes, it can be argued that they “have to” provide for accessibility by law, but think about when they don’t have to do this, but they do it anyway. Think about when a company of Hearing people visits a company of Deaf people to pitch a business deal or make a presentation touting the advantages of working with their organization. They didn’t have to visit the company or make the presentation; they chose to. Likewise, they chose to hire interpreters which, if you think about the cost, is not an easy choice to make. So I say if they make a display of graciousness, be gracious and don’t resent them for it. If they talk slowly and clearly, don’t interpret their actions as talking down to Deaf people– try to see them as caring people who are working very hard to do the right thing and be accommodating. I say all this because I have seen the negativity signed-spoken language interpreters display on their faces and with their body language, and in their conversations with other interpreters. And, mea culpa, I have been guilty of it myself. But I am growing and changing! I really encourage my colleagues in the field to put themselves in Hearing people’s shoes and see the world through their eyes. They are worthy of the same support and respect we give our Deaf consumers.

Notes on verbiage

Hearing

I write Hearing with a capital H because they/we are members of a culture just as much as Deaf people are. (If you didn’t know, Deaf is spelled with a capital D to denote cultural identification while deaf with a lowercase d denotes medical condition. I spell deaf with a lowercase d when I am talking about deaf people in general–including oral deaf and people who lose their hearing in old age–not just Deaf people who use signed language and identify with Deaf culture.)

signed-spoken

I am using the term “signed-spoken language interpreters” here for several reasons:

  1. Linguists use the terms “signed language” and “spoken language” because they are both “language” while one is signed and the other is spoken.
  2. We don’t just interpret “sign language” or “signed language”; we interpret between signed and spoken language.
  3. This blog reaches out to interpreters around the world who interpret between different spoken languages and between different signed and spoken languages. I hope that when I do write about ASL-English interpreting or signed-spoken language interpreting it is in a way that all interpreters can relate to.

What do you think, ’terps? I would love to hear from interpreters of all spoken and signed languages as well as ASL-English ’terps.

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.

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