Jerrin George moderates a panel discussion on the history of interpreting and RID with the following panelists: MJ Bienvenu, Ritchie Bryant, Linda Carroll, Eileen Forestal, Dan Langholtz, Rachel Naiman, Cynthia Napier, Naomi Sheneman, Hartmut Teuber, and Phyllis Wilcox.
Initial video slide reads, “Deaf Perspective on the History of Interpreting and RID” A Panel Discussion.
Jerrin George’s Visual Description: Indian man with a black patterned background. He is wearing a light blue buttoned-up shirt. He has a short black beard and hair.
Jerrin: I want to cover ground rules before we proceed with this panel discussion. If you have
thoughts or comments to share, please raise your hand and wait for the host to spotlight you before signing. I value everyone’s time and contribution to this panel, please take a moment to think about what you want to share thoroughly before signing. That’s all for now. I’d like to go around and do a brief introduction. You can start off by sharing your name, where you currently reside, or where you are from. I’ll go ahead and start. My name’s Jerrin George. I’m from LA, California. I’ll be co-moderating this panel tonight with my colleague, Naomi Sheneman.
Naomi Sheneman’s Visual Description: White female with a grey background. She is wearing a black/grey patterned shirt. She has medium-length brown hair.
Naomi: Hello, I’m Naomi Sheneman. I live here in St. Paul, Minnesota. I’m here as a co-moderator.
Eileen Forestal’s Visual Description: White female in a room with bookshelves on the left, and a shelf on the right, and other various items in the background. She is wearing a maroon shirt with a white vest and golden earrings. She has short gray hair.
Eileen: Hello, I’m Eileen Forestal. I’m from New Jersey. Hello everyone.
Lewis Merkin’s Visual Description: White male with a green background with various office supplies on the lower-left corner. He is wearing a grey shirt under a black sweatshirt and black glasses. He has short white hair and a goatee.
Lewis: Hello, I’m Lewis Merkin. I live in New York City. Hello everyone.
Ritchie Bryant’s Visual Description: Black male with a dark blue background. He is wearing a grey with a black patterned sweater and black glasses. He has short black/grey hair and black goatee.
Ritchie: Hello, I’m Ritchie Bryant. I’m from Rochester, New York.
Roberto Sandoval’s Visual Description: Brown-skinned Chicano with a white wall with white blinds on the left. He is wearing a purple polo shirt. He has short black hair.
Roberto: Hello, I’m Roberto Sandoval. I’m from LA, California.
Cynthia Napier’s Visual Description: Black female in a room with kitchen space on the left and a mirror frame on the right above a plant. She is wearing a royal blue shirt and brown glasses and silver earrings.
Cynthia: Hello, I’m Cynthia Napier. I currently live in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Daniel Langholtz’s Visual Description: White male in an off-white room with a printer on the right and a bed on the left. He is wearing a grey shirt and black glasses. He has short white hair.
Dan: Hello everyone. I’m Dan Langholtz. I live here in London. My second home is in San Francisco, California. It’s currently 1 o’clock in the morning here. Hello everyone.
Linda Carroll’s Visual Description: Light-skinned native female with a grey background. She is wearing a black shirt, a black pendant, and transparent glasses. She has long white hair.
Linda: Hello. I’m Linda Carroll. I’m here in New Mexico. I graduated from Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf in Faribault, Minnesota. Hello everyone.
MJ Bienvenu: White female in front of wall shelves with various cups and bottles and a sign on the right that reads “Wanted, Bartender, Good Tips!” She is wearing a yellow/grey plaid shirt with a black vest and black glasses. She has short black/grey hair.
MJ: Hello. My name is MJ Bienvenu. I currently live here in DC but will be moving to Austin tomorrow.
Phyllis Wilcox’s Visual Description: A white female in a living room space with various frames in the background. She is wearing a purple sweater and transparent glasses. She has short brown/grey hair.
Phyllis: Hello. My name is Phyllis Wilcox. I’m from Albuquerque, New Mexico. My right arm is paralyzed so you might see me struggling a little bit.
Hartmut Teuber’s Visual Description: White male in a room with a pile of books on the left and a light source on the right. He is wearing a red sweater, cap, and transparent glasses. He has white hair and a beard.
Hartmut: My name’s Hartmut Teuber. I live here in Arlington in Massessuet and not in Virginia.
Jerrin: I’m excited to get started on this panel discussion. The first set of questions will be focused on the history of professional organizations for interpreting. We are asking you about a retrospective- community memory, community knowledge, what’s been passed on by our elders. Before any professional organizations or formal education for interpreting existed, what was the state of the field for hearing interpreters? And for Deaf interpreters?
Phyllis: I’m a pastor and a Coda. I do various work all over the country. I recall teaching in 1971 to a group of Deaf students. I’d get various phone calls from the police department, Department of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR), and even the school to help interpret for my students. Things were so much different back then.
Hartmut: I’m probably the oldest person with the Reverse Skills Certificate (RSC). I got mine in 1973. I recall the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) receiving a grant from the Vocational Rehabilitation Administration (VRA) under the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW). Dr. Boyce R. Williams used this grant to establish a conference space for all well-known interpreters to gather together in 1964 at Ball State University which was previously known as Ball State Teachers College. The goal of the conference wasn’t to establish a professional organization for interpreters but to discuss the nature of the work as sign language interpreters: what does it look like within their individual working settings. We had a Deaf presenter, Bob Sanderson, who shared his perspective of how interpreters should operate within various settings. He also shared about how Deaf people have been interpreting for a long time. We would have certain key individuals within the community who people would go to in order to get assistance in translating a certain document or instructions. For example, legal documents, doctor instructions, etc. Those Deaf leaders have been translating information from English to ASL and providing supplemental instructions that can be received and understood by Deaf members within the community. That was what “Deaf Interpreting” looked like at that time. I recall NAD publishing a book based on the conference proceedings. It did reference the growing discussion surrounding developing some kind of organization. It was finally proposed by Dr. Lowell from Tracy Clinic in Los Angeles to establish a professional interpreting organization. The interesting thing about Dr. Lowell… He’s an oralist who opposes the use of sign language and is the head of an oral Deaf education program. With the organization established in 1964, Dr. Kenneth Huff, superintendent of Wisconsin Deaf School served as the first President of RID. That’s one thing i want to share, the second thing i want to share is: At the time, sign language wasn’t fully considered as a language. Dr. Stokoe from Gallaudet University started around the 1960s proposing that ASL was, in fact, a fully formed human language in the same sense as spoken languages like English. Over time Deaf students and leaders within the Gallaudet University community started to realize how their sign language is indeed a fully formed language that is different from English. That was a huge pivot in our thinking at the time and after that, interpreting training programs started to emerge. Also, we had two different “sign languages” at that time, formal and “dorm” sign language. There are various references for both categories. Formal is often characterized as “English” based whereas “dorm” sign language is more free and disconnected from spoken/written English rules. Within the Gallaudet community, there was a controversy regarding how sign language should be utilized within the classroom. Most Deaf leaders prefer to use sign language that is based on English structure whereas most students felt it is more accessible if faculty can adjust to dorm sign language for certain concepts. Deaf leaders’ push for more English-based sign language to support access to literacy also influenced the philosophy of various interpreters training programs that were forming at the time. It’s also interesting to note that consumers of interpreting services at the time were mostly well-educated Deaf individuals. For big events, they would seek out interpreters who have the best signing skills to provide the best access. Gallaudet University at the time often used Shirley Stein and Elizabeth Benson, both are Coda interpreters. Their approach to interpreting is dominantly interpreting verbal English to signing English with the allowance of removing a few words that do not add any visual meaning.
Jerrin: I’m sorry to interrupt you Hartmut. Thank you for taking the time to dive into rare insight into the history of the profession. I want to take the time to shift our energy to answer the next few questions as part of this panel discussion. Naomi, did you want to say something? Ah yes, we also want to provide everyone an opportunity to participate as part of this panel. I see you raising your hand MJ. Can you make your comment short so we can proceed to the next question? Great, go ahead MJ.
MJ: I want to add to what Hartmut mentioned earlier. We also had Deaf Interpreters back then; they are usually Deaf individuals who have good access to English literacy. Now I want to talk about RSC. RSC was initially created not with the goal to allow Deaf individuals to interpret but for them to evaluate new hearing interpreters. I got my RSC in 1982 or 1983. The RSC eventually evolved into the Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI) certification that RID provides today. So we did have interpreters with RSC who supported LV interpreting and evaluations of new interpreters back then.
Jerrin: You fingerspelled L-V. What does that mean?
MJ: Back then we used the term “low verbal” which was later on changed to “minimal language skill” and I’m not even sure what it’s called now. It’s a reference to Deaf individuals who don’t have access to general education.
Jerrin: Thank you MJ. Naomi, did you want to add a comment?
Naomi: I want to give a warm welcome to someone who just joined us – Rachel Naiman. Would you mind introducing yourself to the group? We already made our introduction but wanted to extend the same opportunity to you before resuming the panel discussion.
Rachel Naiman’s Visual Description: White female in a room with office furniture, supplies, and equipment on the right side and an open door into the hallway on the right. She is wearing a plaid blue/teal button-up shirt and a purple sweater. She has medium-length brown curly hair.
Rachel: I’m sorry I’m late for this discussion. I was struggling to figure out how to log into zoom. I’m not technology savvy, especially with zoom. I should have shown up earlier to figure out the technical setup aspect. Anyway, I’m Rachel Naiman. I live here in Colorado. I’ve known Naomi ever since she was a little girl. *Chuckles* I have been teaching interpreting for more than twenty-five years and I’m now retired. I’m not sure where you all are with this discussion so I’ll lean back a little bit and jump back in when I have something to share. Hello everyone.
Jerrin: Hello Rachel. I’m Jerrin, one of the co-facilitator for tonight’s panel. We just finished the first question so we’ll proceed with the second question.
Eileen: I would like to add more to the first question, can we stay a bit longer with the first question? Ok great! Hartmut and MJ gave a good context on the history. I recall in 1964, I was still in high school and we had many Deaf clubs. It was a place where the community would come together to do different things together like bowling. We also have people who would show up looking for someone to assist with writing a letter or advice on how to best approach a certain situation. It was cool to see the value of having Deaf clubs where people could exchange skills and knowledge to support each other. In 1973 I remember working at a hospital with local college Deaf students to make sure they have access to information. I want to go back a little bit. I went to college around 1969 majoring in Social Work and I had to figure out where to intern to meet my school requirement. So I started working at a hospital where they had a Deaf patient in the psychiatric hospital. I ended up providing interpreting service between the nurse and the client through writing on a piece of paper with the nurse and signing to the client. That was in 1969 and I had no idea that it was actually called Deaf interpreting. “Deaf Interpreters” didn’t exist at the time but it was kind of the work we have been doing for years and years. That’s an important part of history I want to share.
Jerrin: Thank you. I’d like to dive into the next question. Before formal interpreter education, what types of people came into the communities to become interpreters? What types of people became Deaf interpreters?
Lewis: I feel like I’m part of the second generation of Deaf Interpreters. I wasn’t in the group of interpreters who hold an RSC. I was in college at the time and I was focused on my theatre work. I started getting involved in interpreting work in the early 90s. I didn’t have any formal training but I did have some ASL teaching experience even though it wasn’t what I wanted to do career-wise. So you might be thinking how did I end up in the interpreting field? Well, I grew up with my Deaf family and from time to time I’d have a family member inquire about a letter or a document and see if I could explain it better to them similar to Eileen’s experience in the 70s. So I like to think that the first group of Deaf interpreters were those who grew up in the Deaf community, Deaf schools, and as MJ mentioned earlier, have strong access to English literacy. I think during my time as part of the second generation of Deaf Interpreters there was some dialogue about shifting Deaf interpreters to an actual profession and maybe setting up a college degree for Deaf interpreting. When I applied for my CDI certification, there were no robust requirements. The only unofficial requirement was for the applicant to have strong ties to the Deaf community.
Cynthia: Looking back, my situation is a little unique. I used to be a hearing interpreter. I learned ASL through the Deaf community and in exchange they expected me to become an interpreter. So I became an interpreter through an invitation from the Deaf community. It was a common way to enter the field back then because there was no other way in at the time. There weren’t any formal interpreting training programs. And that’s how I became an interpreter. Deaf interpreter – that’s another story. My daughter’s Deaf. She was adopted and she didn’t have access to language at the time so I would be working with her in the classroom to give her access to understand classroom content. She also worked with other Deaf interpreters who provided additional gustuno support in the classroom. That’s my experience working as a hearing interpreter and a Deaf interpreter.
Eileen: I want to go back to the first question then add my input for the second question. MJ mentioned earlier that RSC was given to Deaf individuals to evaluate new hearing interpreters. RSC wasn’t just given out to anyone who applied. They check applicants’ background to ensure they have the right skill set to hold this certification. I got my RSC in 1979 and I believe they started screening for RSC applicants in 1975 or so. They would ask ethical questions and test their evaluation skills before awarding them with RSC. I didn’t use my RSC to evaluate new hearing interpreters, I used it to do more interpreting work in the field. I don’t want people to think it was easily earned, we did have many applicants who failed to get RSC at the time as well. Also back in the old days when we had Deaf clubs, we would share with each other key people within the community who are proficient with translating concepts into the most accessible way through sign language. It was in a way how we grew our ability to identify certain skill sets that contribute to the role which is what we call Deaf interpreting today. That was an interesting assessment looking back on the last fifty years of this profession.
MJ: Eileen, you’re right. You got your RSC in 1979, I got mine in 1982. Before that time RSC was primarily designed to allow Deaf individuals to evaluate hearing interpreters. Around our time the need for Deaf interpreters was increasing especially with the need for increased access in the legal context and the need to maximize access with translation between written English to ASL. In 1982 as part of my MA program, I decided to take a few interpreting courses. I was the only Deaf student in my interpreting classes. At the time there were only a few of us who started working as Deaf interpreters. Eileen, Rachel, Phyllis, and I were one of the first few.
Linda: I got my RSC in Massechuest because there weren’t enough evaluators at the time. A local linguistics professor asked me if I wanted to become RSC certified to evaluate new interpreters. I had no idea what the role entailed. I was given a printout of the Code of Ethics to study, it wasn’t called the Code of Professional Conduct at the time. After I submitted my application, I recall there were a group of evaluators who interviewed me. Hartmut was one of the evaluators. I was provided with a video where I had to mirror the signer as part of my evaluation. It was interesting because I didn’t do any interpreting work, I was only mirroring what the person said in the video. After I was deemed qualified based on my mirroring skill – I was provided with my certification. I wasn’t provided with any guidance regarding what to do with my certification after that point. I decided to take a proactive approach and started taking various interpreting workshops. I even took one of MJ and Eileen’s training as well. That’s my experience starting in this field.
Hartmut: I was being evaluated in 1973 in Hartford. When I showed up, they also asked if they could evaluate me to become an evaluator as well. I had to go through an interview process similar to how MJ described it earlier. I had to watch a video and mirror exactly what was signed in the video. I was awarded my certification and immediately asked to evaluate an interpreter on the same day. That’s my experience getting my RSC. Another thing I wanted to share – I worked as an interpreter during my college years. I was interpreting for a Deaf man from Germany who was being deported for overstaying his visa. It was kind of my first legal assignment and my first paid assignment from the United States government. *chuckles*
Dan: Before 1964 I attended school with my Deaf peers. Some of us had a Deaf family. I’m from a hearing family. I think it’s interesting to observe how our parents would interact with one another. Both Deaf and Hearing norms have a different approach to communication and I often find myself stuck interpreting between my parents and other parents from time to time. It was my early exposure to what interpreting looked like back then.
Jerrin: Thank you for sharing rich information. I’m looking at the list of questions. Ok, next question: What types of situations, incidents, or conversations triggered the movement toward establishing an organization for interpreting? Since then, what significant events have taken place and why were they significant?
Lewis: I recall when the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was passed. Section 504 was an important section of the law. Laws have been passed over time to strengthen accessibility which eventually lead to the Americans with Disabilities Act. With every new law, additional requirements were established that contributed to the increasing demands for interpreters and that’s when we arrived at the breaking point between raising our own interpreters within our communities to figuring out how to recruit more interpreters from outside of our community.
Jerrin: Can you clarify when the breaking point happened – was it after RID was established?
Lewis: RID was established in 1964 so that’s around ten years before the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is focused on increasing the education and employment of sign language interpreters to support the requirement established in section 504. When RID was established, there weren’t any driving forces that contributed to increased awareness or education regarding accessibility. It wasn’t until a little after that where we had more laws being written and passed focused on increasing accessibility.
Hartmut: Lewis mentioned how laws contributed to the expansion of this profession. I recall when Dr. Boyce Williams worked with HEW, Dr. Williams is Deaf himself and he worked closely with HEW to enhance and pass more laws to improve education and create stronger accessibility laws. When HEW expanded, Dr. Williams encouraged NAD to apply for a grant to which contributed to the creation of the conference at Ball State Teachers College.
MJ: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act was passed after 1973 like Lewis mentioned. In 1975 I believe the Regional Interpreters Training Consortium (RITC) was established with the goal of increasing education of sign language interpreters through five regional training centers. I believe we had one at Gallaudet University, Boston, California, Seattle, and one more somewhere. Oh, right we had one in Rochester, New York as well. That was a huge shift in our field because we have these centers training our interpreters faster than ever before.
Rachel: Because of these laws that were passed there were more opportunities for the Deaf to get jobs within various working industries that require highly qualified sign language interpreters to support accessibility functions. Back then we would work with what we had available and do our best. Today we have Deaf people working all over the working industries and the need for highly qualified interpreters is higher now than ever. So these laws have a huge influence on our profession.
Eileen – I recall prior to the establishment of RID, we had a specific Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) law that was passed which allowed Deaf individuals to get jobs and get training to do their jobs effectively. We were in a unique situation, how do we find interpreters? We would try to ask around within our circles to find someone who can interpret for us. We eventually decided to build a registry that documents the names of individuals who can interpret. That was in 1958 or 1960s. It was a building momentum that eventually expanded and paved the way for the establishment of RID. I don’t recall what law that was, I believe it should be published as part of the history of RID.
Jerrin: Thank you, Eileen. Next question… I think most of you already answered the question about how the concept of Deaf interpreters started and expanded. I’ll go ahead and skip to question number two in the second section: What are some of the key events or moments for Deaf interpreting?
MJ: I can think of several key events. Conference of Interpreter Trainers (CIT) in 1983. We initially were supposed to have a Deaf supervisor/coordinator but by chance, we had Deaf interpreters working for the first time at CIT. It was an interesting experience and CIT stopped using Deaf Interpreters until 1987. RID started using Deaf interpreters in 1989 in El Paso, Texas. I believe RID decided to hire and pay for Deaf interpreters for the first time at the 1991 RID conference in Maryland. When we had Deaf interpreters working at CIT in 1983, they weren’t paid for their work. I believe it wasn’t until 1987 or 1989 the Deaf interpreters were finally paid for their work at CIT. In the 1980s the Deaf communities started to get warm to the idea of using Deaf interpreters.
Eileen: I believe in 1989 they finally had a Deaf interpreter working on the stage. It was a little bit after that when the Deaf community started talking more and more about Deaf interpreting and how to get started in this profession. We did have many who applied for RSC. It was when RID decided to halt certification provisions for RSC. RID had to develop a more robust certification to address the increasing applications for RSC. We had a large pool of Deaf interpreters who couldn’t pursue certification and wanted to work during that time. I recall a discussion in 1991, I remember MJ being there, we were talking about what term to use when referring to our work as Deaf interpreters. We did talk about “relay interpreting”, we felt it was an appropriate name based on the nature of our work. RID was still going through the process of redeveloping testing and determining what to call the certification itself. They initially came up with CRI. I’m glad we didn’t go ahead with that, I don’t want to associate our certification with “crying”. I remember MJ was objecting to the use of CRI as the certification name. I believe the discussion eventually reached an agreement to use CDI. Oh yes, yes, It was initially called CDI-P. They didn’t have the chance to develop testing at the time so RID granted individuals with a provisional certificate at the time.
Naomi: Eileen, you mentioned RID decided to halt the certification provision for RSC. Who were they at the time?
Eileen: I would say the Board of RID… It’s possible the headquarter staff might have some on the decision but ultimately it was the board who decided to halt RSC provision.
Dan: I want to share two things. MJ was the one who really shifted the community’s mentality of what interpreting SHOULD look like. I believe it was at the RID conference in El Paso, Texas. MJ was pushing for the idea that interpreters shouldn’t “mirror” the message but interpret the message. That was a breakthrough that shifted us to arrive to the Deaf interpreting profession as it is today. Secondly, someone mentioned the regional training centers that contributed to the increasing supply of sign language interpreters. Unfortunately, the quality of interpreters that were created from these training centers wasn’t up to expectations and I believe that’s when the rift started between the Deaf community and the interpreting community. NAD started growing apart from RID. It was a breaking point of how the interpreting profession started to drift away from the Deaf community’s co-navigation. That’s when Deaf people had more clout in the field of interpreting.
Rachel: Dan and Eileen read my mind. I’d like to add to their comments. I recall the first time a Deaf interpreter worked on the stage, it wasn’t at one of the RID conferences, it was at the CIT conference in California. I recall a hearing interpreter was supposed to interpret for a keynote presentation. The interpreter called out sick and they couldn’t secure a replacement so they asked MJ if she wouldn’t mind interpreting. MJ studied the script and proceeded to interpret it for us the next day. It was a mind-blowing experience for all of us, we’ve never seen a Deaf interpreter interpreting on the stage. I believe it was in 1986. MJ do you remember the details from that conference? Anyway, it was something I couldn’t forget. Shortly after that in the 1990s, MJ started presenting at various locations to discuss what Eileen mentioned earlier – relay interpreting. She gave us tools and diagrams to help us learn about how it shouldn’t be considered as a hobby but as a profession. It gave the community a chance to really think about what this profession could benefit us in the long run and I really need to credit MJ for her contribution to the Deaf interpreting profession.
Jerrin: Thank you for sharing, that’s amazing. I have one last comment from Roberto then we’ll proceed with the next question.
Roberto: I want to mention an important piece of RID history. RID serves a large majority of hearing interpreters and MJ in around 1980 established the Deaf Caucus to hold space for the Deaf community to share their voice.
MJ: I forgot to add about an important milestone in 1985 when I created the Deaf Caucus. I believe Rachel was there as well. Eileen, I can’t recall if you were there. Dennis Schemenauer, Gabby Mowl, and a few others were there. We were protesting in 1985. We initially proposed to have the Deaf Caucus created in 1983 which was rejected and we tried again in 1985 and our proposal was approved.
Jerrin: Thank you. I’ll proceed with the next question: How would you characterize the role and involvement of Deaf people in the professionalization of interpreting?
Dan: I think a pivot point would be when NAD fired RID and shifted their focus on developing their own process of evaluating interpreters. I believe NAD started the evaluation process in California. It was the point where we had more Deaf individuals involved in the process.
Hartmut: Throughout history all over the world, we have various Deaf individuals who struggle with influencing the process of growing interpreters. Most interpreters training programs would be operated with the influence of the local national association of the Deaf or a similar entity. The same is true in the United States with the establishment of RID. RID was birthed at a conference hosted by NAD. We did have a Deaf Vice President on either the first or second board of RID. After that, we’d always have at least one Deaf member on the board. So we always had Deaf members involved through various functions. We had Deaf members involved in the early phase of RID helping the formation of what the interpreting process should look like on a professional level. In 1984 interpreter evaluation process got paused when it was deemed outdated and the board shifted its focus on the development of new tests. I was the last person to have my RSC re-evaluated in 1985. We were initially involved with RID as Deaf consumers, evaluators, relay interpreters, and now here we are, we now have a profession of sign language interpreters with training programs established everywhere. Other countries have similar development stages as ours, some are more delayed than others. The idea is, Deaf people need to be involved at the very beginning. Always. We still need to push for the standard to be higher to where it needs to be.
Eileen: In 1969 the communities started learning about ASL and the Deaf community more and that in essence influenced the interpreter profession. Many hearing interpreters still are not ready for Deaf members to be involved in the process. I recall from 1964 to 1969 we had many Deaf members taking the lead: serving on the board and involved with the interpreter training process. At some point, it eventually shifted to hearing interpreters taking the lead and the RID board became dominantly hearing with little or no Deaf serving in leadership positions. We have been voicing our concerns through Deaf Caucus. I believe Deaf Caucus was established for the Deaf community and NOT Deaf interpreters, right MJ? Right, I thought so. Deaf Caucus was a place for the Deaf community to voice their comments and concerns to RID to influence the development of the interpreting profession everywhere. At some point, Deaf Caucus evolved into something that is not for the Deaf community but for Deaf interpreters.
Jerrin: I have a question for Eileen. Is the Deaf community still involved with Deaf Caucus in any way?
Eileen: Good question. I recall from the last two RID conferences, we were supposed to bring in the local Deaf community for dialogue but for some reason that didn’t happen and it became a space for Deaf interpreters to voice their concerns. I’m not sure how this happened. We need to go back to our old model and invite the community back in.
Linda: I recall when I attended a RID conference sometime in the 1980s. I wanted to say the conference is in New Jersey… I remember it was somewhere on the east coast. MJ did interpret on the stage for an event on that day. That same night we had an event and a hearing person decided to use music and that was when MJ objected to the use of music as a part of the conference. I remember when the hearing interpreters were taken back by the objection and started thinking about using their hearing privilege within a shared space with the Deaf community. Before that incident, we weren’t given a second thought. After it happened, I can see more and more interpreters becoming more sensitive to the idea of co-sharing a space.
Jerrin: MJ, do you want to share a little bit about that experience?
MJ: Honestly, I don’t think I will ever hear the end of the music thing. I was the interpreter coordinator at the New Jersey RID conference. Oh no, that conference was in Pennsylvania. That was an interesting experience. It went a little out of hand but all I asked was “Would you mind turning off the music?”. That also contributed to the establishment of the Allies conference in New Hampshire the following year. The can of worms got opened and Deaf members felt empowered to share their experience of being oppressed within the space by their hearing peers. I believe Eileen was there as well.
Eileen: I want to add. My first RID conference was in Hartford, Connecticut in 1981. I was teaching an interpreting program and ASL/Deaf studies at the time. There were only a few Deaf members there and I recall a hearing leader there who I will not name. That person approached me and asked if I was there at the conference to belittle and criticize hearing interpreters. I didn’t feel welcomed at the conference. Many of us felt the same way and we stuck together throughout the conference. Few conferences after that, we did have more and more Deaf members join in and it eventually expanded.
Jerrin: I’ll jump to number four now. What kinds of conflict did you experience? Challenges, struggles, disagreements?
Naomi: I also want to invite you to share what kind of challenges you have experienced within the profession that hasn’t been mentioned in the past hour and what changes have occurred within the profession and what have stayed the same if any?
Eileen: People initially thought relay interpreters…. Actually, we were called intermediary interpreters prior to relay interpreters. People would think we’re valued less compared to our hearing counterparts rather than equal member of the team. People had the assumption that the hearing interpreter would be in control of the relay process and controlling how the Deaf interpreter operates within interpreting contexts. Many of us felt that idea does not support the concept of interpreting. Deaf interpreters DO have their own autonomy that influences our work. I have experienced where I worked with hearing interpreters who expected to have full autonomy to control how I operate. I can see some hearing interpreters carrying that mentality today. It’s a challenge to teach hearing interpreters to unlearn that. I see this as a challenge to train Deaf interpreters to develop their own autonomy independently from their hearing team members in DI-HI teams.
Hartmut: This is a big issue as well. We have too many hearing interpreters in the profession. We do have Coda and more and more hearing people becoming interpreters. They eventually became interpreter leaders too. It’s often that they have a different vision of Deaf people in society and the value we have operating in a dominantly hearing world. That also influences the interpreting field as well. It’s important we invest in Deaf individuals in leadership roles who can carry out a certain kind of vision that aligns well with the Deaf community’s values. Also during my time, RID board meetings are usually operated in spoken English and they would hire hearing interpreters to interpret the proceedings. That changed when I joined the board. I told them I do not want to use an interpreter to access the proceedings, I want all of you to sign. The interpreters can be there to voice for the secretary for note-taking purposes only. During the RID conference in Boston, Massachusetts in 1999, the majority of the attendees at the conference were signing. It started when I pushed for everyone from Region I to use ASL at all times during the conference. I also can see the influence the Allies conference had on the conference participants. All interpreters, hearing, and Deaf, were signing. Which influenced the next conference which was the first national RID conference where every conference participant was signing. It was the watershed that influenced all RID chapter, regional, and national conferences to use ASL as the primary means of communication in RID-related meetings/spaces. I think it shifted the mentality that sign language interpreters are also part of the Deaf community.
Jerrin: Thank you Hartmut. I have one last comment from Ritchie before proceeding to the next question.
Ritchie: I see a challenge for our current interpreters, both hearing and Deaf, as we know the demographic of the consumers is changing and we are seeing a large increase of consumers of color. We do not have enough interpreters with sufficient cultural competence that know how to fully engage with Deaf consumers of color. That’s where I see a challenge. We do not have enough Deaf interpreters who are culturally competent to work with consumers of color.
MJ: I want to add to Ritchie’s comment. He’s right. We need more Deaf interpreters who are familiar with people of color, and not only people of color but sexuality as well. The world is fast-changing and most of us are not prepared. Hearing interpreters can make mistakes but Deaf interpreters? We cannot. We are usually not forgiven for any minor mistakes we make as sign language interpreters. However hearing interpreters, if they make mistakes, are usually forgiven without any penalty. That is still an issue today. People of color, diversity, multicultural, we still have a lot to learn.
Jerrin: Thank you. This panel discussion is rich in information sharing and this will be shared with our interpreter communities who want to learn from all of you who have your own experience with the history of RID. Thank you all for contributing your time to this discussion.
Naomi: I want to grab the opportunity for everyone to share your final thoughts regarding how Deaf interpreters impacted the interpreting profession. We’ll spotlight every one of you to share one thought similar to how we did at the beginning of the discussion before wrapping up for the night.
Hartmut: I think we gave the gift of language to help hearing interpreters navigate with the language development to arrive at what ASL should look like. That’s one contribution we had to the interpreting field.
Phyllis: I remember running for the President of the state chapter of RID. A hearing interpreter told me I cannot run for president because I’m Deaf. “Deaf cannot this and that”. I’m happy to see that mentality change over time. People now see us as equal, ok, maybe a little more than equal.
Rachel: I want to share two thoughts. I’ve seen one thing change – the resistance of hearing interpreters using Deaf interpreters. It’s often met with, “I don’t need a Deaf interpreter, I can do the job myself.” I see things change over time, hearing interpreters would come to me and share their realization of the importance of working with Deaf interpreters. Watching our work and reflecting on their own work. The quality of work is never equal, Deaf interpreters have their strengths and hearing interpreters have their strengths. I feel more and more hearing interpreters are now open to working with Deaf interpreters. We still have a long way to go through. Secondly, Deaf people now feel more empowered to use Deaf interpreters by how the pacing works in terms of how information is being relayed between hearing and Deaf interpreters. It allows more time for the consumers to process and control information in a more accessible way. I think more and more Deaf people feel comfortable using Deaf interpreters now like in the courtroom. Well, that’s based on my experience anyway.
Eileen: I do see a strong positive impact Deaf interpreters have on the interpreting profession and the interpreting education programs. We have more Deaf teachers teaching interpreting programs there and there. I see more Deaf teachers retiring. I’m a little concerned, will they continue to seek out to hire Deaf interpreters to teach interpreting education programs? We need to encourage our peers to pursue masters or maybe PhD so they can teach interpreting education programs, that’s important. I agree with everyone else’s comments as well.
Roberto: Interpreter training programs need to open their doors to Deaf interpreters. We only have 40 hours of training which is not enough and we need to hire more Deaf interpreters to teach interpreting training programs. We also need to increase the representation of Deaf interpreters of color for our next generation of Deaf interpreters to look up to. It’s often in Deaf interpreters’ space that we would look to Deaf interpreters’ stories. Most of the storytellers are often white. We need more Deaf interpreters of color sharing their stories as well.
Lewis: I want to share a challenge from a previous question. Many hearing interpreters think Deaf interpreters are there to “solve” their problems. For example, if they encounter a situation where they struggle with something, they would get a Deaf interpreter and think “oh okay, I’ll just feed to the Deaf interpreter and let them figure it out” which would burden the Deaf interpreter to do all of the work. I think that’s one of the ongoing challenges we need to shift to encourage more of a co-interpreter approach in the DI-HI team. Secondly, to answer the current question – Deaf interpreters are experts with establishing 3D narratives in our interpretation and building our message on them. I think that influences hearing interpreters to realize how stuck they are with the English version of ASL. We have contributed to the profession by giving them examples of how to improve their work by providing them access to our perspective of how the interpreting process should look like. Lastly, we need to expand our assignment base as Deaf interpreters. I can see us expanding into the VRS industry and schools. I can see us working in a K-5 setting to provide Deaf students with language models for Deaf students to build language skills. I’d like to see our Deaf interpreting profession branch out more in the future.
Linda: I currently work for the VRS company within the language mentoring department. I work closely with hearing video relay interpreters with my Deaf peers. We’d mentor them virtually and we also do group mentoring as well. We also offer many various mentoring services for our interpreters. I do see the benefit of having Deaf interpreters working in this role to influence the growth of hearing interpreters. I hope this trend continues to grow going forward.
MJ: I think hearing interpreters have this misconception of if they need a Deaf interpreter, it means they are not good enough as an interpreter. I see more resistance from new interpreters than experienced interpreters with this misconception. Secondly, one of the benefits of using Deaf interpreters is the Deaf consumers are not alone anymore.
Ritchie: Due to the growing numbers of Deaf interpreters, we now have more agency to influence policies, for example, Code of Ethics, I mean Code of Professional Conduct, the process of interpreting, interpreting process model. We can spread ourselves to certain areas to ensure policies are created that align with our values. That’s one impact I can see growing in the future.
Cynthia: I think our positionality within the interpreting profession has changed over time. I do feel we were deemed inferior to hearing interpreters back then. I can see us being valued more than hearing interpreters in some ways. I see more and more training focused on ASL and not so much on spoken English. I also see us in a better position to be our own agency to influence many moving parts within the profession. I also can see us influencing other spoken language interpreters in some ways as well.
Dan: I love hearing all of the things all of you have to say in response to this question. The Deaf community and their understanding of the value of using Deaf interpreters since then have improved greatly. I used to teach new Deaf interpreters, I would heavily emphasize that interpreting is a communication facilitator role and not an advocate role or emotional support role. It’s important we approach each job with cultural and ethical considerations to ensure we can do our job effectively. I can see how our impact has raised the bar higher and higher over time. It’s exciting to see that happen.
Naomi: Thank you for sharing your final thoughts. I know an hour and fifteen minutes is not enough to cover the history of RID. The stories you all shared are impressive and I can imagine us writing a thick book to document all pieces of the history of interpreting from Deaf people’s perspectives. This is only the beginning, a scratch on the surface of many stories that still need to be told. We started this project because we have more and more Deaf interpreters entering the profession and there is insufficient documentation of our history. We do have several publications that they can look to but the majority of them are written from the hearing’s perspective. It’s always good to start somewhere. I do hope this eventually leads to more and more publications in the future, maybe opening doors to more research or projects. Thank you, everyone. Jerrin, do you want to share your final remarks?
Jerrin: It’s been an honor to be here to listen to your stories. I’ve learned so much from being here supporting this dialogue. I work with the Graduation to Certification program as a tester to figure out a sort of curriculum that will benefit new Deaf interpreters. I came up with many questions, ideas, and suggestions for improvements. One of the suggestions led to the creation of this panel. What does the history of this profession look like from a Deaf perspective? We have so many publications out there written based on hearing interpreters’ perspectives which led to this panel discussion which I’m honored to facilitate with all of you tonight.
The closing screen reads, “St. Catherine University. CATIE Center. For more resources, visit grad2cert.org. The St. Catherine University CATIE Center, Graduation to Certification project is funded by US Department of Education, Rehabilitation Services Administration, #H160C160001. Although the contents of this video were developed under a grant from the Department of Education, these contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal government.