Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Access Versus Exploitation: When Entertainment Trumps All

BACKGROUND Amber Galloway Gallego is a nationally well known interpreter who specializes in platform interpreting for music festivals, venues and acts. Her wide range of work experience includes interpreting for festivals and artists such as: Lollapalooza, Madonna, Snoop Dog, Lorde and many more.  

Amber is the founder of a sign language interpreting agency called Amber G. Productions that advertises itself as an agency that provides ASL Music Interpreting, inspired by San Antonio Deaf Dance Company and the Wild Zappers, an all male Deaf dance group founded by Irvine Stewart in 1989. She is a fan of hip hop and rap music genres personally and specializes in interpreting it professionally. There are other members of the agency that also provide interpreting services in addition to training, workshops and mentorships.

In the about section of the company’s webpage “Our team is comprised of prolific music interpreters, hearing and Deaf, with a combined experience of over 30 years and several hundreds of concerts, festivals, rodeos and other venues.”

This is impressive on the surface. However, if you look closer, this past year, Amber has sparked controversy in the Deaf community more than once. In early 2017 there was grumblings from the community when Amber launched her Patreon fundraising account, asking for financial support from patrons, an untraditional approach in the industry.

(Original formatting and spelling below is left intact)

I am Amber Galloway Gallego, the Music sign language interpreter.  Many people know me for the viral video of Kendrick Lamar's F@%king Problems, soon after that video surfaced I was featured on Jimmy Kimmel's Sign Language Rap Battle, Rollingstone, Vibe Magazine, Oprah Magazine and several online news programs. I have set Patreon up as a means of finanical (sic) support so that I can continue in the amazing journey of making music covers accessible. I have been an interpreter for over 17 years now. I was taught and made by the Deaf community. I am now very well rooted and firmly planted in the Deaf community as well as in the culture since my spell in 2002 of meningitis which has caused me to also have significant hearing loss. I am considered to now be Hard of Hearing. I was born hearing to hearing parents but luckily I had significant Deaf stars lead my way to my current journey and world. I am 100 percent dedicated to the fight for language and access equality.  I have my Master's Degree in ASL/English Interpreting. My certifications are National Certification RID CT&CI, NIC, Texas BEI Level V, Oral Certified: Comprehensive. I CANNOT THANK YOU ALL FOR YOUR SUPPORT TO ENSURE MUSIC IS ACCESSIBLE TO ALL!”

A recent article on March 27, 2017,  How Sign Language Interpreters Innovators are Bringing Music to the Deaf published by VOX, the contentious debate continued among both fans and those who are not. Within the article is a link to the YouTube video where Amber gives an interview with Vox.

At the heart of the discussion is whether or not Amber’s rise to fame is financially exploitative, demonstrates cultural appropriation of more than one marginalized group, and exhibits a type of appropriation known as language appropriation. This term was first coined by Jane Hill’s writing Linguistic Appropriation: The History of White Racism is Embedded in American English," where she describes how a dominant group steals aspects of a marginalized group’s language.

Especially disturbing seems to be Amber’s claim during her Vox video interview that she is creating a specialized version of ASL for music or more specifically auditory stimuli. However, it is not a new thing that Amber has claimed credit for. She is using ASL descriptors for auditory stimuli that Deaf native ASL users have used for generations to describe visual stimuli and vibrations. Using already existing language mechanisms to describe sound is not special and certainly not unique to a single interpreter.

It is challenging to balance the attention and fame Amber has received with the ongoing feedback from Deaf consumers regarding access.  A specific example: Amber is difficult to understand when she is bouncing her signing space, violating language norms. While that looks cool and conveys rhythm, the result is a reduction in understanding which renders the meaning a challenge to receive and negates the primary function of an interpreter- access. Balancing the musicality with the meaning is a sign of a good performance interpreter, it is a delicate and difficult balance to achieve. Amber is not successful in this regard.  But it does explain the concurring and conflicting experiences of non signers and signers: many non signers love her because of the visual appeal and signers who require access are left in the dust with little to no recourse to remedy the situation.

Many of the comments in the comments section of the  YouTube Vox interview appear to be from hearing, non-signers. Repeatedly they portray Amber as savior figure bringing music to Deaf people who have been deprived of it. This portrayal while insulting and audist is also inaccurate. Deaf people have long enjoyed music and there have always been ways for Deaf people to access music through interpreters, headphones, speakers, lyrics, and more. While not as common as freelance interpreters, there certainly are a number of both hearing and Deaf platform interpreters who are equally if not more talented.

It is clear that as far as Deaf consumers go, an interpreter having the skill set or “chops”  (and credentials) if you will is not enough. Attitude and approach seems to be a continuing sticking point for many Deaf consumers, especially when an interpreter is resistant to receiving constructive feedback. The receiving of Deaf consumer feedback is a vital part of an interpreter’s job. Platform interpreting is a very public forum.  The increase in attention and publicity opens up opportunities for Deaf consumers to not only give feedback directly but also to have dialog and discussions among each other about what it means when a certified interpreter behaves in ways that are not just repugnant to the community’s values but are in possible violation of the Codes of Conduct. A sort of “what do we do now” attitude begins to surface.


The outcome seems uncertain. While Amber is certified, questions of her choices and behavior remain.

There have been other instances of unqualified or uncertified interpreters who were given similar feedback with little to no result that may inform how the Deaf community as a whole and Deaf consumers individually respond.

Several years ago, reports spread like wildfire of a fake interpreter at the Nelson Mandela memorial service and were picked up by major media outlets such as CNN here.

On the heels of this a renewed outcry came from Seattle. A 25-year long standing controversy resurfaced regarding a signer of the Seattle Men’s Chorus, Kevin Gallagher regarding his uncertified status and lack of fluency in ASL. Despite feedback, and meetings with Seattle Men’s Chorus over the years, nothing changed.  

The resistance to feedback by both Kevin Gallagher and the Chorus resulted in a MoveOn petition, a blog containing open letters, a boycott, and coverage by both online, print and television news. We covered it here on our deaffriendly.com website.

The short term result was the hiring of two certified interpreters while keeping the performance signer on stage, a compromise. In the end, Kevin Gallagher was awarded the highest  honor in 2014 by the Seattle Men’s Chorus. He officially retired as an Artistic Interpreter in December 2016- his Q&A with the chorus can be read here discussing his departure. The hearing audience and non signers preferences to keep him ultimately outweighed the Deaf consumer’s need for access.

This glorification, exotification, and entitlement of interpreters by hearing non signers and media runs rampant. It is exacerbated by the unwillingness of venues, organizations and musical artists to use interpreters as access for Deaf consumers when the entertainment value of interpreters for hearing audiences is higher than the number of Deaf attendees.  When performance interpreters agree to become entertainment for profit from instead of access, regardless of Deaf consumer feedback to do otherwise, the result is a normalized proliferation of using ASL for entertainment and not as a language for communication and access among Deaf children and adults.


Interpreting is a big business and a critical part of the Deaf consumer experience in the world.

At deaffriendly.com we believe that those that know better must do better. When an interpreter makes a mistake, goes astray and they are given feedback from the community it is expected they take it seriously however hard it may be and make changes accordingly.

Feedback is a gift. It is an opportunity to learn and grow. We believe that by working together in good faith, change can happen.

ASL interpreters are in the unique position of standing between two languages and two cultures. While neutral conduits in theory, the reality looks different.  Interpreters hold a great deal of power because language is always subjective. The ability to accurately and faithfully convey information is still filtered through the interpreter’s life experiences, biases, and immediate environmental stimuli. The room for mistakes is large and the potential for harm, intentionally or not, is ever present.

It is for these very reasons the Code of Professional Conduct was established for certified interpreters to follow; the consequence of breaking any one of the tenets is the looming threat of losing certification and the greatly diminished capacity to earn a living as an interpreter.

RID states on their website under the Code of Professional Conduct page

A code of professional conduct is a necessary component to any profession to maintain standards for the individuals within that profession to adhere. It brings about accountability, responsibility and trust to the individuals that the profession serves.”

Interpreters adhere to standards of confidential communication.
  1. Interpreters possess the professional skills and knowledge required for the specific interpreting situation.
  2. Interpreters conduct themselves in a manner appropriate to the specific interpreting situation.
  3. Interpreters demonstrate respect for consumers.
  4. Interpreters demonstrate respect for colleagues, interns, and students of the profession.
  5. Interpreters maintain ethical business practices.
  6. Interpreters engage in professional development.

I believe the above tenets are required as a minimum standard to be met at all times and not a goal to strive for because the margin for error is so thin.

Interpreters, regardless of speciality, who have full access to the Deaf community, who are both certified and qualified, and to whom the gift of language from a marginalized community has been bestowed upon them as a way to make a living have an obligation to do no harm to the community it serves.

I recognize the interpreting field does not have a built in feedback loop, or a channel for consumers to effectively give feedback to the industry as a whole. Therefore, the onus of change and improvement of the interpreting field remains not on the Deaf consumer but on the industry until this is remedied at the system level and Deaf consumers can effectively give feedback with a reasonable expectation of change.

When the industry is unable or unwilling to create such a channel, or unable to effectively solve industry wide problems- other measures and escalations by Deaf consumers are appropriate including but not limited to: reviewing interpreting agencies, publically discussing individual interpreter’s violations of Code of Conduct, boycotting or protesting when called for.

I encourage Deaf consumers to give this kind of feedback where and when it can to push for change.

I encourage interpreters to hold one another accountable and to have difficult conversations with each other about violations of Code of Conduct.

I expect RID to implement other ways for Deaf consumers to meaningfully impact interpreting industry concerns, issues, and interpreters through whose skill or conduct are unqualified to attain or maintain certification.

I expect the media to be better informed about access, its portrayal of Deaf people and ASL

I expect businesses, venues (including music), organizations, and hearing artists to use interpreters to provide access to their Deaf consumers and not capitalize on the entertainment value of interpreters for novelty, publicity or financial gain.

Warning Signs

  • Little to no emphasis on the Deaf consumer’s experience or regard for their experience.
  • Is not Deaf-centered.  (i.e. art before access; primary goal goal is to be as true to the musical artist as possible rather than provide access to the Deaf consumer)
  • They are creating a “new” kind of ASL or a specialized version of it just for their genre
  • Does not defer to Deaf people in the form of ASL coaches, recognition that ASL belongs to Deaf people or create opportunities for Deaf artists
  • Does not reference Deaf audience members
  • Does not frame their work as access, frames it as art
  • Does not educate artists and venues on the benefit of providing access, seeks to maintain connections with artists with the goal to book with them in the future
  • Fame seeking- gives interviews
  • Show boating on stage- steals the show
  • Goal is to be the best and is competitive with other interpreters instead of supportive
  • Does not use their platform to educate about language deprivation of both English and ASL
  • Instead of advocating for more access for Deaf people, there is an emphasis on the novelty of ASL- how beautiful it is, how wonderful it is
  • There is a wow and awe response from hearing non signers
  • Deaf people are largely absent from the conversation

#deafchallenged #access #ASL #interpreters

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Tending Fires & Passing Torches: Moving Away from Brokenness Towards Wholeness

There is a fire burning in the distance. I make my way to it, in the night. In the fog. In the chill of the winter.  I climb my way through the hills and the mists and the fire blazes brightly, tended to by elders, the keeper of the flame, the holder of stories.

I would like to ask my elders: I wonder sometimes if all this emphasis on access hurts us ultimately. I wonder if we have lost our way. As I arrive to the bonfire, the words begin to spill from me almost immediately, before I even think to say hello.  

"As a people, we are rich with history, language, and amazing individuals doing amazing things all through time. Much of if lost to it, except to you elders who have much to share. "

I am full of questions, of youthful naivete. I am filled with longing to take up space, and to talk for hours on end the way the young do, emboldened with passion. I have not yet learned to listen, it seems. But I must ask. I must talk. 

"It seems to me, that reducing our plight to the obstacles we face is in fact causing the very harm or at least exacerbating it, that we seek to undo.I wonder too, about the deconstructionist lens versus a revisionist approach that focuses on tearing down what is not working instead of remembering what we are working towards.  I cannot believe,  I refuse to believe that the ultimate goal is access.  Because behind that quest for access, is the assumption that access will equal assimilation into a broader culture that has no use for us, that has no need of us, that wishes to fix us, and eradicate our existence."

The elders smile slightly, as they fan the flame, sending smoke into my face.  I cough a bit and offer to put on another log. And I continue, almost breathless now. 

"For we are so much more than the shitty interpreters, the lack of access, the non captioned videos, the refused relay calls, the non-signing teachers, the forced cochlear implants, the hours of involuntary speech therapy, the isolation in classrooms.

We are so much more than what has been done to us. 

And yet... much of our energy is focused on removing those barriers and mitigating the harm that has been done to us- passing legislation, we create and look to advocacy organizations, to interpreter training programs, to Video Relay Services and so on.

At this, our elders smile more broadly and their heads begin to nod.  Still they remain silent. 

"When we stand up for who we are as a people, we begin to walk away from asking to be viewed as a problem that needs to be fixed and instead we walk towards being seen as whole and beautiful, just as we are. Just as we have always been. In my heart of hearts, I believe we need to focus less on the access and more on the language and history that is deserving of respect and dignity.

And at this they hold up their hands and motion me to sit. 

"Forget about "them"- hearing people. Forget about educating them. Forget about reaching them and changing their hearts and minds.  Forget about fighting against institutionalized power.  No, really.  Forget them.  They really don't matter. And the sooner we realize that, the faster we take away their power over us.  We cannot, we must not wait for them to give our own power to us. It is folly, for they never will.

Remember us, instead.

And let us remember together with complexity, with understanding that we are a vast, varied people.

Remember the depths and breadths of who we are as a people- for we are far more than ears that don't work.  We are varied and and reflect a multitude of experiences far-far beyond our Deaf experience. The color of our skin, the gender we are assigned, the sexual orientation we embody, the financial class we live in, the additional disAbilities we experience - all of this informs and shapes our experience as Deaf people. 

I sit there, stunned. And lost in my thoughtsAnd let it sink in just how different we all are. 

 No wonder, that sometimes we reach for the thing that commonly defines us- the experience of being Deaf in a hearing world and the shared challenges that arise from it.  No wonder we define ourselves by a world that views us a broken and seeks to put us back together into hearing-normative wholeness.

Yet we were never broken.

Yet... yet we forget we are a people of the eye. A people of the hand. A people of the heart- with many (many!) stories to tell and re-tell to each other, again and again.  We need to come back to one another, come closer, sit around the fire and tell our stories once more, and ever-more. Then we will begin to find the light.

At this, almost as if they can see into my thoughts and read the landscape of my heart, they light a torch and pass it to me.  I take it with me and in the darkness, walk the long way home. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Play with ASL, Play with Fire

At some point we must have given the green light.  We must have nodded our heads and said yes, you can play with our language. At the very least, we let it happen and didn't say anything. Then.

And we are seeing just what comes of that negligence on our part. Did we think it was someone else's job to speak up for and defend our language when it is abused?

Maybe we told ourselves that it would be good, that there would be wide-sweeping benefits to having ASL shared and experienced by hearing people who otherwise wouldn't. That those benefits would trickle down to us eventually, someday. Maybe we told ourselves, clamping down on our own unease, that the ends justified the means- because we could see, even then that our language was being used while completely absent of Deaf people and the community it came from. 

We are learning, slowly, that this is just one more lie we have been told, that we were too willing to believe.

That was then.  

This is now.  

In ever-increasing numbers, Deaf people all over the world are standing up to the abuse of their language, often to the bewilderment of most hearing people and even some Deaf people who have grown used to and complacent about such widespread cultural appropriation of sign language for the financial gain of hearing people and organizations.

Baby signs for hearing babies. Pseudo signing mascots on stages for hearing audiences, with nary a Deaf person in sight. ASL music videos by hearing people. ASL books, videos, and websites run and profited by hearing individuals.

I can almost sense the backlash already.  Don't be so serious.  Sign language isn't serious.  It's just a language like any other language.  Lots of people play with language. Sign language is an especially beautiful and visual language, so of course people want to play with it. No need to be so militant about it.

And here's my response: until every Deaf child is exposed to sign language, until every parent of every Deaf baby is told that their child is not a defect but rather a gift, until those same parents learn ASL to communicate with their children, until every classroom is providing true access to Deaf children, until every interpreter is indeed qualified and certified in every sector, until access for both children and adults is so ingrained and commonplace that it is no longer something we have to fight for.... then I will stop taking it seriously.  Because I will know then that our language is taken seriously. That we are taken seriously.

But we are not.  Our language is taken from us, denied to us, and then played with for amusement by the same people who would oppress us.

Until the day comes when this stops, as someone so succinctly said- I know that sign language is not meant to be played with.  It is for one thing and one thing only, to deliver a message. 

And that message is, get your hands off it.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

8 Interpreter Types You Should Never Date

Note: This is a satirical piece. With enough truth in it to make us all cringe.

Really? You're dating an interpreter? Of course you are. How original of you. Don't mind my eye rolling here, do go on and tell me all about how ahmazing this interpreter is that you're dating and having sex with.  Good. For. You.  

Except... really? Are you sure you want to be dating that interpreter.  Because you do know what you are getting yourself into right? And odds are, this isn't going to end very well. Interpreters and Deaf folks dating one another is generally speaking, not one for the record books in terms of longevity. Yes, I know. You are the exception. This time is different. They're not like that. They "get it."


Oh, honey. That look on my face? Yes, that's pity coupled with a little oh-dear.

Because here's what wisdom, experience, and observation have taught me: Sometimes Very Bad Ideas are kind of fun at first, but unless you two break the mold, this is going to unfold in one of several, but predictable ways.

There are always types too.  Lets figure out which type you are dating and/or having sex with.

1. The New ASL Student (Who Wants to Become an Interpreter)

This one shouldn't even be included in this list, because technically they're not interpreters. Except in their enthusiasm for the signs they are learning, they have convinced themselves that THEY WILL BECOME AN INTERPRETER. Adorable.  For like two seconds.  Because after you are done having sex with them, you will realize you have.nothing.to.talk.about. Because lets be real, they can't really sign that well can they?  So moving right along here....

2. The New ITP Student 

This one is a lot like the New ASL Student but with slightly more street cred. They may have staying power here. At this point you need to figure out a couple things like: Are they with you just for status and bragging rights? Because nothing says status in an ITP class like an ITP student interrupting her teacher "No, that's not true. My Deaf girlfriend said..."  Trust me, this is a real thing.  Hard to believe but it's.a.real.thing.

So you're not being used for status? Awesome. Second thing to figure out - Now are they actually any good? This is an important point and maybe a little difficult to ascertain if you're eyeballs deep in their nether regions, you might not be paying attention to what they're saying.

 Are.they.any.good? I don't mean in bed, can they freaking sign? Are they fluent?  Because if they're good, and they're good in bed, and decent human beings... and they rock your world in a very special way, you'll want to consider keeping them around.  However...  the rubber hits the road if they become the next type-

3. The Shitty Interpreter: 

It's really awkward (for the rest of us) when they suck.  And they're always with a specific kind of Deaf person too.  The one who teaches ASL in bars, the one who collects newbie signers like action figures they line up on the bedroom windowsill. These are the Deaf folks who pimp out their ASL the way some people use walking a dog through the park to attract girlfriends. There are boundary issues for days and days- because their Deaf partner will tell them "OF COURSE you are ready to interpret that play."  They are so not ready to interpret that play. That shit is just awkward. What do you say to either one of them "You suck and you're stupid?"  People, c'mon, just staawwwwp.

4. The Helper Interpreter

There is a special breed of hearing people that flock to helper roles in the Deaf community- teachers, audiologists, interpreters. You can identify them by their cloying sweetness and naivete. For some reason a bunch of them are white, young girls from upper middle class backgrounds who grew up notoriously sheltered.  They just want to help poor Deaf folks.  You come across this type? You Fucking Run. Because they will help you incessantly. You'll never get a word in edgewise. They'll tell you all about the real world (which is ironic considering their own limited experience.) They'll always know what is best for you, what you should wear, what you should say, where you should work, what you should do with your life. After all, they're just trying to help you. You want a paternalistic relationship with unequal power dynamics? Have at it. You don't? Motherfucking.Run.

5. The Church Interpreter

Sigh. The Church Interpreter is a sad breed of interpreters who date Deaf folks to save them. They're a bit like the Helper Interpreter and the Shitty Interpreter combined into a potent cocktail of Oh Hell No They Didn't.  If an interpreter admits to volunteer interpreting for their own church, and it is clear that their talents are not God-Given (i.e. they suck).... and they're super religious.... I'm fairly certain this is going to be a dud for you in every way. You two can pray about it together, if you like, but it might be easier all the way around to skip this one.

6. The Really Good and/or Hot Interpreter 

Somehow, against the odds, you are dating the Holy Grail of interpreters- you are dating THE interpreter in the community. The hot one. The good one. (Or if you hit the mother load: the Hot -and- Good Interpreter).  Yeah. This on the surface sounds like a good idea.  Yeah.  Except its not.  Because every one will either:

1. hate you
2. envy you
3. both.

Why is that? Because of scarcity principles. The more rare these mythical creatures are (the really good/hot interpreter), the higher their stock rises. And you'd better be some kind of special if you want to keep these ones around and interested for the long-term. Or super secure.. Because they will have more panties thrown at them than Taylor Swift and Adam Levine, combined. Save yourself the heartbreak and settle for a good, but not amazing, interpreter.

Also objectifying? Super creepy. If you're with them because of their status... you know that's not okay, right? They are real human beings with actual feelings. Don't date the hot/good interpreter unless you like the person they are behind the job/image. They can smell star fuckers and see you coming from a mile away.

7. The 9 to 5 Interpreter

These are the interpreters who swore they would never date a Deaf person. Because Deaf people are kind of jacked up and they have too much vicarious trauma to not be triggered by the way you breathe (too loudly). They clock in at their jobs, clock out, go home and have a beer and don't see another Deaf person again until their next job at the Social Security Administration, or at school the next day, or in a tiny booth waiting for the next Deaf caller. For them, interpreting is a job. It pays the bills.  For them Deaf folks are work.

 They would never in a million years consider bringing work home with them and into their beds. That wouldn't be professional, nor would it be fun.

Buts lets say they have a few too many beers one night, their better judgement gets left behind on the job... and you two hook up.

They're going to make you stay home with them. And hell no they won't go with you to the Deaf Club, because socializing with Deaf folks would violate their professional boundaries that they've worked so hard to maintain.  Your friends will never see them and they'll become like unicorns- oft head of, but never seen- a fantasy of your own making. 

8. The CODA Interpreter

Oh. Shit. You are in trouble.  First of all, they probably sign better than you, which just hurts in a special kind of way. Second, they KNOW the shit you are going to do. They can call it in their sleep. You're going to call them from the other room. You're going to ask them to make phone calls for them. You're going to ask them to interpret for their doctor appointments. You're going to drag them to every goddamned Deaf event. They.know.that.shit.  They grew up with that special brand of fucked-up-ness that Deaf people do behind closed doors.  They have baggage and trauma for days, that you are going to specifically trigger, constantly.   And let me tell you, they are going to tell you ALL about it. All the time.  They are the authority on Deaf folks. They are more Deaf than you are. And every time you try to call them out on their hearing privilege, they're going to tell you just how long and hard their hearts bleed Deaf. You can't win.  Do yourself a favor, buy them earplugs (trust me on this), and get yourself some soft slippers that don't shuffle.  You'll thank me later. And if you are determined to date an interpreter, this is the best one out of the bunch.

Or...Just date Deaf folks and save yourself the grief people. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Taking Back Responsibility for What is Ours: Bringing Interpreters Back into the Fold

I took some time off to percolate. Now I'm back.

The feedback and the speed at which some of Deaf Wordsmith posts went viral surprised me.  Clearly, while many didn't agree with all/some of the points in previous entries, there was resonance. Y'all shared like crazy. And conversations were had.  For that, I am grateful.

But I also was tasked with taking a look at my anger.  That familiar chip on my shoulder. Yeah. It's there. It's a real thing.

Here's my take on that- I think anger is much maligned and not so far removed from kindness and love as we have been led to believe. I've done some work around it and here are the things I've come up with so far.

For many Deaf folks, interpreters are our first line of defense ,where the hearing world and Deaf world intersects. Interpreters are at the forefront of some of our most intense, scary times where we encounter "The System."

And when things go awry with interpreting it affects us. Deeply.

It hurts. Behind the anger is hurt.

I do think that the responsibility of access in the Deaf community is a shared one.  It does not rest of the shoulders of interpreters alone. So this post is for my Deaf brothers and sisters, and not for interpreters really. If you are an interpreter, I invite you to read along and mull these things over in private. Share this if you like, with your fellow interpreters, but give the platform to us.

For my Deaf brothers and sisters, I ask you to engage in this conversation publicly, with one another. I ask you to weigh in, to add your thoughts to this discourse.

We Deaf folks need to do a better job at some of this stuff too. We need to reclaim some things we have relinquished.

Interpreter Training Programs:
We are no longer raising interpreters like we did decades prior, and this is to the detriment of our people and interpreters alike. Interpreters used to be home-grown; they came from us and absorbed our values and ways of being. CODAs were instrumental in this.  That is our responsibility, raising interpreters, and we have turned it over to the interpreter training factories. We have turned over quality control and oversight to institutions of higher learning corporations who are more interested in profitability than they are in serving our Deaf communities.

Many interpreter training programs these days are being run like a big business, far removed from the heart of the Deaf community that its administrators, teachers, students, and graduates purport to serve. We have handed them the keys to the kingdom and we walked away, unconcerned  There is often very little oversight and understanding about what happens behind those classroom doors. Teachers in these programs send wave after wave of students and new graduates into our Deaf spaces, meetings, appointments, events, plays,  happy hours, and gatherings. For many, if not most, of these students and new graduates we are their first encounter. We are the first Deaf person they have met. We are the first large gathering of Deaf people they have come across.  Nothing in their lives, previously, has informed them or prepared them for what they are encountering.

That is frightening.

The results speak for themselves- interpreter quality has consistently gone downhill year after year. These hearing students and recent graduates are so far removed from our communities that often the ranks are flooded with those who do not possess the skill set and cultural competency needed for the work they are called to do. They do not know us.  How can they interpret for us? The lack of skill set goes far beyond the "Newbie Interpreter" grace period that assumes all new interpreters need time to get better. They are missing something even more fundamental, they do not have Deaf hearts.

Internalized Oppression:
The ramifications goes deeper than this. The result is really a symptom of a much larger problem. At the very core, we have lost our way as Deaf people when it comes to interpreters.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the role of CODAs here.  In the past CODAs, along with Deaf people have worked together to raise interpreters.  And CODAs remain a crucial part of this problem and the solutions we need to find. But that is a post for another day.

We have learned to assimilate and internalize hearing values, including sparing the feelings of those we care about/depend on at the expense of our understanding, which has reduced the opportunity for giving and receiving important feedback.   This assimilation has not been voluntary, admittedly. It has been forced upon us. And ultimately this assimilation has contributed to the declining quality of interpreters in the field who are unable to grow their skills without that much-needed feedback. Because we are putting individual interpreters and their feelings at the greater expense of our understanding and access. We have spared the few at the expense of the many. And we are paying for it dearly. Deaf children will pay for it even more.

Educational Interpreters:
Mainstream culture, that more and more Deaf children are being raised in, has contributed to this internalized oppression and certainly has contributed to the glorification of interpreters. Interpreters for many of these children are seen as a friend, a life preserver... the only hearing person in the classroom who literally understands them. This creates an unhealthy emotional and physical dependency, and a blurring of boundaries that many carry into adulthood. It is difficult for many of us from this background to confront interpreters or to understand that we deserve the best when it comes to access.

 We have not done a very good job of letting Deaf children in mainstream education settings know that they are entitled to quality interpreters. They are entitled to better access. They are entitled to competent, skilled, clear interpreting in the classroom provided by experienced, certified interpreters.  Deaf children are among the most vulnerable members of our community and yet they are not given the very best access.

Deaf folks, historically, have fought more for improved access in medical settings, in court settings, the video relay industry, as well as entertainment venues. We have not demanded that educational interpreters be held to the same, if not higher standards than we hold professional, certified interpreters to. In fact, we have not demanded that our Deaf children deserve the best, period.  That is shameful. We must do better.

Going Forward: 

We have work to do. And we have ignored our responsibility to lead this work for too long. We need to bring our interpreters back into the fold, raise them from within our community, and pass on our values and language the old fashioned way.  We need to care again about the quality of interpreters and not be afraid to use tough love when the occasion calls for it.  We need to let interpreters know that education exists both inside and outside the classroom walls. We need to remember that interpreters are not there to be glorified or vilified, but to be treated as human beings with both flaws and potential, and to treat them with the dignity we all deserve. It's time to bring them home. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Debunking Nice

Disclaimer: Can we all get on board with the idea that no ideas belong to us? This post is heavily influenced by ideas that are not my own. These ideas didn't originate with me.  The ideas in this post come from LGBTQ folks from people of color, from people in my every day life that I talk to, from threads I'm reading online,  from Deaf folks of all dots and stripes of life, and from folks who have been doing social justice work longer than I have been alive. The ideas below have been talked about in more eloquent and nicer ways than I'm going to do so.

Nice is a tool of the oppressor to keep us silent, docile and submissive. Nice keeps the status quo nicely in check, while nicely stomping over the bodies of Deaf folks who are pissed off. 

I am -over- being nice.  OVER it.  

And I am over y'all telling folks that we need to not humiliate/shame interpreters who are working and struggling because "that is not nice."    

You agree with the content/ideas in/behind this, but not the method? 

Oh for fuck's sakes.  

What happened to honesty? To directness?  What about being clear, concise, and getting to the damned point?  How about mutual accountability. Accountability doesn't happened in the hallways, y'all.  It doesn't happen during private conversations without witnesses, y'all.

How about we just let shit get real. You know: Like how Deaf folks do it.  Most of the time? Some of the times?  Okay maybe we won't delve into the slowly dying value that is directness in the Deaf community. But it's a value that serves a damned good purpose and needs to make a revival, stat.

Since when is the individual feelings of ONE person more important than the community they have chosen to serve? A community with collectivist values.  If an interpreter in any of the following scenarios . . .
1. Won't take feedback. Ever. 
2. Continuously breaks Codes of Conduct
3. Sucks. I don't mean "has a bad day" but SUCKS. 
4. Is new and inexperienced and enters shit-storms on a regular basis

All y'all need to tell them. Promptly. On the spot.  In front of folks. Repeatedly. And not nicely .Clearly. So there is no room for doubt. You are doing them a favor.  It is a damned gift. You are not the asshole. You are the person letting them know that they're fucking up.  

This individual versus collective is coming to a head here. It's time to stop worrying about individual people's feelings and worry more about the collective Deaf community you are serving/hurting.  It's time to stop playing nice and start getting real familiar with the big picture. 

The interpreter industry is in shambles.  Interpreters left to their own devices have made a unholy mess of things.  There are so many problems no one knows where or how to start to come up with solutions. Y'all fucked that shit up really good. REALLY good. 

And now you want to be nice?  Dude. Stop it. Get over it. You lost the right to niceness a good, long time ago. 

Because what I think you mean is kindness. Kind and nice are two different beasts. Let's be kind and make shit happen. Lets be kind and loving and turn things around.  Lets be loving, honest, and real with people.  Let's call people out AND call them in at.the.same.time.  Lets challenge while we support.  Lets get over our addiction to being nice and not stating the obvious. Lets move past the facade of social niceties and make room for real, actual growth.  

Because love, real love, isn't about being nice and staying silent in the face of dysfunction, oppression, and fucked-up-ness.  Love demands you take action.  Love demands you speak up. Love requires you to stop being so damned nice.  

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Accountability: Clean Your House

I wonder sometimes what it is like to be an interpreter.  For a very specific reason; I wonder what it is like to see someone in your own field take jobs they're not qualified for, again and again.  I wonder what it is like to team with them.  I wonder what it is like to interact with them.

It must be hard.

And I want to know, would if I was one of you, would I hold them accountable?

Because here is the thing, when I have left my doctor appointment, my meeting, my conference... I don't know how you act with one another. I really don't.  I don't know the inner workings, the intrigues, the political back channels.

I know what it is like to be your client, but I don't have the slightest clue what it is like to be among you when you are among yourselves.

Do you guys hold one another accountable? Do you approach folks and let them know they are out of line? And if that person-to-person feedback does not work, what do you do? Not what can you do. Nor what should you do. But what do you ACTUALLY do.

Because if I have not made it clear, if Deaf folks have not made it clear to you . . . we expect you to hold one another accountable. We expect that if personal one-on-one feedback is not effective, that something more is done.

I suspect, because it is your job, you know far more interpreters than I do. And you come across far more bad interpreters than I do.  Most Deaf folks are alone in the room with one or two interpreters and hearing non-signers.  But we're not using interpreters every day.  You however, are working several times a week, if not almost every day.

Sometimes I see a really wonderful interpreter, someone I admire, paired with an interpreter who is terrible.  And afterwards a conversation occurs:

Good Interpreter: So. How did that go for you?
Me: Okay. You were fine. They were not.
Good Intepreter: Yes. I noticed.  I am sorry.
Me: I will let the (whoever) know not to hire them again.
Good Interpreter: That's a good idea. I encourage you to do that.

But they do get hired again. Just (hopefully!!!) not for me.

 And while I appreciate the check-in I do wonder... why are you not saying something to your team? Or maybe you do?  Do you do it later when I am not around?   Do you let the agency know? They hearing folks who were in the room with me know?  Or is it just on me, always? Because it shouldn't be.  This is your profession.  I would hope, and I do expect that you maintain oversight over quality control too.  That you hold one another accountable.

Because it would be really nice to see you call out your team when they suck, in front of me and the hearing non signers. It would be nice for me to see this conversation play out:

Good Interpreter: So how did you get this job?
Bad Interpreter: They agency sent me.
Good Interpreter: I think you were not qualified and not a good fit to take this job. I encourage you not to take these kind of (medical/theater/legal) jobs again.  It's unethical. I will not work with you again.

And this conversation:

Good Interpreter: Excuse me every one. My team is unable to do their job properly right now and is not qualified for this job.

I know right? WHOA.  That sounds hard. It really does. But Deaf folks can't be the only ones policing the interpreting field.  We all need to hold one another accountable, together.  Otherwise it's just really hard and accountability becomes a buzz word we say but don't practice in the real world.

I am tired of being the "angry" Deaf client. The one who is always complaining about their access or lack thereof. I would like you to be the angry interpreters and hold one another accountable, in the moment, in front of us so we know it is happening. And keep doing it when we are not around.

Because no matter how much I respect you personally, no matter how much I may regard you as a potential ally... if you are not visibly and diligently holding folks in your profession accountable, it makes it difficult for me when I do go to the agency and when I do let hearing folks know. I wish my word was enough, but often it is not. I need your help too.

You need to clean your house.  Get rid of the cobwebs and dust, and haul out the trash.  I
t's long overdue.  Someone needs to open up the windows and air the stench out. You've collected too many bad interpreters in your profession. They need to go.