Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Disability Blog Carnival--Communication Allies

The 33rd Disability Blog Carnival is being hosted by Ruth at Wheelie Catholic. The theme is Appreciating Allies.

My tribute today is to the many interpreter and CART (real time captioners) allies that I've met over the years.

I grew up hard of hearing, but I basically lipread my way through life. I didn't know American Sign Language and I wasn't introduced to it until I became deaf at the age of 19. Just a short time after I lost the rest of my hearing, I transferred to Northern Illinois University and stayed in a dorm that housed several deaf and hard of hearing students and Deaf Education majors.

I struggled in my classes. I was dealing with horrible tinnitus--the endless droning sounds that refused to leave my head. I was trying to lipread the instructors as well as follow all the information that was flowing in each class. I used an FM system for a while, but all that did was amplify sounds that I couldn't understand. In the classes where another student was using an interpreter, I discovered that I could lipread the interpreter much more easily than the instructors. By the second semester, I was requesting interpreters for all of my classes. At the same time, I was being immersed in American Sign Language in the dorms.

I'm always thankful for that chain of events in my life, because interpreters and real time captioners have leveled the communication playing field for me. They've enabled me to attend conferences, group discussions, concerts and many other events. I use a videophone to make voice phone calls-- I use a separate phone to talk directly to the person I'm calling and I watch an interpreter on my computer or tv as they interpret what is being said through the phone. The interpreters keep up so well that there's almost no lag time. The first time that I used this system to call a long time friend, she thought I suddenly was able to hear over the phone.

Over the years I've met some fabulous interpreters who I consider friends. They easily separate the role of interpreting and the role of friendship.

I've also met some interpreters who have considered themselves as power players and some interpreters who downright shouldn't be in the profession. I had one interpreter at a very important meeting who couldn't keep up and all of the sentences were muddling together. After the meeting, I discovered that she didn't pass the minimum level of interpreting and shouldn't have accepted the assignment. I sent a complaint letter to the state's Commission office but discovered that nothing could be done as the law "had no teeth" at that point. I later learned that this same interpreter was interpreting in the court system and at a local college. Enough people spoke up and limited her ability to take on assignments.

But rather than focus on the ones that aren't the allies-- I want to take a moment to thank the ones that are. Thank you to the ones that tirelessly interpret video relay calls, tirelessly attend long events, tirelessly move your hands into accessible, meaningful communication.

And a very special thank you to those who do it with a beautiful smile as well.


Anonymous said...

First I want to say I love your blogs I am a loyal reader.

I think the most difficult thing for interpreters is the seperation. I would never take on an assigment for a friend. For the main reason I believe it is ethically unfit. For myself, I could potientialy become bias and my may not be render a faithful interpetation.

Interpreters should refrain from providing services for family members, close personal friends or professional relationships which my affect impartiality.

Now with that said, I would volunteer my services for my friends but I would use discretion. For example I would interpret for Church, Graduation parties, youth outtings, and outdoor adventures....

Just food for thought the next time you have a friend interpet for you..

Ettina said...

Why are interpreters easier to lipread? Do you know why that is?

Karen said...


I agree that it is a really fine line to walk when allowing a friend to interpret. I've been fortunate that my friends are very aware of the code of ethics and we are careful not to cross over. When they are interpreting, I'm aware they're doing a job and not being my "friend" at that time.

Karen said...

Interpreters were easier for me to lipread because they stayed in one place. I didn't have to make my eyes follow the instructor as he/she paced the room or turn around to search for lips to read when someone would comment.