Saturday, February 5, 2011

ASL Interpreting: A Cognitively Complex Challenge

CNY-RID Meeting. Feb 4.
Six challenges now face ASL interpreters. These were outlined by Dr. Dennis Cokely (Director of the ASL interpretation program at Northeastern University) in the video presentation of the Region 1 Conference meeting at Albany, NY, "What's in your knapsack". Not sure if I have organized the 6 correctly as we couldn't see the slides and he didn't list them as he spoke.

1. Values. Have they been lost? Not all change is growth; not all movement is forward.What's the meaningful common cause?

2. Relationships. Pivotal changes occurred in (i) 1964, from "of the community" to "for the community"; (ii) 1973, from least privileged to most privileged through the enaction of the first of 3 major laws; (iii) 1990 IDEA; ADA. Laws mandated the presence of ASL interpreters and gave them a sense of privilege; an unearned mandated presence. (Check Peggy McIntosh's 1989 seminal article on "White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack").

The Rehab Act, IDEA and ADA made a profession out of ASL interpreting. It became a legal necessity, a business. The supply-demand imbalance also had the potential to turn this privilege into a conferred dominance. Some entity gave interpreters "control over the lives of the deaf" such that they don't get to go where they want to freely. Instead, the deaf now go where interpreters choose to work; interpreters' work preferences now constrain their lives. A love/hate relationship exists. This intrusive/systemic level of control, according to Harlan Lane (Northeastern University) renders the deaf the most oppressed group in the USA, and those who are deaf and blind, even more oppressed. The question to ASL interpreters: To what extent do we contribute to the oppression of deaf people? To what extent do their work choices, patterns of work and their interpretations affect them? (When the deaf is interpreted as "cannot hear", then the automatic interpretation of English words have the capacity to influence and perpetuate views of the social, educational and legal systems we enacted. How do we contribute to the path of least resistance?

Changing systems is hard, but several systems need changing. How do we work with the deaf to get access? What's our common cause? What's the greater cause? Are we self-focused or other-focused? Who controls our work? We need to find ways to rekindle our relationships with the deaf people and acknowledge our privilege.

3. Connections. Interpreters are increasingly disconnected from deaf people. Only 20% of interpreters belong to the NAD; 8% to State Associations of the Deaf. 49% of interpreters indicated that they have less than 10% interaction with deaf people. Bottom line: interpreters are not engaged with deaf people.

What is their connection with their peers/colleagues? Is it collaborative or competitive? What is the model of work? What is interpreters' basic orientation towards their colleagues? Is there respect for another person's interpretation?

Mentoring. "More interpreters want mentoring than are able to receive it, and less than a third of the organization’s members are willing to provide it" (Kent, 2010 blogpost).

4. Nature of work. In the past, there was no paid work; service was reciprocal. Now there is no pro bono work, interpreting now operates on a business model. Only 13% of interpreters work in the healthcare context; to 78% of the deaf, the healthcare setting is the single most important setting which they need interpreters to fill.

Education. Comparing education of interpreters and deaf: 50% of interpreters will go on to attain a MA/PhD in 10 years; a majority of the deaf leave high school with a 4th grade reading capability. 

Even with interpreting, deaf people's educational level and literacy rates are not increasing. Are interpreters complicit in this educational partnership? This partnership is apparently not working. Interpreters need to be more concerned with the level of service they are rendering. They need to rekindle the reciprocity in this relationship and contribute to the common good of interpreters and Deaf. There needs to be a significant effort to give back and to re-engage with deaf people. This legally mandated economic security is a privilege that should not be abused.
5. Who defines our work? What is the interpreter's work? A dial-tone; an assistive device; an auxiliary aid? Interpreting is one of the most cognitively complex task human beings are capable of, requiring cognitive and cultural capacities. To regulate and ensure ethical practices, RID has mandated the protection of its members. (There is reportedly abuse in the use of VRS as it robs the context of the communication). RID has to pay attention to how employers are treating interpreters: agency charges $69 but pays interpreters $38 an hour; agency charges $150 and pays interpreters $50 per hour. 289 million people in this country don't get it.

6. Competition. Certified vs. Not Certified. (Shades between this range) Tensions and conflict that come with this demarcation.

After the video presentation, there was active discussion on the issues raised by Cokely. To an outsider like me, it seems several things need investigation: more research and understanding into the nature of signing and development of appropriate training programs; competency levels; types of competencies, including cultural sensitivity and awareness; continuing education.

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