Today we are experiencing a growth in deaf professionals in leadership and management roles working with designated interpreters. Growing up in the 1940s as the deaf child of deaf parents, my family often went to a neighbor’s house when we needed to make telephone calls to doctors, stores, or relatives. Occasionally, we would even ring someone’s doorbell at 2:00 a.m. if we had an emergency. Like most families of this era, our need for “informal interpreting” consisted of writing notes about our request to make a specific call. Our neighbor would make the call, write down what the other person said, and voice our written response, until the call was completed.
I joined the faculty of NTID at RIT in 1970. By then, interpreting had emerged as a profession, serving both adults and the increasing numbers of deaf students who were attending mainstreamed colleges. It was at NTID that I was first exposed to a professional interpreter in a staff meeting. I will never forget the feeling of wonder that came over me as I received a word-for-word transliteration of the speaker’s message.
In late 1975, the federal government passed Public Law 94–142, which extended the need and demand for interpreting services to the elementary and secondary levels of most school districts throughout the country. This law caught both interpreters and educators by surprise. Suddenly, interpreters whose roles had been undefined and often misunderstood by administrators, teachers, and even parents, were thrust into the limelight. Few interpreters had any formal training for working in an educational setting with deaf individuals, and very few had formal preparation as educational interpreters and many had deaf parents. Most were ambivalent about their roles; many were still called teacher’s aides.
As various laws related to disability were created in the 1980s and 1990s, deaf professionals emerged in fields, such as education, business, industry, social, and human services, law, medicine, research, and government. Suddenly, both deaf consumers and interpreters needed to take a fresh look at confidentiality, ethics, and other issues relevant to the interpreting profession. Thus the Deaf Professional-Designated Interpreter paradigm emerged.
Hartmut Teuber (1996), a deaf professional, eloquently stated in a letter he wrote in response to the article “On the Emerging New Picture of Its Role and Functions” in RID’s journal that a new model of interpreting was developing—that of the “ally” or, as Teuber called it the “equalizer.” He stated that when a level of trust, negotiation, and professionalism is achieved between the deaf professional and the interpreter. The result is empowerment that contributes “to the social emancipation of deaf people—an attempt to remove inequalities from the interpreting situation, where they exist, and to promote social and political changes in favor of the deaf community” (45).
Two years later, Allisun Kale and Herbert W. Larson (1998)—Kale, an interpreter and Larson, a deaf professional—presented a paper titled “The Deaf Professional and the Interpreter: A Dynamic Duo.” They said that deaf professionals and interpreters are often unsure of how to establish the basic and essential ground rules to make the interaction successful. They discussed several examples of how interpreters and deaf professionals could handle different situations, for example, staff events to lay the groundwork for understanding and progress. These were the first publications that acknowledged the field of interpreting for deaf professionals in professional meetings or related presentations and other activities.
Over the years I learned how to work closely with my interpreters, especially when I wanted to participate actively in meetings or deliver an effective verbal presentation to an audience. Normally, when an interpreter voices for me, I spontaneously watch my interpreter to make sure that she can follow what I am saying. Speechreading the interpreter while I sign helps me to know whether the interpreter is following me. I accept the responsibility to make sure that I am understood by the audience. Normally, I prefer a highly skilled interpreter who can voice well for me without asking me to repeat at all. When I am interrupted by an interpreter too often, I lose my train of thought. For this reason, designated interpreters are extremely valuable. The more an interpreter knows me, the better the interpreter can voice for me without needing to interrupt me for clarification. Even qualified and highly skilled interpreters have challenges voicing for professionals with who they have not worked before.
Moving forward the Deaf Professional-Designated Interpreter paradigm requires deaf professionals to become equal partners with designated interpreters. It also requires administrators to design and develop appropriate interpreter referral services and interpreter training programs to meet this need. Deaf individuals who are consumers of interpreting services not only must provide input to but also must participate in the decision-making matters as they relate to the quality of interpreting services by providing information about their specific communication and language needs. They can contribute to the planning and establishment of interpreting services and evaluate them. They can assist in the role clarification of interpreters and consumers in various interpreting situations. They can participate in the definition and determination of job qualifications for interpreters. Deaf people also may provide input and guidance with respect to the establishment of priorities for interpreting services; the parameters should include the level and type of skill match between interpreters and assignments. The system should include a critique process for interpreter referral services and a performance feedback on interpreting services. They can provide assistance in dealing with financial working of the service and establish an appropriate rate structure for interpreters.
We also must deal with how to define a “qualified interpreter.” The Social Security Administration has a national policy on the definition of a qualified interpreter, stating that both the deaf person and the hearing person must be satisfied with selection of an interpreter before interpreting services can be implemented. This policy is fine with me because I know exactly what makes good interpreting for me and I can be assertive enough about my needs or find a way to copy with differences. However, I am concerned that some deaf individuals who might have difficulty in determining what makes good interpreting for them could be considered as inferior and could be suppressed in such meetings. In New York, the definition of “qualified interpreter” has not been resolved; there was no consensus by all those concerned, including deaf people, professionals, and legislators to define this term. As a result, the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation in the New York State Plan for Vocational Rehabilitation Services to Deaf People decided to use an order of priority in the selection of interpreters for client services, using RID certification and professional training as the basis for determining their qualifications.
When I became dean of NTID in 1998, I thought I should have a full-time interpreter assigned to me to handle all interpreting situations in my staff meetings on campus with other parts of the university at RIT. Over time, I realized, however, that I did not need someone on a full-time basis, so arrangements were made with the Department of Interpreting Services at NTID to have a designated interpreter cover my interpreting needs on a scheduled basis. Sometimes, two interpreters were needed. I found it helpful to have a designated interpreter work with me in most cases because I often deal with executive matters requiring sensitivity and confidentiality. There are certain protocols that enhance and facilitate effective communication between a deaf professional and his or her counterparts. For example, normally it would be helpful for whoever is leading a group meeting to adopt a rule whereby one person talks at a time and waits for an interpreter to finish interpreting before another person is allowed to speak next in turn. This rule allows a deaf person to be on the same playing field as his or her peers. However, I have come to realize that spontaneity in a group meeting essential in carrying out meaningful, communication, especially in high-level executive meetings. The need for spontaneity and the need for me to be a full participant in meetings required that the designated interpreter, the group leader, and I arrive at an understanding that we would need to work together to allow me to jump into a lively group discussion without appearing to be out of the loop.
My designated interpreter was an integral part of my dual role as president of NTID and vice president and dean of RIT. She accompanied me on my frequent trips to Washington, DC, for meetings with Congress and members of the US Department of Education. This arrangement has proved incredibly beneficial for me. My designated interpreter attended all meetings that I had with the RIT university president, trustees, vice presidents, and deans. She also traveled with me worldwide when I visited corporations, organizations, foundations, and individuals for development purposes. When she was not interpreting, my designated interpreter performed administrative duties in the Office of the President of NTID and vice president and dean of RIT. For that reason, the position also carried the special assistant to the president and dean of NTID for interpretation and special projects.
When I moved to Gallaudet University as president in January 2010 I continued to adopt the concept of a designated interpreter which was somewhat different from what I used at RIT/NTID. Rather than having a full-time person in the Office of the President, I worked with the Gallaudet Interpreting Services to identify a small group of interpreters who could work with me as designated interpreters. I found it to be effective for this environment. Unlike RIT which is a mainstreamed campus, literally everyone at the Gallaudet campus was fluent in ASL and rarely used interpreters in staff meetings. Some would show up for the purpose of aiding a notetaker to take notes in selected cabinet meetings by voicing for those who use ASL without their voice. I was fortunate to have a cadre of highly skilled interpreters with whom I could easily fit in many meetings off campus, such as congressional meetings, community board meetings, and meetings with donors as well as trustees’ meetings and with nonsigning visitors on campus.
*This section is adapted from the foreword I wrote for Deaf Professionals and Designated Interpreters: A New Paradigm, edited by Peter C. Hauser, Karen L. Finch, and Angela B. Hauser (Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 2008).↩