Is justice worth the cost of interpreters?


If there’s anything that bridges my work as an interpreter and my research as a graduate student, it’s court interpreting. While I don’t do any court interpreting myself, I have had the privilege of working with court interpreters and talking with those who work in immigration courts.

We may think that justice is justice and that’s that. But for thousands of people each year, justice – in the traditional, legal sense – remains illusive because they aren’t able to understand court proceedings in their most proficient language. This is where court interpreters come in. Even though interpreters do not truly provide equal access to court proceedings, they soften the gross disparities by at least bridging some of the linguistic gaps.

In the New York Times article below, there’s some great information on court interpreters, mostly voicing concerns about the costs of interpreters. There’s no question: the costs are not insignificant. But what is the cost of justice? Or worse, what is the cost of injustice?

At worst, it can be death, as Alfred Weinrib (see previous post) reminds us.

As the Demand for Court Interpreters Climbs, State Budget Conflicts Grow as Well

(Reposted from the New York Times)

Happy Bloomsday, Interpreters


Today is June 16, the day that Ulysses Joyce uses to chronicle one day of Leopold Bloom’s fictional life in his famous book Ulysses. June 16 has become known as Bloomsday, a celebration of that wonderfully erratic, nonsensical novel of linguistic hyper-flourish.

Bloomsday is important for interpreters, though, not just for literarily curious – although I should hope that many interpreters love literature, as well. Bloomsday is important because Joyce pushed the boundaries of language and literature, by slamming grammar against the page until grammar itself shattered into fragments throughout the book. Many have called Ulysses a prank, or even the epitome of senseless post-structuralism. But interpreters know better. We know that Joyce usefully and productively crossed the line between fiction and reality, by showing how nonsensical language often is in everyday life. Interpreters are often called in to make sense of the senseless, and to fill the impossible gap between two languages with something like a provisional, rickety, already-decaying bridge that creates the possibility of situational understanding against all odds.

Happy Bloomsday to us all.

New Multi-Use Touch Technology Allows Deaf Customers to Talk to Bartenders

Cutting edge technology available today! There has been a slew of technological “solutions” that claim to allow Deaf people to talk to hearing people. But no device so far has the flexibility, convenience, and affordability of this device that I saw in use at an ASL social a few months ago. The device — pictured below — allows Deaf customers to communicate their drink options and simple questions to the bartender. Best of all, the device has a built-in “learning” capacity, which preserves previous questions and drink orders for easy repeated use. The device also works with state-of-the-art “touch” technology: users can navigate to their desired text and touch it with their finger, indicating their preference to the bartender. The device is now available in stores for less than $0.01 each, and often sold in packages of 500 for convenience. Get yours now before they run out!


Trouble in Malta: Interpreting Services are Vanishing

As you all know, I pay close attention to the daily news coming out of Malta, the small island off the southern coast of Sicily. (Okay, that’s a joke. But click here for a map if you don’t know where Malta is.) And the big news recently is that interpreting services are nearly going away as a result of the lack of government funds for interpreters – or a lack of will of the government to fund interpreting services. It’s always so hard to tell, isn’t it?

Is a Malta a microcosm of the coming collapse of interpreting services? Or is it specific to the island economy of this small, Mediterranean land? (And honestly, if interpreting was going south, wouldn’t you rather lose your job on a beautiful island than in rural Ohio? And is there an old colonial bias in the phrase “going south”, as if “going south” implies that things are getting worse? After the last economic meltdown started squarely in northern housing economies, maybe we should say “going north” to mean that something is tanking.)

In any case, here’s your news of the day. (Click headline to see full article.)

Malta Deaf Association warns of collapse of sign language interpreting services

Throwback: Do you remember Sidekicks?


When I first got involved in the Deaf community in Puerto Rico in 2002, a new technology had just emerged that changed the face of Deaf communication as we know it. The device was officially called a Hiptop, but I knew it as a Sidekick, complete with it’s own ASL sign. (non-dom. B-hs, palm up; dom. S-hs palm up, twist out into K-hs.) It was a hot item. The way it flipped open with a snap, had a large, comfortable keyboard (better than those Blackberrys), and had what seemed at the time to be an enormous screen. It was revolutionary, probably the only time Deaf individuals received technology ahead of their hearing counterparts.

Today I found a great article over on Medium written by Chris DeSalvo, one of the developers for Danger, the company that made the Sidekick. In it, he discusses the unique reception that the Sidekick received in the Deaf community. Here’s just an excerpt of the section on the Deaf community, but you should read the rest of the article because it’s really good.

With the hiptop you could get the same functionality without the extra hardware. Our TDD was software based and built in. Suddenly deaf and hard of hearing users could communicate with hearing users anywhere, anytime. A cell phone for deaf users. The letters of thanks we received at the office because of this would break your heart if you read them. T-Mobile did a great thing and offered a data-only pricing plan for deaf users since they couldn’t use the voice minutes. There is an official ASL sign for the hiptop.

(Click here to read the entire article.)

Interpreter Wanted, But does the interpreter want it?

You’ve all heard about out-of-state agencies hiring up interpreters and putting ASL-specific agencies out of business. I’ve been thinking about this recently, too. As someone who doesn’t run an agency or really work full-time, I haven’t felt this as first-hand as some of you. But the other day I received this unsolicited email asking if I would like to contract for an assignment far out of my driving range. I didn’t respond, and I don’t plan on it. I also don’t have any personal antagonism towards the solicitation or towards the agency. The only point here is to show what these emails look like.

Has anyone else received this kind of solicitation?

Dear Interpreter,

I got your name and contact info from RID registry online. We at [interpreting agency] provide on-site and telephonic interpretation and written translation services to our clients nationwide. We hold a few corporate contracts with [general customer] including [specific customer] and we provide ASL Interpreters for their deaf students in several States.

Right now we are looking for additional ASL Interpreters for an ongoing assignment in [Ohio city]. Their deaf student will start attending classes sometime in [month] of this year, the assignments are [x] hrs long, couple times a week, teamed. We were not provided with a complete schedule yet therefore I don’t know at this point if the classes will be in the morning or afternoon.

If you are interested in taking assignments in [Ohio city] – please submit your Resume and rates for consideration at your earliest convenience.
Looking forward to hearing from you!

Best Regards,

Vendor Coordinator, [Interpreting Agency]

Fulbright Grant in Italy for Deaf Studies


This is a fantastic, unique opportunity: a chance to earn a Fulbright doing research on a Deaf-related topic in Italy. Description below, or click on image (above) or link (below) for more details.

Candidate Profile

Graduate students with an interest and background in deafness related studies, with at least some experience in the area of the proposed project will be considered.

Proposals should involve research, teaching, and/or collaboration on projects aimed at iproving the lives of deaf and/or deaf-blind children; improving the lives of deaf adults; improving infrastructure accessibility for deaf individuals; strengthening specific areas of expertise that are lacking in Italy.

Examples include: early intervention for deaf and/or deaf-blind children; deaf education; specialized teaching methods for deaf-blind children; bilingualism and bi-culturalism; school psychology; clinical psychology; counseling; theater education; art education; interpreter education; teaching ASL to deaf students; teaching English through ASL; developing tools that will contribute to creating a positive environment where deaf and/or deaf-blind people can enjoy free and total access to curriculum and the world around them.

Click here for more information.