What do sign language interpreters need to accomplish?


What do interpreters need to collectively accomplish? (Which is really a way of saying, what do *I* hope to accomplish?)

  1. A History of our Profession: It is popular today for interpreters to claim legitimacy by remembering the good old days, or to give homage to a few senior names in the field. But this is not what I mean. We need to understand the historical circumstances within which interpreting emerged as an increasingly professional practice. This is not a history of individuals, but a history of the knowledge of interpreting. During this 50th anniversary year of the founding of RID, we have an opportunity to do this. But we also risk re-telling our history only through individualistic accounts at the expense of a more holistic analysis of the cultural and political circumstances of our profession.
  2. A Critique of Ourselves: There is too much criticism and too little critique. Criticism is about pointing out faults and trying to correct mistakes through righting wrongs. Critique is the practice of recognizing the conditions of ones own existence, and determining what direction we might move in to create a different future. The moment for critique is always now.
  3. A Class Analysis of Interpreting: Despite the fiery accusations that hearing interpreters take advantage of the Deaf community, we have largely overlooked the fact that interpreters are largely marginal laborers in the post-industrial service economy, have no substantial political representation, and lack (like more and more workers) the basic protections of job security, wage security, and health care. The identity politics of the Deaf-Hearing divide is important, for sure. But it should not keep us from talking about class.
  4. Better Literature: Yes, intellectual production is important, especially if interpreters are getting paid as traditional intellectuals. The current literature on ASL interpreting is (mostly, not entirely) overly-schematic, borrow concepts simplistically and uncritically from other fields, and do little to develop a coherent theoretical and practical framework for understanding interpreting. If the new generation of interpreters stay committed, they might be able to effect some change in this area.
  5. A Good Answer to Why Interpreting Matters: Why should I be an interpreter? Initial answers may include: learn to sign with a friend, make a living doing something I love, help the Deaf community. All of which are totally acceptable answers, in my opinion. But does interpreting have any social value beyond this? Are there concrete benefits of interpreting to the Deaf community, to the hearing community, to businesses, to schools, to the world? And how might we represent those benefits? We need to play the long game.
  6. Concrete Wins: We need interpreters to work together to effect small but concrete changes that benefit the field and the client base. And those wins need to be advertised to the interpreting community at large, and released to the media. We need to believe (and we need others to believe) that interpreting isn’t just some loosey-goosey social club of people who know a little ASL. We need to have the vision to set clear goals and the power to realize those goals.

Those are my goals. What would you add? Take away? Modify?

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6 thoughts on “What do sign language interpreters need to accomplish?”

  1. I posted this article both on the Colorado RID and Northern Colorado RID Facebook page. There was some question about how RID is a distraction and from someone who is very interested in the class analysis discussion.

    1. Jenny ā€“ Thanks for sharing this post. It means a lot to me that you are thinking about these issues, too.

      The post is a work in progress, really. Like a to-do list for myself in my research. I changed the “distraction” part about RID to hopefully better capture what I mean. See if that makes a difference for the other person.

      I plan to write a follow up on the class question. I’ll move that up in my writing schedule.

      ā€“ Austin

  2. #5!!! I’ve been struggling with that for awhile. And the Mandela incident might give some credit to #6, even if its in a sort of ass backwards way. Regardless much more work needs to be done! I know I am very late in reading this post, but glad I found it!! Deff will be sharing!

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