US Department of Justice on how to communicate with Deaf

What does the US DOJ tell police to do when working with Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals? I found a hard copy of the following flyer the other day at an assignment, and then found a PDF version online. What do you think of the content? What would you change? Add? Remove? (link here also)




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)

HEARD about how Deaf individuals are mistreated by police?

There have been many instances of law enforcement have mistreated Deaf suspects, everything from being generally rude and inconsiderate to injuring or killing Deaf individuals without justification. I’m glad to see the ACLU and HEARD team up to raise awareness.

Morsi’s Defense Wanted to Learn Sign Language

In another terrific article by Peter Hessler (March 10, 2014), a journalist covering the ongoing revolution in Egypt, he remarks that Mohammed Morsi’s defense wanted to learn sign language to communicate with their client through the soundproof cages in which they are kept in the courtroom.

“At the next hearing, another defense lawyer stood up and requested that the trial be delayed until his legal team and its clients were able to learn sign language, so they could communicate. (The judge rolled his eyes–request denied.)”

The Cost of Not Having an Interpreter, or the Loss of Alfred Weinrib

Sign language interpreters — most that I know, anyway — place a great deal of emphasis on professional qualifications and excellent skills. So when we see an incident like the fake interpreter at Mandela’s ceremony or the substandard services provided at the Seattle Men’s Chorus performances, we are outraged even when we are not necessarily surprised. Many of us are aware of the daily injuries that Deaf individuals face in the area of language access. We have seen other interpreters provide not-quite-100% access. If we are honest, we know that we have all had moments where we wanted our best to be much better.

To worry about the quality of sign language services implies that a sign language interpreter — or someone getting paid as one — is present. Just as dangerous, if not more so, are the thousands of moments where no interpreter is provided in the first place. The difference is, it is often much more difficult to identify when no interpreter is provided at all. It is difficult to do a survey of an absence. (“Please rate the quality of the interpreter not provided to you on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being unacceptable and 5 being excellent.”) And it is also difficult because these situations are often the result of more institutional problems outside of the interpreting field directly. But these situations still exist, and none more heart-breaking than a story I read today about Alfred.

Alfred Weinrib. You might not know his name. But Winthrop University Hospital, Gurwin Jewish Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, and Good Samaritan Hospital should never forget the name of the man whom they failed to give even basic access to medical counsel by refusing to provide interpreting services. There is at least some indication that the timing of his death may have been different if he would have been able to understand his condition and his medical options. According to the NYPost, the family has filed a lawsuit against several of the medical service providers. You can see part of the actual filing here.

Now, I don’t want to be in the business of rating injustices. Injustice is injustice. But in my mind, if I were thinking about industry-wide priorities, I think a vigorous defense of the right to interpreters in medical situations is near the top. Compared to the media attention around the Mandela memorial service, Mr. Weinrib and his family will probably not attract the attention of international dignitaries, receive newspaper headlines, or be interviewed on national TV. But the situation strikes me as no less urgent. In fact, it is upon us to make this injustice perhaps even more urgent, for the lack of care under medical supervision is a heinous and egregious abuse.

What should interpreters do to respond to situations such as this? What strategies and tactics should our professional organizations use to defend the right to access to interpreters? How can one stand with the Weinrib family through the case?

I don’t have answers. Like any family, we may argue among ourselves about what kind of family we want to be. But when things like this happen, I hope we can muster the solidarity to speak with power against these pathetic abuses of human rights. And I also hope that we can extend this lesson to ourselves, too, and see the need to promote the rights of Deaf individuals in our profession.

Apache ASL Trails and the Problem of Deaf Space


Apache ASL Trails* is an independent living center in Arizona, one of the few places for sign language users to retire with others who speak the same language. Apache was built in part with stimulus money and opened in 2011 with 75 apartments and a suite of amenities. Early last year (2013), the federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) decided to investigate Apache (a story also covered by Limping Chicken) claiming that the complex violated what seems to be fair housing law by specializing in a single “disability”. Here’s what I think this means: if you take federal money for disability-related residential construction you can’t make those homes specifically for individuals who are deaf, autistic, of any other federal category of disability. Just  last week, HUD exercised discretion and dropped their investigation and it looks like Apache will be free – for now – to run the living center as intended. In my view, this is definitely the right choice for HUD and for Apache, although no one should consider the legal problems resolved. An aggressive (or bored) HUD director could cause more trouble for Apache in the future.

While the storm seems to have blown over, I though this an opportune time to reflect on the relationship between Deaf space and the state. Deaf space was probably first solidified as a term at Gallaudet University when architects, professors, and students began to ask the question, “What would a distinctively Deaf space look like?” One of the central conclusions of this question was the recognition that architectural spaces are designed with the assumption that the users of those spaces are hearing, speaking individuals for whom sound is a fundamental element of social experience.

Now, Deaf folks are not, as many presume, unaware of the physics of sound, nor are individuals in the Deaf community ignorant of sound as a social phenomenon. Sound and speech are much more complicated than their physics suggest. The result of this study was the development of architectural principles that have been used to construct buildings that are more photo-centric (I just made up that term, I think). A similar discussion happened in Columbus, Ohio where I live during the design and construction of the new parts of the Ohio School for the Deaf. This is all kind-of mainstream in the Deaf community at this point.

But this is not entirely new. Social space has been central to the identity of the Deaf community as long back as we have record. In fact, Mike Gulliver wrote his MA thesis and PhD dissertation on this topic. Such spaces include, famously, Deaf clubs, Deaf residential schools, Deaf sports teams, (a) Deaf university (Gallaudet, of course), and so on.

The challenge that Apache ASL Trails faced from HUD illustrates an important, often overlooked element of Deaf space: the state. There is a strange tension between the state and the Deaf community. On the one hand, states such as various levels of the U.S. government have cruelly targeted members of the Deaf community for sterilization, forbade immigration of individuals with hearing loss or who used sign language, and wrongfully imprisoned individuals within what used to be called “insane asylums” for their signing. Yet federal and state administrations have also funded Deaf residential schools, provided funding for places like Apache ASL Trails, provides the disability classification that enables many Deaf individuals to receive social assistance, and passed laws requiring interpreters in public  school and college. None if this is as neat as I’m presenting it, but you get the point: the Deaf community and the state have a love-hate relationship to say the least.

Yet this complicated relationship with state goes almost entirely unmentioned in Deaf studies literature. I think it’s important to remember that communities don’t just “exist”, but that they are formed, in part, through their relationship with the state. This is certainly true for the Deaf community, as is evident in the recent Apache ASL Trails situation. And that’s all I want to point out.

*”Apache” seems to be a strange term to use for the facility. It feels like one oppressed group is appropriating a term of identity from another. Imagine a residential center for Native Americans called “Deaf Apache Dorm”. Just saying.

The Right to Closed Captions for Everyone

I’ve never thought much about closed captions. As an interpreter, I tend to think most about how best to provide interpreting services into ASL instead of providing print or a transcript. Plus, closed captions are no substitute for your native language. How about YOU try reading captions for an hour and a half movie. Not so easy. And in my experience with Deaf youth, the speed and fluency of their English print literacy isn’t developed enough to make captions more than colloquial sentences at ultra-sonic speed.  But today I ran into the problem of closed captions in force.


I regularly assign a video from a  PBS-produced series called E2 Design. The video describes Bogotá’s excellent improvements for public busses, pedestrian ways, and bicycle paths. It’s a great video for seeing positive change in Latin America. This semester I have a student that would benefit greatly from captions. (In fact, probably most ESL students would benefit from English captions, because the Spanish-inflected English can be hard to understand on the video.) The DVD has captions. But where this video is available online – the PBS website, YouTube, etc. – there are no captions. Bummer. And the technological journey I’ve had this afternoon trying to get captions has been mind-numbingly frustrating.

I am aware that there are other ways of solving this problem that might involve less of my own time. But I decided to try an experiment: what if I really needed captioning and I – a tech-savvy 30-something with an advanced degree – am the only one available to figure it out? Result? No way, José. With all the security features of the DVD I can’t screen-record the captions to make a digitally-available video. The phone number at PBS for captioning services tells you up front that you won’t get a response from them. No other captions were forthcoming anywhere, not even a transcript of the dialogue.

I found a work-around and I can get the student what he or she needs. But at the end of the day I’ve been changed. First, I’m a little miffed at PBS for sucking at the online captioning thing. C’mon – the technology is readily available. Second, I’m determined to be more vocal about making sure that closed captioning is provided with web-based content, for everyone’s benefit.

New Book: Research Methods in Interpreting


We should all get excited when new books come out – at least I do. The latest is a book by Bloomsbury Publishing called Research Methods in Interpreting: a Practical Resource written by Sandra Hale and Jemina Napier. The book is not yet released, so I don’t have a way to review it yet. But when it is released, I’ll add a summary on here.

More importantly, who are these researchers – Hale and Napier?

Sandra Hale is a professor of interpreting and translation at the University of New South Wales in Australia. Her books on court interpreting and community interpreting look terrific, and both are entirely new to me. Her list of publications focuses almost exclusively on court interpreting, but touches on a smattering of other issues, as well. This is great news, since I’ve been spending a lot of time in immigration courts over the past year.

Jemina Napier is is Chair of Intercultural Communication in the Department of Languages & Intercultural Studies at Heriot Watt in Edinburg, Scotland. Her research and publications are more oriented to sign language interpreting and her publication list appears at first glance to be more broad than Hale’s, such as “You get that vibe”: A pragmatic analysis of clarification and communicative accommodation in legal video remote interpreting. The titles are already getting me hooked.

If I can get my hands on this book before the 2014 OCRID poster session (see previous post) I may ask that participants use sections of it to justify their methods.

The True Meaning of Labor Day

Labor Day is more than a long weekend at the end of summer. Labor Day was established in 1887 in recognition of rights and needs of U.S. workers. Even though Labor Day preceded the massive growth of unions in the first half of the 20th century, it still stands as a tribute to the success of U.S. unions to reduce inmate and child labor, reduce workdays to reasonable 10- and 8–hour days, and to give laborers the ability to contest powerful corporations and government downsizing.

Many credit the labor rights movement in the U.S. with providing the foundation for various waves of civil rights movements  – including most famously the southern Black civil rights movement in the 1960’s. Indeed, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s focused heavily on labor justice.

I mention this here for an important reason. We readily acknowledge the Deaf civil rights movement, grounded most visibly in the Deaf President Now campaign in 1988. But we forget that there has never been a Deaf labor rights movement.

Today, American Sign Language is more recognized than ever, and the term “Deaf culture” is accepted by all but the most stodgy individuals. Many Deaf individuals, however, live in poverty because jobs are not available to them or they can’t access them. Deindustrialization in the Midwest has meant fewer steady manufacturing and shipping jobs, jobs which attracted critical masses of Deaf workers in the past. The dominance of low-wage service industry jobs has negatively affected Deaf workers for a different reason: service jobs depend heavily on “communication skills” (in spoken English, of course) preventing many Deaf workers from being integrated into the new post-industrial workforce.

The new Deaf pillars – Deaf schools, Deaf services organizations, ASL classes, interpreting programs – provide jobs for many Deaf professionals, as do some government agencies. It is common in immigrant communities for immigrants to specialize in a particular industry in order to provide jobs for peers, and to use those businesses as springboards to future success. However, it is still almost unheard of to find businesses that are  ran by Deaf individuals and where Deaf workers can find employment. Despite the explosion of hearing people taking ASL, none seem to use their language skill to recruit and employ Deaf persons within the U.S. corporate market.

Today let’s not forget the “true meaning” of Labor Day and remember the importance of workers’ rights for our Deaf neighbors – and everyone else, too.