In a message dated 11/16/2008 1:41:19 A.M. Pacific Standard Time,
Dear Dr. Bill,
Hi! I'm an "unconventional student", still waiting to see the
results of my first ever performance test to become a Sign Language
Interpreter. By the time I finally found some resources (and
friends) to teach me the ASL and PSE I've been interested in for
more than 30 years, I had 3 children, a husband, and no money to
spend on my own continuing education. Having one degree already made
me ineligible for a PELL Grant. If it wasn't for my friends and
primarily YOUR website, I would not know 90% of what I do now! [...]
I've also been able to learn a lot from the kindness of one
interpreter's agency in my area; they have allowed me to study on my
own for free in their library for just over a year now.
With very limited funding, I've still managed to go to the local
Deaf Club to visit with the seniors and play bingo about once every
4 or 5 weeks. I've made some friends there, of course, and it feels
like a family-environment to me. Even my husband (also hearing)
managed to take off work on one Wed. morning and went to play bingo
and to meet the great people I've been associating with since around
I took my performance test on Aug. 5th, and I'm anxiously waiting
for the results (now, late). Recently, a hearing teacher of Deaf
Culture I was introduced to has told me that I should not go to the
Deaf Club any more once I become an interpreter. She said it is very
hard to maintain the professional distance needed to be unbiased.
I'm distressed and confused. Wasn't the whole purpose of learning
ASL sopposed to be getting to know the people who use that language?
For me, the prospect of interpreting is secondary. I agree that I
will not be able to interpret for close friends because I might not
be able to emotionally distance myself. But I disagree that I should
stop going to the club once I've achieved my certification. To me,
that's like using people as bugs in a science experiment! I'm not
that kind of person.
I know I "have a long way to go" in learning, and I haven't had the
circumstances to allow me to go through the great interpreting
program at a nearby community college (Florissant Valley Community
College in Florissant, MO)......but my gut tells me this lady is
Please help me to understand.
As with most complex situations, if you ask enough experts you will
eventually get an opinion that goes along with your own opinion.
Most people stop asking at that point and go on with their lives. It
doesn't mean they are actually right (or wrong), it just means they
can now "feel" right because an expert has agreed with them.
So, for what it is worth, I agree with you.
That doesn't mean you and I are right. It just means you, in your
limited amount of experience and me in my somewhat more extensive
experience have come to the conclusion based on our experiences that
it is okay, and even good, for an interpreter to interact with and
be a part of the deaf community.
A bias is a preference for or dislike of something.
Distance is space separating two people, places, or things.
The opposite of bias is neutrality or "not caring."
The opposite of distance is closeness.
The heart of the "argument" comes down to should we give up
membership in the Deaf Community so that we can (supposedly)
maintain "professional distance" and "freedom from bias?"
I guess it depends on whether your clients actually want a
"professionally distant (separated from the Deaf Community)" and
It seems to me that the most sought after interpreters are CODAs --
Children of Deaf (Adults).
They understand our signs, our acronyms, our references, our
namesigns, our lexicalized fingerspelling, our places, our issues,
our peculiar phrases, and our biases. Their understanding of these
things is what empowers them to be effective interpreters. Thus they
are effective precisely because they are not distant from us. They
are effective because they have biases -- our biases.
I believe it is impossible for a person to be unbiased.
Of course I don't want my interpreter, CODA or not, to misinterpret
a speakers message due to the interpreter's own biases.
The solution to bias is not to distance yourself from the Deaf
Community but rather to have the professionalism and self-awareness
to distance yourself from specific interpreting assignments.
If you are biased against a specific topic or individual then don't
take that assignment.
Additionally it is a myth to think that because a person has biases
that he or she can't do their job.
Hogwash. Professionals do it all the time. It's called self-control.
Look at what professional actors do on a daily basis. They stand
in-front of a camera or an audience and deliver a message. Do you
think that an actor playing the role of a thief, rapist, or murderer
is unbiased? Do you think he or she is neutral regarding the
morality of murder? Of course not. But the actor is still able to do
the job because he or she is a trained professional. They put their
own believes on hold and do their job.
Do you think we are ever going to find an interpreter for a defense
attorney in a child rape case who is unbiased?
"So, Bob, what do you think about the raping of children?"
"Well Bill, I'm neutral on that."
"That's great Bob, because I've been looking for an unbiased terp
for an upcoming case."
Seems to me that rather than focusing on "professional distance" and
being "unbiased" we should focus on "self awareness" and "learning
to recognize ahead of time those situations in which we are (or are
not) able to function professionally--and choose our assignments
Dr. Bill's new iPhone "Fingerspelling Practice" app is
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