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Interview a Deaf Person:

Putting the burden on the Deaf Community to teach your ASL or Deaf Studies class is a cheap, lazy, and inappropriate way to teach.

By William G. Vicars, Ed.D.
Nov. 12, 2020 (updated)

I get it. An ASL or Deaf Culture instructor assigns you to interview "someone" in the Deaf community and since you probably don't know anyone in the Deaf Community you end up reaching out to one of your other instructors who is Deaf.

The problem with that is your "other" instructors are busy teaching their own classes and are not getting paid to teach their colleague's classes.

Which is to say, if an instructor wants you to know about Deaf Boundaries then that instructor should be the one to tell you about Deaf Boundaries because that instructor is the one getting paid to teach that class.

This is an issue that has been brought up before at faculty level discussions where it has been explained that it is inappropriate to give assignments that cause students to burden other instructors.

It is unfair to the other instructors because most of them genuinely love ALL students and want to be helpful but it gets old year after year, semester after semester -- answering interview questions from students taking someone else's class.

The issue arises when the assignment is to interview someone in the "Deaf Community."  Deaf instructors (who are members of the Deaf Community) become the target of the student's questions out of convenience to the student. This places on the Deaf instructors a burden that is not experienced by their Hearing colleagues.

The problem would be lessened if each time an instructor gives an "interview"-type assignment the instructor includes an instruction such as "interview/ask someone of the Deaf community (but not other faculty) the following three questions ..."

To put it in perspective, you need to remember that other people's students are constantly requesting that I and other Deaf faculty help them do their homework because some other instructor has assigned the student to interview a Deaf person (and the only Deaf people the student knows is the Deaf faculty).

I (and most Deaf faculty) do try to always be available to every student (both mine and the students of other instructors), but, you can understand, after the first thirty or forty interviews a person starts to ask himself if the problem isn't the student but rather the problem is the instructors who are assigning their students to go interview Deaf people without providing guidance on how to find and appropriately remunerate (pay) those people for their time.

Think about it.  If there are some Deaf faculty and some Hearing faculty in a program and several "interview a Deaf person" type assignments -- who do many (if not most) of the students approach for interviews? For lack of better options the students often approach the Deaf faculty who end up doing "extra" unpaid work that is not being expected of the Hearing faculty.

If the Deaf faculty to not cheerfully give up hours of their time doing unpaid interviews multiple times a semester they are then subject to being considered "unhelpful" and thus at risk of lower evaluations by the students -- and possibly losing their jobs.

Student thinking: You are my teacher and you are supposed to help me!

Deaf teacher thinking:  I'm supposed to help you in my class not some other teacher's class! They get paid to teach their own students!

Some faculty who like to assign interviews do make the effort to steer their students away from burdening other faculty. The problem with that though is it just shifts the burden of unpaid labor onto the Deaf Community.

Putting the burden of educating students onto other faculty and/or unpaid Deaf community members is a cheap, lazy, and inappropriate way to teach.

If an instructor wants custom external input for their class instead of putting the burden on unpaid others (who are guilted into helping because they are nice people) the paid instructor should spread the wealth and arrange for qualified Deaf interviewees and pay them for their time.

Or hey, there's these things called books that Deaf (and other) authors pour their wisdom and experience into that can be purchased either at the campus bookstore or online. The key word there was "purchased" -- thus insuring that the person doing the educating is getting paid for their work.

Before you accuse me of being greedy and having to be paid for everything (which is sort of hilarious when you consider the amount of information I have put online for free) you might want to see this in terms of a sustainable "ecosystem" of sorts. Most Deaf community members don't earn a lot of money. For those (whether Hearing or Deaf) who do manage to gain a coveted position teaching ASL at a college to earn a (relatively) good salary and then turn around and ask other Deaf (who might be wondering where their next house or car payment is going to come from) to teach your students for free -- is not appropriate.

1. Teach the class you are being paid to teach.
2. Assign a textbook that covers the material you want covered.
3. Convince your administration to set up a lab and pay a qualified lab assistant.
4. Hire a Deaf interviewee and pay them for their time.

If none of the above work for you then you still don't need to tell your students to go burden Deaf Community members. You can:
5. Put the relevant material on reserve at the campus library so your students can check it out for a couple hours at a time for free.
6. Assign specific websites, videos, or other online sources that don't cost any money and have been placed online willingly and at the initiative of Deaf creators specifically seeking exposure and/or advertising revenue.




If you are a student and you have been assigned to do an interview, here's what I suggest you do:
and post your questions there and state something to the effect of "I've been assigned to interview someone using these three questions. I don't have a lot of money but I can pay $██ to someone (Deaf or hard of hearing) who could respond to those questions for me.
Thanks, ________





A collection of transcripts of interviews of Deaf and Hard of Hearing people.

Bienenstock, Michael
Bonheyo, Bridgit
Ehrig, Brent
Galien, Terol
Kelsey, David
Rubery, Connie
Senter, Kim
Vicars, Belinda

Note to readers: 
This next bit of discussion is a bit of a touchy topic.
To put it in perspective, you need to remember that other people's students are constantly requesting that I help them do their homework for them (instead of them doing their own homework).  Often they contact or approach me because their instructor has "required" them to interview a Deaf person. 
I try to always be available to every student (both mine and the students of other instructors), but, you can understand, after the first thirty or forty interviews a person starts to ask himself if the problem isn't the student, but rather it is the instructors who are assigning their students to go interview Deaf people -- instead of arranging for Deaf people to come to the classroom.
Putting the burden on a student to find a Deaf person to interview is a lazy and cheap way to teach.

In any case, below are several questions recently asked of me by somebody else's student and my answers.  They sent me the questions as an email. 

  Do you feel that sign language should be used with handicapped people?  Why or why not?
Response:  Yes.  Sign language enhances communication by either augmenting spoken communication or replacing it when it isn't available.  Sign language encourages and expedites cognitive development, especially if and when used prior to acquisition of verbal (spoken) language skills.

Question:  Should there be boundaries set with this communication?
Response:  Oh sure, there should be a few boundaries.  No using sign language while standing naked in line at the supermarket.  No using sign language while holding on to a vial of nitro glycerin. No sign language while holding TWO cups of piping hot coffee. No sign language....
Jeez! That question is whack.  Plus, you misspelled "boundaries" (but I corrected it for you).
I mean, that is like asking, "Should there be boundaries set on women?"

Question:  Do you feel that the hearing community has taken advantage of sign language to communicate with HC people?

Response:  [I just spell corrected "fell" to "feel." Advice: If you want interviewees to take you seriously, use "spell check."]
Sure, I fell, er, I mean feel Hearing people have "taken advantage" of ASL. But the phrase "taken advantage of" is really short sighted.  We need to look at the big picture.  I think that the more Hearing people that learn and start using ASL, the more opportunities there will be for Deaf people to prosper in more areas of business and commerce.  When more and more people learn and use ASL it becomes contagious and spreads and everybody wants to learn it. Thus more and more jobs will open up for both Hearing AND Deaf in ASL-related areas.

Question:  Any other comments.
Response:  Tell your Deaf Culture Teacher he owes me $20 for helping him teach his class.  (Requiring students to interview Deaf people is a form of "asymmetric instruction." (Shifting the instruction to a different time, place, or person). It is no different really from having a guest instructor come to your class and spend twenty (or more) minutes of their time with your students.  Your (college) instructor typically gets paid $60 an hour or so for student/teacher contact.  So, now I've invested 20 minutes (longer actually) in contact with one of his students, he should come teach my class for 20 minutes or pay me $20.  [Or stop requiring students to request unremunerated (unpaid) donations of time and expertise from the Deaf community].


Note:  Readers of this newsletter may feel that I've been overly harsh or rough in my replies to this student.  Ask yourself: "How much time did the student put into this situation?"  Did he or she offer to take me to lunch for my time? Did he or she even bother to spell check?  But that is not my real point.  I love helping students.  My comments are more directed toward the instructors out there who give their students assignments without providing appropriate avenues and methods to complete the assignment.

I knew an instructor once who required her ASL 2 students to each interview a Deaf person and RECORD IT ON VIDEO as proof that they did it. (This was back before cell-phones recorded video and for most students it was a major endeavor to find a video camera.)  That means 25 students are now going to go waste the time of 25 Deaf people and glean only a very, very small fraction of the information they could have gotten had they read a decent Deaf Culture book instead. [Or these days, they could watch vlogs, etc.] While many of these Deaf individuals won't mind doing the interview, many will do it out of guilt or some sense of not wanting to be a bad person when they would RATHER be chatting with their Deaf friends instead of chatting with a beginning level ASL student. Can you see it from the point of the Deaf person?  Sitting there patiently waiting for the Hearing student to struggle through sentence after sentence.   And it happens semester after semester.  My opinion is that if the ASL instructor wants his or her students to meet a Deaf person, the instructor should HIRE a Deaf guest speaker and PAY the guest for his or her time, (and include mileage!).  If the instructor wants his students to have one-on-one time signing back and forth with a Deaf person then the instructor should set up a lab and PAY a lab assistant to come sign with his students. Sending students to go out and "find" Deaf people is a cheap and lazy teacher's method of creating an ASL lab.




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