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My Existence as a "Hybrid" Person: Zoning Rights

Updated 7/13/2007
Updated 2/24/2011
Updated 7/18/2023
By William Vicars, Ed.D.


"Expectation of Attention vs Zoning Rights"
Certainly, in many instances, the provision of an interpreter improves communication access for d/Deaf people. But what about Deaf/hh people? Those Hard of Hearing people who know and use ASL but who (depending on the circumstances) can sometimes make use of their residual hearing.
Lipreading, amplification, provision of visual aids (e.g. PowerPoint Slides and projected agendas), advance agenda dissemination, and occasional repetitions or clarifications can help provide a high level of communication access for a Hard-of-Hearing person.

Let's suppose that a combination of residual hearing and the accommodations above bring the "level of access to the message content" to somewhere around 85% to 90%.

Now it is relatively easy for the human mind to figure out what is being discussed, even when having access to only 85% of the information. Our minds are good at filling in the gaps. Which is to say if we know the topic is "fruit," and we are exposed to the content: "wate_mel_n" we can generally fill in the gaps very successfully.

Bringing in an interpreter (even a certified, experienced one) also provides about 85 to 90% access to communication content. This lack of full communication is due to many factors. Here is an example of a factor I call "lost in translation:"

Suppose the communication content was the statement: "The immediate problem isn't lack of desire, it's lack of funding."

Given plenty of time, most interpreters could come up with a relatively decent way of expressing that concept in ASL. But interpreters don't have "plenty of time." They typically have less than a second per word.
The interpreter might plausibly sign: NOW-NOW-(immediate) PROBLEM NOT LESS/REDUCED-(lack of) HUNGRY/WISH-(desire), PROBLEM WHAT? MONEY.

Which comes across as confusing "mental mush" and ends up with the overly simplistic idea that "money is a problem" and the truncated idea that "desire isn't a problem." When in reality the communicator never said that desire isn't a problem...but rather he indicated that it isn't the "immediate" problem. "Desire" could very well be a huge problem--just not the one that needs focusing on at the moment.
The plain truth is, Hard of Hearing consumers use interpreters differently than Deaf consumers.

Deaf people watch an interpreter and occasionally glance at the speaker to gather socio-emotive information (emotional states, economic status, social status, etc.)

A hard-of-hearing person may (depending on a multitude of factors) prefer to watch the speaker and occasionally glance at the interpreter to fill in any comprehension gaps.

The fact that an interpreter can be of use to a Hard of Hearing person may lead an administrator to assume that provision of an interpreter is the preferred accommodation.

That isn't always the case.

Many interpreters come with baggage in the form of "expectations."

A particular expectation is the "expectation of constant attention."

For example, if an interpreter is placed in a room and begins interpreting, and there is a Hard of Hearing client in the room but the Deaf client is late, the Hard of Hearing person feels obligated to watch the interpreter whether or not the interpreter is any good or is providing more access to the communication content than the Hard of Hearing person would be able to obtain on his own. This feeling of obligation only partially stems from not wanting to waste the company's money. Much of this feeling stems from the assumption that many in the room are "wondering" why he or she needs an interpreter in the first place and why money is being spent on an interpreter when the Hard of Hearing person has apparently demonstrated the ability to understand without the use of an interpreter.

Those same people don't realize that in many circumstances a Hard of Hearing person becomes "functionally" deaf (distance, extraneous noise, accents, bright background lighting, mustaches, gum, hands over the mouth, backs turned, etc.) and in those circumstances would benefit greatly and love to have a skilled interpreter available.
"Watching" or "not watching" is very obvious to bystanders. "Listening" or "not listening" is not obvious. Imagine if each time you were at a meeting and you stopped actively listening to the speaker your ears visibly folded over and closed up. It would be rather conspicuous would it not? You would no longer be able to "zone out" without attention being immediately drawn to you. You would eventually become quite weary of having no "zoning rights" (opportunities for mini-recuperation) and being required to maintain a continuous high level of attention.

In other words: Hearing people have zoning rights that Deaf people (to some extent) do not.

Hypnotists tend to put people to sleep by having them stare at the same place or object for a few minutes. Most Hearing people have never tried to stare at something for more than a few minutes and would be amazed at how tiring it can be to have to watch an interpreter.

Many Hard of Hearing people very much enjoy and benefit from having an interpreter available but without expectation of paying constant attention to the interpreter. Some hard-of-hearing people prefer to focus on the speaker and glance over at the interpreter only to catch words or concepts that were missed. In other words, the interpreter becomes a form of "instant replay."

Some hard-of-hearing people, when at a meeting might prefer to mostly pay attention to the speaker while the interpreter just sits there resting their hands but still listening. Then if the hard-of-hearing person looks over at the interpreter the interpreter can (should) automatically and very quickly sign the most recent sentence or concept. Then once the hard-of-hearing person is satisfied that they understand the message they can look back at the speaker.  Unfortunately, despite being effective for hard-of-hearing employees, clients, and/or consumers -- that approach may seem a lot like your boss or the government buying you a salad from which you pick out and eat only the croutons and throw away the rest.

It can feel awkward to an employee when the boss pays an interpreter $30 to $60 (or more) for an hour's worth of interpreting and the employee only needs or uses a few minutes of it.  However, that few minutes could be very important.  Also, when a hard-of-hearing person arrives at a meeting the setting might not be conducive to lip-reading or the use of residual hearing.  For example, the speaker has an accent, the air conditioner is noisy, the closest seating is far from the speaker, etc.). When lip-reading and/or use of residual hearing are not effective and if no interpreter is available, the hard-of-hearing person may end up missing the vast majority of information provided at a meeting.

Best to avoid that scenario via provision of an interpreter and/or real time captioning -- depending on the preferences of the hard-of-hearing person.




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