Category Archives: CODA

Bridging the Communication Gap in Your Own Family

deaf-hoh-communication-family-holidays-01This holiday season, try to imagine what it would be like if no one sitting around the dinner table took any interest in getting to know you. What if no one in your family asked about your life, or seemed to care how you were doing? Picture how the holidays would be different if you were excluded from the stories, the jokes, and the games that your family shares.

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The feeling of isolation at family events is sadly common for deaf people. Deaf individuals who come from hearing families often grow accustomed to spending holidays quietly in the background. They get used to watching captioned TV, texting with friends, or simply daydreaming in a corner during holiday gatherings. If hearing family members choose not to learn sign language, deaf children grow up without ever really getting to know their own relatives or learning their family history. When there is no communication, it is difficult to form relationships. After years go by, it becomes harder and harder to bridge the gap.

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As a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults), I spent many family events doing the best I could to provide my Deaf mother and siblings with access to conversations. CODAs often fall into the role of interpreter for deaf family members, and we usually don’t mind doing it. But one person can not realistically provide full access to communication when there are multiple deaf and hearing parties. Additionally, a person who is involved in the social dynamics of the family can not facilitate communication in an impartial way. For example a CODA might alter one family member’s actual message to avoid hurting another relative’s feelings.

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For my deaf family members, holiday events were always pretty boring. Any conversations they did have with hearing family members were limited and generally basic. So last year, for my mother’s birthday, I hired an team of ASL interpreters to provide services for her surprise party. My hearing family absolutely loved getting to know our deaf family in a whole new way. My deaf siblings and nieces were thrilled to have real conversations with all these people they had only known on a superficial level; the ability to communicate allowed their relationships to grow and strengthen.

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But for my mother, a whole lifetime of feeling excluded could not be erased in one day. While she appreciated the way the interpreters connected the family, it was hard to make up for all the family gatherings spent as an outsider. At the end of the party, everyone kept asking “why haven’t we hired interpreters before?” It hadn’t occurred to them what a big difference the ability to truly communicate would make.

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As a hearing person, maybe you’ve never considered what it is like to be deaf in a hearing world. You might take it for granted that you can walk around a party and casually chat with people, whether they are friends or total strangers. You can easily discuss current events, gossip, or TV shows. The ability to communicate aurally/ verbally is a cultural privilege shared by many. It can be easy for people to forget how much of our social bonding relies on communication.

deaf-hoh-communication-family-holidays-07When you provide professional interpreters, you actively welcome your deaf relatives into a hearing space.You invite them into your family– all the laughs and debates and reminiscing that bond us with our kin. Providing communication access for deaf relatives sends a clear message that their participation is valued. It was such a joy to watch my deaf siblings and little nieces get to know my hearing aunts, breaking through generations of communication barriers, making real connections. It’s hard to believe they all went so long without sharing these moments!

At your next family gathering– whether it’s a holiday dinner or a wedding– consider providing a professional sign language interpreter so that your deaf and hearing family members can get the most out of the time they spend together.

LCIS is pleased to offer event interpreting services in NYC and the surrounding areas. If you are seeking a high quality interpreter for your next family gathering, or other event, please contact me to request interpreting services. I strive to make the process of hiring an interpreter as simple and seamless as possible!

Cultural Divide

deaf-cultural-divide-asl-nyc-3“After all the years of silence and rejection; I felt like I had lost my identity,” these powerful words stared at me from my computer screen, bringing tears to my eyes. The author, an individual with degenerative hearing loss, had recently attended an open-to-the-public cultural event I interpreted for. This person was incredibly grateful to have interpreters for the poetry and music because, as the e-mail went on to discuss, it’s so alienating to live in the grey area between the deaf and hearing worlds. As a CODA, I can kind of relate.

deaf-cultural-divide-asl-nyc-1My mother and siblings are all profoundly deaf, and I grew up in a sign language household. My identity takes root in my family’s deafness, and I feel strong sense of pride regarding Deaf culture and ASL. I will admit, it can be challenging for me to speak from an unbiased perspective because I cherish my native language and the customs of my family. As I interact with a variety of people in my line of work, I am discovering that, no matter what their chosen mode of communication, “rejection” is one experience most deaf and hard of hearing individuals share. Often, the hardest rejection of all is that which comes from within the deaf community.

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Throughout life, I have witnessed a tragic cultural divide. Working with hearing, hard of hearing, cochlear implant (CI) recipients, and individuals who range the full of spectrum deafness, I have met a number of astounding and inspirational people. People who have their own stories of struggle and success. This theme of rejection recurs in so many of their tales.

Those who identify as “big D – Deaf” feel rejected by the mainstream implication that deafness is a disability. Oral communicators feel rejected by ASL purists. CI users feel rejected by Deaf culture. And the cycle continues. Nobody is doing it “correctly” if they aren’t doing it your way.

deaf-cultural-divide-asl-nyc-2Forced to exist in a social grey area, and so used to fiercely defending their own personal choices, each segment of the Deaf community fears that compromising will lessen their valid claim to righteousness. In America, we value individual freedoms. Why is it so hard to agree that what is right for one person, may not be right for another?

If there is one thing all deaf individuals excel at, it is adapting to circumstances. Finding a common method of communication is not always easy, but is expected when working in an office, participating in your child’s after school activities, or even just buying coffee. In other words: communicating the best way you know how is a necessary part of life. Whether you choose do do so via technology, ASL, lip reading, or any other method of communication does not make you more right or wrong than anyone else.

deaf-cultural-divide-asl-nyc-5Undermining the personal choices of other members of the community does nothing but perpetuate the cycle of fear, silence, and rejection. Stereotyping and projecting feelings of discrimination onto other people is not a step toward equality or acceptance. I will admit, I have been guilty of exclusionary thinking in the past because my passion for Deaf culture and ASL is strong– but when you are playing defense, you cannot progress. If my beautiful deaf nieces had cochlear implants, I would not love them any differently; and if they don’t learn bimodal communication, I will certainly not consider them inferior.

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Making generalizations, or judgements, or belittling each others’ experiences is not positive for the deaf community, or humanity on the whole. We all want acceptance for who we are. If people living with hearing loss are treating each other as “less than,” how can we expect to educate mainstream culture? We must stand together, not fall apart. Lets break the cycle of “silence and rejection,” and move forward –together– on a path of respect.

ASL Interpreters: United We Stand

Thanks to social media, pop culture now spreads more quickly than it ever has before. When video of one interpreter’s incredible ASL interpretations of Wu Tang Clan went viral, I was reminded of what a mixed emotional experience it is when interpreters become memes.

asl-deaf-interpretation-wu-tang-clanIt is wonderful to see passionate interpreters out there serving the deaf community, and a rush of mainstream attention opens up proactive dialogue about Deaf culture. As interpreters become more visible, they become less of a “novelty” to the hearing community, and our society moves toward further integration. Unfortunately, sometimes within that dialogue, focus shifts away from deaf consumers and on to detailed critiques of the terps job performance. In my own experience, the opinions which cut deepest on every blog and forum come from those within the profession. Public criticism of other interpreters is discouraging, unprofessional, and does a major disservice to all parties involved.

asl-musical-interpretation-for-weddingWhen you are an interpreter, you go to work every day knowing that you are likely to be part of something important. You could be interpreting a speech, a wedding, or a job interview. Platform interpreting (that is, interpreting for a performance or public figure) is a whole different challenge, and it should not be something interpreters are reluctant to take on because they are afraid of their delivery being dissected detail by detail. When we are judging and picking other interpreters apart, we’re forgetting the consumer. If an interpreter feels qualified enough to take the job, and they succeed at what they were hired to do; being overly-critical on the internet accomplishes very little.

lydia-callis-mayor-bloomberg-asl-interpreterAs I have mentioned previously  I strongly believe that interpreters require constant peer evaluation to continue evolving. Tearing another interpreter down in a public forum is counterproductive to these efforts. Those within the profession should be well aware of the vulnerability and nervousness one feels before interpreting in front of cameras or a crowd. As discussed on Street Leverage, the increased presence of cameras and social media at events has created an atmosphere where qualified interpreters are turning down prospects because they afraid of ridicule. We need to stop fearing vulnerability and begin appreciating that quality in each other– it will take a concentrated effort on the part of the interpreting community to do so.

asl-musical-interpretations-deafAt the end of the day, interpreters need to remember we are blessed with the opportunity to serve the Deaf community in a unique way. We should be working together, not against one another. Whether we are novice or veteran terps; whether we are deaf, CODAs, or hearing; we are all here to provide and promote equal access for the Deaf community.When done in a respectful and private manner, constructive criticism can lead to improved service, and professional growth. If entertainment interpreters are the catalyst to social change, exposing hearing people to deaf culture, I think the interpreting community has a responsibility to unify.

CODA does NOT equal interpreter

Last thing you remember, you were walking down the street; now you are lying in a hospital bed. The lights are so bright, you can barely see, and your whole body is in pain. You try asking for assistance, but none of the medical staff can understand you, because none of them communicate by using ASL. They hand you some paperwork and ask you to write your questions on a note pad, but all you want is a conversation. What happened to you? How did you get here? What are you supposed to do now?

Sadly, situations like this are more common than one might expect. Despite the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements that interpreters be provided in medical settings, often this provision comes too little too late. Sometimes, as in the case of Matt Dixon ( See Link here ), the provisions are never made, and the deaf patient is left shouldering the responsibility of finding an interpreter. That is when Children Of Deaf Adults (CODAs) feel obligated to assume a role hearing society has expected them to play their whole lives. CODAs frequently become interpreters for their deaf family members, however unwillingly, simply because they are there.

deaf-driving-policeAs eager as a CODA might be to step up to help their family member, they often lack the medical, technical, or legal knowledge to deliver the news they are being asked to deliver. Medical professionals learn to explain diagnoses in a sensitive manner, because the terminology is complex, and often you are receiving very emotional news. Police and civil servants are trained to communicate with frightened or confused victims. CODAs are generally not equipped to explain medication regimens or legal charges to a family member, especially in a crisis situation. They should not be expected to provide this service simply because they are bilingual.

asl-interpreter-with-dentistYears ago, I attended a medical appointment with my deaf mother. She was referred by her doctor to a specialist near our home. The receptionist called over to make the appointment, but was told that they did not provide an interpreter at that facility, and she referred my mother to a specialist on the other side of town who did accommodate deaf patients. Looking back, I feel so angry about this situation because everyone acted like it was ok for a medical specialist to not accommodate deaf patients. My mother had to travel across town just to see a specialist when there was an office within 2 miles of our home. I wish I could call this discrimination a thing of the past, but those within the deaf community know that certain facilities are more accessible than others. This is not equal access.

I find it unfortunate that the deaf, and families of deaf individuals, are left bearing the burden of communication in crisis situations. It’s hard for CODAs to be assertive and insist that a medical interpreter be provided when their parent is sitting there anxiously awaiting their diagnosis. It is challenging to push against the broken system to fight for the rights you are legally entitled to, when all you feel is afraid and vulnerable.

Iasl-interpreter-in-courtt’s not fair that deaf individuals and CODAs have to assertively request interpreters, but it’s the only way change will ever happen. Don’t let organizations that fall under ADA oversight tell you that they won’t accommodate you– ever! Requesting an interpreter in every public instance you are entitled to one will go a long way in letting institutions know that the demand is there. While it might seem inconvenient at the time, you may be preventing the next deaf individual from having to go through the hassle, effectively paying the equal access forward. If you are not deaf, but want to help be part of the solution, ask around and see what provisions your organization has for equal access. If there are none, push for them! Deaf, CODAs, interpreters, and allies of the Deaf need to work together to change the system from the inside out. With nearly 1 in 10 people in the United States living with some level of hearing loss, it’s time we all stop being silent about Deaf rights.