Category Archives: Lydia Callis

CODA, Advocate; Deaf Ally and Proud of It

lydia-callis-sign-language-interpreter-advocate-ally-coda-01In October of 2012, following the Hurricane Sandy press conferences, I was stunned to find YouTube clips of myself interpreting for NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg spreading across social media. I assure you that becoming a viral video is not something any person can prepare for— it was overwhelming and quite disillusioning. When all was said and done, the biggest lesson I took away from the experience is that mainstream hearing society knows next to nothing about deafness, Deaf culture, American Sign Language, or ASL interpreters. I realized that the media exposure afforded an opportunity to help bring more attention to these topics, and this has been a primary focus of my life ever since.

Working in the Deaf community every day, from my years as a staff interpreter at Rochester Institute for the Deaf – National Technical Institute for the Deaf, through to my current position as the owner of a sign language interpreting agency, I’ve witnessed the ongoing fight for deaf rights. I work alongside deaf individuals from all walks of life, in all situations, and see that no one is immune to the struggle against discrimination. I regularly offer pro-bono services for members of the NYC Deaf community, and am active in various organizations including the NTID ASL Interpreter Education Board and the NYC Metro Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf Board. In my day-to-day life, Deaf consumers, colleagues, and friends regularly share their stories. These are the voices I seek to amplify.

By publishing articles on my website, the Huffington Post (where I am an unpaid contributor), and the Buzzfeed Community section (another unpaid venue which anyone can submit to), I strive to bridge the cultural gap that has been so obvious to me for all these years. Through my writing, I aim to educate, entertain, and ultimately raise awareness about deafness and the Deaf community. Blog topics range from ways to support deaf employees, to celebrating Deaf women throughout history, to interviews with successful deaf people working to make their dreams come true. Centering deaf perspectives while reaching hearing audiences is my end goal.

lydia-callis-sign-language-interpreter-advocate-ally-coda-02Not only do I strive to educate through my writing, but also through my company. I work with hearing businesses all the time to help make their organization more culturally competent for deaf employees and customers. LCIS makes the process of securing interpreters comprehensive and we offer literature on working with both deaf individuals and sign language interpreters. By working very closely with deaf consumers, we assess the needs of the individual and help advocate for any accommodations that they feel are necessary. Deaf interpreters are assigned whenever possible and we make sure to educate organizations about their importance. At LCIS, our ASL instructors are Deaf, as are the corporate Cultural Competency trainers, and any ASL coaches who work on film or TV sets that feature deafness or sign language. We could not do any of the work that we do without deaf people!

This is why the New York Times piece that was published this week was highly disappointing. The author offered an audist perspective that I do not endorse. At the time of the interview, I was led to believe the article would focus on discrimination against deaf individuals by highlighting the ways even public entities such as police fail to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, thus denying deaf people their legal rights. I referred the author of the piece to several prominent Deaf advocates within the community, and I know of at least one person who was interviewed whose perspective was excluded from the final draft to the detriment of the entire article. I was led to believe the NYT piece would show the vast spectrum of advocacy work that is ongoing in the Deaf community by and for Deaf people. Needless to say, the piece missed its mark.

All I can do is all that I know. I have been fighting for deaf rights alongside my family since I was a little girl. Born and raised in 3 generations of deaf family strong, I was the only hearing person. My mother and siblings all use ASL, my friends use ASL: this is the language of my roots, and the language of my culture. As a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults), I walk a fine line between the deaf and hearing worlds and I spent much of my life wondering where exactly I fit in. Now that I have an opportunity to help promote deaf issues on mainstream platforms, I use these outlets to help raise awareness and fill the cultural gap, and I will continue using them to help make the world a more deaf friendly place.

How Do I Know What Interpreting Agency to Work For?

hearing_speech_agency-interpretingLast year, audiences watched in disbelief as the South African sign language interpreter for Nelson Mandela’s memorial service earned the nickname “the fake interpreter.” Insulted, but not entirely surprised, the global deaf community used this public example to bring attention to an unfortunately common problem. The agencies which provide interpreters, even for large televised events, aren’t always looking out for the best interest of the communities they serve.

Applying to an Interpreting Agency

deaf-hoh-interpreting-agencyWhen interpreting agencies assign unqualified interpreters to jobs, they are denying equal access– it happens at hospitals, police stations, and court rooms alike. From the very start of our careers, interpreters should aware that these agencies are unethical, and that it is our professional responsibility to ensure access for the deaf is provided.

Novice interpreters graduate from their Interpreter Training Program (ITP) eager to begin serving the deaf community. For many, this means moving to a large metropolitan area, a place where they may not be familiar with the community, the neighborhoods, or the job opportunities available. When I first moved to New York City, I just wanted to get right to work! I have learned that professional responsibility starts right here, at this juncture. If you recently relocated or graduated from an ITP program, there are ways to ensure you are working for a reputable agency that cares about the quality of the interpreters that they provide to the deaf community.

Looking for agencies that are Deaf or sign language interpreter owned and operated is a good first step. People who live and work in the deaf community understand the importance of matching a deaf consumer with a skilled qualified interpreter. They can recognize any issues which might arise between interpreters and clients, and advocate for the deaf consumer when needed. Multiple language interpreting agencies are often unfamiliar with deaf specific issues, making them less qualified to mediate these types of cultural misunderstandings.

NAD-RID-agency-nycResearch agencies to ensure they adhere to RID/NAD standards. The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) is a professional organization which strives to provide consistent and ethical sign language interpreters. The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) is a civil rights organization by and for deaf people, representing the interest of deaf and hard of hearing individuals across the United States. Together RID and NAD have developed a Code of Professional Conduct, a set standard practices and expectations for interpreters that protects the rights of deaf consumers. It is crucial that any agency an ASL interpreter applies to is not only familiar with, but in strict adherence of these policies. It shows respect for deaf consumers and a desire to provide the highest quality ethical interpreting services.

deaf-hoh-interpreting-agency-nycWhen applying to an interpreting agency, find out how they treat their employees and pay careful attention to the hiring process. It is important that the agency have an accurate interview and screening process, which will include assessment by a deaf or hearing interpreter to appropriately evaluate each new interpreter’s skill set. A quality interpreting agency will know their interpreter’s strengths and weaknesses, and distribute assignments accordingly.

Seek out agencies that follow community standards and protocol to ensure interpreters are taken care of. Assignment details should provide as much depth as possible to help prepare interpreters for any demands that may arise. An agency which demonstrates concern for its’ interpreters will work within the Demand-Control schema to reduce occupational stressors, allowing interpreters to perform at the highest possible level. Assignment details are so critical for interpreters because we are synthesizing conversations based on a specific situation. If we do not have the correct information, or have an incomplete picture, we will be doing a disservice to the deaf consumer.

spanish-sign-language-medical-interpreter-jobsOne difference between spoken language interpreters and sign language interpreters is team interpreting. When interpreting a verbal language into a physical one, ASL interpreters become prone to both physical and mental fatigue. After one hour of interpreting alone, even the best sign language interpreter will be providing a lower quality of service. ASL interpreters should make sure any agency they apply to regularly provides team interpreting for assignments. Not every situation requires a team of interpreters, but many do and it’s best to look for agencies that are ready to provide interpreters with support in the field.

sign-language-interpreter-agency-nycBefore you sign a contract with any agency, be sure you read it very thoroughly and that you agree to the terms. If you find any questionable items in the contract, bring it back to the agency to discuss how your needs can be met. Look for the following items: a cancellation policy that ensures pay for the interpreter if the assignment is cancelled without 24-48 hours notice; a policy that states payment will be made within 14-45 days of an assignment; and pay that follows the cost of living standards for your area. Whether you live in a city or rural area has a big impact on your income. Learn the standard rates for non-certified and certified ASL interpreters in your city, and seek out an agency that provides all interpreters a fair hourly wage.

sign-language-interpreter-nycWhen working for an organization that understands the deaf community, and truly cares about the quality of services they provide, interpreters will find they are better supported and able to focus. Look for agencies which emphasize the RID/NAD Code of Professional Conduct and have connections to deaf culture. At the end of the day, the people who suffer most when unqualified interpreters are assigned to jobs are deaf consumers. If an interpreter lacks the skill set to perform a specific task, and the agency does not recognize this, the deaf person is denied access. By partnering with ethical, consumer-focused agencies, sign language interpreters choose to support professionally responsible business practices. Beyond that, they choose to support equal access– and that’s what this job is all about!

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If you are seeking a professional ASL interpreting mentor, my services are available. It is critical for interpreters to continuously develop their professional skills at every step of their career. LC Interpreting Services is deeply involved with the deaf community, focused on deaf consumers, and passionate about providing equal access in all situations. If you are looking for career guidance and information about reputable agencies, LCIS would be happy to help!

 

Building Communication With A Deaf Child

sign-language-lessons-deaf-children-nyc-1Picture this: you are a little kid growing up, constantly discovering incredible new things about the world. Now imagine being surrounded every day by people who do not talk to you, tell you stories, or answer your millions of questions. These people are your own parents and siblings. You all live in the same home, yet they hardly communicate with you. They are not able to teach you, guide you, or to provide comforting words when you need them. In fact, they mostly avoid you. This is the experience of many deaf children.

sign-language-lessons-deaf-children-nyc-2For a hearing parent, learning that your baby is deaf might be a bit of a shock. Confusion is a common response, given our society’s unfortunate lack of understanding about deaf culture. Excited new parents are delivered the news by medical professionals in a sobering way. Hearing a doctor imply that your child is disabled is almost guaranteed to stir up some panic!

sign-language-lessons-deaf-children-nyc-3Communication With A Deaf Child

So, instead of accepting the perfect gift they have been given and embracing the opportunity to explore deaf communication, hearing parents might immediately label their beautiful deaf newborn as defective. They might hunt for a way to “fix” their baby, or try teaching their child to communicate using sound like “normal” people. Or maybe they simply abandon hope that they’ll ever be able to relate to their deaf child at all. This truly breaks my heart.

sign-language-lessons-deaf-children-nyc-4 Let me tell you a personal anecdote. Last year, I hired interpreters for a large family gathering because my mother and siblings are all deaf, while my mother’s family is hearing. Being a CODA, I have served as the “interpreter” for many many family events. Finally, I decided to enlist the help of some professionals so I could just relax and enjoy the party.

sign-language-lessons-deaf-children-nyc-5Throughout the evening, it was moving to witness the interactions between my deaf family and my hearing family using the interpreters. Never before had they been able to experience each other in such a way! With two neutral, professional interpreters relaying even the littlest bits of small talk, we were all able to participate in conversations equally. I saw my hearing aunts really getting to know my deaf nieces for the first time. Almost every member of my family raved about how amazing it was to have interpreters. Every family member, except one.

Growing up the only deaf person in your household can be extremely isolating. If your family chooses not to learn sign language, it is hard to express yourself comfortably. For my mother, the opportunity to communicate with her parents and siblings just felt like it came too late. After a lifetime of feeling excluded from your own family, believing they never really got to know you, how do you make up for lost time? What is there to talk about?

When my mother was growing up, there weren’t many resources for raising deaf children and interpreting was only a developing field. Of course she appreciated the fact that I hired interpreters for our family event but… after decades of not communicating, forming a connection is not so simple. All children want to feel like they belong in their own family and a lifetime of feeling marginalized can’t just be erased. Certainly not in one evening.

sign-language-lessons-deaf-children-nyc-6Deafness doesn’t have to be isolating. Since I was raised in a deaf family, I can tell you: deafness is nothing to be afraid of! The ability to hear sound is not what makes a person whole. It is not what gives a person their personality. The ability to hear sound is not what determines a person’s intelligence, and it doesn’t have to limit one’s life. Perhaps not enough hearing people take note of the deaf community members living happy lives around them. There are plenty of successful business owners, artists, and athletes who use sign language to communicate.

There are few things more bonding than learning a language together. Discovering sign language with your deaf infant promises both of you a richer life and a closer relationship. By accepting your child’s abilities and taking the time to access their world from a young age, you also give them access to yours. You will be able to share stories and jokes, and get to know each other. It is more intuitive for deaf babies to learn a physical language, than one which relies on sound. When deaf individuals are not struggling to live a hearing lifestyle in their own home, they can focus on growing in other areas.

Sign language is the most natural form of communication for deaf people around the globe. Research has shown that in any society where there is a concentration of deafness, signed languages have developed. Humans have a strong desire to express ourselves– relationships form and strengthen through communication. For deaf children, having parents and siblings to use sign language with can truly mean the world. Because, when you are a kid, your family IS your whole world.


I have 10 years experience working with toddlers and I am professionally certified in all levels of ASL, including baby signs. I am thrilled to offer ASL baby sign language lessons for parents! Babies, whether deaf or hearing, are able to express themselves as early as 6 months using signs. Being able to communicate from a young age boosts confidence and builds self-esteem in children. Sign language also aids in cognitive development and have been shown to improve a child’s ability to acquire other languages.

Sign Language lessons make the perfect gift for new mothers or mothers-to-be! In celebration of Mother’s Day, I am running a special on one-to-one ASL training: 2 one-hour lessons for $99. My private lessons provide not only sign language training, but insight into cultural norms and deaf history, as well. Lessons are customized to fit your skill level and learning style, and can be scheduled at your own convenience! We can meet in person, in the NYC area, or remotely via video chat. 

 I AM RUNNING A TWITTER CONTEST THIS WEEK! ONE LUCKY PERSON WINS A FREE ASL LESSON. Keep it for yourself or give it as a gift! CLICK HERE  FOR MORE DETAILS. The winners will be announced on Friday May 9. ENTER TO WIN!

Five Reasons to Learn ASL Together

ASL Lessons NYCValentines day doesn’t just have to be about romantic love–  love can be between friends and family, too. It is just a nice day to remind people you care about them, no heart-shaped box required.

This Valentines day, why not give the person you love a different kind of gift? The gift of a new language!

Here are 5 awesome reasons to learn ASL with a partner

1. Chocolates, flowers, jewelry… those are all OK. But memories last a lifetime! There is nothing more valuable than sharing a new experience together.

2. Sign language is fun to learn and better with a friend. There are sure to be plenty of smiles!

3. Knowing ASL gives you a new way to communicate with your friend or lover. Silent communication has many advantages, for example you could converse in a crowded bar, or tell your partner something private on the subway.

4. ASL is intimate! There is a lot of eye contact, and you have to really focus on the other person’s face and body language.

5. Sign language is poetic and emotional. A true language of romance!

ASL Lessons NYCI am offering a deal on partner ASL lessons from now through Valentines day. For $75, I invite you and a friend to discover the silent world of American Sign Language together. In your one hour love-themed lesson, we will cover some basic signs and fun phrases you can both use for years to come. 


I AM RUNNING A TWITTER CONTEST THIS WEEK! ONE LUCKY COUPLE WILL WIN A FREE ASL PARTNER LESSON. CLICK HERE  FOR MORE DETAILS. The winners will be announced on TUESDAY 2/11/14. ENTER TO WIN!


 

What’s it Like to be an ASL Interpreter?

hiring-an-ASL-interpreter-nyc-1

One of my favorite parts of being an interpreter is that it’s an extremely social line of work. Aside from the deaf clients, I also get the opportunity to interact with many other interpreters, and those who are considering sign language interpreting as a career. Novice interpreters enter this job full of questions, since the interpreting field has changed so much even in the past 25 years. The want to know:

What is it like to be a modern ASL interpreter?

I believe the most important quality for any ASL interpreter is passion for your work. There are plenty of opportunities in this field for those who are motivated and enthusiastic. If you do not feel truly passionate about communication, sign language, Deaf culture, and good ethics, you may want to consider another occupation. Deaf people can tell when their interpreter is present, involved, and faithfully relaying the message. They deserve a well-rounded professional who can do it right.

hiring-an-ASL-interpreter-nyc-2Gone are the days of the “conduit/ machine model” where interpreters were expected to be robot-like; we now assume a far more engaged role while in the field. I often explain that interpreting is similar to acting, in that you take on the character of all the clients involved. I have different role in while interpreting in a doctors office than when I am interpreting a concert, or emergency press conference. Every day I go to work and I get to become multiple people. I get to take on new personas, facilitate personal conversations, and help people understand each other. As an interpreter, you learn to assume the delicate role of both communicator, and cultural mediator. You need to know the language, convey perspectives, and be able to work through any cultural misunderstandings that prevent accurate communication.

It’s important to remember every client is different. While some will want to chat with you while, for example, you are sitting in a waiting room, others may not. Some Deaf clients will just be thankful for your professional services, while others may want to befriend you. Understanding the diversity of Deaf culture will help you better understand these situations while on the job.

hiring-an-ASL-interpreter-nyc-3Being a part of the Deaf community is a must for any modern interpreter. Interpreting is a full time profession, not just a job where you clock in and clock out. You need to be more than simply ASL fluent to be a quality interpreter, since the language is always evolving. If you want to serve the community, it is important that you make Deaf friends, attend Deaf events, and become a Deaf culture ally. Like any language, ASL relies heavily on context and implication, so familiarize yourself with the subtle nuances and colloquialisms of Deaf culture. Have discussions that build upon your ASL expression (using the language) and reception (understanding the language) through professional development. Practice interpreting for your Deaf friends in informal settings so you can learn to take on the “character” of someone else. Practice in mock settings as much as possible.

hiring-an-ASL-interpreter-nyc-4Networking is critical for today’s ASL interpreters, so be prepared to meet your new colleagues! As an ASL interpreter, I find myself almost constantly engaging with other professionals. If you are just starting out in your career, find an interpreter in the area and start a dialogue. Major cities are where you will find the most demand for interpreters, or near Deaf universities like California State University, Northridge (CSUN), National Technical Institute of the Deaf (NTID), or Gallaudet. Before you relocate, make some calls, send some emails, and introduce yourself to as many working professionals as possible. Even if you plan on freelancing, it is important to work on professional development and find camaraderie with others in the field. Get involved in your local Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) chapter, attend some social events, and seek a mentor . Don’t be shy!

hiring-an-ASL-interpreter-nyc-5There is so much more to ASL Interpreting than simply knowing sign language. While it might seem a bit overwhelming at first, the great thing about this field is that it is full of enthusiastic, motivated individuals who are happy to help each other out. ASL interpreting is perfect for those who are seeking an emotionally rewarding profession where you get to meet and interact with people from every walk of life. Every day the job of the modern interpreter is a little different; full of challenges and opportunity for growth.

Through my mentoring services I offer novice interpreters a reliable confidant while developing professional skills. I am pleased to offer mentoring for post-graduate interpreters, if you are interested in my services please contact me for pricing and other info!

Creating Equal Access for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing

Sure staff meetings can be less than thrilling, but imagine you are sitting in a conference room where everyone is speaking a foreign language. For nearly an hour, your brain works overtime to discern even the most mundane aspects of conversation. Or perhaps you are in a class lecture, where the only material you understand… Continue Reading

Raising A Deaf Child

After months of worrying about nursery colors and baby names, the big day has finally arrived! Your healthy bundle of joy is born with 10 fingers and 10 toes; crying and cooing in your arms. The baby is beautiful, your family is complete, everything feels perfect! Fast forward a few months down the road when,… Continue Reading

What merits a great ASL Interpreter?

A quality ASL interpreter might be the difference between a Deaf client loving your proposal, and “giving it somefurther consideration.” Or maybe the difference between the Deaf attendees thinking your play was a masterpiece, verses thinking it was “pretty good.” An interpreter should exhibit the same passion for their job as the person who hires… Continue Reading

How to hire a Sign Language Interpreter

Imagine you are hosting an event and a deaf individual approaches you, inquiring about deaf/ hard of hearing accommodations. This happens every day, in a variety of venues, in both the public and private sector. What do you do? How do you communicate? Had you even considered this situation? One of the biggest barriers between… Continue Reading