Category Archives: Private Sign Language Lessons

Deafness is Not One Size Fits All

nick_news_with_linda_ellerbeeThe pediatrician just informed you that your child is profoundly deaf.

What is deafness like?

How does deafness impact a person’s life? What will you do now? Your answers to these questions will depend on personal experience. If you have connections to Deaf culture, you may feel very differently than someone who has never had interacted with a deaf person. Though we live in the Information Age, mainstream society still understands very little about what it means to be deaf.

This week, Nick News with Linda Ellerbee premiered an episode titled “Now Hear This!” (watch the full episode HERE ) The show does a great job exploring the spectrum of deafness, and demystifying the deaf experience by telling the stories of 5 deaf young people. The children’s’ experiences are vastly diverse, and touch on a number of issues from deaf education methods to family dynamics. The overall message is that, like any of us, deaf children have individual needs. Despite what some may claim, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for being deaf!

Scochlear-implant-graphicome families choose to assimilate their child to a hearing lifestyle by implanting a device called a cochlear implant into the skull, which stimulates the auditory nerve and allow the brain to “hear.” Sammy is a CI recipient from a hearing family who jokingly refers to herself as “part robot.” She was not born deaf, but her hearing deteriorated throughout childhood and, at 12 years old, she made the choice to have CI surgery. According to Sammy, her parents presented the pros and cons, and she strongly feels a CI was the right choice for her. She attends school with all other hearing students and plays on a basketball team, insisting she doesn’t need to know ASL because she can hear. Cici also comes from a hearing family, she lost her hearing as a baby. Her parents elected to send her to a school for deaf children that focuses on teaching English and oral communication, so she never learned any ASL. At 5 years old she received her CI. “It was hard to learn to speak,” she says, but she feels very grateful that she did because it allows her to communicate with her family and non-deaf friends. Cici is a ballet and tap dancer who feels that deafness is a disability that her CI and hearing aid help her overcome.

Restored Hearing - Cochlear ImplantAlthough the first instinct of a hearing parent might be to “fix” their “disabled” child through technology, they should first explore the many perspectives about deafness. Yes, cochlear implants and hearing aids work great for some people, but every person is different and everyone learns differently. In the show, CiCi says she loves her CI, but acknowledges how difficult it was to learn spoken English. Imagine having dyslexia– or any common learning disability– and being forced to learn a challenging foreign language. Though Cochlear Implants or oral English education do work for many, it’s unfair to assume that all deaf children have the same capabilities.

asl-interpreter-services-nycOther families choose American Sign Language for their deaf child. Isabella was born deaf and grew up in an all-ASL family, with two deaf parents and one hearing sister. She discusses education at her Deaf school, playing soccer on a hearing team, and having fierce Deaf pride! Isabella does not view deafness as a disability in any way, and she loves the language of her family. Arbab is a young man from a hearing family, who became deaf as an infant. In Pakistan, he would not have had educational opportunities, so his family immigrated to the US to ensure a better life. Arbab’s family does not use ASL and he does feel isolated from them, but he absolutely loves attending asl-interpreter-services-nyDeaf school where he signs freely with his peers. He uses technology, such as texting or video chat, to contact his friends when he is feeling lonely. Kaylee is the only deaf person in her entire town but, when she was in preschool, school administrators decided to add ASL to the curriculum for her whole class. The hearing kids all learned sign language, and use it throughout the school day to make sure Kaylee feels included. “My hearing friends sign to me, they are very fluent,” she says, “when my hearing friends don’t sign to me, then I feel alone.” She and her hearing friends love ASL and have made it their goal to spread Deaf awareness by volunteering to teach ASL to children.

private-ASL-lessons-nyAs a parent, it is your responsibility to become educated about your child; to engage and develop a relationship with them. Learn about deafness, and Deaf culture. Discover all the options available before making any major life decisions. Deaf children, like hearing children, have limitations, and areas where they excel. Instead of dictating how young deaf people should live their lives, parents can work together with their child to find the most comfortable way of adapting. This solution may not always be what the parent initially expected, and that’s ok! Holding on to strict expectations for any child– deaf or hearing– is unfair. Every person and their circumstances are unique!

“Now Hear This!” explores a spectrum of deafness, language use, and the various strategies deaf people use to communicate. We get a glimpse of how deaf people fit into different families, and how much parental choices can impact the course of a child’s life. Most importantly, the program presents 5 well-adjusted young people doing the best they can to learn new things, make new friends, and be understood “in a hearing world that doesn’t listen.”

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!

_____

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!

 

Can Digital Devices Replace Interpreters?

best-ASL-interpreter-NYCWhile walking the streets of New York, nearly every person I see is staring down at a screen, fully engaged with digital devices. Through technology, our world has become incredibly connected; yet disconnected at the same time. There is comfort in being able to communicate without regard to time or distance but, somehow all this personal contact seems so impersonal, so two dimensional, so unnatural. Are we all truly eager to replace all human interaction with virtual realities?

google-gestureDigital Devices for Interpretation

Last week, the internet was buzzing with news of a new device called Google Gesture, a wristband which could reportedly translate sign language into spoken language in real time. The viral clip turned out to be just a concept video released by a group of marketing students in Sweden, but it stirred up some interesting discussions about the role of technology in cross-cultural communication.

Although most deaf/HoH are content with their lives the way they are, it’s nice to imagine a world where everyone is able to communicate seamlessly, and deaf people are not excluded from certain spaces. Over the past 30 years, technology has been viewed as a solution to provide deaf individuals greater opportunity.

cochlear-implant-asl-courses-nycThe most well known device, the cochlear implant, is an electronic device which allows the deaf wearer to “hear” by amplifying sounds and stimulating the auditory nerve. Cochlear implants require invasive surgery, are very costly, and do not allow the wearer to hear exactly the same way a hearing person does — sounds are often muddied, robotic, and can be difficult for the brain to process. Cochlear implants are not perfect, and they create a cultural grey area for wearers, who sometimes feel like they are neither Deaf nor hearing. Still, over the past few decades these devices have provided thousands of wearers with the ability to hear sounds they would otherwise not have been able to hear, and live the kind of lives they so choose to live. Having options is a positive thing.

TTY-deaf-assistive-deviceText messaging was one of the greatest communication revolutions for the Deaf community. Before the widespread use of cell phones, deaf calls had to be made using either a Text Telephone (TTY) or a Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS). TTY allows deaf individuals to type messages, which are then sent over a telephone line to the other party as text. TTY requires both the sender of the message and the receiver to have a TTY device, while TRS involves the hearing party communicating through an operator, who then types responses for the deaf person to read on their TTY.  Relay operators were often unfamiliar with Deaf culture, therefore unable to mediate terminology that did not translate directly. Although definitely a useful invention, TTY/TRS can be inaccurate, cumbersome, and was never a very simple solution.

best-ASL-interpreter-NYCSpeech-to-text services, such as Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART), have emerged in the past decade as a “real-time captioning” solution. Using this method, spoken words are transcribed into text, either by a live person or by a computer program. For one-on-one situations where there are no other options available, speech-to-text options are certainly better than nothing. This is an excellent option for hard of hearing individuals or people for whom ASL is not their native language. But the truth is that the technology is unable provide accurate translation and contextual interpretation, meaning messages can easily be misunderstood. Any periphery noise, secondary speakers, or unusual inflections can easily lead to confusion. In addition, speech-to-text does not provide a way for deaf sign language users to respond, therefore only facilitates one way communication.

video-relay-deaf-hoh-nycThe Deaf community were among the first adopters of video chat technologies. Services such as Skype, Google Hangout, and FaceTime have made deaf-to-deaf phone calls infinitely simpler. I can’t even tell you how lovely it is to be able to video chat with my family members using ASL! For conversations between deaf and hearing people, Video Relay Interpreting offers a simple and cost-effective solution. Remote video interpreters are actually certified ASL interpreters who have knowledge of deaf culture, interpreting ethics, and how to mediate any cross-cultural misunderstandings. VRI is certainly convenient, and this technology offers deaf people more opportunity to engage with hearing entities. At the end of the day, however, VRI is designed for brief one-on-one dialogues, since remote interpreters are unable to see or hear every person in the room when they are speaking.

Google-Glass-deaf-hoh-interpreter-nycAs new devices improve all areas of our lives, making communication and information more accessible than ever, will we see a shift away from using live interpreters? In my opinion, interpreting a person’s words is a very delicate and human process. As revolutionary as emerging technologies might be, high quality ASL interpreters simply can not be replaced by a machine. Facial expressions, body language, tone, and context are all very important aspects of dialogue. In fact, research suggests that anywhere between 60% and 90% of interpersonal communication is nonverbal, which means words alone rarely covey the full message. This is specifically true of signed languages.

best-ASL-interpreter-NYCAmerican Sign Language is not a direct translation of English, it is a language all it’s own, with unique grammar, prose, and syntax. Deaf culture has it’s own humor, slang, and turns of phrase. ASL interpreters serve as both language and cultural interpreters. We bridge the social gaps, working to ensure deaf consumers have full access to any spoken English situations they choose. In a noisy environment, or when speakers are using ambiguous terminology, a live interpreter can mediate and provide understanding for all parties.

Technology has improved deaf access in so many ways, but software and screens can never fully replicate the feel of a conversation. They can not comprehend irony, translate sarcasm, or convey emotion the way a live interpreter can. New devices will continue to make the lives of deaf Americans easier, and for this we should all be grateful! When it comes to really communicating between the deaf and hearing worlds, however, no device can replace the human element of a professional ASL interpreter.

Creating Deaf Accessibility In The Workplace 

deaf-access-in-employment-1When interviewing for a job, you only get one chance at a good first impression. You try to wear the right clothes, mentally prepare, and hope you have all the right answers. But what if none of that mattered? What if you didn’t get the job because of the color of your eyes? Or because you were too tall? In 2014, this kind of hiring discrimination might sound absurd, but for deaf job candidates it is a difficult reality.

Deaf Access in the workplace

Workplace Deaf Accessibility

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act gives deaf individuals legal protection against discriminatory hiring practices. According to this section of the ADA, an employer may not use ones’ deafness as a basis for not hiring, not advancing, or terminating employment status. Qualified deaf applicants must be considered for career opportunities, so long as they meet the skill, experience, education, and other job-related requirements of a position– with or without reasonable accommodation.

Deaf Access in the workplace

Most hearing people rarely think about deaf accommodations. When it comes to hiring deaf employees, they are concerned that it will be a costly or inconvenient process. Potential employers might worry that communication will be challenging, and the deaf employee will have trouble integrating with the team. These fears are unfounded, and they usually stem from inadequate corporate cultural sensitivity education. The bottom line is that hearing employers simply don’t understand what it means to be deaf, and so it seems easier to just hire a hearing person… even if they are less qualified for the job. This is discrimination, and it’s sadly commonplace.

The first step to hiring a deaf employee is opening a comfortable line of communication. Not sure how? Just ask! Deaf people spend their whole lives learning to interact with mainstream culture, and each person does it a little differently. Some deaf people prefer written communication, others are ok with reading lips, and still others prefer an ASL interpreter– there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Trust me, you will not offend your deaf interviewee by asking him or her what type of communication they like to use!

Deaf Access in the workplace NYCWhen you decide to hire a deaf candidate, some workplace adjustments will need to be made. Your training videos should already be captioned; if they are not, you can have them captioned for a very reasonable fee. According to the ADA, it is the deaf individual’s responsibility to inform an employer where accommodations are needed. Employers are obligated by law to make any “reasonable accommodations” which enable their employee to work effectively. Most of these adjustments will depend on the person’s individual preferences. Not sure? Just ask!

Deaf access in the workplace NYCBusinesses must provide deaf employees with the auxiliary devices they need to communicate equally. With unlimited access to email, text, and chats, it is easier than ever to make your workflow deaf-friendly. Generally, the most important device will be a video phone. Businesses can obtain video phones and Video Relay Services for free, VRS providers are reimbursed by the Interstate Telecommunications Relay Service Fund. Using the VRS, your deaf employee is connected with a communications assistant through video chat. The video interpreter will engage with the deaf person using their preferred modality, and vocally interpret for the hearing parties. This means that when a hearing client, manager, or coworker needs to discuss something with a deaf employee, they can just use the VRS to quickly and conveniently do so; whether they are across the country or just across the hall.

Deaf access in workplace NYCFor meetings, you will need to enlist a deaf service provider– either a captionist or interpreter. Meetings can be very involved and fast-paced. Even the most expert lip readers have difficulty keeping up when there are 20 people in the room discussing things out of turn. You want everyone in your organization to feel like their participation is valued, so be sure you ask your deaf employee how you can better facilitate this. When hiring an interpreter or service provider , be sure to submit your request as far in advance as you are able.

As far as cost concerns, there are specific Federal tax credits and tax deductions available to employers, and you will find there are also other public and private sources of funding available for ADA required accommodations. This means service providers and equipment charges can often be reimbursed at little cost to your business.

Deaf Access NYC - Claudia GordonEquality starts from the top down. Diverse leadership promotes social tolerance, and we are finally beginning to see deaf officials in major institutions such the White House and the FCC. When business owners, executives, and managers become educated about multicultural issues, the entire organization benefits. When your staff understands how to integrate a deaf individual onto the team, you are helping bridge the cultural divide and create true equality.


LC Interpreting Services is available for on-site and event interpreting in the greater NYC area. Along with providing quality interpreters and excellence in service, I offer complimentary cultural sensitivity training for your organization. Let’s work together to make your business a place where diversity thrives.

 

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!

ASL Goes Viral

Last week, Jimmy Kimmel hosted a “sign language rap battle” where two interpreters and deaf entertainer named Jo Rose Benfield each delivered their live interpretation of a Wiz Khalifa song. The video has nearly a million views on YouTube and was featured on many prominent sites across the web– further proving that pop culture is ready to embrace deaf… Continue Reading

What’s it Like to be an ASL Interpreter?

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… Continue Reading

A Rejuvenating NTID Alumni Weekend

Feedback is the greatest gift an interpreter can receive. Every criticism comes with a chance for growth, and every compliment is an inspiration to be better. The first weekend of May, I was blessed with the opportunity to return to my Alma Mater, RIT National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID), for an Alumni Weekend… Continue Reading