Tag Archives: ASL interpreter

Frequently Asked Questions About Certified Deaf Interpreters

certified-deaf-interpreter-nyc-faq-01Since the beginning of time, in all civilizations, it has been necessary for people who are deaf to take an active role as self-advocates. For this historically marginalized group, fighting for their rights (and the rights of others) has always been a matter of survival. There are times when the only person who can really understand a deaf individual is another person who is deaf. This is true when it comes to language skills, since not everyone uses formal American Sign Language, and it is also true when it comes to recognizing and navigating instances of institutional oppression.

Over the past couple decades, as the sign language interpreting profession has evolved, the interpreting community has come to better understand and embrace the role of deaf individuals as linguistic and cultural gatekeepers. Certified Deaf Interpreters (CDIs) are extremely effective at bridging the sometimes vast and persistent gaps that exist between people who are deaf and those who can hear.

Deaf interpreters work alongside hearing ASL interpreters to ensure accurate communication between deaf individuals whose native language is visual. The deaf interpreter gathers and relays information to the deaf consumer(s) using specialized communication strategies, while partnering with a hearing interpreter to communicate information to and from any hearing parties.

What Types of Consumers Benefit From Working With CDIs?

certified-deaf-interpreter-nyc-faq-02Those who have been in traumatic situations, for example victims of assault or people who are deaf in the Emergency Room, might be best able to communicate through a deaf interpreter. In situations when a deaf individual is subject to police interrogation or asked to provide a statement, a deaf interpreter can offer the critical nuanced understanding that can mean the difference between conviction and acquittal. There are some people who are deaf whose needs will best be met by a deaf interpreter in any medical setting or legal situation, since the outcomes here can deeply impact a person’s life.

Immigrants and other individuals whose first language is not ASL, or people who only know informal “home signs” can all benefit from working with a CDI. Those with language difficulties or intellectual disabilities might also better be served by a deaf interpreter. This is because the deaf interpreter will have a more intuitive understanding of signed language as a native user.

“Consumers usually are relieved to know they are able to freely express themselves in their native language without code switching. They also feel assured when they see me repeat their messages to my hearing interpreter team for voice interpretation. They see their original statement being relayed and this makes them trust the interpreting process a little more.” ~ Jason Trzebny, CDI, CLIP-R

“If you go back to the generations in your family, you would have seen or known deaf people historically had been each others’ gatekeepers with information gathering/exchange. This time we’re now giving the formal name and respect to CDIs as paid positions for their decades of devotion to ensuring anyone who is deaf can make informed decisions involving their lives. Therefore, any deaf person can benefit from having a deaf interpreter in all settings – News on TV, music, educational, court, business meetings, hospitals, filling out applications for jobs, car loans, insurance, VRS, weddings, funerals, mental health, social services, AA groups and so on!” ~ Marla Berkowitz, CDI

Communication Strategies Used by Deaf Interpreters

certified-medical-deaf-interpreter-nyc-faq-03To connect with deaf consumers, especially those who may have a language deficit for one reason or another, deaf interpreters will first interact with the person to familiarize with their language level and communication preferences. Through these preliminary interactions, the interpreter can assess if the deaf consumer has any unique cultural mannerisms, which can vary depending on factors like age, region, and educational background.
Deaf interpreters, like all interpreters, come to the assignment as prepared as possible, having reviewed the content and decided on the most effective strategies for relaying the information. They must be flexible in their approach, prepared to synthesize each bit of information to it’s most basic concept, and ready to rearrange the grammatical structure of the message to make better sense to the recipient. When necessary, deaf interpreters will employ the use of notes or drawing pictograms to gather information and ensure clarity.

“I will elaborate on key concepts that are important to the situation I’m interpreting in. For example, while interpreting the right to counsel in the Miranda Warning I will emphasis on ‘Anytime you can stop, now or later. If you feel you need help or unsure, you must say “I WANT a lawyer.” If you want a lawyer it does not mean you are guilty or not. Right now you fine that you have no lawyer here and still want to talk to the police?’. Some would argue that this is too much, but I say it’s part of cultural and language mediation.” ~ J.Trzebny

“Deaf interpreters make linguistic decisions about how to convey the intended message by using the consumer’s sign preferences, breaking down concepts that match their present world view, and/or utilize a lot of visual gestures (this is not the same as a pantomime because the integrity of facial and body language expression comes from the grammar).” ~ Regan Thibodeau, CDI, CLIP-R

Working as a Team with Hearing Interpreters

certified-legal-deaf-interpreter-nyc-faq-04The most important thing for hearing interpreters to consider is that not all CDIs are the same, therefore they will not all employ the same strategies or have the same communication preferences. To work most effectively as a team, hearing and deaf interpreters should meet before any assignment (if possible) to establish a rapport and discuss the best ways to meet everyone’s needs.

Hearing interpreters can use strategies such as Pidgin Signed English (PSE), which is a combination of English and ASL, to relay the speaker’s affect; for example anger or sarcasm. Hearing interpreters should be able to break the message down to it’s most important points. By communicating openly with the deaf interpreter, the hearing interpreter can learn their preferred language style, the amount of information they are able to intake at one time, and how the deaf interpreter envisions the information being organized. Communication is the key to success!

  1. Use simultaneous interpreting strategies with emphasis on majority of the concepts in English, if DI prefers.
  2. During simultaneous and/or consecutive interpreting, provide a chunk of information at a time (to be determined between deaf and hearing interpreters.)
  3. Provide environmental information (someone made an announcement that is not visible), the intentions/goals/intonations of the speakers, etc. which all are not visible to the deaf interpreter.
  4. certified-conference-deaf-interpreter-nyc-faq-05“Monitor and subtly feed information (correct, add, or modify as needed) deaf interpreters’ work to ensure the content is being understood and relay accurately.“
    ~ M. Berkowitz

“I seek their strengths and preferences and then I work with them instead of forcing them to go against themselves and we’ll be doing disservice to the customer. I can understand everything… So I must remain fluid and my ream must correct me if I miss or mess up so that the end result is the customer doing well. It’s not easy, and some [hearing interpreters] are terrific and some [aren’t]. They make or break me. The team must have flexibility, respect, honor, and trust to make it work.” ~ Ellen Roth, CDI, CLIP-R

What CDIs Want You to Know About Their Job

There are many different situations that call for deaf interpreters, and all deaf interpreters have different strengths. Deaf interpreters can effectively fill the knowledge and information gaps in nuanced discussions while improving the accuracy of the message as it is understood by the deaf individual. They can help to identify consumer strengths and weaknesses, background, and experience and then, from that place, help to filter through information.

certified-deaf-interpreter-nyc-faq-06Deaf interpreters are sensitive to the injustices faced by deaf individuals and marginalized communities. They have a cultural awareness that cultivates trust. Deaf interpreting has been documented since the 18th century, and is finally being professionally recognized as highly valuable in the field.

“CDI is great for translations like paperwork, contracts, videos, etc. [When it comes to] teaming, it’s a feat. Need more respect for all interpreters and CDIs.” ~ E. Roth

“I wish that more people would understand two things about us. 1) Deaf Interpreters can be for everyone, especially for deaf youth in any situation and specifically in the schools. 2) It is better to spend the money on a hearing-deaf interpreting team to get best results in a shorter amount of time. Often I get called in appointments later as a last resort option and quickly the situation is rectified. The latter method incur more costs from repeated meetings.” ~ R. Thibodeau

The unique position of the Deaf interpreter within the interpreting community is finally gaining the widespread recognition it deserves. CDIs can be a critical piece when attempting to fill the language and culture gaps between deaf and hearing parties, and their skills should be utilized to ensure accurate and effective communication. As people come to understand this, we all move one step closer to equal access.

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!

The Silver Lining of a Hurricane

Since being on national television, I have received so much unexpected attention! Attention from the media, from my friends, from total strangers– it’s very flattering, if not a bit overwhelming! Of course, the first thing people want to ask about is my experience interpreting Mayor Bloomberg.

Let me say, first and foremost, that the opportunity to serve New York City’s deaf and hard of hearing community hurricane-sandy-nyc-aslduring a time of crisis was one of the highest honors I have ever achieved. Prior to Hurricane Sandy, I had worked a number of jobs underneath the mayor’s office, but had never worked with Mr. Bloomberg directly. When disaster hit, the agency I work for selected me to be on Bloomberg’s team of interpreters because they recognized my professional capabilities. I take a lot of pride in that. I was chosen to be a voice, reaching out to both the hearing and hard of hearing community, saying “we are all in this together.” It was stressful, yes, but the positive response has been really encouraging.

Its almost impossible for an interpreter to walk into a press conference regarding an lydia-callis-bloomberg-sandy-nycongoing natural disaster fully prepared. Like most interpreting jobs, there was no script or briefing. I did my research on the train, en-route to City Hall, keeping myself up-to-date on what exactly was occurring. Since I knew my audience was going to be very broad, I decided to employ methods which felt the most inclusive to the full spectrum of the deaf and hard of hearing community; which meant, in addition to signing American Sign Language (ASL), I would mouth the words very clearly. This seems to have sparked a lot of discussion about my signing style!

My style of ASL is very expressive. I am so comfortable with ASL because it is my first language, and have always used it to communicate with my mother, siblings, nieces,interpreter-asl-nycand nephews. I understand the need for facial expressions and active body movements, particularly when expressing uncertainty, danger, or consolation, as I was during the hurricane. The fact that I received so much attention for simply doing my job has raised the unfortunate truth about accommodations for the deaf and hard of hearing in America. That my use of ASL struck so many as a novelty, shows how unfamiliar most hearing people are with this language.

deaf-communicationIn the wake of that experience, it is my hope to use all the attention for good. In our 2012 pop-culture society, media is an integral part of our day-to-day lives. I strongly feel that the universe put me in the media spotlight, not for fame, but to educate my fellow Americans about the 48 million deaf and hard of hearing citizens living in this country, and break down the communication barrier between us all. I feel very passionately about bridging the communication gap that has existed for far too long, and I am blessed with the opportunity to be a liaison between two wonderful cultures.

Thank you for visiting my blog! I sincerely hope you enjoy following the active pursuit of my destiny! If you would like to contact me to discuss my services, please check out the “Contact” link at the top of this page.