Most people know, of course, that a language difference exists between people who are deaf and those who can hear. People who are deaf communicate using a variety of strategies, ranging from lip reading and speaking, to writing notes, using gestures, or communicating via American Sign Language. Deafness can be a different experience for every person, and people come from all backgrounds and walks of life. So when we bridge only the communication gap between a deaf and a hearing person, there is still a lot of room for cultural misunderstanding!In America, many people who are deaf prefer using the visual language of ASL to communicate. These individuals consider themselves members of Deaf Culture, a linguistic minority group that has its own unique traditions, jokes, stories, and cultural norms. Deaf culture has no age, gender, race, or religious barriers, and members of Deaf culture frequently exist within several other intersecting cultural identities. To create truly effective communication with the Deaf community, hearing individuals must come to a greater understanding of what it means to be both medically deaf, and culturally Deaf.
It’s become trendy for businesses and organizations to use words like “Diversity” and “Inclusive” without actually taking any steps toward creating diversity or inclusion. Hiring an individual with a disability, but then making no effort to support their success, does not empower anyone, and can create resentments between people in the workplace. When a deaf individual shows up for a medical appointment (or any appointment at any business) and nobody in the organization knows how to accommodate their needs, that business has failed at providing equal access to their goods/services.
If an organization chooses to embrace diversity and multiculturalism, and truly wants to empower people of all abilities, Cultural Competency Training is a great next step. Educating staff from the top level down, and from the bottom levels up, offers a chance for organization-wide professional development and a much greater understanding of what diversity really means.
The first step toward welcoming d/Deaf individuals to connect with an organization is to get a contract on file with a local interpreting agency that offers high quality sign language interpreting services. Look for deaf-owned or ASL interpreter-owned agencies, or ask a deaf individual if they have a preferred agency to contact.
Cultural competency is not a feat, it is an opportunity! This is a chance to strengthen relationships within the organization, as well as relationships with customers, clients, and the community at large. Cultural Competency Training helps to identify the many different perspectives— employer, employee, deaf, hearing, interpreter, customer, consumer — and assists in creating mutual understanding from all sides. By working with deaf trainers to explore the various scenarios where d/Deaf and hearing people interact, everyone
gets an opportunity to ask those awkward cross-cultural questions, or clear up any misconceptions in a safe environment. With proper training, buzzwords like “diversity” become very real and applicable concepts and everyone reaps the benefits.
LC Interpreting Services is thrilled to offer Cultural Competency Training seminars for businesses and organizations. Working with a set of Deaf consultants, employees at all levels can deepen their understanding of deafness, Deaf culture, and Deaf communication to effectively bridge the persistent gaps that exist. Cultural Competency Training is an excellent solution for progressive companies ready to take it beyond basic communication.
This week is International Week of the Deaf, a worldwide celebration of deafness, d/Deaf individuals, Deaf cultures, and signed languages which is held every year at the end of September. This year, the theme of the week is “Full Inclusion with Sign Language.”
To celebrate International Week of the Deaf, I wanted to highlight 5 major civil rights issues that Deaf advocates are actively working to address.
Access to Signed Language
Because 9 out of 10 deaf babies are born to hearing parents with no connection to the d/Deaf community, the first few months of a deaf child’s life can be confusing— for both the parents and the developing child. This is a critical window of time for cognitive development. This is a time when babies are learning so much about the world, and they need a language with which they can begin to frame it.
The National Association for the Deaf (NAD) takes a very strong and clear position on the topic of access to signed language, stating: “Deaf and hard of hearing children like all children have a right to language. Signed language, being a visual language, is the only completely accessible language for these children… Research has shown that thousands of deaf and hard of hearing children are experiencing various levels of language deprivation, many to an extent that constitutes harm in the form of educational, social-emotional and cognitive delays. For this reason, it is the position of the National Association of the Deaf that an all-out effort needs to be made to ensure that all deaf and hard of hearing children have full and meaningful access to language from birth and the benefit of visual language and visual learning.”
Dr. Peter Hauser, a Clinical Neuropsychologist and associate professor at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) at the Rochester Institute of Technology, has given numerous lectures and conducts ongoing research that makes a strong case for giving deaf children access to signed language. He even wrote book along with his esteemed colleague Dr. Marc Marshark called “How Deaf Children Learn.” Further underlining support of early access to signed language, NTID offers a FAQ on their site about Educating Deaf Children with answers from international experts.
Piggybacking on the problems caused by delayed language acquisition, access to education is one of the biggest issues that the d/Deaf community seeks to address. So many young people who are deaf suffer, often without complaint, through years in an educational system that simply was not designed for them to succeed.
The World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) website explains: “Deaf children have the right to expect that their needs and human, linguistic and educational rights are respected and supported … Studies by the WFD reveal that the enrollment rate and literacy achievement of Deaf children is far below the average for the population at large. Illiteracy and semi-literacy are serious problems among Deaf people. Without appropriate education, advancement in society as an independent, employed, contributing citizen becomes problematic…. WFD takes the unequivocal position that there is no excuse for this deplorable situation, since Deaf children have the same innate intellectual, social and emotional capacities, as do all children.”
Access to a curriculum that makes sense for their abilities can determine the course of a deaf student’s future. Schools need to be prepared to offer captioning and high quality interpreting services for students who are deaf, as needed, and these costs need to be built into the budget right from the start.
Although the exact statistics can be a bit fuzzy, the indisputable fact remains: Unemployment is a problem that disproportionately impacts the d/Deaf community. Deaf individuals are unemployed at a significantly higher rate than the hearing population.
From the interview process onward, discriminatory attitudes create barriers to career success. Employers might be afraid to hire a person who is deaf because they don’t understand how to open lines of communications and integrate this person onto the team; they may overlook a perfectly qualified deaf candidate in favor of a less qualified hearing person. Once they have been hired, typically deaf individuals are given little support, encouragement, or room for career advancement. Without satisfactory employment opportunities, the cycle of oppression just continues ad infinitum. It never ends.
Those who are d/Deaf deserve the same opportunities to build a life for themselves as everyone else, without being limited by a language barrier or limited by a lack of cultural awareness. Deaf activist groups have to advocate constantly for the basic human right to earn a livable income. In 2015, there was a march on Washington DC to raise awareness about deaf unemployment, and to demonstrate support for opening up better job opportunities.
To learn more about this topic, check out the following blogs:
Things don’t get easier once people are returned to citizen life, with the combination of a disability and a criminal record it can be nearly impossible to find decent work. Without equal access to justice at every s
tep along the way, the entire system continues to uphold the oppression of marginalized people.
Just turn on the local news with the closed captioning, you will quickly witness how live captioning can be almost hilariously inaccurate (or in the case of an emergency, dangerously inaccurate). And, as the “No More Craptions” campaign points out, accessibility for internet content is even worse. The bottom line here is that people who are deaf— when they actually do receive “access” to the communication services they need— are often still being denied an equal experience.
With regards to interpreting services, unfortunately, some organizations just hire the cheapest interpreting agency they can find, and this agency might not even have anyone who is fluent in ASL screening the interpreters before they are sent out on assignment. These unqualified interpreters serve as yet another communication barrier for the deaf consumer, and they might even dramatically impact or endanger the person’s life. At the end of the day, effective communication is not being offered, which is a violation of the ADA.
In 2004, RID and NAD implemented a joint Code of Professional Ethics for all members and certified interpreters. RID has established an interpreter certification program to to help maintain a high level of excellence, and the organization provides a support network for constant professional development. Although these efforts are slowly improving service for deaf consumers, they have sadly not prevented unqualified interpreters from getting work.
Even now, in the year 2017, there are persistent barriers that people who are deaf must overcome to gain basic access to everyday goods and services. The Americans with Disabilities Act endeavors to protect the civil rights of all Americans, regardless of ability, by requiring businesses and organizations to offer “reasonable accommodations” that allow effective communication. For people who are d/Deaf, this could mean anything from captioning, texting, video relay services, or sign language interpreting services, dependent on the individual.
At the same time, the d/Deaf community is becoming stronger and more cohesive than ever, connecting across countries, languages, religions, genders, races, and disabilities. As this happens, we begin to recognize where these discussions intersect and overlap with other systems of oppression, finding greater strength even still. Deaf issues have seeped into the mainstream consciousness and will continue to find footing in the ongoing public discourse on diversity, chipping away at the cultural ignorance that places a lifetime of limitations on a person just because of their hearing ability.
American Sign Language Interpreting is a profession like no other! Each day and each assignment is vastly different, offering the ability to learn and see things from a new perspective. This field attracts a certain type of individual with a deep passion for communication and developing relationships. But more than that: ASL interpreters must be gracious friends and fierce allies of the Deaf community that welcomes us into their lives.
Interpreters have the unique opportunity to share in a wide range of unscripted personal experiences. From job interviews to family reunions; from business meetings to parent teacher conferences, we are granted access to the lives of deaf consumers and this is a responsibility that should never be taken lightly. These relationships are the human element of interpreting that assist in bridging the cultural gap.
In service to the Deaf community, ASL interpreters are invited into this diverse culture that has no racial, religious, or ethnic barriers. It is distinctly American, yet has its own heritage and set of social customs, such as the long-lasting phenomenon known as the “Deaf goodbye” or assigning people their Name Sign. Interpreters who can hear must be willing to become a minority within the Deaf community, we must be able to step back from our privilege to assume a new identity as mediator (or bridge) between the deaf and hearing worlds.
What inspires a person to become a sign language interpreter? Some are motivated by their deaf family members or friends. These people already use ASL and they have seen firsthand the prejudice and barriers that exist within our society. Others enter this field driven by their fascination with languages, cultures, and community. No matter what brings a person to this profession, we all share a common desire to assist in creating connections and uplifting the Deaf population. When we see effective communication happening, it’s a truly fulfilling experience.
ASL interpreting is a career that requires continuous growth, it attracts people who are prepared to engage in lifelong personal and professional development. As interpreters, there are such a wide variety of scenarios we can work in once we have the qualifications and experience.
Everyone has their own “specialty” area, “favorite” setting, and a type of situation they “would love to” interpret for. For example: my “specialty” is educational interpreting, having worked in a college environment for more than 6 years. My “favorite” setting is business interpreting, where I have the opportunity to assist in making connections within companies and organizations to ensure the deaf consumers’ success. And the scenario I “love to” interpret for is behind the scenes on film and television sets, here I get to help facilitate higher visibility for Deaf talent within the entertainment industry.
Taking on different roles allows interpreters to take a microscope to all these different parts of society. We are granted access to people’s everyday lives, and to be effective we must come to understand the situations that Deaf consumers find themselves in.
To create effective communication, a Business interpreter will endeavor to understand the ethics of the company and the power dynamics between each person involved. When working in a mental health setting, an interpreter must really have a thorough understanding of the healthcare profession and the patient, and they will take an active interest in the long term treatment plan for the individual. When providing ASL services for a play or musical, interpreters will immerse themselves in the piece, yes, but they also must come to know the character as portrayed by the performer. For religious ceremonies, interpreters are invited to take part in deeply held traditions, which requires reverence and respect. Interpreters who work family events play an important role in creating cherished memories– I’ve personally witnessed deeper connections and more meaningful relationships being formed within my own family thanks to the interpreters who join us for events and holidays. Interpreters who work in medical settings assume responsibility for accurately conveying critical, complex, and highly specialized information between deaf and hearing parties. This is why ongoing relationships between interpreters and consumers can be beneficial for everyone involved.
Besides offering ample opportunity for growth, sign language interpreting is a career that can take one all around the world. Deaf people travel for both work and enjoyment, and they often ask interpreters to help facilitate communication in these everyday situations. A business executive might bring a certain interpreter with them when they travel because they feel that person accurately represents them and their business. Interpreters who work for government officials are entrusted to faithfully maintain the personality of the deaf individual, and they get a rare insider perspective into the world of politics.
From weddings, to school plays, to kickboxing lessons; from births, to job promotions, to funerals— sign language interpreters stand beside the deaf community through life’s many ups and downs. I don’t think I am alone in believing that ASL interpreting is so much more than just a career. Between overnight emergency stays at the hospital with consumers, and the weekend-long professional development conferences, ASL interpreting becomes a way of life. Interpreter is an identity within Deaf culture, it is one that I wear proudly on Interpreter Appreciation Day (May 1) and every other day of the year!