Tag 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.

Raising A Deaf Child

Baby Sign Language NYC

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, during a routine checkup, your pediatrician informs you that your infant can not hear. Suddenly, you’ve become the parent of a deaf child. What now?

Baby Sign Language

Discovering that a child is deaf can stir up a wide range of emotions in new parents. Most commonly, they feel shock, sorrow, and helplessness. Unfortunately, because many doctors deliver this news as a medical “diagnosis,” parents automatically believe that their child is ill. Or, worse, disabled! It causes a chain reaction of guilt, sadness, and fear. How will you raise your deaf child? You wonder if he or she will be able to have a good life. You wonder if you can “fix” them.

This topic is close to my heart because my grandparentsdeaf-children-asl learned that my mother was deaf when she was less than a year old. At that time, they didn’t know any deaf people, and had no idea what it would mean to raise a deaf child in a hearing world. My grandparents worried that their daughter would not be able to have a happy childhood, or a normal adolescence. Would she have friends? Would she be able to drive a car? Would she be able to laugh and have fun? There are so many misconceptions. Of course, as time went on, they discovered that deaf kids definitely can do all these things, and excel at them!

Selecting a method of communication for your child majorly influences where he or she will fit into society, and is critical to psychological development. There are several communication options to consider, depending on the child’s degree of hearing loss. Some parents choose to teach their deaf child to speak English using hearing aids and intensive speech training. In this approach, the child does not identify as deaf, and does not learn deaf communication.

ASL Cochlear Implant

Another option is the controversial, and increasingly popular cochlear implant– a fairly invasive surgical procedure where an electronic device is implanted into the baby’s head to simulate the sound-processing of a functioning ear. Modern science has come a long way with these prosthetics and, although the child will never experience hearing the same way as a non-deaf person would, they can technically hear. With many years of language therapy, cochlear implant patients can be nearly indistinguishable from their hearing peers. But communicating in the hearing world will never be simple for them, because science simply has not been able to replicate the subtle and specific nuances of our natural senses. These children are prone to rely on lip-reading and facial cues, and many require a number of educational resources to keep up with their peers in school. Parents are likely to consider this surgical procedure to “remedy” their child’s deafness because they want to make sure their child speaks and understands the same language they do. This is understandable, but is it what is really best for your deaf child?

As any deaf person will proudly tell you, deafness is an identity, not an impairment. They do not consider deafness a problem that needs to be “fixed.” Deaf culture is active, full of positive role models; and ASL is a rich, constantly evolving language. Another option for teaching your deaf child to communicate is to enroll him or her into a residential school. Deaf residential schools are staffed by deaf teachers fluent in ASL, who work with deaf toddlers all the way through high school to educate them in a way that is focused on their individual learning styles. Allowing your child to be deaf, to learn sign language, and to integrate with other deaf people is a great way to promote an atmosphere of equality, independence, and nurturing. The drawback of residential schools, of course, is that deaf children are separated from their parents. Fortunately, many have reported that the atmosphere of deaf culture fosters great mentor relationships at these institutions.

Being that I come from three generations of deafness, there is a high possibility that I may have deaf or HoH children, and I have to be prepared to teach my children both ASL and American English. If you wish to speak the same language as your deaf child, why not learn the language that was created just for them? Total communication strategy focuses on integrating both ASL and speech therapy, to provide opportunity, without altering the child’s identity. Embracing deaf culture as a family seems to me like a great compromise for helping your kids adjust to the world using all the tools available! Spoken communication is important in our audio world, but it is also extremely important for deaf children to be able to sign with their peers so they can communicate freely, and feel connected. If they decide not to speak out loud or sign later in life, that would be their choice. My guess would be they will cherish both hearing and deaf culture, and embrace both for the rest of their lives. Bilingualism is such a fantastic way to see the world through different eyes, and provides a real advantage to your deaf child! Now that I have provided you with the current options the choice is ultimately left in your hands. What will you decide to do?

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 them.

Sign Language interpreting is certainly not a textbook profession! asl-educationOne day, an interpreter might be asked to interpret divorce proceedings in a courtroom setting; the next, they might be asked to interpret an executive’s corporate presentation. This unique career choice requires a dynamic individual with a love for customer satisfaction. In my last post, I discussed how to hire an interpreter, and now I would like to talk about what merits a capable interpreter.

asl-class-teacher

A high-quality interpreter will have real world experience, a flexible attitude, and a willingness to keep up to date on relevant industry news. These individuals will be confident in their knowledge, will never accept a job they do not feel prepared for, and are not afraid to ask questions. Quality interpreters also maintain an established network of others in the field. Interacting with other interpreters allows us to bounce ideas back and forth, work through problems that arise, and better understand our own limitations.

Unfortunately, some individuals go right from their certification program to interpreting, which can be a bit isolating. This is a quick way to become overwhelmed, confused, and put a damper on the passion for the job. While the Interpreter Training Program is critical to learning our code of ethics and the more technical side of Sign Language; like any other career, a certificate does not make one an expert!

asl-communication-services-nycI cannot emphasize the value of mentoring enough. Having a mentor is an invaluable way to learn the ins and outs of Sign Language interpreting; the kind of things they don’t teach in school. An experienced mentor will help identify strengths and weaknesses; understand the more emotionally challenging aspects of the job; and prepare for the pressures of being on-the-spot. In this field, there is always room for growth. Without someone providing guidance, it is easy to take a job beyond our scope, become discouraged, or fall into bad or stale habits.

A mentor can be the difference between a good interpreter and a great interpreter. I am pleased to offer ASL mentoring through LC Interpreting Services because I love to share my passion for communication with others. Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals deserve high-quality interpreters, and all interpreters deserve to love what we do!

Weaving the fabric

As illustrated by the attention I received for interpreting during Hurricane Sandy, deaf communication really fascinates the hearing population! Growing up a Child of Deaf Adults (CODA), it took me a long time to accept the wonderment others experience when they see sign language being used.When I was young, I ‘d become frustrated when patrons in restaurants or grocery stores would stare at my family while we were trying to have a conversation. Being naive, I didn’t know that their stares were not meant to be insulting. I didn’t realize that most hearing people have no communications or interactions with deaf people. It never even occurred to me that most don’t know how!

Until I was in the second grade, I simply assumed deafness was a societal norm. It was hard for my young mind to envision families who did not enthusiastically sign to one another over the dinner table. Other children’s curiosity regarding ASL, which was the primary language of my household, helped me begin to see the divide that exists between deaf and hearing cultures.

I feel such an innate connection with the 38 million deaf and hard of hearing individuals living silently among America’s hearing population. Sign language is the third most widely used language in the US, yet deaf/HoH accommodations remain frightfully scarce. How is it that in 2013, we have not created a cultural melting pot where deafness is, as I for so long believed, a normal aspect of life? By remaining separated, both cultures lose so much opportunity to learn from the other. Deafness is by no means a disability or impairment, it is just a different way of using your brain to experience the world. I wish there were a way to make the whole population understand this! I feel as though my heart and soul are deaf, but I have the ability to hear. I view my multicultural background as a strength, and the struggles of my deaf family members as inspiration to weave deaf culture more closely into the fabric of this country.

Ultimately, I would love to help society let go of their misconceptions, and one of the best ways to do so is to keep pushing for all-inclusive events. When hearing people become used to seeing competent ASL interpreters signing away on stage, without it being spoofed on SNL or going viral, we will know progress has been made!

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.