Saturday, May 23

What is Deaf Interpreting?

People do have assumptions about what exactly Deaf interpreting is.

Oftentimes, people associate Deaf interpreters to be tactile-ASL interpreters for Deaf-Blind consumers. Especially when you see a Deaf interpreter working in or around Washington D.C.. But that is not the case.

Deaf Interpreting is not limited to tactile interpretation. It includes international interpreting (think WDF and Deaf Olympics), Deaf persons with minimal language competency (semi-lingual/English dsyfluency, whatever term you prefer-- I never like the term of "minimal language competency"), and your regular ASL interpretation for platform interpretation. All of those situations are applicable for Deaf Interpreters and are common as well.

Deaf Interpreting is a small yet highly diverse field within the profession of interpretation.

Just take a look at RID's Standard Practice Paper about CDI (1997)-- the Deaf persons in situations where Deaf interpreters may be dispatched:
• idiosyncratic non-standard signs or gestures such as those commonly referred to as “home signs” which are unique to a family
• use a foreign sign language
• have minimal or limited communication skills
• are deaf-blind or deaf with limited vision
• use signs particular to a given region, ethnic or age group
• have characteristics reflective of Deaf Culture not familiar to hearing interpreters.

And their role can be as a team interpreter, solo interpreter, platform interpreter, or as a tactile interpreter (for Deaf-Blind consumers).

So even though the most prevailing situation may be with a deaf-blind consumer, it does vary from region to region. The situations that are common in Washington, D.C. are not the common situations in San Diego, CA.

For me, personally as a Deaf interpreter, my passion for Deaf interpreting doesn't exactly include tactile interpretation. Don't take me wrong-- I do enjoy work as an interpreter for Deaf-blind persons. To call myself as a certified Deaf interpeter, I should provide any type of interpreting services without any troubles. I do take workshops and courses in tactile interpretation but my passion lies somewhere else-- Deaf persons with language dysfluency.

This group of Deaf consumers have several different labels-- some may present some negativity, others just cause more confusion, so forget your label for this group because I know who they are. I grew up with them. I was one of them. I understand what it is like to have language dysfluency. I understand how could you mix some English grammar rules with ASL grammar rules and in the result you have an odd language system. This group is highly diverse-- it may include Deaf immigrants, Deaf persons with mental challenges/illnesses, or just a regular Deaf American whose education has not maximized.

To optimize the understanding and communication access for this group who may need interpreters in a courtroom, hospital, police station or at a school, an interpreter with first-hand knowledge or have the understanding of what this group grew up will provide the best interpreting services.


To recap, Deaf interpreters do have a wide variety of situations where they find themselves working. In some regions, the most prevailing situation would be Deaf-Blind interpreting, international interpreting, or whichever that has been listed in RID's standard practice paper. So when you meet somebody who is a Deaf interpreter, hold your horses before you jump to a general assumption about what their work is. Let them tell you what their job is. :-) You might find it interesting!

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