Feminist-Relational Approach:
A Social Construct for Event Management

RID, Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf

Index of articles on this page:

Feminist-Relational Approach:
A Social Construct for Event Management

Open Letter to the Missouri Commission for the Deaf

Keeping PACE: Performance Assessment for Career Enhancement

Making a Business of Interpreting

Be Thankful!!!

Continuing Educ@tion via WWWorkshops

Does the Code Fit Like a Pair of Gloves or Mittens?

Gadget Overload

©Lynne Eighinger & Ben Karlin, 2001

Sign language interpreters use metaphors to describe their roles and work. Yet their prescriptive use has been discussed by Roy (1993b). These metaphors, epitomized by their names - helper, conduit, communication facilitator, bilingual-bicultural mediator, and ally - are often conceptu-alized as a series with the most recent supplanting those prior. Actually, they are con-temporaneous and reflect differing systems of evaluating success in interpreting (Witter-Merithew, 1999; Eighinger & Karlin, unpublished). In practice, interpreters find that their work, even when deemed successful by these standards, may leave them (or those for whom they have interpreted) less than satisfied. Conversely, at times work fails to meet standards of success and yet the actors in the event are well-served.

These phenomena moved us to search for alternate standards of successful interpreting. This paper proposes an approach based on a feminist-relational (F-R) philosophy. Rather than considering only the language and culture of the participants, the F-R approach adds the relationship of the actors, their relationship to the interpreter, and the relationship of this triad (majority language user, minority language user and bilingual interpreter) to society. Working between American English and American Sign Language, our discussion is informed by our experience in American culture and the roles filled by Deaf people as members of a cultural-linguistic minority. The literature, discussions with and observations of spoken lan-guage interpreters and consumers show that spoken- and signed-language interpreters have simi-larities in their practices. We encourage readers to generalize and transfer the discussion to other cultural and linguistic minorities.

The F-R approach is built on feminist values (Barker and Young, 1994). Feminist thinking began to be examined in association with women's and gender studies. It is now recognized as a group of related philosophies and approaches, not the exclusive province of women (Cross and Madsen, 1997; Lazerson, 1992; Allan, 1993). These values include:

  • LISTENING as an active process, giving non-judgmental attention to what is expressed and what it reveals about its author;
  • CONSENSUS BUILDING by soliciting agreement and buy-in from parties before proceeding;
  • COOPERATION toward goals that consider the greater good instead of competing for individual benefit;
  • EMPOWERMENT by facilitating the exercise of actors' responsibility to make decisions for themselves;
  • SOCIAL JUSTICE which transcends recognizing social, physical, economic or political power, to leveling power differentials through one's own behavior; and
  • EXPERIENCE in addition to, or despite, science as a source of truth.
Although listening, consensus building, and cooperation are generally understood, a few words may help with defining the latter three.

There has been discussion of whether empowerment means giving, taking or sharing power. Feminist writers speak of power owned by individuals. In this frame, empowerment is understood as giving the support needed to allow individuals to use power that is naturally their own (VanderPlaat, 1999). This notion of unconditional support is related to being nonjudg-mental and is central to feminist thinking (Cohen, 1996).

A commitment to social justice requires action. It is not a philosophical ideal or academic topic but shapes personal speech and behavior. It is not blind following of political causes but requires discerning and understanding oppression and inequity. It requires one to act as an agent for change (Barker & Young, 1994).

Experience is linked to respecting individuals and valuing their stories. It takes into account the unique perceptions of people who, although sharing an event, experience it differently. It conflicts with purely rationalist thinking that an event occurs independently from the experience of the event and is best explained as an objective truth. Rather than validating only the objective, feminist thinking accepts the subjective experiencing of an event also as truth. Feminist research doesn't rely on statistics and reproducibility, "scientific method", but also values individual narratives as proofs (Sigsworth, 1995). This helps to understand why feminist thinking addresses force, oppression, and harassment as facts at lower thresholds than are addressable through the courts. Feminist approaches are more concerned with the experience of being coerced, oppressed, or harassed and with providing support to empower participation in cooperatively seeking redress. This redress may not be remunerative, but social. This contrasts with paternalistically stepping in, proving that coercion, oppression, or harassment has occurred, and punishing the offender. From a non-feminist point of view, the difference appears slight and the responses disproportionate.

A relational approach examines individuals in context (Ulrich, 1996). It notes that each interaction is a unique mix of participants, place, time and social conditions. (In our own discussions we speak of parameters defining particular interactions as "Four Ps": Participants, Place, Purpose, and Point. Purpose refers to the reason and goals for the overall event and Point to the meaning of a specific expression by a participant.) The benefit to interpreters from viewing their work from an F-R perspective is consideration of "this event, now, involving these participants." Any change in the participants, setting, or social context would give rise to a different event. Rather than forcing interpreters only to work for the actors' goals, interpreters work also toward their own: to involve the actors as communication partners with opportunities for self-expression. In this, an F-R approach highlights a significant divergence from merely translating. The degree of intervention is governed by the interpreter's assessment of the need of these participants for mediation. In some cases at least one of the actors demonstrates some level of bi-cultural or bi-lingual competence, this will necessarily change the interpreter's work in the event.

Translators hand a text from members of one linguistic/cultural community to members of another linguistic/cultural community. Interpreters do not have the luxury of working with texts, working instead directly with the community members and the dynamics of the event. Their work cannot be performed without understanding linguistic/cultural communities with which they work and the interface between them. Assuming an F-R view of events at that interface helps define an interpreter's role as a participant at that interface. That role is to involve the actors as communication partners with opportunities for self-expression. In most instances, interpreters work with individuals rather than speaking for entire communities. Interpreters need to recognize that the other actors de-termine their own goals for an interpreted event. The interpreter's job, then, is to balance the transfer of form and meaning; to discern the actors' goals; and to manage the event in such a way that the actors are, as fully as possible, satisfied.

This management is guided by interpreters' commitment to assuring that one actor does not dominate or oppress the other during the event. Techniques for management include regulating turn-taking, checking for understanding before allowing an event to progress, and making sure that there are opportunities for agreement as the event progresses (Roy, 1993A). It seems that failure to consider these factors contributes, in some cases, to interpreters' feelings of failure in interactions despite the successful transfer of information across languages (Wadensjö, 1998).

Let's consider a situation:

    During a regular appointment with a Deaf patient a psychiatrist determines that a change in medication will be needed. The doctor has already described the process of tapering off one medication while the new one is started but has not yet reached a therapeutic level. The psychiatrist is getting ready to conclude the interview and asks, "Any questions?" The patient thinks a moment without indicating that any question has come to mind. The interpreter says aloud, "Let me just ask if she wants to know about side effects," then asks the patient, in sign: "Do you want to ask about side effects of the medicine?"
Although the interjection is not generated by any expression of either of the actors, it moves the event closer to satisfying their goals which relate, neither to form or content of individual expressions, but to the service provided to the patient by the psychiatrist: to that relationship (Hoza, 1999). There are times when the goals of actors are indiscernable, unattainable or irreconcilable. On these occasions, the social distance and power are deliberately manipulated by one or both of the actors, or there is a script or goal imposed by an authority (Goffman, 1959). It is outside the scope of this discussion whether there is a way to address these situations within an F-R framework, but it may be that rather than put a single interpreter into this untenable clash of positions, each side requires an interpreter who strictly maintains the line that is represented.

APPLICATION OF FEMINIST-RELATIONAL APPROACH

Each of the feminist values already discussed has an impact on interpreters' work. We believe that interpreters who are judged to be successful make application of these in their practices.

Active listening without passing judgment allows an interpreter to chunk information in meaningful ways and to get at the intent of expressions. Both of these are useful in understand-ing what is being expressed and, therefore, interpreting it meaningfully.

By actively striving to build consensus, interpreters use their best judgment as to how to connect actors. In this way, interpreters use their power in developing collaboration and co-operation. Notice in the following scenario the way that the interpreter's consideration of maintaining cooperation between actors toward a good greater than simple individual considerations:

    At the undergraduate university level a hearing student turns to a Deaf student during a break in a class discussion. The hearing student says, "I liked your points." Although the Deaf student knew he was addressed and the expression was interpreted, he made no response - yet the interpreter voiced, "Thank you."
When asked by the team interpreter about what was evidently an addition, the interpreter explained it had only been voiced after quickly considering the options. The addition was neither oppressive nor patronizing of the Deaf student; it was not done in a way that indicated to him that he should have known and initiated an appropriate, courteous response. It was face-saving for the hearing student and for the greater Deaf community as not acknowledging the compliment may have been seen and stereotyped as social ineptness (Goffman, 1967). At another level, it was a cultural mediation - considering American academic culture, not American hearing and Deaf cultures.

Empowerment of actors is maintained by giving them information about the impact of their actions and asking if this is what they intend. By providing information, unintended gaffes are transformed into choices. This is illustrated by the next scenario:

    Following the recent, contested presidential election a Deaf woman was present at a social occasion. After being introduced, through an interpreter, she began to make small talk, asking those she had just met, "Who did you vote for?" The interpreter, rather than simply asking the signed question, responded in sign, "Hearing people don't ask that. Do you want me to voice that?"
Although the interpreter's response may seem equivalent to "Don't ask that!" there is a critical difference. The interpreter did not give instructions as though responsible for the woman's expressions. Rather than condescending, the interpreter allowed the woman to know that she was about to violate a cultural taboo and gave her the responsibility to decide how to proceed. The Deaf woman was empowered to decide to go ahead and ask the question; withdraw the question and ask a different, less socially loaded question; request assistance in starting a casual conversation in a way which is more appropriate to members of the majority culture; or pursue other options. Her response, in an aside to the interpreter was, "No! Thank you for telling me that."

A commitment to social justice also affects decisions made by interpreters including the jobs they will and will not accept, what work is done pro bono, and how they manage and direct interactions while working. The following scenario illustrates an example of how this impacts an interpreter:

    In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act gives legal recourse to people who are discriminated against due to their disabilities. Complaints for injunctive relief (but not damages) may also be filed by those associated with the person with a disability. The ADA has been a powerful aid in improving access for Deaf and hearing-impaired people to medical care.

    An interpreter visited a Deaf friend who had recently been released from a hospital that had not provided appropriate accommodation. During the visit, nurses came to teach self-care. The interpreter refused to interpret the session. This would have meant accepting an obligation to hold confidential all information. Instead the interpreter allowed the interaction to occur at a ponderously slow and frustrating pace, fre-quently stopping to check that his Deaf friend understood the instructions. In doing this, the interpreter retained the right to file a complaint against the visiting nurse ser-vice with the Office on Civil Rights.

By choosing to not interpret, the interpreter could have compromised a friend's health and care. But the application of an ethic having its base in feminist thinking allowed for a solution that satisfied all parties to the event.

Finally, the sixth of the identified feminist values: valuing experience as a proof and source of truth. Interpreters need to be sensitive to oppression as experienced by members of the minority language community with whom they work. Events inconsequential to members of the majority community, including the interpreter, may be experienced as discrimination or op-pression. Attempting to remediate individual events by invalidating the Deaf actor's experience increases the distance between that actor and the interpreter, even transforming the interpreter into an oppressor. Some interpreters do not allow this problem to arise by softening or editing expressions which, in their opinion, may be insensitive or offensive (Hoza, 1999). Others comment on cultural or individual circumstances, clarifying to the majority community member why the event has gone awry. Some intervene by trying to clarify what they understood the majority member's intent to be to the minority community member. In events which are part of a larger series, such as mental health, healthcare or other ongoing appointments, some of this education and repair work may be undertaken in pre- or post-appointment conferences involving the majority community member and the interpreter. The education and repair may occur between the minority community member and the interpreter informally. Many interpreters have ethical difficulties choosing between these solutions.

An F-R approach makes possible other options: to incorporate education and repair into the event; or to go beyond cultural accommodation to expand in a manner appropriate individually. Again, scenarios reveal how this can be done:

    An interpreter was called to a police station to interpret the interrogation of a Deaf man suspected of sexual crimes against his minor Deaf daughter. In response to the officer's questions, the Deaf man stated, "They teach that in school." The interpreter understood that sexual acts both between and against students at residential schools for the Deaf, while not condoned, are a matter of public record and widely reported in publications of, by and for the Deaf community. The father's remark was made against that background and the interpretation reflected this. Without that cultural background, though, it would be natural for the investigator to assume that nonchalance toward child sexual behavior indicates at least knowledge of, if not complicity and responsibility for, abuse.
The interpreter decided that of all the options open, including allowing the police to follow-up on the comment from his own cultural background and occupational experience, the best was to offer an explanation in a post-session debriefing with the police officer. Another scenario shows an approach to a similar problem when the difficulty is individual, not cultural:
    An interpreter was working in a competence restoration session between an English-illiterate deaf patient and a psychologist. The patient uses residual hearing (unaided), speechreading, repetition, and signed support, as opposed to ASL interpretation, to understand the expressions of others. Still, due to mental disabilities, she frequently fails to correctly discern differences between similar words. The interpreter had fre-quent contact with the patient and knew that the patient spoke of her attorney by first name, Jerry. Due to the confluence of these unique circumstances, the patient was unable to parse the question "What does a jury do?". The interpreter stopped the interaction and, while speaking with sign support, clarified to the patient: "Do you understand that [the psychologist] is not asking about your lawyer, Jerry? She's using a different word, 'jury'; do you know what that word 'jury' means?"
In both of these instances the interpreter intervened in ways that contributed to the events satisfying the participants even though there was no linguistic expression which was dealt with. The interventions were clarifications or expansions needed to accommodate culture in one case, and individual need in the other.

CONCLUSION

Through examining our own practices, discussion with and observation of others, and reviewing the literature about interpreting, we have found that many of the definitions of successful interpretation and metaphors to describe successful interpreting are at odds with what is done in practice. Much of what is actually done by working interpreters who are judged to be successful fits well into, not a linguistic system, but into a sociolinguistic system of understanding. We believe the system that best accommodates the diverse factors that interpreters must weigh and manage, including their own ethics and values, is a feminist-relational one. This approach allows interpreters to recognize their roles as participants in the events they interpret as well as defining a particular goal for them which, while achieved differently in different circumstances, remains consistent across settings. The goal of feminist-relational event management is to involve the actors as communication partners with opportunities for self-expression through the application of techniques which value listening, consensus building, cooperation, empowerment, social justice, and experience. Viewing the work of interpreters from a feminist-relational perspective will broaden the spectrum of parameters by which successful interpretation can be gauged.

REFERENCES

  • Allan, Helene T. (1993). "Feminism: a concept analysis." Journal of Advanced Nursing, 18:1547-1553.
  • Barker, Anne M. and Young, Constance E. (1994). "Transformational leadership: The feminist connection in postmodern organizations." Holistic Nursing
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  • Cross, Susan E. & Madson, Laura (1997). "Models of the Self: Self-Construals and Gender." Psychological Bulletin, 122(1):5-37.
  • Eighinger, Lynne & Karlin, Ben (unpublished). "Evaluating the work of sign language in-terpreters."
  • Goffman, Erving (1959). "Discrepant Roles." Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Gar-den City, NY:Doubleday Anchor Books, pp. 141-166.
  • Goffman, Erving (1967). "On face-work." Interaction Ritual: Essays on face-to-face ritual. New York: Anchor Books, pp. 5-45.
  • Hoza, Jack (1999). "Saving Face: The Interpreter and Politeness." Journal of Interpret-ing, 12:39-68.
  • Lazerson, Judith (1992). "Feminism and Group Psychotherapy: An Ethical Responsibility." International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 42(4):523-546.
  • Roy, Cynthia B. (1993A). "A sociolinguistic analysis of the interpreter's role in simultaneous talk in interpreted interaction." Multilingua, 12(4):341-363.
  • Roy, Cynthia B. (1993B). "The problem with definitions, descriptions, and the role metaphors of interpreters." Journal of Interpretation, 6:127-154.
  • Sigsworth, Janice (1995). "Feminist research: its relevance to nursing." Journal of Ad-vanced Nursing, 22:896-899.
  • Ulrich, Yvonne C. (1996). "The relational self: Views from feminism on development and caring." Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 17:369-380.
  • VanderPlaat, Madine (1999). "Locating the Feminist Scholar: Relational Empowerment and Social Activism." Qualitative Health Research, 9(6):773-785.
  • Wadensjö, Cecilia (1998). Interpreting as Interaction. New York: Addison Wesley Longman.
  • Witter-Merithew, Anna (1999). "From benevolent care-taker to ally: The evolving role of sign language interpreters in the United States of America" in Leven, Regina & Thies, Wiltraud (eds.), Gebärdensprachdolmetschen: Dokumentation der Magdeburger Fachtagung (Theorie und Praxis 4), Hamburg: Verl hörgeschädigte kinder, pp. 55-64.

Open Letter to the Missouri Commission for the Deaf

Lynne Eighinger, MBA, CI/CT
PO Box 1288
Maryland Heights, MO 63043

11 February 2001

Dr. Roy Miller
Missouri Commission for the Deaf
1103 Rear Southwest Blvd.
Jefferson City, MO 65109

Greetings,

This is an open letter as I have been asked by many about my discomfort with the study conducted on February 10th and would like to share my comments with the Deaf community, interpreters and students. First, I would like to thank you for taking on the task of studying the MICS for validity and reliability. It is an enormous step forward in ensuring that the only testing mechanism accepted in Missouri for assessing quality of interpreters is valid and reliable. I would like to share with you my thoughts on both the process of the study (conducted on February 10th and previously at the MCD convention) and the MICS evaluation process (forms, terminology, items evaluated, etc.) My comments are categorized as such. Granted, my knowledge of statistical studies is not nearly as extensive as yours, I do however have a fair amount of expertise, training and knowledge in this area. They are also meant to support the efforts of Commission because it is through diverse constructive feedback that we grow and develop. I hope that you will consider my comments with that in mind.

The study of the system (the process I went through yesterday) was flawed in several ways. To truly know whether my assessment of terms is similar to another person's assessment, it is first important that I understand the conceptual meaning of the terms. Using the term "makeup" for example, couched between two other interpreting-related terms, Vocabulary Selection and Use of Register, lead me to believe that it meant the process for error correction and I (and others) scored as such. Only to find out that it meant literally, the application of cosmetics. As apparent from the lively discussion after the explanation following the first round of scoring, every other person in the room was equally confused by the term. It would have been simple enough to put in parentheses something like "the application or lack of cosmetics" so that the entire group was scoring on the same conceptual meaning. The explanation that "the entire point was NOT to explain the meaning of the terms" was not applicable in this instance since there are two divergent meanings for this term. If the evaluators in their course of assessing interpreters' performance are aware of the conceptual meaning of the term (in this case cosmetic application) and our goal was to have judged whether our scores were similar to theirs required knowing which conceptual meaning of the term was being sought. Not all terms needed this kind of explanation but the study of this particular term was not valid (apart from its obvious discriminatory nature addressed later.)

The hearing participants needed to be able to see the source material to be able to judge many of the items we were asked to score such as affect, fingerspelling, lag time, etc. These were impossible to evaluate without having access to the source message - the signer. If the day was supposed to test for reliability of the evaluators' scores compared to what is actually expected from consumers and other interpreters, we were not able to do that without seeing the source message.

Affect could not be judged because the signer could very possibly have been angry and the interpreter's affect appeared very calm. Since we could not see the source message, how would we know if the affect was appropriate? It must be said, and possibly clarified, that I do not disagree with the scoring of "affect" as an assessment item but the way in which it was used during the study of the process on February 10th.

We don't know exactly which words were fingerspelled because we could not see the signer so how would we know that they got them correctly or not? Some were obvious, such as names, but the signer could have spelled many words and we wouldn't know. A very simple solution is to use the widely accepted convention of employing dashes between capitalized letters. An example of this is the word upset. To indicate the word was fingerspelled in a transcription, it is written like this: U-P-S-E-T. If the Deaf person spelled upset but the interpreter did not say the word, we have no idea whether that (from the script we were given) word was signed or spelled and consequently whether the interpreter was comprehending (or not) a signed or spelled word because we did not have access to the source message to know and the transcription did not denote such.

However, I would be remiss if I didn't add that interpreting is not "see every word and sign it" or "see every fingerspelled word and say it." That is the very common misconception. An interpreter should not be judged on discrete components of things such as fingerspelling accuracy to the extent that it is weighed at the exclusion of overall message accuracy. It is quite common among veteran, highly qualified interpreters NOT to say the exact word that was fingerspelled but to use a term that is culturally and linguistically equivalent in English. So while I do not support a category called fingerspelling accuracy, I also believe that either the entire process needs to be finitely defined (which is next to impossible) or a more holistic gauge of success or less-than-success needs to be developed. Either the message was conveyed or it wasn't, there really isn't much gray area. It is commonly discussed and questioned of consumers and I rhetorically posit here: "Is ¾ of the message conveyed adequate and acceptable?"

It is impossible to judge whether lag time (more appropriately termed process time for many years now) was used appropriately without visual access to the source message. We could not know how much process time was used (or not) without the source.

The signed example of the difference between ASL and English was not an accurate representation of true interpreting. Dropping articles and signing an occasional "over there" is not, according to national standards, interpreting. The output of the "interpreted" segment was still in English word order. This was the model that set the stage for participants to understand the difference between an interpreted and transliterated message and it did so inaccurately.

Asking for our social security number was not necessary. While stating that we did not need to include that information was nice, my question is why was it on the form in the first place? A greater error though was showing the SS #s of the people on the tapes. This was grossly unnecessary. That information should have been blacked out!

KUDOS go out to the two women who had the guts to allow their work to be used in this study. I hope I meet them some day and plan to thank them as requested! Even though their work, at the time is was filmed, might still have a way to go to becoming proficient, they should get a HUGE pat on the back for being brave enough to put their work on display for many people to critique and to laugh at. Many people were laughing and criticizing their work, which was not appropriate and not the point of our being there. The point of being there was to judge the evaluation process, not the people who were being evaluated but that was not explained clearly enough because obviously people felt it was "ok" to laugh at, make fun of and criticize the work itself and make judgments about the people and their ability, or more so their inability, to work.

I also noted that the pejorative comments made regarding some assumed "discussion or sharing of scores" and the use of the word "dumb" in this explanation was, from my assessment of the groups' work, unnecessary, negative and admonishing. People geographically proximal to me were not discussing test scores or comparing notes as eluded but discussing the process that seemed to be frustrating, confusing, inherently flawed and awkward. Because this came on the heels of the confusion over the term "make up", it can and should have been presumed that this discussion likely related to ascertaining meaning of understandably confusing terms. There were many there who do not even have a basic understanding of tests and standardization but there were enough people there who do to know that this was not an appropriate study to prove validity and reliability.

We also should have seen level 4 or 5 work. I'm not sure of the rationale for viewing only lower level work. Seeing people who were considered possibly level 1's means that we were not able to judge what we thought was sub-standard work and what we thought might be at or above-standard work. Studying a system for inter-rater reliability needs to incorporate both ends of the spectrum and along the continuum.

The script was not a verbatim transcript of what the signer said. A couple of colleagues present had seen these tapes before and knew that what was on the script was not what was signed and in some cases, was an inaccurate interpretation or a slightly skewed meaning of the original glossed information (the source message.) As well, as mentioned previously, employing conventions that are standard and universally used such as dashes between letters to indicate a word is fingerspelled could have easily bridged the gap between what could have been judged and what was impossible to judge.

While people with limited or no signing skills were encouraged to participate, the script in its alleged gloss format, was not accessible to people who did not have a command of ASL. For example, the use of "FSB" was not an appropriate transcription. Many might be able to figure out that the Deaf signer (while we couldn't see it) most likely signed "Friday, Saturday, Sunday", but how could people who didn't have the competency in ASL use cloze skills to permit them to understand what that meant? This was not an appropriate transcription and given that we did not have access to the source message, it needed to be more accurate to permit a valid assessment and be accessible to those who could not possibly understand what a non-traditional glossed item meant.

To be a truly valid, unbiased study, the fact that we were able to see the signing portion of the interpreters' work (as the hearing judges) but not score on it means that there was possible influence of and by the component we were supposed to "ignore." We should have only been able to hear the voicing part and not see the signing. I feel relatively certain that seeing the signing influenced many of the hearing people to evaluate the candidates up or down the scale subconsciously and that should not have happened and lends to the process being invalid. The results are not as true and free of bias as should be to be an accurate assessment of the process.

The interpreting for the day was not adequate. Participants, Deaf and hearing, did not have access to all of the discussion, questions and comments. At the very minimum, there should have been two interpreters so that people could ask questions. Two specific examples of inadequate accessibility were when I personally directed a signed question relating to the purpose of asking for our SS #s and no voice interpretation was rendered. A second time, a participant told the interpreter that he would sign his comments and needed the interpreter to voice interpret them for the audience. The interpreter responded (or rather commanded) "no" visible by everyone present indicating he could not use his preferred modality to question and make comments. This is a woefully inappropriate practice. The public meeting was promoted as "not needing to be an interpreter to participate." Therefore, not providing the appropriate communication access to ensure all of the participants had equal access to the entire process and the communication was awkward at best. The interpreter was asked by a couple of people why there wasn't a team interpreter. The response was that MCD was trying to save money and didn't anticipate a discussion. I question the prediction of not anticipating discussion. Any group coming together to discuss the provision or quality of interpreting has always, in my 20 years of experience, discussed the issues very passionately. As well, one of MCD's mandates and responsibilities is to advocate for appropriate services. However, how can that be done successfully when they are not willing to provide appropriate accessibility or use the reason of "cost saving" to not do so? The typical response from the business community reluctant to provide interpreting services is usually related to a fiscal inability (or unwillingness masked by fiscal inability.) To have the very entity responsible for promoting accessibility choose not to as a cost-saving measure is ironic and defies logic.

While I understand the need for confidentiality, what is the possible recourse of a breach? There is none. Evaluators who are caught discussing the process could possibly be eliminated from the evaluator pool but given that the pool is so small, that is doubtful. MCD is a publicly-supported entity and this was a public meeting. Almost everything, apart from specific items of personnel records such as medical information, is subject to open records. I think, though, my question is, what can possibly be done to someone who does breach this confidentiality? Interpreters' certification and licenses cannot be revoked because this has nothing to do with their work as an interpreter. What would be the possible need to keep items that are used to evaluate interpreters' competencies a secret? Was it simply a gesture to convey the gravity of the task, respect for the sanctity of the work that was on display and the need to keep outdated testing materials confidential? I had students there who very much want to discuss this in class. Every single person that I saw and have seen since (including evaluators, interpreters, consumers and students) have been discussing this issue and the process. The signing of the confidentiality statement was not valid and didn't seem to have much of an impact. Perhaps a bit more specific direction on what components should remain confidential would have been more palatable. To enforce it means you will have to penalize all 100+ people present but there is no enforcement mechanism to do so. As well, we were told at the close of the meeting if we ever saw these two women who allowed their work to be included in this study, to thank them. This is a direct conflict of asking us to keep things confidential. Additionally, I know a Deaf person was told he could not take pictures of people in the room due to the "confidential" nature of the day while another hearing person was allowed to take copious notes with the use of a laptop. There were inconsistent messages sent both verbally and non verbally.

My final comment relative to the study relates to your doing the statistical analysis of the work. While I know you are more than capable of doing this, more so than many, you cannot be unbiased. If the attempt is to remove bias (to the extent any performance-based testing system can) it behooves the Commission to remove the elements of bias that can be removed. To be a truly valid study of the process, the analysis needs to be done by someone NOT involved or having a vested interest. The study being statistically analyzed by a Commission employee and someone impacted by the outcome it is not valid on top of all of the other things I have mentioned. It was mentioned that this was another cost-saving measure; however, I recommend some of the money saved from not providing appropriate and adequate interpreter services for a three-hour large public meeting promoted to have Deaf consumers, interpreters and students should be funneled to use for hiring a neutral, unbiased psychometrician.

The comments from this point forward are related to the MICS evaluation process and the concept and terms used to "evaluate" candidates for certification.

Lag time and fluency were combined into one category but they are two divergently separate things. Scoring fluency, which could mean a number of things including cohesive nature between concepts, the aesthetic value of the work, etc. with the part of the work involving a mental task, the visible product being length of time between the source message and the target message is not possible. These two completely different things cannot be evaluated with one number.

I don't know what the difference was between fingerspelling fluency and clarity and there was not a category to judge fingerspelling accuracy (however, refer to my comments in the previous section regarding this issue.) There were many instances in the work that items were misspelled but no way to possibly score that as they did not fit appropriately into clarity and fluency.

How were we supposed to evaluate body language, facial expression of an ASL-to-English or Signed English-to-spoken English piece of work? Were we to be evaluating the hearing interpreter's body language and facial expression? If so, why? What relevance is there to the output of English to body language and facial expression used? Aside from these being outdated terms and not representative of modern linguistic and interpreting research, if we were to be evaluating the ability of the interpreter to render an interpretation that conveyed the body language and facial expression of the signer, then we were not able to do that since we did not have access to the source message.

The term "Use of register" is not appropriate. We do not "use" register per se. We work within the appropriate register. Many people in our field (consumers and practitioners) do not understand the concept of register and it is probably the single-most misused term (apart from the word "interpret".) Register, among other things, is the psychological distance between the speaker and the listener (speaker and listener are used as generic terms meaning two people engaged in a communication process - one speaks or signs and the other watches or listens.) In more formal settings in hearing culture, there is little or no dialogue between speaker and listener. The speaker has greater status and power and the listener is not "permitted" to talk to them - such as in a conference with someone presenting, people are not "expected" to interrupt and ask questions. But in informal register, the status/power are equal and each share the floor - using different turn-taking techniques and strategies than in the other registers. It is not that we "use" register, it is whether we are interpreting appropriately within it so that the people involved in a communication event understand the psychological distance and do not make mistakes that have members of the other cultural/linguistic group judge them unfairly. Continuing to use this kind of antiquated and inaccurate terminology perpetuates the problem and invalidates the system since it is not an accurate use of the term and, further, obviously not being assessed appropriately.

Judging hair do and makeup is wholly inappropriate. Judging professional appearance and demeanor seems more appropriate which could incorporate an overall look and behavior such as posture, appropriate clothing and all that is involved in that. Asking for two sexist items such as makeup and hair do is dangerously illegal. Men, by virtue of our society, could possibly automatically receive high marks while women could be marked down with the use of "make up" that is subjectively viewed as inappropriate.

Having stimulus material on test tapes signed by two hearing people is suspect and not appropriate. There are many wonderful ASL and English signing models available who are Deaf. What is the possible rationale for using hearing models as source material for the test tapes for ASL-to-English performance? Even further, these two "models" are Commission employees (one former) which adds an element of familiarity, possibly fear, knowledge that these two individuals are not Deaf, etc. that is questionable when included in a testing situation. Given that the ASL interpreted example yesterday was not truly interpretation there is reason to question whether the source message in this section of the test is actually presented in ASL; however, since we couldn't see it, we are left only to wonder. This is yet one more piece of the process that is legally indefensible if challenged.

Standards have changed. Teaching of interpreting techniques has dramatically changed. The paradigms that frame our work have evolved so much so that what we initially started out thinking was successful interpretation is now known to produce more harm than good from an interpreter's presence in a communicated event. Interpreters are not neutral, passive participants (see Metzger, Roy and Wadensjo) but do control turn-taking by the very nature of the interpreted event. Interpreting requires processing which can put the target message as much as 11 to 15 seconds behind the source message. The tapes used clearly give candidates no time to utilize concepts that are employed in the everyday work as an interpreter. To be a valid testing instrument and a true measure of what an interpreter actually does, the tapes to the extent possible, need to build in time for the interpreter to actually process the information and convey it both culturally and linguistically in the target language. The result of not doing so forces and produces transliterated work. The absence of enough time between speakers built into the videotaped test materials increases the stress unnecessarily and artificially, especially if the work they do on a normal basis incorporates more process time (which it does by the very nature of the simultaneous interpreted event.) For this reason, the tapes used are not appropriate.

The category, Transliterating Skills, gauging whether a message was "transliterated" had as its measurement titles "Interprets" on the typically low end of the scale (1) up to "Transliterates" on the high end of the scale (10.) Just because a message is not transliterated does not inherently make it interpreted as indicated by the choice on this scale and vice versa. There is such a thing as "word salad" being neither transliteration nor interpretation but a combination of isolated lexical items not cohesively joined, lacking grammatical structure and not conveying any language per se. This measurement item is not appropriately named and possibly subsequently not appropriately evaluated.

Finally, I have long commented publicly that the legislation when first proposed should have dealt with payment of evaluators. I have worked within systems that relied on volunteers and have seen the adverse results of that. I have seen/heard many of the MICS evaluators complain about not being paid and ceasing participation because of the time and monetary burden. I have seen/heard members of the Commission complain that it is difficult to schedule because people are unable or unwilling (centered around the volunteer status) to give up their precious and very limited time to participate. The reason given that the law prevents it, while possibly true, is not an acceptable explanation. It must also be said that there is recourse - change the law. Isn't that one of MCD's primary functions? Acquiescing as if nothing can be done is neither addressing nor solving the problem. The option is a lot of hard work and it might not be successful at first attempt but it can be done. Not trying and accepting it as the status quo should not be an acceptable option.

In closing, again I would like to commend you for your efforts to try to improve the system. Requiring a test to enable a group to access the workforce that is not valid and reliable while forsaking all other tests that have withstood the rigors of a standardization process is unconscionable. If the testing system required as the only standard by which interpreters can work is not valid and the subsequent processes to test for their validity as well, there are reasonable and legally safe solutions. One is to ensure that the validation process of the current testing system (MICS) is conducted with the highest degree of neutrality to ensure, as much as possible, that the process is bias-free. Another is to open up access to interpreters being tested via systems that have undergone rigorous psychometrically validated processes - processes that were conducted by truly unbiased people. If the commission is not able or willing to do that, it is only a matter of time before someone sues the system and will win. There is no way this system, in its current state, can withstand the legal challenge required of proving it is valid and reliable. A lot of hard work, energy and money will be at risk if this occurs. Hiring a psychometrician unaffiliated with the Commission should be seen as a long-run investment as opposed to a short-run goal of saving money. In the end and in the grander scheme of things, the long-run strategy would be the more economical. I have long believed it is just a matter of time before someone challenges this system. Instances of people obtaining a level 1 and within a time frame of less than one year obtaining a level 5 are not easily explained away and lend to the lack of inter-rater reliability. Others knowingly and purposefully employing strategies such as coughing when missing fingerspelled words are able to successfully "beat the system" and obtain a level 5. These are just two examples of the weakness of this system.

One final thought, not everyone received the letter announcing the day. A colleague working in Illinois at least two weeks prior to the event received the letter I happened to have seen. Even more ironic, those who have tended to be the more vocal about their concerns with the MICS suspiciously did not get the letter announcing the day of the study at FVCC. It seems ironic that people who are normally on a mailing list wouldn't receive specific items such as this. However, a previous employee has said that there is a joke in the office that specific targeted people are pulled from mailings in order that they not receive the information in time (and hopefully do not attend.) If this is happening, this practice is dangerous and should be vehemently discouraged. Having worked under Claude Stout and Frank Turk and watching these two amazing people work, I have come to value their assertively seeking out people who are vocal, both in opposition and support. The underlying premise of that being: how does someone or something grow and improve without listening to critics? If always surrounded by people who think the same and who always support and agree, awareness, growth and improvement are stunted.

I would like to request a response within a reasonable amount of time. I, and many other people, have made numerous attempts in various ways to contact the offices with suggestions, comments or just to discuss issues (my biggest one being the non-response from MCD staff.) My recent letter of 11/13/00 has never received a response or even the courtesy of acknowledgment. Many others have sent letters and e-mails to which they do not receive responses. The prevailing comment made by people around the state is that they get no response, which is in direct conflict with your pronouncement about inviting public comments and suggestions. The public, I can tell you, does not feel very invited, welcomed or listened to. Tax supported entities are dependent upon the support of citizens both monetarily and emotionally. To continue to command this support requires a level of responsiveness that has not been present.

Again, thank you for this opportunity to address some concerns but I also want to close with the overriding positive statement reiterating that the fact that there are attempts to shore up the process is highly commendable. I am also not a complacent complainer. I am willing to assist in any way possible to make this venture a successful one. I am passionately and actively committed to raising the standards of the profession as can be evidenced by my past and current involvement in many aspects of the process. Please feel free to contact me for any questions regarding this correspondence. I stand ready to assist in any way possible.

Respectfully,
Lynne Eighinger


Keeping PACE: Performance Assessment for Career Enhancement

I have 250 CEU credits. I attend every function I possibly can where there will be Deaf adults to immerse myself and ensure ample language and cultural exposure. My family thinks I'm a guest when they see me. I am very committed to improving my skills, whatever it takes, so why am I not improving at the same pace in which I am investing? There's a very logical answer to this, read on.

With the advancements in the profession, we have been afforded an abundance of in-service training opportunities. The majority are top notch, high quality professional development activities presented by professionals with extensive academic and interpreting backgrounds and coordinated and sponsored by those who truly support the concept of continuing education. I must preface by saying, this is not an article to address the quality of the in-service opportunities, it is an article to address organic changes needed in our approach to in-service professional development. As a matter of definition, I refer to in-service as the training provided to those already working as interpreters and pre-service as those programs educating students to become interpreters in a formal academic setting and the terms continuing education, training, professional development and in-service are all used interchangeably.

The issue from a training and development perspective is that there is a crucial linkage missing between the knowledge and skills learned in training and application of the knowledge/skills. Without a systematic approach to continuing education, the participants in professional development activities lack the tools to apply the principles learned to their work. The dilemma with training is that participants don't have photographic memories. Trainers present information, participants try to absorb as much as possible, and then months later, when some situation on the job makes the information truly relevant, participants find they have forgotten most of the details.

Research shows the rate of recall at the conclusion of training is:

By the current standard of professional development service delivery, participants can calculate the actual cost of attending training in an effort to retain 90% of the information after 6 months to apply toward a specific skill. To do this, it is necessary to calculate the average cost per workshop (I have approximated this at $200 factoring in registration, travel expenses, childcare needs, etc. for a one-day workshop.) This $200 amount is a gross underestimate, however, because in reality, this cost would be much higher when considering the opportunity costs (what you could have been doing with that time and money), a rate for substitutes and/or amount for lost wages (where applicable.) This brings the approximate cost to work on ONE skill to be an estimated $1800 (registration, travel and childcare expenses) and 54 hours (representing an additional amount of at least $1000 in lost wages or substitute wages) to absorb 90% of a specific skill sufficient enough to close the skill gap under the current methods utilized to provide/receive training. This brings the cost per CEU (at .6 CEUs for one day of training) to approximately $518.52 per .1 CEU ($2800 ÷ 5.4 CEUs.) To compound this, this is also only if each of the 9 workshops attended are focused on the specific and targeted skill(s) gaps and not a mélange of whatever is offered in the interpreter's specific region. Should the latter be the case, as it more often than not is, the cost to work on the targeted skill and hours invested will be far greater.

With this knowledge of the actual costs involved in working on a specific skill, isn't it time that we looked at the way in which we seek out professional development? Our goal should be to ensure that it is more focused, a more holistic approach and that it ensures the time and money invested will reap benefits that are productive and do not leave us frustrated at the end of a CEU cycle when the amount of information retained is less than 10%, not all applicable or targeting our specific skill(s) gap needs and after a significant investment of time and money in the process.

There are a few key principles that need to be employed to ensure the learner maximizes the benefits and has positive experiences from professional development activities. The process should include all of these key components and perspectives:

  • Lifelong learning - Professional development needs to be a process and a plan not based on a person or place
  • Identify Skill Gaps - Diagnose & Prioritize skills actually needed
    • Short-range - Actual technical skills needed for the current job
    • Long-range - Skills needed for career development goals
  • Obtaining Meaningful Training - identify and investigate the training available/provided or seek opportunities to develop training to meet the requirements of the skill(s) gap assessment
  • Apply the Tools - Training can only be successful if the tools obtained are applicable and applied to the work consistently and accurately
  • Evaluate the Application - At regular intervals, evaluate the application of the tools and obtain feedback
  • Automatic - Skill(s) gaps have narrowed when those skills being addressed have become automatic
  • Reassess Skill Gaps - Continue to work on current skill(s) gaps if needed and/or identify new gaps on which to focus
  • Continue the cycle - This is an on-going, dynamic process
To address the critical shortage in the supply of interpreters, hiring entities can benefit from this process as well by using it as a tool for recruitment and retention. In times of budgetary restrictions and limited funds for professional development and salary increases, the intrinsic value that employees place on benefits such as quality professional development can compensate for salary levels that are not as competitive. This satisfaction translates directly into less "lost time" on the job, greater employee retention and a more positive and productive work environment, all valuable to employers.

This approach also provides for a much more cost-effective approach to professional development. Given the analysis earlier, if an employer's goal is to support the employee in acquiring or honing a specific skill, the employer must look at the "big picture" to determine the actual cost to achieve that goal. A simple cost analysis has shown clearly that an estimated $2800 and 54 hours invested for the professional development days to retain 90% after 6 months with the goal of closing a skill gap is an unnecessarily expensive approach. The process being defined herein, approaching professional development from an holistic and systematic way, can easily cut that cost in half, ensure maximum retention in far less time and give employers and employees control over the process.

Below is a graphical representation of this seamless approach to professional development:

The first crucial component of this process is to identify core competencies and requisite skills as well as their corresponding weights (in accordance with their importance to the position.) These core competencies need to be assessed both from short-range (current position) and long-range (career goals) perspectives. They are identified by a dialogue between the supervisor (or mentor) and the interpreter. These skill gaps can be driven by things such as performance evaluations, IEPs or legislation requiring certification.

If the interpreter works in an educational setting, the students' IEP would assist in identifying the skills that are needed: those skills that are more important to the current position carry more importance (weight) in determining needed skill development. For a staff interpreter, a performance evaluation developed and discussed with the supervisor (with input from consumers) can help to identify the needs. The goal may be something tangible such as obtaining certification or upgrading assessment level or may be to reduce a pattern of miscues identified by the diagnostician. Interpreters in private practice are also strongly encouraged to develop their own performance assessment document and review it, as it would be in a more formal employer-employee structure, on a regular basis.

From this list of essential skills needed to be successful as an interpreter in any discipline, skill gaps are determined for technical skills by the provision of a diagnostic assessment. Skill gaps are quite simply the gap in skill between what is currently possessed and what is needed for the current position and for the interpreter's long-range career goals.

This process should be flexible and tailored to the needs of the interpreter and the organization in which he or she works. Diagnostic assessments can be generated from a videotaped sample of the interpreter's work. This is not an artificially fabricated testing situation but gives the interpreter feedback in the situation in which he/she actually works daily. The diagnostic assessment results and a summary of skill gaps and their corresponding prioritization of training recommendations should be discussed with the interpreter. However, the interpreter and his/her supervisor (where applicable) should ultimately determine the prioritization of targeted training to address the skill(s) gaps identified.

The feedback to the interpreter should be specific and include suggestions for skill development. The report should also include recommended prioritized training calculated in relation to their importance to the position(s) or to their degree of difficulty. The key, though, is to make this an interactive dialogue not a dictate by the diagnostician. The assessment process is most successful when followed by regularly scheduled follow-up assessments to determine success and identify new goals for the interpreter to focus skill development activities.

The second phase in the process is to identify or develop professional development activities to implement the recommendations of the diagnostic assessment. Again, as training is currently obtained, interpreters are left with few options other than to participate in the potpourri of training opportunities provided in their specific region. There are options though and interpreters should seek to capitalize on the plethora of training opportunities afforded by advancements in technology. No longer are interpreters dependent upon the local chapter to bring in training. Quality training worldwide is now accessible in their own homes and work environments with computer-based technologies.

Therefore, professional development activities need to be carefully planned and targeted to the specific skill set being addressed (not by attending every function offered and available.) This can be conducted in a number of formats. The interpreter can be directed to do independent study to work on the skill(s) gaps identified. A plan should be developed that contains realistic and obtainable objectives to achieve the goal. The plan can include a variety of activities, however, always focusing on the targeted skill(s) gap.

Attendance at Deaf club functions is one component that should never be overlooked. However, interpreters must have direction and discipline remaining cognizant of the skill(s) gaps being currently addressed. This may be achieved, for example, by having the interpreter watch for specific linguistic features related to the skill being addressed.

Direct mentorship can and should be provided by a veteran, certified and TRAINED interpreter mentor (a trained mentor with at least 5 years experience having received comprehensive mentorship training and who understands not only interpreting but how to teach, guide, coach and apply the concepts needed to close the particular skill(s) gaps.)

Another option for professional development is to seek out available quality in-service activities. This can be accomplished in a number of formats: one-on-one or group web-based training, compact discs, videotapes, one-day in-service training provided on-site, customized tutorials accessed via the WWW, cumulative on-going sessions or specially tailored activities to meet the individual interpreter's need.

As mentioned previously, this process should be a dynamic and an on-going process. Mentorship and feedback should take place at every stage in this process. Upon successful completion of narrowing the prioritized gaps (determined by a follow-up diagnostic assessment), the process begins again. Research and experience has consistently shown this process to be successful and has long been embraced by organizational trainers in corporate America. Typical assessment processes offer one-time assessment, limited feedback, and little opportunity for interaction and negotiation between evaluators and interpreters. Interpreters are far more anxious about a "certification" process in which their positions or ability to work may depend. Therefore, a process by which interpreters can receive valuable feedback in a non-threatening yet structured manner and work toward certification goals can be far more productive followed by subsequent testing for certification and licensure.

In my experiences working across the United States, implementation of certification requirements before or without necessary systematic process approaches to professional development to acquire the skills needed to obtain certification for those affected creates overwhelming anxiety. For employers concerned with meeting legislative requirements and providing cost-effective yet worthwhile training opportunities, it is crucial to address the service delivery mechanisms to meet these needs. Preparing interpreters in a proactive fashion for certification and supporting their short and long-range career goals creates an atmosphere of support and diminishes the typical anxiety experienced from new certification requirements while simply making good fiscal sense.

  • Learning is not a spectator sport--it is an active, not a passive, enterprise. Accordingly, a learning environment must invite, even demand, the active engagement of the student.
    - D. Blocher
So, the lesson here should be that our approach to professional development should be evaluated for its true cost effectiveness and for the actual benefits derived from the investment. It should be structured with a goal compared to seizing every opportunity in our grasps. Those opportunities that do not address our particular and most important needs will, with retention at less than 10%, have been a waste of time and money. Plan your professional development and PACE yourself!


Making a Business of Interpreting
When one thinks of developing their skills as an interpreter, what immediately comes to mind? Working on skills related to language, culture and the ability to facilitate communication across cultures. Very little attention is placed upon developing our business skills. Yet we need, in every discipline interpreters practice, to acquire knowledge and skills to interact with the business community. It is these people who typically contract for our services. To do anything less puts us at a great disadvantage to be competitive in the marketplace.

I have talked at great length with many interpreters and students of interpreting who feel inadequate to address their business needs. It is for this reason that I have chosen to devote my academic and professional career to supporting interpreters in acquiring the skills that directly apply to the business of interpreting.

In reality, the business of interpreting is not unlike any other business. There are unique aspects of interpreting but in terms of business practices, think of yourself as a miniature Wal-Mart. This is a drastically oversimplified comparison; however, whatever Wal-Mart can do, you can do. Whatever Wal-Mart cannot do, you cannot. And finally, whatever Wal-Mart's customers and vendors are empowered to do, you can expect from your customers and vendors and likewise expect from yourself as a vendor to another businesses.

It is important, first, to define terminology so that there is mutual understanding of the references made:

  • Customer - Paying entity (agency, business or individual)
  • Consumer - Recipient of services (deaf and hearing)
  • Vendor or Supplier - one who provides goods and/or services to you essential to your sale of services
    (you are a vendor to those in which you contract to provide services)
Pricing: as an independent contractor, you determine your prices and contractual conditions. Wal-Mart sets its hours, determines its prices and decides where it will do business (hours, location, etc.) Likewise, as an independent contractor, you are free to establish your own rates, conditions and services provided (and to whom.) If we price ourselves too high or establish conditions that are drastically different than others practicing in the region, the customer has every right to negotiate for different terms or not to hire us at all. Historically, though, an attempt to align our rates and conditions with others is the primary reason that interpreters acquiesce the ability to set their own rates and conditions.

There are scores of deductions that independent contractors can take as business deductions. With a little bit of diligence with documentation and learning the tedious art of logging everything, April 15th should not be a traumatic time for most of us. It is in an interpreter's best interest to seek the counsel of a CPA. The bonus of their assisting in finding additional, possibly overlooked deductions, is that the cost for the CPA is tax deductible in the next tax year and they are excellent tools for tax planning. They, like us, must take continuing education, constantly keeping abreast of new tax laws and changes in existing tax laws.

As with all businesses, keeping accurate records is crucial but the foremost reason businesses succeed or fail is their relationship with their customers. Those who develop "learning relationships" are most likely to succeed. Developing a learning relationship takes time; however, research indicates the benefits far outweigh the costs. Learning everything there is to know about the customer, anticipating their needs and being flexible and adaptable to their changing needs will increase their "switching" costs and ensure that they are a customer for life. Switching costs are those costs incurred when switching from one vendor/supplier to another. The goal is to become as close to indispensable to your customers as possible so that they cannot afford (measured in time, effort and money) or are unwilling to switch.

An example of these attempts can be seen by the recent proliferation of internet companies that compile extensive databases on each customer such as Healthpages.com or Amazon.com. This is done so that each time a customer visits their site, the site is personalized and already knows the interests of the customer. These companies store birthday and anniversary information, for example, to automatically remind a customer of these dates and conveniently offer goods available on their site to meet this identified need.

This practice is not restricted to goods or to internet companies. Interpreters can do this quite easily, effectively and efficiently (the important 3 E's). By getting to know your customers and consumers and their needs and being able to uniquely fulfill those needs, interpreters can raise the switching costs incurred by companies having to switch to another interpreter or agency. An example of this might be when a customer calls in a request for interpreting services, after some time spent "learning" that customer's needs, there is no need for in-depth knowledge about the consumer, consumer's preference, location information, etc. Only very basic information is needed saving the customer (and you) time translating to money in business.

Those who have read previous articles I have written know that I am quite drawn to the topic of, what I call, the "Commodity Phenomenon". It is quite common in our industry for customers of interpreting services (those with limited knowledge of our industry) to request the services of the cheapest interpreter (i.e., the interpreter with fewer years experience, lesser or no credentials and/or less educational background.) In business, there are three primary enticing factors to purchase goods and/or services: better, cheaper or faster. Those purchased solely on the basis of price are considered commodities such as wheat. Basically, wheat is wheat. There is little way to grow it any differently to differentiate it from the farmer down the road, in another state or even in another country. Therefore, wheat is sold almost exclusively based on price. The cheapest wheat sells first.

Unfortunately, interpreters are also considered commodities in many consumers' eyes. To overcome this, we must first change from within before we can ever expect a change from without.

First, we as an industry must acknowledge, respect and support pay levels commensurate with all three factors: credentials, education and experience. To my knowledge, interpreting is one of the ONLY industries that disregards (on average) a person's academic work and years of experience and focuses solely and exclusively on certification. Commensurable pay is a common practice in all other professions.

Second, those who use and hire interpreters need to be made aware that there are varying degrees of skills supported by credentials and enhanced by education. Currently, to the uneducated consumer/customer, we are simply bodies flailing our hands in space. We must, therefore, develop strategies to market our services to differentiate them from others competing in the industry. We must develop a competitive advantage. We, as an industry, do ourselves a great disservice by not doing this and perpetuate the "commodity phenomenon". While at times in our career, it may prove advantageous, typically earlier on in one's career, interpreters typically find themselves being adversely impacted by this, manifested in not being able to raise rates above those with similar (or lower levels of) certifications but far fewer years experience and academic training.

Finally, a word about technology. Embrace it or it will leave you behind. Anything that can save time and effort expended to do the administrative functions of your work will benefit your business. Those who opt not to accept this will find themselves locked out of the market in a matter of a few years. More and more assignments will be advertised and contracted for on the internet. It is imperative to do those things to advance your own knowledge and expertise to let technology support your business efforts. In a matter of months, online in-service training opportunities will be offered affording interpreters in rural areas the opportunity to receive training from national-level presenters and eliminating the exorbitant travel costs incurred and the family time lost in attending professional development activities.

Business is about relationships and this may seem in direct conflict with the previous paragraph about embracing technology, a seemingly depersonalized way of doing business. Use everything at your disposal to maintain relationships but in the end, do not forget about the power of communication and even more so, face-to-face communication. To develop learning relationships with your customers and consumers will require honest and sincere feedback on your services. Even more important, it will require that you be open to that feedback and ready to adapt to it. Sam Walton's rules for his employees have proven very successful and I encourage each and every one of you to embrace his two simple tenets:

     Rule #1: The customer is always right.
     Rule #2: When in doubt, refer to rule #1.

Best of luck in your interpreting endeavors.


Be Thankful!!!
In the spirit of the recent days of giving thanks, I thought I would share with you why interpreters and the Deaf community have a great deal to be thankful for living in this great country. I have always tried not to take our daily conditions for granted but a recent trip to Europe has brought that message back home for me (a chosen play on words.) As states grapple with the issue of quality and access, I would like to share with you the status of these in several of the countries visited recently.

First, the issue of accessibility: my traveling companion, a Deaf friend from North Carolina, was appalled but overall thankful for the services afforded in the U.S. to find that there is no Relay service and virtually no TTY's in any of the places we visited. We had the good fortune of meeting and socializing with many Deaf people in several of the countries. While the Deaf community in the U.S. struggles to ensure there are TTY's in all public accommodations, the Deaf community in Europe relies on methods that are now outdated by our standards here. They rely on established meetings at predetermined places/times or the ever-familiar trek to a place of business or a person's house in the absence of TTY's with the hope they would be home in order to simply establish another date/time to get together. The one advantage they do experience that we have not yet caught up to is the proliferation of E-Plus, e-mail on all cellular phones. It was a strange sight to see Deaf people carrying wireless phones. On closer inspection, we understood that they use them solely to communicate via e-mail in a wireless fashion. Many do not have computers or e-mail in their own homes, a system of communication many Americans take completely for granted with computers (in many cases more than one) in everyone's home leveling the playing field for communication and opening up the world for everyone.

Another observation was that interpreters in the U.S. enjoy the benefits of organized chapters supporting and guiding the profession. I had the opportunity to interact with an interpreter who expressed great concern over the lack of organization, support, training, networking, etc. We take this for granted here in the U.S. with our sophisticated mechanism of RID national, state and local affiliate chapters. As she and I talked, I explained that there is often apathy among affiliate chapters and frequently the same people doing the volunteer work (as described by many colleagues across the nation.) She was perplexed as to this phenomenon of non-participation in many of the states and could not understand why, with such an opportunity to obtain support from other working interpreters, that more did not take advantage. Like many of my colleagues across the country, I had no answer to this dilemma.

While we also deal on a nationwide basis with issues of standardization, educational requirements, certification, licensure, etc. and feel that our strides are made slowly, we should look to our friends across the Atlantic where there are virtually no standards in many parts of Europe. While we do have spots and disciplines where legal requirements are not yet shorn up, looking at the nation holistically, we are far more advanced legislatively to ensure the services provided are quality and that the community is protected against sub-standard services.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the issue of our strong economy in comparison. This impacts many aspects of our lives and for the most part, we go through our daily lives without thinking about the benefits derived from this strong economy and consequently and unfortunately, take it for granted. For example, in this country we enjoy the ability to relocate relatively easily. The job market is strong and while not as simplistic as written in a short article, it is far more difficult to obtain jobs in many parts of Europe. Of the people I spoke to, they expressed that when adequate jobs are obtained, they do not leave them. We are spoiled in our ability and flexibility to pick up and move (either within our own city or across the country) without the fear that eventually, without too much down time, we will not find work.

On a final note and not entirely related to interpreters and the Deaf community but relevant with the theme of giving thanks is the fact that those with a disability that impairs their mobility living in the U.S. must be truly thankful for laws requiring public accommodations and places of employment to make their facilities accessible. While not a perfect system here in the U.S. and experiencing frustration with those not yet or slow to comply, we were struck throughout the trip with how difficult and, in many cases, impossible it would be for a person to be independent or even live (as we might define living) in most of the cities and countries we visited. Understandably, the buildings and infrastructures there are ancient and not easily modified to enable accessibility but it was just one more reason that we were anxious and thankful to be back home.

For many reasons, we should give thanks to live in this country. Not only because we do not live in a country where there is fighting on the streets and a struggle for freedom and democracy daily but also for the seemingly small things we take for granted or for those that give rise to complaints about the imperfections of our programs and services. While they are not perfect and we are constantly striving to improve conditions, the message it left for us was to be thankful and not take for granted the things we do have since there are people who experience and live with far less luxury and convenience.


Continuing Educ@tion via WWWorkshops
Interpreting, as an industry, is in an infancy stage of development. This fact, coupled with the technological boom we are experiencing make it an exciting time for current and future interpreters. The trend nationwide toward implementation of certification and licensing standards is followed and supported by the requirement for continuing education units. The advances and uses of technology make an ideal segue into expanding the options available for interpreters in their efforts to obtain continuing education credits.

The online education community is rapidly expanding. It is currently estimated that 45% of all American households are online and an additional 700 per hour are connecting to the internet for the first time. Online education has already invaded the post-secondary arena. Colleges and universities worldwide are scrambling to secure their place in this newest academic frontier. This medium has also made strides into our industry but not with quite as much speed and vigor. One university (http://stripe.Colorado.EDU/~schick/) is providing online training to interpreter educators. The University of NM at Albuquerque has been working on a project to place an ASL dictionary in a multimedia format on the web. Additionally, several colleges and universities are making plans for offering their interpreter training curriculum (in whole or in part) available via distance learning or online classes. There is already a web-based American Sign Language dictionary at http://dww.deafworldweb.org/asl/ and several list serves with which interpreters, educators, consumers and students of interpreting come together to discuss issues pertinent to the profession. Two of the more prominent list serves are Terps-L (www.terpsnet.com) and K-12Terps (www.onelist.com). While these may not be classified as education per se, they serve as a very valuable educational resource for interpreters to gain knowledge about the day-to-day issues confronting us. Real-time or video-capable training opportunities are emerging with WWWorkshops available at www.signs-of-development.org and with other training companies making their current library of videotapes available online.

The very nature of interpreter training requires a visual medium. Should interpreting, as most other disciplines, begin to offer professional development activities via the internet, there are many issues which must first be addressed to ensure effectiveness of this training. The typical modem speeds of 56K are simply not fast enough to accommodate our typical cultural-based sense of urgency. Viewing streaming video requires one of several options to view the video at a more realistic pace: DSL, ISDN, Cable, Satellite or PC Direct. All have their own unique benefits and drawbacks. The future is, however, in our ability to connect to the internet at the fastest possible speed to take advantage of these new opportunities.

Online education requires a special, perhaps new and very different, style of teaching and learning. New strategies must be employed to bring the customer the maximum benefit while minimizing the drawbacks. Compensation strategies to overcome lacks of participant interaction must be dealt with. Bringing the customer of professional development activities more value will ensure that online learning holds steadfast ground in the online revolution and in the trend of training to interpreters (pre-service and in-service).

For the previously underserved, interpreters in rural areas, online training is the ideal medium to facilitate top quality training where none has been provided heretofore. High quality programs can expand their customer base effectively and efficiently ensuring that interpreters are receiving standardized training utilizing national industry leaders. Educational entities with traditionally limited budgets can afford to link their interpreters to training activities with very little effort and expense. In our fast-paced society with already overwhelming demands upon our time will be captive markets for online training. Interpreters wearing multiple hats will have the ability to log on to receive training any time day or night from the convenience of their own homes while their children sleep in the next room.

We must not abandon, though, our conventional in-service opportunities. The allure of the state and national conventions is the unspoken ability to meet up with friends once a year to discuss both personal and professional news. It is incumbent upon us as an industry to maintain this vital link to our profession. Balance will be the key as with anything. Taking advantage of the opportunity to obtain some training online while still attending and supporting the state and national conventions will afford us a unique blend of in-service professional development opportunities never before available.


Does the Code Fit Like a Pair of Gloves or Mittens?
It's cold outside. You have become accustomed to the cold since you've felt these winters many times in your life. As a child, your mother bundled you up in your coat and mittens and sent you outside to play. Yet, now as an adult, having chosen the field of Sign Language interpretation as a career, you are sensitive to the need to wear gloves. Many of your friends, professional associates and consumers of your services are Deaf. Your life and work revolves around communicating in American Sign Language, sometimes in an impromptu fashion. This has necessitated a switch to wearing gloves to accommodate this. You have altered the standard passed down from your mother to meet the needs of your changing life. However, the new standard still effectively meets the original needs, keeping your hands warm, while adapting to meet your changing needs.

Likewise, the life of Sign Language interpreting has undergone a dynamic evolution, transitioning through five (5) identified models, paradigms or styles: helper, conduit/machine, communication facilitator, cultural mediator and ally. Yet, the ethical code implemented to guide professionals during their day-to-day work was established and has been static for 30 years. Does the code established still fit the profession in its current state? Whether interpreters practice as cultural mediators, communication facilitators or vacillate between or among the models/styles, the Code guiding us has remained--but not without challenge or question. Is it possible the field should evaluate the application of the thirty year-old Code to current practices accounting for research that was unavailable at its writing? Should we make sure we are not still wearing mittens, which keep our fingers warm but impose limitations, simply because we were told to as children? Or should we, as adults, don gloves that allow greater flexibility, the ability to move fluidly despite external environmental changes and permit ease of communication with all consumers of our skills? …

In an interpreter-mediated interaction, interpreters are a vital part of the communication process. There is a solid research base supporting the fact that interpreters are squarely involved in and affect the communication process. Interpreters are required, by virtue of the goal of cultural and linguistic interpretation, to seek equivalency across cultures and languages. Assumptions about speakers and listeners, the meanings of source messages, and clarity of target messages, require interpreters to reach into their own store of experiences and knowledge about these messages and cultures, decode these messages and assert an opinion about what will be equivalent. I simply posit: can the tenet that suggests that interpreters not interject personal opinion, in its strictest sense, therefore, be achieved?

Additionally, if the field is truly moving toward an ally model, advising and counseling (from the same tenet) does not and cannot apply across all situations. Outside of working with sophisticated and educated consumers, there are a dearth of consumers who have deficits in their knowledge of the cultural majority and majority language heavily laden with implicit meaning. When faced by seemingly less-than-scrupulous manipulation of these consumers through language, whether spoken or written, some practitioners feel compelled to participate in the process by becoming an ally and educating beyond what might be considered strictly ethical. I am not suggesting this is the model under which we should work. It is simply fact that there are still consumers and interpreters who prefer to and work within a framework most closely associated with this version of the ally model driven by specific situations.

Most interpreters and consumers consider the first tenet to be almost a holy testament to a professional interpreter as if it reads: "Thou Shalt Keep All Assignment-Related Information Confidential." Yet, we have seen countless occurrences of when this cannot be accomplished. There are overriding federal and state laws that prevent an interpreter from maintaining this standard. A subpoena to testify supercedes this tenet. As well, the introduction of a personal moral code in certain cases might prevent an interpreter from maintaining this seeming dictate of confidentiality.

There are also various circumstances across disciplines of interpreting that create dilemmas in applying this first tenet. Interpreters in educational, legal, medical, and mental health settings, where the interpreter is a member of a team, grapple with the concept of keeping all assignment-related information strictly confidential. Does this tenet apply to them in the strictest sense even though it may leave them holding information (perhaps related solely to language and culture) that is in the consumers' best interests to have shared? Can this tenet apply in settings where, as a member of a team, the interpreter is required, by virtue of employment policies, to report to the team?

Or, is it not time for an update to make our ethical standards global and applicable to all Sign Language interpreters despite the discipline in which they work? Physicians have one Code. Attorneys have one Code. Why can't Sign Language interpreters have one Code that permits and supports our work in all settings and which will resolve the ongoing debate of whether one Code can apply to ALL interpreters?

Perhaps it is time to consider a higher-level form of reasoning to be utilized by interpreters and taught in interpreter training programs. As models, styles, paradigms and/or frameworks of interpreting evolve and the environment in which we practice changes, we should also be evaluating the ethical standards that guide us. Virtue ethics and its application to our field may be an answer--or at least a good starting point--for beginning an evaluation of our current Code.

The purpose of this paper is not to assert that the Code is outdated, but to pose questions, initiate dialogue and encourage thought as to the need for it to be revisited. Will that evaluation find that the Code of Ethics fits like a pair of mittens still keeping us warm but preventing flexibility and impeding our ability to communicate freely with those with whom we work? Or will we discover that it has stood the test of time through the evolution of interpreting as an interactive process and has, in its original state, worn like a pair of gloves from its conception and inception?


Gadget Overload
Borrowing and modifying an old phrase: "The only difference between children and adults is the price of their toys." Actually, these days, that might not be as true as in days gone by. However, for people, especially those owning small businesses who are typically on a stricter cash flow regimen, it would behoove us all to be prudent with our purchases of gadgets. It is quite easy to become mesmerized by these new toys proselytizing the ability to simplify our lives (i.e., our daily tasks-professional and personal.) Before you buy (or buy into the mania), step back from the allure to do a quick analysis of the benefits versus the cost (not only factoring in the monetary considerations.)

Some tips for evaluating your need for and the merits of various gadgets are:

  1. Copiously evaluate your need for any technology to assist you in your professional and personal life. This should be a proactive evaluation of your need and not reactive to existing available technology. No one knows your needs better than you. In doing this evaluation, you should do a cost to benefit analysis by considering:
    • available funds for purchases of technology,
    • the opportunity cost (what you can do with the funds if you don't buy the gadget),
    • how much time a gadget would save,
    • how much time a gadget would take to learn and use efficiently, and
    • your level of usage (Are you a business that relies on this technology to conduct business or a casual user using the device on a less-than-daily basis?)
  2. Avoid impulse purchases!!! A good practice is:
    If you see a gadget in a store, on TV, on the web, in a catalogue, etc., take AT LEAST 24 hours prior to purchasing that gadget. In the meantime, go back to #1 and evaluate your need and the level of that need. Also, research the gadget by asking others who have purchased this for quality and cost worthiness.
  3. Evaluate your purchases for the current tax year. For tax preparation purchases, you might find that the allotted purchases for the year for equipment have been realized. Or, it might also be that you are looking for an additional deduction. Whichever the case, it is quite easy to overspend on gadgets affecting available cash flow. For small businesses, this is a critical consideration.
  4. As a result of your evaluation, if there is not an existing gadget which would most appropriately suit your needs, develop it! Who knows, if you need it, it is likely that others would benefit from its existence. Research the availability of possible developing technologies and if there is nothing in process, take the steps to either develop it or to sell your idea to a company. Remember, the infamous sticky notes were the result of a failed use of a certain type of glue. Never sell your ideas short. It is entrepreneurs like you who develop ideas and see those ideas to fruition benefiting others whose needs you fulfilled.
  5. Patience is a virtue. If you can wait, second and third generations of any gadget will most likely be of a higher quality and less expensive. If it is not an absolute immediate need but a foreseeable need, wait one year. Even purchasing the older model in one year will result in substantial savings. Consider purchasing gadgets second-hand from those people who must have the newest gadget and sell their used gadgets after a relatively short period of time.
  6. A word on warranties (especially extended warranties): typically, this is the way in which the retail seller makes a substantial profit. Research shows that extended warranties are not cost effective and, except in very few cases, not needed. So, unless you are a person with an electrical charge that seems to affect all electrical devices, you would most likely be safe in not purchasing the extended warranty. In the event something goes awry with the product, it is likely to happen during the initial usage when the normal warranty applies OR after you've gotten your money's worth out of the product and are ready to upgrade to newer technology anyway.
  7. Purchase only those gadgets that have a reasonable return for you and your business. If you have evaluated your need, this should be a given. Too many gadgets do not get used to their maximum potential. Too many people purchase the top-of-the-line unit when their usage and sophistication dictates one of the lower-end models. Be prudent with your purchases!
With all of this, I'll share with you the evaluation of my professional and personal needs for gadgets and my subsequent purchases (worthy and otherwise.) I have long operated as an independent contractor providing Sign Language interpreting and training on a nationwide basis. I am most currently restructuring my training medium to include web-based technologies.

Because I spend an inordinate amount of time in cities with which I am unfamiliar, I identified a need for technology to assist me in navigating these new cities. I also have a need to maintain my calendar and contacts to enable me to make appointments or check on the details of pending appointments quickly. In conjunction with these, I have a need to be accessible to my business contacts via e-mail, phone and fax.

A handheld PC fit the bill precisely. This device has the ability to synchronize with my desktop which eliminates duplication of effort. I can fax and e-mail from it and it also holds very detailed maps. I can load the maps of the city in which I will be traveling in preparation for any trip. The advantage over a service such as www.mapquest.com is that on-the-fly for those directions for which I was unable to predict a need, I can retrieve those directions. The most advantageous technology would be the on-board navigation system in many new cars. However, during the evaluation phase of this process, I determined that my need was multi-faceted and I wanted a device that was multifunctional. I purchased a Cassiopeia after having evaluated several options. I have since installed more memory. The screen is black and white. I did not see a desperate need for a color screen so I saved money by not needing the fanciest model.

Another need I have, because I work in a visual communication system, was for a desktop camera to converse with my colleagues in other parts of the country. My primary presentation partner is a Deaf gentleman residing in North Carolina. As well, I employ as independent contractors, several Deaf adults and children as language models for training interpreters. Because many of them communicate most naturally in American Sign Language, it was incumbent upon me to be able to communicate with them in their preferred language. Digital cameras are relatively inexpensive and can be utilized with existing software (e.g., Netmeeting). I regret that I did purchase a software package that I have since realized I didn't need L and have not used. This is the direct result of an impulse purchase and not conducting the ever-essential evaluation of my needs.

The most recent gadget I have considered is a wireless phone with internet capability. Reminding myself to research the available product and its ancillary services, I saved myself a great deal of money. Again, because I travel the country quite extensively, I have been best served by wireless service by AT&T's One-Rate plan providing me with bulk minutes regardless of where I am in the country. I checked out AT&T's competitor, Sprint, who is aggressively promoting its internet capability. After an exhaustive interview with a sales person familiar with the Sprint phone and calling plans, we were able to determine that I was infinitely better served by my current service at least at the present time. I have chosen to postpone my purchase of this gadget until there is a service that best suits my unique and particular multifaceted needs.

While some of this may seem like common sense, it is quite easy (from personal experience) to get caught up in the excitement of new gadgets. Consider that you have lived without this gadget and can also live without it for 24 more hours. Using this one technique will give you the time you need to evaluate your need, research the gadget and, in general, recover from the excitement. Best of luck and happy gadgeting!!!

Ms. Eighinger is a certified American Sign Language interpreter and owns her own training and development business focusing on web-based in-service professional development activities for interpreters in educational settings. She is also a self-professed gadget goddess and surrounds herself with gadgets to make the running of a business and a life more efficient and effective. Her business's (Signs of Development, LLC) Web site can be accessed at http://www.signs-of-development.org and she is available via e-mail at Lynne@signs-of-development.org.


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