Jerk Move, Interpreting Provider

So the Interpreting Agency responded to Melissa’s request about trilingual interpreters. I posted about this yesterday. They responded. I cut and pasted their response at the bottom of this post. But I took issue with one line in particular. “Therefore, my committment to support the ADA, means that I must also support our commitment to equal opportunity.”

Jerk move. You know how we might interpret that line? Allow me.

If you want us to support disability access and rights to full linguistic access then you must allow me to uphold whiteness and white supremacy under the guise of “equality.” That was a jerk move.

One set of rights shouldn’t mean we have to give up another set of rights e.g. linguistic access at the cost of cultural access or racial equity.


The following is from Melissa’s post on Facebook.

“Melissa Elmíra Yingst This is the latest. Sigh. We truly appreciate everyone chiming in. We have gone back and forth all day.


Socorro y Melissa,

It is my hope that you will have a wonderful presentation tomorrow. We have honored your request by providing you with female, trilingual interpreters that are of color, for the duration of your presentation. I believe it is your intent to incorporate these interpreters into your presentation.

As for your request to change the assignment of the other sign language interpreters based on gender and ethnicity, I cannot do so. UTEP is a public institution that has a commitment to support equal opportunity in all aspects of campus life. I believe the professional organization that is co-sponsoring the Summer Institute also has a similar obligation. I have also been told that men and women that are not of color, are already utilized in other aspects of this conference. Therefore, the use of the ASL Interpreters that are already scheduled for the duration of the conference helps to fulfill the University’s commitment of promoting diversity and inclusion.

If you are interested in understanding this point further, I have attached the equal opportunity statement for the University:

The University of Texas at El Paso is an Equal Opportunity/ Affirmative Action Employer. The University is committed to providing equal opportunity to all employees and individuals seeking employment or access to its programs, facilities or services, and will not discriminate against these persons on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, genetic information, veteran’s status, sexual orientation, or gender identity. In addition to this commitment, the University will take affirmative steps to insure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated, during all aspects of employment, in a non-discriminatory manner.

My office typically addresses issues associated with disability, but we must also support the University’s commitment to equal opportunity. Therefore, my committment to support the ADA, means that I must also support our commitment to equal opportunity.

I do hope that you will have a great experience while you are here. I also appreciate your raising these issues for my attention.

Good luck with your presentation!”

Allyship and Centering Deaf People, Interpreting

What’s the Value of Trilingual Interpreters?

Melissa Elmira Yingst wrote on Facebook about a recent oppressive experience with an interpreting agency in El Paso, Texas. The post is set to public so anyone with Facebook can see the full post. A summary: she and Socorro Garcia are organizing a conference for Chicana/Latina and Indigenous womxn at the University of Texas El Paso. They requested interpreters who were trilingual. Given the space’s commitment to womxn of Chicana/Latina/Indigenia identities, they expected interpreters who would be themselves Chicana/Latina/Indigenia. That didn’t happen. They got a white male and a white female. Upon asking the agency some questions about this assignment, the agency responded with:

“When these services were requested and approved, we were not aware there was a preference to provide only female trilingual interpreters for the conference. Please keep in mind there is a very high demand for interpreters in the El Paso area, and therefore for this conference we had limited options in terms of gender and ethnicity…………

As a final note, the interpreters that have been assigned to the Summer Institute all must comply with ethical requirements to interpreter all language and gestures verbatim. Therefore, gender and ethnicity should not be factors that would diminish the quality or quantity of the communication.”

This last line from the agency is “hearingsplaining”. A not-so-rare moment when hearing people asserts a knowledge about the deaf person’s experience/needs/wants over the objections of the deaf person themselves.

A deaf person told you this would affect and diminish the quality of their interpreted product.

A deaf person told you this would diminish the quality of their experience.

That should be enough. Further explanation not necessary. We know.

But if we must.

Here we go.

The first reason is a little more academic. Extralinguistic knowledge. Extralinguistic knowledge is beyond fluency in language. It involves cultural and contextual knowledge that supports the interpretation process. Interpreters who do not have the cultural or linguistic extralinguistic knowledge will not deliver the same quality of product as interpreters with that knowledge. The interpreters’ whiteness inevitably will obscure, erasure, or displace indigenous and nonwhite knowledges being shared due to this absence of extralinguistic knowledge. More so when the interpreter has not actively worked on unpacking their biases or engaged in extensive crosscultural learning.

Safe Spaces. Safe spaces are places where we can be our authentic selves. Places where we can be vulnerable. Where we can vent. Resist. Celebrate our power and beauty in face of hegemonies that argue otherwise. When people from those systems of power are present in the room, that changes the dynamic. Intentionally or not. I can’t imagine women being comfortable discussing experiences of sexual violence meditated through the voices of a man. Talking about the violence of whiteness through a white-accented voice. Yeah, no. Not happening.

Language Affects Belonging. Language is also something that brings us home. To each other, to our cultural and heritage homelands, even if we are not geographically there, the language is with us. Sinking into the comfortable warmth of the rhythms of your native language(s) while conferencing with others like you is a slice of heaven. (For me, NAD conferences, for example). For people to feel belonging in a space, they need to see and feel their native languages being used.

Language and Culture are intertwined. How can you separate the two? Some things just don’t translate from language to language and retain its cultural meaning, its humor, its wisdom.

The quality of experience will be significantly diminished if the interpreters don’t have the cross cultural and linguistic knowledges to navigate Latina/Chicana/Indigena cultural spaces.

Allyship and Centering Deaf People, Disability Justice, Disempowerment, Interpreting, Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Uncategorized

Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf hits U.S. News

The RID Situation has brought the question “are ASL interpreters Allies or Oppressors?” to the mainstream. The U.S. News published an article by Natalie Delgado and S. Jordan Wright. I found it to be simply and clearly written. Some more context and proper attribution to lead their readers to more discussions on the issue, especially Holcomb and Martin’s new book Deaf Eyes on Interpreting, would have been more beneficial for educating readers not familiar with the discourse about deaf people, power, privilege, and interpreting.

Doing the Oppressor's Work For Them, Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf

Hiring and the inHumanity of the RID

All right. So Branton Stewart has been going around complaining about how upset he was that Sheneman announced she didn’t get the job before the RID was ready to announce their CEO choice.

Own The Bed You Made, RID.

You dangled the two candidates in front of your membership for feedback. Your idea might have been to engage the membership and excite them about new leadership for the RID. That didn’t seem to work, though, given the results and misunderstandings surrounding the “survey/vote.”

But it did excite deaf people. It built momentum. It built expectations.

Then You Made It Worse. By announcing on April 30 that you had made your choice. So everyone knew. That meant Sheneman must know either way- that she had the job or that she didn’t. Can you imagine how many people asked? The frenzy, the curiosity, the excitement that deaf people would have representation…and how that builds up over time.

And You. Dragged. It. Out.

Yeah. background checks, salary and contract negotiations with Joey, etc. Maybe you should have thought of that first before using Candidate #2 as a token. Or as a tool to excite your membership. Or make more money on membership fees. Whatever.

If you were human, if you had heart, you would have made the announcement as to your final choice much sooner. In fact, you should have done so as soon as you told her she didn’t have the job.

When you get pissed off at Sheneman for remaining silent for four weeks through a barrage of questions without recognizing A) how you set up that situation yourselves from the design of the interview process to your dangling cliffhanger announcement on April 30 to your failure to be able to announce Joey as the CEO immediately upon informing Sheneman and B) without recognizing the emotional effect of having to maintain a facade of “everything’s ok” and smiling at every person who says you’re a shoo-in for a entire month is a pretty fucking difficult task and is in fact commendable, then

You. Have. No. Humanity.

Here’s a public relations tip for next time. “We are close to a decision.” Close would have been true. The final decision is made when the background checks are done and ink on contracts are dry. Close is a very tiny little word that would have spared everyone a lot of pain and embarrassment.

And it makes you seem more thoughtful and deliberative. Taking two weeks instead of two days to make such a significant decision for an organization that’s struggling.

Words matter. Nuance matters.

Stop whining and start taking responsibility for your decisions. This is what happens when you treat hiring like a reality show.


Demanding Free Labor of Academics

A tidbit from Twitter. On July 20, Jon Henner tweeted about the RID’s response to the NAD. Their response said that Anna Witter Merithew was not acting in the capacity of RID when she testified as an expert witness on deaf people’s civil and linguistic rights.

Henner disagreed and offered this powerful perspective: “RID depends heavily on the volunteer work of the deaf community. Which is sad because most interpreters expect to be paid for their expertise. I’m working very hard to be recognized as someone who knows something about assessing signed languages. In fact I’ve published a bit on the topic, and I have a few more things coming out this year. AWM contacted me to see if I’d volunteer to help them develop the new NIC certification exam. I asked for pay, mindful of how much free labor deaf people are expected to give. AWM gave me a lengthily email admonished me for asking for pay and reminding me about how much RID depends on volunteer labor. And she was doing that while getting paid to dismantle the rights of deaf people. Fucking hypocracy. That’s why RID’s defense rings hollow. AWM wasn’t volunteering her time to the defense lawyers. And I’m damned sure she never volunteered an equal amount of time that she expected deaf experts, who clawed to their position and knowledge in spite of hegemony, to give.”

Mic drop.





Trapani at NAD

I’m back to resume our conversation about interpreting.

So my assessment of Joey at NAD was that he was difficult to engage with. He didn’t seem interested in discussion. Perhaps he was simply unable to talk about the issues because of a lack of knowledge of interpreting and the issues that confront us. He seemed socially awkward and uneasy at times. I know part of this is probably because he’s gotten more public attention than he expected when he took the job.

But still. The job description said they wanted a CEO that connected with communities. In that regard, the NAD conference left many of us not impressed with his (and by extension, the RID’s) desire to engage with Deaf people. Wyatte Hall wrote a brilliant note about this. Read his note for more details.

The RID’s response to the NAD- being afraid to apologize out of fear of being sued. If you can’t hold yourselves accountable for moments of poor judgment, how do you expect us to have confidence in you to uphold the ethical standards expected of interpreters by Deaf people?

Up Next: Humanity and Hiring


Carey Ballard Calls for Interpreter Accountability

Carey Ballard shared a public video on Facebook. He made strong points and called out interpreters for not stepping up to have this conversation, for not stepping up to hold each other accountable. Great work here. So proud of Carey.

From the comments, some interpreters are making this about them and derailing from  the systemic issues that are the problem here. Here’s one from Nancy Kikendall that took the cake. Quoted below for the reader’s pleasure.

“And why is it that it’s “ALL” interpreters that need to be shaken? To “knock off the oppression”? We are here to assist in making sure your voice is heard. In all honesty… the mentality of “shake up the interpreters” is oppressive to us. I did not come into this field to be a “whipping girl” because you are angry and thus “all of us are bad.”

We are on the front line… fighting daily to make sure Deaf people have access. Advocacy! Access! A voice.”

Shame on you for attacking those who have done you NO harm. You have a beef with RID? Go after the board with your anger… don’t take it out the interpreters like myself, working 3 jobs to survive.”

Nancy. 1985 called. They want the helper model back.

You’re acting like a victim here. You’re acting like we owe you something. We don’t. We have fought for our own access. We advocate for ourselves. We have our own voice. We ask interpreters to ally-up, to be our accomplices, to work with us in making the world more accessible and more equitable. Not for us, but with us.

That’s the point. Which you completely missed. Why are you attacking Carey rather than mobilizing your fellow interpreters to hold the profession accountable? There are interpreters who abuse Deaf people, there are interpreters who actively impede our access, and what are you doing about that Nancy? Nothing. Someone at the NAD called this “hearing fragility.” Reminds me of Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility. Worthwhile read. The link is included for your learning and reflection.

Text from image on the left: (text from the image on the right is included in the body of the blog post above).

Nancy Kikendall You are free to boycott interpreting services… many of us have other degrees and will go find other work… as we need to survive too. Many of us went into the field knowing that it is a SERVICE industry that means we won’t get rich… but we will be able to help others have a voice to sit at the table so that people would be included and not pushed aside.

Also, I’m sure many companies would be thrilled to have no interpreters… they keep more of their profit. Sounds like a slippery slope…

At the end of the day… the “partnership” mentality has become non-existent… when the response is “boycott” “deprive them of a living” etc.

So go ahead and do what you must… and I can guarantee… we will also do what we need to do to survive.

But don’t be surprised if interpreters start not being available when the call goes out for a “need.”