Allyship and Centering Deaf People, Children of Deaf Adults (Coda; Codas), Disability Justice

Whose House Is This? Response to Justin Read

Justin Read posted a piece on Street Leverage. Justin’s main question and title: Can We Still Call the Sign Language Interpreting Profession Home?

Dear Justin. Sure, Codas can call this place home as long as you know whose house this is: ours (Deaf people’s). That’s my quick answer.

Underlying Justin’s premise is a series of legitimate questions. From a Deaf empowerment perspective, I suggest the better question is “what is the place of Codas in the interpreting profession?”

To build on that question: What considerations should there be? What benefits do Codas bring to the field as interpreters or as researchers, interpreter educators/trainers, and as subjects? How might we envision the role of Codas in the interpreting profession that works toward a model of empowering Deaf people?

My position is this: Coda interpreters bring a wealth of skills that cannot be taught in the classroom. Coda interpreters have that ‘special’ something that makes our eyes go ahh. That ‘something’ isn’t just linguistic fluency or prosody. It’s that cultural sensibility, that synergy that happens between the Coda and the deaf person, and often, simply that empathy that comes from shared cultural experiences. Or as Justin puts it, it’s something intuitive.

However, I must emphasize Not All Codas. Some Codas grow to adulthood with little-to-no exposure to sign language. Some Codas are sheltered from the Deaf world by their parents who think exposure to Deaf people and sign language will cause speech delays or cause social problems for the hearing child of deaf adults. Some Deaf adults are not fluent in sign language or refuse to sign to their hearing children. We cannot assume that being a Coda means automatically that person has the linguistic fluency, the cultural competency, or the various skills that makes a good interpreter. Some Deaf people have very unique language abilities and limitations due to education, language deprivation, and social attitudes about sign language. So their hearing children grow up understanding a very particular strain of sign language and able to interpret for that specific strain of sign language. But those Codas would not be able to understand me or interpret for me without exposure (or formal learning of) to standard American Sign Language and training in an interpreter education programs. Being a Coda does not automatically make one qualified to be a cultural broker or sign language interpreter.

Then there are some Codas who are excellent signers or have outstanding technical skills as interpreters but have other traits that make them bad interpreters. For example, some Codas are more interested in making a profit than making true access happen. Some Codas are deeply invested in the helper model that ultimately disempowers Deaf people. Some Codas are just downright not nice people with massive egos and chips on their shoulders. I have witnessed Coda interpreters override Deaf consumers on questions of access on multiple occasions rather than step back and let Deaf people decide what they need/want in terms of access.

After screening out those not fluent in sign language, don’t have good technical skills as interpreters, or those with bad character, we are left with what I’ll call Good Codas for simplicity’s sake.

Good Codas should have an important place in the interpreting profession. They play a critical role in Deaf people’s success in education and in society at large.

There should be far more interpreting research on those benefits. That research should offer ideas on how to carry those benefits into interpreter education and training for interpreters who are not heritage signers.

There should be serious conversations about how interpreter education programs work and don’t work for heritage signers.

There should be conversations about how we can better design avenues for Codas to assert their lived knowledges and experiences in the work they do as interpreters.

There should be conversations about protections for Coda children so that the law cannot exploit them in order to subvert satisfying legal obligations for access (yo Anna Witter Merithew).

Notice I said should in italics? Because I know much of this is either not happening or is happening but in very limited ways. Su Isakson and Amy Clara Williamson write about those benefits and needs. Their research is just the beginning. There’s a lot more to be discussed, discovered, and disseminated on Coda interpreters.

My personal position on the place of Codas in the interpreting profession aside, the follows is my critique of Justin’s essay.

Justin’s treatment of this question was poorly constructed. The problem with his narrative is that he assumes a lot. His article assumes that all Codas are alike. That all Codas share the same affinity for Deaf culture and sign language. That all Codas are capable of interpreting in a wide range of contexts outside of their parents. He suggests all Codas are bilingual natives even though that is far from the truth. Etcetera.

Justin made a rather arrogant claim. Justin claims that interpreting is the Coda’s by birthright. I argue this is not the Coda interpreter’s profession by birthright. Deaf people have the right to screen a person out of the profession, Coda or not. If you are not a good technical interpreter, if your signing fluency is limited to your family’s style of signing, if your ethics are questionable, if you are judged to be the type that disempowers Deaf people on the basis of their deafness or other intersectional identities, then yes, we should boot you out. When it comes to human rights and access, it is absurd to think that a hearing person, Coda or not, should have more authority than the Deaf person. The same goes for any other human and civil rights question that come up.

Justin suggests a false dichotomy between academic credentials and lived experience. First, Justin needs to explain what he means by “lived expertise.” Does this include Deaf people themselves who have lived expertise living with deafness, sign language, and access issues?

Where’s the solidarity with Deaf people who complain their lived knowledges are dismissed by interpreter education programs? Or is it that only Coda knowledges matter?

Codas who graduate from ITPS do have academic credentials. Your degree confers the same level of expertise it confers upon your non-Coda peers. Did you mean Ph.D. level research and those who hold expert authority in the field as educators/trainers? Who created this hierarchical lens and who maintains this? How is this unique from all other arenas where community knowledges are not valued?

It’s hard for me to accept his claim that lived expertise is secondary to academic accomplishments within the interpreting field. Codas have their own member section in the RID. A Coda is president of the RID. The current CEO of RID is a Coda. The previous executive director of the RID is a Coda. There are plenty of Codas who go around talking down to interpreters who come into sign language and Deaf culture as adults. The argument on this point can easily be reversed. There are plenty of non-Coda interpreters who will charge that Codas act in rather non-egalitarian ways toward their interpreter peers.

Outside the interpreting field, I would agree, to an extent that academic knowledge is considered more valuable than lived experience. That’s the way our society is across the board.

I believe most interpreter education programs are not well designed for a variety of reasons. One element of their poor design is that they aren’t suited for many heritage learners as Su Isakson suggests. They aren’t great either for non-heritage learners either. There’s a weird infatuation with community knowledges and disregard for academic research in Deaf Studies/ASL teaching/interpreter education.

Justin centers Codas in his discussion. Where are the Deaf people? Deaf people were involved in training and raising up interpreters. Late deafened people served as interpreters between their signing peers and hearing people who couldn’t sign. Oral Deaf people have served as interpreters. The historical record shows plenty of evidence that non-Codas were interpreters well before the profession was formally established. Where is the recognition of Deaf people in this entire discussion? Or is it in Justin’s schema of the field that only hearing people- either Codas or the academic elite have any expertise on interpreting? That attitude is common even among Coda interpreters. This seems to be the refrain in Justin’s piece about education of interpreters in Canadian programs. Codas can teach how to broker between cultures. What of Deaf people? Deaf instructors? Or is this exclusively the realm of Codas?

Justin’s discussion of Joseph Featherstone’s perspectives on bilingual natives is also problematic. That involves some assumptions. Like all Codas had positive experiences with interpreting or have the ability to frame their lived experiences for others to learn from. Not always true.

There is much more I can say but the above are my primary critiques of Justin’s essay. He says we owe it to Deaf communities to recognize Codas and make room for them in the profession. I adjusted that to reflect a more Deaf-empowerment perspective.

We owe it to Deaf communities to let them dictate how the interpreting field might best benefit Deaf people and we ask that Codas be considered a vital part of that conversation.

My biggest gripe with Justin’s essay is that it supposes Deaf people are not part of this conversation at all. Perhaps he is correct that we are not having much play in this conversation. But he is not making the argument for both Deaf and Codas or privileging Deaf people in his discussion. That is the fundamental point where his essay fails us in the sense of social justice and disability justice.

Children of Deaf Adults (Coda; Codas), Disempowerment, Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf

Heartbreaking Story

The Durands testify to their horrifying experience with under-qualified interpreters and barriers to access. Click on the link to watch their story. The interpreter who testified against them is Anna Witter Merithew. The court documents are posted here.

Anna, I hope you’re enjoying your tea made from the tears of Deaf people’s anguish and slurping that blood off your fingers. How much did they pay you to stab us in the front?

And the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf is complicit in having given her this authority. What will they do to prevent this kind of damage in the future?



Children of Deaf Adults (Coda; Codas), Disability Justice, Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf

Who’s the Expert?

Deaf people and disabled people are the original life hackers. Life hacks is when we hack something to make the world work better for us. Some great examples here.

Anna Witter Merithew’s deposition said she couldn’t “for the life of her” imagine how to provide interpreting to a deaf person learning how to drive a commercial truck.

Well. Me and my buddy saw that line. In less than 30 seconds, we had three different ideas on how to make interpreting work in a semi truck cab. It. Can. Be. Done.

Why didn’t that court consult a Deaf expert? Is that idea really that unfathomable? That we have no clue how to make the world work for us?

Did Anna refer them to deaf people for their expertise? Gallaudet’s Deaf Studies department must have people that can testify as expert witnesses.

I can think of a few names.

And this woman was in charge of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf? Doesn’t seem like she did a very good job advocating for the interpreting profession. Or Deaf people. This is stunning incompetence.

This is why you go to Deaf people. This is why WE must have full charge of our lives and WE must always be THE experts on OUR own lives.

Nothing about us without us.





Children of Deaf Adults (Coda; Codas), Disability Justice, Disempowerment, Interpreting, Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf

This Makes Me Feel Sick

The former executive director of the RID (Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf) and Coda Anna Witter Merithew has earned blood money by testifying against deaf people’s rights to access. Interpreting is a very important part of those human rights of Deaf people.

I provide court depositions from ONE case (There are many more- do your research! Let’s work together to find more). Reading them make me feel sick. It is hard. I can only read a little at a time. Good luck with them.

Anna Witter Merithew’s legal depositions are here.

Another one here on AWM’s actions.

Oh. Here’s one more.

Three together.

Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, whoever you appoint as your CEO is given a lot of authority by Society as an expert. He has EXPERT status by virtue of being your CEO and he wins the sympathy, boo-boo pity card too, because his parents are deaf.

You can deny all you want, but society is ableist and audist. They will always go to the hearing expert. They will go to the CEO of the organization that “represents” Deaf people’s interests. And the cherry on the top? He’s a Coda. So we will assume he would never do anything to hurt deaf people. Codas don’t hurt deaf people, ever! Gosh. (Sarcasm here my friends). Looky at Anna Witter Merithew. There is a special place in hell for people like her.

So Melvin, your message where you used your Deaf parents as an example to us that you would never hurt Deaf people? Actions talk. Your actions showed. By the way you talked about Sheneman in your response to our concerns. You got work to do before Deaf people can trust you.

Is Joey going to do this kind of shit too? Or will the Board Muzzle Him?

Or does RID agree with Anna’s actions and think it’s okay for the RID leadership to work with the system to deprive Deaf people of access and belonging?

Kelby Brick says a lot of pretty fuzzy things about the RID.

Before, I thought we should reform. Before, I thought the RID had a chance to redeem themselves.

But after the way they handled Joey’s announcement and put down Sheneman in the process, I think the place needs to burn to the ground.


Then a Phoenix should rise out of the ashes. Will the NAD get back in the gatekeeping game?

Or should Deaf communities, who know what works best locally, do their own thing on the local/state level to dump RID certification requirements for interpreters to work and come up with local/state licenses or other screening procedures? I have thoughts on this. Stay tuned.


Children of Deaf Adults (Coda; Codas), Disempowerment, Interpreting, Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf

Joey Trapani Disappears Into the Woodwork

I am puzzled. The point of the new CEO/COO structure was for the RID to have leadership that was outward facing and connecting with the various groups, stakeholders, and communities tied to the RID. The COO was to handle the $$$ and internal affairs. Elijah Sow is the guy for that COO job.

The CEO- well, they picked Joey Trapani. Looks like they didn’t bet on a winner. Joey’s Facebook has been shuttered. Naomi Sheneman has established a public page. Joey’s announcement was met with a lot of negative responses on the RID Facebook page and elsewhere. Sheneman’s getting raves in most places. While Sheneman is busy connecting with the community and seeking avenues to perform public service, Joey has disappeared into the woodwork.

Every action by Melvin, Joey and the RID board makes them look worse. They are inviting a lot of criticism, ridicule, and anger with every misstep.

And as someone with no experience in interpreter preparation/education, no experience with the RID, no experience with the certification process and test anxiety for the certification exams, very limited experience in interpreting, and tenuous relationships with the Deaf community, what stories does he have to tell about the RID or the interpreting profession?

Looks like they chose the wrong person to be the “storytelling, outward facing CEO” of the RID. They chose someone who is a duplicate of Elijah Sow but with a history filled with fraud, abuse, and neglect. See this for further discussion.

The RID board missed the boat on transformation. If Sheneman wasn’t the candidate, they should’ve started the search again. Trapani is clearly unpalatable for the majority of us Deaf, Codas, and hearing interpreters.



Children of Deaf Adults (Coda; Codas)

Codas Behaving Badly

Being a Coda does not give you a pass to ignore your hearing privilege.

Being a Coda does not mean you don’t do audist and ableist things to Deaf people.

Being a Coda does not mean you inherently have Deaf people’s best interests at heart.

Alexander Graham Bell was a Coda. His mother was Deaf. Look at the damage he did to Deaf people, Deaf culture, and sign language. Look at the result of generations of language deprivation, psychological trauma, and cultural destruction- including the shutting down of Deaf Schools. Deaf Art, literature, and stories tell us a lot about the pain and suffering we have experienced at the hands of Codas.

Just because Melvin and Joey are Codas doesn’t mean we should trust them to speak for Deaf people or represent our best interests.

Codas still have hearing privilege. Codas are still paternalistic (see Melvin’s note from 6/1). Codas still won’t step aside and let Deaf people occupy jobs (see Joey and all the different Codas that took jobs away from Deaf people throughout history).

Don’t let Melvin and Joey’s status as Codas erase the very real oppression and discrimination that’s happening now.

Don’t let them dismiss us by playing the Coda card.

There are great Codas then there are Codas who hate Deaf people and don’t think very much of us.

RID barely passed the ASL as an official language of the conference. A large bloc of voters against this motion were Codas. Why? They said it hurt their eyes to see non-native signers signing. So your language elitism matters more than the primacy of access for Deaf people in a space that discusses us, our access, and sign language interpreting.

Check your hearing privilege.

Codas are not natural allies to Deaf people. Codas are not to be automatically trusted to serve our best interests.

Codas and parents of deaf children should not be speaking for us but working with us.

Joey’s statement was arrogant and oblivious to his privilege and to the pain he’s caused us.

Zinser wasn’t a Coda but she got it. Joey doesn’t.

P.S. I want to remind you that Anna Witter Merithew is a Coda and former executive director of RID. She testified in court against Deaf people’s access to interpreters.

$$$ is the name of the game. According to Facebook, Joey Trapani likes $ailing and gol$. Two expensive rich white man hobbies. His Facebook has disappeared. That’s a great way of being accessible to a community that feels disconnected. Great start! Two Thumbs Up!

Children of Deaf Adults (Coda; Codas), Disability Justice, Disempowerment, Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf

Was Sheneman a Token Deaf Candidate for the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf?

Melvin’s comments about Sheneman in his video felt very patronizing. Looking down on her so much. Not a good fit for her? Nice. A man deciding what a woman needs and what’s good for her. Good going, Melvin. Man, the only thing missing was a pat on the head for the poor woman.

There’s a lot of talk on Facebook about how Melvin’s video suggested Sheneman was such a bad candidate that she would never done well at being CEO. The tone of his comments about Sheneman leads me to think she was just a token Deaf* candidate for the Deaf* Community. I mean, really, if that’s what you think of her, how did she manage to make it to the final two?

Looks like to me she was just a piece of meat being offered up to the wolves baying at their doors. A token candidate to make us Deaf* people happy that they tried (not very hard). But an exceptional Deaf Woman cannot compare to a Mediocre White Hearing Man. Kelby talked about this too, in his video on Facebook. Again, worth watching.

The RID still owes us an explanation. Not about the process. We understood that just fine, Melvin. Thanks.

I mean. An explanation that answers the questions Kelby raised. That we at Finish Enough raised. That the Deaf * community and our allies are raising.

When will a Deaf Person ever be good enough for you, RID? Will a Deaf Woman ever be good enough for you? A person of color?