Sign Language Interpreters: Stepping Out of the Shadow of Invisibility

Anna Witter-Merithew

Some time ago some Deaf colleagues were talking about a familiar topic of conversations with and about interpreters, interpreter attitude.  As has typically been my experience, their use of this phrase carried a negative connotation.  Essentially, they perceived the interpreters who interpreted an event they attended as aloof, detached and largely disinterested.

What Happened?

When I inquired about specific behaviors, they described how the interpreters arrived for the event, let the event coordinator know they had arrived, briefly introduced themselves to the Deaf consumers, and then isolated themselves at the front of the room where they began texting and chatting while waiting for the event to start.

During the event, there was little if any effort by the interpreters to check-in with the consumers to verify whether things were working well or not.  During breaks the interpreters disappeared or were observed in the front of the room texting, talking on the phone or chatting with each other.  There was no initial interaction to break-the-ice and allow the consumers and interpreters to become acquainted or to explore logistical considerations and preferences. There was no inquiry into consumer preferences or the effectiveness of the services that were delivered.

At the end of the event, the interpreters said a quick good-bye and left. These behaviors—or lack thereof—were perceived as culturally rude and representative of a poor attitude.  Further, these Deaf individuals reported being distracted by these perceptions during the event being interpreted.  Their thoughts were on the challenge of working through versus with interpreters instead of the subject matter being interpreted.

This one specific example of interpreter attitude has really stuck with me. I find myself paying close attention to how we as sign language interpreters establish our presence and relate to consumers prior to, during and after interpreting assignments.  As a result, I have become increasing aware of just how deep the roots of the interpreter as invisible remain embedded in some of our professional acts and practices.  Even though we strive to move forward theoretically and philosophically in deepening our relationship with Deaf people, some of our professional acts and practices demonstrate that we are still working in the shadow of invisibility.  And, what these professional acts and practices communicate to Deaf people may be counter to our intentions.

Interpreter as Invisible

Historically, in an effort to minimize the potential for the sign language interpreter to step outside their role and take-over a communication event, the field-at-large has encouraged practitioners to perform their duties in the least obtrusive ways possible—even to the extreme of behaving as if they were invisible; merely a conduit for transmitting information from one language into another.  Interpreters may assume they must be detached to be impartial and/or appear professional. Interpreters might instruct speakers to proceed, “as if I am not even here.”  Unfortunately, such a restricted view of the role of an interpreter has proved fraught with misconceptions—the presence of an interpreter in the midst of what would otherwise be a direct human interaction will always have inherent implications.  There have been studies in the field of spoken and sign language interpreting that illustrate the degree to which interpreter presence impacts the outcome of communication events—often in unexpected and unintended ways.

In reality, the view of sign language interpreters as merely conduits has always been faulty primarily because the interpreter must be physically and intellectually present in the interaction to be successful. The interpreter cannot behave as if invisible because there are clearly times when there is a need for the interpreter to manage the flow of communication and facilitate or seek clarification of messages, as well conduct more active interventions when appropriate. Further, facilitation of and access to communication is at the heart of interpreting and is dependent on forming rapport and relationship as part of the interpreting process.

Nevertheless, assumptions that perpetuate the interpreter behaving as if invisible still exist and are evident in the experience of the Deaf colleagues when confronted with an interpreter team who is detached and functioning as disengaged. We still have work to do in terms of stepping out of the shadow of invisibility—focusing on how we establish our presence is just one opportunity.

Interpreter Presence

Interpreter presence relates to the manner and conduct of a sign language interpreter in the midst of interaction with consumers.  Ideally, this presence is evident in the quality of poise and effectiveness that enables the interpreter to achieve a productive and collaborative relationship with consumers.  This quality is much like a spirit or a manner that is felt and received by consumers as genuine engagement, attentiveness, readiness, acceptance, respect.  It is predicated on the desire to offer performance that facilitates a successful outcome—where consumers are able to achieve their goals for the communication event.  It should be evident in all phases of an interpreted assignment—pre, during and post.

Interpreter presence involves the state of mind and level of attention a sign language interpreter brings to his or her work—the state of being closely focused on the relationships and communication at hand, not distracted by irrelevant thoughts or external events.  This clarity of thinking and attention to the task at hand is an important part of the interpreter’s ability to deliver accurate and meaning-based interpretation. Establishing presence is central to creating rapport and establishing trust with consumers.

To illustrate, consider the importance of establishing presence in the healthcare setting where a strong rapport between the healthcare professional, patient and sign language interpreter will enhance the amount and quality of information about the patient’s illness transferred in both directions.  This can enhance the accuracy of diagnosis and increase the patient’s knowledge about the status of their health, thus leading to greater compliance with the proposed treatment plan.  Where such a relationship is compromised because the interpreter fails to create a functional presence, the potential for misunderstanding and risk increase.

Let’s Make the Commitment

It is important to acknowledge that consistently creating an effective presence requires a conscious and deliberate commitment—something that is not always easy to attain in the busy and fast-paced world in which we live.  There are many demands that compete for our attention. The intersection between the linguistic tasks associated with interpreting and the interpersonal dynamics involved in an interpreted interaction are indeed challenging to manage. However, if our intention is create and sustain meaningful relationships with Deaf consumers, this is one way we can make a difference.

Where do we begin?  A first step is self-assessment—we all benefit from a personal check-in with ourselves to examine and monitor our interpersonal behaviors.

  • Do I take time to meet Deaf consumers before assignments to become acquainted and discuss logistical considerations?
  • Do I touch base with Deaf consumers regularly throughout the assignment to make sure things are progressing effectively?
  • Do I make myself available to Deaf consumers during breaks to see if I can be of assistance?
  • Do I avoid using technology during assignments so I remain open, available, and approachable should I be needed?
  • Does my affect and demeanor reflect attentiveness, alertness, engagement and readiness?
  • Do I make myself available at the conclusion of assignments to connect with Deaf consumers should they be interested?
  • If I must leave immediately after an assignment, do I touch base with the Deaf consumer first, letting them know I need to leave and extending my appreciation for the opportunity to work with them?
  • Do I regularly talk with Deaf individuals, outside of interpreting assignments, about their perceptions and expectations of interpreters?  If I do, am I a good listener?

This is one practical way in which we can work to improve the experiences of Deaf consumers with sign language interpreters—and thereby improve our relationship with Deaf people. Let’s make the commitment to continue to step out of the shadows of invisibility and demonstrate our respect for the interactional and cultural norms of the Deaf Community.  Might this lead to less discussion of interpreter attitude and more discussion of Deaf-heart?


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About the Author

Anna Witter-Merithew is a nationally certified interpreter specializing in legal and community interpreting. She has served in a variety of local, state and national leadership positions, including President and Vice President of the RID and co-founder and Vice President of the CIT. Anna, a Coda, has taught in and administered interpreter education programs for over 35 years and currently serves as the Director of the UNC MARIE Center. MARIE is one of six centers forming the National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers. She has also published a variety of articles and resources relating to interpreting and interpreter education—many of which are collaborated works with valued colleagues.

60 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Elvire Roberts says:

    This chimes with much of the research done recently in sign language interpreting in the UK. I’d particularly recommend that you look at the research done by Dr Jules Dickinson on the role of the interpreter in workplace interpreting, examining role conflicts and precisely that issue of the ‘Invisibility Cloak’ that some of us still don. A cloak that both protects and hinders us in the interpreted interaction. Despite the research and a change in interpreter training, there still seems to persist a perception amongst some interpreters and clients that the ideal interpreter is the invisible one.

    • Anna says:

      Hi Elvire! Thanks for getting the conversation started! Do you have a citation for Dr. Dickinson’s work? It seems like important reading for all of us.

      You are right…consumers are diverse and have a variety of expectations and assumptions about interpreters. For sure, there are some consumers who prefer the interpreter to be as invisible/non-intrusive as possible. And, when we are engaged with such a consumer, we may have to adapt our behavior accordingly. However, even then, we still have a duty to be fully present in terms of our readiness, attentiveness, accessibility and engagement to the process at hand, don’t you agree?

      • Jules Dickinson says:

        Hi Anna
        I like your statement with regards to the importance of the interpreter establishing their presence, and the fact that this a vital element in creating rapport and establishing trust with consumers. As Elv has mentioned (I will pay her later for publicising my work ;-)), my study focused on the role of the interpreter in the workplace, specifically looking at how they can be part of a ‘community of practice’ or workgroup. Establishing a maintaining a visible presence is definitely an advantage in certain settings, as it can remind all participants that ‘this is an interpreted event’ and that we all have to work together to achieve successful communication.

        If you are interested in my PhD thesis, this is a link to Heriot Watt University…

        I am assured that there will shortly be a link to the electronic copy, sometime in the next couple of weeks. I also have a more ‘user friendly’ summary of the research findings which I am happy to email out on request.

        I like the idea of having a list of questions which we can use to assess the degree to which our behaviour emphasises our presence or contributes to our invisibility. At the end of the day, it will always be a delicate balancing act (something which I think is clearly demonstrated by the various authors in the Deaf professional/ Designated Interpreter volume), but self-reflection will always be a valuable tool in helping us walk that tightrope!

        • Anna says:

          Hi Jules. Thank you for providing this link. I imagine that there are many of us interested in the user friendly summary. Would you be open to sharing an email address where we can reach you? And, since the articles here at Street Leverage are archived, would you be willing to come back and post the electronic link when it becomes available? Your study is an important one and having broader access to it will be helpful! Thanks.

          I appreciate the reminder embedded in your comments that our approach to “presence” is not a one size fits all. This has been reinforced by several others who have posted. It is a bit like the days earlier in our field when consumer language preference was distributed across a continuum with ASL/interpretation at one end and English/transliteration at the other. As interpreters we had to adapt to the changing expectations of our performance according to consumer needs and expectations.

          What I realized during this period is that asking a consumer whether they preferred ASL or English quickly became political. Instead, what I found more effective was to determine my starting place and adjusting from there. My starting place was in the norms of the Deaf Community–ASL. So, upon meeting consumers, I would engage using ASL and then when receiving feedback that a more English-based way of signing was appropriate, would modify. This starting place has served me well in the subsequent years of practice.

          What I also realized from this experience is that when it comes to building trust with consumers, it is much easier to adjust from ASL to more English signing than starting with more English signing and shift to ASL. Consumers who rely on ASL are made to feel more immediately comfortable and therefore inclined to engage from a position of trust, than if I start my engagement using more English-like signing. And, I have noticed that in those instances where Deaf consumers might assume they have to adjust their natural way of communicating because of their experience with interpreters who aren’t proficient in ASL, continuing my use of ASL for awhile before deciding to use more English-like signing allows them time to “believe” they can be themselves and to use the language most natural to them.

          Essentially, that is what I am advocating in this article–a starting place. I am suggesting that we approach interpreting assignments with a commitment to follow the norms of the Deaf Community. We arrive prepared to engage for the purpose of getting acquainted, building rapport and honoring the social norms of the Deaf Community. It is easy to adapt differently if consumers let us know they want something different. But, as in the scenario I described in opening the article, not starting with those norms can lead to misunderstanding and perceptions of rudeness.

          So, as we walk the tightrope, I encourage us all to remember that regardless of whether consumers want engagement or they would prefer we behave as if “invisible”, we still have an obligation to be present–to show up for assignments with an open spirit, a readiness and attentiveness to the task at hand, and a commitment to give our full focus to our work. When functioning as “invisible” leads to a cognitive detachment from our work, no one is served as our duty intends.

          Thanks for your contributions to our field! Look forward to reading your thesis.

          Warm Wishes,

          • Jules Dickinson says:

            Hi Anna

            No problem, I will revisit in a couple of weeks and post the electronic link. In the meantime I can be contacted at and I am more than happy to forward the summary plus any relevant other publications.

            In terms of my work the focus has been on how the interpreter can emphasise their presence to make a positive impact on turn-taking in multi-party events, such as team meetings (where deaf people are in the minority), and how it can maintain their participation in the collaborative floor.

            Really interested in your thoughts around adjusting from ASL to more English-based signing, and I like the idea of having a starting point which is grounded in a position of trust and then adjusts to meet the needs of the client. It re-emphasises the importance of being sensitive to the needs of consumers and having the ability to shift along a continuum to meet those needs. I guess we are talking about positionality and having the flexiblity to adjust and re-adjust alongside the shifts that our clients make during interpreted interaction.

  2. Jackie E. says:

    Thank you for sharing this, and for creating a new opportunity for self-reflection, along with your checklist. You state above that, “Even though we strive to move forward theoretically and philosophically in deepening our relationship with Deaf people, some of our professional acts and practices demonstrate that we are still working in the shadow of invisibility.” One of the ways that we continue to work in this shadow of invisibility is through our choices of attire.

    I’d like to respectfully propose an addition to your assessment questions. This concept may already be implied in some of your questions listed, however, based on ongoing observations and conversations with Deaf colleagues, I believe it warrants an explicitly stated question all its own, for consideration. That is, “Does my attire reflect a commitment to appropriately represent the Deaf people with whom I work, and does my attire demonstrate respect for the environment in which I work?” While at first glance, this may appear superficial to some, the art of first impressions is one that has not yet been mastered by interpreters, and often has a direct impact on how Deaf people are perceived by the hearing participants. While we’re working to own our presence, I’d like for us to also consider *and discuss with one another* the implications of how we show up.

    • Anna says:

      Hi Jackie! Thanks for your post. Absolutely–attire is another important consideration and one that an entire article could be devoted.
      I appreciate your reminder that there are multiple aspects to showing up and being present.

  3. Dan Parvaz says:


    Thanks for the interesting article. I wonder how the increased physical and psychic distance introduced by VRS/VRI might exacerbate this problem. The solutions are largely the same (although I hope no-one is texting while working VRS!), but there is the additional lack of physical immediacy which I personally find unnerving.


    • Anna says:

      Hi Dan. Hope all is well for you! It has been awhile since I interpreted in a VRS setting, but I certainly recall the period of adjustment I had to make while learning new ways of creating relationship with Deaf callers through the use of technology. Because it was so different from face-to-face interactions, and there were restrictions regarding how engagement could occur, it was–as you indicate–unnerving. But, with experience and exposure to a broad range of Deaf callers, I discovered there were ways to quickly communicate my interest, attentiveness, readiness and engagement. And for the few years that I did VRS interpreting, I found it very enjoyable. What about you? Are you doing VRS work?

      • Dan Parvaz says:

        Hi Anna!

        VRS really isn’t my speed. I’m more of an old-school, in-the-room interpreter, although I’d consider doing VRI at some point. I am glad to hear that in your experience, engaging the consumers is not only possible, but fun.

        This does appear to be a tightrope that we are required, as professionals, to walk. On the one hand, we are not to inject ourselves into the interaction; on the other, this is a profession where human contact is high, and each culture we work with has its own protocols for such encounters. In fact, I’ve found that establishing rapport before the beginning of an assignment puts the client at ease — once they see we can easily communicate, they are often visibly relieved.


    • Janice Cagan-Teuber says:


      I understand what you mean. What concerns me is that usually, when I see a VRS interpreter interpreting for my husband, they appear wooden. Almost no facial expression, let along grammar. When I interpret for the VRS company, I make it a point to always smile and greet the caller the same way I greet them in person. I usually get appreciative comments from the callers, before they hang up. It is important, regardless of the distance between the interpreter and the consumer, to provide a warm and pleasant demeanor. If the caller is calling because of some issue that has come up with them or their family, show empathy (but not so much as to become personally involved).


      • Anna says:

        Hey Janice–great seeing you here. It seems so simple, doesn’t it? Greet consumers with a smile and a warm affect that says, I am here to serve. Sad that it is often the opposite of what consumers get from us. And, maintaining that openness and attentiveness throughout the assignment seems to be even more difficult. We just keep working on it, right?!

        Hope all is well in your world.

        • Hi Anna (and Janice),

          I agree wholeheartedly, with the article and with the comments regarding establishing a relationship with VRS consumers. I, too, greet each caller with a smile and interest which serves not only to let them know I am engaged and ready to “work,” it also clarifies that the “attitude” they may see during a call is NOT that of the interpreter and they can direct their comments accordingly.
          I have tools and strategies for conveying this to both deaf and hearing callers in a VRS setting and find it is very do-able without crossing boundaries or blurring lines of involvement.

          Such a great topic of discussion and I will be sharing.

          • Anna says:

            Hello Babetta! Thanks for adding your experience to this discussion. Would you be willing to share a few of the tools and strategies you use and have found successful. For the purpose of this article, we are most interested in those that relate to the deaf caller. Many thanks!

  4. Catherine Heckel says:

    Thank you for this article. We were told in our ITP that we must not be “familiar” with the Deaf client. I always thought that it was an insult to Deaf to act as if I weren’t human myself. Where I live there are a large number of people who speak a different language. Yet interpreter/translators enjoy a relationship with their clients that seems to be non-existent in the interpreting community here. Deaf may be a linguistic minority but they are still people and so am I. Trying to keep a balance between being “present” and being professional is difficult for me as a beginning interpreter.

    • Anna says:

      Hi Catherine. Thanks for joining the conversation. Likely, there are some differences in expectations within Deaf Communities across the United States, so I can only speak to my experience. What my experience tells me is that it is in fact part of Deaf Community norms for interpreters and Deaf consumers to sufficiently connect/engage to become familiar with each other and to allow for a discussion of expectations and/or preferences. Perhaps what your ITP instructor(s) was talking about is avoid becoming personal. Certainly, there is a difference between being personable (open, attentive, accessible, alert, interested) and personal (sharing too much unrelated personal information, talking about problems, asking personal questions).

      I can appreciate that trying to keep a balance between being present and being professional is difficult. Perhaps thinking about it like this will help…being present (as defined in the article) is in fact part of being professional. Being engaged, attentive, ready and accessible is an important part of your customer service skills. Knowing HOW to do it, is about increasing your cultural competence. Ask around within the Deaf Community and see who are the individuals Deaf people perceive as the most well respected practitioners. Then, seek opportunities to observe them while they are working. Pay close attention to their affect and manner when they are interacting with Deaf people. Compare what you observe in their manner and way of relating to that of other interpreters. I suspect there is insight to be gained from this activity.

      Good luck to you Catherine!

  5. Jon Barad says:

    In the situation described above, the interpreter is perceived to be aloof. Sometimes, the exact opposite occurs when the Deaf participant is looking for a more seamless experience, and the interpreter’s mere presence feels like an intrusion. We interpreters walk a tightrope, trying to gauge our clients’ needs and preferences. Sharpening your customer service skills and taking your ego out of the situation helps. It takes a true professional to be able to “read” a client, but you can never be all things to all people.

    • Kitty LaFountain says:

      AMEN! @ Jon’s posting, “…you can never be all things to all people”. I started out in 1968 as a “helper”, do,do,do, and save all the deaf people’s souls. Onward to the ’70s, robot,invisible,and bowl on the weekends with the Deaf. Then the ’80s, ASL! yeah! show expression, body language, gestures (I grew up that way),still bowling on the weekends and also church interpreting. The ’90s,good grief was I confused, still had robots around, but now many terps were dating, marrying and interpreting for their boyfriend, husband, family member. I, on the other hand, being well trained by my ITP instructors, stayed with ASL, and drew the personal line at: bowling on the weekends (church terping went to the wayside). Skipping to present day, I check in with my deaf consumers constantly, I never bring a cell phone or other devices inside to my assignments, I’m too old to bowl so personal relationships are almost nil,I don’t attend the church that most all of the deaf attend in this area, so I guess I’m a heathen?? I discovered that I must be happy with myself and need not worry if I am not all things to all people! Do I hear an AMEN on that one? and Anna haven’t seen you since ’98 in AZ and you are looking MARVELOUS!

      • Anna says:

        Hi Kitty! Thanks for your kind remark. So glad to know that you are out and doing well. Thanks for the addition of some humor and for reinforcing that our field continues to evolve and change! Right, we cannot be all things to all people…to try is senseless. But, we can bring to each situation a genuine interest in our work and the task at hand. As Jackie E. said earlier…it is about how we show up in our work!

      • Dana says:

        Oh wow Kitty, You just summed up my entire career except for the bowling part! Love it! Perfect chronicle.

  6. Anna says:

    Hi Jon! Thanks for your comments. Your encouragement for us to keep tabs on our egos is appreciated!

    In addition to the customer service skills you mention, cultural competence is also necessary. Understanding the cultural norms for interactions within the Deaf Community will guide our application of customer service skills.

    And right…we can never be all things to all people. We can however, bring the same intention to each and every interpreting assignment–to be fully present and engaged in the task at hand, to project a spirit of openness, respect, gratitude and accessibility, and to provide the most competent service possible.

    Thanks for joining the conversation!

  7. Blake says:

    I have a quick comment and also a question.

    When we have new interpreters start their practicum with us, the first thing I tell them is,” remember, you are still a human being and not an interpreting robot”. It feels like that invisible robot mentality has been ingrained in them, and to interact on a personal level is hard to do. The second thing I tell them is,” pay just as much attention to how I interact with everyone involved, not just what signs I use”

    My question is this. You focused mainly on the interpreters interaction with the Deaf client, could you also talk a little about the relationship between the interpreter and the hearing person? The reason I ask is that I often see interpreters, mostly in medical situations, not try to establish some type of relationship with the medical provider. The hearing person also can that feeling that the interpreter is aloof.

  8. Kitty LaFountain says:

    Thanks Anna! When you wrote about observing interpreters that the Deaf community viewed as “… the most well respected practitioners”. I thought of Debbie Gunter, from Houston,TX (Sign Shares). Sadly Debbie passed away on 12/15/11 at the age of 58. I had the honor of meeting her and working for her company while I was living in Houston. My husband Wayne was receiving cancer treatments at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Debbie was so caring, thoughtful, loving, and found me work. I had so many restrictions: must be near my apt (I feared Houston’s traffic), must be during hours that my husband was resting,and on and on and Debbie found the work and checked in with me everyday (“How’s work? How is the husband? Let me take you guys out to lunch”). Our interpreting world has lost a GREAT ONE, one of the most well respected practitioners in our profession.
    Again, thanks Anna!

    • Anna says:

      You are so right Kitty! Debbie was well loved and respected…and will certainly be missed. Our hearts and thoughts go out to her family and the community there in Houston. Thanks for taking time to remember her important contributions to our field.

  9. Anna says:

    Hi Blake. So great to hear that you are focusing on both the technical and”soft” skills as part of the practicum experience. And, I agree, the interpreter as invisible/conduit/robot mentality is still prevalent–even in ways we as interpreters don’t recognize!

    I am reminded of an interaction with a highly competent interpreter who had a bit of a melt-down in the midst of an assignment and did nothing to stop and talk about it/straighten it out with either consumer. Later, when he and I discussed the incident, I asked him why he didn’t stop, negotiate some changes in his working conditions, and then move forward. He said that at the moment, he knew he needed to do something…but felt frozen wondering exactly what he should do…and more importantly, what he had permission to do. This peaked my curiosity and I asked him who he felt held the authority to give him permission to act when action was needed. He thought about that for awhile and then said, almost in awe…”Only I can give myself permission. I am the one who holds the duty and therefore the authority that goes with it.” Bingo! He knew this at an intuitive level, but at a practical level fell into the “interpreter should be invisible and should not interject” belief system. It really runs deep and will require us to continue to conceptualize our role and our work more deeply to eliminate.

    I am working on a supplemental article about stepping out of the shadow of invisibility and “finding voice” as interpreters where I talk about this failure to act when action is needed phenomena. Look for it to be posted here on the Street Leverage site in the near future.

    Now, to your question about our interactions with the hearing person. I totally agree that this relationship is equally important. A study that a colleague, Dr. Leilani Johnson and I did, focused on perspectives of employers about interpreters–school administrators, hospital personnel, VRS vendors, etc. We were very surprised that the majority of them found interpreters to be detached, disengaged, disinterested, etc. This was perpetuated in part by how they used their down-time/wait time (reading, talking on the phone, texting versus being attentive and looking for opportunities to “engage”.) They also perceived interpreters as difficult to work with–most frequently citing their inability to get along with one another. You can read about these findings (along with the findings from other stakeholder groups) in a book published by RID entitled Toward Competent Practice: Conversations with Stakeholders. There is definitely a significant disconnect between how we perceive ourselves and how we are perceived by both Deaf and hearing consumers.

    I agree with you that interpreters need to also create relationship with hearing consumers. In fact, in general, we would benefit from a more system-oriented view of our work. It would help us to better appreciate how our work fits within the personnel and processes that are central to systems–such as healthcare. As you have indicated, in a medical situation, the rapport between the interpreter, doctor and patient is essential for effective exchange of information about health and treatment. If the interpreter’s behavior or actions are not contributing to the building of trust and rapport it can have serious consequence. I think many of the same questions on the checklist apply to working with hearing speakers as well.

    Do you recommend anything specific to new interpreters with respect to building relationship with hearing consumers?

    Thanks for your involvement with the conversation.

  10. Meg Klein says:

    Medical interpreting in my area seems to consist of the great divide of interpreters who are way to personal and overly accessable, and interpreters who in reaction to that are not personable nor accessable no matter what the client’s communication needs. Thankfully, there are interpreters who maintain the discipline and balance of “interpreter presence” as defined in this wonderful article! Hospitals and interpreting agencies sometimes make the mistake of having no policy about this or establishing an overly rigid policy. It is a professional interpreter indeed who can navigate through this and “engage” in a balanced and effective way without being intrusive nor mentally and physically “out to lunch.” Thanks for a great article and great comments. I especially like the notion of “personable” but not “personal.”

    • Anna says:

      Meg- Thanks so much for sharing your experience. This approach to role implementation that is manifested by practitioners as either too rigid or too involved is symptomatic of our extreme philosophical differences. We still struggle to define who we are and what that looks like in terms of our actions and practices. We need more open discussion about these kind of differences. It is great that you can identify interpreters in your community who reflect the necessary balance–I hope they are in the majority!

      Your point about agency policies is an important one. I was talking with a colleague this week who was bemoaning the fact that an agency she has started working for has a long list of policies that are counter to the norms of the Deaf community. She is asking herself how to best challenge these practices and open a dialogue that can result in improved services to Deaf people.

      Thanks again for joining in!

  11. Blake says:

    It feels weird to write this, as I have always felt like the way I approach my job as a freelance interpreter doesn’t fit in well with “normal” way most interpreters do their job…but here it goes. I have always thought of myself being part of the team( I do 85% medical work, so this is where I am coming from). I talk with the new interpreters about not being afraid to talk to someone if they speak to you. I have seen the dr ask the interpreter where they leaned ASL, and the interpreter KNEW they were asking her, but she chose to interpret the question to the Deaf patient like the dr was asking them! That lead to all sorts of confusion, now the dr is wondering why the interpreter went to the deaf school! When I asked her later why she did that, her answer was right there with your example earlier about not feeling allowed to do anything about it.

    Someon earlier mentioned your choice of attire. That is a huge issue with me as well. When the new interpreters show up for the first job with me, they are ALWAYS dressed in the “interpreter uniform”, khaki pants and solid color contrasting shirt. That is usually the last day they wear it. When we are interpreting in a dr office and the dr comes in with a tie on, I want to at least have a tie on as well. I believe that shows him/her that I am a professional as well and shows respect. If you are dressed as part of the team, it’s much easier to establish rapport

    Finally, an example of it being impossible to be invisible even if you wanted to. Several years ago I was asked to interpret a conference with approx 10,000 attendees, 95% of those were female….and I am a 6’4″ guy. It was impossible to be invisible that week. It was not only the Deaf client who was watching my behavior. If I was sitting at the front reading my phone every person there would of known. Thankfully, everything went well and I have been asked back every year since :)

    • David says:

      Blake, I found your response very interesting. When my girlfriend read it (also an interpreter), she asked when I changed my name to Blake. Even down to the 85% medical work!

      It took me years to figure this out, but now I’m always in at least a shirt and tie, if not a suit. I can walk down a hall and watch physicians I’ve never met walk towards me, passing 10 people, but smiling and saying hi when they pass me. Which is even better if they’re the physician working with the deaf patient. I don’t have to describe what a ‘patient care team’ member looks like, and that I’m one of them. I don’t have to ask for a seat at team meetings, someone has usually saved me one. I find that my interactions with patients greatly improved, because they recognize me as a professional staff member. I don’t wait with patients in lobbies, but upon my arrival am whisked into the back (where the magazines are much better).

      The late, great Debbie Gunter often spoke about the therapeutic relationship between patient and provider, and how the interpreter in the lobby interferes with the patient/provider relationship. Cheers to Debbie and her legacy.

      Nice to know I’m not a lone wolf out here, dressing professionaly and keeping a shine on my shoes (like my dad taught me).

      • Anna says:

        Hi David. Thanks for joining the conversation we are having here! You have peaked my interest. Tell us a bit more about how you perceive the interpreter in the lobby (I assume interacting with the consumer) interfering with the therapeutic relationship between the provider and the patient. And, does this then extend to the interpreter being a participant in the patient care team? In other words, does the interpreter joining in as part of the patient care team impact that therapeutic relationship? How do the two types of interaction differ? Thanks!

        • Kevin Mills says:

          Anna – Blake’s comment about being whisked into the back when he arrives at an assignment piques my interest as well.

          As a consumer I much appreciate interpreters, especially those in the medical setting, who sit down with me prior to my appt to become familiar with my communication preference and to learn from me what I expect from them in their work for me. As a professional working with deaf consumers for many years and now acting as supervisor to a staff interpreter who goes into the field, his remark also concerns me because I have always urged consumers to arrive early to appts so they can meet the interpreter and establish communication preferences before starting the appt. I also, stress this same issue to the staff interpreter whose work I supervise.

          I am in complete agreement with you that personable is different from personal. The nature of the Deaf community and interpeting community means that many consumers and interpreters know each other from community interactions or from other interpreting encounters. I much prefer having an interpreter who is personable and takes time to chat with me, even if it is just about the weather and traffic to one who sits down and immediately begins texting, reading internet news or getting on the phone. While I realize that interpreters must often take advantage of the few moments they have during the day to “take care of business” it should not be gained by ignoring the deaf consumer. I have had assignments or appts where interpreters whom I know well as personal friends come in and we both enjoy the opportunity to have some catch up time.

          I do, however, share your concern about interpreters who are too personal as their complete lack of boundaries when interacting with me or with the hearing person I am meeting gives me reason to doubt their ability or consicentiousness about keeping confidentiality. If an interpreter is overly personal while working, my own perspective is that the interpreter may not be professional enough to respect my privacy. Such interpreters also may cause the hearing person I am meeting with to have reason to distrust or doubt my own professionalism by association.

          • Anna says:

            Hi Kevin
            Your perceptions and experiences as a consumer and supervisor of interpreting services are a very important part of this conversation. Your remarks reinforce the sentiments expressed by the Deaf colleagues I referenced at the beginning of the article. And, they reinforce similar comments and experiences Deaf consumers have generously expressed over the years. Given that more and more interpreters come to the profession by way of programs (versus by way of relationship within the Deaf Community), it is important for Deaf consumers to continue educating us about their expectations and experiences. It is this open exchange that can improve our partnership towards the goal of improved communication access! Thank you for your genuine interest in what we do and for your support and encouragement in our doing it better!

  12. Anna says:

    Your comments about striving to be part of the team when interpreting in medical situations is an example of an striving to be more system-savvy/system-oriented. And, your comment about the interpreter who ignores a direct question ties in beautifully with the extremes Meg was talking about.

    You remind us again that how we dress does impact on how we are perceived AND how deaf people are perceived. As you have reminded us, dressing according to the system norms is one way to improve how we are perceived within that system.

    Thanks for continuing to contribute to the conversation.

  13. Millie Stansfield says:

    Hello there Anna ! It’s been so many years…
    It is great to have this discussion out in the open. I think this may be a contributing force to the ‘attitude’ that seems to prevail between coda and hearing terps. And. We need to go back to the source of this…cit training. Perhaps the ‘aloof’/neutral view led to over exaggeration and now appearing disengaged, from our early days of being TOO involved.

    In any case I see younger terps struggling with this. Also, the change in deaf politics and feeling more empowered, deaf sometimes themselves not want the connection. So many different things to consider! Smile

    I d like to mention that back in 1980 in the first RID publication, I wrote article “Interpreting in Mental Health”. The main focus was that we ARE NOT INVISIBLE”…therefore we need to acknowledge (all participants) that we ARE present and work the dynamics from there.

    It s cool to see this feature picked up again…it is relevant to all situations, not just the field of mental health…not to mention our own mental health!

    Millie Stansfield MFT

  14. Anna says:

    Hello Millie! So nice to reconnect with you here. Yes, I absolutely remember your article and for others interested in this important read, here is the citation.

    Stansfield, M. (1981). Psychological Issues in Mental Health Interpreting. In Edgar Shroyer, Ed., RID Interpreting Journal., Vol.1, No. 1, September.,RID Publications: Silver Spring, MD.

    And, here some 30+ years later, we are still working through the residue of our early assumptions about the interpreter as a machine or as invisible. Conceptually, the intention was to create a paradigm shift from the era where interpreters were typically volunteers and often caretakers. The goal was to empower Deaf people to direct their own communication without the interpreter taking over. But, from the onset it was a faulty paradigm–right? And the price paid by practitioners and consumers alike has been significant. As your article suggests, the reality that the interpreter is in fact present in and of itself has implications for the interaction.

    In your article, you emphasized the uniqueness of the mental health situation. And, what we realize today is that each system in which we work has unique considerations–ultimately, across the board, our presence as interpreters and their implication for the interaction must be acknowledged and addressed in the definition of role and responsibility. Several authors have suggested that the interpreter role be viewed as a co-participant and our responsibilities framed from that perspective so that the manner of our involvement be more clearly and realistically defined. Achieving this will require a much deeper conceptualization of who we are and what we do.

    Thanks for posting, and thanks for your contributions to our field!

  15. Dianrez says:

    Having used interpreters often during my working life and in other appointments, let me mention the issue of “interpreter abandonment”. This happens during lengthy seminars with luncheons or activities outside of the meetings. As the sole Deaf participant, I find myself cut off during these breaks. The interpreters usually sit on the opposite side of the room by themselves or exit altogether. This is a situation that is detrimental because of the loss of professional interaction with other meeting attenders or loss of the opportunity to process such as “Did the speaker say there was a signup sheet?”

    The interpreter in most situations is also a cultural bridger. Where the Deaf person is less educated or less wise in the ways of hearing culture, the interpreter needs to be a teacher: diagnosing the gaps in knowledge and filling them in so the Deaf person understands what is going on. Giving additional information such as parenthetical comments (sounds impatient, sounds polite, etc.) may be beneficial for me, but may not help the upset or less acculturated Deaf person and an expanding approach is needed. “He means this…”

    Being a robot or invisible is universally not expected nor appreciated by the Deaf person. In an overwhelmingly hearing environment, they expect their interpreter to be an ally, a right hand, an extension of themselves.

  16. Anna says:

    Thanks for your post! Your insights as a Deaf consumer of interpreting services are essential to this discussion!

    You make many important points. One in particular that struck me is what transpires during the breaks–the interpreters isolate themselves or disappear and the Deaf person is left without communication access. Because these types of events typically involve a team or teams of interpreters, this practice can be easily corrected. To ensure that the interpreters get the periodic breaks they need, they can alternate interpreting for the Deaf consumer(s) during breaks. One of the selling points for using teams of interpreters is greater/fuller access. It seems reasonable that this fuller access be extended through the breaks as well.

    Please continue sharing your experiences and perspectives with us! Your input is vital.

  17. Susan R. Stange says:

    Hello Anna and Thank You! This is just the sort of conversation about professional vs present that I need. I am fortunate that the lion’s share of my work is medical; I am a staff interpreter at a large teaching hospital. I think you have hit gold when you consider the interpreter as a member of the clinical team, whose engagement and involvement is integral to the doctor, the Deaf patient, the hospital system, and ancillary services such as labs, radiology… I know for certain that most clinicians see me as a member of the team, and for me to pretend I am invisible, especially after I have interpreted the 40th appt for the same patient, would be disingenuous. Best outcomes are when I can maintain my visible sense of patience and concern for all parties, checking in on both sides to assure that I have completely understood. This dynamic continues to be true when the Clinician is Deaf. Respect for hearing patients, and other team members is absolutely essential for the Deaf clinician’s well being.

    I hope that we can continue this conversation, gain insight into our own and others’ practices ultimately in the service of doing good work delivered in a culturally competent manner.

  18. Deb Russell says:

    Thanks so much, Anna, for such a well crafted piece. This is such an important issue and one being discussed around the world as interpreters take on more of a professional role that seems to create such distance between us and the people we serve. There will be a 3 hour panel at AVLIC 2012 this year on exactly this topic! and it would be lovely to see something at CIT that helps us as educators to examine our curricula and teaching practices to ensure that we are helping new interpreters to understand the importance of the commitments you have highlighted.

    • Anna says:

      Hello Deb!
      How can we learn more about the AVLIC convention and the panel? Any chance it will be broadcast or filmed for archival purposes? Might you and some of your AVLIC colleagues submit just such a presentation proposal to CIT? I feel certain the program committee would love to review it! Smiles…

      Thanks for joining the conversation and warmest wishes to you up there in Alberta!


  19. Anna says:

    Hello Susan! So great to connect with you here. And, so great to get your insight as someone who has stepped out of the shadows of invisibility to work collaboratively with the consumers and professionals toward a successful outcome, and can report that it consistently works and improves the level of respect for all concerned.

    I agree with you that we need more conversation about this topic on both a conceptual/philosophical and practical level. We need to talk more about what it means to be a Sign Language interpreter working with Deaf people in the American society. We need to talk more about what we believe about ourselves and the work that we do. We need to explore our motivations more deeply so that we can be clear about our intentions. What do we intend to achieve/contribute? How do we see our work making a difference? As well, we need to further explore how our beliefs about ourselves and the purpose of our work impacts our actions and practices as interpreters. What does working collaboratively with consumers look like. What does functioning as an ally look like in application–in the moments I am interpreting? When we approach our role transparently (not invisibly), what does it look like? What do we say and do differently?

    Ultimately, you hit the nail on the head with your comment about doing good work. If we aren’t about doing good work towards the goal of contributing to the good of society–the good of the Deaf society–then it isn’t worth doing! After all, it is in this that our duty lies…to do no harm and to contribute to the good of society.

    Keep the conversation going!

  20. Obed says:

    This is a wonderful article.
    First of all, I wish to apologise for my terrible english. It’s not my first language.

    To me, I do’nt see any contradiction between an Interpreter interacting with the consumers (d/Deaf) before and after interpreting, and being invisible while interpreting, as the Acts states.

    With my experience,here in Zambia, Africa, I’m able to interact with my Deaf clients before and after interpreting, even establishing fiendships, as long as I’m not touching the subject which they will discuss. That way, they feel comfortable and able to follow the discussion easily, when I begin interpreting. If an interpreter is detached from the Deaf consumers, then he won’t fulfil his role, cause the Deaf will not be comfortable with him/her, thereby distracting them.

    I believe Interpreters with such an attitude in the name of Code of Ethics, are Audists (anti-Deaf).

    • Anna says:

      Hi Obed! Thank you for joining the conversation! Warm wishes to you there in Zambia, Africa.

      You have brought up another important point about personal relationships between interpreters and Deaf consumers. For many of us, the source of our involvement in the Deaf Community and interpreting is rooted in a personal relationship with one or more Deaf people. In many ways, I think for some of us, it is this deeper connection to Deaf people that sparks our motivation as interpreters. It certainly has in my case. These personal relationships have helped me appreciate the experiences of Deaf people in the general society. I have seen first hand the injustices they have experienced…and I have listened to their countless stories of struggle to overcome communication/access barriers. Historically, here in the United States, interpreters entered the field through this route–personal relationship. But, as Dennis Cokely wrote about in his article, “Sign Language Interpreters – Complicit in a Devil’s Bargain?”, things have changed and many interpreters come into the field without having personal/authentic relationships with Deaf people. And the result, is as you said…often Deaf people are not comfortable. As well, often interpreters who don’t have authentic relationships in the Deaf Community do not have sufficient cultural competence and struggle with how to establish effective boundaries as professional workers.
      (If you haven’t yet read Dennis’ article, you can find it listed as the first article under the Popular Posts on the right side menu bar on this page.)

      What I am discussing in this article is a bit different. I am talking about how we act while we are interpreting or getting ready to interpret. Sometimes we are too rigid in establishing boundaries and as a result we fail to create a comfortable relationship with Deaf consumers. Sometimes we are so rigid in our behavior that we appear robotic or numb. In some instances, Deaf people may see this as disinterest and disrespect.

      There is an earlier post in this thread from Dianrez that reinforces this. Dianrez, as a Deaf consumer, states that Deaf people generally expect interpreters to function as allies.

      What we haven’t figured out yet is what does it mean to be an ally and how does it impact what we do when we are interpreting. How does it change some of our actions and practices?

      Thanks for joining the conversation.

  21. Aaron Brace says:

    Hi Anna! Thanks to you for opening such an important discussion, and again to Brandon for providing the forum.

    There are so many factors that drive the choices we make when in engaging (or not) with our consumers, and I think that many of them attach to our insecurities or our expectation of damning judgement from consumers or – perhaps more daunting – from each other. Colleagues do often draw lines between themselves and others based on how much/how appropriately they engage with consumers. I don’t think that we generally have ready language at our disposal to discuss these issues with each other in a way that doesn’t elicit defensiveness or project superiority (which is usually unintended, but since we’re human, it certainly rears its ugly head at times).

    As with the issues raised in Dennis’s piece about “a Devil’s Bargain”, I think that we don’t adequately address, in interpreter education or, frankly, *ever*, just how counter-intuitive many of the best practices we’re called on to adopt can really be to many of us. I’m 30 years into my career and still discovering ways that my early enculturation, my overt interpreter education, and my personal make up can get in the way of effective practice.

    Ultimately, I’d like to see our discussion of these very personal aspects of our practice imbued with a sense of compassion for how difficult it can often be to make the best choices and to effectively navigate the sometimes diametrically opposed expectations of the various consumers we work for, and even between the different Deaf people in our lives. As Dennis so brilliantly argues, the best solutions are founded on authentic relationships with a wide variety of Deaf people… but since so many practitioners don’t have that (and won’t any time soon, even as they start to understand its importance), are there ways we can get them to engage in this discussion in the meantime?

    I wonder if a good step would be for experienced practitioners to open up about difficult lessons learned and challenges still being faced… demonstrating what it looks like continually to engage with the intricacies of our work and our impact on the lives of Deaf people. I have a very clear picture of how to pursue appropriate engagement and project appropriate availability, but I am far from consistent in applying it in all aspects of my practice. I also struggle with ways to raise the topic with colleagues. For many, that kind of on-going introspection and self-assessment -let alone open discussion with Deaf people and other practitioners- represents a terrifying and completely foreign landscape. I have to believe, though, that they’d respond to seeing that landscape outlined for them by others who, like them, entered it as foreigners but learned ways to navigate the topography.

    Thanks again for your initial piece and your continued thoughtful attention to all who respond to it.

    Love to you,

    • Anna says:

      Hi Aaron. So wonderful to see you here. It has been way too long since seeing you! I hope all is well in your world.

      You raise some very salient points. I agree that we continue to struggle with figuring out our professional acts and practices…and sometimes cling to what we have been taught. Doing what is familiar is part of our human nature.

      In part, I think we have failed to recognize that as we learn more, as more scholarship becomes available, as more of us gain specialized skills in specific settings (enabling us to appreciate our acts and practices applied over time), our acts and practices evolve and change. Just as other professions used practices in past decades that are no longer used and considered outdated, so is true with us. We need forums/mechanisms by which we can constantly evaluate what we do to determine if we are being effective. Certainly engaging in dialogue with Deaf consumers is an important part of the process.

      You are right that discussions like this are complicated. One reason is because such discussions require us to tap into what we believe about Deaf people, what we believe about interpreting, and we believe about ourselves as interpreters.

      You are also right, we need a starting place. The article suggests self assessment/ self examination as one starting place. You have graciously reminded us that not everyone is comfortable with that approach. You have suggested another possible starting place–the idea of experienced practitioners offering up lessons learned and challenges still being faced. This is excellent! Might you be willing to start? You are such a shining example of someone who has learned ways to navigate the topography successfully. What helped in your journey?


      • Aaron Brace says:

        Thanks for the vote of confidence, Anna! I want to take a little while to think of examples that I might most accurately reflect how I’ve pointed myself in the direction of point B (not sure I’ll ever completely get there, but try to keep it in my sights).


      • Aaron Brace says:

        Hi again, Anna,

        I apologize in advance for the length of what I’m posting now. No offense taken if anyone just wants to skip it : )

        In recent years I’ve found myself frequently wondering, “What do you think you’re doing?”, both as an indignant challenge to a questionable behavior (“… you’re doing?!!!???!!), and as a genuine inquiry into my beliefs about the choices I make.

        Specific to “visibility”, I think I fall short when what I “think I’m doing” is pursuing a version of … for lack of a better term.. “work life” that’s consistent with what I vaguely expected to have while I was growing up. It includes notions like: ‘Work is work, and a break is a break.’ ‘A chance to leave early is always good.’ ‘Maximizing billable time is always the goal.’ ‘Once you learn your job, you know it … and after a while you’ll become an (unassailable) expert.’

        There are others, but those are the ones that immediately come to mind as most relevant to the issues being discussed here. To most hearing-enculturated Americans they’re self-evident and benign, but I’ve had to consciously identify these impulses as counter to providing optimal service to the Deaf community. I’ve had to define for myself what I “think I’m doing” when providing excellent service, and prioritize that over whatever other motivations might try to drive me.

        A major help in this is has been recognizing my deep-rooted desire for some kind of predictability in what’s expected of me. That desire made the division between work time and break time even more important, it made it crucial that a job start and end as scheduled, and it tempted me to look for any justifiable way out of a situation that was different from what I had expected. It was a loss, of sorts, when I accepted that insisting on predictability resulted in my being less available to the ever-shifting needs of the people for whom I interpret. Beyond that, of course, one learns that during so-called break time, one has to *proactively offer* one’s availability for interactions that the consumer might not even have thought to pursue. One must project not WILLINGNESS (gloss word) but HAPPINESS (gloss word) to do so. When it seems an appointment is winding down, one mustn’t be the first person is his coat and mittens headed toward the door. It has been relatively recently that I’ve noticed my anticipation of the end of an appointment- I have to consciously tell myself to sit still and attentive, allowing space for the inevitable “One more thing…” or “Oh, while we have the interpreter” without appearing to be inconvenienced by it. If I *do* have to leave at the scheduled time, I have to give warning at the beginning and again, with time to spare, toward the end.

        It’s truly difficult, at times, to balance one’s personal needs (real and perceived), with what one needs in order to provide quality service, and with the needs of consumers (real and perceived). If you haven’t identified any subconscious motivations like the ones I’ve mentioned above, they’re in the mix, too. Quite the juggling act, sometimes.

        It was a loss, of sorts, when I realized that booking back-to-back jobs based on scheduled end times (maximizing my income, that is) often deprived consumers, usually Deaf consumers, of needed opportunities to complete their business. From a strictly contractual viewpoint, of course we’re justified in getting up and walking out at the appointed hour, but that’s no longer what I “think I’m doing”. Now I am much more careful about leaving more time between jobs than even the agencies that offer me work! They seem to think I can cross my arms and blink my eyes (for those of you old enough to remember Jeannie!) to get from one job to another- the concept of leaving a buffer time for people at the first job to really reach closure doesn’t even occur to them. For agencies, everything *is* contractual and they *do* try to maximize income. I have to consciously and vigorously counter that, which puzzles them because it’s at the expense of my earning potential.

        Quite recently I’ve noticed how I become “invisible” in a way while I’m actually interpreting! I get so invested in my processing of the source message and my creation of the interpretation that I impede the other party’s ability to get a word in edge-wise. “Let me finish!” blares in my head, but fortunately never off my hands or tongue- sometimes on my face, though. When I’m riding the juggernaut of my English to ASL interpretation, I’m so easily caught up in it that I miss cues of the Deaf person’s interest in making a comment… actually, it’s as my unavailability has made the Deaf person invisible to me. It can be hard to surf that line, devoting maximum mental bandwidth to an accurate interpretation while also monitoring consumers’ desire for the floor and opportunities to seamlessly get it for them… knowing that doing so often means leaving my precious interpretation incomplete, or at least a mere shadow of the grandeur I had imagined for it (tongue only partially in cheek). It’s hard to know just what in my work I can legitimately say is mine.

        The most helpful thing I’ve found to help me deal with all of this is the conscious acceptance of the unpredictability of our work. All those expectations I had growing up of what it meant to become a professional and advance in my chosen career either don’t apply or need to be viewed through a very different lens. Not every minute spent on a work site is “work”; start and end times aren’t reliable; a break isn’t, necessarily, a break. Jobs that I could likely get to by running off from previous jobs are best left to others unless there are extenuating circumstances (other than my need to maximize my income). Every new Deaf person I meet, quite appropriately, evaluates me anew- my years of experience be damned. It’s actually incumbent upon me to offer myself up for that evaluation through personable interaction and constant visibility and availability. And all my best efforts to understand best practices over the years (decades!) are subject to contrary preferences of any given consumer- again, quite appropriately.

        It has also helped to acknowledge the counter-intuitiveness of much of this to my hearing-American-enculturated self … that it’s not (usually) callousness that impels me toward the kind of invisibility we’re talking about here. It’s life-long expectations, deeply rooted and long unacknowledged. I think, though, that for many in my generation of interpreters, the invisibility was quickly seen as a professional badge of honor (like *always* wearing black or navy blue)- something we could easily adhere to, and by which we could claim professional status. In reality, I think, these were desperate efforts on the part of our teachers and many in the Deaf community to control the unpredictability of the language skills and cultural finesse of these new-fangled store-bought interpreters.

        Oh, dear… if anyone has read this far I do apologize. Thanks for bearing with me, and believe it or not, this is me “reining it in”. Thank you, Anna, for being the catalyst of my trying to articulate thoughts that have been caroming around in my head for quite some time.


        • Anna says:

          Thank you for your thoughtful, candid and insightful remarks! I am both humbled by and appreciative of this important glimpse into your experiences as someone coming into the Deaf World from the general society. You have nothing to apologize for as your remarks are invaluable.

          There is much that can come of willingness to share your insights. First, hopefully others will be willing to share their expereinces and our awareness of motivating factors impacting our acts of “invisibility” will increase. Second, such openness can allow us to begin considering the implications of the losses you identify on what it means to be a career interpreter. Perhaps this will lead us to considering new and/or alternative practices. Certainly, these type of important revelations are an important part of preparing newly entering interpreters for the personal demands that are a part of the ‘real-world’ work of interpreters. Third, and perhaps most important, it can increase our understanding of one another and encourage us to be more valuing, respectful and understanding. This can improve our collegiality and collaboration towards ways of being that honor Deaf people and their right to access, while also making our work fulfilling and worthwhile.

          Thank you for such a revealing post….I look forward to seeing all it will yield. It has planted many seeds in my heart and I am sure that of many others who will read it.

          With love and respect,

          • Aaron Brace says:

            Thanks, Anna. I didn’t want to over-think or sit on it too long for fear I’d never hit “submit”. I’ve dealt with most of the issues I mentioned long ago, of course, though I never stop asking myself what it is “I think I’m doing” in the choices I make. If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s this- doing this work in honesty, integrity, and alliance with Deaf people requires a level of self-awareness that I won’t ever be able to say I’ve fully achieved.

            Thanks again, Anna,

  22. Nancy Riley says:

    Thank you again for sharing your scholarship with us. You continue to help foster a dialogue of ideas that go beyond the surface levels we often focus on. I especially liked in this article you gave us some very specific examples of what “presence” might look like (or not).

    • Anna says:

      Hi Nancy–glad you found the article useful. Yes, Brandon has offered us a great forum for going beyond the surface level here in this Street Leverage site. Hats off to him for starting this community!

  23. Joseph says:

    Anna! I really appreciate this discussion. Deaf signlanguage interpreters should always be ready to adjust to d varying attitudes of the consumers(deaf). The interpreters are there to serve if not to help the consumer. The Deaf folks too should try as much as possible to make d atmosphere conducive enough for the interpreters to serve better. The Deaf people has diverse expectations from interpreters thus making interpreters finding it hard to adjust frequently. with this important discussion, i think it has serve as an eye opener to both parties.

  24. Lucky says:

    This has been a very insightful discourse, Anna!
    Thank you for writing this.

    I really am enjoying the flow of “Street Leverage” issues. I think your article links very well into the recent articles by Wing Butler, “Does Social Networking Impair Sign Language Interpreter Ethics?” and Brandon Arthur, “How do Sign Language Interpreters Increase Opportunity in a Weak Economy.”

    These articles tie into the concept that interpreters you see with their noses into their Blackberries are possibly doing one of two things. They are responding to scheduler’s requests for availability, thus keeping themselves employed, or they are busy posting on Facebook, “Guess where I am!” Technology has been both, a blessing and a curse for all of us.


  25. Dawn Duran says:

    Anna, Bless your heart for this great article! As a staff interpreter for the state, I work with the same clientele- both Deaf and hearing all day, everyday. I have not run into difficulties regarding my role when I am actually interpreting. However, during “down time”, when I am in the office and working on other projects, the staff in the office will stop by to say hello and chat briefly. We acknowledge each other and have developed a relationship of trust. Questions about navigating these relationships have come up and I have found that it creates a wall of awkwardness if not distrust to sit in the office during down time and act as if I don’t exist. I am part of the everyday operations within the office and managing my ethical role includes developing and maintaining those professional relationships that have been critical in the environment of the office. I appreciate your guidance in this and other articles where you have been a true mentor!

  26. Shawna says:

    Something a Deaf person said to me long ago stuck with me: They would rather work with a “so-so” interpreter who was friendly and invested, than a top of the line certified interpreter who was like a machine. I really enjoyed this article, thank you!!

  27. Nancy Riley says:

    Ana, I am still being fed by this article a year later. I share it often and use it in a class I teach. Thank you.

    Today I attended a webinar about the “Concept of Role Space” ( Conducted by Robert G Lee), The frameworks he and his colleague Peter Llewelynn Jones present give additional useful vocabulary to this discussion. This link takes you to it:

  28. Katie says:

    I remember in my old elementary school back in the day, there was this little boy that was deaf and he would bring his interrupter everywhere he went. I remember sitting in the gym for an event that my principle would have to give and the interrupter was right there so the little boy can see the interrupter. I remember the interrupter coming up to me after the event was done and talking to me and doing some easy signs to me. I feel that interrupters do have to come out of their shell and interact with other people besides themselves.

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