A Deaf Perspective: Cultural Respect in Sign Language Interpreting

A chip on her shoulder.
An angry Deaf person.
I will definitely NOT be attending her workshops in the future.
Sign Language Interpreter Learning from Deaf PerspectiveThe workshop seemed to be a venting session for the Deaf people.

These were just some of the evaluation responses to a workshop I presented at a state-level sign language interpreting conference recently. I had been asked to do three workshops at this conference, and the first workshop went fabulously.

[Click to view post in ASL]

The second workshop was after lunch, a notoriously difficult time slot because participants are often tired from the morning and lunch. Even so, I expected this workshop—which I had presented many times before—would be fun and invigorating. I was especially pumped by the participants’ awesome energy that morning, and was excited to see that many who attended the morning workshop had joined this afternoon session. The Deaf participants were renowned advocates and leaders. However, as the session got underway, I became a bit perplexed by the mood before me. Perhaps it was the lighting, the room set-up, or fatigue, but the room seemed tense, almost foreboding. Still, I figured the energy level would quickly rise.

I noticed, almost immediately, a specific group of interpreters who whispered to each other without signing. Participants in the first workshop had been extremely respectful about signing at all times. The conference organizers had also clearly stated that one language was to be used. I naturally assumed that for workshops led by Deaf presenters, all would sign.

I won’t go into how many articles and discussions there have been about how interpreters and students are notorious for not signing at interpreting conferences (although I’ll cite an article I wrote six years ago about this). But it may be helpful to understand my background. I’ve worked with interpreters since I was a toddler, and was mainstreamed for most of my education. I also constantly work with interpreters in my career, and travel the nation providing interpreting workshops because I think it’s so important for Deaf people to share their knowledge and experience. I emphasize in every workshop that interpreters are among the most crucial allies Deaf people can have. And as a mother to four children who are Deaf, I have a very personal reason for wanting nothing but the very best in the interpreting profession.

I was disturbed, as were several participants, by this group’s behavior, so I quickly reiterated the importance of signing at all times. After the fourth time I mentioned this, I became visibly irritated, because it was difficult to understand how such rudeness would be exhibited. I explained that as a Deaf person, they were taking away my opportunity—without my having any say—to catch side conversations that often hold such a wealth of information.

Let me share an example. At another workshop, during a break, I noticed two participants talking about their pregnancies. I happily jumped into the conversation; as someone who was pregnant for four years in a row, I always love sharing pregnancy experiences. Sure enough, one sat with me during lunch and we exchanged wonderful child-raising tidbits. This interaction is what is so important to the development of alliances between hearing and deaf people. It helps us build connections and recognize shared experiences as human beings.

As is true for any workshop I present, I always ensure that the Deaf participants are given an opportunity to provide input. While the Deaf experience may be common across many levels, it isn’t identical for every Deaf individual. At this workshop, there were four Deaf individuals in attendance. About an hour into the workshop, I made a comment in passing how I wished all video interpreters knew the names of deaf school towns—that is, towns with deaf schools (i.e., Fremont, St. Augustine, even Faribault)—or at least be familiar with the names. I said this lightly, with a smile, and the Deaf participants nodded vigorously in agreement. This type of knowledge is an important element of Deaf culture for many people. Not recognizing its importance, or dismissing it when someone shares this information speaks volumes to cultural (il)literacy.

A participant from that group suddenly said with an incredulous look, “I don’t understand why you’re so upset that video interpreters don’t know city names? That’s really ridiculous. It’s such a small thing.” I was momentarily caught off-guard by her flippant response. I quickly clarified that I wasn’t upset, saying, “Quite the contrary. It’s just one of those things that Deaf people have to live with. It does become cumbersome if you have to make several calls a day and each video interpreter you encounter doesn’t know a city sign or town where a deaf school is.”

The participant started to dissect my comments, shaking her head in disbelief. A Deaf participant stood up saying, “Trudy isn’t upset. She simply—and she’s right—means that it does get frustrating when interpreters don’t know the sign for large cities or deaf school towns. Deaf school towns are to us what major cities are to the general population.” This interpreter shook her head as if we were silly. In retrospect, I should have ignored her. I didn’t, because I was, truthfully, astonished at her disregard of our experiences.

Trudy Suggs

Trudy Suggs

Realizing that perhaps her reaction came from culpability or taking my comments personally, I asked why she was upset. She said, derisively, “I’m not upset. I’m simply disagreeing. Disagreement is healthy, right?” I decided that I’d had enough and moved on, but I was shaken. Discouraged and belittled, I tried to keep the workshop going despite dagger-eyes from that interpreter who “healthily” disagreed with me.

After the workshop, at least six interpreters came up to me and apologized for that group; several thanked me for being so straightforward and expressed their appreciation for all the Deaf participants’ contributions. One interpreter said he was angry because he felt she wouldn’t have done this had I been a hearing presenter.

I talked with one of the volunteers at my workshop, a certified interpreter and the mother to a deaf adult. I shared my puzzlement at why I felt blindsided. She said, “There’s a difference between challenging an expert and disagreeing respectfully.” She nailed it; after all, would the participant have so publicly disagreed me had she respected me as an expert in my subject matter? What if I had been hearing talking about deaf people’s frustrations? Maybe she would have, but I doubt it.

I received overwhelmingly positive evaluations for the first and third workshops. For the second workshop, I was pleased with the supportive responses, but also surprised by the depth of the few negative comments. I wondered why I was called an angry deaf person. Why not simply an angry person? Why were the Deaf people’s shared experiences considered venting? Why was it a “Deaf” issue?

I later saw the very same Deaf participants at the National Association of the Deaf conference, who were equally taken aback by the negative feedback. As we discussed the contempt we felt at this workshop, it suddenly made sense. Hearing privilege. As we all know, some enter the interpreting profession with misguided intentions. Fortunately, we have so many solid interpreting standards and programs in place that help steer those individuals in a more positive direction. Even so, had all the Deaf participants sharing experiences been hearing, would they have been criticized for their so-called venting? Would I have been labeled angry if I were hearing? Perhaps.

I wish that interpreter who challenged me had come up to me after the workshop and started, yes, a healthy dialogue, so that we could have come to appreciate each other. I wish she had respected my perspectives. I likely would have learned from her perspective as someone who did not grow up in the culture or community. I also find it quite ironic that she and a couple of others chose to vent via the evaluations, stating that the workshop was a “venting session for the Deaf people,” instead of building alliances.

Workshops led by Deaf people are golden opportunities to listen to their experiences—while reserving judgment—and understand that interpreting, for them, is not just a career or interest. It affects their lives, their experiences, and their realities—and for many, the legacy they pass onto their children. Ensuring the sincere desire to be an ally and exhibiting a genuine respect of experiences is a reward beyond measure.


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About the Author

Trudy Suggs, born Deaf to Deaf parents, has worked as an educator, administrator and editor. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Gallaudet University, and a master’s degree from University of Illinois-Chicago. She has long been involved with many organizations, including serving as chair of the Illinois RID Deaf Caucus, the Minnesota RID Deaf Interpreting Group, RID’s national CDI task force, and the Illinois State Police Communication Issues committee. She has also served on numerous boards, including the National Association of the Deaf and the National Deaf Business Institute, and is a RID-certified deaf interpreter. In 2008, Trudy received the Gallaudet University Alumni Association Outstanding Young Alumnus Award and the National Association of the Deaf CEO’s Award. In 2009, she was selected by Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie for a National Association of Secretaries of State Medallion Award.

77 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Donna Reiter Brandwein says:

    Dear Ms. Suggs:
    I agree wholeheartedly that the signs for major cities and especially cities where Deaf schools are located is crucial. Sally Koziar, who ran the Interpreting program at Harper College always required her Intro to Interpreting students to learn these! Her cultural sensitivity as a CODA helped all her students become better Deaf allies!

    • Nicole Barrett says:

      I agree. I am an interpreting student at Harper College and one of my teachers shared a 42 page article, “Schools for the Deaf” I printed it and am committing it to memory. This is important cultural information to know and I believe it needs to be taught and learned. We are not just translating language we are sharing a language and a culture and this is an essential part of it.

      • Trudy Suggs says:

        Way back when I was a graduate student, I had the privilege of teaching ASL at Harper with Sally as my supervisor. I loved her high expectations, her standards and her real-world experience. The students in my class were among the most open-minded, enthusiastic, genuine people. That was a fun experience.

        • Terri Hayes says:

          hmmm – having a good grasp of where the Deaf Schools are (and were) is a nice idea – but a little bit unreasonable considering how many are closing, and how many significant schools have already closed. I am one of the few hearing people who still hold Berkeley school out and above Fremont -as I believe those Deaf who attended Berkeley do, but I’m not sure that knowledge is crucial to being a good interpreter in these days and times.
          I also suspect that expecting interpreter to know all of the name signs for all of the cities is a little bit too much of an expecation. Just one “local” example is Austin TX vs Annapolis MD vs Albany NY – and thats just three major cities for a single sign (and I know there are more – just cant bring them to mind right now).. but if you’re a VRS interpreter, you have no way to know from which area this particular person is calling – and so would have no way to predict which of these major cities that person would be intending (and that goes without mentioning all the tiny towns and villages that in any locality have assumed that sign and are in common use)…
          I am an interpreter who jumps up and down about interpreters relying too much on fingerspelling words that have no necessity to be fingerspelled – but the names of cities fall into that category of “if you want the interpreter to know what you’re talking about – you kinda need to fingerspell it” – at least the first time…
          still thinking about it…
          Terri Hayes

          • Trudy Suggs says:

            Hi, Terri! A quick response as I have three little ones flying around pretending they’re superheroes (the fourth is a new crawler–thankfully).

            I should be clearer. I didn’t mean for everyone to know the SIGNS–but rather, the NAMES of the deaf school towns. I don’t know the signs for every deaf school town, either, but I can tell you where every deaf school (still in existence or not) is. It’s not hard…just get a list of deaf schools, look at where they are, and commit that to general memory. So if someone mentions the town, you immediately know its significance.

            As for deaf schools closing down–well, there are hundreds of people who have attended schools that are now no longer open (i.e., Nebraska and South Dakota). So even if younger generations may no longer be affiliated with such towns, there are still a lot of people in their 40s, 50s and older who will mention such towns.

            So when I said I wish people knew the names of towns, I didn’t mean the signs–but rather, recognizing the names.

            • Terri Hayes says:

              I agree 100%! Thanks for the clarification!

            • Becky Stuckless says:

              I realize that there are or have been many Deaf schools, but why shouldn’t we take the time to memorize the names of them? No one expects 100% accuracy, but if you’ve committed them to memory and over time forgotten them, they will come back to you when you see them. In education, we expect students to memorize the 50 states, and their capitols even though most people never actually touch all 50 states.
              In my opinion, this is something that should be taught in Deaf Culture classes or a Deaf History class.

          • Terri, I also am a VRS interpreter who is challenged by interpreting discussions about locations I’ve never heard of, much less been to. However, since being a life long learner, I have no problem to continue to expand my lexicon of geographic signs.

            But more than that, when it is something culturally relevant to the Deaf-World like residential school signs, it is no longer just geography. It’s one of those filters that distinguishes people with cultural literacy.

            I respectfully submit that if we talk about being bi-bi interpreters, that includes understanding aspects of Deaf Culture that are significant. Regardless if schools are closing, they are still discussed among alumni and they are passionate about their alma maters. So learning them is not useless or unnecessary. It shows your willingness to stay close to the Deaf Culture core.

            In 40 years of being in the field, I have discovered that my education was regional and VRS has broadened my horizons, whether with geography, regional signs, exposure to a myriad of signing styles. Ultimately, the Deaf consumer appreciates and praises when they see a VI willing to ask and learn.

  2. Kitty LaFountain says:

    I’ve never had the honor of attending one of your workshops but have only heard wonderful, fabulous, adoring comments about(you) your workshops. Needless to say I am blind-sided also to hear about your experience and the “angry Deaf” comments.
    As a SODA,GAODC,AODN, and a wannabe Deaf person (until I truly understood the hardships of being Deaf),I’ve heard the comments of “angry Deaf person” many times. It is actually how most of my Deaf family have been described by hearing people. I often tried to explain to those unfamiliar with Deaf that it is passion, not anger. At least that is what my family has told me, and I believe them!
    It saddens me to think that an interpreter, or interpreters, would be so disrespectful and shoot “dagger-eyes” at a Deaf presenter (or a hearing presenter), to be so immature, uncaring,and ANGRY! Yes, ANGRY!
    I once was teaching Sign Language to a group of social workers and had my Deaf sister as co-teacher. She kept asking me “Mad?Why?” And as I looked upon the expressions of the students I did see anger. So, I asked them what was causing their anger? They ALL responded that they were angry they didn’t understand the Deaf person, but angry at themselves.
    Could this be what is happening?
    It is just my two cents worth and as my friend has told me repeatedly, “AND you are getting your money’s worth!”
    Do I hear an AMEN!?
    (PS: Sibling of a Deaf Adult,Great Aunt of a Deaf Child, Aunt of a Deaf Nephew, AND wife of a hearing-impaired husband)

    • Zan Thornton says:

      Awesome Trudy and Kitty and John! Right on the Point
      With a closer look, I believe its able-ism not learning or knowing these towns & schools. Able-ism (Audism?)is belief, action,behaviors that imply or expressed blatantly that hearing people are superior than Deaf/People with Disabilities and includes privilege like whispering instead of ASL. If people could just insert another group: Race, Ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, or other oppressed groups-they could envision it better.
      The “mad” issue is guilt and being challenged on privilege . At a “Deaf MH/Addiction treatment work,they installed a “bell” for the door, but no flasher/ADA compliance. Their excuse-”we are working on it”. When I explained it as “White Only” and “colored only” substituted for “Hearing” “Non Hearing/Deaf” I really pissed them off. But they “got it”.HUGS to all fighting for justice and demanding equal access for all, not just a few.

  3. John says:


    I respectfully disagree with your suggestion that these interpreters are somehow mad at themselves.

    Hearing privilege (English privelege?) affects the Deaf community the same way White privilege affects the Black community. Whether overt, subtle, or just suggested, it conveys a power over a group that is so oppressive that it is something that we all should be conscious of and guarded against.

    The vast majority of people that generate income from Deaf people, solely because of their deafness, are hearing people. This is a fact that we should all be aware of, and in many ways, ashamed of.

    It should ALWAYS be our goal to exist in a language rich environment, the least restrictive environment, regardless of the Deaf person being 6 or 60 years old. One of the easiest ways is to always use sign language when Deaf people are present. When we respect them enough to hire them as presenters, clearly we should respect their language and culture enough to communicate in a way that they have access to.

    If for some reason we need to “whisper” to someone next to us, I’m sure we can find a less power-wielding, exclusive, narcissistic, and less audist way than speaking English in the presence of a Deaf person.

    And… Sim-comm is definitely not it!

    My 2 cents.

  4. Kitty LaFountain says:

    @John, HELLO!
    I respectfully accept your disagreeing with my statement, as, thank God you have that right in our dear ole USA!
    But to your statement(concerning earning an income from Deaf):”This is a fact that we should all be aware of, and in many ways, ashamed of.” Oh my, WHY?
    Being an interpreter dating back to the ’60s (I am saving ALL the Deaf, stand aside! Equal education, moving FORWARD!, Advocacy or Interpreter, which hat should I wear? and on and on)has been an adventure. I have personally sacrificed an income in order to advocate (ain’t no money there), been dutifully employed and worked hard in every arena as an interpreter, AND, do not apologize for earning a living from interpreting for the Deaf.
    So, in your opinion (seeking your additional 2 cents worth), WHY should I be ashamed?
    (wait… I think I am at 4 cents now)

  5. Kitty LaFountain says:

    @ John,HELLO AGAIN!

    “If for some reason we need to “whisper” to someone next to us, I’m sure we can find a less power-wielding, exclusive, narcissistic, and less audist way than speaking English in the presence of a Deaf person”

    P.S. What is your suggestion to your above statement?

    • Nancy Chastain says:

      For hearing people there is NO need to whisper to the person next to us. It is equally rude to hearing and Deaf alike. If there is an emergency, there may be a need to shout and run, but not to whisper.

      • Kitty LaFountain says:

        @Nancy, HELLO! Your comments brought back a sad memory for me, “…emergency, there may be a need to SHOUT and RUN…” My former (profoundly Deaf) brother-in-law lost his toe from a motor engine breaking from the chains above his head and landing, thank God, on his foot. I say “Thank God” as the entire engine could have landed on his head instead of his foot. Had he not been constantly observing his surroundings (as he could not hear the chains breaking, or the SHOUTING of the other guys working on the engine)he would be dead. BUT he did see them RUNNING! Perhaps it would have nice if someone knew just one sign,GET-BACK!, he would’ve moved quicker??
        But I also can’t speak for those who find it necessary to “whisper”. Whether it be a true vocal whisper, or a gesture whisper, or an “ha” whisper, all of these convey a point by the WHISPERER and most points are negative.
        Long ago I realized that I have no power over the unkindness demonstrated by others. The only power I have is over my actions.
        It saddens me that Miss Trudy had to experience this unkindness.

  6. Mistie Owens says:

    Very, very poignant article! Good points discussed therein. Thank you for sharing this experience, Trudy!

  7. John says:

    We should not be ashamed that we make a living interpreting. My son and my ASL are the 2 things I’m most proud of in my life. We should be ashamed that the majority of jobs in the “sign language industry” are occupied by hearing people, resulting in the power staying in hearings hands.

    Sidebar: I used to have a wonderfully warm jacket that was originally a Sears repairman’s jacket. Wore it into the ER and the Deaf patient asked me if Sears was my “real” job.

    Note writing and texting are usually available. I’ve been to some workshops that I can honestly say I didn’t learn anything from, and I grumbled with the worst of them about it, but I chose not to do it in a way that the modality itself was insulting or oppressive.

    • Kitty LaFountain says:

      Hello John,
      Wow! such an awesome remark about your son being a priority, a source of pride! It took me years before I was able to vocalize my pride and love for my son and daughter. Such a shame to have put work as a priority over my children. So I am so glad to read of your pride in your son.
      I love your story of the Sears jacket, as I was constantly asked by my Deaf students, “you grow-up-what do work?” Ummm, let me think, ah- ha, be an interpreter for the Deaf in the school system???huh?

      And I have often noticed that even jobs marked for the Deaf end up going to the deaf. In other words those that are not profoundly Deaf, or culturally Deaf, but to those that have speech, and little understanding of being DEAF. So I now understand what you meant by US being ashamed. But still confused about what WE can do???

    • Trudy Suggs says:

      John, I’m curious about whatever happened to that Sears jacket, and how you came to get it in the first place. :)

    • Becky Stuckless says:

      While “shame” would not be the word I choose, I think the point is that as professional interpreters, we should not lose sight of the fact that we work out of neccessity for access to information. Deaf people would not choose to bring us along if they had Dr.’s, Teachers, Professsors, Lawyers who were fluent in ASL and presented their information in ASL.
      I feel like there is a sense of “debt” owed to the community. This debt is paid by contiuned involvement, ongoing respect and ongoing learning.

      I once spoke to a board member of an interpreting association that said, “I haven’t signed in many months, I’ve been on maternity leave.” I have to be honest, my first thought was WHAT?! You’re an executive on the board, and you don’t have a single Deaf person in your life to be in contact with (maybe not in person, but how about skype etc…) while on maternity leave? I hear the ‘cha chings’ of paychecks. Don’t get me wrong, I know this person “gives back” to the INTERPRETING community. But what about reciprocity to their Deaf community. And it doesn’t necessarily mean pro bono interpreting.

  8. Peggy Huber says:

    Thank you so much for sharing that very uncomfortable experience with us and opening this important issue. It does seem the participant in your workshop had a very strong response. It’s clear something in the presentation struck a nerve with the participant and her friends. It may not have been the suggestion to learn the names of cities with deaf schools – it could have been some other statement, or a string of statements that brought her to the tipping point while she was in your workshop. Unfortunately, we cannot ask her directly to see what it is that took her to that point. It may not be as simple as the power struggle that this event turned into. There does seem to be something churning below the surface that is probably a major value in her mind.

    Our only hope is that she listens to the still, small voice in her head that says, “That felt very wrong – why did I say that? Which of my values were threatened? Is this a major obstacle to providing effective interpreting services? In my efforts to protect my own values, am I willing to disregard the values of those I serve?”

    Thank you for sharing your time, energy and talent to provide opportunities for professional development. I hope to see you in California one day!

    • Trudy Suggs says:

      You have an excellent point about it maybe not necessarily being the deaf school town name issue. It’s too bad I didn’t get to talk with this particular interpreter and the others at her table. Would have answered a lot of questions. But then if we had, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to write this article.

  9. Julie Alsaker says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience at the workshop and perspective as a whole. Being an idealist, I sincerely hope the attendee was just having a very bad day, and would not behave in such an unprofessional, rude way on a regular basis. Yikes!

  10. Trudy Suggs says:

    I appreciate the positive feedback (believe you me, it is greatly welcomed). This happened in May, and I am still processing it even today. I’ll try to respond to a few key points people have mentioned here.

    First, I agree that there is never an acceptable reason to whisper without signing when in Deaf people’s presence. As someone said, if it is necessary, leave the room. It’s possible to whisper in sign language, of course. Besides, why would anyone skip the opportunity to sign at all times? It’s great practice. (And yes, I wrote about this once…it’s on my personal site at http://www.trudysuggs.com).

    Kitty, I love your energy! I initially did think perhaps it was the way I said something, because I can come across as straightforward. But I talked with the participants; they said I was clearly not too serious as I made the town name signs comment, which was made in passing as I said. Even if I was and am straightforward, that’s because of who I am–not because I am Deaf or use ASL. I am this way by nature, and it has nothing to do with my culture and/or language. It’s got everything to do with my personality (just ask my mother what I was like when I was a toddler!), who I am, and so on. I mean, I can name at least 50 people I know who are really upfront…all hearing. So, while I do understand where you’re coming from, I don’t know that it was necessarily a linguistic misunderstanding, especially based on how this participant responded.

    I do, however, think my comment–and the other Deaf people’s comments–struck a nerve in her. I also think she came in with preconceived notions, which was apparent from how she and her friends were talking without signing from the very beginning and their overall demeanor. I also really wish I responded better, and had simply ignored her comment instead of asking her to explain.

    My greater concern, though, is not her responses or anything. It is more her group’s willingness to immediately dismiss several Deaf people’s experiences and label us. The Deaf people in attendance are incredibly NICE people and definitely well-respected leaders in their communities on a statewide level. I was really appreciative that they not only paid money to participate in the conference, but also shared their expertise and experiences without being paid. Why any “outsider” (for lack of a better word) would immediately dismiss their (and my) experiences is beyond me. I can’t imagine them doing that if we were of a different minority, especially if we were of another ethnicity.

    I’m just very, very glad that my subsequent workshops went quite well. This experience really shook me for a few weeks, needless to say. Despite having done workshops for 15 years, I thought about not doing another interpreting workshop again, but then I realized that people like this group are exactly why Deaf people need to provide more–not fewer–workshops and sharing of our experiences, whether hearing people like to hear our “venting” or not.

    I’ve gotten quite a few e-mails about where people can contact me for workshops; you can visit http://www.tswriting.com and submit a contact form there. Again, I truly, deeply appreciate all of your support. I was actually a bit hesitant about sharing my experiences because I didn’t want to be divisive and be criticized any further…because I truly don’t think the disrespect exhibited to the Deaf people at the workshop was a deaf-hearing issue. Although it boils down to privilege, it was really the (un?)intentional acts of a very few people that caused so much offense.

    Anyway, I ramble. Thanks again.

    • Kitty LaFountain says:

      Thanks Trudy! As I get older I am finding that the word “energy” doesn’t seem to apply to me, so THANKS!
      I do have a suggestion, as your comment was that: ” But I talked with the participants; they said I was clearly not too serious as I made the town name signs comment,… ” When you say “participants” are you referring to the rude folks? Or is it even a possibility to discuss this matter with them? or did they RUN for their lives when the workshop was over? I strongly suggest you get more feedback from these rude folks directly, as other participates can’t answer for them. You might find that these folks are inexperienced,and, as you stated angry over something else. Sadly, until you can have this conversation with the RUDE ONES, you will never know the true answer,we can only keep guessing. BUT, THANK GOD, you are getting through this, you are carrying on, and one day I’ll get to attend your workshop!!

  11. Tiffany Tuccoli says:

    Dear Ms. Suggs,

    I wrote an entire thesis on the concept of Hearing Privilege. If you would like to read it, please let m know. Thank you for sharing your experience. I believe hearing people need to be aware of their privileges in order to become allies with the Deaf community.

  12. Mike Cahill says:

    Ms Suggs -

    I’ve heard great things about your workshops, and I haven’t been in interpreting for ten years. If you’ve been doing this for 15 years and this kind of episode is so unique that it’s bothered you for months, it can only be another testament to how good your work is.

    In every group of would-be interpreters I’ve been in, there’s always been a subgroup who sit in the back, cling to each other doing the same rude nonsense you had to put up with, don’t associate with Deaf, generally can’t sign worth a fig, and drop out of the whole enterprise in a year or two. Yay Darwin.

    You can’t figure out what you should have done differently because you shouldn’t have done anything differently. =). I’m just sorry you’ve had to carry this with you.

    I’m planning to get back into the field sometime soon and am looking forward to attending one of these world-class workshops! Thanks for all you do.

  13. Mike Cahill says:

    And sorry for projecting… When something sticks with me like that, I’m chewing on what I could have done differently. You probably know better. =)

    • Trudy Suggs says:

      Mike, projecting is just dandy. I am still chewing on what I could have done differently–so I need to really “accept” that I shouldn’t have done anything differently. I just wish I hadn’t gotten visibly irritated…if only I were a cool, calm, collected personality. I can see my family snorting in laughter at that.

  14. Maria Holloway says:

    I find it incredibly disappointing to know that people I might (initially) consider colleagues could behave so callously. It makes me angry to know they would so openly and as you said, flippantly, dismiss your (and the Deaf participants’) comments about Deaf school city names.

    In my assessment, this interpreter (or group of interpreters) was behaving in an incredibly disrespectful manner. I agree with you 100% that their behavior displays cultural illiteracy, and if you ask me, they did not deserve to even attend your workshop.

    Early in this piece, you mention feeling perplexed by the mood in the room, noting that it was tense. I would venture to guess that what you sensed had nothing to do with the lighting or room set-up and instead had everything to do with their negative attitudes. People like this seem to have a knack for having a downright toxic effect on those around them.

    It’s really quite unfortunate that you (and the Deaf participants) had to deal with such a difficult person (persons) during your workshop. That said, I hope that the support you’ve received from many since posting this piece helps to outweigh the offense caused by a few.

    You’re absolutely right…”Deaf people need to provide more–not fewer–workshops and sharing of (y)our experiences”. Doing so strengthens our community and provides an invaluable service. Thank you!!

    • Trudy Suggs says:

      Maria, I agree with your read on the room’s mood. That was my initial assessment, and is what I think today as well. Still, I can’t answer for the participants.

      Thank you, Maria–hope to see you again in person sometimes soon!

  15. Kathy says:

    I am hearing & a signer, (not an interpreter). The very basic ASL classes that I took always emphasized that when in the presence of a Deaf person, always sign. It’s rude not to. The same applies if several hearing people who speak English are together, and two decide to talk in Spanish, Chinese, or other language unknown to everyone, and not share with the others….is just plain RUDE! (Sometimes I forget this rule myself, so this is a good reminder to me when I’m in a mixed Deaf/hearing group.)

    As for your misfortune of having those few students challenge you on your desire for interpreters to learn city signs that mean something to the Deaf community…..isn’t that why they took the workshop in the first place? To understand the Deaf so they can provide better interpreting services? Please don’t let them upset you. They won’t have many Deaf clients asking for them with their attitude. They are the ones with the problem, not you. Move on to the 98 percent who really want to learn.

  16. Great to see a Deaf person’s perspective here, and even more so to watch this article in ASL. I appreciate the time and care you took to analyze this experience from various points of view including how you felt about it and why you felt that way. Please keep sharing your consumer perspective and educating us interpreters! You and your children, whose future you care about, remind me of why it’s so important that we do the best job we can to provide the best communication access possible.

  17. Teresa says:

    I am hearing, who signs, not interpreter, and have many deaf friends. Yes the whisperer’s were being RUDE! There are rude people every where, in every culture. At work there are a people who whisper in my presence That is rude but I don’t take is personally. I chalk it up to “they are rude”.
    When I go to a “silent supper” (A place for students to learn, to immerse in ASL) is it not rude for the deaf to ignore me and take this time to catch up with each other? Just saying.

    • Trudy Suggs says:

      Teresa, interesting point you make here. I’ve never been to a silent supper–but I would agree that the point of such gatherings are to give students of the language opportunities to interact with Deaf people. That’s another article, though–and an interesting topic at that.

      I’m reminded of a quote by John Locke: “There cannot be greater rudeness than to interrupt another in the current of his discourse.” That somewhat applies in this situation…although I’m always open to interruptions as long as they’re genuinely “healthy.”

      • Terri Hayes says:

        hmmm – I’m sitting here thinking about this idea of “whispering” as rude. I’m not sure it is. At least from my perspective… (and I’m not at all saying its appropriate to whispter without signing when in the company of Deaf)… but I am a very social person- and also very talkative (and I also function pretty “deaf”.. in that my language goes in better when its in some form of exchange… like many Deaf – its harder for me to just sit and passivily listen.. so I tend to talk my way through stuff). So when I go to a workshop and something is said that resonantes with me, I might lean over to my friend (and sometimes not my friend) to make a comment to the point. (whispering and/or signing low)… this comment is not intended to derail the workshop – its not intended to be shared with everyone.. (people would (and do) get pretty frustrated with an interactive listener… its just a way to bring the information in – and assimilate it.
        I dont go to many workshops unless I’m interpreting for it because of this. When I’m interpreting – I’m busy – I’m interacting with the information (and with the reciever of the information).. and I’m not a distraction.
        … now I undertand that the scenarion in this workshop was not speaking to this type of whispered exchange… your experience was toxic… and targeted… but I am saying that while we’re establishing comments of rude behavior – we might want to think of some other reasons why this behavior can happen and understand that its not always simply blatant rudeness.
        still thinking about it -
        Terri Hayes

  18. gina oliva says:

    Hey Trudy!
    It was great to see your name here on Street Leverage and I am so glad you told this story. It made me very angry, especially that this individual would argue with you, the presenter – on a point where you are clearly the expert. Absolutely unacceptable.
    Please don’t give up your workshops. We need you to continue.
    All the best!!

  19. Laurie Barry says:

    To begin with, thank you for posting this. I plan to share it with my entire class. Secondly, had my hearing teacher of Sign, a Coda with a ton of deaf family, heard those interpreters…he would have thrown them out or put them on the spot enough that they would have left on their own, let alone notifying the agency they were affiliated with. This is not acceptable behavior in the Interpreting World. It has been drilled into our heads that every part of Deaf Culture should be important and respected by us. Last month I went to lunch with an acquaintance of mine solely to interview her. She had went to Lexington School for the Deaf in New York. I love learning people’s life stories. When you do more workshops don’t hold back because of this. I am still an interpreting student, but I know that most of us hunger for this kind of information. The poor behaviors of that group were selfish, disrespectful and an embarrassment to the Interpreting Profession, the Deaf World and the Hearing World, and really in any realm of human interaction period. Shame on them. From my experience they are not a true representation of the opinions of Interpreters. From what you wrote it seems you handled yourself well. I however, will definitely be looking for any workshops to attend of yours in the future.

  20. Shannon Groat says:

    Wow!!! You truly are a AMAZING woman! I think you did a fantastic job with this article, I wish I was in your workshop!!! People are so quick to label us as a “deaf person,” not just a “person.” We are all the same. We are not like aliens, we look just like hearing people, we just don’t have hearing! Keep up the FANTASTIC work, I am proud just knowing that you are standing up for all deaf people! So I THANK YOU!!!!

  21. Trudy,

    Thank you for sharing your experience. As a fellow presenter, I feel the pain of doing what you love to do in an energy that is less than fully supportive. As you well know this is not easy work; the relationship between Deaf and hearing communities complex, the interactions between and even within communities not always pleasant, and the manner in which we treat one another sometimes much less than we are capable of.

    As I read through your post and the subsequent comments what I see is a need for each of us in the profession to take a good, hard and brutally honest look at what triggers us and why. The field of interpreting is at a point in it’s development where we can begin to consider pairing skill development with opportunities for greater self-awareness, self-expansion (on a soul level) and compassion. Perhaps it is time to turn some attention to supporting one another in bringing the best “me” to each interaction, provide aid to the places in each of us that are wounded, and help one another recognize that those places in us that our wounded then wound others…the time to heal and move on is now.

    In the month I have seen someone I care about very deeply lose two friends and members of our community. I have witnessed her hold space for these blessed souls as they made their transition. I have felt the pain of her loss…and I know I’m not the only one who is bearing witness to these events. I have seen heartbreak in the lives of people’s whose homes are being consumed by wildfires and other natural disasters, and animals who are losing their lives to human carelessness.

    In light of it all, it saddens me to continue to see us treat each other in ways that deviate so greatly from what and who we Truly are. I personally am committed to making each interaction I am blessed to be a part of as uplifting and authentic as I am able to in the moment, and I see a growing population of peers committed to doing the same. We all need healing on some level, and perhaps we have been placed in one another’s path to do just that – help one another heal. I hope that your experience enables greater awareness and the beginning/deepening of the healing process for all who are touched by it. Thank you for sharing…

    With heartfelt appreciation and respect,

    • Trudy Suggs says:

      Amy–this is perfectly said: “I hope that your experience enables greater awareness and the beginning/deepening of the healing process for all who are touched by it.” Thank you.

  22. Larry says:

    By now, the hearing people who were in Trudy’s workshop have seen this. I’d love to hear the ‘other side of the story.” Come on out now people! Don’t be afraid. Tell your viewpoint! Or at least, write an article for “Street Leverage!”

  23. Trudy Suggs says:

    Larry–thanks for your post. I’m afraid that some of the people who don’t know you (and I do, fortunately–you’re a great friend) won’t understand the intent of your posting. I also want to point out that the majority of the workshop participants were hearing and very respectful. I do not want this to become a hearing vs. deaf issue.

    This is a cultural respect issue–and as we can see, these disruptive participants do not represent the majority of interpreters–at least, those who have reached out to me either via e-mail or this website–and I don’t want your post to come across as goading or shaking things up. The way your post is written, it almost seems as if you’re inviting a clash of sorts. This isn’t my goal, of course. I just want to remind people of the importance of respect (in both directions) and avoiding preconceived (or putting aside) notions when attending a workshop.

    • Larry says:

      HI Trudy,
      My post was not to shake things up, or goad. As many presentations as I’ve done, like you, from where we stand at the front of the group, and what happens in the back of the room is always different.
      Since we have to switch between cultures in our field of interpreting, I remain curious about the hecklers in your presentation, simply for the viewpoint that they present.
      Yes, it does not reflect on the majority of attendees, but still, one we have to deal with on a daily basis.

      My apologies if that’s how my message came off otherwise.

      • Trudy Suggs says:

        Ha–don’t think I’d call them “hecklers,” but that’s an interesting choice of words. Food for thought. No worries–just wanted to make sure the intent of your message was clear. Thanks for all that you do for the CDI community!

  24. June P. says:

    One thing you wrote about has clearly pointed out my disappointment often times in any interpreting conferences or workshops– that is not signing in public, during banquet, luncheons, etc….. I would have loved to have the opportunity to scan around and decide on MY OWN which conversation to join in rather than those non-signers individuals DECIDE FOR ME. Those not signing at the table during a banquet/luncheon, AUTOMATICALLY DECIDE FOR ME where I can sit. Naturally, I will keep scanning until I find a signing table (sad to say, if I am lucky!!!)

    One can argue that at the conference or workshop, it is the hearing interpreters’ day off, they can choose to use their native communication mode, speaking & not signing. I totally respect that!!! I do!!!!! They have every right to do so.

    Yet, I don’t like the idea of having to constantly tell the hearing persons I am deaf, please sign at an interpreter conference or interpreter workshop every time I approach the individual or group. I might as well wear a silly name tag saying, “I’m Deaf, please sign!”

    And, to join in a group blindly and unknowingly what they are talking about and then to say please sign so I can decide whether or not to stay in the group for a conversation is a bit ridiculous, in my opinion.

    I hope in the future the environment will become much more sign friendly.

    • Trudy Suggs says:

      Hi, June! Don’t know if you remember the forum we were at in the 2006 article I cited above…I remember being relieved that I wasn’t the only one who felt completely shut out. But you are *absolutely* right–I do the same in “scanning until I find a signing table…”

      What I have been fascinated, but not surprised, by is how every Deaf person I talk to says, “Nothing new!” about my experiences. I totally understand that it is natural for hearing people to automatically speak without signing, but it is simply–as you said–”ridiculous” to have to ask people to sign.

      I’m also grateful that people like you continue working and attending such events, because then I’m not so left out. :)

  25. Marcy says:

    I just want to say that you handled this situation with class and respect, so do not let it shake you!! I do agree with you that this is not a Deaf vs. Hearing issue … It is rather an issue of respect ,ethics, and personality! These individuals displayed a complete lack of respect to, not only you and the other Deaf attendees, but all the attendees who undoubtedly understood your point! At the point others stepped up to help her understand, she obviously put up a wall to refuse any idea that did not agree with her (almost like a temper tantrum)! The feedback they left afterwards was simply their attempt to hurt and have the last word.

    I believe that most people that become Interpreters do so because they care and want to support the Deaf community, however, with that said we have to remember that there are bad apples in every group! I can bet that there are some who learn ASL (or ANY language) simply to know what is being said — they have no real goal to be an honorable person (I am sure some will be upset with me for saying that, but it is a fact)! These individuals seem to be that type since they blatantly ignored the rules of the workshop (which is not a new request for these events)! Also remember that she was the negative person and I have NO doubt that she would have reacted the same way if it was coming from a hearing person or another minority (this is something I have a lot of experience with as I am of mixed ethnicity – native American / white / Italian … I am hearing but as I get older it is fading))! Her personality is such that it did not matter who the information came from, she would have been just as disrespectful! I would have been one of the people that challenged her comments if I had been there! This went beyond “healthy disagreement” or “challenging”!! I feel that individuals like that should be reported just as anyone else who holds a license or certification so this behavior is not allowed to continue because it is unacceptable. I commend your professionalism in handling someone like that!

    • Trudy Suggs says:

      You know what–it’s interesting, because I thought this particular participant was a really fluent signer (not native-level, but fluent) and would have allowed her to interpret for me…of course, that was before the conflict. And that goes back to the basics of what makes a good interpreter. We all talk about it throughout our interpreting careers, but attitude and open-mindness really are key elements. And this incident really drives that home.

      Thanks, Marcy. Appreciate the support.

  26. Hi Trudy~
    Thanks for posting!

    Two thoughts:
    1. I would hope that the other interpreters would advocate during the workshop for respectful interactions and express gratitude for the opportunity to learn from each other. Sometimes we are so shocked or surprised that we don’t respond at the moment, but think about it later. This is a good reminder to be aware and ready to address rudeness during conferences.

    2. It is shocking that an interpreter, who should have had extensive exposure to the pervasive oppression and pain experienced by Deaf/Hard of Hearing/DeafBlind individuals due to lack of communication (at home, at work, in social settings, in educational settings etc…) It comes up regularly and should be infused into the interpreter’s cultural consciousness.

    Hope to attend one of your workshops someday! Come visit WA!

    • Trudy Suggs says:

      I’d love to come to Washington! :)

      I think that’s exactly what happened (your first point). I saw a lot of interpreters visibly bothered by the interpreters who weren’t signing (and one was speaking loudly enough that she had to be asked by another interpreter to not use her voice).

      I also think some interpreters were probably intimidated by my obvious frustration and didn’t want to set me off any further, so they decided to stay quiet…and then of course, there are those who prefer to talk one-on-one instead of standing up in front of everyone. Most of us do not want to draw attention to ourselves in the midst of a conflict, of course. I was quite grateful for the ones who came up to me afterwards and shared their insights. It helped–a lot.

  27. Evelyn says:

    Trudy, thank you for writing this and sharing your experience. I recently attended an interpreting conference and witnessed the same behavior (it is unfortunately way too common) and even attended the recent DeafNation World Expo with a hearing person who’s fiance is Deaf and who’s goal is to become an interpreter, and who almost never signed the entire trip. I was shocked, but her behavior made me realize how there are many hearing people who just don’t understand the impact of their actions on the people around them. She legitimately saw nothing wrong with sitting in a group of 15-20 Deaf and putting her hands in her lap because she “didnt feel like signing” or her comments were directed at a hearing person. For me it was definitely a lesson in seeing how perspectives can be so in opposition among people who identify as part of the same professional group. And in all honesty I don’t know that I will ever be able to look past this kind of behavior.
    It is especially troubling for me to feel like I have worked incredibly hard to become as knowledgable and culturally aware and sentitive as I can as NERD (Not Even remotely Related to a Deaf Adult) and then see people who don’t share my…enthusiasm? Drive? Simpley make all of that seem irrelevant because now people will see us equally as audists because of some superficial association. Those who set a bad example for the profession of interpreting make me feel embarassed at times to be hearing and ashamed of the state of my profession. I make it one of my goals to work with people to help them see the world through the eyes of their privaledge and realize that they must be able to recognize others life experience in a respectful way and value the broader way of seeing the world.

    I would also like to comment on Teresa’s statement about silent dinners. ‘Is it rude for Deaf to show up and catch up with each other’? In my opinion as a person who has studied ASL and Deaf Culture (among other things) for years and who makes a point to be as active and involved in the Deaf community and the lives of my Deaf social network – I have to say a slightly alarmed, no. Remember that historically, the Deaf community cherishes the times they are able to commincate face to face with others who share their language modality and culture experience and that these times are far less frequent then experienced by hearing people.
    In my opinion as a student, if these people don’t make a point to talk to you, respect that. Make a point to really think about why you feel their behavior is rude and take into account how your experience as now being the cultural and language minority in the room for the first time is affecting your emotions, enjoy and be grateful for the experience of being immersed in a visual language environment, and make it a point to later seek out these people and build your own relationships with them so in the future, you are one of the people they want to catch up with.
    Try to understand their reasons for seeking out eachother with an open and respectful mind, and do your part in bridging the gap by making it your job to approach them. It may be a silent social event, but that doesn’t make it the Deaf participants job to work through the room mingling with the ASL students. The Deaf group is always easy to spot, go introduce yourself. They won’t bite. :)

    • Kitty LaFountain says:

      Ah Evelyn your last sentence, “The Deaf group is always easy to spot, go introduce yourself. They won’t bite. ” brings back YET another memory. It was 1980 and I had enlisted in the US Army and was transported to the Atlanta International Airport where I sat in the cafe area with over 20 other recruits. As I glanced around at the other civilians eating their snacks I noticed a Deaf couple. I immediately waved at them and started signing. We were close enough that we didn’t have to leave our tables. Immediately the couple to my left also started signing at the three of us, and then the couple behind me started signing. I was surrounded by Deaf folks heading out on their vacations! We all laughed and signed and the biggest question to me was “WHY? join Army, WHY?” I still laugh at that memory and how special I felt to have so many “friends” around me and saying prayers for me. You are right, Deaf people don’t bite, they love!

  28. Paul says:

    read and watch vlog. Agreed what you said. Privilege and motivation behind to put up it. Secondly, no matter what depend who can read non marker signals and non verbal signals gives many messages or symbols that lead to many assumptions without check or ask to make sure if same page or meaning before can move to next one. Mostly, I noticed their first impression when see eye brows movements and assume quick before read the message with good content. Often mislead the information. Suggestions that VRS/VRI industry should develop standardized signs for cultural appropriation like deaf schools or connection before they can begin to work for industry. There are many factors out there with various demography, philosophy, values and attitudes contributes. Many of them do for bread and butter but not respect their values of their culture. Attitudes always tells truth and determinate if want to work with or not. It is not easy to deal with it. You handle beautiful job.

  29. Duane Rumsey says:

    Hi Trudy
    I’m going to refrain from trying to figure out the reason why that group and the one participant behaved the way they did. I’m going to provide my comments based on being a long-time instructor and presenter.

    First of all, I’m sure you’ve experienced that it’s not possible to please everyone every time. Obviously, this group was one of those groups.

    I think one of the things this experience helps you look at is how you were affected by their lack of signing. Most of us (presenters) have pet-peeves or things that annoy us. It would appear that talking and not signing is something that you do not appreciate from your participants. I make this assumption because you state that you told them no less than four times to stop doing it during your presentation. If this is something that you know about yourself as a presenter, then I would recommend that you state it in the very beginning of your presentation, and if you find it to be something that you are especially sensitive to, that not only do you state it in the beginning, but that it comes with the additional piece that tells participants that they will be asked to leave if they can’t respect the rules of the room. At the beginning of my presentations, I make it a habit to establish “rules of the room”. I have different rules for each type of presentation I do. For example if it’s a hands-on workshop, I let the participants know that if they try to avoid the hands-on activity that I will “help them” participate. Obviously, in workshops we use humor and such to convey these things, but they can tell it will be a great workshop but that I’m serious about the rules. You may already do this, since many presenters do, however, the things you are most concerned with, I would encourage you to add the consequence of not following the more serious rules.

    The thing about this type of situation that you experienced is that you get to be self-reflective about how you present. In some cases we find that the things that irritate us, we just need to figure out how to let-go. For example, one thing that drives me crazy is people coming and going at-will. In my college classes, this is one of my rules that they remain in class the whole time, but in my workshops, I have had to learn to let this go. It was not easy and even after all these years, it still annoys me a bit, but realizing that this is not a college class, I need to allow some flexibility in their comings-and-goings that I don’t in college.

    To sum this up, either create rules of the room (with consequences for the things that bug you the most) or learn to let it go. I can’t advise you which is best, this is something you know about yourself. These kinds of experiences give us opportunities to learn more about ourselves.

    That is my input presenter to presenter.

  30. Sheryl says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I think there are some individuals who feel threatened by outspoken and well spoken deaf people. The threat they perceive as a challenge to their power and they try to display that power in disrespectful ways, the whispering, facial expressions, rude comments, and challenges. They do not realize how audist they come across. It’s easier for them to label you an angry Deaf person. Unfortunately all the discussion in the world won’t change them! I’m sure you are familiar with the sterotypical “angry black woman”. We are not really all angry folks just feel threatened when we speak out.

    Sign me labeled an “Angry Black Deaf Woman”

    • Terri Hayes says:

      Trudy, just a note – I think that anyone who stands up with an idea about how to make the environment more Deaf friendly is going to be labled “angry”… its an affront to all of the interpreters who suspect they are being held responsible to make the world a better place -but who simply dont have the time or the inclination. Most interpreters “gave at the office” (every time they go to work) – and the majority are no longer those people who were Deaf-Made, having come into the world through the assimilation of Culture through language.. most interpreters today are “educated”.. and they have very clear “boundaries”… they’re not here to make your experience better – but to “do their job” and “live their lives”…
      sad – frustrating at times.. but more and more – true.
      and if you (or I) have the nerve to suggest that they should step out even one more step in the best interest of the whole – they you’re just askign too much –
      and if you insist – you’re angry. (mostly – because they’re angry)
      I am hearing – and I am an interpreter (Deaf-made) and I have been accused of being angry to exactly the same reasons you were – and in very similar situations.
      its not because you’re Deaf –
      there are deeper undercurrents of sh*t floating through our pseudo-shared “worlds”…
      Thinking of you (in case you remember me… but knowing that it is far easier for me to remember you than likewise ) and hoping you’re doing well.
      Terri Hayes
      currently in Rochester NY

  31. Dan Parvaz says:


    I’m still scratching my head over why this suggestion (that sign language interpreters know something about the lives of Deaf people, including where the schools are located) was seen as such a big deal. In fact, it makes sense that this be made a part of ITP curricula, since it is really basic information. Now, there may be quibbles about details, but the point you and the other Deaf participants were making was basically a no-brainer.

    The only thing that might clarify this hostile response is that they really *had* encountered an “angry Deaf” person (and yes, they’re out there, just like there are paternalistic interpreters), and for some reason went into the workshop with their defenses already up. And maybe they just felt guilty. People act weirdly when they feel their backs are against the wall.

    Again, not excusing the appalling lack of manners, or the way in which you were treated. It just seems to me that there’s something there that more dialogue (and your blog post is part of that) might be able to fix. I live in hope.



  32. Laurie Barry says:

    These posts have been helpful to me. I had no idea that a deaf person scans the room to sit with those signing. It makes sense but that hadn’t occurred to me. When I first started signing and went to deaf events I signed and talked, but was encouraged by a peer to only sign. At the time, my skills were very low and I was intimidated in the company of the better signers. I have found the more I sign the more help I receive if I’m wrong. Now I get excited before deaf events for the chance to be able to sign with everybody. I wish everywhere I go all people could sign.

  33. Laura W says:

    Love, love, love this article! I’m a hearing interpreter and am always disappointed and saddened when I notice interpreters who react with what to me is intolerance toward Deaf individuals and Deaf culture. I have attended Deaf-lead workshops and also have seen this disrespectful and frankly, condescending attitude by hearing interpreters toward expert Deaf presenters. Sad to say, I feel there is far too much audism (unintentional yet blatant) among hearing interpreters. The answer I think is more multicultural awareness and training as well as strongly urging/possibly mandating participation in Deaf community events. One thing that also puzzles me is that RID-NAD NIC certified Terps are required to be members of RID but not NAD even though the certification itself is supposed to be attached to both orgs.

    • Trudy Suggs says:

      That’s an interesting observation re: the NAD/RID attachment…hadn’t considered that. Hmmm….I’ll have to look into that and see what the rationale behind that is. Thanks for bringing that up.

  34. Deb says:

    As an interpreter, I fear referring to those people as “peers”. And here is one scary thought: The local ITP, not far from where you presented, does not employ ANY Deaf instructors for these future interpreters. Nope, not one. So their lack of cultural sensitivity and their unprofessionalism unfortunately does not surprise me, although their behavior does still astound me.

    Workshop presenters deserve attention and respect but it sounds like that group would have been rude no matter what the topic.

    Thanks for posting this article. I enjoyed it and the many commments.

  35. Joe Lucas says:

    Hi Trudy!

    Long time no see! I absolutely loved this article (not because of what happened to you, but because I agree with you and your feelings). I think this is a macro level issue rather than the micro level issue (knowing the names of the cities where Deaf schools are). The macro level issue is that the majority of interpreters are not fluent users of the language and are not involved in the Deaf community. They go to school to learn ASL for an employment goal. I often hear interpreters complaining about “having to” sign at conferences and they aren’t working and should be able to use their first language. Their focus is often through the lens of “me me me.” It is unfortunate. I recently finished a presenting at several RID conferences and chose to present in ASL for all of my presentations and it was interesting to see the backlash from hearing interpreters about this. My point was that I prefer to model inclusive language AND I think it is important for interpreters to use the language outside of work (that is where increased fluency takes place).

    I don’t know the answer, but it is disappointing to know that the majority of interpreters lack culture competence and linguistic fluency.

    • Trudy Suggs says:

      Hi Joe! Always good to see your name.

      Curious–what was the backlash primarily directed at? That they didn’t want you to present in ASL? Or…what was the reasoning for their, for lack of a better word, discomfort with your presenting in ASL?

      • Joe Lucas says:

        A couple different things. Some just didn’t want to receive the content in ASL (complaints of eye strain/fatigue) and then others just felt it was silly for me to present when most people present were hearing and using English. I live in DC and using inclusive language is the norm here so I didn’t think about it much, but as I traveled it was interesting to see the differences. In the Midwest there were no complaints, but in the mountain/plain states it was a HUGE issue.

  36. Phlip says:

    Thank you, Trudy. I’ve noticed at some workshops I’ve attended, an undercurrent of hearing passive aggressiveness. It’s not always, indeed, most have been like the positive ones you described. The non-signers make me crazy, as in “who do they think they are?” It represents a complete lack of interest in attempting to understand the “other” perspective. As a hearing interpreter and non-CODA, I have access to both languages and can move freely between them. I will admit to eye/mind fatigue after a 3-4 hour workshop entirely in ASL, but that won’t stop me from picking up my hands. Nonetheless, interpreters will keep yapping, even as I’m signing directly to them. The oppression I feel is very different from what you feel, it doesn’t even deserve the title “oppression”. It is actually just a gross form of peer pressure tension. They are exerting pressure on me to talk, and I am exerting pressure on them to sign.

    The story you tell is as predictable as it is unfortunate, and I sincerely wish it were neither.

    • Phlip says:

      Let me clarify: I emphasize hearing non-CODA to make the point that even though I am neither Deaf nor CODA, I still value picking up my hands, I still value the language, and I still recognize that I owe my career and L2 ENTIRELY to the Deaf community, and therefore strive to be an ally to the culture, admitting how little I know, and promising never to stop learning.

  37. Lori Milcic says:

    Thank you, Trudy, for sharing this information. As someone who is part of the hearing majority, it is apparent to me that we just don’t get what it’s like to be the minority. I’m sorry for the behaviors you encountered in that room. And I’m grateful that there are Deaf people out there who are willing to share their experiences with us. The one thing that I’m thankful for regarding this exchange, is that you’ve brought to my attention that I, myself, could use another look at what I say and how I say it. I don’t think I’ve ever been so blatantly & purposefully rude (at least I hope not!!) but I suspect that there have been many times when I’ve probably been completely unaware of my oppressive behavior. Bad days, ignorance and just the fact that we cannot ever understand fully what it’s like to live as a minority can factor into these kinds of awful exchanges. And let’s not forget that regardless of hearing status, some people just have a personality for angst! (Example, I tend to talk over EVERYONE not just Deaf. Lol. I’m just so full of stuff I have to get it out. May come off as oppressive or rude and I try to keep it in check…not always successfully.)

    You are courageous for standing up to “the man”! I hope I have the opportunity to attend one of your workshops in the future. I also intend to share this with my students!

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