At times it can be very difficult to be a sign language interpreter. We put our reputations on the line each and every day we raise our hands to work. We navigate new environments and new subject matter on a regular basis. We suffer vicariously as a result of inhumane acts. Worse, we do all of this with extremely limited amounts of information.
The resulting—often intense—occupational self-interest, leaves us vulnerable to the notion that people understand why what we do is important, the reason certain practices are critical to our work, and the effort it takes to be a good interpreter.
The challenge with this assumption is that it may lead us to the perception that we have the right to the attention of our consumers and the purchaser of our services. Simply, we have the right—or responsibility as the case may be—to prevail upon those we encounter on the job that challenge our practices or take an opposing view of a particular situation in an effort to help them, “get it.”
While we are often victorious in these moments of tactical “education,” the damage found in the aftermath can be significant. These moments can result in the disenfranchisement of our consumers, marginalization of the interests of those who purchase our services, and our succumbing to one or more of The Three Temptations of a Sign Language Interpreter. None of which is good for us individually or collectively as a profession.
If we were to step back and consider the notion that the purchasers of our service are indifferent, though they provide it, to the importance of the work we do as sign language interpreters, does it change our perspective to the right we have to their attention? Or, how we go about earning that attention?
If we consider that the consumers of our service may have little to no interest in the effort it takes to become a professional, qualified, credentialed sign language interpreter, does that change our perspective about right we have to their attention or how we go about earning it?
If as a sign language interpreter, we are faced with indifference, a lack of interest, or a worldview that doesn’t resonate with ours, what do we do to earn the social currency necessary to perform our work?
Tell the Right Story
The answer to this question can be found in an example that exists in every sign language interpreting community around the globe.
In each local interpreting community there is an interpreter who isn’t particularly amazing, they might even be considered below average. Interestingly though they seem to always have work and consumers and purchasers of our service love them. Additionally, these communities also have an interpreter who is incredibly talented and clearly above average when compared to their peers. Yet, they struggle to piece opportunities together.
The first likely brings generosity and humility to their work. They understand that the consumers and purchasers of their service don’t owe them attention. In response, this interpreter chooses to tell a story through their approach to and interactions about the work. They tell a story that resonates with those they come in contact with and is considerate of their point of view.
The latter likely brings a perspective that they are owed attention as a result of the investment they have made in their skillset and career. Their story is a story of entitlement. One where the slant goes unchecked, as suggested in Do You Resemble the Sign Language Interpreter in Your Head?
Determine What’s Important
As sign language interpreters, we are good at deciphering meaning. We need to use this skill to determine what’s important to those we serve and those that engage our services. We can do this by evaluating our answers to the following questions:
1. How is my work and occupational self-interest perceived by those I serve and those who engage my services?
2. How can my work today best assist consumers and purchasers in accomplishing their ends? How can I demonstrate my understanding of that?
3. From the consumer and purchaser’s point of view, what adds the most value by my being present today? How can I amplify that?
4. Whose agenda is the most important in the room? Why? How can I support that agenda?
5. How can I approach my work to extend ample generosity, demonstrate an appropriate level of humility, and show clarity about my role?
By considering the answer to these questions, we place ourselves in the position of the consumer and purchaser. It offers us a perspective that helps us tell a story through our work that resonates with those we come in contact with while on the job.
At the End of the Day
In the end, let’s remember that as sign language interpreters we are not owed the attention necessary to do our work—we need to earn it. Further, that the consumers and purchasers of our service are engaging us for the story we tell. Let’s be sufficiently generous about how we tell it.
How do you know if you are telling the right story?