A Salute to Big Thinking Sign Language Interpreters

StreetLeverage-Live - Thought Leadership EventWhat do projectile vomiting, cancelled and delayed flights, and an unrelenting Nor’easter have in common? StreetLeverage—Live. As anyone who has organized a live event will tell you, there are always unforeseen challenges that arise and StreetLeverage—Live had its fair share. Despite these challenges, the event was a success.

Talent Salute

I salute Nigel Howard, Trudy Suggs, Lynette Taylor, and Wing Butler, the inaugural speakers of StreetLeverage—Live, for their commitment to the field and its next evolution, the courage to openly share their big ideas, and the considerable effort made to effectively pack these ideas into a concise 20-ish minute talk. No small task to be sure. These independent thinkers are people who require more of themselves, those around them, and of the status quo.

Nigel, Trudy, Lynnette and Wing, you guys killed it! Nicely done.

A Recap

Nigel HowardNigel Howard

Nigel presented, Deaf Interpreters: The State of Inclusion. His talk explored some of the perceptions that challenge better integration of deaf interpreters into the field and into daily practice. Most notably, the perception that ASL-English interpreters have that requesting to work with a deaf interpreter is an indication of an inferior skill-set.

Additionally, he highlighted that the definitions ASL-English and deaf interpreters hold of each other, correct or not, is the basis of their effectiveness working together and that both have equal responsibility for the processing of information and outcome of the communication.

Finally, Nigel offered that there is a need to broaden the view of how and why deaf interpreters are used in order to improve their inclusion and contribution to the field.

Trudy SuggsTrudy Suggs

Trudy presented, Deaf Disempowerment and Today’s Interpreter. Her talk examined how the choices sign language interpreters make while delivering communication access can, and often do, contribute to the economic and situational disempowerment of deaf people.

Trudy offered that interpreters can avoid stripping power from those they work with, and the broader Deaf community, by remembering who are the owners of the communication. Further, that it is essential to defer to these owners and Deaf community representatives rather than speak on their behalf. Additionally, that true empowerment begins when a consciousness is achieved that results in the referring of opportunity to back to the Deaf community.

Finally, she offered that anything less than full and mutual respect, regardless of the situation and/or opportunity at stake, is a failure to support true empowerment.

Lynnette TaylorLynnette Taylor

Lynette presented, Modern Questor: Connecting the Past to the Future of the Field. Her talk explored, how the dwindling numbers of deaf-centric service agencies and shared gathering places for the Deaf community and sign language interpreters is impacting the sign language interpreting field.

Lynnette offered that the elimination of these agencies and places of gathering is resulting in the disappearance of the stories and storytellers that serve to connect the two communities—and practitioners to each other—through a common understanding of the struggles and sacrifices known, victories achieved, and destination aimed for.

Finally, she suggested that without this common bond and shared understanding of history, sign language interpreters are left adrift—powerless against the definitions imposed upon them and their work. 

Wing ButlerWing Butler

Wing presented, Onsite Sign Language Interpreters Face Extinction. His talk examined the legislation and technology developments of the 90’s that defined the values of the “Onsite Era” and how these values are now being replaced by the values of a “Virtual Presence Era.”

He offered that some of the key values of the Onsite Era that are being replaced are, a relational approach to the work, interpreters are service professionals, quality means certified, specialty skill-sets and individual representation are valuable, and success is achieved through reciprocity.

Wing suggested that the iterative realignment of these values leaves sign language interpreters vulnerable to a number of dangerous pitfalls. Pitfalls that can be avoided by working to protect the value of certification, collaborating with industry partners, preparing the leaders of the future, and leveraging technology to create a learning culture within the field.

A Giant Thank You 

Access Interpreting

I would like to thank Access Interpreting for being the Thought Leadership Sponsor of the PCRID conference. Their leadership and support was directly responsible for making the inaugural StreetLeverage–Live event possible.Lyle Vold, Brad Leon, and Ryan Leon


Lyle, Brad, and Ryan, thanks for your vision and generosity in giving back to the field. asdfasdf



I would like to offer my thanks to the PCRID conference co-chairs, Josh Hughes and Jennifer Bell and the PCRID Board for their support of StreetLeverage and live thought leadership at the conference. You all did a great job.


Thanks to the many people who actively participated in the event. It was your engagement and shared insight that multiplied, exponentially, the value of the speakers sharing their ideas and perspectives.

The Takeaway 

What quickly became obvious during the event is that there is an interest in openly discussing the developments and forces at play within the field in a live, real-time environment.

Let us collectively consider how we can personally work to include our deaf interpreter counterparts, avoid disempowering those we serve, find ways to share our collective stories, and avoid the pitfalls before us as our field continues to evolve.

Be on the lookout, as videos for each of the talks will be individually released on StreetLeverage.com in future.

Have a question for Nigel, Trudy, Lynnette, and/or Wing? Ask away!


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About the Author

Brandon is a nationally certified sign language interpreter and passionate industry entrepreneur. He has worked on both the practicing and business sides of the industry for the past 15 years. His father is deaf and his mother is a sign language interpreter. He is a devoted father and husband and enjoys the sport of triathlon.

8 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Terri Hayes says:

    Please please please – do NOT caption the signed presenations when you post them here (or at least – give viewers an opportunity to access the talks without open captioning!).. I teach interpreters – and I need Good Professional Authentic presentation style (unrehearsed) videos of Deaf people presenting to a formal audience – to help these interpreters learn to sound like Good Professional Authentic Speakers (when they are interpreting)… and when good conference presenations come up on youtube or otherwise – somebody seems to think its best to put the English right there on the screen under the signer… thus opening the talk to the fluent reader (hearing people can just turn up the voice of the interpreter)… but destroying its viablity as a much needed authentic source for the harder voicing exercises – that at somepoint – every interpreter should be exposed to (multiple times, and each on different – if possible) so they can get ready to do this stuff in real life.
    please please please – do not open caption these speakers if they are signing their presentation!
    Thank you for listening

  2. Terri,

    Thanks for your comment.

    It is my intention to do the same thing that we did with the Brenda Walker-Prudhom, RID President, interview (http://www.streetleverage.com/2012/04/rid-increases-dues-an-interview-with-president-brenda-walker-prudhom), which is to give viewers the option. Viewers will be able to click the “CC” button, after they hit play, on the YouTube interface to turn the captions on if they choose.

    Pleased to know you are finding value in the site.

    I hope to see you sooner.


    • Terri Hayes says:

      and yes, to see you sooner – but it will be forever before I see you… I know – we two busy busy and far away -
      but I see you here occasionally and warm in my heart
      Thank you for everything you do!
      Terri Hayes

  3. Laura says:

    I wish I could have gone to the Deaf Disempowerment and Today’s Interpreter presentation as mentioned in this article.
    When the new RID Code of Professional Conduct came out I breathed a sigh of relief. It mirrored the real life of an interpreter; the constant, minute, immediate decision making processes we all face everyday. However, a sense of guilt and fear has crept back in as I negotiate these grey areas of what to do and not to do. Am I disempowering deaf people with some of the decisions I make?
    I would like to throw one out for my virtual comrades and get your opinion. (Of course I have made it vague so as not to reveal any confidentialities)
    I was the ongoing interpreter for a person who was taking self guided computer training courses at a non profit agency. I was authorized to go once a week. On the first day, the deaf person was handed a pile of books and told to follow along and do the exercises in the computer. My gut immediately said, “Hmmmm I wonder if this person is bilingual and can read those books?” The deaf person said nothing; I had just met them and didn’t want to assume anything, plus figured the teacher would evaluate this herself. To make a long story short, as I came in and out over a few months time I would clearly see fairly simple vocabulary words and computer terms that the person didn’t know, but everyone said everyone was doing fine and all tests were being passed. I figured I was missing something. Interpreting services were stopped and I wasn’t called in for another six months. This is when the crap had hit the fan. A new teacher was hired and someone realized that the deaf person had been doing the tests at home with their child’s help and now everyone was upset. So, they decide to have me start coming in once a week again. Honestly, I was heart broken for the person by this time seeing that basically a year of their life had been wasted. They were severely discouraged and ready to quit. Soooo, I get a little more proactive. The next time the teacher hands the person something, I say, “Would you mind if they signed this to me and I circled any words that they don’t know?” About half of the words end up circled in red ink. Everyone isn’t happy again.
    As an interpreter I am a cultural mediator (and happen to be an ex elementary school teacher) but was this too much? What would you call this kind of mediation? I want to define this so I can more readily be self reflective and spot disempowering tendencies in myself. I would appreciate any feedback, negative or otherwise.

  4. Peggy Huber says:

    Hi, Laura-
    I always appreciate when interpreters are willing to discuss these border-line ethics situations. Thank you for doing so now.

    I can completely see where your intentions came from. The result of staying uninvolved seemed to be a collapse of the entire course. I can also see where your inner instructional strategist came through in creating a task that would essentially assess the client’s comprehension.

    I see from your description that you were able to get the hearing administration to go with your suggestion – I’m sure because you were viewed as a specialist on Deaf people, their language and culture. However, I do not see where you included the Deaf client’s buy-in, but went forward once you had the approval of the hearing folks. There was no mention of his/her opion of your suggestion. You may have done this and was just not mentioned in your story.

    However, here are some questions to consider:

    - Did the Deaf client have the right/ability to refuse participation in the assessment? (Keep in mind the power differential in this situation.)
    - What would be the Deaf person’s perspective of that kind of on-the-spot assessment of their comprehension? What was their response to the outcome?
    - What is the impact on the hearing administrators?
    - Is that a fair evaluation of the Deaf client’s skill and knowledge?
    - Is the interpreter’s role one of being a part of the instructional team?
    - What are other options that would have been in line with cultural mediation? What are the cultural considerations here?

    This is an excellent case study that helps us to examine power relationships, hearing and Deaf privilege in these murky situations where the interpreter seems to be the one holding the information that could solve problems that are right in front of us. However, we need to determine if we really do help, or if our help will result in a larger harm.

    • Laura says:

      Peggy, Thank you for your comments. Yes, you are right, sigh, instead of saying to the teacher, “Can I have her sign this to me and I will circle words she doesn’t know”, I should have waited and discussed the idea first with the deaf person. Crap! I really see that thirty five years of interpreting and seeing this kind of thing happen over and over is wearing on me. I want it fixed now! I want deaf adults to have teachers who know how to teach deaf people in their own language.

  5. Evelyn says:

    I want to say thank you in advance for offering videos of the presentations. I am absolutely looking forward to it.

    I also want to thank Laura and Peggy for their comments. Laura, I completely agree with the feeling of relief over having the CPC, yet also feeling anxiety over the grey areas. We all are often put in situations, often while working alone, where we have to make decisions and hope they were the best choice we could have made. Yet sadly we don’t often have the opportunity to talk about our work with other professionals in a safe and confidential environment. This is why I am a huge fan and advocate of professional supervision. I know it is currently offered to students at NTIDs ASLIE program, and I know the idea has been suggested for decades, but I think now is the perfect time for it to become a standard practice. It would take a lot of work and a restructuring of professional practices for many, many interpreters – but I think it could be well worth the effort.

    Peggy, thank you for your feedback to Laura. You bring up some valid and important points and I hope anyone who reads this will keep your thoughts in mind to reflect on during their own work.

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