The Cost of Invisibility: Codas and the Sign Language Interpreting Profession

Sign Language Interpreter Considering Cost of Marginalizing the Coda PerspectiveI recently attended an interpreter retreat where the purpose was to examine privilege, how it manifests in our individual work lives,  our relationships with each other, and within the sign language interpreting profession as a whole. Privilege is a topic that makes for a hard discussion for any group of people. Those of us in attendance included new interpreters, been-around-the-block interpreters, urban, rural, hearing families, deaf families, deaf, hearing, coda, partners of deaf people, and siblings of deaf people. We committed to a weekend of taking the time and space to look at what each of us has to offer. We talked about being marginalized, feeling marginalized, and how we marginalize each other.

We were honest.

We were vulnerable.

Our conversations were raw and invigorating.

It was in this setting that I was, again, pushed to face a reality that I have encountered periodically over my 20-year career…our field does not understand, appreciate, or value what it means to be hearing and raised in a deaf parented home.

The Invisibility of Between

Codas live in an in-between space within the sign language interpreting profession. We are not hearing. We are not deaf. As such, we are often not seen nor valued. We are; however, both vilified and worshiped in good measure.

From our hearing colleagues we are told that we are lucky to have deaf parents and that it must have been easy to become an interpreter.  We are told that our skills are not up to par because we didn’t attend an Interpreter Preparation Program and hearing interpreters tell us that we make them nervous.

From the deaf people we work with we are told that they are relieved we are present because they can relax and understand what is being communicated. We are also told that we can’t be trusted because we may tell our deaf family members their business.

Our experience affords us the opportunity to apply authentic, connective experience and insight to our work.  Is this threatening or is this assuring?

An example of the invisibility of between is the lack of coda involvement at the formal and informal decision-making tables within the field. How many non deaf codas have there been over the past few years on the RID National Board? How about within the RID committee structure? How many codas are there on state chapter committees and executive boards? How many codas are there in the wise circle of professionals that you call on when you need to talk out an issue? Whatever you answer, I will argue, as does Dennis Cokely in his post, Vanquished Native Voices—A Sign Language Interpreting Crisis?, that it is not enough.

What does the absence of this insightful perspective cost the field in the form of forward progress?

The Footings of Invisibility

The Difference That Divides

I grew up the child of intelligent, savvy, funny, competent, employed, educated, honest, bilingual, loving parents who were each part of large extended deaf families. Being deaf in my family is normal. I also grew up being told by every hearing person I encountered (including my own hearing family members) that my parents weren’t good enough. That it was my job to take care of them. It was my job to look out for them. Communicate for them. Be their ears. I was constantly pitied.

I was marveled over…the fact that I could hear and they could not was viewed as a miracle. “Bless your heart, honey” was a constant refrain in my southern existence.

Even today, when I tell people my parents are deaf I am always asked (without fail) “both of them?” as if that would be the end of the world. The second question (without fail) is “what is it like having deaf parents?” as if I have anything to compare it to. I was made fun of by other kids. I was always different…but not in the way that all kids at some point think they are different. I was coda different.

Every coda has this experience. Our experiences vary by degree and extent. Our coda experiences vary as the temperament and personalities of our parents vary, but there is an experience that is common to all codas. The experience that unifies us is that we all get the same reactions about our parents from people who simply don’t know any better.

We are told and whispered all of this, yet; the people being talked about are actually the parents who took care of us. Shielded us from danger. Fed us. Loved us. Yes, parented us.

Conflicting Realities

Never do these well-meaning family members, teachers, friends, strangers say to our deaf parents what they say to us. They wouldn’t dare. As young children we are left holding onto it all…most of us choosing (consciously or unconsciously) not to share what we were told with our parents. We held these conflicting realities and were too young to know what to do with them or about them.

Many of us grew up in a home where our deaf parents hated hearing people (with good reason given discrimination and oppression) and were free in talking about their distrust and hate for the hearing community. Many of us developed our own hate for hearing people after witnessing and being victim ourselves to injustice after injustice. We had the hearing community pitying us and telling us we weren’t deaf, because by miracle we could hear. We had our deaf parents telling us we were hearing, yet also saying that they hated hearing people. Confusing is an understatement.

The Aftershock
Amy Williamson

Amy Williamson

As a result, from a very young age we decide what we are going to believe. Some of us drink the Kool-Aid and agree with the hearing community’s assessment of our parents. We believe them when they tell us that we need to take care of our parents, look out for them, communicate for them, even pity them. That we are miracles and that it is so very sad that our parents are deaf. Poor us. We believe that ASL is a bastardized form of English and is substandard. We are ashamed of our families.

Others of us come out fighting and defend our parents and the deafness within us with a vengeance. We shoot verbal (or physical) daggers at anyone that dares attack the reality and validity of our existence. In 5th grade at least one of us is sent to the Principal’s office for giving what-for to the biggest kid in the class for calling her parents ‘dumb.’ We hate hearing people for putting us in the position to question our parents’ abilities, intent, and love.

Then there are the rest of us who vacillate between the 2 extremes yet usually settle somewhere in the middle. We find a way to navigate between our deafness and our hearingness, yet never really feel a part of either.

We are all coda. Not deaf. Not hearing.

We are somewhere between.

Depth of Perspective

Our uniqueness doesn’t have to do with language fluency. Defining a coda by language fluency or native/near-native/native-like signing fluency misses the point completely. Some of us grew up not knowing how to sign fluently ourselves. Many of us fingerspelled everything we said to our parents.  Some of us spent the first few years of our lives assuming we were as deaf as our parents and were perplexed when we were not taken to the school for the deaf on our first day of Kindergarten.

We are not all interpreters and those of us who are don’t have it come ‘naturally’ to us. We work very, very hard at a very, very difficult task, interpreting. Some of us do it well. Others of us struggle.

Our insight comes from spending our developmental and formative years in this between space.  

We have brokered between the deaf and hearing worlds our whole life. Disdain. Joy. The mundane. We have done it or seen it communicated directly. We learned fast and early what it took for the local mechanic and our dad to understand each other. This unique experience leads to a skill that cannot be taught in an IPP. It can’t be learned by having a deaf sibling or deaf partner even. It’s not about ‘knowing’ sign language your whole life. Our uniqueness is about being parented by a deaf person. A person that you can’t just walk away from, avoid, or never see again.  A person who is oppressed on all sides…by their families, by their education, by the media, by the judicial system, by their employer, and, yes, sometimes by their own children.

The word ‘parented’ is the operative one here. It implies a bonding, a relationship of dependence, of value sharing, of boundary teaching. We were parented by competent people who were viewed and treated as incompetent by the majority of society. A majority that takes it upon themselves to tell you how incompetent your parents are under the guise of kindness or good deeds. This experience is unique and solely a coda’s.

Deaf children of deaf parents do not get this reaction directly from the hearing people they interact with. They are pitied and vilified and objects of fetishism (this is how I describe the folks who think sign language is beautiful hand waving and don’t really get the linguistic and cultural aspects of the community) the same way their parents are. Their experience having deaf parents is unique to that relationship. They do often function as brokers within the deaf community but their experience is very different from that of hearing children with deaf parents.

Leveraging Insight

Codas have lived life in a deaf parented home after the interpreters and well meaning hearing people have all gone home. It is then that our deaf parents whisper to us what they dare not say in front of them.  We continue to hold the secrets of our deaf parents and the secrets of the hearing community (including hearing interpreters who quietly share their sentiments).

As described by Alex Jackson Nelson in, Sign Language Interpreters: Recognizing & Analyzing our Power and Privilege, this experience is rich and results in a deep understanding of hearing privilege:

“Many Codas have experienced unique and complex roles, having hearing privilege in a Deaf family, straddling two cultures and dutifully providing communication access without pay. Perhaps, a deeper understanding of privilege contributes to their intrinsic connection to the fight for humanity.”

Alex goes on to state, “In my observation, many Codas possess an unequivocal understanding of privilege and power that is not easily recognized by non-Coda interpreters (including myself.)”

Perhaps, with this unique and unequivocal understanding of hearing privilege, codas still have a contribution to make to the field. After all, and as Dennis Cokely pointed out in Vanquished Native Voices—A Sign Language Interpreting Crisis?, codas have been the bedrock of our field.

What contribution do you think someone with this unique insight and perspective can play? 

A Standing Invitation

I shouldn’t have to say that our perspective brings value to our profession. Retreats like the one I attended shouldn’t be the only place and time we talk about who we are and what we have to offer. Codas shouldn’t have to beg for a place at the decision-making tables of our field.

Yet, here I am. Saying it. Begging for it.

We, codas, are here. We have a lot to share. Invite us to the table. Pull out a chair for us. Welcome us.


Tags: , , , ,

About the Author

A displaced southerner. A bilingual child of Deaf parents. A lover of the desert southwest. A former foster parent. A traveler...5 continents down, 2 to go. Amy Williamson landed in Vermont 12 years ago after living in NC, DC, AZ, Micronesia, VA, and Alaska. She is the mama of 2 sweet boys who are filled with mischief and magic, vim and vigor. They are Otis, 8 and Ben Sky, 6. Amy also has a 20 year old daughter, Mika, who is a 2nd year student at RIT. Amy is the daughter of Mary Ella Scarboro Williamson and Barney Williamson, both teachers for almost 30 years at the Eastern NC School for the Deaf. She has worked as a sign language interpreter since graduating from high school and actually LOVES the work she does. She is an interpreter by choice, not by birth.

141 Enlightened Replies

Trackback  •  Comments RSS

  1. Jessica Moseley says:

    AMEN, Amy. AMEN. I read this article, and re-read this article twice more. You said everything I (we, as CODAs) feel, and it was done beautifully. There is a lot of debate behind this and I hope that those reading this that share an opposite opinion can come to the table with an open mind and are willing to accept the reality of our need to be at the table.

    • Amy Williamson says:

      Hi Jessica,
      Thank you. I would be very interested and open to hearing what that debate is about and what the “opposite” opinion is. The more we can honestly talk about and debate(a perception of)opposing views the more we can find the middle ground.
      Here’s to hoping everyone can get engaged in this discussion.

  2. john hendricks says:

    Amy, thanks for a fantastic article and expressed exactly my thoughts and feelings about this subject and believe every other coda agrees, as well! Its time to have open, honest discussions throughout our profession.

  3. Sandra Phillips says:

    Thank you for putting words to the way I have felt my entire life. Well done, Amy.

  4. Windy Kellems says:

    This is important insight for all non-CODA interpreters to read. I plan to share this with as many of us as I can, especially (most especially) with the local IPP. 

    I was alarmed recently to learn that people are entering my local IPP having never socialized with a Deaf person outside of the program. With that shift in demographic from the early days when the community was the only gateway to entry, it is more important than ever to not only make a concerted effort to include the Deaf community in interpreter training, but the CODA interpreter perspective. As a non-CODA I will never have the insight my CODA colleagues bring to the table. I recognize that and my recognition in no way diminishes my skill or professionalism.

    I do not intend to draw an undue comparison, but my own upbringing gives me some small insight to the importance of that native connection to both worlds.  I was raised by a mother whose mental health needs have been grossly unmet in large part because the system of supposed experts are so disconnected from the daily details of her experience that they treat her like an idea instead of a person. What I wouldn’t give for some “experts” who have lived this life and can see past the end of their own credentials. It’s obviously vastly different (mine is not a cultural heritage and it was definitely something we all longed to ‘fix’), but my experience taught me that there is no human service profession that can do its consumers justice without remaining connected to the community and seeking to benefit from its insight and wisdom in a way that is genuine rather than paternalistic or dismissive. If we take our Code of Professional Conduct seriously, the idea of seeking important insight from all stakeholders is embedded in nearly all of its tenets, from respect for consumers and colleagues to continuing to stay abreast of developments in the field. It is our duty to constantly refine our professional perspective by considering each valuable perspective and developing our own according to what we learn (not just what it is convenient for us to believe).

    • Amy Williamson says:

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings. The sentiment you express is exactly my point. Interpreters’ lack of authentic relationships with the deaf community is a huge issue that needs to be addressed by educators in IPPs. I don’t know what the solution is but the first step is a more clear speaking up that it is an issue. From there, I trust that a solution will emerge.

      And…YES! We all bring unique experiences and perspectives that add value to what we do and more importantly to each other. Each of us should be recognized and valued for what we can bring to our work. Active, deliberate discussions about what we all have to offer will benefit everyone.

      Thanks for speaking up!

  5. Tracy says:

    This is so on the nose that I nearly cried.

  6. Karen Scarboro Magoon says:

    Amy, Thank you for speaking with honesty, wisdom and eloquence on behalf of us. I hope the invitation to the table is fast coming and permanent. Proud to be part of your big deaf family cousin!

    • Amy Williamson says:

      Thanks, Karen. Coda cousins, us. We were lucky.
      Many codas grow up without being mirrored within their own extended families. Most deaf people are born to hearing parents which means that their children (codas) do not have other children in the family with a shared experience. Another unique experience…

      • Marella Lutes says:

        I agree with this statement. I not only have deaf parents who have hearing parents, I am also an only child. After Struggling to appreciate myself and finally finding my self esteem at 38. (feeling misplaced over the years between the worlds) Non-Coda interpreters talking down codas as interpreters has really affected me over the years. Thank you for this article!

  7. Rubin Latz says:

    Nice work, Amy! Glad to see your heartfelt, insightful, shared-story narrative. By now, I expect your chair is pulled out from the tables of plenty. May all the welcomes be warm.

  8. Karla Degaetano Cuthill says:

    Great article Amy!

  9. Laurie Meyer says:

    This is an enormous gift to non-CODAs. Thank you for your sharing your wisdom.

  10. connie jo lewis says:

    Thanks for sharing Amy. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article. Much love!

  11. Becky Stuckless says:


    So eloquent! Thank you for writing this. I’ve been struggling lately feeling like I have a perspective to offer but at the same time feeling like people will think “here she goes again” but in my region, I’m alone. The only coda. Thanks for reinforcing that I do have something to bring to the table. Now, to figure out where my seat is!

    • Amy Williamson says:

      Hi Becky!

      Great to hear from you. So, right…I can imagine there are some interpreters who read the title of this article and thought, ‘Oh here they go again. Another coda getting up on their soapbox’. My article is bringing out the other side of that sentiment.

      How about ‘Oh boy, another coda getting up on their soapbox I better pay attention to what they have to say’. In order for this shift to happen, we have to feel welcome and comfortable AND we have to step into our role with reverence.

      You, my friend, are valuable and have a lot to offer. Find some space at that Canadian table.

      • Becky Stuckless says:

        You are so right. I’ve been called “frequent, verbose and redundant” but if people would listen, I wouldn’t repeat myself! That label was given to me by a coordinator, when I frequently expressed what we needed at the table. He chose to turn a deaf ear (pun intended) and as a result, cost our government a lot of money. Thankfully he is not a colleague.

        Hmmm, how different our hot experience may have been for the two of us if people had listened? Not to mention the rest of the team and the participants.

        I wonder if we were welcome at the table, given a soapbox with freedom… could we maybe be allowed to communicate in a way that is natural for us, and should be understood by our colleagues?

        And like Marian, I cried!

  12. John S. says:

    Amy!! 1000 thank you’s!!

    Rarely has the entire CODA conversation been laid out so clearly that even a hearing person could understand it.

  13. Sharon Nicarry says:

    This article was written beautifully. I am thankful for your gifted ability to write how I have felt for many years.

    • Amy Williamson says:

      Thank you. This article is truly the result of years and years of conversations with codas like you and everyone else that has replied and is reading this. My words but our thoughts, experiences, feelings.

  14. Debbie North says:

    Thank you for sharing your experiences and insights in your article. The few adult CODA’s I’ve met either embrace the deaf community or separate from it because of bad past experiences. I think we should definitely welcome CODA’s to the table and learn/grow together from their knowledge and experience. I will repost/share your article on my page.
    Thanks again Amy ;)

  15. Christa Buss says:

    Wow. I echo all the above praise. This definitely brought tears to my eyes and helped put voice to my experiences.

    I was the only coda in my ITP and often struggled with being the voice for all codas. My experience is just as unique as my personality and my parents. This should definitely be required reading in all ITPs as a start.

    Thanks Amy.

    • Amy Williamson says:

      Oh, Christa,
      I am glad to hear that this article resonated with you. It seems to resonate for many, many people.
      I commend you for attending an ITP and making it work for you. IPPs are another place where many codas face the extremes of being worshiped and vilified. I have heard time and again of frustrating experiences in IPPs. I assume that members of the Conference of Interpreter Trainers are reading this article as well and are already getting creative in finding ways to accommodate codas in their programs. In particular, making them feel welcome. I can see a time in the near future when there are more and more coda specific interpreter trainings offered.

      • Christa Buss says:

        Thank you, it was not easy. There was a lot of “sucking it up” just to make it through to the other side. I did however, have some great, supportive instructors through this time. One of whom read my comment recently and emailed to ask for my feedback on the program. With 5 years of reflecting under my belt, I think I’m ready to start sharing what I think could be different. Thanks for your encouragement.

        This quote in particular stood out to me;

        “Many Codas have experienced unique and complex roles, having hearing privilege in a Deaf family, straddling two cultures and dutifully providing communication access without pay. Perhaps, a deeper understanding of privilege contributes to their intrinsic connection to the fight for humanity.”

        Ironically I am just beginning work with an NGO that works with people in poverty in Rwanda, and this quote effectively sums up why all my experience informs me well when I look at the paradigm shifts in international development, aid and the power/privilege relationship.

        Thanks again, for putting this all together so well.

  16. Marjorie Stout says:

    This is beautifully written. I’m a Deaf coda yet we never knew sign growing up- just my dad and I learned it later in life. I was born hearing and my becoming deaf was merely a coincidence. My kids are codas to both parents though we are divorced. And my youngest automatically fingerspells everything before I get a chance to lipread a second time. I do worry that this is a burden to her yet she seems to be very at ease with her facilitating communication as if its automatic, because I never ask. Your essay gives me a lot of insight into my kids situation, and also with myself and my hearing coda friends. Thank you for this!

    • Amy Williamson says:

      Thank you for replying. I can see how this article could resonate for you on many levels.

      Thank you also for being aware that brokering for our parents can be a burden. I suggest you talk to your kids about communication. Let them know that you don’t expect them to help you with communication and that you appreciate it when they do. The burden comes when children are expected to interpret for family members when they don’t want to or when the situation is inappropriate for any child to be a part of.

  17. Sandra says:

    Wow!!! I have been a professional interpreter for well over 20 years and it has always been a struggle in so many ways you have mentioned. I am a visual learner and my hang up was that I needed my exams done visually. I made it through but it was tuff. Thanks for putting this out there.

  18. Sheena says:

    You have many years of experience being a CODA. Being a Deaf person and a mother to two children – one is hearing and the other is Deaf – anyone who’s a part of the Deaf community especially CODAs hold such a value. I am shocked to learn of this – that you as a group find it difficult to have a voice. I have friends who are CODAs. But again, there are a lot of groups within the deaf community such as deaf of deaf, mainstreamed, and CODAs. At the end of the day, the chairs should be for people who are geninue, passionate, and will get their hands dirty in order to push a profession like interpreting to a whole new level.

  19. Holly says:

    Thank you for sharing our story. Ahhh, to be home. Home among people who understand.

  20. Marian says:

    Could not be more proud of you, your writing ability and perspective. Thank you. And… I did cry.

  21. Carla Dupras says:

    I can’t even begin to tell you how much your article has impacted me. As a coda who has been wrangling with everything you shared, I am no longer at a loss for words. Thank you for this!
    As a professional interpreter, I know I am in that ‘somewhere inbetween’ place that you describe and it has been a challenge. I fit, and then I don’t fit. Or, I’m welcome and then I’m indirectly not welcome. I’ve seen the eye rolls and overheard the side comments all too often. It’s disheartning and demoralizing all at the same time. And yet when I think ‘they’ are actually listening, that my experiences and my perspectives are meaningful and have a place in the discusion, I am discouraged and disappointed in the end. Is it a soapbox I’m on or is it simply trying to engage in the discussion by bringing a valuable perspective to the table? I see it as trying to engage, but often feeling shut out by those who displace the value of the coda experience by pretending they know how we feel and by saying that we shouldn’t feel this way. Really?
    I’m still searching for my place…some day I will.
    Again, thanks for bringing this to the forefront and for encouraging others to take another look at us.

    • Becky Stuckless says:

      Carla… I thought I was alone in my corner of the world. Surely it was different out west?! Really, dare I say it? I often feel that our national board perpetuates this as well. Should we be considering what Hearing Interpreters with Deaf Parents are considering within RID?

      • Carla Dupras says:

        Oh Becky, you read my mind! I not only feel this tension at the national level but in my own little corner of the world. Do Canadian Codas need to present? Or REPRESENT!?! I’d love to catch up with you!
        Amy, you’ve ignited my spark!

        • Amy Williamson says:

          I am so glad that I was able to provide you with some language to articulate what you have been feeling. The examples you give are exactly what other codas are also experiencing.
          Let that spark burn and it can turn into a raging fire.

        • Colleen Mason says:

          Oh Carla – I was thinking perhaps we are long over due for a little gathering in this small town and have a discussion surrounding this – Interpreter Codas and Non Interpreter Codas.

        • Becky Stuckless says:

          Let’s make it happen! Could someone coordinate a conference that needs some great interpreters, and we could just happen to form a team that would allow some of this discussion in the down time?
          THIS is the one disadvantage to living in a country that is so spread out. Could we do a skype videochat? Multiple people?

          • Christa Buss says:

            Oh gosh, I’m so late to the game, but can I get in on this? I’m out West and Canadian and so eager to be a part of this.

    • Natalie Turner says:

      Carla, thank you for your comments I can totally relate. I’m a fellow Canadian CODA interpreter. Wasn’t at the recent conference, but know there was a group of CODA interpreters that got together socially and sorry to have missed it. I probably could have really used it. We will have to get that spark going.

  22. Angela Bjornstad says:


    What a wonderful article. I have always said that I am only 1/2 CODA because my parents divorced when I was young and I don’t even remember living with my father who is deaf. My mother is hearing and we spent most of our time with my mother or with my dad’s parents. While my dad would visit for holidays and some other weekends we were at my grandparents, and the rare visit to his house for a weekend, we did not see him often enough to pickup “the language”, although I learned to fingerspell and a word here and there. I lived one summer with my dad and his wife, who was also deaf, and that was the true eyeopener of what it was like to be a CODA.

    When I decided to become a sign language interpreter, it was because I needed a career change and since I knew some sign I thought I had a “hand” up on the situation. How wrong I was. I did fine in ASL I, which I took as a stand-alone class, but after that class, I was just as lost as the other students. I felt inferior, like I was supposed to know more than they did. Really, the only advantage I had was in the social events because I knew many of the people and often my dad was there to “protect” me.

    I never called myself a CODA since I didn’t really grow up in a Deaf household, but after reading your article, I have decided that I really am a CODA. I resemble everything said in your article. I feel like I need to “protect” my dad and my stepmom in the hearing world as much as they feel they need to protect me in the Deaf world.

    I recently graduated from the ITP program, which took me four years since I only went part-time, but it was the best four years of my life. The best thing that I got out of the program was a better respect for my dad and other Deaf people, and learning to truly communicate with my dad. But, the best thing happened just yesterday as my uncle, dad, and I were moving dad’s sister to an assisted living home and my uncle needed to explain something to my dad. For the first time, a relative, my uncle, asked me to interpret to my dad. Today my uncle told me that was the best conversation he has had with his brother and they are ages 68 and 71.

    • Amy Williamson says:

      I appreciate hearing your perspective and it brings up the question of ‘who is a coda’? Which I am sure you have been wrestling with since you have called yourself 1/2 coda before.

      So, how do we define a coda? I do not in my article and leave it up to individuals to determine for themselves; however, I ask the question now. Are you a coda if you had one hearing parent and one deaf parent? Are you a coda if you had deaf parents one one deaf parent but they didn’t know sign language? How about if you had deaf parents but grew up with a hearing foster family or with hearing family members?

      And more importantly who decides how coda is defined?

      • Leah says:

        May I interject my non-coda/recent graduate/new interpreter opinion here? From the way that I understand, CODA means Child of Deaf Adult, right? So, I would say that all of the above and more (including Deaf Children of Deaf Adults, though, as you discussed in your article above, that is a bit of a different perspective).

        • Leah says:

          Somehow I posted before I completed my thought. My apologies.
          I wanted to add that I appreciated your comments about how non-coda interpreters often have a reverence for coda interpreter colleagues. It is true. As a non-coda, I look to my coda colleagues as the experts of experts. And it is only with the utmost respect; entirely complimentary, with no intention of making anyone feel uncomfortable. I also recognize that not all codas come by their skills as interpreters naturally, and work very hard at a very difficult career. Conversely, not all codas are, want to be, will become, or have/develop the skills to become great interpreters. I count myself fortunate to know several coda interpreters who are the creme de la creme in our community, and, how I wish I could work with them daily as there is so much to glean from their experiences. I know that I will never fully understand what “coda” really means. As my comment above indicates, sometimes we only scrape the surface when it comes to truly comprehending certain definitions. This is a prime example.

          As you have invited and begged us (non-codas) to invite you to the table, I would counter that with a request to invite us into your world as much as possible. How else can we grow in understanding of your life experiences, except to be immersed in it, even surrogately? Correct us when we make ignorant comments and help us to help others gain insight as well. I cannot speak for all non-coda interpreters, but I can say that we (the entire hearing world, interpreters included) make our ignorant comments out of, well, ignorance (*guilty, and continually learning*). Please teach us, and feel proud that you have that unique experience only you can share with us.
          I know that there are coda conferences, and I think that is a wonderful idea; but what about conferences, more of what you mentioned above, to include the rest of us, to teach and mentor us, to adopt us and offer surrogacy into the lives of your world and families. After all, without codas, and without Deaf people, OUR profession wouldn’t be. We need you and want you by our sides as we embark on our careers, servicing your family members.

          At the table. :)

  23. Darius Robertson says:

    I thank you for writing such a beautifully written article
    My father, who is deaf, showed me this article as I’ve recently told him my interests in going to Gallaudet, his Alma Mater, to study to become an ASL interpreter.
    I am fortunate to be in the unique position that I was born into, and lucky enough to realize my strengths in ASL. The notion of Coda is something I have never heard before, however I understood immediately where you are coming from. And with that understanding comes pride in who I am and where I am wanting to go with the direction I have chosen.

    • Amy Williamson says:

      Welcome to the coda world. Google us. Search for us on FaceBook. We are around.
      I, too, went to Gallaudet, my parents’ Alma Mater.
      Good luck on your path and I hope to meet you at some point.

  24. Linda Hatrak Cundy says:

    Hey Amy, our future RID president!
    Thanks for the poignant article on the subject that is not yet open for discussion in the interpreting programs or at the organizational level. It has been sporadically brought up, usually at adverse situations. More openness such as your attitude and resilience will diminish the hostility among all parties.

    Missed you at AVLIC 2012!
    CODA to another CODA

    • Amy Williamson says:

      Hi Linda,
      Great to see you here!
      So, why is this a discussion that is not yet happening in interpreting programs? What do you think the barriers are?

      • Linda Cundy says:

        I am not sure if this is what you signed up for…replying and encouraging every CODAs around the globe. I want to respond your question directly (and open for others to ponder) as to what the barriers are in terms of including the topic of CODAs as third cultural group within the Deaf community as a part of curricular contents in the interpreting programs.

        Would you believe CODAs are the barrier themselves – inadvertently, mind you? It takes one to teach others, you know. My quick perspective is that CODAs become interpreters at tender age and enter into the interpreting field right away without pursuing post-secondary studies and as a result they do not become teachers of the interpreting programs. Non CODAs tend to be the teachers and they might not cover the topic CODAs as intensively as they should (not their comfort level) – other than a fleeting mention of CODAs in the course called Deaf Culture and Community.

        Surely there are multiple barriers – but this one is fundamental one, I would think.

        FESTIVE CHEERS, Linda

        • Amy Williamson says:

          I don’t know if I signed up for this or not but it’s happening. :)

          You are right. Many of us are not involved in educating interpreters in IPPs. You are also right that credentials have been the barrier. It’s an endless cycle…IPPs aren’t designed to meet the needs of coda interpreters so we don’t get the training that prepares us to educate others.

          My hope is that more of pursue advanced degrees and get more involved.

          • Jennifer Kaika says:

            Hi linda- I appreciate your comments and I understand where you’re coming from about coda interpreters being our own inadvertent barrier to teaching in IPPs. I do have such credentials- I didn’t graduate from an IPP, but I do have a Master’s degree in a field that draws on education, linguistics, second language teaching & learning, and cross-cultural interactions.

            I have taken mentoring trainings and have mentored off and on since 2005. I taught in an interpreting program at the baccalaureate and graduate levels. The irony of having such qualifications is that they served as one more reason to minimize the coda experience.

            I felt I had to draw strictly on my schooling & work experience for credibility; not explore or share my coda experience. Part of that may have stemmed from my own beliefs about what is valuable in an educational context, but another part stemmed from the worry of a possible negative influence on my non-coda students.

            I don’t know if other coda teachers in IPP share the same feelings. If others feel similarly, then there may be a larger attitudinal barrier about the value of life experiences that will prevent real progress even if codas are represented at the organizational level or in interpreting programs.

            • Darlene says:

              Very astute comment…I have known a highly qualified, degreed Coda who taught in an IPP for many years, and generally did not bring up the fact that she was a Coda. Why was that? I felt (MY perspective) that she was uncomfortable in sharing that due to the backlash that could be received from non-Coda colleagues.

              My siblings and I were expected by our parents to go to college, but I know that many Codas were not encouraged in the same vein and some who were actually DISCOURAGED from attending college, their parents (who had not had the opportunity to attend college) having experienced negative interactions from members of their community who had gone to college. My parents, as lower middle class citizens, did not have the financial resources to provide the college opportunity, and yet the expectation was there. My hope, my desire, is to see more Codas receive this education so that they can perform on a level playing field academically with non-Codas who possess college degrees.

              I agree with Linda that we need more of us in positions of education in IPPs and leadership within RID. We need to take responsibility for the fact that this has not, in recent years, been the case. Many of us have felt disempowered and have resigned ourselves to the present status quo. Let’s change that perspective, roll up our sleeves, and get ourselves to the table.

    • Suzanne Ladner Boesen says:

      Hi, Linda! That was an interesting article and also the responses. One thing that impressed me was that we CODAS are not all the same. I am sure not all of your girls are the same, nor did all become interpreters, eh?

      Dunno how your girls feel, but I am soooo proud of my parents. They were wonderful educators and really had better English than I. I, too, decided to attend Gallaudet, where my parents met and became a teacher like my parents. However, the last thing I wanted to do was interpret since I was the oldest of 4 and hated to tell my parents what everyone was saying especially at relative gatherings.

      BUT, I outgrew that attitude once I learned what ASL was all about by teaching it. NOW I am still an avid interpreter, although, I have learned to say NO! Good to “hear” your voice again, Linda. We so miss Canada!

  25. Colleen Mason says:

    Wow Amy!

    At the risk of repeating other Codas – this was so eloquently written and basically addressed some of the observations I have made, but never had the courage to speak them to anyone except to a fellow CODA interpreter – whom I admired on so many levels – who passed away this past June. Even then I felt our discussion was unfinished. I have been too shy or felt too reserved to approach any other CODA interpreter in my community about the same things you addressed. I feel like I need to read this article a couple of more times, and to think on things a bit more. But I thank you!

    • Amy Williamson says:

      Well, Colleen,
      I hope you can use this article as a door opener to more conversations with interpreters in your community. We all can benefit from your thoughts and experiences.

      • Colleen Mason says:

        It has indeed Amy – I am a reflector at best. This is such a raw article and it addresses so much. It will take me some time to really mull over some points that have been made. (as I mentioned earlier). Definitely a great conversational piece.

      • Becky Stuckless says:

        Colleen, not sure if you remember Amy, but you both met at WFD! Amy was with me when you introduced yourself! Amy, Colleen’s Daddy is David Mason. Remember him?

        Amy? Could we shoot for next AVLIC? Will you come?

    • Suzanne Ladner Boesen says:

      You must be David’s daughter, eh? Wish I knew you better in Canada but you were oh so young and I am oh so old!! Good luck working as an interpreter. Hope to see you in New Orleans at the CODA conference in 2013.

      • Colleen Mason says:

        Yes, you have that right, I am Dave’s youngest daughter :) My aim is to get to New Orleans for the Coda Conference in 2013, to join in on the “Candian Invasion” hahahaha How do you know my Dad or shall I say do you know both parents?

        Where are you at?

        Colleen :)

        • Suzanne Ladner Boesen says:

          took me a while to get back to you-sorry. we had xmas last sat. as family from calif. to san antonio to waco tx, and austin, TX, where we are, all came together! knew your dad in canada where we were for 10 years. all 4 of my kids are canadians. My husband was your dad’s boss in edmonton! I knew you when you were a little one! I may see you in New Orleans!!

          • Christa Buss says:

            Hi Sue!

            Sounds like I may need to get myself to New Orleans as well, if only to catch up with you! You were such a fantastic practicum mentor!

  26. Nathan says:

    I am curious to ask you, if you have heard of KODAWest?? It is a camp for all KODAs to meet each other, with only CODAS being counselor for them. It is in its 6th year and growing bigger every year. A really great opportunity that happens only once every year in the summer, that gather all kinds of CODAs. In this camp there is no such thing is “on-guard” or not being able to express feelings, bonds happen even in day 1.

    • Amy Williamson says:

      Yes! Thanks for the plug for KODAWest. KODA camps have been happening in different parts of the country and are growing and growing. I worked at KODA Camp at Camp Mark 7 for 2 summers and have a life time of memories and friends.

  27. Scott says:


    I too thank you for taking the time to write the article and for doing so with such a positive and truthful perspective. I too grew up with Deaf parents that were both teachers at a school for the Deaf. We actually lived on campus for 5 years. This community was the experience that made the significant impact on my life and provided me the knowledge and experience linguistically and culturally. I became an RID certified interpreter (CSC) when I was 16, 30+ years ago. Since then I have been NAD certified, QA certified, RID re-certified, management positions within agencies and then Department Chair of an ITP. I too have experienced exactly what you described.

    I never once expected to be “entitled” to a position or to share a perspective just because I was a CODA, I worked very hard for every opportunity. Often times, I felt as if my perspective was marginalized by the “entity” primarily because it did not fit their world view. When in turn, that was exactly the point. It didn’t fit their world view because they had not experienced this world that I had. But, because I was the minority, I was usually the one who modified and conformed. Accepting baby steps forward as I continued to take on the role of a change agent.

    As of 8 years ago, I made a career change and am now in a completely different field. While I miss many aspects of my previous career, I am able to make a significant impact in this current career. I have yet to be asked to serve or participate on any board or to make a contribution to any aspect of the field. I wonder how many CODAS have moved on and the profession has lost out on this valuable insight?

    • Amy Williamson says:

      You pose a very important question. And I imagine we all can infer the answer from your post…we have lost out on the voice and perspectives of many codas. It is difficult to remain engaged and vested in the field when faced with roadblock after roadblock. My hope is that this dialogue will make some changes and can re-energize some and engage others.
      thank you.

  28. Elaine Navratil says:

    Amy.. your mom and I were Gally classmates.. Class of 1968.. so glad she and your dad had you so that other CODAS can learn from you. They did a great job as your parents !

    • Amy Williamson says:

      HI Elaine.

      My mom is following this article and the comments so I am sure she has read your comment. Thank you for saying hello. The Gally class of ’68 has some great people in it!

      This is exactly the kind of DEAF-WORLD connection that happens for me on a regular basis on the job. The very connection that seems to make some hearing interpreters uncomfortable. Depending on the interpreter I am working with, I may not ‘out’ myself as a coda in order to avoid them feeling uncomfortable. Sad, isn’t it?

  29. Tim Kinsella says:

    Hi Amy!

    What a great article–and thank you for the strength it took to speak about issues between coda and non-coda interpreters. I think the crazy dichotomy of worship and vilification often does not allow IDPs to actually speak to the experience of “between” and the experiences of being disenfranchised because of their families. Nor does it allow coda interpreters to talk of the great joys and celebrations they experienced, or the everyday specialness of their families, of growing up bilingual and bicultural, of being fully a part of the many great things that come with DEAF-WORLD. You’ve made this clear in your beautifully written piece.

    We, as a profession, lose out when we don’t recognize the reality of IDPs. And we can’t recognize that reality if we swing back and forth from worship — “Oh! such beautiful language skills! And you know all the answers about all Deaf people!”, “I’ll never sign as well or know as much as you”–to dismissal –”She thinks she’s better than us,” “He’s so arrogant”, etc. Such ugliness, on both sides. We interpreters of hearing families often are so busy talking that we sure as hell ain’t listening to the true experiences and insights that our coda colleagues share, or try to share. And in the end, many of those colleagues just stop trying.

    Those of us from hearing families often come stumbling into DEAF-WORLD, and subsequently into the world and lives of Interpreters with Deaf Parents. We not always welcomed, but here we are. We often do notice language skills first, and a way with Deaf people that many IDPs have that we cannot have. But really–as I have discovered from conversations with you, Amy, and other IDPs– that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Thank you for allowing us a glimpse at all that resides beneath the surface. May we all find places at the table, and may many more of us take the time to listen to the valuable thoughts and reflections offered by our IDP counterparts.

    • Amy Williamson says:

      Other people have said that this piece that I have written has made them cry. Your comments make me cry (granted, if you know me…and you do…you know that it doesn’t take much).

      You are a gem and a great spokesperson for the hearing interpreters in our field who value codas and make it plain in your everyday work. There are many of you out there and it is not un-noticed.

      Thank you for your eloquence in showing the perspective from another side. I feel seen and not invisible.

  30. Natalie Turner says:

    Wow, thank you for this article! Couldn’t have come at a better time. Sorry this wil be long.

    It really hits home and helps describe how I have been feeling lately. Finally some words to explain it all. I am a CODA interpreter and have been struggling with straddling my belonging in both the Deaf community and interpreting community. I feel interpreting field has been changing, for the better I don’t know, but it seems to be more of a business and profession and further and further away from the roots and community. With this, I question, and wonder and think, sometimes too much. But, maybe that thinking is really the internal conflict I have because of my belonging. As decisions are made locally/nationally by interpreter organizations,I struggle. It is me, straddling the worlds. The CODA within me that has always been in the middle.

    As a previous comment said, the eyes roll and the “here we go again” comments come out when CODA interpreters outwardly show their belonging to both worlds. Admitting, I sometimes did not want to be the “out there” CODA interpreter because I did not want those downcasting eyes and judgement. I admired those who could. As a CODA interpreter, I do receive the harsher judgement of my background from “fellow” interpreters than the hearing people who are more curious. The comments and judgements I have let bother me but always thought, really, how dare you, but still I let it get to me. No more!

    Thankfully, we have a recent CODA interpreter who is steering us down a path of pride and acceptance within the field. Acceptance for our place at the table and I am grateful for that….and this article.
    I cried..more than once. :)

    Thank you Amy!!

  31. Missy Boothoryd says:

    Thank you, I enjoyed reading this and it reminded me of my two coda children have go through all their childhood and still do today.

  32. Michele says:

    Your article was informative as well as insightful. Growing up my one of my best friends was a Coda. I saw first hand what you describe growing up and how my friend handled many hard situations.

    Your article was interesting and timely just yesterday I read an another article about a women who was blind after giving birth to her first child social services took her daughter away from her for 57 days. I can only say the Public needs to be Educated. The ADA needs to be enforced and people need to recognize and respect individual regardless if they can or can not hear.

    Thank you.

  33. Julie Joiner says:

    You hit it on the nose! So appreciate you voicing for many of us CODAs. I believe You have expressed what many CODAs have been wanting to say.

    Thank you!

  34. Anna Mindess says:

    Thank you, Amy for the beautiful, eloquent, intelligent and honest article. We all benefit from your wisdom.

  35. Tona says:

    Beautifully written. I have read it several times and have tears every time. These things needed to be said and the time was right! Those very issues are the reason I started “CODA INTERPRETER CORNER” on FB, a safe place for us . Thank you Amy for bringing our story to everyone!

  36. Jenni M. says:

    Thank you for writing this amazing article! I’m currently in an ITP and everything you wrote described not only how it is in the field but also how it is in school as well. I am the only CODA in my particular class and I wish there was another CODA just so I could have that connection and understanding in class. It helps to see that there are others, like me, who feel the same way. I grew up with other CODAs so when we grew apart I was devastated because I felt like I was closer with them than anyone else. Now all I want is more CODA connections and I hope in the future as I make my way through the field I will meet others and regain that connection.

    Also, I have been looking for other articles like this to share with my classmates and also for research purposes. If anyone has any suggestions I would love to check them out. I will definitely be posting this on my Facebook for all Deaf friends/family, ITP friends and hearing family/friends who need to understand this as well. Again thank you for putting this out there! :)

    • Amy Williamson says:

      Good for you for going through interpreter training. I wonder if you have had conversations with the professors in your IPP about being a coda in the program. If you have, how did that go? If you have not, why not?
      Curious, me.

      • Jenni says:


        I have had some discussions with one of my instructors about being a coda in the program. Side note, she is actually a soda (Sibling of a Deaf Adult) and she sent me this article. :) I’ve discussed some of the struggles and together we have addressed it. However, some of my classmates sometimes struggle with comparing themselves to each other and when it comes to my language development compared to theirs it’s simply a different experience. I grew up signing whereas they are learning the language later in life. I’m not better and I’m not worse than anyone. I have my own struggles with trying to improve my bad habits that I have developed over the years. Often they can put things so beautifully into ASL, in ways I never thought of, yet there is still the idea that I may be judging their skills or that I may sign it “better” than they do. So it can be a struggle on occasion, especially when working together on interpretations or projects.

        I think that I just like the idea of having someone who also understands that struggle because not all codas are the same. We all have different experiences. There are 3 codas in the year that graduates after us and there were a couple in the year ahead of us. It just seems it would be nice to have someone to commiserate with. Unfortunately, we don’t get the opportunity to interact with the other group as often due to different schedules and such. Anyway, that was a long winded reply to your question. And of course I still feel supported by my instructors and my peers alike however some of what you discuss does happen in class on occasion.


  37. Barb Walker says:

    Thanks Amy, I love that you often bring big questions to the table, furthering the field. Thanks for this and your heart. I am so glad we have you here in Vermont. I am so lucky to have a colleague like you. I love you. I say “there she goes again, good thing”

  38. James Pope says:

    Wonderful article. As a CODA , it speaks to my constant struggle to balance my two cultures. We do share a perspective that is wonderful. In the age of the new buzz word, ‘Civility” maybe some should be given to the CODA for what they have to share with us all. I enjoyed reading this. Thanks Amy.

  39. Molly Brown Bowen says:

    Thank you Amy for your eloquent description of what I know most of us IDPs experience and our perspective. I feel fortunate most of the time working in our local community which has grown to be receptive to us IDPs yet we still have work to do to stay visible in a positive light. I believe we do have a place at the table which not often was filled but was temporarily vacant. I am hopeful that we all will find that middle ground. For now, I will share your article with our local IPP program as we have started talks into how we can create ways to accommodate and make the Coda’s experiences in IPPs better. And like you, I can see more coda specific interpreter trainings offered. Well that is at least my goal. I look forward to sharing and hearing more from you and others on this very important issue.

  40. IRENE HOLL says:

    I cried having read this article. You wrote about my life as a CODA. I shared this article with my husband. He said this is you. Thank you for putting on paper what I experienced and I plan to share this with my coworkers

    Irene Holl
    Proud CODA

  41. Nancy Riley says:

    Thank you for sharing some deep layers of your (collective) experience. Doing so takes my awareness deeper, and that helps me grow into me a more knowledgeable and sensitive colleague. Judging by the response, your words have rippled through many hearts. I applaud your colleagues who took the time to have attend a retreat and explore their layers and connections.

    Information and insight such as this is an example of what I appreciate about this forum.

  42. Jennifer Kaika says:

    Amy, thank you for this article. Not only because of what you’ve said, but because you’ve bothered to write it at all. I echo what many other codas have said about your words hitting home.

    You say that “our field does not understand, appreciate, or value what it means to be hearing and raised in a deaf parented home.” I would go further and say that even WE don’t fully understand, appreciate or value what it means to be hearing and raised in a deaf parented home.

    We are so accustomed to not sharing our coda experience in professional settings that even we start to not recognize it ourselves. In turn, not only is there a cost to our profession, there is a cost to us.

    We have internalized the invisibility of our experience. This is why we can’t come to the formal and informal decision-making tables. This is why we may feel like we have something to offer, but don’t know what it is or how to do it.

    When we do get seats at these decision-making tables, then, what will we say? How will we represent our experience?

    If we don’t consider such questions, then even with individual codas on national, regional, and local RID boards, we may still not be able to fill the void created by “the absence of this insightful perspective.” Without considering the relevance of our experience on our work and our field, we may still not be able to contribute in the form of forward progress.

    Articles like yours are fomenting this discussion and for that, I thank you.

    • Amy Williamson says:

      Jennifer Kaika, I understand you have a seat at a decision making table in your local chapter so I look forward to hearing your voice loud and clear (no pressure). I believe it will take people like you to move this discussion forward. Thanks for stepping up to the table and taking a seat.

  43. Stephanie Clark says:

    Beautifully written, it brought tears to my eyes thinking of my CODA siblings when I read, “ Deaf children of deaf parents do not get this reaction directly from the hearing people they interact with.” Even though I’m a Deaf Interpreter by choice and proud Deaf of Deaf, my DODA experience is different than my CODA brothers and sister. The secrets they never told me and my parents while growing up to protect us is heart wrenching yet opened my eyes, mind, and heart. I appreciate them even more now. When Road to Deaf Interpreting training program was implemented, a couple of CODAs asked to apply because they felt more comfortable among other Deaf-World members, they were welcome and embraced by me although some Deaf felt, “they are hearing, should not be here.” More education and more dialogue are needed with Deaf because a CODA is not hearing or Deaf; a CODA is a CODA. As a passionate advocate, I now demand that another chair be pulled out for CODAs when it comes to decision-making i.e. advisory committees, IPP curriculum along with Deaf and non-CODA representatives. Thank you for this ongoing dialogue and honesty.
    Stephanie Clark, Deaf-World native

    • Amy Williamson says:


      Thank you for sharing your perspective. I have heard privately from other DODAs and they echo your sentiment. THANK YOU for being open to codas entering into the Road to Deaf Interpreting training program, it is unfortunate that your deaf colleagues were not.

      What do you see as the barrier for deaf interpreters’ understanding a coda’s value to the profession and how do you think we can overcome it?

      Stephanie, we have had honest and frank dialogues about our individual deaf parented and Deaf-World experiences. Our face-to-face conversations have helped me in writing this article. Thank you.

    • Sarah Hafer says:

      Stephanie, when i read your comment i almost broke in tears only because, believe it or not, i think you are the first person i ever met that is exactly like me with having this deep passion to include our Coda brothers and sisters. I did not realize until reading your comment that you and i actually have very similar family setting. Us being DODAs with having CODA siblings and other CODA relatives (for me). When it is difficult for Deaf people to support and embrace CODA folks it simply crushes both CODAs’ Deaf souls and mine. That said, it is like others telling me right in my face that my Coda sister, Coda aunt, Coda great aunt, Coda cousin, and Coda second cousin are not who i think they are without them even trying to understand and respect something that is different from them. Thank you for making yourself known to other readers like me and this made my day, smiles.

  44. Thank you for the “story” don’t even know what to call it, sorry. I am a CODA, and was treated horribly by many… Not even going to go there… I WAS a professional interpreter for over 20 years, but an interpreter all my life.

  45. Gwen Aguilar says:

    I absolutely love that this was published and finally being discussed. I’m a CODA, and proud of it. What sets me apart from others is my parents had hearing parents. While their lives were difficult (to say the least), they both managed to function in the hearing world, actually succeed in the hearing world is a better description. The hearing world may have pitied them at first, but once they spoke to them and got know them, the pity went away and was replaced with respect. I grew up loving my deaf culture, hated being hearing, & was just fine living in it. I never wanted to be an interpreter, but my father did. I wound interpreting for many, many years, & was good at it. Yet, I didn’t want “this job”. I faced many of the things you spoke about. The worry over my “Code of Ethics” with my ties to the deaf community (on both sides), my fellow co-workers assuming it was easy for me and thus either hating me or feeling I wasn’t good enough because I never attended a program. Those didn’t hate me assumed I knew everything & often would ask me things I didn’t know the formal name for, but knew how to do, so I intimidated them. I recently left my job as an interpreter, I know “in this economy”, but somethings you just have to do. Now I can enjoy my life in my deaf community as a member of it, & can just be me. Thanks for this insightful article. It’s much appreciated.
    Gwen Aguilar

  46. Gail Nygren says:

    Hi Amy, Thank you for a beautifully written article. As a medical and mental health interpreter for 21 years I have often been an outspoken advocate for Deaf patients with my interpreting colleagues. My efforts have been to identify the oppression we witness as interpreters and encourage a discussion about it in order to develop strategies that empower the Deaf patient or define / redefine the boundaries of our profession. I call upon us to discuss the ethical responsibilities of our profession. Rarely does this produce any meaningful conversation. I have often been met with blank faces, a silence of consideration, which I believe is an unknowing of Deaf life experience or a fear on collegial consultation. I also suspect that “here she goes again” is at play. This year I was labeled as “someone who needs to improve her self-worth” after sharing my coda experiences in a workshop designed for personal and vulnerable expression. So insulting! So, to protect myself, I have become disinterested in sharing, withdrawn from the battle, disempowered. In all fairness to some of my colleagues, I occasionally find an ally. Recently, I was pleasantly surprised to meet newer, hearing interpreters who wanted to discuss Deaf patients experiences with oppression in hospitals and the ethical dilemmas it presents for working interpreters. This helps me hold onto a little spark of hope in my Deaf heart. Thanks again for a wonderful article.

  47. Sara Pierce says:


    Your article was one of the best explorations of the CODA heart. Thank you so much for pointing out how diverse we are as children with Deaf parents. Not all of us have become interpreters. Some of us have gone into completely different fields, yet we are all bonded together by that one unique gift we possess: the ability to broker between two worlds. That fact has been made even more poignant with the comments that people have been leaving for you. Thank you for one of the best reads I’ve had in years!!!

  48. Millie stansfield says:

    i was justmgoing tomwrite w brief comment,” how beautifully expressed and written”! Just to appreciate you. And i am profoundly moved by the responses. I am grateful for this vehicle that provided this opportunity for all of us to connect on this This deeper level.
    I will be forwarding this article to many people! God bless!

  49. Helen Young says:

    Thank you Amy for taking time from your busy life to write this, many times I have thought these things but can’t express myself as well as you seem to be able to do.
    It is like you have been reading my mail and put it down on paper. After many years of therapy, I realized that I had rejected my mother and father to be able to fit into the hearing family. Such a conflict within of loving my deaf parents but wanting to be accepted by the hearies. What a diffrence in my life, from my very southern Texas family that loved their daughter and siblings who were loving and kind and be moved across country and raised with family that were not kind and supportive. I was always told what a blessing I was then these people tell me what a curse we all were. Like Windy said some people become interpreters before they have even met a deaf person. They hear we earn good money and always wanted to learn sign language. Spare me, I dont want you to terp for my deaf child nor her husband.

  50. Jim Beach says:

    Great read! My mentor (non-coda) sent this to me for increased learning. This is important for individuals, from all walks of life, to read and understand. There several times where I felt as though I was reading about myself. It is like a breath of fresh air to know there are others who share the same feelings as do I. Thanks for sharing from the heart.

  51. Ricky Childress says:

    Wow. Such a deeply thought out piece Amy. Though I’ve done a bit of interpreting here and there, I’m not nor have ever been a professional interpreter. And, as the youngest and 5th child of Deaf parents, I had my share of family interpreting, often begrudgingly. But unlike my 3 sisters, I’ve never been a part of RID, I’m not fully familiar with the terp world issues you bring. That said, some of your points, either in the article or in some of your responses to others brought tears to my eyes —- more than twice. My parents never expressed hate toward the hearing. Yet, we were aware of their mistrust of the hearing. Worse was their lack of confidence in their own opinions; they would check with us, their children for God’s sake. We knew better because we were hearing. (I’m crying again just writing this.) We didn’t but we would give our best thoughts. I’m talking about two intelligent, hard-working people who were made to feel inferior by their ancestral families and society in general. Your mention of having to interpret inappropriate situations rang a bell. To think that at 8 years old I was arguing on my parents’ behalf with adults! Then to read your article and find that Codas are having a hard time finding a place at the Interpreter’s table. Are you kidding me? As Natalie says,Codas have to find the path to acceptance and pride.
    Thank you Amy for starting this conversation. Love and appreciation to you, hugs Ricky.
    p.s. my next haircut is business in the front and party in the back.

    • Amy Williamson says:

      Oh, Ricky. Our experience is real and oh, so powerful.

      The fine line we ride by being in this ‘between’ space is the one of garnering empathy but not pity. Pity serves no one. In sharing your experience with us, I am sure you’re not looking for someone to say “poor you”. If I know codas, I am pretty sure your defensive response to that kind of statement would be to shun the pity and fiercely swing the other way by talking about all of the wonderful things that come from being raised in a deaf-parented home.

      As you have clearly stated, experiences like yours are our reality. It is what it is. Sometimes bad. Sometimes good. Simply our world. Our life.

      No, thank you. Your comments are so very appreciated and I am sure mirrored by others.

      • Ricky C. says:

        You are right Amy. I was, by no means, looking for pity, nor sympathy even. Just stating the situations we were placed in. And, I’m talking about 1960′s and early 70′s society. With the technological advancements for Deaf whereby Deaf parents don’t have to rely so much on their hearing children for communication along with, I think, a better understanding toward Deaf in society, today’s Codas have a different experience I believe. You’re also correct regarding the many positives of our upbringing in a dual-cultured family.

        p.s. got that haircut yesterday but the gal said I didn’t have enough hair for 2 styles at the same time.

  52. john hendricks says:

    I have read this article now, maybe 7 times! I think back when I was just beginning my interpreting profession 20 years ago. I basically worked alone and was just about the only male working the South Bay Area at the time. I was oblivious to the interpreting world much less coda world. However, when I finally got certified then began working in the brand new VRS setting that I began to see some fissures between coda and non-coda interpreters. I didn’t understand this and began to keep my codaness quiet. I always approached others in my field as colleauges not caring who was what. However, the more I interacted the more of that “us vs. them” attitude was more noticeable.

    During a large menthorship training in Salt Lake City I was at a table with about 8 of us interpreters, evenly split coda, non-coda. I decided to flat out ask the non-coda if they thought we (codas) looked down on them and they resoundingly responded “yes”. I was a little surprised and asked them if they realized that many of us think that the non-coda interpreters looked down on us! They were just as surprised. We had a fantastic conversation, that I believe, we left feeling alot better about each other. I think that open, honest discussions like the one this article describes will bring about positive change, understanding and camaraderie.

    At RID in Atlanta I attended a workshop sponsored by IDP and presented by Pam Snedigar. She basically laid out the history of RID and who held what positions over the years. It was interesting to note that nearly all of the positions were held by either Deaf or Coda up until the NAD split, thereafter neither hardly filled any positions. Did we, as codas, follow our allegiance to NAD then just stayed away? or did we figure “someone else” would run for RID positions? Whatever the reasons, I think this article is also a big wake up call to get ourselves more involved in this profession regionally or nationally.

    • Amy Williamson says:

      I applaud your ‘flat out’ asking. Your experience is exactly what needs to happen. I’m pretty sure we are all walking around with misconceptions about each other that would easily be straightened out if we’d just talk about them with each other.
      What were the conditions that led you to be so brave and simply ask and more importantly to ask your follow up question about what coda interpreters think of hearing interpreters? Are those conditions easily replicable?
      Thank you for sharing this with us.

      • john hendricks says:

        Amy, what led me to just ask was this idea I was working through in my head to develop a workshop to address this issue. My thoughts were to have a straight up honest conversation with a Coda and non-Coda facilitating and each offering up their perspectives, thoughts, ideas..etc. in a way to get past this feeling of walking on “egg shells” with each other. I have since dropped the idea thinking that only Codas would show up. Cynical?, perhaps.

        I have to say here that I think I am lucky to live where I do because generally speaking many of my colleagues (non-Coda) are fantastic people and interpreters (some of whom I look up to and am in awe of their skills and tell them so!) where this us vs. them is never an issue. However, attending any RID event I see and hear the negativity more pronounced

  53. Stefanie Smolinski says:

    Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for this beautifully written article. I had always felt out of place and angry most of my childhood and spent a great deal being hard on myself until I learned to put “her” away. After reading this article, not going to lie, “she” revisited me for a second but I now know it isn’t me, it’s the uneasy in-between that is just as common for most CODAs than I had thought. I could never understand why my father’s siblings didn’t learn to communicate with their own brother yet didn’t think twice about talking my own ear off, right in front of him! Oh, the guilt we had for trying to be polite to them yet loyal to him. I had recently in the last few years felt strongly about standing up for him to his siblings to show his desire to be a family, the older he gets the more he wants to go back to his roots. This article is precious and I sent it to his sisters and brothers. That very next night they called him via video phone and he’s never felt more at peace. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU. :,)

    • Amy Williamson says:

      You are not the only one that has shared this article with hearing aunts and uncles and received favorable results. I have also heard from a woman (full hearing) whose young son’s best friend is a coda and she says that she learned much from this article.

      Thank you for furthering this discussion outside of the interpreting profession and into our extended families. There is much to be gained.

  54. Rebekah says:

    Thank you for posting this. I am myself a CODA, a student in an interpreter training program and nearly each one of my fellow students have come to me for help. Stating, “This must be so easy for you, being a CODA and all”. You have put what I have been feeling not only as a student but as a CODA into words that I could not begin to write. I thank you.

  55. Dennis says:


    This is a wonderfully thoughtful article – thank you for this. What a terrific – and difficult – act of self-reflection. Kudos to you!!! It absolutely must be required reading for students in IEPs. I would strongly suggest that you submit it to the VIEWS so that it reaches those RID members who are not following StreetLeverage. This article should impel each of us who is an RID member to push as hard as possible for the dedicated coda seat on the RID board. You have made the most convincing and compelling arguments for having such a seat and that is why I urge you to submit it to the VIEWS.

    Very nice work — you’ve said what has needed to be said for a long time and said it most eloquently.

    • Amy Williamson says:

      Thank you for being such a strong, loud voice for the coda perspective and for deaf heart within our profession.

  56. Josie McDaniel-Burkett says:

    I truly believe you have been peeking in my window for 39 years! Your article was written for me. I absolutely adore my Deaf parents and my Deaf Step-Parents. I went into interpreting because I wanted to – just like you said. I love it so much that I opened up my own company and have interpreters that work with me.
    Tears were shed for a while after reading your article. You are truly blessed to be able to explain what us CODAs have felt and not able to say for a long time. THANK YOU!

  57. Thea says:

    I can empathize with this article despite not being a CODA. Though, I am disturbed by this:

    “An example of the invisibility of between is the lack of coda involvement at the formal and informal decision-making tables within the field. How many non deaf codas have there been over the past few years on the RID National Board? How about within the RID committee structure? How many codas are there on state chapter committees and executive boards? How many codas are there in the wise circle of professionals that you call on when you need to talk out an issue? Whatever you answer, I will argue, as does Dennis Cokely in his post, Vanquished Native Voices—A Sign Language Interpreting Crisis?, that it is not enough.”

    Perhaps we should be questioning why there is a lack of CODAs becoming interpreters in the first place, and not whether there is enough CODA Interpreters in “power positions”?

    I am in my first year of an Interpreter Training Program, and do not presume to know much about this subject, but statistically speaking, CODAs represent only 10% in my program year. If we want to ask why CODA Interpreters are not in these power positions, it seems to me that first we must recognize that there is a substantial difference in CODA and non-CODA enrollment in Interpreter Training Programs. Given this disparity, it is reasonable that there would be fewer CODA Interpreters in power positions, based solely on the restricted numbers entering the field in the first place.

    I do not believe that the unique CODA Interpreter voice is pushed aside, but that for the most part it has withdrawn itself from the conversation. Perhaps it is due to being vilified or worshipped?

    Thank you for a wonderful and interesting read. Keep broadening my perspective!

    • Amy Williamson says:

      Welcome to the profession, Thea! Thank you so much for replying.

      You say that you are disturbed by what I state in your citation from the article. I am interested in hearing what aspect of the quote is disturbing to you and why.

      You ask: “Perhaps we should be questioning why there is a lack of CODAs becoming interpreters in the first place, and not whether there is enough CODA Interpreters in “power positions”?”

      I believe the questions can not be separated and have related answers. You can probably answer the questions yourself.

      This is how I see it:

      I am no expert on Interpreter Education Programs but I do know that you do not need to attend one to become an interpreter. I’m proof of that. Currently, in order to sit for a certification from RID you have to have a bachelor degree but it does not need to be an interpreting degree. Many interpreters enter the field without attending an IEP. Knowing this, it is not accurate to estimate the number of codas in the field by the number of interpreters in any given IEP.

      By reading many of the comments to this article, you will see that IEP’s have not always been a good fit for codas. As an IEP student yourself, this must make some sense. A coda usually already has some language proficiency, cultural knowledge, and interpreting experience that their classmates do not have. IEP curricula are not developed with a coda student in mind. Codas know this and prefer not to attend IEPs but instead enter the field in various other ways.

      I can appreciate your opinion that a codas voice is ‘not’ pushed aside but that codas instead have “withdrawn from the conversation”.

      I would argue that being vilified and worshiped is exactly what makes codas withdraw from the conversation so, I agree with you on that point. I would also argue that the only difference in pushing codas aside and feeling like you are being pushed aside as a coda is perspective. I am sharing the experience of being a coda interpreter in this article, I am telling you that codas feel pushed aside. You may not believe it, you may not be the one doing it, but it is happening…trust me.

      Thea, keep thinking. Keep spinning the scenario so that questions come up that can get sussed out through dialogue. You are entering our field at an exciting time. Thank you for being open to broadening your perspective. We have much to learn from each other.

  58. Danny Elliot says:

    Thanks for the memories, I had forgotten about the Coda in me.

  59. Carla Garcia-Fernandez says:

    This heartfelt article left a lump to my throat. This forces me to stop and reflect how my husband and I as Deaf Mexican parents could do better job understanding multiple worldviews of our two hearing biracial boys from my husband’s previous marriage. Secondly, this topic particularly being in an “in-between” space reminds me of Gloria Anzaldúa as she writes:

    “Bridges are thresholds to other realities, archetypal, primal symbols of shifting consciousness. They are passageways, conduits, and connectors that connote transitioning, crossing borders, and changing perspectives. Bridges span liminal (threshold) spaces between worlds, spaces I call nepantla, a Nahuatl word meaning tierra entre medio. Transformations occur in this in-between space, an unstable, unpredictable, precarious, always-in–transition space lacking clear boundaries. Nepantla es tierra desconocida, and living in this liminal zone means being in a constant state of displacement- an uncomfortable, even alarming feeling. Most of us dwell in nepantla so much of the time it’s become a sort of “home.” Though this state links us to other ideas, people, and worlds, we feel threatened by these new connections and the change they engender” (p.1).

    Your voice shows your existence. Your voice and many other voices of codas shall not be silenced or attacked. Let us continue with dialogue and consciousness raising. Well done, Amy!

  60. Cheryl Gillespie-Thomas says:

    How fantastic that this conversation is happening. Being a CODA has often been a barrier in my work, but not because of myself, rather the need to protect myself from comments such as “being a CODA does not make you better”, or “you do all the voicing” (always a favorite). It was a barrier in my ITP as well with students who were not CODAs. I remember clearly one day when I asked (very sincerely) why the other students wanted to be interpreters. I was curious as to why anyone would jump into this wacky world. The only response I received was, “You don’t have to be a CODA to be an interpreter.” Since that time I’ve NEVER asked the question (even while mentoring or training). I too have withdrawn from the conversation.
    I just submitted my vote regarding the new RID Member at Large position. the conversations that have been happening here and elsewhere have excited me and re-energized me. Thank you Amy for your honesty and I also believe, for your courage in putting a voice to what many of us have felt for years.

    • Amy Williamson says:

      Yes…it is fantastic that this conversation is happening. I am glad to hear that you are excited and re-energized. I trust that that energy will serve our profession well.
      I have received a lot of private messages in response to this article. Many of them from deaf people who have expressed surprise and shock that there is this hearing interpreter/coda interpreter tension. Do you have any thoughts about that?

  61. Aaron Brace says:

    Hi, Amy! Please accept my shamefully belated thanks for letting us non-coda interpreters hear so forthrightly what many codas experience in the interpreting profession. It’s appalling that codas/IDPs don’t feel welcome to a seat at the table that they themselves built alongside their parents.

    Early in my career I was guilty of regarding coda colleagues exactly as you’ve described and I can’t claim to be completely free of it now. I personally need to have voices like yours centrally and consistently placed in our field in order to understand my own experiences more fully, and to have role models for how I might more authentically find my way in the lives of Deaf people. I’ve been at this for 31 years, and the only thing that saves me some time is my ability to ‘fess up to not knowing something without getting my defenses up.

    Please write some more. And, hey- Lewis Merkin has announced his candidacy for RID president next term … “Vice President Williamson” has an awfully nice ring to it. I’m just sayin’.

    Thanks again,

    • Amy Williamson says:

      Thanks for piping up. I was wondering when you would put your 2 cents in.

      As always, you share a perspective that I value and appreciate.

      A few questions for you.

      Are there things that codas can do to prevent a defensive stance from non-coda interpreters? Is there something we do or a manner of approach that presses the “I feel the need to be defensive” button of non-coda interpreters? If we are all going to hold each other accountable, these are the difficult things we need to be talking about.


  62. Jenn Howes says:

    Hi Amy,
    THANK YOU for writing your article and sharing it, it has definitely enriched & furthered my understanding. I read pieces of it awhile ago, but just today was able to revisit this and read it from start to finish, a few times. There will always be open chairs at my table, and drinks are on the house.

  63. Betty Colonomos says:

    Dear Amy,

    No, I have not been on another planet. I purposely inhibited my need to respond/express/question everything right away and I am so glad I did. Through all the years I have known and loved you, I never knew what a talented writer you are. It was a pleasure to read such a clear, concise, thoughtful, and eloquent article.

    I’ve just finished reading all the comments made. Many heart sparks seeing the postings. You have given many codas a forum and have planted important seeds that will grow into action and involvement…I know how good that feels. Enjoy it.

    I felt my throat tighten with emotion as I read the replies of many non-coda interpreter colleagues. It is so important for us to recognize and encourage those who will be the impetus for change outside of coda or Deaf efforts (that have been ignored or minimized.) Those “coda-friendly” interpreters that are also friends respect my coda-ness and respect me enough to disagree or share their insights that may be contrary to mine. They have let us know they need and want us around and because of this, I want them around me.

    Finally, I would love to know how you and you responders feel about this coda-related issue with RID. Every well-managed organization must collect data on its membership’s demographics and viewpoints. For some unexplained reason (I have written to RID many times asking for changes), the membership base is categorized as Deaf, Hard-of Hearing, or Hearing. This medical view of the community uses an audiogram as a measure of the makeup of the organization. It is not hard to imagine that what has gotten lost are the many coda votes and perspectives that get collapsed into and drowned out by the disproportionate numbers of hearing vs, bilingual bicultural interpreters in our field. I suspect that if Motion E passes, this will be corrected.

    Thank you for the letting me know you and all your gifts. You are also an amazing mother!

    Let’s keep this dialogue going and moving!


    • Rayni says:

      I actually agree with Betty on this point about how we medicalize our categories, I had never thought of this before. That’s not why I am here though, I promise. While the article was well written and easy to read, I kept asking myself “what does this have to do with the Sign Language Interpreting profession?” I really mean on a macroscopic scale, a global scale. Deaf Parented interpreters globally are working with over 1,000 spoken to signed languages so I have to ask…What data can be provided that clearly distinguishes a CODA interpreter from any other? It doesn’t have to be something overt but it has to be something substantial in order to warrant a vote on any governing body.

      To be frank, I am one of the people who disagrees with the DPMAL motion. I am one of the people who views CODAs as a hearing interpreter much like I view all other hearing interpreters. While I recognize that having Deaf parents is a unique experience, I am still not convinced that an exclusive and mandatory seat is required on the RID BOD. I believe that a CODA will easily win out as President of the RID BOD and I am willing to put my money on it.

      • Amy Williamson says:

        Thank you for engaging here within StreetLeverage. I have seen your posts in other forums on this topic and I appreciate that you have come here to read this article and the comments to it.

        In your comment, I pull out 2 points. 1. you see no reason to have a dedicated member at large (or any other, I assume) position within an interpret governing body. 2. you see no difference between Codas and hearing of hearing interpreters.

        I am unable to address the first point without addressing the 2nd. At the time I write this response to you, there are 137 comments to this article. Most of which echo the sentiment I lay out that shows that Codas interpreters are different than hearing interpreters. If you are in need of more scholarly evidence, I also suggest these resources:

        Frankly, whether you want to acknowledge it or not, Coda interpreters are different than hearing interpreters. Our relationships with Deaf people are intimate and real and start the day we are born. If you have children, this must make some sense to you. Your viewing of us as being the same is negating my entire article and the experience of every person that has commented that this article resonated for them. Your saying that you don’t see it or agree with it does not make it less so.

        I believe I read in another post you made somewhere else that you have Coda interpreters that you respect in your community. I suggest you tell them what you have said here and have a real and engaging discussion with them about how they may be different than hearing interpreters.

        Again, thanks for the comment. I am happy to continue this discussion with you…

  64. Kim MacKey says:

    Wow is all I can say at the moment! I too am a CODA interpreter. Reading this article and its comments has stirred up a lot of mixed emotions in me. I’m too overwhelmed by them to express in detail. Amy your words are inspiring and I beam with pride reading this. However, it’s has been a struggle. Being a CODA is not the struggle but being an interpreter has. I don’t articulate well when I’m upset therefore while trying to explain my (Deaf supporting) perspectives to other terps can be a challenge. I get the feeling I’m looked at as a “Fanatic” because I have Deaf parents and a Deaf partner. Or I’m too “Deaf” to think clearly as a professional interpreter. I would like to share more of my thoughts at a later date. This is all I have to say for now. Hopefully this dialogue will continue and I can contribute in the future. Too choked up at the moment.

  65. DOROTHY OTERO says:

    Hi Amy,

    I read your article with interest, connectedness, and affirmation. I am a CODA who is the Vice President of a Deaf Senior Group and have had this role for three years. I agree with your sentiments on not being taken seriously on occasion for “not being deaf enough”. Having to be the voice, advocate, discerner, interpreter, etc since I was preschool and experience all that you describe from the hearing world has made me even more of a deaf rights crusader. I appreciated your delineation of the various experiences we all have encountered. Finally, someone who understands and articulates our CODA world!
    I am posting your article on fb so my family will get a glimpse into my world!
    love and blessings~

    • Dorothy Otero says:

      I wanted to further add, that my deaf parents never hated the hearing world. That simply was never discussed. Injustices, on occasion. It was the pitying that both my hearing sister and I would resent. However, it was, what it was and we both were stronger people for having deaf parents.
      All of my immediate family has passed and I am currently involved with the deaf community, both in my work and somewhat socially. I still find myself feeling I have the “edge” over the interpreters especially those who have not immersed themselves in the deaf culture. Some appreciate my input and others revile it.

  66. Bill Moody says:

    Thanks so much, Amy! Very eloquent. Like Aaron, I also need to be reminded that a Coda’s fluency in ASL, the knowledge of everyday signs of home life and mechanics and cooking and love and everything that makes life rich, the vocabulary and attitudes in all the little corners of life which are not taught in classes or ITPs and only learned from living in close quarters with Deaf people, that knowledge is gained through years of being in the culture, is a treasure that I can draw on from my Coda friends. We non-codas do need you!

    I would also love to hear from children of hearing immigrants who speak no English. It seems that their experiences are very similar. Chinese parents who speak no English are viewed in very similar fashion in NYC. These parents are also often looked down on as illiterate and uneducated, whether they are or not, and I think the struggles of those children, having to interpret for the parents, are almost identical…

    Great article, Amy!

    • Amy Williamson says:

      Thank you, Bill.

      Yes, I agree…children of hearing immigrants share a similar experience to a coda’s in functioning as an interpreter. I would argue that children of gay parents have a similar experience to a coda’s but not for linguistic reasons.

  67. Lauren Potempa says:


    I truly appreciate the insight into the coda experience.

    Admittedly, I am behind on reading this and didn’t take the time to read all the comments so please forgive me if this was already asked. Can you explain how it is that you as a coda do not feel you are invited to the table? In my head, anyone with interest in serving on a committee or board at any level is welcome. In fact, in my experience on an affiliate chapter board, we had to beg people to get involved. With that as my backdrop, I find it hard to understand that anyone – regardless of coda status – would be shunned, turned away, or unwelcome.


    • Amy Williamson says:

      Thank you for asking this question. I know you are not alone in wondering what the issue is. I can see that in my article, the barriers to the decision making tables of our profession may not be as clearly outlined here as they are in my mind and in many coda interpreters’ realities.

      Let me try again here. I will speak as plainly as I can. I can get wordy. :)

      Yes, it is true that any person qualified for a committee or board of either the national RID or an Affiliate Chapter can volunteer or run for a seat.

      Yes, it is also true that many Affiliate Chapters and the national RID are experiencing an apathetic membership and it is difficult to get folks to step up to the plate. I believe this is part of a larger issue within RID that I will not address here.

      Coda interpreters in many areas do not feel valued, understood, or appreciated for the unique relationship and understanding we have with the deaf and hearing communities we serve. Many hearing (as opposed to coda) interpreters keep coda interpreters at arm’s length. From my conversations with hearing interpreters, I have learned that this happens because of fear. Fear of what is unclear to me. I am sure it is different for each person. Fear of change? Fear of being challenged? Fear of their status changing in some way? This fear on the part of the hearing interpreter can manifest in many different ways. For some codas, it means they are overtly shunned, turned away or made to feel unwelcome. For others, it is more subtle. Codas are a minority group within RID. Most of the membership comes from non-deaf parented homes. It is easy for codas to feel outnumbered and out maneuvered, a minority voice. I live in Vermont where I am the only certified coda interpreter within a 2 hour radius. There are others like me out there. It is not easy to be the lone voice in a field full of interpreters with no real or authentic connection with a deaf person. I realize that I am making a blanket statement here to make my point.

      The subtle behaviors are harder to pin down but can be more institutional in nature and pervasive. As an example, if a committee’s composition is made by members asking other interpreters to join. The members are more likely to seek out other interpreters that are like-minded or may be friends with them. If many hearing interpreters are keeping coda interpreters at arm’s length, then the coda interpreters will not be tapped to join the committee…even if the committee membership is an ‘open’ process. The people asked will be the ones to join. The ones not asked will be less likely to step up. Also, many of us entered the field without going through an Interpreter Education Program and feel as if (or are made to feel as if) our ‘uneducated’ perspective is worthless.

      Ask the codas in your community what can be done to make the affiliate chapter service more appealing. Let them know you NEED them. Let them know that you value their perspective and are committed to including it…even when there are disagreements or you may not necessarily approach the work in the same way as they do. Make sure that there is a coda voice in all layers of decision making in your chapter and on the national level. Have a look at your affiliate chapter. If you don’t already have codas’ voice on board, then I can bet the codas in your area don’t feel welcome in some way. This may be a great time to reach out to them and see what can be done to make sure everyone feels like they have a voice. It’s not about having an empty seat at the table. It’s about seeing a perspective that you’d value hearing, pulling the chair back, and inviting that perspective to have a seat.

      Again, I appreciate your question. I hope this has helped. If others have some different thoughts, I’d be very open to hearing them.


      • Lauren Potempa says:

        Thanks for the extra info. When I step back and remember that not everyone scores fully on the extrovert end of a Myers-Briggs the way I did, I can see the need to pull back the chair at the table.

        Interesting that you mention being made to feel less than because of not going through a formal school program. The one negative experience that sticks with me related to coda/non-coda comes from a coda who insinuated that my degree was meaningless and that only codas were valuable interpreters. Thankfully it was a singular experience, but it definitely still sticks with me. Seems like an overall increase in kindness and respect to one another is in order.

  68. Jennifer Harper says:

    I’m a CODA who began interpreting in 1987 when I was mentored by an experienced CODA interpreter whose parents were friends with my parents. He was an exceptional mentor and teacher who later went on to become president of RID, though only for one term. We haven’t talked much over the years, mostly because I’ve moved so far away. However, I do plan to inquire about his experience as a CODA and president of RID. I’m guessing it will be a very intriguing conversation. I’ll see if he will share it with Street Leverage!

    After close to a year of working with my mentor, I began delving into freelance work. I was not yet certified at the time and was barely 19 years old. Regardless of my age, I can confidently say that I was qualified in the assignments that I accepted and declined those that I felt were beyond my expertise and experience. Even still, I was met with a certain air of hostility from some of my colleagues. Most were seasoned, experienced interpreters, though others were similar in age or older. There were not many, mind you, but there were some and it was obvious how they felt. I can only imagine what they must have been thinking, “Who is this young 19-year-old sitting here working beside me claiming to be an interpreter? I graduated from an ITP and also have a Master’s in Deaf Studies. Pfffft!” Yet, there I was keeping up with the lecture, workshop, etc. without much incident. I’m guessing that probably frustrated them even more.

    I would often ask myself, “Have I not earned the right to be here? I have knowledge of the language, was mentored by one of the best interpreters in the field, and did my share of reading every book I could find in the field. Is it my age?” There were so many questions and so few answers at the time. Though I certainly had more friendly colleagues than not, I must admit that it really got to me. At that age, I believe that most young women tend to judge themselves more harshly and frankly, we want to please everyone. After working for about five years in the field, I went into a completely different line of work. Though I did continue to interpret at night and on weekends to keep my chops polished, interpreting was no longer my day job. I must say, I was relieved to no longer feel like I was constantly being held under a microscope. People at my new day job didn’t even know what a CODA was—the extended ending of a song maybe?

    A few years later, after gaining a quite varied amount of experience from gallery manager/art broker to commercial leasing agent and attending college for computer science, I returned to full-time interpreting. A few years later, I took my certification test through the NAD. I knew that certification was going to be a must to fully gain the respect of my colleagues–and rightfully so. It’s the least I could do to demonstrate my commitment to the same standards and ethics that we all adhere to. Without an ITP, regardless of what I know or how much experience I had prior, certification demonstrates that a certain level of skill and knowledge of the CPC (at that time, the Code of Ethics) has been observed by a non-biased, third-party entity. I’ve not had any issues since, or maybe it’s because I’m older and things tend to just bounce right off of me.

    I believe that my experience is not different than what many CODA’s experience. Considering that I began working pre-ADA passing when people really had to fight hard to get services, today is a completely different world than it was back then. Yet somehow, there are many things that never change.

    Working in this field, I’ve concluded, takes a very thick skin and the understanding that people will always talk. It is up to me whether I will let it bother me or not. I choose the latter. I’m an easy going, laid-back person by nature and don’t feel the need to justify who I am anymore. 25 years in the business speaks for itself. Yes, I will always have a lot to learn. That is what I’ve come to love about this field. We can never quite touch the pinnacle—yet constantly strive to reach it.

    Still, even after all these years, I find myself hesitant to become involved in RID. In fact, in all my years, I’ve only attended 2 national conferences! I do attend the regional ones, of course, and obtain my CEU’s through a variety of other avenues. It seems, however, that I find myself wanting to avoid the politics of it all. Could it be because subconsciously there is still a bit of a scar left unhealed? I can’t truly say or put my finger it, but it’s there. When I was younger, it was much harder to take the heat. Today, I could care less about gossip and just continue on my way. I know that as long as I’m providing quality services in adherence with our CPC, I have nothing to worry about. I do believe that many CODA’s feel the same way. I do believe that we should find additional ways to incorporate CODA’s into the RID structure in a more substantial way than what we currently have today. I look forward to seeing what comes our way.

    Finally, I wanted to say that I’ve truly enjoyed your article and thank you for warming my heart with your anecdotes and heartfelt memories of growing up CODA. I can relate to so much–especially growing up with not only Deaf parents, but also having a Deaf sister, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. In some ways, the Deaf outnumbered the hearing. It was an interesting dynamic. I’ll post more about my experience in my own article, but want to thank you for your contribution with this thought-provoking essay!

  69. Amy Williamson says:


    You and I have had a very, very similar path. Starting with being mentored by codas when I first entered the field in 1990 and winding our way to where we are currently in the field. I hope you are able to share your experience and wisdom on a local level even if you aren’t involved formally on a larger level. You have much to offer. Particularly in mentoring young codas entering the field.

    The article I have written here is partially my story but it is mostly the story of codas that I know around the country. It is the ‘we’ story of being a coda interpreter. Some points resonate more strongly than others. We all carry our shared experiences differently and in turn handle or react to others in our field from our own unique lens.

    Thank you for sharing your story with everyone and I hope our paths cross sometime.


  70. Great article, Amy! As a non-CODA, I value the feedback and opinions and experiences of those who are CODAs and I agree that as the make-up of the interpreting profession changes and evolves, CODAs should always have a place “at the table” to be able to share from that unique perspective.

    And having known your family for almost 2 decades, I know what a huge blessing your family is.

  71. Justine says:

    Thanks for your article and thanks to everyone’s comments sharing the feelings behind living in a world between.

  72. Annette says:

    This article is very well written, it speaks volumes!!! I am a SODA of 4

    sibling of 4 Deaf adults!!! whew, what a confusing,expressive,experience filled time i had growing up
    it was a journey up hill with a side of 2 worlds

  73. Millie Hursin says:

    Amy, I don’t read many articles cuz they are often filled with “theory” and research. Your article captured me through and through. It’s the essence of who we are. This truly warmed my heart and brought tears to my eyes. The connection is there. Haven’t see you in yearrrrs but after reading the article – I felt as though I was standing right next to you. Thank you for writing and sharing.

  74. Joe McCleary says:

    Great news there are 3 open Board seats open now on the RID board. The chairs are pulled out and ready to welcome someone….

  75. Amy Williamson says:

    Very true. It could be an exciting time within RID with the current vacant seats and with the filling of committees. I only hope that deaf parented interpreters are being welcomed, mentored, and supported to step into these seats. Having a seat available does not necessarily equate to being valued, accepted and welcomed.
    Thanks for engaging.

  76. Debbie says:

    I lay my head on the table! Where were all those words.. how could I have assembled them just like THAT to all the years of “hearing” therapists..

Post a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *