Trudy Suggs | Deaf Disempowerment and Today’s Interpreter

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

Deaf Disempowerment and Today’s Interpreter

A Person Who is Deaf Feeling DisempoweredIn the spirit of being transparent, the stories I’m about to share might be uncomfortable for some of you.  While I would like to speak my truth, I recognize that you have your own truth as well.  I trust that you will evaluate the stories I share and recognize the value in them. I actually was, and am, reluctant about presenting today because like many deaf people who speak out, I’ve had to endure a lot of negative feedback for being a “strong personality,” “angry deaf person,” and so on. My goal today is for you, as interpreters, to be open to possibly uncomfortable topics, uncomfortable truths, and uncomfortable analyses—whether they apply to you or not.

I believe that the best way to become bona fide allies is to embrace difficult ideas, opinions and, yes, facts. At the end of the day, we’re all in this together.

Four weeks ago, my two-year-old son fell and broke his leg. A week later, I took him, along with my one-year-old, to the orthopedic doctor for a check-up. Now, I live in a town where there are 250 to 300 deaf people living among 23,000 people; we have the deaf school, so everyone knows how to sign or how to work with interpreters. After about 45 minutes of waiting in the lobby—very unusual for a town of this size—I asked the receptionist about the severe delay. The receptionist never once looked up from her computer, saying that the doctor was backed up. I asked if we could see the doctor since my children were restless, hungry and my son, in a body cast from chest to toe, needed his medicine—which was at home. She said no. I said, “Could you please speak to the doctor or nurse?” She replied, “Oh, no, I can’t do that,” and I repeated my request. She adamantly refused.

I finally said, “Could you please look at me?” She looked at the interpreter, and I said, “No, at me.” Once she did, I asked, “Could you please offer a resolution? We’ve been here an hour.” At that very moment, my baby began crying, and the receptionist finally realized the extent of my situation. A nurse came out who was far more courteous and apologetic. After we talked about the delay, I asked how I could make a complaint about the receptionist.

A few minutes later, the receptionist called the interpreter over, saying the interpreter had a phone call. The interpreter answered the phone, and realized it was the office manager calling for me. All this time, the receptionist was looking at me with dagger eyes. The office manager began asking questions. I explained that I wasn’t comfortable talking about the situation because the receptionist was listening in. The office manager reassured me she’d be in touch. As I returned to my seat, I realized the interpreter was still by the front desk. I looked back and saw her cover her mouth as she whispered to the receptionist. When she came back to where we were sitting, I asked what she had said to the receptionist.

“Nothing, why?”

“I saw you whisper to her, what did you say?”


“No, I saw you whisper. What was it about?”

She relented and said, “Uh, she began apologizing to me for her behavior, and said she didn’t mean to talk to you like that. I told her it was okay.”

“But it isn’t okay how she treated me. Why didn’t you tell her to apologize directly to me?”

I could see the realization of her mistake dawn over her face. Just then, we were called into the examination room and the appointment was over fairly quickly.

Such a simple act of trying to mediate a situation—when she really didn’t have the right to—became situational disempowerment. Had she been in my shoes, would she have told the receptionist it was okay? I don’t know. Mind you, I would absolutely work with this interpreter again. Still, the experience led me to think about disempowerment.

Let’s take a quick look at the word disempowerment. The word has quite a simple definition for such a powerful concept: to take away power.

As interpreters, you have a very delicate line to walk on the job. You have to figure out how to mediate culture, conflicts, personalities, and a million other things all at the same time as interpreting. I won’t go into theoretical mumbo-jumbo about that because you already know this. I will, however, share my experiences as a person who comes from a family of at least 600 combined years of experience in the deaf community, as a mother to four deaf children, and as someone who is supposedly at the center of the deaf community. I also work as a certified deaf interpreter, and have grown up always believing that the deaf community and the hearing community are really not all that much different—even if there are worlds of differences in so many ways.

There are two types of disempowerment discussed throughout today’s talk and workshop, both interconnected: situational disempowerment and economic disempowerment.

For another example of situational disempowerment, let’s go back to when I was 13 years old. I went to a public high school that had 80 deaf students and 8 full-time interpreters. I took a theater course with three other deaf students and maybe 25 hearing students; it was interpreted by one of the better interpreters. She criticized my signing every single day, saying that I signed too fast and too “ASL.” She even went as far as voicing gibberish if she didn’t understand me—at fast speeds to mimic my signing speed—and this would cause the hearing students and teacher to break out in laughter.

For an extremely insecure teenager struggling with her identity, having attention called to her like this was beyond horrifying. This was humiliation, pure and simple. The interpreter, to cover up her lack of fluency, purposefully disempowered me. Even today, I momentarily revert to that 13-year-old whenever someone says I sign too fast—which, by the way, a deaf person has never said to me. Interpreters should be accountable for their lack of fluency and not put this on the deaf person’s shoulders.

Every interpreter’s goal should be to ensure communication access, not disempowerment in any form. To take away a deaf person’s power, whether intentionally or unintentionally, is unacceptable. With that in mind, there is another way deaf people can be disempowered—and that’s financially.

As we all know, there are people who do take advantage of the deaf community. History has shown this time after time, ranging from pretending to be deaf and peddling ABC cards to trying to get out of tickets or charges. Back in 1997, I uncovered one of the most bizarre stories I’ve ever come across. While we’ll discuss this more in my workshop, it is a long, strange tale with so many twists and turns. This really happened. This isn’t fiction.

In 1997, Saturn, the car corporation, ran a series of advertisements both on television and in print. This ad campaign was called its Real People, Real Cars campaign—and featured actual owners, not actors, in its ads. I need to say that one more time: the people in the ads were actual owners. Not actors.

One of the owners was Holly Daniel, who posed as a deaf person. When I saw the televised advertisement, I immediately knew she wasn’t deaf. I called the car company, and a representative there insisted she was deaf. That’s when I learned that it was a campaign featuring actual owners.  After a serendipitous series of events—including a lot of backlash from people who were angry that I would be so nitpicky— I got a tip from someone that this woman was an educational interpreter and not deaf.

When I talked with Holly about the claims that she was hearing, she responded that she was deaf, but she had a twin sister who was hearing, and that was what was causing the confusion. She even faxed me falsified birth certificates. After many odd incidents, she finally came clean. I later found out that she had pretended to be deaf for up to two years before the advertisement—so she didn’t do it for the money alone.

Speaking of money—she was to get $75,000 for the ad campaign. She ended up only getting $10,000—and the car company decided not to pursue legal action because that would have cost more. She’s still working as an interpreter and has never apologized to the community for what she did.

So things like this do happen—all the time.

Even if the Holly Daniel story is an extreme example, it happens in so many ways. Power follows money. When people make money off deaf people, deaf culture, and ASL, this can easily lead to disempowerment and have ripple effects.

Take ASL teaching. There are thousands of ASL teachers. Guess how many are deaf? No real statistics exist on this. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of certified Baby Sign Language instructors. How many are deaf? Your guess is as good as mine. I contacted the company that certifies instructors; it wouldn’t respond to my requests. I’ll say probably a very, very small percentage. There are about 20, maybe more, Deaf Studies programs at colleges and universities across the nation. Are all the program directors deaf? No.  What’s wrong with this picture?

One of the more common responses when I ask why a deaf person isn’t at the helm of a program or agency working with deaf and hard of hearing people is, “We advertised the position and couldn’t find anyone qualified.” That certainly could be the case. Still, I say hogwash. Such situations lead to economic disempowerment and its ripple effects: deaf people aren’t hired, and those outside of the deaf community continue to have beliefs and perceptions shaped by hearing people.

If no qualified deaf person applies for that position, then there needs to be a short-term and long-term remedy. One solution is to keep the position open for as long as possible until someone who is qualified and deaf is hired. Another possible solution is to have an interim director in place, hire someone who is definitely capable of doing the job—and train that person until she or he is ready to take the helms. Is that costly and cumbersome? Perhaps. Cost-beneficial and cost-effective in the long run? Absolutely. This is one of many ways we can help boost deaf economics.

I first heard the term deaf economics when I interviewed DeafNation’s CEO Joel Barish for an article. He said that it’s extremely important to support deaf owners:

“. . .with more people supporting deaf businesses, there will be more job opportunities for deaf people because deaf business owners are more likely to hire deaf people more than anyone else. As a result, they can empower each other by working together or supporting each other. At the same time, with this support, visibility and networking will grow beyond the deaf community into the hearing community. It’s unfortunate that many people can’t see the bigger picture and will only chase the cheapest rates or prices instead of supporting deaf-owned businesses.”

With today’s dismal unemployment rates, we know deaf people are among the most underemployed people. Yet interpreting is one of the fastest-growing professions, largely in part because of laws requiring communication access, but it’s also because ASL is now an awesome thing to know, a cool language. Even though it has gained recognition as an actual, stand-alone language, it continues to be mocked by so many entities. We’ve all heard of the recent Lydia Callis spoofs on the Chelsea Handler show and even Saturday Night Live. While I understand Lydia’s general refusal to speak to reporters aside from the one interview I saw, I wish she could tell reporters to talk to deaf people. That would be incredibly refreshing.

I remember sitting by the pool at the 2001 RID conference in Orlando. I was with an interpreter friend, and I looked around. Interpreters surrounded us, and I said, “Wow. Everyone here is making money off my language.” She giggled, and then shushed me, saying, “Don’t say that! You’ll piss them off!”

Years later, as I remembered that conversation, I wondered why I shouldn’t have said that if it was the truth. ASL is a wealthy language not only in its contents, but also in its moneymaking opportunities.

Don’t think this is an attack on hearing people. It isn’t. After all, I, like many others, make money off my languages of ASL and English. I run a writing company that specializes in both ASL and English. I work as a certified deaf interpreter. I teach ASL and English. I train interpreters. So I have absolutely no issue with making money off any language—as long as the goal isn’t to make money, but to really share the culture and language, and to encourage genuine language acquisition.

So why do so many interpreters, mentors, rehabilitation professionals, ASL teachers, and others bristle at the idea that they’re making money off ASL? Maybe because it’s a harsh way to look at their professions. Perhaps if we face the truth, and say, “Yes, we do make money off ASL,” that’ll help us gain greater appreciation of the responsibilities that accompany the language and culture.

Even so, what is more important—to me, at least—is to understand how we can be allies in such challenging situations. How do we come together to prevent disempowerment in any form or shape? As interpreters, and as consumers, we can become aware of disempowerment, particularly situational disempowerment and how we often participate by accident or decisively. By actively resisting the almost automatic temptations of empathizing with hearing consumers—or even deaf consumers—we can minimize, even eliminate, potential disempowerment. By refusing to control situations, by deferring to the deaf person whenever appropriate, by allowing the consumers to control the situation, and by ensuring that you don’t speak on behalf of the entire deaf community especially if you’re hearing—you can take steps towards ensuring that deaf people retain their power while you do your job. Through supporting deaf businesses and agencies, operate under the assumption that a qualified deaf person should be the automatic choice—and if this isn’t the case, be among the first to question why not.

Another approach is to always analyze why something happened, and not instinctively blame it on the deaf consumer, however educated or uneducated he may be. Look at all the factors involved. Analyze whether or not the consumers felt as if they had full communication access. For many deaf people, a trigger point is losing communication access.

The bottom line is we must always strive to ensure that each culture and community is maintained and preserved by its very core, which in this situation are deaf people.  However, we must also be careful to remember that if a deaf person expresses frustration at disempowerment, it doesn’t necessarily mean she or he is angry, divisive or separatist. Rather, take a look at the situation, and figure out how, if at all, you or other interpreters might have contributed to the situation. Support deaf businesses, services and events. If a job opportunity comes up, see if it would be best filled by a deaf person. If no deaf person is available, figure out how to ensure that a deaf person could be brought in.

Of course, your primary responsibility as interpreters is language facilitation and cultural mediation.  But we must remember that all individuals, deaf or hearing, should always strive for full, mutual respect rather than disempowerment.



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About the Author

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

118 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Becky Stuckless says:

    Again, INCREDIBLE!!

    I had a few thoughts run through my mind related to your scenarios. With the first scenario at the Dr.’s office, I wonder if the interpreter feeling the need to say “it’s ok” is a hearing culture thing? Doesn’t excuse the behaviour, but rather makes us more mindful of when we are crossing cultural lines or mediating cultural differences?

    In regards to interpreters making money off your (our?) language, I had that thought on the weekend. Our local Deaf Club doesn’t host many events. On Saturday night not ONE hearing professional who makes their living off the Deaf community showed up at this event. This Sunday will be our Associations Kids Christmas Party. How many hearing professioinals will not bring their kids to this event? Why? It bothers me. They on the other hand, probably think I cross boundaries by being too tied to the community.

    • Debby Miller says:

      She is awesome! I love her honest down to earth article… in Canada I feel and see there are alot of changes happening in the interpreting profession… we are being forced into being “robot” interpreters rather than the professional interpreter & advocate of the Deaf community and it’s members. I have a Deaf daughter and commited many years ago to providing equal access to Deaf people in all aspects of life. Empowering them to fight for their rights and attain the education/skills they need to get a good job or career. In my interpreting training program they empasized that the Deaf community comes first and that we are in the outer circle of “friends” because we are hearing. (as with an onion..the term “friend” has many different level of closeness) Having a Deaf daughter and socializing with the Deaf community put me into a trusted position with our Deaf community and I am proud of that. I sadly am experiencing interpreting environments now where being a Deaf person’s “friend” even on the outer level is deemed negatively and not allowed.. interpreters are not to “chat or be friendly with Deaf persons”. That’s a hard pill for me to swallow. Don’t get me wrong I do not interpret for my “close” Deaf friends that are involved in my life but honestly if you asked any deaf person in my area that knows me they would call me a “friend” as I am a friend and advocate for the Deaf community. So with that being said with this new perspective they are focused on “making money of the Deaf person’s language” and not “caring” about them… technically in their view I couldn’t interpret for any Deaf person I know regardless of how close we are or if I just know them from a Deaf function. Sad really.. anyway I will get off my soap box now.

      • Debby says:

        an additional thought to go with my comments above… with this new perspective on our profession how does that impact our CODA interpreters? They tend to be our best interpreters available culturally and in ASL… they grew up in the Deaf environment and would be “friends” with most of the Deaf community growing up.
        The article was great for encouraging us to dig deep to analyze how we handle interpreting situations… thanks for such an honest feedback.

        • Trudy Suggs says:

          Debby, fascinating insights. Still mulling over your comments. I think it also has to do with the consumer’s understanding of the interpreter’s role. I obviously understand the interpreter’s role through and through, and I have had a few situations where I had to ask for a different interpreter (VRS, for example), because I was too buddy-buddy with the interpreter–but I’ve also had quite a few interpreters who I’m close with work with me as a consumer. I always make sure they understand that I am there as a consumer and not a friend. Has it ever made for awkward situations? Yes. But I have in mind one interpreter friend who I am good friends with–we have breakfast together from time to time, she’s come to my children’s parties and so on. I had a problem with how she voiced for me once, and I decided to e-mail her to see if we could talk about it. I was really nervous because I didn’t want to lose her friendship, but I also couldn’t just say nothing. To my amazement–and happiness–she was absolutely receptive and very honest about the challenges we had in her voicing for me. We became stronger in our interpreter-consumer roles, and also better friends because we knew that the other could separate pleasure from business.

          But I’m going off on a tangent here. Mind you, I’m still analyzing the things I brought up–I don’t have solid, solid answers (although I do have solid opinions!). So I really appreciate your $.02, $.04, $1.00.

  2. Nicole says:

    Interpreters “apologizing for” their Deaf clients is a phenomenon seen regularly on television. I have seen it on The Practice, Sue Thomas FB Eye, and even Switched at Birth, where I KNOW Jack Jason is a consultant. It shocks me and brings me to anger each and every time. Popular media, while not a valid excuse for incorrect behavior, could do a great service by depicting interpreters exactly as they should be, instead of as helpers like they so often do.

    • Becky Stuckless says:

      Nicole, not that it’s relevant, but I wonder what episode if you remember for Sue Thomas FB Eye. I don’t recall ever seeing this on Sue Thomas. Especially since Sue didn’t often use an interpreter on scene.

  3. Karen Wagner says:

    I often appreciated my interpreter’s services and try to trust them, but it is hard because I’m not sure if they are saying everything I have said ?!?! That scared me and every times ! Becky, you are right, we often don’t see them around in our Deaf events….why not ? They must have reasons….they need to learn to deal with their reasons and let us get used to them….then we all can try to understand each other better !?! I always thought the jobs can grow with more interpreters (Deaf interpreters, too) and more Deaf ppl will work ! Like u said, “disempowerments” has to go !!! I like your article, Trudy. Thanks !

    • Julie says:

      Good questions ! I tried to use the recorder more often and gave another person listened and typed the notes. so can use the feedback with that interpreter to develop the improvement interpreter’s skills.
      ” that what not I said ….. ” the interpreter thought that what I said ..( I am too fast signer and too ASL too). try to develop team work better ! so the recorder would catch voicing gibberish
      the big lesson !

  4. Kendra says:

    Thank you, Trudy, for taking the risk and speaking out. I’d love to include this in teaching IPP students and workshop participants on the topic of ethics and case discussion. The way you framed the opening of your presentation was very encouraging of the spirit of transparency. This really contributed to my learning and self assessment, ongoing.

  5. Jocelyn Cunningham says:

    I had thought the same Becky as well. Maybe saying “its okay” is a cultural thing, its still not the right way to handle it, I agree. I appreciate Trudy giving this kind of example because its really made me think of how I might be using “its okay” or similar phrases and inadvertantly disempowering the people I work with. Not only that, it has caused me to do some reflection of other kinds of ways that I could be disempowering people inadvertantly.
    You also touched on a few other hot topics and I appreciate you being bold enough to do so. I definately think there should be more discussions happening, professionally around these issues and we shouldn’t be shying away from them because they make us “uncomfortable” being uncomfortable should be seen as a good thing because we are stretching minds and opening ourselves to other perspectives.

    I really appreciate articles, vlogs and workshops, such as this, that focus on real life topics and cause us to stop and think about ourselves, our profession and how we, as interpreters, affect situations and economics. I appreciate your honesty and openness. Thank you Trudy!

    • Trudy Suggs says:

      And it works the other way around, too–I can think of several times where I told deaf people it was okay when in fact, their behavior wasn’t appropriate and how they talked to specific individuals (i.e., hearing interpreters) was really not polite at all in either culture. I think it’s a natural reaction for us to empathize with others, whether we should or not…potentially a gender thing, too. Research shows that women are more likely to apologize if they interrupt a meeting or even a casual conversation–they will say things like, “I’m sorry to interrupt, but…” while men will generally walk up to the group they’re interrupting and say, “Excuse me. I need to…” Fascinating, fascinating stuff (and if you’d like the specific reference for where I got that information, let me know–have quite a few documents here).

      Of course, this is generalizing…but I wonder how many interpreters have inadvertently stepped on consumers’ toes simply out of habit, gender, culture and so forth. Doesn’t make it okay, though, of course. I, for one, try to be more mindful of that.

      • Jocelyn Cunningham says:

        Yes, I have seen similar information about gender differences as well. One specifically related to competitions. Men tend to work very hard at beating the opponent while woman prefer to tie as to not offend anyone. Research had shown that men’s hormone levels are directly related to whether they win or lose. Hormones drop with loss and increase with winning. Women don’t experience these highs and lows. Very interesting stuff and I would love to see the information that you have! Please send it my way. :)

        All this is definately worth discusiion. Very thought provoking!

      • Yvonne Jones says:

        Oh my goodness, don’t even get me started on that! I think “I’m sorry” is programmed into us women at birth! So many bad habits, so little time to correct them ;-)

  6. DG says:


    Thank you for a very well stated article. It was eye opening and thought provoking. I like that you want to open dialog about uncomfortable ideas. We could all be more open to that concept.

    As a long time working interpreter, I have often heard from Deaf friends and consumers, “you interpreters make money off of us.” I have never been ashamed to admit that I make a living off of my skills as an interpreter. I respectfully disagree that I make money “Off of Deaf people”. I earn my living getting paid by hearing people to provide communication access to the best of my ability for BOTH the Deaf and hearing consumer. I have never ever charged a Deaf person one red cent to provide an interpreting job. If requested by people I know, I will try to do it if I am available, but it will always be pro bono.

    I am often amazed at the people who think, interpreters are rich because of what they do for a living. I took a $40,000 a year CUT in pay when I became an interpreter. In 17 years, I have never come close to replacing that income. But I have never looked back or regretted the decision because I am much saner and happier. But very few interpreters are rich, and many suffer financially for various reasons.

    You do not sound like an “angry Deaf person” to me. You sound like you are trying to make a very valid point and I respect that.

    While there is so much more I want to say about your thoughts, I will stop with these thoughts.

    Here is to open dialog about the tough topics and to growth and understanding for everyone who is open to it.

    – Outside ideas of Rightness and Wrongness, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. -Rumi

    • Elizabeth says:

      What a beautiful quote and thoughtful comment…well said.

    • Trudy Suggs says:

      Agree wholeheartedly about many interpreters not being fiscally/financially rich. That’s the name of the game for so many self-employed individuals (including me) And then there are those who DO get rich. through unethical practices..that’s another article. ;-)

      • Melinda says:

        I have been through similar situation. Being ignorant of the rights of deaf having interpreters have been violated every day.

        Hosea 4:6
        My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…

  7. Nicole says:


    I do remember, in fact. It was the episode with Troy Kotsur and the topic was cochlear implants for a child. If I remember correctly, Troys character didn’t want his son to have implants. The interpreter was there for the family, not for Sue Thomas.

    In the scene I recall, the father (Troy) was very upset and blew up at the hearing person – he doctor maybe? – and stormed out of the room. The interpreter stayed behind, shrugged his shoulders and appeared apologetic for the Deaf persons behavior. He may have even said, “Sorry,” but I’m not sure.

    It’s been a while but I remember that being really upsetting.

  8. Amy Jordan says:

    I think the comments about “it’s okay” are true that it is an appropriate cultural response. But the point is that the interpreter didn’t have the right to respond. If I understood right, she didn’t interpret the message yet. I think that is the biggest issue. The client didn’t even receive the message to respond to it. I have been in the situation where I was called out for ending a heated conversation with “thank you” when it was not specifically signed by the Deaf client. It was hearing culture appropriate but it was made clear to me that it was not the clients message. I what I thought was right in that situation and it turned out to be dis-empowering. I felt horrible and have tried to learn from it. I am forever grateful to the Deaf and Hearing communities that I work with for letting me make mistakes and keep on trying.

    • Trudy Suggs says:

      Amy, I think you have it exactly right: “The [consumer] didn’t even receive the message to respond to it.” That was exactly the thing I didn’t like–that she spoke on my behalf without my knowledge. If I had never looked back while walking to my seat, I wouldn’t have known she had whispered to the receptionist.

      Funny, though–after that incident, I had to go back to the orthopedic doctor a couple of times, and the receptionist was SUPER-SUPER-SUPER-friendly and nice. She definitely seemed a bit intimidated to talk to me the second time I went, but I was nice back to her (it’s the Midwest, right?), and from there on, it was a normal, professional interaction.

      Point is, you’re absolutely right. That was the problem, and it continues to be true in so many situations–make sure the deaf consumer, if possible, receives the message. Such a simple interaction–yet such a powerful impact all because I looked back by chance.

      • Jocelyn Cunningham says:

        Yes, I agree and it felt sneaky that the interpreter didn’t interpret the interactions and then when they denyed it several times that didn’t leave a good taste in my mouth either. I didn’t meant to minimize the event by saying that “its okay” is a cultural thing, I just felt, as I think Becky did, (who first pointed it out) that it was worth a discussion to discover when is it culturally acceptable and when its not.

        Amy you are completely right that, in this scenario, the interpreter was out of line to respond especially since the message was not yet interpreted to allow Trudy to respond for herself.

  9. Hi Trudy~
    Thanks for posting! I know I am guilty of doing that…and try to stay vigilant to keep deferring to the D/HH/Hrg in the situation. Politeness culture is visceral..sometimes when you are tired, overworked etc…you don’t make the best decisions. That is when your “auto-pilot” training helps you respond appropriately. Thanks for this reminder to be vigilant with our attitudes and behavior.

    As far as Deaf/HH applicants for jobs…one thing that is a barrier is the actual credentials. If a job requires a BA or MA (for example to be a teacher vs an aide) the system doesn’t bend to accommodate a lack of qualifications. For example, a D/HH person may be a fantastic teacher, providing wonderful language modeling, effective teaching strategies etc… but cannot move outside the aide role and payscale due to lack of college and teaching certificate.

    Thanks again!!!


    • Trudy Suggs says:

      Exactly re: degrees–and that is yet another Catch-22 situation. Often Deaf people (and many people in different underserved populations, for lack of better words) are disempowered from getting their degrees. I actually shared one such example in my workshop of the same title about two academic experiences I had in graduate school. I’ll go into that at a later date, but you’re absolutely right about the lack of qualifications and the pool being that much smaller as a result. So it leads me to believe that we need to, then, ensure that deaf people are given the same educational opportunities as their hearing peers. And so on…

  10. Donna Leshne says:

    Really? How about all the times we-interpreters made good, did right, advocated by deed if not word, created access where there was none…. I remember a time I was interpreting for a client who was very sophisticated about their own medical care and their language reflected that as did my lexical choice. The doctor, working at at “city” hospital must have been so used to dealing with clients who were not as educated, mature, competent, etc…that she stopped me and said, “she did not say that, those are your words, she did not say that…” I interpreted what the doctor said and let the deaf patient tear her a new one…..obviously the scenarios you discuss were errors in judgement, but unfortunately, that’s how most lessons are learned. Lets have some articles about how interpreters have bridged worlds for both hearing and Deaf people; some woo-hoo for the years of language practice and education and dedication and gauntlet running we do throughout our careers and, yes, the successes…..

  11. Kitty LaFountain says:

    I am always amazed by Miss Trudy’s capture of the English language, a beautiful gift to be possessed by anyone, but especially a Deaf individual. Although my profoundly Deaf sister has never be able to conquer the English language and present her stories in written English, she is able to present her stories,comments, complaints,etc in her native ASL language as eloquently as Miss Trudy. Throughout our growing years my sister and I struggled to understand each others’ culture and language. As a young adult I often asked my sister if I was too controlling? or, as you have mentioned, “disempowering”? She would say “No” and ask for my help continuously. But later in life I found out that my name sign, selected by her, was “K” hit hard against the middle of her chest, and it meant “KING!”. I think that answered my question.
    I know my intentions were and at times still are, to protect her. I could “hear” and “see” that hearing individuals were taking advantage of her. For example: buying a car, driving home with a new vehicle,giving them her old vehicle, signing papers written in English that she definitely didn’t understand. Thinking she bought the car for a total of $500. But the hard truth was, the car was $500 a month for five years, and no, it wasn’t a Cadillac!(this was in the ’70s)
    And I still tend to protect my sister and Deaf consumers when I suspect, or absolutely know that someone is taking advantage of them.
    On assignments I have this inner voice begging the consumer to “say SOMETHING! I’ll voice it! Stand up for yourself!” Many times this becomes true but sadly more times it doesn’t happen. One Deaf consumer stated to an advocate, when he told him he needed to complain, “What good will it do?” It was all I could do not to cry.
    You mentioned in your article that hearing people take advantage of the Deaf community such as pretending to be Deaf, GUILTY as charged.
    While my sister was attending St Augustine School for the Deaf and Blind, I was asked not to speak when the sailors were around. But instead to listen in on their conversations as the guys always checked out the “Signing” girls. So I did and I repeated what the sailors were saying such as, “wow, the red head is cute!”, “I like the short blonde girl”. And the girls would laugh and the sailors were confused, if they are Deaf how do they know what we are saying? Until the time I accidently stepped back from the circle and stepped on a sailor’s foot and said, “Oh I’m sorry”. Okay, I’m GUILTY!
    You mentioned “ripple effects” from earning money off of Deaf people, but what about the effects of interpreters losing money off of Deaf people? I lost several assignments because the Deaf persons wanted the church interpreter, not a certified interpreter. The church interpreter took care of their every need, money, transportation, all with a caring heart. I had already passed this part of my life, you know the one where I was a helper, not a certified interpreter. I also lost money, because in desperation I changed hats and became an advocate to ensure that no more Deaf people died in our local hospitals, because they weren’t able to participate in their own care, as they were denied an interpreter. A change of hats that I have never regretted as the Deaf finally started receiving interpreting services. But of course I am on the “Black List” and will never again interpret in our local hospitals.
    If you had made the comment to me, “Wow. Everyone here is making money off of my language.” I would have answered, “YES! and THANK YOU! and thank my sister and all her Deaf friends, and THANK my professors, especially Nancy Kelly Jones, for their teachings and encouragement, again THANKS!” My first job was as a secretary to attorneys at law, then I became an EMT, then a medic on a Army Helicopter for the reserves, then a Sign Language teacher (I spent most of my earned money paying Deaf folks to assist in my teaching), and then a waitress and lastly an interpreter. My best paying job? As a waitress!
    So, Miss Trudy, loved your article!It brought back memories!

    • Trudy Suggs says:

      Thanks, Kitty. And agree wholeheartedly re: losing money. This is also part of a bigger picture…it’s interesting, because here in Minnesota, we have a strong Community Health Worker (CHW) system, where specially trained individuals accompany people of their culture (i.e., Somali, Hmong, Deaf) to various medical appointments, provide advocacy, help educate both medical professionals AND consumers on things, and so forth. It’s an amazing job, and Anita Buel, the first Deaf CHW, told me just last Thursday that she works with a clinic that is very, very frustrated with Deaf clients for being no-shows or canceling at the last minute. This, of course, means the clinic still has to pay interpreters…and it becomes a really expensive problem. The CHWs now try to remind the Deaf clients of the importance of canceling in advance, or rescheduling.

      Still, this is not a problem restricted to the Deaf community. It happens in every population. So I think we really need to be responsible for our own actions while trying to educate all parties at the same time. Not an easy feat, for sure.

      I also think that people who choose to “help” deaf people out of the goodness of their hearts may have a slightly different view than I do. I serve people because I want to, not because they’re deaf; I do it because they’re human beings. And when I serve others, I do NOT expect anything in return. That’s what makes it “serve” as compared to “helping.” That’s just my perspective–and I can imagine a lot of people don’t agree. That’s okay. :)

  12. john hendricks says:

    Thank you for this article and video. I have to say that I have seen disempowerment run rampant in the VRS setting, which perhaps you addressed later in your workshop. More workshops like this one are needed to remind us all of what we might doing to disempower clients. Also, as to your point about interpreters not being involved with the Deaf community, I have to agree. I try to attend and volunteer at many Deaf events and have rarely seen my fellow (other than Coda) colleauges. I decided to ask a few why I never see them and the reply I got was that they didnt want to cross that “line” of professionalism. Honestly, I never understood this and I dont know where it comes from, but this needs to change.

    • Kitty LaFountain says:

      @John, having started as a “helper” back in the ’60s and progressed to a certified interpreter I can tell you the dynamics are quite different for socializing. For one thing I use to enjoy socializing, bowling,Tupper Ware parties, gossip at the Mall,baby showers, and on and on, but that changed for me. I soon realized that immediately I became(not by choice) an interpreter instead of a guest. So the fun stopped. The only time I saw things going “over the line” was when the gossip turned to folks asking me to “verify” their story and of course I couldn’t, wouldn’t, shouldn’t. Then I was seen as a snob. My oh my, couldn’t win for losing. But,luckily, because of Deaf family members and Deaf friends I do still have social times and I’m not used as an interpreter!

  13. Richard Brumberg says:

    Trudy, this was a fantastic article! My big thing is that if I make an error (in judgement or in production), *I* need to be the one to say that I made the mistake and resolve it. Your point about us being more cognizent of what we’re doing is well-taken.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences and your thoughts!

    • Trudy Suggs says:

      HARD to do that, for sure. I’m always quick to admit if I made a mistake, but it’s really hard if I don’t recognize the mistake in the first place. And I think therein lies the problem: many (interpreters or not) don’t realize that they’ve made a mistake and don’t think what they did was wrong, inappropriate, culturally disrespectful, or any other thing. So yeah, easier said than done. But if we can at least be aware of this possibility…

  14. Anne F. says:

    Well! Maybe both my honey & I should go back

  15. Hi again!
    I was thinking about the fast signing phenomenon recently. Here is how I think about it:
    Some people sign like turning on the faucet full blast. There is alot of info, minimal pausing, and it feels like a bunch of info coming at you without thought for you as a viewer trying to follow. Many of the signs may be done partially, using non-standard placement and the fingerspelling may be partial or “shorthand” as if we are best friends and know all about each other’s daily realm and context.
    Often I see these types of communications from children/teens, or people who are post-lingual signers who did not learn to sign until after the language formative years or who are younger or are effort minimalists (yes, that is a euphemism for…lazy ;o)or tired… Sometimes it almost comes across as if the person is trying to sign extra fast to appear natively fluent in standard ASL.

    In contrast, there are signers who are native or more mature ASL users. They use pacing, the information is intended more consciously for a viewer, notably a hearing viewer (interpreter)who is not intimately connected with background information or details, with standard use of fingerspelling, information chunking, time markers, classifiers and dialogue skills that pace the information based on the viewer’s comprehension or seeming comprehension.

    Then consider older signers…age 75+ Their communication is usually absolutely gorgeous. Clear, lovely fingerspelling, detailed, consistently paced conversations that are truly a joy to follow.

    OK done rambling.


    • KM says:

      There are certainly Deaf (and hearing) signers who are “effort minimalists.” There are also many Deaf signers who have learned ASL later in life, having not learned a previous signed or spoken language, and Deaf people who use ASL/”sign language” who are not fluent. However, this does not seem to be the case with Trudy’s situation, and Trudy sharing her experience brings up a larger issue.

      ASL-English interpreters, especially in my experience working as a hearing interpreter in the VRS industry, often accuse a Deaf person of being unclear; sometimes to their face, sometimes to a team interpreter during the call or when the call is over. I have seen interpreters do this in other settings as well, including at the university level. Are Deaf people really so often “unclear” or are interpreters simply not fluent enough to understand a Deaf person’s signing?

      As there are Deaf people who are disfluent in ASL and/or “sign language,” it may be easy for ASL-English interpreters to blame the Deaf person for the message being unclear. However, I’ve been in teaming situations where my team has deemed the Deaf person “unclear,” sometimes going as far as telling the hearing client that the Deaf person doesn’t make sense, when I have understood the Deaf person clearly.
      I am sure I have interpreted in situations where I didn’t understand the Deaf person and consciously or unconsciously blamed them when in fact I was the one missing something, not the Deaf person. Hearing interpreters need to recognize that their own lack of fluency causes disempowerment of their Deaf (and hearing) clients. Not only does blaming a Deaf person unfairly impact the immediate situation, but it may leave a lifelong mental “scar” on the Deaf person in their future interaction with interpreters and hearing people.

      Trudy’s interpreter was even blunt enough to say that Trudy was “too ASL” for the interpreter to understand. Professional interpreters have the ethical responsibility to learn ASL fluently and be able to move along the signed communication spectrum to meet the language needs of Deaf consumers. Interpreters without sufficient and consistent interaction with members of the Deaf community often struggle to become fluent in ASL. As Trudy shares, we make money off of claiming to be experts in two languages. If we are claiming to have this expertise, we need to be able to demonstrate fluency in both languages and demonstrate continued commitment to fluency in both languages for the empowerment of the Deaf and hearing people we work with, as well as ourselves as individuals.

      As an interpreter, I have no right to tell Deaf people that they are “too ASL,” let alone mock them for using ASL. Nor do I have the right to tell Deaf people their signing is “too fast.” As Trudy shared, she’s never had a Deaf person complain about her signing speed. As an interpreter, I can share with a Deaf consumer, “I missed that last sentence.” or “Could you repeat that one part about ‘….’” However, if interpreters are consistently not understanding the Deaf person, they are not the appropriate interpreters for the situation and ethically should remove themselves from the assignment. (This is in an ideal world, but I fear this isn’t done enough, even in our world).

      If a Deaf person’s signing does seem to be idiosyncratic, as the working interpreter, I have the responsibility to request a team. My team might be another hearing interpreter or a Deaf interpreter. I am hopeful that DI’s will become used more frequently, especially in the VRS setting. As a previous poster mentioned, VRS is an area where disempowerment may be running rampant. There are multiple ways that disempowerment happens in the VRS setting, but one major form of disempowerment may come from some from a critical lack of mutual language understanding between Deaf callers and hearing interpreters.

      As Trudy as so clearly and thoughtfully shared, interpreters do disempower Deaf people on multiple levels. Trudy has certainly forced me to consider the ways I unconsciously and consciously disempower in my work. One concrete way that all interpreters can work to empower the Deaf and hearing people we work with is to continue to commit to English and ASL fluency.

  16. Richard says:

    Other forms of disempowerment stem from deaf community’s acts of pillarizing criminals like Anthony Mowl, John Yeh, or in my area Russ Bye while they criminalize, bully, and severely criticizing innocent rising stars.

    Deaf community will get a hard lesson on disempowerment. It comes from their hands. What you just did is attempted to bounce the fault on the interpreter.

  17. Also thanks so much for posting in ASL! I feel so lucky to have seen your presentation even though I couldn’t go to the SLL event. Thanks a bunch! What a nice treat at the end of a long day/week!

  18. Arthur says:

    Hi Trudy,

    This is Arthur, you may remember me.. we used to chat a long time ago. Just wanted to mention that I read this article and saw the YT vid above and am rooting for you. Keep up the good fight!

  19. leilani says:

    I loved the idea of Street Leverage because it elevated our dialogue in the interpreting field. I was excited about leaders/stakeholders in our field posting dynamic and comprehensive pieces that showed an understanding of a 360 point of view of difficult scenarios that we face in an constantly changing economic, technical and social environment. This piece doesn’t do that.

    This post lacks concrete solutions to the scenarios they have brought to the reader’s attention. What worked to create change and what didn’t work to create change? It doesn’t state what could have been done in each scenario or what did happen to create change…ANYTHING to bring to the table concrete real world solutions so that each scenario had merit other than yet another story where the interpreter is to blame for a lack of jobs, education and general opportunity. Discussing general/generic solutions like, “be allies…..become aware…..come together…” in a brief paragraph doesn’t convey to me that the author has any intent in being an ally and/or a leader of proactive change.

    I wish that Street Leverage would have asked the author to revise her piece to include a more comprehensive look at issues of dis-empowerment rather than just a one sided piece that simply looks at the bad decisions of people and then makes over-reaching assumptions that “today’s interpreters” are correlated to oppression, dis-empowerment, lack of educational opportunities and lack of general support of the Deaf community.

    The author’s comment of attending an RID conference and rather than looking at a community of allies and colleagues and instead seeing a group who “make money off of my language” creates an opportunity for the reader to make certain assumptions about the author and their negative views on interpreters. Therefore, the solutions presented in this piece feel a bit false.

    The point you raise about Joel Barrish is spot on! However, not an new or fresh concept. Minority groups who were either raised in the US or relocated to the US, historically, have overcome oppression and created real systematic economic and social opportunity and change through entrepreneurship. There are many fantastic Deaf leaders who have taken this path in creating opportunities of success for others.

    I wish this article could have taken a page out of their playbook and created a real opportunity for stakeholders to have a dialogue about solutions that we can make in these scenarios so that all of the stakeholders leave an experience feeling like they have been heard and not dis-empowered.

    Interpreters are not to blame for all of the problems and challenges we face in life……..someone needs to say it. We are allies who share in the stewardship of ASL and Deaf culture.

    • Trudy Suggs says:

      Leilani, I’m sorry you missed the potential solutions mentioned in the presentation. I don’t know if you saw the video, but I mentioned in the presentation that Deaf people are equally accountable. And the fact that some people choose to react the way you did is exactly why I said the things I did. So I’m very happy you shared your reactions, even as negative as they are.

      The participants in the conference had a wonderful, honest, and inspiring discussion later that afternoon in the disempowerment workshop, yet nobody had any concrete answers. Maybe you could provide some tangible solutions? My talk is what Street Leverage asked for: a way to provoke discussion, a way to examine issues and a way to start somewhere. I would never purport to determine final solutions for this disempowerment problem by myself. That’d be incredibly–for lack of a better word–nuts. As I mentioned, we’re in this together.

      I definitely look forward to your contributions to how we can resolve this rampant problem of disempowerment of deaf people.

    • patti says:

      leilani – Trudy offers transpirancy in her talk here. Perhaps you would like to offer your own transpirancy?

      this wall there may be an attempt for equal leverage on this street?

      Trudy – kudos and thank u



    • Patty says:

      Leilanni said “I wish this article could have taken a page out of their playbook and created a real opportunity for stakeholders to have a dialogue about solutions that we can make in these scenarios so that all of the stakeholders leave an experience feeling like they have been heard and not dis-empowered.” “Interpreters are not to blame for all of the problems and challenges we face in life……..someone needs to say it. We are allies who share in the stewardship of ASL and Deaf culture.”

      Below is my attempt at gently addressing this comment coming from a place of compassion.
      Being an ally or being in alignment with marginalized communities to which I clearly stand with privilege, lends itself to understand my privilege in this social context of the Deaf World. It requires dialogue for deep self-reflection. Privilege comes to me simply because of my appearance being white, female, economically advantaged. A personal example is being able to hear comments made about Deaf people while we’re all standing there. I now have information because I can hear. This is privilege. It is not earned, it is given. As a white female, I have privilege and believe me I do use it to my advantage. Be it to avoid getting a traffic ticket, or to get a discount on a purchase or avoid a dangerous situation.

      To be an ally – First is to listen to you heart and ask questions like – What are my motives? This is most certainly a pervasive obstacle for privileged folks to ask ourselves. Is there genuine and authentic intention for the care and well-being with such chosen communities within which we earn a living wage? Not like I want to look good or to be the hero or I’m on a mission or have a higher calling? Or maybe thinking of future business contacts as a reason to volunteer interpret at a social event? Do I need to have the attention to make me feel fulfilled as a person? Once this is resolved for yourself, start clean to open up and truly try and understand perspectives different from your own. Do not take it personally; we are all in this together.

      It is clear to me that it’s not that I can declare, “I am an ally.” This status must be earned and bestowed from the communities we seek to engage with. And it must continually be earned every time you meet someone for the first time. To claim stewardship of a language and culture that you are not born into or have been embraced by a Deaf community is a brazen assumption. Take a look inside and say to yourself who exactly is blaming interpreters for all of the problems? I would offer that qualifiers like (all or none)cannot be true and this opinion you stated above is actually defeating what you claim to defend.

      How can I know for sure that I sincerely come to the work as an interpreter clean and clear? Ask the question and listen to the answer that comes from Deaf communities – what does it mean to be an ally?

      • Trudy Suggs says:

        Beautifully said, Patty (and hi!). This is something I often think about: how does one become a real ally? It’s so easy to claim I support this and that for this and that group (or even individual)…yet, do we really, deep in our hearts, behave as allies?

        “How can I know for sure that I sincerely come to the work as an interpreter clean and clear?” That. Exactly. And even then, how do we convey this sincerity to the other individuals involved?

  20. Kathy says:

    Can I have Trudy Suggs email address please?

  21. Lynne James says:

    So many excellent points made here. However, the message became cloudy due to the length and The many different scenarios. I believe that the message would have been stronger I it it had been more concise.

  22. FJ says:

    Hello there,

    I’m a CODA interpreter (in mid 20′s) (currently going through MORE training). I live in about the same size town as the town being mentioned minus the deaf school, and the lack of everyone knowing.

    You would not believe from the bazillion times I’ve seen this happen. I can personally say I’ve never done this. It’ll probably happen one day, but I strive of putting the power in deaf hands. I don’t care how fast, slow, skilled, unskilled they sign. I don’t want the recongization (sure its nice from time to time) of “oh yeah I interpreted for this person it went great”. The power, good or bad, should ALWAYS lie in the deaf hands when it comes to mostly anything they are involved in. Of course depending on where you’re at. Theatre compared to one on one. Trying to make this power to be even can be difficult yes. Though, I’m not power hungry, and I’m tired of seeing mistreatment. How many times my parents, my parent’s friends, and my own deaf friends have came to me telling me bad unethical things other interpreters and doctor’s offices have put them through. As an interpreter, you are there to break the communication barrier that is all. Not sit there in your “glory”. Yes we are there to make a living, but you gotta have heart. Speaking of this…I frequently go to deaf events definitely more than ANY other interpreter in the area. In the past 3 years, ONE time ONE other interpreter showed up. ONE in 3 years. Just sad in my opinion. I know working, RID crap, families, and etc make this low, but jeez nobody has passion for this nobody wants to genuinely help. Only a few do. Also, as a CODA, I’m noticed a lot of negativity towards us from other interpreters. Not to mention a lot of CODAs want nothing to do with deaf, and barely their parents. They aren’t proud. Don’t know if its parenting skills, or the years of mistreatment that they’ve witnessed over the years that lead them to think negative about being associated with deaf at all. It is a huge ripple effect that’s for sure.

    Things will slowly change. The biggest things like deaf standing up for yourself in personal and group settings that show you want to be treated equal. Too many passive deaf that give up so easily. Why? Years of being power not being in their hands! Love this article!

    Gotta make a change!

    • Trudy Suggs says:

      “Yes we are there to make a living, but you gotta have heart.” That.

      And I think this is another challenge. It can be sometimes difficult for me–as a Deaf person–and for many others, like CODAs, to identify whether an interpreter really is respectful of the community, culture and so on–or if s/he is simply a wanna-be, wanting to be as Deaf as possible, or a million other scenarios. I’ve had interpreters gasp when they saw me on VRS and say, “Oh my! I read your articles!” Awkward. Good thing it hasn’t happened yet on a personal call…

      It’s an interesting dynamic, for sure. But that’s a whole another article!

  23. AL says:

    Awesome article!!! Thumbs UP!

  24. paul anderson says:

    Hi Trudy,

    Has a child growing up in a Deaf family and community, I have nothing but admiration for the determination of the Deaf community to reach their goals.

    Several Years ago I decided to quit my job and train to become an Interpreter. Whilst training I worked in a support capacity for the Deaf community. When I attended The Deaf club afters years of non attendance I was surprised to see so many hearing people at the club all practicing signing and very few Deaf people. I was very disappointed to see only a few faces from my childhood.

    I recalled the days in my mind of when children would throw stones at us and parents would stare and gossip and children would press our doorbell to see the flashing lights. I wander why all of a sudden people where interested in sign language(apart from financial reasons).
    I felt a resentment, that they where at the club and I wander how the Deaf community really felt about all these people in their club.

    Now here’s the twist. While supporting the Deaf community I worked along side other Deaf members of Staff. To my disappointment I felt like Deaf person in a hearing world. I was treated exactly the same has my father and his brother and sister(who are Deaf)in their jobs. I was isolated from the group and began to make good friendship with the hearing staff.
    I felt very proud that this company had employed so many Deaf staff and was very keen to be part of the Team. I was the third member of staff who was hearing that didn’t fit in to the team. This was a very disappointing experience.

    There are lots of bridges that need to be built between cultures and lessons to be learned from both sides. Can this ever be achieved? I’m always told you don’t know what it is like to be Deaf. I always say no I don’t so please tell me. But I would also like to say you don’t know what it is like to be hearing working in a Deaf community.

    Paul Anderson

    • Trudy Suggs says:

      Fascinating, fascinating perspectives. Thanks for the food for thought…that’s what I love about this forum. So many perspectives, so many experiences and so many thoughts. (And over on Facebook, too–I’ve been inspired by all the discussion among Deaf people on this topic.)

  25. Tmood says:

    Great article. Very precise and you got your point across clearly. I agree completely that there are issues with situational empowerment. It’s ongoing and very difficult to change. Even working my professional job — whenever I need to make a VP calls and speaking to representatives — I’m finding my interpreters “translating” what I say instead of “interpreting” what I say.

    For example, I give a two words question and I see the interpreter talking to the representatives in series of two or three sentences and I’m thinking to myself — I only said two words..but I realized I need to do my part – we all need to do our part to educate our interpreters to our preferred method of being “translated” versus “interpreted”.

    However, for economic empowerment — I think that’s a bit mentioned people making money off using our language — while you’re right that it can be an uncomfortable topic to discuss, I truly believe that it’s the reality of things. It’s only uncomfortable because you think it make you look bad. But I think that’s hogwash. Take my career for example: I’m in the Information Technology field. I do programming, web designing, database modeling, etc. You will meet people who does IT purely because they enjoy it. But then you’ll meet people like me that do it for the money. It’s in high demands and there are opportunities everywhere. Does that mean I’m dis-empowering what IT should be? Maybe it’s not a good example but you can see where I’m coming from with this.

    So from an interpreter points of view — it’s good money. Nothing wrong with that. The better paid they are, the more access we deaf can have. If we are going to cry foul for every money-mongering individual as oppose to those who truly does interpreting for the passion, then we’d get no where, fast.

    So kudos to situation empowerment, we all need to do something about it.

    Economic empowerment — unless the world is more fair and money doesn’t lead the way then perhaps we can truly make a difference.

    • Trudy Suggs says:

      Agree, agree. Even so, I’m really frustrated by how so many people I know have been rejected for jobs not because they’re unqualified, but because they’re not Deaf. I had a friend recently who was denied for a Deaf studies position because the powers that be felt s/he wasn’t able to communicate with hearing administrators without an interpreter. Never mind that he’d been a program administrator at another program, had the appropriate credentials, and so on. They chose a hearing interpreter instead, one who didn’t have as much qualifications or experience as this person.

      I also am reminded of a story shared by Ron Nomeland, who has recently released a book (THE DEAF COMMUNITY IN AMERICA: History in the Making) with his wife Melvia. In the book, he discusses how he applied for a principal position at Minnesota School for the Deaf–now Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf. As the book says, “The school superintendent required responses from the four deaf applicants to a set of seven questions, such as how a deaf principal could deal with the secretary, who could not sign, and how a deaf principal could work with hearing parents of deaf students. Although [Ron] possessed a master’s degree in school administration and a doctorate in instructional technology, both from hearing universities, and was then serving as an administrator at another school, he was passed over for a less qualified hearing person.”

      This was in the 1970s, and THANKFULLY the school is nowhere as ignorant as it was back then; in fact, it has almost all deaf teachers, several deaf administrators, and a growing enrollment. But this attitude continues to be prevalent in so many ways…especially economic. I hope to write another article on this down the road…because it is a HUGE problem not just in the Deaf community but in many other minority communities. Slightly different issue than simply “making money”–it has everything to do with the REASON someone wants to make money off a community, a culture. I could go on and on and on about how so many interpreters make money off the Deaf community in unethical ways. In fact, I’ll share one more example.

      There is an interpreting agency that provides Deaf culture training. In fact, its website and brochure have proudly proclaimed for years that the agency, or rather, its sister company, provides Deaf culture training to Fortune 500 companies. I asked the owner (hearing) how Deaf people were incorporated in this training. Her response was that she did the trainings herself, but that she had Deaf people on the board. I later found out it was only one or two Deaf people on the board. To this day, the agency continues to provide Deaf culture training, but the person providing the training is hearing. And they make a lot of money. This is one opportunity for the agency to really be economically and socially responsible…instead of disempowering the Deaf community.

      Lots to mull over here.

  26. Shelly Ose says:

    Awesome!!!! My sister is deaf I chose to get traning and not walk into interpreting because I knew SignLanguage. There is much more than just signing. I have watched my sister be disempowered too many times to count!!
    I would not have a profession if it weren’t for her or the deaf. I make my living this way and yes I make money off the deaf! That is a cold hard truth!!!
    Oppression of the deaf happens too often.

  27. Destiny says:

    Excellent speech, Trudy. Thank you for identifying economic and situational disempowerment. I know you were referring to interpreting, but I found this very enlightening in regards to the work I’m involved in at The Deaf Dream. Our organization focuses on empowerment of future Deaf global leaders, but it is hard at times to describe to hearing audiences that disempowerment occurs. I will most certainly use your talk in future discussions with hearing involved in our organization and hearing we meet around the world who do not yet recognize how much disempowerment occurs. Thank you!

  28. Michael K says:

    Thanks Trudy for the article. Im going to seek out the video to watch. I also appreciated reading all the comments. Ive been doing some searching on “Deaf-heart”: what it means to me, how to apply it and wondering if I am applying it. The article and comments really gave me some things to think about. The article and comments also nudged me in directions I need to take so thanks to everyone!

  29. Trudy Suggs says:

    Just a quick message that I will respond to comments, e-mails, tweets and Facebook messages over the weekend. Thanks for the amazing dialogue, discussions and insights you’ve all provided–loving it all!

  30. Pearl Youth says:

    I agree with Trudy Suggs on everything and especially job positions of ASL teaching to either college or high school students. I have MA degree in Special Education and completed all Deaf Studies courses required for my major in Deaf Studies without degree in both B.A & M.A. at CSUN I am not welcomed by ASLTA people in Florida through no responses I got from them by email contacts of my requests for some advices from them. What I experience is considered as another kind of disempowerment done by means of favoritism among BiBi educators and leaders. Why it is so?! It is because I am quasi-native ASL signer born Deaf from hearing non-signing family which role model is in big need among Deaf Cultural subgroups to represent Deaf culture community at large. They use English mastery as their in-front weapon against us, the majority subgroup as subaltern group which, they think, have no rights to teach ASL. It is because they did not learn ASL at birth. Therefore all of the subaltern-majority subgroup are always weak in both ASL and English. That brainwashed belief of those BiBi-minority subgroups is in conflict with what Sam Supalla’s research that showed that the percentage of difference between Genetic Deaf signers’ native ASL mastery and that of Born Deaf quasi-native signers were only 3%. What so big deal it is to keep us from getting ASL teaching jobs?! Discrimination and prejudice within Deaf Cultural community was the key problem. Why it was so?! It is the weakness of universal human mind that is afraid of losing power to anyone once it got its power of control over anyone especially in areas of competitive financial opportunities to keep on with what it gets continuously. My question is when will those BiBi subgroups wake up and do something to make everything more fair to us the Born-Deaf majority as their approach of practicing what they preach anyone else?? I am aware that those interpreters who oppressed me in the past were either former children or students of those traditional or BiBi-ASL educators from the minority subgroups (those from older generations and my generation). I hope you, Trudy Suggs, consider this aspect as equally important part of what you discussed previously in sense of chained-consequence effects impacting on the disempowerment the majority of Deaf Culture community–Born Deaf subgroup as majority, mostly experience everyday, frequently or sometime in their lives.

  31. Jesse says:

    Ms. Suggs — I work for the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) in Washington, D.C., and we have a nice group of deaf employees, myself included, who share and circulate relevant articles and videos about deaf culture, professional development, and networking events.

    Your latest article and video about “Deaf Disempowerment” was thought-provoking as it should be and was well-received by our group. We shared your article and video with others, some of whom are not proficient or fluent in sign language. I told them that the video pretty much follows the article verbatim, but they really wanted to see/hear your presentation instead of referring to the article.

    If it’s not too much of an imposition, would you mind captioning your videos in the future so that they are accessible to both deaf (especially oral-deaf) and hearing people?

    Keep up the wonderful advocacy (and empowerment) work you do on behalf of the deaf community! — Jesse

    • Trudy Suggs says:

      As mentioned in our e-mail exchange, Brandon Arthur (the brainchild behind Street Leverage) has been struggling with technical glitches in getting the video to show the captions. The captions are already available; they’re just not showing. :) I’ll let him respond with an ETA on the captions. I absolutely agree that all videos need to have captions, especially if the transcript isn’t 100% the same as what the video says.

  32. Lucy says:

    Hello, I am an interpreter of only 4 years (still a newbie!) And this is my first time responding on a forum of this sort. I think it’s important to remember the essence of this article was written with the intention to bring awareness of disempowerment relating to interpreters and Deaf people. I agree. Nobody has the right to answer for you other than you. Ever! I wouldn’t want someone answering for me. Ever! That is not ok. Since you’ve said you would work with this interpreter again, I think we can deem this situation (hopefully) a momentary lapse in ethical decision making on the interpreters part and that all interpreters reading this now will be more aware if placed in the same situation, they will know what to do. I can’t speak to the Deaf perspective because I am a hearing interpreter but I did have a few comments related to other aspects of the article:

    Signing too Fast – “Interpreters should be accountable for their lack of fluency and not put this on the deaf person’s shoulders.” I have an example that I hope will parallel this issue: If I’m with a hearing person and they are whispering so low I can’t hear what they are saying, I would ask them to repeat it louder, please, because I didn’t hear them. If they repeat themselves the same way again, in a whisper, I still can’t hear them. Still can’t understand what they meant. For many interpreters, ASL is our second language. When an interpreter asks you to repeat what you’ve signed, it’s because we want to make sure we are voicing exactly what you mean. Would you rather us not? In the same way nobody ever speaks perfect English, nobody ever signs perfect ASL. The key to getting the equivalent message across is working together.

    Money -“Wow. Everyone here is making money off my language.” And Doctors are making money off your illnesses, and teachers are making money off your children. What is the difference? We all have to make a living. Everyone in this world who works provides service to other people – the man who picks up my garbage? I teach and care for his child at day care. The dentist who cleans my teeth? I cook for her and her family on Friday nights at a restaurant. The cashier at the grocery store? I mow their lawn every Saturday. That’s what makes the world go round. People providing service for other people. I feel a lot of Deaf people think interpreters are only in this profession for the money and I echo a previous comment: we interpreters work for hearing AND Deaf people. With English AND ASL. We don’t make a lot of money. The work is unstable and most interpreters are freelance and don’t know when/if a pay check will be arriving every week. We aren’t in it for the money. If you ask anyone on their first night class of ASL level 1 why they are taking the course, not one answer would be “for the money.” You would get answers like “I want to communicate with my Deaf co-workers” “I love learning new languages” “ASL is fascinating and beautiful,”

    Thank you for your article and your time 

    • Trudy Suggs says:

      Lucy, absolutely!!! And there are many, many cases of where doctors have been accused of unprofessional conduct, of being unethical, and so on. That’s why so many med schools now provide bedside manners courses–because they have finally recognized the value of being respectful, courteous, and engaging while respecting boundaries. That wasn’t quite my point. My point is there are so many interpreters who make money WITHOUT having the right reasons in place. They forget that their ‘gigs’ or ‘jobs’ are our lives, needs, esteems, everything at stake. I go to appointments and make calls hoping that it doesn’t turn into a dangerous miscommunication. And that’s the same reason I admire interpreters for continuing their professions. It’s not an easy job, unquestionably. It’s also why I always go to jobs as a CDI with this foremost in my head.

      I agree about the preliminary reasons people learn ASL. No doubt there. Still, there’s a difference between first-night ASL students and those who have been professional interpreters for a number of years. I’ve taught numerous ASL I students who are now professional interpreters (and I am SO proud of them)…and it’s always remarkable to see how their perceptions of the language AND the community evolve over the years. I also have a childhood friend who learned ASL from another girl and me, and I was stunned to learn decades later that she was running an ITP. I was THRILLED…and I strongly believe that she “gets it” (and boy, does she get it) about Deaf people because she was taught early on about the culture, community and boundaries. (Joan, a shout-out to you!)

      You’re right–a lot of interpreters–maybe the majority–are NOT in it for the money. Yet, there are many who are.

  33. Roberta W says:

    EXCELLENT article/video!! I’m so glad you used the word disempowerment because I’ve often wondered what was the right word to express my feelings when interpreters who interpreted while I’m on VP or when I was at the hospital a couple years ago…now I know what word to use, to help interpreters understand what I’m feeling. There have been a few times when I tried to help some VP interpreters not to translate, adding more than what I said, these few times, they get defensive or would lie and say they didn’t do it…I’d tell them I can lipread…they gulped. Most of them are open to what I share if that happened.
    How do you deal with people who would talk through their throat without moving their lips…that’s a big insult to us who couldn’t hear what they’re saying. I confronted one that did that, right after she did it, in front of others, asking what did you say…she said, huh, I didn’t say anything…I told her, oh come on, I saw your throat moved and I know you said something….she gulped and told me what she said. I told her that it was an insult to do that, right in front of me or behind my back. She apologized. She has since moved to another state…I hope she broke that habit.
    Great article and video!! Keep it up girl!!

    • Trudy Suggs says:

      Thank you. I only used disempowerment as a possible word–if others have different words, that’s fine. It just made sense for me in the examples I cited because that’s how I felt–as if I completely lost my power and/or choices.

      • Trudy Suggs says:

        Argh, wasn’t done. I also think that a lot of interpreters forget that we easily pick up on cues knowing if someone has said something or not–and like someone else somewhere said, the interpreter’s covering her mouth was a major clue.

        Thank you for sharing.

  34. Jc says:

    I am curious to know who what can “see that someone is not in fact deaf”. The reason I ask this is because I am deaf now only 3 years ( as of January 22, 2013. I am highly verbal but I do prefer ASL to communicate with hearing people. But, I still talk with my voice with them to actually make it easier for them. So I look less deaf because I speak with my voice?

  35. h storme says:

    so many mixed feelings here, just something i want to respond to, but is more of a need for more articles, work in this area. it is often true that codas, sodas, and the sort get ASL, well before deaf people, who too often have to wait til school for exposure and acquisition.
    i am speaking for myself. i acquired ASL before most in my situation, i am hard of hearing, can function in both worlds. ASL is my language; as it is my wife’s. my wife is hearing but a younger sibling and naturally acquired ASL, using it solely for years.
    i want to be very cautious when talking about mine/yours, simply because of privilege, power dynamics and those things that disenfranchise, as opposed unify. let’s recognize that our ASL community is not simply made up of an audiologically defined population. there is a huge community of people who hear, naturally acquired the language and do not do what they do to exploit any populous. we must embrace one another, we are a community that has cochlear implants, hearing parents, deaf parents, residual hearing, and yes, even hear.

    • Trudy Suggs says:

      YES! There absolutely has to be more work in this area. I am not a researcher, sociologist, linguist, or any of these “-ists/-ers”–I just happen to have been in the Deaf community from birth on. And the sheer variety of communication modes, experiences and preferences within my immediate family alone is mind-boggling. That’s one of the many reasons I think so many interpreters find their jobs challenging at times–they have to figure out their consumers’, both deaf and hearing, preferences and needs, and so forth.

  36. Trudy Suggs says:

    A quick note to all: Thank you so much for the posts above, the e-mails, the tweets and much more. I am slowly working through all the e-mails. If you haven’t gotten a response from me, I apologize–I’m not ignoring you. Some of the posts above I want to allow for further discussion before (if) I jump in. Some e-mails I want to provide genuine responses to, not just a one-liner. I have been absolutely thrilled by how the Deaf community has responded to this article/video–and equally thrilled by how the majority of interpreters who responded have responded. Gives me so much confidence in my children’s futures as Deaf people themselves.:)

  37. Jocelyn Cunningham says:

    KM I totally agree with you and you said it so beauitfully! I think you captured Trudy’s message as well as touched on a great point about our fluency as interpreters. I agree that it is our ethical duty to recognize our own limitations within ASL and remove ourselves when are skills are lacking and/or bring in a team member. I fully support and desire for Deaf interpreters to be ulitlized more than they currently are. They are such a great asset to our feild and we need to be delveloping allies with them!

    I also agree with your point that we, interpreters, sometime blame the Deaf for being unclear when the issues is really with us. I think a lot of interpreters graduate from their ITP programs either having very little or no experience with the Deaf community. Before they had ITP programs interpreters became interpreters through the Deaf community. Not enough Deaf communities are partnering with the ITP programs, here in Canada anyway, and working together to bridge some of the gaps with our current training by providing students with exposure to the Deaf community and the culture that goes with that experience. I also believe that if we partnered with the communities around the ITPs then we are also empowerer the community to have a say in how to mold interpreters into healthy, ethical interpreters that the Deaf community desires to have among them. I really think that building that partnership would go along way and we would see interpreters graduating with more knowledge and understanding of the oppression experienced by the Deaf, but also have more understanding, empathy and the ability to self identify when they may have unintentionally disempowered the Deaf. I don’t think that it would solve all the problems, but I do think we would see more ethical, Deaf empowering interpreters coming out of these programs. Just my two cents about that. :)

    • Trudy Suggs says:

      Jocelyn, I also wonder if the ITPs (generalizing here, of course) expose the students to only a very specific group of Deaf people. The community itself is so diverse, with such varying language levels, communication preferences and needs, and so forth. I know that ITPs often will bring back the same ‘leaders’ in the community time after time, which is good–yet how do we get the students to meet the rest of the deaf community? The ones who don’t go to deaf events, performances, and so forth? Besides, community gatherings usually bring about a different set of factors than, say, a one-on-one situation?

      Just thinking out loud here.

  38. Trudy Suggs says:

    Morning! In response to the sudden influx of friend requests I’ve gotten on Facebook, I’m pleased to share that I have a public page at Feel free to like the page there so that you can stay updated on upcoming articles and/or vids, presentations, and more. And if you e-mailed me directly, I hope to get back to you today. I’ve gotten an overwhelming number of messages, and would like to encourage people to post here instead for discussion on your thoughts. Thanks!

  39. Hello all~
    Appreciate the post above by KM. I concur. After umpteen years I am still learning and being corrected occasionally ;o)Interpreters definitely should be at the higher end of the language spectrum when being hired to interpret and using a team is a great strategy/solution. Another way to think about it is: some people are like hummingbirds. Their communication is an outflow of their personality, temperment, blood pressure ;o) etc… Some people are mellow and communicate in a mellow manner, and some people are super energetic and flitting through their conversation. It is one thing to chat with someone in the hummingbird zone, it is another to voice interpret for them. I personally use a strategy of periodic relaxed copy signing as I listen, and restating details occasionally to make sure I got everything or clarify what I’m getting out of it as we go along. This works great when interpreting alot of detail to make sure that each bit expressed is being represented in the interpretation and gives the D/HH person the chance to catch any errors or be confident the message is accurate.

  40. Amy Williamson says:

    Thank you for putting yourself out there and sharing your perspective and thoughts so plainly and clearly. I find it incredibly sad and ironic that even here in this forum, your truth telling receives a backlash of defensiveness. I read the comments here, nod my head, and see that the defensive response to your presentation and article tell me more about the people making the comments. I see how far we as a profession really do need to go in order to understand and accept the power dynamics of our field.

    You are but one person sharing only a few of your experiences. I can only imagine your few experiences then carried over to the larger deaf community over their lifetimes. We interpreters NEED to hear more about these situations. We NEED to be called on and questioned when we take power away…whether we do so knowingly or more often, unknowingly. We need to be accepting accountability for our field as a whole and calling each other out not just waiting for the deaf people we work with to speak up.

    A few situations I have heard about from deaf friends, people I have worked with, and deaf family members:

    A patient yells in pain in response to a doctor moving a painful joint, the interpreter laughs at the sound of the yell. The patient feels like a fool.

    A parent/teacher meeting where the interpreter repeatedly asks the deaf person to repeat the fingerspelled words they are using. The parent doesn’t feel free to continue the meeting.

    A patient needing to extend their follow up appointment with the doctor because the interpreter doesn’t have any availability the week the doctor suggested doing the follow up. The patient isn’t given a choice on using a different interpreter.

    A staff meeting for a deaf employee being interpreted by the ‘closest’ interpreter to save travel costs as opposed to the deaf person’s preferred interpreter. Closest interpreter knows the employee is okay with them as an interpreter but that they are not the preferred. The interpreter goes ahead and works the meeting anyway.

    A deaf student at a college is provided a team of interpreters for their class. One of the interpreters is actually an IPP student doing their practicum. When the student tells the accessibility office that they do not understand the student interpreter they are told that the ‘supervising’ interpreter believes that the student can handle the class so the deaf student is not given a replacement interpreter.

    Today is Thursday and these are just the situations I have been privy to just this week.

    I want to be clear…I am not complaining or down on interpreters. These situations are all what they are. Our relationships are complicated. Our field is complicated. It is only through externally talking about the situations we are in and how we handle them that we will be able to make some headway in realizing the power we have. To deny it and hide behind the ‘good we do’ is worthless and in the end detrimental to our field and the people we work with.

    Trudy, thank you for putting this out there. I hope that you will continue to speak your truth and that your doing so will empower others to do the same.

    • Yvonne Jones says:

      I have seen the sad example of the college student having to “accept” the student interpreter though they do not understand them. It impacts the students entire course, even their career choice depending the importance of the class in regards to their getting a degree.

      I was a newly certified (NAD IV) interpreter, and given a job with a student taking a degree course. It was GREAT! I was doing all their classes but one. The “one” class was being handled by a “seasoned” interpreter who ALWAYS interprets for this particular class. 3 weeks into the course, the student came to me stating “I don’t understand anything the interpreter is saying! I spoke to my parents about it, they called the school, who spoke with the interpreting office, but they won’t change the interpreter. I want you to do the class. What can I do?” So I suggested they go into the terp office sit down with the director and personally discuss the situation. The decision was for ME to attend the class and see what was going on. I did, though not comfortable with the idea, as I was new and they were like, 20 years in! It was true. I had no clue what that interpreter was hearing but it sure wasn’t what the teacher was saying. So, I reported back. Nothing changed. Don’t you know that this is the one class that the student MUST pass in order to continue with their degree program, and this is the ONE class they did not get a passing grade on and were thus not allowed to continue?!?! This student left the college, never to return again, and they were really really good at what they were learning! It happens everyday, to so many Deaf students. Inadequate and incompetent interpreting. Please, fellow interpreters, if you are struggling with something, don’t let your ego, pride or concern for your own embarrassment stop you from doing what is right. Remove yourself from the situation. People’s lives now and their futures are at stake.

  41. Malissia Brooks says:

    I was first taken back by your comment, “interpreters are making money off your language.” When I think about the harsh reality I realize it is true.

    During my interpreting career I choose to work with Deaf children as I have a passion for language acquisition & understanding and for our kids to NOT be left behind . As the mom of a 24 year old son with a language delay it saddens my heart how he was left behind & how I missed so much of this while I was searching for answers.

    I have found my answers this is why I work toward Educating our children through interpreting and its various expansion techniques. I must say for me this is not a lucrative financial arrangement although it is a rewarding one :-)

    Thank you for your article.

  42. Karen B says:

    OH come on people…. where are the voice of the deaf…. there are still tooooo many “interpreters” who still cannot read deaf and they always WANT to help the deaf and say more than they should. Since I have some hearing left… most of the interpreters knows NOT to say anything I did not say or don’t you dare say anything for me… I will speak for myself. On this topic, I am seeing hearing people speaking out on this subject when really we need to see what the deaf say. Trudy, thanks for saying all you said… If it was me… I would yelled loud and clear at the interpreter for making comments without me even saying it. It is my appointment… not the interpreter. This is a appointment made by me and it is a job for the interpreter to mind their own business. Let that be very clear!

  43. Patrick Graybill says:

    Trudy, I was in awe of your eloquent delivery of the seriously needed message. Thank you for being sincere and courageous yet tactful. I must confess that being involved in my church work as well as a retiree, I appreciate being mentally, emotionally and spiritually stimulated. Keep up with the good work.

  44. Amy says:

    Nicely written article, Trudy.

    In order to promote equality, we need to be able to analyze and correct our missteps at least as often as we pat ourselves (or each other) on the back for a job well done.

    The illusion of effective communication can be much more damaging than lack of communication (there are exceptions).

    As to the reasons that many interpreters don’t socialize at the Deaf clubs, I’ve heard a few.

    The top reason I’ve heard is that interpreters may be under the impression that if they socialize too much with Deaf people, it will erode the Deaf communities sense if confidentiality with that interpreter. I haven’t found this to be the case.

    Another reason I’ve heard is that interpreters may feel that the Deaf club is supposed to be a place where Deaf people enjoy each others’ company, viewing it as a time “away” from hearing people, and the interpreters don’t want to intrude.

    Back in the day, before interpreting became a professional career, hearing signers and aspiring interpreters sought out the Deaf clubs as a source of learning the language. I’m not sure how many IPPs these days encourage students to go to the Deaf clubs for social events.

    The last reason I’ll share that I’ve heard as to why interpreters don’t want to go to the Deaf clubs is something like, “I sign all week at work. Why would I want to spend my free time doing that?” To those interpreters, I say you are in the wrong field, or have not embraced the entirety of what the privilege of this profession entails.

    To the Deaf community–are you welcoming of interpreters to your clubs? I don’t just mean, do you allow interpreters to enter the club. Do you invite interpreters for social events, via e-mail, Facebook, etc.? When an interpreted interaction is over, do you ask the interpreter for their attendance at or support of the next big event? Do you reach out to the IPPs in the area, and invite students to certain events?

    If the reason interpreters are staying away is because they think the Deaf community doesn’t want them there, simply letting it be know that you encourage hearing signers and interpreters to certain or all events might change that perception.

    I am a hearing, “home-grown,” non-CODA interpreter who was embraced by my Deaf community at a young age. My time spent at the Deaf clubs has enriched my ASL so much. Any time a person learns a new language, it is imperative (if one wishes to excel at that language) to spend as much time with native and fluent users as possible. I encourage all interpreters to seek out their local Deaf club(s) and visit them as often as they are welcome and can. Without language, there is no culture. And without culture, human connection, there is no need for language. A doctor’s appointment or a traffic hearing isn’t human connection.

  45. Cousin Vinny says:

    I work as a ToD in mainstreamed settings and usually speak with teachers from time to time regarding my students. I have to carefully engage with these stakeholders on behalf of my students, and I appreciate your observations.

    As for economic disempowerment and especially in regards to deaf entrepreneurship, I suggest that deaf individuals seek economic opportunities that are unrelated in traditional deaf fields, i.e., relay services, Deaf schools, Deaf companies, Gally, RIT. With deaf entrepreneurship, deaf people need to market their businesses at the mainstream public, not just the deaf segment.

    These ‘deaf-related’ economic opportunities are available to any qualified individual, whether they are deaf or not, and there is intense competition for these opportunities. It would be wise to ‘diversify’, and seek economic opportunities that deaf people may be qualified to work within, even if these fields are wholly unrelated to deaf people and ASL. This is where interpreters can aid economic empowerment immensely for deaf people, as they serve as communications conduits in mainstream job opportunities.

    You’ve given me a lot to think about. Thank you.

  46. Aaron Brace says:

    Let me add my thanks, Trudy, for your eloquent and insightful presentation. From my experience, if you’re truly connected to either an individual or a community, you don’t need them to qualify every concern with overt reassurance that they appreciate you. The fact that they’re sharing the concern, in and of itself, demonstrates that they value the relationship with you and are investing themselves in maintaining/improving it.

    I actually felt that you, Trudy, *did* take great pains to remind us throughout your presentation that the points you raised are part of your overall high regard for your fellow interpreters.

    Also, if you are truly connected to Deaf people, you understand the context in which concerns are raised. I don’t claim to always succeed at this, myself. The “making money off my language” is an example of one where I have to consciously flesh out the context for the statement for myself. It’s as if there’s an unspoken clause that follows: “… without really knowing it or my community”. We don’t do a good enough job, generally, in our field of owning up to the effects of our late-learning of ASL while putting ourselves forth as fully bilingual cultural mediators.

    One question I have, though, has to do with the “signing too fast” complaint from some interpreters. Maybe I’m just playing devil’s advocate. But the fact that Deaf people never mention that you sign too fast isn’t all that helpful, because they don’t have to go beyond understanding your point. The interpreter in question might not have thought you were signing fast, either, if they were just watching you for understanding. Having to then interpret, self-monitor, occasionally self-correct, make sure that not just your point but also your nuance is conveyed, and all the other tasks involved with interpreting add a cognitive load beyond mere understanding. This is not to discount the fact that many interpreters do seem overwhelmed by signing that is merely fluent, and excuse themselves by calling it “too fast” or “too ASL”.

    The difference, I see, is that Deaf people can tell by the way you ask for repetition/clarification, whether you’re a competent interpreter dealing with momentary overload, or someone who is truly lacking in language competence. It is the latter, I believe, that gives rise to the concern of us “making money off of (Deaf people’s) language”. The challenge for us is to understand that context, and be always willing to self-reflect on whether/how we have demonstrated a serious lapse in our ability… and to understand that sometimes Deaf people are sharing a pent up frustration with us, not aiming it *at* us.

    Thanks again, Trudy, for such a well-constructed and, frankly, generous presentation.


  47. TJ says:

    Someone made a comment regarding CODA’s earlier. While there are many skilled CODA’s out there, there are many who are downright awful and sign like they just finished an ASL 2 class. Just because you are a CODA does not necessarily mean you are a skilled signer. I asked to switch interpreters one time because this interpreter couldn’t keep up and I had a hard time understanding her and she got angry and took it personally and said “I’m a CODA!”. Like that would change my opinion of her.

    • Trudy Suggs says:

      TJ, very glad you said this. And even if you’re a fluent signer, that doesn’t mean you’re qualified to be an interpreter…but that’s a whole ‘nother article, preferably written by a CODA. :)

  48. Laura says:

    Wow, Trudy you are a brave woman! I LOVE the fact that Streetleverage has given deaf people a fairly neutral place for confronting interpreters.

    I have some random comments regarding many of the posts here as well as Trudy’s original article.
    1. Regarding the interpreter who covered her mouth while speaking to the receptionist: Red Flag! If someone covers their mouth they know they are doing something wrong.
    2. Interpreter tells the deaf person they are signing too fast: This initiated a gut reaction in me. Yes, interpreters are responsible to be fluent; constantly improving our skills. However, as other posts have said, there is a huge difference between watching signs and interpreting signs into English. When a person signs quickly our processing time gets squished into nothing. Brain research has proven that any time a person is multitasking, one task has to be put on temporary hold while the other task is executed. We need time to switch back and forth.

    I just had a deaf consumer get mad at me because I voiced ” that is great” instead of “that is awesome”. I had missed the word on their lips. When confronted, I told her that I guess I had looked away for a moment. Her anger of course made me more nervous and made voicing harder. We need feedback, but just as your high school interpreter was demeaning and oppressive to you, we too can be sensitive to being scolded in front of other people.

    3. Why I don’t go to a lot of deaf events. I drive about 2,000 miles per month for interpreting. I am tired of being in a car. I do attend a few events a year, but they have to be pretty convenient.

  49. Gail Nygren says:

    Thank you Trudy for your article about Deaf disempowerment! I have witnessed this disempowerment as an ASL Interpreter and a Coda (all of my life). In the past 22 years of interpreting I have been asked to “speak” for a Deaf person hundreds of times, i.e. to share personal, health care history, auditory status, make a decision for, etc. with the hearing consumer when the Deaf person was not present. I use a technique I call “to defer” to the Deaf patient/consumer/employee, etc. If the Deaf person is nearby I wave them over and sign what was asked and let the Deaf person answer. If the Deaf person is in the bathroom, involved in a procedure that I can’t interrupt, etc. I simply say “I don’t know, but I’d be happy to interpret that question for you.” (I say this even if I know the answer.) As a Coda, I once witnessed an interpreter decide for my mother that she did not want interpreting services overnight while in the hospital. My response was to turn to the interpreter, glaringly, and say, “I think you better ask my mother.” To me the true meaning of your article points to a Deaf persons dignity as an individual, and the rights to self-determination and independence. These rights are / should be foundational concepts which guide our interpreting decisions. Deference to the Deaf patient/consumer is a valuable interpreting technique one which supports the dignity of the Deaf individual. Thanks for being so brave, Trudy. Yes, it’s brave of you to bring up this subject. Smile. You have my support!

    • Trudy Suggs says:

      Gail, always good to see your name! Yes–this is a great technique, one that should be drilled into students’ heads at ITPs. And you captured it perfectly: the rights to self-determination and independence. I also want to ensure that I, as a Deaf person, can decide whether it’s worth advocating for or not. I’ve had interpreters at many times let me know of ‘inappropriate’ comments and/or attitudes from hearing consumers–and I always appreciate when they tell me, so I can decide whether to advocate for myself or not. I usually do, but then there are some days where I just want to get out of there and go home. Pick your battles, right? But the point here is, I like having that as MY decision, not the interpreter’s decision. Of course, not all consumers (hearing or deaf) are aware or educated enough to advocate for themselves–and that’s where the line becomes really, really difficult to walk.

  50. Tenia Idell says:

    Thank you so much for this article. I am raising my deaf granddaughter. She was late identified at 2 1/2 years old. She is now 4. She has ECI after being discharged from the hospital. She passed the hearing test when she left the hospital. Her prematurity is what causes her deafness And her blindness. I was in denial believing that they has misdiagnosed again- but went threw the motions. Now I am on board. I take family talk Skype sign classes and I am always wanting inspiration from anywhere! Thank you for sharing what you feel- how you see it. I have befriended a woman who has raised a deaf child who went threw the same program that Tessa is going threw. I try to surround myself with people that can inspire me in this incredible journey. I hold Tessa back from nothing. She is 4 she rock climbs rides horses- anything she wants to do I let her- I love this baby with all my heart and I want her to graduate high school and attend college if that is what she chooses- the main things for her to have nothing hold her back! I don’t want her to feel unable! I always try to put myself In her shoes to try to understand how she feels since she is barely able to tell me. We have been threw so much- the screaming crying because she couldn’t express herself. Thank you for taking a stand for her and yourself- I want to do what ever I can to empower deaf children. Starting first I have to be able to communicate with them- and I want to motivate to move these children. My husband has an amazing job – nothing for profit. I can spread the word-resources- I want to encourage parents to learn sign language. Some never do? How is this? I think of this to be abuse- I don’t know how you feel about it-that is just my view. Why would you not want to communicate with your child??? But some don’t. I have to fix myself as well. This language is so so hard. I want her to have an amazing vocabulary- I am glad that this school teaches sign exact. I afraid she may have trouble communicating with ASL. I hope not. I know I have rambled a book. But if you do workshops via cd or email or Skype- whatever please contact me. My email is Or here on Facebook Tenia harris Idell thank you so much for what you do. I know very basic sign.

  51. Bilie says:

    I wanted to thank you for sharing this.. It is ironic how this came on my newsfeed on facebook after a discussion with a dear friend about interpreter and communicaton barriers I have with children yesterday.
    We were yapping away and I brought up my concerns with her.. We talked about it, and now your presentation just fell in my laps at a ironic time..

    I have to share this with others, and maybe open a discussion with deaf people, not just interpreters. We need big changes in Canada and your presentation is perfect example to open doors to many new changes ahead of us.. :) We need more of empowerment here in Ontario, and it is very important to deaf community, not just interpreter community.. ;)

    Thank you for your wonderful insights in today s interpreter… ;)

  52. Beckie Madigan says:

    This is an excellent article/presentation and very thought provoking. Regarding the comments on interpreters commenting on one signing too fast I would like to posit the following: because ASL is 3D and English is so linear there are huge chunks of information that literally cannot be spoken as fast as they can be signed. I did some research on the topic of utterance time and linguistic differences within the 5 registers. I was amazed at what I found. The higher the register the more time it takes to go from ASL to English. The paragraphs I used were short and sweet in English; I glossed them into various ASL registers and then re-interpreted based on the gloss. Higher registers literally add approximately 30% more utterance time requirements than the intimate or even consultative registers.
    There is also the issue of processing time. In order to be accurate an interpreter must be very careful about self-assessment as many of us know. If too much information is coming in three dimensional form and must be interpreted in a more linear form, the short term memory may tend to become overloaded, thus contributing to more mistakes in the interpretation. I would love to see a much more scientifically executed study on this in order to address ways to avoid the awkwardness of asking someone to “slow down”. I am a native user of ASL as well as a graduate from an ASL studies program and have held certification for almost 20 years and I have been humbled before due to my inability to give the message the richness of content that was deserved.
    I can say with honesty that my receptive and expressive skills are top-notch, I see what the Deaf person I’m working with is saying, but in order to follow the register of the communication environment there may be times when I have to ask for time to process.
    There is also the issue of cultural linguistic markers of English and ASL. This adds time to the interpretation as well.
    I’m certainly not advocating lower standards, we need to keep the standards as high as possible, but after thinking about your remarks I realize that this is an area that needs to be addressed so Deaf people can continue to enjoy the benefits of signing at their natural pace without worrying if the interpreter can keep up.
    I look forward to seeing more of your view points in the future. Very well said and spot on.

    • Trudy Suggs says:

      Absolutely agree, Beckie. Still, I don’t think it’s appropriate for interpreters to go up to a deaf person afterwards and say, “Boy, you sign fast!” with negative connotations.

  53. John says:

    As an interpreter I see this all the time and would be remiss not to admit to being guilty of it. While it doesn’t excuse the behavior it’s never or rarely done with the though of disempowering anyone.

    ” Even today, I momentarily revert to that 13-year-old whenever someone says I sign too fast—which, by the way, a deaf person has never said to me.”

    I do take exception to this. When you are speaking to another Deaf person they are not, at the same time, also voicing what you are saying to another person or group of people. We are taking in a visual language, processing it and spitting out (hopefully not literally). Communicating in sign is vastly different from interpreting sign.

    However back to your point. It is an issue and we as interpreters really need to take a step back and think if what we are doing, while trying to be helpful or polite, is actually doing a disservice to the population with which we work.

  54. Katherine says:

    Hello Trudy,

    In your article you mention an interview conducted with Joel Barish and mentioned it was for an article. I am interested in exploring the concept of deaf economics further for research I am conducting. Can you please provide me with the citation and/or link to the article?

    Thank you.

  55. AbbaMD says:

    John – Why are you venting over this? Trudy was sharing her experience as well as educating us how to deal with situations as a customer – hearing or deaf. Secondly she never mentioned “an emergency room” in this article but she made an appointment in advance and expected to see her doctor in a timely manner. I am sure most people including me would be ticked off if waited longer than 45 minutes. John – interpeters should act like professionals according to RID guidelines just like other professionals such as doctors, CPAs and lawyer. Do you honestly think it’s acceptable for a lawyer to communicate with a receptionist about a customer’s situation? right? “We don’t expect the hearing population to understand Deaf culture” sure is a major DUH!! That is why Trudy wrote this to share with the hearing population. You, not Trudy, are clearly a VERY angry person!

  56. Allison says:

    I am frustrated with the comment regarding interpreter’s “making money off of ASL”. I realize it could be that the comment left an implication other than the one that was intended. As interpreters we analyze for meaning. Words and their implications carry a lot of power. In English the phrase “making money off of” carries a strong negative connotation. It can imply the thought of “taking advantage of” someone or something. Perhaps this accounts for the reaction many interpreters have to hearing the work they do describe in those terms. Why should interpreters have to admit to “make money off of ASL”? Personally,I don’t feel I “make money off of ASL” But I do “earn an honest living” using my knowledge of both ASL and English to provide a necessary service. Important distinction. Interpreting is an honorable profession! So I don’t and won’t speak of it even unintentionally with a phrase that carries with it such a negative connotation.

    If the point being made was that our work as interpreters should include deep respect for ASL and the Deaf, I wholeheartedly agree! While there are some interpreters who very clearly do not show this respect, I contend that there are many, many of us who do. The vast majority of interpreters I know show that respect daily by the effort they put into the work they do and the care they exercise in trying to keep the power in the hands of the participants. We will and do make mistakes and that carries with it the potential for great scrutiny and judgement. I know that if I even inadvertently contribute in any way to the dis-empowerment of Deaf or even to a less than desirable interpreting experience it goes home with me. Even when factors beyond my control impact the interpreting process it weighs heavily on me and so many other interpreters that I know. The experiences that Deaf have in their work with interpreters do matter to me and to so many of my colleagues. So we continue to analyze our work for the potential for good and for harm that it carries and keep working hard to improve. Feedback from Deaf is a vital part of being able to do so.

    I hope this sheds some light on the reaction that some interpreters (including myself) may have to having there work described as “making money off of ASL “. I also hope it reassures that many of us are listening to the valid frustrations of the Deaf consumers as we work harder to provide better interpreting.

    • Trudy Suggs says:

      Allison, I absolutely agree. That’s exactly what I said in my article (and presentation, which is slightly different from the written version):

      “Don’t think this is an attack on hearing people. It isn’t. After all, I, like many others, make money off my languages of ASL and English. I run a writing company that specializes in both ASL and English. I work as a certified deaf interpreter. I teach ASL and English. I train interpreters. So I have absolutely no issue with making money off any language—as long as the goal isn’t to make money, but to really share the culture and language, and to encourage genuine language acquisition.

      So why do so many interpreters, mentors, rehabilitation professionals, ASL teachers, and others bristle at the idea that they’re making money off ASL? Maybe because it’s a harsh way to look at their professions. Perhaps if we face the truth, and say, “Yes, we do make money off ASL,” that’ll help us gain greater appreciation of the responsibilities that accompany the language and culture.”

      As I said, I make money off my languages–and I’m perfectly okay because I know my intentions are honorable. So my question, then, becomes: how can we work together to make this “negative perspective” become positive? Yes, the choice of words–”make money off”–is harsh, but this is EXACTLY what so many deaf people think. So instead of bristling, reacting, etc., let’s work together to evolve this perspective into a positive one. As I wrote, “Even so, what is more important—to me, at least—is to understand how we can be allies in such challenging situations. How do we come together to prevent disempowerment in any form or shape?”

      Thanks for your insights, Allison. Much appreciated.

  57. Patricia says:

    Trudy, while I’m aware that your insightful article was posted back in December, through a friend, I just read it. The problems you addressed, to this day, are still true. However, over the years, I’ve learned to focus on the instigator that caused the friction between a Deaf client and an interpreter. In your case, the receptionist was the instigator. We must ask why the receptionist in a way resented to you. Was it because you were Deaf? I don’t think so because you waited for an hour before you reminded the receptionist that you had waited an hour. Why did she make you wait for an hour? Was it because of the 2-hour minimum rate for an interpreter for a 30-minute job? Was the rate more than the receptionist made? The issue of disempowerment you brought up reminds me of Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” As Deaf people, must always be on our guard and come up with inventive strategies to empower ourselves. We gotta look out for the instigators and protect ourselves and our precious access service, interpreters. In a situation like the one you share with us is significant for our awareness. From now on, let’s focus on the instigators, by taking the power away from them and protect our interpreters from the awkward situation.

  58. Trudy Suggs says:

    Hi, Patricia! Good to see your postings once again–it’s been a while. :)

    I don’t know if I would use the word “instigator”–that’s a bit too much of a label. I think the receptionist was having a very bad day, obviously, and she took it out on me. By the way, an update to that: every appointment after that, she was very friendly and more importantly, more respectful and even seemed happy to see me (imagine!). I think she learned her lesson, and I was very appreciative of her willingness to do a better job.

    The crucial point–which I realized after the incident–was/is: why did the interpreter feel it was appropriate to speak on my behalf when I was very much present and available? That. It is important to note that I never once felt inferior during that appointment because I was deaf. I simply felt like the receptionist was being dismissive–and that was nothing to do with being deaf. It was simply because I happened to be the patient who was there at the wrong time. I should also point out that the interpreter was clearly and equally taken aback by the receptionist’s attitude).

    It was only when I told the apologetic nurse that I wanted to report the receptionist’s behavior that the receptionist seemed to suddenly realize she was being rude. The receptionist also has nothing to do with the rates, hiring, interpreter payment, etc.–there is an interpreter coordinator who handles that. Given that I was the only one waiting for the doctor, I knew it wasn’t because the doctor was behind in seeing patients. What I didn’t say in the above article/video was that later, the doctor and nurse both told me that they had overheard the receptionist’s tone to me and were appalled. That’s why the nurse came out so quickly; she had heard everything.

    As I said, I would absolutely work with the interpreter in this situation again; it wasn’t a dramatic situation or anything–but it made me think a lot about disempowerment, especially unintentional disempowerment. I think the interpreter spoke on my behalf without even realizing the privileges involved…and that is the entire point: we (including me) are so conditioned to our positions of privilege (whether deaf or hearing or white or male or whatever)–that we must, at all times, be cognizant of any and all inherent biases/attitudes/behaviors we exhibit, even if implicitly.

    By the way–I get asked about my son every time I talk about disempowerment. I’m happy to report that he’s running like no tomorrow. I have heart attacks every time I see him trip, but he’s doing marvelously well.

  59. Patricia says:

    Hello Trudy!

    Thank you for your response. I agree with you that the receptionist obviously had a bad day. The bottom line is you wouldn’t have the issue you had with the interpreter if the receptionist had a good day. Anyway, it’s good to know that everything worked out in your favor.

    Another thing I would like to share with you, I usually make a thank you statement and leave the receptionist’s desk with the interpreter, never ahead of the interpreter or behind the interpreter. I protect myself and the interpreter is our valuable ally. Y’all have a great day!

  60. Yvonne Jones says:

    Wow, so much information, so many thoughts…where to start? First, I should give a shout out to Becky Stuckless “How you doing, eh?” She was one of my ASL Interpreting teachers way back in the day. Having said that, I guess this would naturally lead into the comment about not having many Deaf ASL teachers. I cannot speak for the US, but in Canada, in the program I was in, we had them. In fact, the teaching of the language and culture, the practicum classes, were all done by Deaf professionals, great ones in fact! Ron, Teri, Calvin, just to name a few, were so inspirational and motivational for me, I’d have to say, they are the reason I have been an interpreter for as long as I have been. The ASL/English Interpreting portion was handled by working Interpreters. And from a students standpoint, all the instructors respected each others roles. I cannot count the number of times Ron would slide the partition over and ask Becky “how would you interpret this phrase?” Why, you may ask, is a Deaf professional asking a hearing person how to interpret a phrase? Because interpreting into the English language is what we know how to do! That’s our job. A Deaf person can become, with training, a DI. But they cannot become an ASL/English Interpreter. Yes, I know, fighting words for sure, but it’s just a fact of life. Just like I cannot become a DI. and I don’t think any less of myself for it. Being hearing is not a limitation, it just “is”. Being Deaf is not a limitation, it just “is”. The sooner everyone accepts the facts of life, the sooner we can move on with living and stop insisting on finding professional “boxes and categories” to put everyone neatly in. The doctor’s office situation, not cool indeed. I will agree that the comment made by the hearing person was not an assurance to the secretary that everything was over and done with. The comment was just a hearing culture saying. The covering over of the mouth was a whole other thing! It is true, the interpreter should have said “Perhaps you could apologize to the client and I could interpret that for you”. I am happy to see you say that you would still use this interpreter. It is important for the Deaf community to understand that we interpreters are not perfect, we sometimes make bad decisions and mistakes, but it does not diminish our ability to interpret for you the next time. Just please be sure to speak to us about the issue right away so we know what to correct. And please, remember, we have feelings too. So when correcting us, do so kindly. Trust me, we beat ourselves up more than you can imagine over every sign choice and verbal phrase we use at an assignment.

    I too take issue with there not being more Deaf professionals in management positions for agencies and businesses. Education is the key to everything. Deaf people receiving that education is where it starts. How many Deaf children really want to succeed so they can be the next Deaf business owner? Not many. They are so few and far between that when I, as an interpreter, come across a truly motivated young person, I inundate them with all the educational and Deaf professional resources I have. And I have never understood a Deaf Club having a hearing president. What is that all about???

    I will never forget when I was an interpreting student, and I was interning at a high school in Detroit which shall remain nameless… There was a stage presentation being interpreted by someone I had up till then been quite impressed with. They at times could not hear what was being said as the amplification system was not the best. They actually started signing whatever they though should fit in there! I was in shock! At no time did they let the consumers know that they could not hear the presenter clearly. The interpreter was not on the stage, so this information could have been communicated without distraction, and then someone could have looked into fixing the sound situation. But I was appalled that professionals would make stuff up!! What that did teach me is to NEVER do such a thing and to emphasize this to my mentees. I can’t even begin to imagine how the situation you went through with the interpreter saying gibberish and people laughing at you must have felt.

    There is something I feel I would like to point out about the whole “you sign too fast for me to interpret” thing. Because there are several processes our brains go through when interpreting, sometimes it is difficult to interpret ACCURATELY for a fast signer. Of course the Deaf community at large would not say you sign to fast for them. They are not interpreting what you are saying. They are merely conversating with you, so their brain does not have to go through the steps an interpreters brain must go through. For myself, when in a situation where someone is signing very fast (usually a highly emotional setting is where this takes place), I just let them know “I realize this is an important situation and you really want to make sure everyone understands how you feel.. Please sign a little slower so I can make sure I get everything you wish to say accurately. I don’t want there to be any misunderstandings or for you to feel like they are not listening to you.” Most of the time, that works. Sometimes the Deaf person gets upset with me and says I’m not professional and should not be interpreting if I don’t understand them. Guess what? Sometimes hearing people don’t understand what hearing people are saying. They don’t enunciate their words clearly, or have a low tone of voice, or stutter or have an accent (which would be equivalent to a Deaf person signing very fast). I have to ask them to speak up, or slow down to get their point across, or let them know that this process will have some delays due to their accent so please be patient with the interpretation. I’ve never had a hearing person tell me “You shouldn’t be an interpreter if you don’t understand me!”. The real issue seems to be about trust. If an interpreter falters or has a quizzical look, or asks for clarification even once, there are some Deaf (not all Deaf, let me make that statement) who become upset and immediately think we don’t know what we are doing. Where is the allowance for being human? I don’t assume because someone is Deaf that they cannot “do” things in life. So please don’t assume that I am not professional, or I don’t understand ASL if I ask you to slow down a bit so my brain can catch up with what you are saying and how I should conceptually interpret that. I’m just trying to do the best job I can. After all, my voice and word choices are representing you, so I would like to put “your” best foot forward :-)

    Btw, I am open to any positive, negative, agreeable and “what the heck were you talking about” comments. I have a tough skin and a warm heart.

    Hugs and Love!

  61. Erica P says:

    I expect someone else has said this, so please forgive me if this is redundant, so many wonderful comments but I don’t have time to read them! The ‘it’s okay’ situation was upsetting to me because, yes, that is what we women generally do, but why was the interpreter still standing there when the client walked away? Particularly in heated situations, interpreters might be ‘safer’ not putting themselves in positions like this by being caught ‘out of earshot’ of the client.

    What was most disturbing about this article to me was the hs interpreter. How ANY adult could do that to a young person is beyond me. Mocking and humiliating a child to cover their lack of skill is horrendous!!

  62. Erica P says:

    And as to the ‘making money off ASL’ aspect…yes, I do. I went to school, I invested lots of time and money to learn how to do this, Interpreting is my career. I respect the community greatly and I want to be an advocate, a supporter and a friend. But I do want to make a living. And it is frustrating when clients make comments about how much money we interpreters make. Yes, where I am it is quite an impressive hourly rate. Yet, as a freelance interpreter, and even as staff in some places, we do Not have health insurance, vacation, sick days, holidays off with pay, the ability to leave work early or show up late to go to our own dr appts, and still get paid. Not to mention the costs we incur to maintain our career, such as licensure, CEUs and certification. When all of that is taken into account, we most certainly aren’t becoming rich off of anyone!!

  63. Mary says:

    WOW! As a student this article is a whole semesters worth of “food for thought”. I have been asked many times why I want to become an interpreter for the Deaf. From this article and its responses I think that maybe a hearing person needs to explain why someone might choose this profession. I earned my degree in Psychology (the mind and how and why people think and act is fascinating to me). I soon got married and started a family and was not able to pursue any career ( I wanted to raise my children, I worked opposite my husband’s job so one of would be home). Now, they are old enough where I can pursue my interests.
    It seems that everybody knows Spanish but not many know sign language. I like to be different, and not conform. The flexibility of the job fits into my lifestyle. I can move anywhere in the country and there mostly likely will be a need for my skill set. Everyday of work will be different and challenging, not the same monotonous job I currently work at. Mostly, I feel like I identify with many aspects of the deaf culture. I am very forthright and tell it like it is. I don’t put much value in the spoken word of most people and watch all of their body language or non-manual markers. That tells the real story. Yes, the rate of pay is decent but is not the only deciding factor in this decision to learn a new vocation. I have always wanted a job where I can make a difference in the world to try to make someone’s life better, easier and give someone peace of mind.
    Now, I am absolutely terrified that I will do more harm than good after reading all of this. Every job has a learning curve and most people do not set out be negligent to their consumer. No matter what my job is I try do to do my best most days and at the end of the day that is all any of us can hope for from whom ever helps us whether it is an interpreter, a lawyer, a dentist or a bank teller. There are shysters in every walk of life who prey on anybody who is an easy target.
    I am trying to educate myself as much as possible so I can do this job to the best of my ability and to be an ally so that I may empower rather than disempower.
    If I never have enough skill to become an interpreter I will at least be able to communicate with deaf people and have an understanding of a culture that previously I certainly misunderstood.
    I wanted to add a student’s perspective of this article and the responses.

    • Trudy Suggs says:

      Mary, thank you so much for your insights. But please know that I did not intend to “terrify” anyone in writing this article. :) Rather, I would like to consider this an opportunity for hearing people to learn from a true insider of the Deaf community. What I touched upon here is exactly what Deaf people everywhere talk about in the privacy of their homes or in personal conversations. So many are–to use this word again–terrified to even approach hearing people because they are immediately discarded, dismissed, or challenged instead of validated. I hope you can see that this is a great opportunity for hearing people–especially those new to the community–to get an idea of the thoughts and comments floating around in the privacy of Deaf people’s homes. I’ve been astounded at the reactions I’ve gotten to my presentations/workshops all around the nation–a comment I get repeatedly is, “It’s about someone spoke up and told the truth!” It’s from Deaf people that I get this comment, and CODAs.

      I’m thrilled you’re studying the language, and you said exactly what I said in the original presentation: do your best. That’s all each of us can do each and every day.

      Thank you again for your honesty and I hope you don’t get terrified if we ever meet in person. :)

  64. Katie Mittler says:

    I think that this article was amazing. I really liked how the author was describing her experiences as interpreters being “disempowerment”. Interpreters have a lot on their plate. They have to struggle between different situations and everything else that is going on within their personal lives as well. Interpreters are a big part of the Deaf community. You know how the saying goes “Give the power back to the Deaf person”, well we should give the power back at all times to the interpreter as well.

  65. Todd Corbett says:

    I want to tell you that I am so proud of you and your experience and recognition of being “De-empowered” people. I have had those experiences in the past and even today. I live in Wyoming and I still approach those ignorant situations daily. At University of Wyoming campus, I always get struggled with expressing my voice to anyone, especially my “Deaf Studies”. Of course, I have a several interpreters to voice for me over the years and I had some best and worst experience from them. Sadly, since my town is small just like yours, many interpreters come and go for any reasons, I had to retrain each interpreter over the years.
    But I am still standing on my feet about empowerment.
    However, I am thrilled to see you and your presentation on empowering Deaf communities and the interpreters in regarding to communication access with empowering.
    I know it’s very difficult to teach the truths to our denying people.

    I am so proud of you and your courageous to provide those delicate information. I will try to find a time for your conference nearby.

    Many thanks,

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