Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ode To ASL Interpreters

Our voice, our ears....our Sign Language Interpreters

I have been thinking long and hard what to write for It's a Deaf Thing topic lately and it hit me. I haven't really talked much about American Sign Language interpreters. I think they are most overlooked yet most recognizable when accompanied with a Deaf person. 

ASL interpreters are there to present as our ears and voice. They translate what a hearing person says into Sign Language to a Deaf person then translates what Deaf person is saying into spoken English to a hearing person. Our interpreters are our liaison between hearing and Deaf worlds. ASL interpreters have experienced curiosity,  confusion, mild fear, excitement, and fascination from hearing audience. Here are their stories. 



I was interpreting for a Deaf client at a doctor appointment. The client's regular doctor was out for the day so there was a different doctor to see my client. This doctor was not exposed to Deaf people so she was unaware of proper etiquette of working with an interpreter and a Deaf client. The doctor constantly referred my client "Tell him that ..., Tell him this..." rather than speaking directly to my client. Finally, my client had enough of this indirect conversation that he was receiving from this doctor. He finally signed and I was speaking for him; he explained that I [the interpreter] was just here as his voice and ears so please speak to him directly and pretend that the interpreter was not in the room. The doctor widened her eyes and exclaimed, How can I ignore other person in the room--she's right there! My client, bless his heart, grunted and signed, well you were doing a good job of doing exactly that to me before. 

How common is this situation! I have been in position where people don't quite understand how to work with an interpreter and often ignores me in the process because it is just strange for them to be looking directly at a Deaf person while speaking and signing and ignore the interpreter in the room. I can understand the hearing person's awkwardness of knowing there is someone else in the room watching us, and speaking for me while I am signing. This is a very common thing and I am typically cool with this especially when a hearing person meets me for the very first time and using my interpreter for the first time. 

I was waiting in an emergency room because my agency had informed me that I had a client in a need of an interpreter. So I showed up and waited several minutes before being called into examination room. Upon the arrival, I met with a client, and the client began speaking in a foreign language. I realized that the hospital had confused my title as American Sign Language Interpreter must meant I was able to translate all languages into spoken English. 

Oops. Just because ASL interpreter can understand and translate spoken language into Sign Language or vice versa doesn't mean he/she is able to translate other languages. Be careful when you call an agency and don't assume that interpreter is able to translate all languages--clarify which language this interpreter is able to translate first before hiring him/her! 



Being a male interpreter certainly has earned me a stereotype of being gay or bisexual. I can definitely tell you that I am not gay. I just happened to fall in love with interpreting and Deaf Culture because my parents are Deaf. 

Be careful not to assume that all male interpreters are gay! Some male interpreters are flaming gay. Some male interpreters are subtly gay. Some male interpreters are TOTALLY straight. I have had a male interpreter, who was straight and married, wore his wedding band yet people still assumed he was gay. I have had a male interpreter, who was obviously way flaming gay and loved to wear crazy colored shirts, that often interpreted for me. Some people thought I must be gay for having a gay interpreter. Oy vey! My interpreter's sexuality does not mean it is same for my sexuality. Okay? When I was in grad school; I met wide array of interpreters, both male and female, with varying sexual orientations. So don't assume!

As an interpreter; I have been asked if I was my client's relative (mother, brother, uncle, son, daughter) quite often. 

A freelance American Sign Language interpreter must be held at a professional standard and this means there is Code of Ethics must be held to the strictest standard. What an interpreter hears, sees, and says/signs cannot leave beyond the room. Once a Deaf client's appointment is over then the interpreter must leave that information with that client and not share it with anybody else besides that client. Because of this; Deaf clients does not work with interpreters that are their relatives. Just think of how a surgeon cannot perform a surgery on a patient that is his/her relative. Yeah, same goes for an interpreter. Even so; hearing people don't quite understand the role of ASL interpreters and still ask this question anyway! 


Despite misunderstanding ASL interpreter's role in interpreting for a Deaf person; they are a great asset to us Deaf people, and we are grateful for them. At least I am. :) 

1 comment :

  1. Granted, I'm not a 'terp, but I have done my fair share of 'terping over the years. Funniest one was at a comedy pub. We were sitting near the back, but in the middle of the act the comedian noticed me. He asked me a few questions, including "So, you sign like, ALL the words I say?"

    "Yes."

    "Sh*t, d@mn, f*ck... wait, why is that f*ck?"

    I then proceed to explain... two pairs of legs...

    He then then 'scissor-crossed' a pair of V's, and proceeded to make love to them with his tongue.

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