Organizing Dialogue, Experience and Knowledge for Complex Problem-Solving

decision-making by one and all (RID 2009)

August 4th, 2009

Philadelphia, PA
Biennial Conference
Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf

ASL Zone

Now I understand DC-S!”

~ Vera Masters, after Eileen Forestal’s workshop (more below)

As we came down the hall from the elevators to the lobby on the first day of the conference, Cat reminded me: “We’re entering an ASL Zone.” There is always tension at these conferences whether to sign ASL or speak English. The easy (lazy?) choice is English (and I am guilty more often than I care to admit). I was impressed by the announcement that all Board Members will only use ASL, even if addressed in spoken English. Creating a conference environment that is accessible and welcoming to Deaf participants is not only respectful, but I think it is also crucial to distinguishing our field’s unique practice of intercultural communication. We are dealing not only with different languages, but also with different sensory modalities (vision & gesture) than spoken language. Being comfortable in environments where the substance of information is predominately visual, rather than auditory, is absolutely necessary to competence. The sensory experience of watching Bill Moody’s keynote presentation in ASL without voice interpretation is a pleasure hard to describe, as if the ears relax and sound fades to mere background murmur. Carla Mather’s workshop was like this, too…all communication was in ASL except for some of the group work where people chose to use their first language, English, rather than struggle with articulating new and complex concepts in (what is for most) their second language.

The unification factor of ASL is also hard to overemphasize. All signers do not look the same! By percentage, here in the U.S., a large percentage appears Caucasian (a demographic that has been visibly changing over the last several conferences, but ethnicity has never been the common denominator. Women still outnumber men in the profession but there are a lot of guys here. Lesbians compose a significant percentage of our ranks, but sexual orientation is simply another facet of inherent heterogeneity. In the case of the Deaf community, language links people across difference rather than unifying an already established ethnic, religious, or national basis of identification. It is not so much that we know the language, but that when we sign together, we are a community. It is quite beautiful to see hundreds of conversations flashing on hands up close and personal, closing distance across the room or the street, occurring even through windows. Boundaries between ‘outside’ and ‘inside’ diminish when so many people who look so un-alike talk with each other, animated and engaged.
Measured Debate (from B to V (voting)
In addition to the specialized training and continuing education opportunities provided by this conference, the voting w RobertsRules.jpgRegistry of Interpreters for the Deaf holds an extensive Business Meeting. Eight hours are scheduled for the organization’s business this year, which is conducted according to Robert’s Rules of Order. Anyone interested in the sophisticated and expert application of this arcane decision-making system in a contemporary context would enjoy observing the precise use of discussion, points of order and points of information, referrals, and calls to question utilized by organization members. It did take us nearly an hour and a half to work through amendments to the Standing Rules before we began the actual business agenda, but the warm-up served several functional purposes, including shifting the tone from the pedagogical discourse of teaching and learning, acclimating members to the use of the procedures, and introducing some of the cast of characters who contribute to navigating this massive ship through stormy waters.
Being interpreters, we are concerned with getting the language of motions and amendments exactly right, so the debates can go on for quite some time. The patience and tenacity of members to stick with every tiny development, considering the ramifications, evaluating the fit within the pre-established organizational structure, imagining the outcomes of implementation and then presenting reasoned arguments for or against, and utilizing Robert’s Rules to intervene or re-direct, are testimony to deeply-rooted professionalism.
The tenor of debate and discussion was uniform for all motions, so if you were unaware that a power struggle between the Membership and the Board of Directors was being played out you probably would not have identified it. I do not mean to imply that the Board has tried to resist or limit member oversight – in fact, I would say that the evidence shows the Board being responsive. But, the fact is that an unpopular decision was taken without adequate member input. There is separation (imposed by historical factors) between sign language interpreters who work with adults in nearly any setting, and sign language interpreters who work with school-age children in educational settings. Educational interpreters want and need the status of certification and membership in an organization such as RID, but the mechanisms for how to accomplish their inclusion on a basis that legitimizes them without compromising already established professional standards is proving to be a challenge. At any rate, the Membership did successfully vote into place an amendment to the Bylaws limiting the Board’s ability to take action on aspects relating to membership, certification, and testing without involvement and authorization from the members (my paraphrase, not the exact wording).
Demand-Control Schema
Eileen Forestal.jpgI am sure that there is a way to translate that institutional level of intergroup dynamics into the logic of Dean and Pollard’s Demand-Control Schema (DC-S), which is the most pervasive model in the field of sign language interpreting for managing the dilemmas that arise inevitably from the dynamics involved in processes of simultaneous interpretation. After the Business Meeting closed for the day, Eileen Forestal presented this model to Deaf interpreters, giving some fifty workshop participants DC-S for CDIs.jpgplenty of opportunity to engage with and consider the effectiveness of the DC-S for their own work in the field. There is a parallel to be drawn, by the way, between Certified Deaf Interpreters and spoken language interpreters working from a relay in the European Parliament. That parallel is one-dimensional, however, as spoken language interpreters in the Parliament are always the last link in the chain (because they work only into one target language, not back and forth between alternating source/target languages), whereas the CDI may be conceived of as “last” but also transforms into the first link in the return chain.

Robert’s Rules of Order
Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment

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