Organizing Dialogue, Experience and Knowledge for Complex Problem-Solving

community interpreting (oh, the layers!)

May 15th, 2008

When one of my interpreting colleagues materialized out of the ether in the midst of a job yesterday, the fact of my nearly exclusively work in college classrooms was glaringly apparent. What, a team?! She was doing what “we” do, out in the field: logistics had transpired such that the four interpreters hired for a conference with four deaf participants had to split up. Normally, since the whole job was eight hours long, we would work in pairs, restricting the four deaf participants to negotiate and compromise with each other in order to chose workshops so that the interpreters could remain together. Being flexible, and hating the ways our provision of communication acess sometimes turns into a limit on intellectual/personal choice, when it turned out there were three events desired during one and the same timeslot, we split up accordingly. When my teammate’s session ended early, she did what community interpreters do – came to join me: offering relief and backup. Only I didn’t see her. According to Wanda (the assigned/anonymous name for all colleagues who get blogged), I looked directly at her at least once, and she managed to catch the attention of most workshop participants waving at me from various angles in the room, but not me! I was in full solo-workmode, focused on the language: verbal and non-verbal, emanating from and directed by the workshop presenter, tightly in tune with the participation she evoked from the audience while constantly monitoring the deaf participant’s feedback for indicators of reception and assertion.
Wanda literally burst into my field of vision as if Scotty had just transported her into the scene. Startling! 🙂
I do, by the way, sometimes work with a team in post secondary educational settings, but many of the classes are fifty minutes long and – generally, although this depends on each particular professor’s teaching style and the density of the subject matter – the pedagogical pacing of a lecture is do-able for that amount of time (at least after one has built up the mental endurance and the physical skill of keeping one’s body relaxed and in proper posture).
The attitude is what struck me though, a sort of come hell or high water I’m gonna let my team know I’m here!
The American Sign Language interpreting community is good like that, nearly every place I have worked. Of course there are always individual exceptions to the teamwork ethic, but – as a community of professionals – sign language interpreters have adopted some of the cultural norms of the Deaf community. These norms include the value of collectivity and (not always, but often) a sense of mission: to preserve and maintain Deaf Culture, educate non-deaf people about American Deaf Culture and American Sign Language, etc.
Returning to work in a familiar location with skilled colleagues was a joy. 🙂 The day was gorgeous. The spring palette of freshly budding green intermixed with blue sky and smatterings of snow was brought into high relief by perfect temperatures, inside and out. Literally, in terms of the weather, and also figuratively: the work of this conference, with its incredible mix of participants and lofty goals, merged seamlessly with the calm, stable, and beautiful environment. Such privilege! Here was a community of people using a variety of communication technologies and two languages. I struggled with the computer-generated voices from some presenter’s communication boards, a matter of pace (recommendation: design pauses and slow down the rate of words/minute) but how cool is it to converse with someone whose mind is totally active even though their body doesn’t cooperate so readily? Of course, there is work on both sides – the user of facilitated communication (FC) has labored to pre-record messages (imagine the anticipation!), and the non-FC user has to slow down to order to establish relationship. Don’t think this is not laborious itself! Imagine the pace at which our society compels us to move? Hurry hurry do do don’t think too much be witty rush hurry twenty more things on the list time is running out!
Yet, in the rarified setting of a well-cared for state, with deeply institutionalized rights and support structures enabling the achievement of those rights, such creative engagement becomes possible. Relationships across incredible difference are built. This will seem like a tangent, but imagine if such privilege was the norm? There might be a Day of No News, also rendered like this: No News.
We are quite a long way off from the dilemmas such stability and prosperity might cause (methinks we’d invent plenty of new, exciting forms of news), but – in order to have a chance of getting there – the need for strategically building the capacity of resources to sustain such relationships is key. Cheryl Moose wrote about this in her recent President’s Report (VIEWS, May 2008). I’d like to propose that in addition to firming up the bedrock partnership between Deaf communities and sign language interpreters, we also need to think even more broadly to alliances with spoken language interpreters. As globalization forces more and more different kinds of people into “relationships” premised upon the need to work – remaining fragmented as (for instance) community or conference interpreters, signed or spoken language interpreters could leave the profession of simultaneous interpretation scrambling. (Whether or not this bodes well or ill for the users of our services is another story! We are, according to many logics, a luxury.)

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