Organizing Dialogue, Experience and Knowledge for Complex Problem-Solving

Deutsch Gebärdensprache

July 27th, 2005

Deutsch Gebärdensprache &emdash; German Sign Language &emdash; DGS
I’m hearing hints and rumors (!) of folks here interested in the Deaf-Interpreter relationship/interaction. It sounds like they are approaching it from different angles than me, but we’re still interested in the same basic thing, or at least in various aspects of the same thing. Making these contacts and having these conversations is completely bonus to the intention of fieldwork here, but it contributes to my thinking, of course. 🙂
There are four interpreting schools in Germany and a cadre of other professionals who work with the Deaf community (as in the US). The language underwent similar historical repression and was salvaged by use on the playgrounds and in the dormitories of residential schools. An additional measure here was a wave of sterilization, which seriously reduced a generation of children who could have been raised by Deaf parents.


Sign language interpreting is institutionalized and paid through a fund collected by a particular agency (not exactly government, but not private either). The source of the funds is a penalty tax on businesses who don’t hire a certain percentage of persons with disabilities. The law says every 16th employee must be disabled or the company must pay a fixed amount per month per each unhired disabled person. These funds are then used to pay for a wide range of services for access and accommodations. Much of the work is in the form of what we’d call living assistance or personal care, and includes things like readers for persons with visual disabilities and interpreters for the deaf. There was an institutional battle about pay &emdash; interpreters were originally lumped in to be paid the same as all workers regardless of education, skill, and specialized requirements of the work. They successfully fought for adequate remuneration, but didn’t realize (at least, so it seems in retrospect) that the label of “work assistant” also needed to be resisted.
What has occurred is that the Deaf person becomes the employer (deciding how to use their allotted number of hours of interpreting services) and &emdash; because of the job description of “work assistant” &emdash; can ask the interpreter to perform all manner of other tasks! Sounds a bit similar to the dilemmas faced by educational interpreters in the States, except here we’re talking about adults asking for things like babysitting! Talk about power dynamics, eh?

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