Archive for Deaf

Another Reason to Hate Judaism

I just remembered that last night, a woman from the Deaf club near campus (I had a small typing gig there after class) intervened during a legal lecture and said that the local Rabbinate refused to acknowledge her as witness for the writing of a will by one of her own family members.

The reason for said refusal: “You’re deaf, you cannot be a witness”.

Disgusting.

The Power of Sign Language

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This past few weeks have been tumultuous for me. I’m constantly reshaping my view on sign language and interpreting for the Deaf. When I started studying ISL, I was determined to acquire the skills and credentials of an ISL interpreter because of a combination of my love to Mother and my life-long infatuation with the Deaf, mainly as a result of reflecting the love I have for Mom and Dad on the entire Deaf community.

At the onset, Cocoon stated firmly that “wanting to help the Deaf” is a dangerous agenda for an interpreter. The Interpreters’ code states clearly that objectivity must be had in relation to both Hearing and Deaf. In every interpretation event, the Hearing are my clients too, and as a professional sign language interpreter, I must avoid any biases against the hearing just as much (and equivalently so) as I should avoid biases in favor of the Deaf.

So how do I do it?

At first, I thought that it is impossible for me to uphold the Code without turning against my own ideals as well, but I’ve come to reshape this thought in the past week:

The best thing I can do for the Deaf is to be as professional an interpreter as possible.

This is not to say that there aren’t any ethical issues to be had, but as a basic principle, it does absolve me of the self-torturous occupation with my agenda as an interpreter.

This week’s article was all about interpretation ethics. Besides from recapping the code as we’ve discussed it in class, it brings some real-world examples of collision between the Code and a person’s own ideals and moral principles.

I will use one such example to clarify the remaining dilemma I have with the ethical code:

An interpreter was sent to interpret for a deaf patient who was visiting a gynecologist about having her uterus removed. The interpreter notices that clearly, the doctor is not giving this patient all the care (he believes) she deserves, and it is easy to see that the deaf patient hasn’t a clue that she’s being mistreated.

What would I do?

Well, if it was Mom and Dad, I’d probably turn the table and use loud-volume complaints and admonition, as my agenda is clear: I’m here for Mom and Dad, and I wouldn’t give a rat’s ass about the doctor’s interests so long as he takes care of them.

As soon as I do that, I’m no longer a sign language interpreter, end of story. I’m a “signer representing my deaf parents”. Cocoon firmly stated that anyone who’s ever signed to his family (or even his friends!) has never “interpreted”. Knowing how to sign does not perforce mean “being an interpreter”.

The article offers one interesting possibility of upholding the code without hurting the interpreter’s conscience: resigning the instant there’s a clash between ethical and personal principles.

The issue, however, remains for me unsettled. In my case, I would resign and then immediately become very, very subjective and particular about what happened. I would admonish the doctor for his malpractice, I would feverishly explain to and negotiate with the deaf patient, even to the point of arguing with her that going through this or that length of research and so on would be the best thing for her.

I would be making a stand, I would be appointing myself as an advocate and guardian without receiving this appointment from my deaf client.

My instinct would probably be to self-appoint myself as a guardian for the deaf without their consent, merely because it’s a life-long habit. I’ve yet to find a deaf person who didn’t happily accept that, by the way. I’m sure that a lot of deaf people would refuse to be belittled (although I don’t actually belittle, not consciously, anyhow), and I will immediately cease playing “Signman” at their expense if they ask me to, but still, this is what I would do by default, unless requested otherwise. I highly respect and revere the Deaf, and I only feel obliged to appoint myself as their “savior” because I’m horribly empathetic to them, not because I think they’re weak or incompetent.

So, in conclusion, I would still be breaking the code, or be improper by exploiting the information I received (the doctor being an ass) to promote my personal (and the deaf patient’s) agenda.

As of right now, I have no idea what I would do that aligns itself both with the Code and with my moral principles. And that, frankly, keeps me awake at night.

In class, Cocoon suggested that it is proper (and okay with the Code) to not so much as intervene in anyone’s favor in the interpretation-scene, but to simply supply the patient with some healthy advice that doesn’t assume any actual responsibility or, heavens forbid, requires contamination of spoken content with agenda-ridden signs.

She suggested, for example, to cordially ask the patient if she’s sure of what she’s going to do and humbly recommend her to consider her actions (such as signing the form that authorizes her surgery) well before anything potentially harmful happens.

This is a prudent and somewhat cunning alternative to breaking the code or letting a deaf person rot in the course of upholding it, but I still think it’s problematic. In a way, I AM breaking the code, or at least jabbing it hard enough to leave a crack. Personally? I’d do just what Cocoon suggested because I haven’t thought of a better idea. Perhaps I’d be a bit more adamant with my “cordial suggestions”, but I admit that I wouldn’t replace Mom and Dad with the deaf patient, I have to remain professional, for everyone’s sake.

Getting more intimate with sign language and the deaf is like a dream coming true for me, but I’m appalled as I wrestle with the horrible acknowledgment of the fact that sign language interpreters and the Deaf can never be friends and “work together” at the same time. The power to mediate between the hearing and the Deaf creates a chasm between Hearing and Deaf. The all-encompassing notion that one side is impaired and depended on the other makes the politics of this situation too cumbersome. I believe that although not impossible, being a professional sign language interpreter to a Deaf friend is highly unlikely.

I find this notion to be the most tragic conclusion from this course imaginable.

Why We Sign

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The basis for the post’s title is the title of the 9th episode for the epic WWII drama by Stephen Spielberg: “Band of Brothers”. As it so happens, the episode answers the question one particular soldier asked himself throughout the war: why did he fight and why did his friends have to die for it. He got a heart-shattering answer when he and his company discovered and liberated a concentration camp. It was probably also one of the most shocking and intense parts of the mini-series.

ISL school is fascinating enough when we deal with the origin and structure of this fascinating language, and with the tenets of translating and interpreting. Not surprisingly, it’s turning out to be more complicated than I thought. For starters, being a signer, apparently, does not make you a sign-language interpreter. Also, being an interpreter does not make you a translator. What’s going on?

To begin with, everyone in the program knows how to sign. It’s about 70% CODAs, so us CODAs obviously know Sign. There’s teachers and social workers and the occasional Interested Individual (probably my best friend in the program to date). On the whole, the sign-language part comes in-built in every one of the students.

So why do we need a program? Why 2 years?

Even though the rationale for interpreting has been clear to me all these years, I’ve never put it under the microscope. To me, signing was never designed to “act as professional proxy”. To me, signing always meant: “Do as your parents tell you”. I developed a relationship with Mom and Dad and I signed so I could help them.

Apparently, sign language interpreting does not focus, at least professionally, on helping the deaf.

Obviously, signing helps the deaf tremendously. They’re practically helpless, sometimes, without it (at least the old deaf population, which is far from being techno-savvy and isn’t going anywhere for the coming decades. Also, I’ve personally interpreted for techno-savvy deaf students. They’re not independent and aren’t going to be anytime soon).

But, and this is important, Cocoon (this is how I’m going to call the program administrator, a CODA whose husband is deaf) heavily admonished me for saying that I’m in this business to help the deaf. Cocoon says that such an attitude towards interpreting is not professional. A professional translator has to be 100% objective, with no bias towards the deaf nor the hearing. How do I reconcile that? In short, I don’t.

One of most pivotal issues in the program is Translation Ethics. An issue I’ve never dealt with and, says Cocoon, is of enormous import and is probably one of the main reasons for the establishment of a professional ISL-interpreters’ program.

It seems that I’ve violated the ISL ethical code when I stayed after class and helped my student with her homework, it appears that I’ve violated the code when I got involved, personally, with my clients and became their friend, helped them better understand the material, answered their questions before tests, etc. At one time, (and this, I admit, was wrong on every level), I even signed an answer to a question in a test when my deaf student looked at me with puppy eyes and begged me to help her with the test.

Well, I don’t know if I’ll have the minerals to say “no” to a deaf student in distress, but apparently, this is part of my professional responsibility. I might even lose my license if I do that when I go pro.

And here comes to the main point of the post, which is not why “We” (the interpreters) sign, but why “I” sign. I sign to help the deaf. It’s the reason I got into the program and without that reason, I have no place there. I come to impart my childhood habit of helping my deaf parents upon non-parenting deaf individuals. I come to reflect the love I had for my parents, deaf or not, upon all deaf individuals. It’s practically barbaric, in a way, but without it, I simply don’t know how to be so fatally enamoured with the deaf community as much as I am.

So this is a secret I probably should keep hidden from Cocoon, and it’s also reason enough for me to risk my license. I come to the deaf community in order to help them.

This does not mean that I’m going to be biased for the deaf as far as the contents of the signs is concerned. I am going to sign to them EXACTLY what the hearing person said, and I’m going to voice exactly what the client signs. I am, however, going to get personal with my deaf clients, and give them advice as far as I can. Not during the interpreting session, but as a friend. The certificate is only a bridgehead into the deaf community.

I will follow the ethics and rules to the letter, but I will not remove myself from the Deaf community itself. I will come to sign for them as a professional, hopefully model translator: Impartial to either Deaf and Hearing – but after the session is complete, I will address them as a friend of the Deaf, their hearing child as I’ve always been, and the de facto parent I always felt I was to the Deaf community.

I sign because I want to help.

I sign because I need to help.