ASL Interpreting 101 for Hearing People | Andrew Tolman & Lauren Tolo | TEDxBend


Translator: Emily Marturano
Reviewer: TED Translators admin Andrew Tolman: So imagine
you’re getting all settled into your seat, nice and cozy. Maybe you’re at the theater. Maybe you’re at the book tour
of your favorite author. Lauren Tolo: Or maybe a TED Talk! AT: When you’re getting
settled in, you notice there’s a sign language
interpreter at the front. How many of you saw that and thought, “This is gonna be really cool”? “Sign language is so beautiful!” and got a little more cozy? Right? Yes, for sign language! (Cheers) (Applause) Sign language is beautiful,
let me tell you. And the interpreting
process is absolutely cool. But, interpreters are not performers. Interpreters are an important part
of accessibility and inclusion. And think about
the deaf people that are there. They’re the ones that requested
the accommodation, but they rarely get the same attention
in those kinds of spaces. Being an interpreter is not glamorous. It’s actually very, very, very hard work. And just as much as it is our job to
provide our skills to the deaf community, it is equally if not more important for us to work alongside
hearing people like yourselves who do not know American Sign Language, and often need crucial information
from deaf or hard of hearing people. A doctor needs to know exactly
what’s wrong with their patient. A teacher needs to know that their student comprehends
all lectures and homework. An interpreter in those situations
is given a lot trust to facilitate all of those
dynamics effectively. LT: According to the 2011
American Community Survey, roughly 11 million individuals
consider themselves deaf or have serious difficulty hearing. Many of these people identify culturally
as Deaf with a capital D, not hearing impaired. Deaf people as a cultural identity
are richly diverse, and today they are making
strides in every field, developing new medical advances
and inventing new technologies. They are lawyers, and CEOs,
and political candidates, and they are revolutionizing
the idea of universal access. But if certified, qualified, interpreters are not provided alongside
other forms of accommodation, then there’s an issue. AT: You’re missing out on 11 million
game changers, revolutionaries, co-workers. Here’s the thing. Historically, ASL interpreters
were just friends and family members. The children of deaf adults, or CODAs, were often the ones responsible
to facilitate language for their family. Other people were just friends
who happened to know the language and had a big heart. And our career is still very young. American Sign Language
didn’t even start to be recognized as its full, own, autonomous
language until the ’60s. And interpreters didn’t start receiving
any sort of training until the ’70s. Those programs were typically
only a few weeks long, and focused on vocabulary building, but there was very little discussion
on the vicarious effects that interpreting process
can have on the interpreter and how serious the consequences can be, mostly on the deaf
and hard of hearing community when those language facilitators
are ineffective. LT: A hearing interpreter strives
to neutrally and judiciously facilitate both cultural
and linguistic intent between deaf and hearing parties. We are not just dealing with words but the intent and emotion
behind and around those words. We do not give a word for word or a watered-down summary
of what someone is saying, but actually sign language interpreting
is mostly done simultaneously. So as you can see on stage,
the interpreters are producing a linguistically, culturally,
and dynamically equivalent message in American Sign Language, live,
with just a few seconds of lag time. American Sign Language is rich
with its own culture, and grammar, and regional accents, and it uses the face and the body
to create richness and context that would otherwise
be just a simple hand movement. It changes and flows
with the culture around it, and in the case of simultaneous
sign language interpreting, there are two processes happening
in the brain: visual and auditory. According to studies, there are literally too many complex
processes in simultaneous interpretation for even the world’s best supercomputer
to run at the same time. Interpreters must understand
context along with tone, body language, facial expression, emotion, and produce a dynamically
equivalent interpretation without disrupting
the flow of conversation, no matter how intense it might get. Just imagine the difference
between interpreting for an argument versus a boring lecture. Or, imagine the difference
of an interpreter for President Obama compared to President Trump. (Laughter) AT: Today, interpreters are professionals
that have to deal with all of that. (Laughs) We graduate from bachelor
and master programs, and we are required
to continue our education after that – going to workshops and engaging with
the deaf and hard of hearing community, talking about research that comes out
about our field almost every single day. We now realize that the interpreting
process is incredibly nuanced, and very complicated. There’s vicarious trauma involved,
power and privilege dynamics, and interpreters must be very cognizant of the effects that we can have
on people’s lives as we navigate those dynamics. Interpreters work in a variety of fields so we’re learning new things
from the deaf community all the time and developing new types interpreting like protactile interpreting
alongside the DeafBlind community or working alongside Deaf people
who are native speakers and act as certified deaf interpreters, adding cultural context that hearing people like ourselves
typically are unable to produce. And while all of this amazing,
amazing progress is happening, we still have a really,
really long way to go. Certified does not always mean qualified, because agencies are still placing
interpreters to match accommodation needs without directly asking
deaf people what they need. An interpreter could show up
and have no idea what we’re doing, and that can have serious
consequences on people’s lives, and can affect that interpreter. Everyone involved is at risk
when that happens. LT: So overall, interpreters
are called to work at a level that is both professional and ethical. This standard comes from
our Code of Professional Conduct, or CPC, that works to set the standard
for interpreting practices and keeps certified interpreters
working ethically. Certification alongside
accountability systems like Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf protect working professionals
as well as the rights of deaf individuals. However, the US currently has
only one nationally accepted test to certify hearing people
as American Sign Language interpreters. As of 2015, there is no nationally
recognized exam for legal interpreters, and there has never been
a nationally recognized exam for healthcare interpreters
in the history of the profession. Another major problem
is that some states, like Oregon, this national certification test
is not mandated by law. So anyone who can prove
they “know sign language,” can potentially be hired by an agency
and sent to work out with a deaf person, even in medical settings. Many agencies who contract interpreters cannot, or do not, effectively screen
their interpreters for quality and skill. This lack of services can be worse in
rural areas like here in Central Oregon, where resources are already limited. Deaf people often have to choose
between subpar access or no access at all, and then have no place to file a complaint
that will actually make a difference. AT: When hearing people like ourselves are collaborating directly
with the deaf community, we know how to use
our privilege and our access to support deaf people’s creation
of inclusive spaces for themselves. When we are all included, everyone wins. For example, this could even be important in a community grassroots
activists setting, like in 2018, when I was called to serve
by the deaf community at Occupy ICE PDX. For 38 days, protesters fought
to shut downs the DHS office in Portland, and protested the separation of families,
and the abuses happening at the border. And as we all know, here in Oregon,
political action like that is nothing new, but Occupy ICE PDX was very unique because for the first time,
an entire camp in all its complexities was made accessible because deaf and hard of hearing
community members and activists showed up and put themselves on the front line. And that camp kept its commitment
to fighting for all people by providing sign language interpreters and other forms of accommodation
and accessibility. I was fortunate enough to be involved and helped coordinate a team
of roughly 10 sign language interpreters, who showed up for vigils, direct actions,
community meetings. We had interactions with armed officers, and we interpreted live arrests. This type of inclusion was new for deaf people
and sign language interpreters. But what came of it was beautiful. New, specialized vocabulary
was discussed by the deaf community for the first time ever. That language empowered them to create
their own narrative in those spaces and helped interpreters like Lauren and I
know exactly how to match those needs. When everyone is involved
in that work, everyone wins. We’re still doing
that activists work today because of the creation
of vocabulary and concepts that the deaf community
were able to make for themselves. And not only just talk about
the deaf experience, but be included enough
to engage on any topic they wanted. LT: But let’s be honest, the modern world revolves around
auditory information gathering, and most people who have
the privilege of hearing don’t think twice about it
and are able to partake at ease. There are many situations in which you
may all have never thought about life from a perspective other than hearing. But I want you to take a moment and think back to your favorite class
in elementary school, or think back to your first job interview, maybe a time you were scared
to receive some news, or maybe your first court appearance
for a speeding ticket. The birth of your child, or a funeral. Interpreters are often
a rotating cast of strangers in these, and so many other moments
of deaf people’s lives. Andrew and I have been those strangers
in the room, and those extra bodies, and on the video screen. We are privy to stories
that are not our own, and experience moments in people’s lives that we would never
otherwise have knowledge of. Professional interpreters
are called to work for respect for consumers and co-workers, while also prioritizing
confidentiality and privacy. Those stories, good and bad,
belong to the deaf community, and are not for interpreters to tell. AT: That’s right. The thing is, when you see an interpreter,
we are not here to teach you cool signs, or talk on the side. It’s not a performance. We are working hard to provide
accessibility to hearing and deaf people. The ADA states that places
of public accommodation must allow people with disabilities
to participate in, and benefit from, equally in any service. So, what is the best way
for all of you to know that you’re providing
the right kinds of accommodations? You can start by researching locally. Start in the places that you work
or places that you frequent. Are they able and ready to provide
a number of access points including sign language
interpreters upon request? Also, please start
to push your legislators to put certified, qualified interpreters
into the legislation here, and start demanding
that that certification and that standardization make its way to Oregon. Also, find deaf organizations
that are already doing that work, and throw your full weight behind them because those accountability processes must be in the hands
of the deaf community. LT: But most importantly, ask deaf people,
engage with them directly. Support deaf professionals
and organizations that are already doing the work. Ask them what makes a good interpreter. Inspire them and empower them
to give own experiences and more of their own TED Talks. Our time on this stage has been
an honor, but we want to be clear: Interpreters are only
one part of the story, and only one option in a myriad
of different kinds of accommodation and access. The work of an interpreter exists
symbiotically with the deaf community. Because if they are not empowered
to regulate, and educate, and keep accountable the interpreters
that you all depend on, then we as interpreters
are not able to grow our field to match the ever changing world. It is simple: the best way to ensure
that your work is successful is to make that work
accessible and inclusive. AT: And accessibility in itself
is not revolutionary. But again, when everyone is involved, I think you’d be surprised
at how extraordinary it could be. Please don’t just take our word for it. Go get yourself an awesome interpreter, and ask the deaf community
what they’re already doing. Without that kind of accessibility, how would you ever know
what you have been missing out on? Both: Thank you. (Applause) (Cheers)

35 thoughts on “ASL Interpreting 101 for Hearing People | Andrew Tolman & Lauren Tolo | TEDxBend

  • Just saying, Idk how many of view this as "glamorous' Speaking for myself, I'm taking personal time to find how I might help my patients. How might I make a connection? I won't be fluent, but maybe a few simple signs will make someone feel valued and heard.

  • TEDx, I’m also a sign language interpreter.
    It’s so exciting to see a video discussing the information that needs to be known.

    However, it’s disheartening that the topic they’re discussing is being acted out on this video.

    There’s an interpreter on stage that is shown only in short moments, and although it’s captioned she is not shown through the entire talk.

    Why not show the interpreter the entire video for Deaf and Hard of Hearing viewers to be able to watch and get that access.

    The speakers don’t need to be watched to listen to them.
    But the Deaf have to be able to watch the interpreter to “listen” to the speaker.

    Please Provide the access that was spoken about in this video next time.

    Thank you

  • Thank you for finally adding captions. (There was a real backlash when there were no captions there before.) Next time a Sign Language Interpreter is there, make the Interpreter able to be seen fully.

  • At first I was like "Cool I could totally interpret this!" Then they started using words like "facilitate" and lost me

  • This was an incredible Tedx! I am a signing Para in a deaf program in an elementary school, I would love to be an ASL interpreter someday. ❤️

  • I don’t think this is entirely accurate. Every Interpreting job I applied for or even looked at required a NIC test.

  • Good talk but I don't understand why the interpreter was out of camera view–lack of inclusivity for all viewers including those watching the video. Not about making the terp a "performer," but illustrating the very point of the talk. Why expect D/HH to rely on CC when there was an interpreter there?? 🤷🏻‍♀️

    Along the same line, I've found it dumbfounding that during televised press conferences pertaining to public safety, the terp is rarely included in the camera shot.

  • 100% agree with the comment about not showing the interpreter.
    Also there ought to be more emphasis on being qualified than on being certified.

  • It's like a bad joke not showing the interpreter for this Ted Talk. And sorry guys, I couldn't make it past 3 minutes of the talk. More feeling, less memorization next time!

  • Didn't these two move from Arizona to Oregon to avoid certification requirements in Arizona? Odd that they would bring it up, considering Oregon's lack of laws is precisely what allowed them to work in that state.

  • It’s really depressing that the certification test they’re talking about is subpar at best. Quality companies that regularly hire interpreters often conduct their own tests as they don’t consider it to be an accurate representation of interpreting ability.

  • I love this talk. However, The filmer made a common error. They DID NOT INCLUDE THE ASL INTERPRETER ONSCREEN during ALL of the talk. Occasionally giving a glance of the interpreter, misses the purpose. A Deaf person should be able to watch this video and AND FOLLOW THE INTERPRETER, just as if they were present at the LIVE event.

    Closed captions are good for persons like me who are Hearing, but with limited ability to hear; our main language is SPOKEN English, so we can understand the meaning of the captions.
    For the majority of the those born Deaf, ASL is their first and main language. It is NOT signed English. Closed Captions are in English, their SECOND language. It would be like a native English speaker who doesn't really know Spanish, watching Spanish captions.

    Therefore, a split screen picture should have be used so that both the verbal English speaker AND THE ASL INTERPRETER would be visible AT ALL TIMES during this video.

  • Question for the group: How do you get rid of poorly skilled interpreters that refuse to improve or are incapable of improving??? This is a real question. I look forward to your responses.

  • I notice in some shots that your talk is being interpreted.
    Why can’t we see the interpreter? (See well enough to understand, that is.)

  • I live in Anchorage and my school is the only school that provides ASL as a foreign language in Alaska. This is my 3rd year. Love Deaf culture

  • I was going to copy and paste this to my social media. I was excited to listen to it. Then I did. And was disappointed. Even offended at some points. I won’t be sharing it.

    A contradiction. You made sure to let the listener know that deafness is not a disability. THEN, at the end included deafness when speaking about disabilities. You can’t have it both ways. The word DISABLED is not offensive. If a person is deaf, they can not hear. Semantic gymnastics.

    The middle part was biased with the example of interpreting at ICE. A neutral example should have been used. That example had an agenda. No thank you.

    And calling a person privileged because their body does what it is made to do is ridiculous. I give this TedTalk a D. The beginning was good. Then facts turned into something else.

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