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Category Archives: Deaf Culture in Action

Nyle DiMarco Embodies Deaf Cultural Values

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The Deaf community has gone wild about Nyle DiMarco. Not only because of his stunning dance routines on Dancing with the Stars or his winning the competition as America’s Next Top Model last February.   And not even because of his handsome looks or perfect physique. Rather, it is the ways in which he projects a positive and inspiring image of the Deaf community, demonstrating what Deaf people are capable of, regardless of their speaking or listening abilities.

12106741_1681736582063046_5381670987293833556_nVisit his website to learn more about Nyle, the collectivist nature of the Deaf community, the richness of a signing family, and some of his passions, including spreading the word about talented Deaf performers (#DeafTalent), the importance of Deaf owned companies and Nyle’s current priority: Deaf children and their families.

Strikingly, instead of just basking in his own success, Nyle has vowed to use his unique opportunities to bring attention to critical issues affecting Deaf people. In this way, he exemplifies the Deaf cultural value of giving back to the community. He is fully cognizant of the fact that most deaf children do not have the same privileges he had to become a bi-lingual individual with a healthy sense of self as a Deaf person. Because of this, he is capitalizing on his fame to support the work of the Deaf community, such as the Language Equality and Acquisition for Deaf Kids (Lead-K), the National Association of the Deaf, and Gallaudet University, with the goal of helping parents of deaf children understand the value of raising a deaf child who is bi-lingual in ASL and English, as opposed to trying to restrict the child to an English-only environment at home and school.

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To further his goal of making the world a better place for all Deaf people and their families, Nyle has established The Nyle DiMarco Foundation, whose website states “Nyle and the Foundation are guided by the principle that every child deserves love and language ” and adds that “the key to unlocking a Deaf child’s future is acquiring language at an early age.”

The Foundation’s aims include improving “access to accurate, research-based information about early language acquisition–specifically, the bilingual education approach. Through the early intervention process, the child’s language and literacy development should be the focal point.”

Check out this website to learn more about his work. This is what Deaf Culture is all about. No wonder the Deaf community is wild about Nyle!

 

 

Deaf Interpreters: New Focus on a Traditional Role

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 10.14.16 PM  Anna:

As long as there have been Deaf people on earth, they have helped each other by explaining or interpreting to     ensure that all members of the Deaf community have access to information. This often-overlooked facet of Deaf  culture is currently receiving much well deserved attention in a variety of settings. In a new book, Deaf Interpreters at Work: International Insights, published by Gallaudet University Press, four distinguished editors and 17 contributors document the historical roots and current practices of Deaf interpreters in Australia, Canada, England, Finland, Ireland, Sweden and the United States .

While the professionalization of hearing people earning their living as sign language interpreters has eclipsed the traditional role played by Deaf people within their own society, there is currently a momentum for Deaf interpreters (DIs) to reclaim this traditional cultural role and work alongside hearing interpreters in the hospital, courtroom or on the conference stage.

In the Introduction to Deaf Interpreters at Work, the co-authors acknowledge that while DIs and hearing interpreters both follow a formalized code of conduct, there are crucial differences between them, including “the fact that DIs are Deaf all of the time…[consequently] DI and hearing interpreters have dissimilar access to information; DI and hearing interpreters have a different relationship with Deaf culture in that the former have more confidence in their position in that culture than do the latter.” The authors also describe a division of strengths: “DIs have a better understanding of sign language nuances, hearing interpreters have a better understanding of spoken language nuances…” (Adam et al. 2014, 7).

Deaf and Hearing Interpreters Can Work Together Effectively

In my own work specializing in legal interpreting for the past 20 years, I have had the privilege and pleasure to work with many highly skilled and creative CDIs (Certified Deaf Interpreters) in an array of challenging situations. I believe that this configuration can often achieve a deep accuracy not possible when hearing interpreters work alone.

For Deaf and hearing interpreters to work together successfully, however, they need training in a specific type of teamwork. Last week, I attended a three-day intensive conference in Denver which focused on Deaf and hearing interpreters working together effectively in the legal setting. The turnout at the ILI (Institute for Legal Interpreting) demonstrated a historical show of strength and a growing acknowledgement of the necessity for and power of Deaf interpreters. Of the 220 attendees, there were 54 CDIs from across the country. For more details see this post on Street Leverage.

Speaking of history, the attendees at ILI were treated to a fascinating presentation by Anne Leahy, a graduate student in Salt Lake City, who shared her historical research on Deaf interpreters being used in several court cases going back to the mid 1800’s. I look forward to Anne publishing these intriguing stories when her research is complete.

Recently, on the website Street Leverage, I issued a challenge to hearing interpreters to accept their pivotal position as “first responder.” When we are called to an interpreting assignment and must make the decision whether to halt the proceedings until a Deaf interpreter can be summoned, we truly hold the key to ensuring the most effective access to information for all parties involved. Here is a excerpt from my article:

Are Hearing Interpreters Responsible to Pave the Way for Deaf Interpreters?

Deaf interpreters are marching up the road to take their place as equal and valued professionals alongside their hearing counterparts. As more Deaf interpreters are trained, become certified and collaborate with hearing teammates, it will inevitably alter our way of working. We can welcome this evolving development and cherish the new opportunities it brings or dig in our heels and resist.

[Click to view post in ASL]

Two Street Leverage posts have addressed the gathering momentum of this movement. In Deaf Interpreters in the Blind Spot of the Sign Language Interpreting Profession, Jennifer Kaika documents the increasing numbers of Deaf interpreters and challenges us to support Deaf interpreters as “a long-standing and lasting part [of our profession], present since the inception of RID.” In Deaf Interpreters: The State of Inclusion, Nigel Howard, a Deaf interpreter himself, urges us to truly realize a team approach by “working together toward a shared and collaborative target language interpretation that is an equivalent to the source language.”

Recently, when revising my book, Reading Between the Signs, for a new edition, I added a section on Deaf interpreters. With the book’s focus on the cultural aspects of our work, it struck me that the resistance some hearing interpreters seem to feel to this “new” development in our field, might be rooted in cultural values (more about this later). First, let’s confirm the fact that Deaf interpreters belong to a tradition with deep roots.

LONG TRADITION

Eileen Forestal, a Deaf interpreter who has been at the forefront of research and training, contributed a chapter to the new book, Deaf Interpreters at Work: International Insights. While awarding official certificates to Deaf interpreters may be a relatively recent development, Forestal writes that, “as long as Deaf people have existed, they have been translating and interpreting within the Deaf community.” It goes back to the residential schools, where “Deaf children, both in and out of the classroom, would frequently explain, rephrase, or clarify for each other the signed communication used by hearing teachers.” Once out of school, this supportive activity did not cease. “Deaf persons would interpret for each other to ensure full understanding of information being communicated, whether in classrooms, meetings, appointments, or letters and other written documents” (Forestal, 2014, 30).

MY EXPERIENCE

Researching the history of Deaf interpreters allowed me to look back at my own career and see it through different eyes. After discovering the Deaf World via theater in the mid 1970’s when I was an actress in Los Angeles, I found CSUN where I took all four(!) classes offered at the time: ASL 1 and 2 and Interpreting 1 and 2.

Clearly, I was not prepared to work as a sign language interpreter, but with encouragement from my Deaf theater friends, I cautiously began community interpreting. In hindsight, I recall that at several Social Security or VR appointments, the Deaf person I was supposed to meet brought a “Deaf friend.” And if my interpretations were not clear enough, the friend would succinctly convey the point, assuming the role of unofficial “Deaf interpreter.”

In the mid-1980’s, I got a full time job at a large TDD distribution center in downtown Los Angeles to handle the crush of new customers thrilled to get the latest communication devices. When walk-in customers arrived, my co-worker, a Deaf woman named Sue Lee, would greet them and demonstrate their choice of equipment. My job was to interpret the registration process between Deaf customers and the hearing phone company reps on-site. As LA is a city of immigrants, it often happened that the Deaf person and I needed some extra help going over the rules of the program. I’d ask Sue to join us and she would come up with a way to best convey the information. Once again, everyone benefitted from the skills of a “Deaf interpreter,” although we didn’t label it as such at the time.

After moving to the San Francisco Bay Area, I continued community interpreting, but returned to CSUN in 1991 for a 6-week course in legal interpreting. Our class of two-dozen seasoned interpreters included 3 Deaf interpreters and we enjoyed figuring out how to best work together in the legal scenarios we practiced.

Over the last 20 years, I’ve specialized in legal interpreting and often team with Deaf interpreters (now CDIs). Most of my peak moments interpreting have occurred while collaborating with a Deaf interpreter to achieve the shared goal of optimal understanding. To me, it feels like dancing with the perfect partner. Having the benefit of teaming together repeatedly, we can often anticipate each other’s needs and intentions and seamlessly move as one.

For a new chapter in my book, I interviewed five very skilled Deaf interpreters with whom I have had the privilege and pleasure of working in court: Linda Bove, Daniel Langholtz, Priscilla Moyers, Ryan Shephard and Christopher Tester.

WHAT WE FOUND…

“Article originally appeared on www.streetleverage.com. Reprinted with permission of Street Leverage.”

For more information on Deaf Interpreters check out the Deaf Interpreter Institute: http://www.diinstitute.org

Reporting Bathroom Behavior – Is that really “Deaf Culture”?

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Tom:

These days on YouTube, you can find many attempts to explain differences between Deaf culture and hearing culture.  One good example is the work of  a CODA named Will (CODA8810).  He provides several episodes, which although exaggerated, illustrate how Deaf people can behave very differently from hearing people. One of his scenes depicts graphically the openness and the etiquette related to information sharing regarding what goes on in the bathroom. This kind of openness has long been the subject of debates among Deaf people as to the appropriateness of such disclosures.  You need to watch Will’s 3 short scenes on YouTube: to see for yourself. So, does this truly fit the definition of Deaf Culture?

As discussed in the book Introduction to American Deaf Culture, cultural behaviors can be categorized into three categories – explicit, implicit, and emblematic.  Some behaviors are explicitly regulated through laws or policies.  For example, the government determines the legal age for getting a driver’s license or drinking alcohol beverages.  The legal age for these actions varies from culture to culture.  Other behaviors are implicitly understood.  Rather than being regulated by laws or policies, they are generally accepted and practiced by the community members.  For example, tipping rules also vary from culture to culture.  Here in American restaurants, a tip of 15% to 20% of the bill is expected, but not mandated by law.  The final category is where behaviors are emblematic of the culture but not necessarily practiced by most members of the community.  For example, foul language is often used in American movies, giving an impression to people throughout the world that such behavior is typical of Americans.  While most Americans may not themselves swear as much as certain characters in movies, foul language has become emblematic of American culture.

In the case of Deaf culture, etiquette associated with information sharing about bathroom behavior or personal ailments has been long debated among Deaf people.  Letting others know where you are going when you leave the room is expected of Deaf people, even if the bathroom is your destination.  Adding a vivid description of what transpired in the bathroom is not.  Yet, it is not that unusual to be at the receiving end of a detailed description of a difficult bowel movement or colorful vomit.  This openness can be considered emblematic of Deaf culture…that is it is not customary or expected of Deaf people to be graphic, yet such descriptions are not that unusual within the Deaf community.  CODA Will makes  this point in his another YouTube presentation —  What do you think?

Food and Deaf Culture: what’s the connection?

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Anna:

I have always been fascinated by different cultures and the variety of perspectives they provide. After working as an ASL interpreter for many years, I wanted to share with others my study of  intercultural communication and its connection to Deaf culture. I began by writing articles and eventually a book. Tom Holcomb was a key collaborator on my book and we started creating DVDs together to illustrate the power of cultural differences to a wider audience.

Now I have added another profession: food writer. Again, I want to share my discoveries about food and culture and began by writing a blog, then magazine and online articles. Recently I’ve also co-created videos.

Here is an article from KQED Bay Area Bites that combines all my interests. Click on link:

Deaf Foodies Savor Gourmet Ghetto Tasting Tour in Sign Language and you’ll see it has a lively video.

Anna interpreting food tour in Berkeley, photo courtesy of Ken Arcia

Anna interpreting food tour in Berkeley, photo courtesy of Ken Arcia

 

Deaf Culture in Action at Deaf-Owned Restaurant, Mozzeria

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Anna:

As a sign language interpreter, I became interested in the study of world cultures because that field shed so much light on the interactions between Deaf and hearing people that I witnessed — and interpreted — daily. The cultural perspective seemed to answer many questions about why certain behaviors were often misunderstood by members of each group. After writing my book, I traveled around the country training other interpreters about how to adopt this intercultural perspective in their work. That’s when it struck me that many Americans don’t pay very much attention to their own cultural identity. I would often hear interpreters say, “Oh, I don’t have a culture, I’m just normal.”

I realized that besides teaching sign language interpreters about the importance of culture, I also wanted to introduce the cultural perspective to a broader audience. That inspired me to write about the intersection of food and culture. In articles for local magazines and my blog, I try to expose readers to dishes and foodways from a variety of cultures – such as “lucky” New Years foods from around the world, Singaporean sweets, and cultures where people prefer to eat with their hands.

With the recent opening of Mozzeria, San Francisco’s first Deaf-owned restaurant, I had a unique opportunity to mesh my two worlds. Here is an article I just wrote for KQED.org’s Bay Area Bites blog. It includes a video interview (in ASL) with the owners, Melody and Russell Stein and several comments about Deaf culture.