An Interpreter's Perspective

As an RCer who has interpreted inside and outside of the RC Community, I will address the issue of deaf RCers and sign language interpreters. Heather says that RC has tended to overwork interpreters. I would say this is an understatement!

I noticed similarities in deaf oppression between England and the USA when I was in London in April to attend an international RC conference. For a four-day conference, there was one interpreter scheduled to work alone. I was shocked to see this, but when I asked various people about it, I was told it was the norm. This situation is oppressive and painfully taxing to the body and the mind. A large number of interpreters are on permanent disability from overuse, repetitive-motion injury, due to this kind of set up. This is an example of working-class oppression, regardless of whether the interpreter believes s/he is being oppressed or not. Also, the quality of interpreting changes with mental and physical fatigue. So while the hearing people may feel the workshop is being interpreted, in fact much of the message is likely being lost.

Overwork has certainly been an issue in Oregon, USA, but there has also been a lack of integrity in paying interpreters what the organizers have agreed to, or expecting interpreters to take on extra hours at the last minute. Every RC interpreter I've spoken to has experienced this. Myself, I have reserved a weekend to work at an RC workshop only to find out, less than a week before the workshop, that the fee I was to be paid had been greatly reduced. I have heard interpreters talk about this happening after a workshop, too. Because the attendance was low, the organizer told the interpreter that he/she could only be paid half of what was agreed upon. And what was agreed upon was already a drastically reduced rate compared to what the interpreter would be paid in the wide world. Trust is lost here, and the RC Community is poorly represented to the wide world. Interpreters not only decide not to return, but they tell other interpreters of their mistreatment and advise them against interpreting for RC workshops.

Next, I want to respond to Heather's comment that "disabled people . . . understandably feel desperate about being included and undoubtedly feel more comfortable with professional carers around." First, interpreting is not about being a "professional carer." Interpreting is work, like any other kind of work. Interpreters deserve to have it respected and to be reimbursed for it. Would anyone call the people who work hard for us at workshops, preparing food and cleaning the building, "carers"? I trained for two years and have worked on improving my language skills for more than ten years to work as a sign language interpreter. To call me a "professional carer" misses the point entirely and is simply inaccurate. Second, while deaf and disabled people certainly have hurts to discharge, as do all people in oppressed groups, being insistent about access and pushing hearing, nondisabled RCers to look at this and change the current state of things is fair and right and not "desperate."

I do think that at the April workshop the British sign language interpreter and I could think better about deaf oppression than the other hearing people there. At the same time, sign language interpreters still need to discharge feelings about deaf oppression and working in the RC Community. When I've called topic tables at workshops in the U.S. for allies to deaf people, other interpreters were reluctant to participate and often seemed quite hopeless about RCers working on deaf oppression and making an accessible Community. Interpreters need a hand here and also a chance to discharge about what it's like to be members of an oppressor group standing between the oppressed group and its oppressors.

I think it's clear that policy needs to be developed. Issues needing to be addressed include: RCers taking a stand against deaf oppression; allies cleaning up old feelings about language, access, learning, money, and feeling excluded; setting up fair guidelines for interpreters around pay and hours worked; and "recruiting" interpreters into RC.

I wholeheartedly agree with Heather that a great deal more than providing an interpreter is needed to make workshops accessible. For starters, hearing people need to begin discharging on: (1) pre-language memories - times when we couldn't communicate our wishes and feelings; (2) learning in general, and learning second languages and about different cultures in particular (since it's common for USers to know only one language and have distress about learning another, this work will also help people think well about those who speak languages other than English); (3) earliest memories of people who were deaf or disabled; (4) exclusion and difference; (5) class background, money, and scarcity; (6) feeling guilt, pity, fear, or reverence around deaf people and interpreters; (7) feelings around visibility.

I am helping a group of hearing allies in Eugene, Oregon, USA to discharge on these points and to learn about deaf culture. I am convinced that as the RC Community begins to discharge on deaf oppression and classism, we will come up with creative solutions to the money issue. As the allies get in better shape, the Community will be more workable to deaf and hearing-impaired people. The deaf community has a lot to teach hearing people about hanging in tightly together and not throwing anyone away, about closeness and open honesty.

I am excited to see this discussion taking place. I look forward to the changes ahead!

Maj Rafferty
Eugene, Oregon, USA

Last modified: 2017-05-06 23:35:41-07