My reply on Deaf (dis)empowerment

Hi everyone,

It’s been a while since I last posted, it was because I was in Helsinki, Finland, for a conference on Signlanguage Interpreting. I had an amazing time with my group of 7 people. The conference itself was not completely accessible (no interpreters in the afternoon and evening programs), so I can’t judge on everything that happened, but I can judge on what was said during one of the afternoon programs.

It was a workshop in spoken English, and I knew there wouldn’t be an interpreter, because non of the English spoken workshops were interpreted the days before. Because I had already followed the other workshop that was given again at the same time I ‘had to’ go to that English spoken workshop. I asked the organisation if there’d be an interpreter and they said no. So I had to pull one of my friends out of the other workshop so she could interpret for me. It was her own suggestion to do so, but it didn’t feel quite right. There should have been an interpreter, especially if they said beforehand that all would be accessible for both deaf and hearing interpreting students. It wasn’t.

After giving the organisation the feedback that everything needed to be accessible, not only for the hearing but also for the deaf interpreting students, someone who also followed the workshop replied “All the important lectures were interpreted”… I was outraged and confused… how could an INTERPRETING student disempower me and the other deaf interpreting student so much?!  Who is she to decide what’s important enough to be accessible for me? She should know better than to say that… I still get angry when I think of it.

In this blog I’m replying on this post/workshop from Trudy Suggs: Deaf Disempowerment and Today’s Interpreter

In this post the writer tells everyone about her personal experiences with disempowerment. I’m not going to talk about what Trudy said, because that’s already said. But my previous example of interpreters making a decision for me is one I wanted to share.

She ends with this: “We must remember that all individuals, deaf or hearing, should always strive for full, mutual respect rather than disempowerment”. This is what I always try to do, and what I expect other people to do as well. But in Helsinki, it wasn’t nearly the case. Most of the time I try to connect with other people, new people. That’s what I do. But almost every time people spoke back to me instead of signing. Now, I know that there’s a lot of new things going on at once when you start going to conferences, and after a day of listening to/looking at lectures that have to go through 4 interpreters (2 deaf, 2 hearing) – where information gets lost sometimes, I can understand that you want to speak your own preferred language, but don’t get angry with me if I do the same.

Now, I’m not saying that the whole conference was crap, because it wasn’t. There were many nice things: the morning lectures that were in International Sign were AMAZING – no interpreters needed for me, and I secretly laughed on the inside when a lecturer made a joke and some people who were fluent enough in IS laughed along, and the rest of the people had to wait for the 4 interpreters to figure it out properly. The spoken English workshops weren’t always fully accessible, because it went from English to Finnish Signlanguage to IS, and I missed a lot of in-between-jokes. But beside that, it was amazing to see that there were Deaf Interpreters present, it makes me want to take up interpreting again as well!

More Deaf interpreters are needed, and maybe I wouldn’t be such a great deaf interpreter – since Signlanguage isn’t my first language – but it’s my most accessible language right now, so at least I’m inspired to try. That’s the most important thing I got out of the conference – my being inspired to try and become not just a Signlanguage teacher and a nurse, but also an interpreter! That’s empowerment.

Love, Sam