Session Perspectives from the 2015 RID National Conference

For a deeper look at the 2015 RID Conference in New Orleans, LA, the StreetLeverage social media ninjas summarized several workshop sessions in addition to the live microblog coverage on Facebook and Twitter.

Business of Providing Interpreting Services Today: A Stakeholder Forum

Presenters: Regan Thibodeau, Kelly Decker, Nancy Berlove

Three member sections worked together for this forum: Regan Thibodeau representing Deaf Caucus (DC), Kelly Decker representing Interpreters with Deaf Parents (IDP), and Nancy Berlove representing Interpreter Service Managers (ISM) co-facilitated a group conversation while covering a range of topics.

In the last two years, stakeholders meetings have been held at the Region 1 Conference (Massachusetts, 2014) and National RID Conference (Indiana, 2013). Following these conferences, the three member sections decided to go back to their respective membership and talk about trends and feelings about the field. While many common themes emerged the primary one was ethics.

Ethics and Gatekeepers

One ethical conversation is around gatekeepers in the field, including the idea of a “bypass”, which came out of a vlog by Molly Wilson. Is what’s happening in our field ethical? Are decisions being made appropriately? Whose judgement do we follow or trust? It depends largely on our understanding of ethics in the first place. There are many theories about how we make ethical decisions. This conversation about ethics led to the first breakout discussion.

Participants paired up to discuss their own ethics, both personally and professionally. They were asked to think about what decisions you make, and why. This foundational conversation led to a conversation about CDIs, the second main topic. From ethics framework, groups went into discussion about who decides when/if to hire CDIs, the values and issues involved (pros and cons), and questions about how we move forward.

Agencies and the Use of CDIs

A second set of group conversations used specific scenarios to discuss how we make decisions and work with agencies as interpreters, especially regarding the use of CDIs. When the group came back together, they provided good highlights from their conversation. As a field, we spent so long talking about our use of CDIs as being for Deaf people who are “not smart” and that CDIs are just “gesturing” that now Deaf people can be resistant to being offered a CDI. We don’t value our Deaf interpreter colleagues. We need to fix our messaging. One place to start is with the Standard Practice Paper (SPP) on CDIs. There are other issues and other ways to start changing things.

The presenters closed out with a challenge. What can/will you do? Start by continuing the conversation. Bring it home. Keep talking.

Leading Interpreters: A Fresh Look at Research and Practice

Presented by Joshua Pennise

Josh began by asking if workshop participants currently held leadership roles, whether in agencies, schools, training programs, or boards. Most raised their hands. With this shared framework, Josh claimed that three features are key to strong leadership: 1) Looking within, 2) Preventing burn-out, and 3) Protecting your people. His talk centered around these three features in turn.

Looking within

Highlighting the importance of self-awareness through examination of one’s biases, skills, and tendencies, Josh stated that we must first understand ourselves and take care of ourselves before we can effectively lead others. We must reflect on our behaviors and ask, “Is a particular behavior grounded in fear?”

Josh then addressed another complex human phenomenon: an inflated sense of self. Calling it the Lake Wobegon Effect (where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average), he cited a study from the University of Nebraska that had teachers rank themselves in their field, either below 25%, 25-50%, 50-75%, or 75-100%. 68% of the respondents ranked themselves in the top 25% of their field. If leaders’ perceptions are similarly skewed, this can be dangerous.

Are we prepared to make good decisions when tired? When hungry? Introducing the work of Thalma Lobel and the notion of embodied cognition, Josh demonstrated how our perceptions of the world are affected by our experiences and false assumptions. Cold is perceived as more hostile, while warmth is perceived as more friendly. Candidates whose resumes are printed on heavier paper are judged to be more qualified than those whose resumes are printed on lighter stock. Women who must tick a gender box do more poorly on a math test than those who aren’t prompted to reveal their gender. Even one’s clothing color and the food one is eating will prompt others to make attributions about one’s personality. These judgments are deeply ingrained in our psyches.

Preventing burn-out

Leaders have a responsibility to ensure the physical comfort of their team. Often the simplest things are overlooked. Access to food and water, regular bathroom breaks, and climate controlled spaces all contribute to one’s sense of well-being.

Then there’s the myth of the work/life balance. In actuality, quality of time is gauged far more important that quantity of time. In Steve McClatchy’s book, Decide, he encourages people to replace the drudgery of to-do lists with the more positively framed to-gain lists. Identifying what makes you feel accomplished, satisfied, and successful yields far greater results than suffering through dreaded activities. Also crucial is getting back to the basics: eating well, breathing deeply, and getting rest. Josh noted that the interpreter lifestyle of eating fast food in the car between jobs is not healthy for the brain nor good for our judgment.

Protecting your people

This section was introduced with a TED talk by Simon Sinek on leaders who make people feel safe. When people are asked why they work so hard for the leaders they admire, they answer, “because they would do the same for me.” Trust is implicit in strong leadership. A leader will recognize unhealthy work environments and strive to mitigate negative effects. How can leaders protect their people? Know that apart from drastically diminishing executive functioning skills, fight/flight responses can tax the immune system and take years off of one’s life. Often people stay in unsatisfying jobs, and leaders have a responsibility to address issues they can to make the workplace healthier. One such way is to understand that people communicate in different ways. Applying concepts from “languages of love”, Josh laid out the languages of appreciation. Leaders must understand the styles of communication their team members prefer in order to effectively show their appreciation for them.

Finally, Josh ended with a “pep talk” from none other than Kid President.

Interpreting in Education: Your Role in Transforming Practice

Presented by Jean Parmir and Pamela J. Brodie

Jean Parmir and Pamela Brodie, educational interpreters with over 65 years of combined interpreting experience, presented on three major issues relevant to educational interpreting today: the application of the RID Code of Professional Conduct (CPC) in educational settings, employment of Certified Deaf Interpreters (CDIs) in K-12 mainstream classrooms, and the concept of Role-Space from an educational interpreting perspective.

Educational Interpreters and the CPC

Parmir discussed two differing approaches to the CPC. In one approach, interpreters view the CPC as strict rules governing interpreter behavior. The second approach views the CPC as a set of guidelines for decision-making. The first approach leads to conflict between competing values. Parmir provided the example of confidentiality requirements versus mandatory reporting situations. Parmir went on to suggest that in educational settings, the ethical focus is on the child above all else. The comfort and safety of, and benefit to, the child trumps other ethical considerations including privacy. Adopting the second approach to the CPC allows important conversations on potentially conflicting values to occur as the educational team seeks what is best for the Deaf child.

Native ASL Users as Role Models

Brodie discussed the need for CDIs in K-12 classrooms, suggesting that language modeling by a native ASL user could be transformative for Deaf students and their education. Brodie noted the need for a successful classroom model which includes CDIs before widespread adoption could occur. Lack of a successful model makes the task of convincing school boards and special education administrators of the need for, and efficacy of, CDIs in the classroom more difficult. Furthermore, Brodie emphasized that CDIs must enter mainstream schools as professionals. A formal position must be created to ensure that CDIs are not inappropriately classified as teachers’ aides or paraprofessionals. Such misclassification would limit their compensation, training and continuing education, and advancement opportunities to the detriment of the CDI and the Deaf child. Parmir added that hearing interpreters could benefit from having their work observed and critiqued by CDIs as part of their professional development.

The Role of Sign Language Interpreters in Educational Settings

The final topic of the presentation explored the role of interpreters in educational settings. Historically, interpreters have clung to the idea of being “just the interpreter,” a position better defined by what it does not entail than by what it does (e.g., “I’m just the interpreter, I don’t make copies”). Parmir proposed the idea of role-space, attributed to Llewelyn-Jones and Lee, to improve the educational experiences of Deaf students. In this concept, the role of the interpreter is defined by three axes: Presentation of Self, Participant Alignment, and Interaction Management. The flexibility to move across the range of each of these axes simultaneously allows the interpreter to modify their role to best fit the situation. An interpreter in a conference may work at a very low level of personal presentation and interaction management, whereas such affectation may seem awkward and ill-suited for classroom settings. Brodie concluded the presentation by urging interpreters to actively engage in improving the field and admonishing them against giving up and moving on to other professions.

The Contribution of Deaf Interpreters to GATEKEEPING within the Interpreting Profession: Reconnecting with our Roots

Presented by Carla Mathers

Carla Mathers presented video data collected in two legal settings and one VR setting. Scripts were written for and read by the hearing participants, while teams of Deaf and hearing interpreters played their respective roles in the mock situations. This work was conducted by NCIEC consortium centers working in collaboration. Carla emphasized that the focus of her analysis is on what role CDIs play in protecting Deaf consumers. Her studies are grounded in work by Melanie Metzger on interaction management.

The three situations filmed for study were a VR conversation using a CDI, an attorney-client meeting, and a guardian ad litem meeting (where an attorney meets with a child prior to a custody hearing to gather information about the child’s wishes.) Video clips from this last situation, featuring three different interpreting teams, were viewed and discussed in the session.


CDIs who were involved in the project chose their own hearing team interpreters. Half of them chose CODAs. Some teams received prep materials prior to the mock meetings while others did not, which resulted in various interpreting issues. That the hearing participants followed a script also affected the timing and speed of the source message, which in turn affected the CHI’s interpretation. Some CHIs chose a consecutive rendering of the spoken message, while others did the work simultaneously.


CDIs utilized nearly twice as many interpreter-initiated utterances to ensure effective communication between the parties as the CHIs did. Coordination activities, such as checking in on the effectiveness of the interpreting, making the process explicit to the Deaf child, and bridging the social gap among the parties, were also more common among the CDIs. In one 24 minute interchange, the CDI explained to the Deaf child what was happening in the interpreting process 17 times. This felt natural and intuitive for the CDIs. They also made sure the Deaf child remained engaged in the process. Carla wondered how the work of hearing interpreters would look if they adopted these strategies found in the CDIs’ work. She reported similar data from the CDIs in the VR setting, concluding that CDI behaviors/choices are not unique to settings which involve children. Finally, she noted the use of contextualization among the CDIs, who used expanded renditions of the source message, especially those with technical, legal content. Participants viewed clips from the filmed scenarios and discussed the strategies used by the CDIs. Bringing it back to the beginning, Carla reminded the participants of the value of Deaf interpreters as gatekeepers of the work.

NAD/RID Reputable Agency Task Force (RATF): Professional Discussion

Discussion Leaders: Nancy Berlove and Stephanie Feyne

The Reputable Agency Task Force conversation was guided by Nancy Berlove and Stephanie Feyne. Based on a previous business meeting motion the RATF was established to consider recommendations for potential oversight of or quality assurance in regards to interpreting services agencies. People were concerned about what agencies were doing that was impacting the community, what was working, what wasn’t working and what was helping/hurting.

RAFT conducted a survey which included responses from Deaf consumers, interpreters, interpreter referral agencies, and hiring entities. The analysis of these survey results and the proceeding conversations led the task force to come up with 4 recommendations to the board.

RATF Recommendations

The recommendations were:

1) RID and NAD move forward with establishing business practice standards for interpreting referral agencies – for NAD to pose as standards in RFPs

2) Create a new membership category within RID for agencies. Part of membership would include binding expectations to hold referral agencies accountable to certain ethical coordination practice.

3) Reconsider how the online database is actually used.  Right now there are many agencies that are using that search tool as a referral source.  However, the search tool does not discriminate actual interpreting skills.

4) Maintain an ongoing body of representatives from NAD and RID be established to serve as a resource for the wider community on interpreting service issues of local, state and federal concern, including agencies.

The board adopted all four recommendations. It was also determined that #1 and #4 would be combined and by establishing a committee they would be tasked with addressing both of these. Recommendation #2 will be addressed by the new “Governance Committee” established by the Board with RATF continuing to be involved. The remaining recommendation will be address by the RID Board and headquarters.

Discussion Topics and Issues

The group in attendance included interpreters, agency owners, and other stakeholders. There were several comments made and questions brought to the RATF for the next phase of their work. The topics covered included the ability to provide oversight for states that are not current member, to which Stephanie responded that RID can’t mandate anything in states where they have no jurisdiction, but we can still work towards influencing change. Also, RID can continue to work with NAD to create standards and guidelines to change the landscape. Another concern was in regards to agencies ability to buy the database list of members regardless of whether they know anything about the community they are working in or the interpreter they are assigning to the work; they are using our information unethically.

There were many concerns that came up from the group discussion that fit the responses in the RATF survey such as the assignment of unqualified interpreters, lack of understanding of the communication needs of signing individuals, an inability to evaluate the skills of non-certified interpreters, lack of awareness of the role of CDIs, and the procurement of contracts.

Contribute Your Thoughts

The RATF continues to their work on these issues and encourages membership to contribute ideas, suggestions, and creative considerations for the process. Anyone can reach out at

More RID coverage here.

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