Transcript | Shane Feldman: Where Does Advocacy Fit in the Sign Language Interpreting Profession

StreetLeverage – Live 2013 | Atlanta, GA

Shane Feldman | Where Does Advocacy Fit in the Sign Language Interpreting Profession

April 28, 2013

Does RID have Deaf heart? What happened with the Lewis and Naomi resignations? What’s going on at the leadership level at RID and what does the future hold for the organization? These are just a few of the candid questions Shane Feldman, Executive Director of RID, answered while attending StreetLeverage – Live 2013 | Atlanta. He also examined how upholding standard practices, collaborating, and remaining current on industry trends can position sign language interpreters to support collective solutions that will support the profession long-term.

See video of his talk here. Find the PPT deck for his talk here.

Main Session Talk

Hello, everyone! I’m thrilled to be here today. We have some important issues to talk about: advocacy. I was recently hired as of January 1 and was contacted by many of you upon my arrival, asking what I wanted for RID. One thing mentioned by most of you was the topic of advocacy. I’ve been thinking since then about this issue, discussing it with the staff and board, how we can help you, and what you need from us so we can provide that support.

So, I arrived at RID…

[Welcome to the zoo slide]

…I appreciate the warm welcome. You are an interesting group of people; with varying perspectives- a passionate group, and a zoo? Definitely. Upon arriving I was blown away at the many issues in your community; a lot of intelligent dialogue about important topics. When I showed up that first day…

[You’ve got way too much mail slide]

…Yes…you all like to communicate. Your emails relayed thoughts such as: ” we need [x,y,z],” “we have to do something about this now- it’s important!” “here’s some historical information about what happened in the past but we can change things for the better!” and I thought, “They’re all right!” These are important issues. They affect our community. They affect our profession. And what affects all of you, affects the Deaf community, too. The timing is important, and we must resolve those issue now. I’ve been thinking a lot about that.

For the past four months I’ve been on a learning tour- learning from all of you. You’ve taught me about your organization; you’ve taught me about your profession- and I’ve learned a lot! Thank you for the time you’ve taken to help me become more informed about your thoughts and opinions, and your dreams for the future of the organization. You really helped me develop my vision, too.

So, I arrived here ready to talk with you about advocacy: what we can do together- what we can do to make a difference.

[Where does ADVOCACY fit in the field of SIGN LANGUAGE INTERPRETING/ Unplanned detour slide]

Today, we are not talking about advocacy. I think you all want me to talk about something else, right? So, we are going to discuss some other issues today.

[Listen, engage, respond slide]

We are listening to you. What I’ve heard from your presentations yesterday and today has really inspired me. Your conversations with me and the board have really educated us about what you want from this organization. You truly have the right ideas, the right passions, and the right direction. The challenge is about how to collaborate together: the organization, the board, the members, how do we work together on these important issues?

We do have a responsibility to respond, but I want to make you aware that responding to an entire group of people is not easy. There are different perspectives, wording preferences, ideas and concepts which will delay any response. Today, in our environment of social media, how fast do we respond? It’s instantaneous. So if someone posts something today, right now, on Twitter and Facebook, can I respond right away? No, I’m busy giving a presentation. I ask for your patience. We are committed to responding, but we need to discuss our responses to be fair to the different perspectives of the board, staff, and community, and how an issue affects the entire group. If we just go ahead with our first, gut response, we aren’t being fair to all of you. Please keep that in mind from here on out.

[Does RID have Deaf heart? slide]

Does RID have a Deaf mind and a Deaf heart?  I see some people nodding their heads, but it’s pretty quiet. Okay, so this is an important discussion. What does it mean? You’ll have to let me know. Is it important to the organization? You’ll have to let me know that, too. We have to work together. We can’t expect one person or one group to answer that. We all must answer that question, and we can do so in several ways. We’ve already seen how we can through social media. Also, at our 50th Anniversary conference celebration this summer we will have our community forum, which is an opportunity to invite everyone to have a discussion; we invite you now. Please go and be involved in the discussion. From there we learn together, come to an agreement, and decide on a way to move forward together.

Also, we have different partners within the Deaf community, including our partnership with NAD and other groups within RID. That is another important topic we need to talk about.

[History, “Change your opinions, keep to your principles; change your leaves, keep intact your roots.” -Victor Hugo slide]

I think what we need to remember now is that while we have strong opinions, we need to listen to each other, too. Who we are consists of our backgrounds, families, history. You saw Anna Witter-Merithew’s presentation where she talked about what makes us who we are, and that’s what we bring to the table. Some of you have gone through ITP programs, some of you are CODAs with deaf parents, some of the Deaf community brings experiences from a mainstream school, like myself, or a residential school, but what does that mean for us as an organization? Please, keep your heart and mind open to what’s possible for the future- listen to each other and work together to identify that. From what I’ve experienced so far, I’m impressed with how much people agree with each other as far as what they want and where they want to go. The problem is how to do it- we have to realize that we are disagreeing on that, but agreeing on where we want to go. How we get there is proving to be a challenge.

[With the resignations of Lewis Merkin and Naomi Sheneman, what is going on at the leadership level of RID? slide]

Is that the question on your mind? Do you have an answer? No? That’s fair. Right now we are going through a transitional time in the organization. You’ve already told me wonderful stories about the past, what it was like, how the organization was set up- the passion, the partnership, identifying the need to establish RID. Today we are a different organization, a different profession, and a different community, and the organization of the past cannot meet the structural challenges of the organization today and what we have now. So, we are operating on old systems, ideas, policies, etc., that do not support what you want from the organization today. As a result, people are angry, and they want change now: not yesterday, not tomorrow- now. That’s impossible, and we can’t do it overnight. It takes time, dialogue, collaboration, etc., and all concepts that are important for non-profit management, governance and inclusion. The key concept here is that it doesn’t matter if we identify what we need to do unless we actually follow through with it. That’s the challenge we have right now.

[Change, “There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist or accept the responsibility for changing them.” -Denis Waitley slide]

So, are you willing to accept things as they are currently? No. You all want change, right? How many of you want change in the organization now? Many of you. Are you accepting responsibility for it, or leaving it for someone else? I suggest you take responsibility for it. Why, you might ask? Because it’s Deaf people’s lives, our jobs, our health, our families, etc., all at risk because of your work and your organization. We need you to take action together, please. And like the slide shows, 81% of people asked if they had to decide; that in and of itself causes problems from here on out. I think we can all say that it’s time to recommit ourselves to the organization and commit ourselves to shaping what the organization will look like in the future. The time is now.

[Will the positions be filled/appointed before the conference? slide]

With the recent resignations, you may be asking, “What happens next?” Honestly, I don’t know either. We had to ask the Bylaws Committee, and they will let us know the proper procedure. While what the Bylaws Committee directs may be confusing, I suggest you read the rules, Bylaws, and Policies and Procedures Manual. You will see that it’s a responsibility the members have. You are responsible for the Bylaws. You are responsible for making the kind of organization you want because the blame has been on the board, headquarters staff, all the members- stop blaming others. Please remember that we must take accountability and be part of the change. Remember that- and remember that we’ve been around for 50 years. Let’s set ourselves up for the next 50 years.

[Accountability- Robert’s Rules of Orders slide]

Robert’s Rules of Orders: that’s how organizations work. How would you feel if we didn’t follow those rules? You would probably be upset if we deviated. It’s our commitment to follow the rules that you set up for us. We’re working on that now, but we also ask for your help. Please let us know what you want out of the organization, what you want out of those rules, and we will do it. Make a motion, discuss it, the members can vote on it and if it passes we will adhere to that. Would it help if we decided to abandon those rules? Probably not.

[In both Lewis’ and Naomi’s responses to their resignation they said something happened, specifically what are they talking about? slide]

That question is on your minds, too, right? Do you know the answer? No, you don’t. Okay, so it is important that any organization has transparency because it shows we are ethical, that we are managing your finances wisely, that we are in good health, that we are following your wishes- that’s why transparency is important. Then there’s confidentiality, and with good reason, too. There are some thing we can’t reveal, and I’m sure you understand that. Issues involving personnel, or confidential legal issues, test-related issues; there are just some things we can’t reveal. You don’t want us to reveal the answers to the NIC, right? No, we don’t want that. There are some ways in which we must maintain confidentiality. At the same time, though, you’re right: the organization must be transparent. Unfortunately, right now we have no definition of what should be transparent and what should be confidential. The board has informed you all that they are working on identifying what information can and can’t be shared when requested and the reasoning for such. If you feel something is amiss or there’s a change you’d like to see made, let the board know- that’s what they’re here for But in the absence of rules, things can become a bit vague.

[Professionalism, “In almost every profession- whether it’s law or journalism, finance or medicine or academia or running a small business- people rely on confidential communications to do their jobs. We count on the space of trust that confidentiality provides. When someone breaches that trust, we are all worse off for it.” -Hillary Clinton slide]

You have all worked. You’ve all witnessed a situation in which confidentiality was important. How could you do your jobs without confidentiality? We all need to discuss what to do in a given situation. You must have the right to have a discussion about it or a situation could get really messed up. Privately, in a safe environment, you must talk about what the right thing to do is before actually acting on or proclaiming such. Without that discussion, confidentiality- protection of sensitive information- the organization becomes weaker and at risk. We do all these things to protect your organization.

[Why does it always come down to a “Deaf vs. Hearing” argument? slide] 16:25

[Collaboration, “Professionalism is not about adherence to the policies of a bureaucracy. Professionalism is about having the integrity, honesty, and sincere regard for the personhood of the customer, in the context of always doing what is best for the business. Those two things do not need to be in conflict.” – Eric Lippert slide]

One thing I love about interpreters is your connection to the human spirit; that’s what makes your field special. You bring that important connection to the organization itself, to RID, that everyone’s ideas and concerns are included in the process. But during the process it can become messy. Personal issues come up. It is important to always remember, like the slide says, that we meet the requirements for integrity, honesty, and regard for the person, but we must protect the business at the same time. It is possible to recognize, work with, relate to the person, but we must collectively work together and that is what will make us successful. That collective success impacts the individual, too.

[What does the future of RID hold? slide]

Where are we going together? It’s like we’re going on a road trip together: I’m driving and everyone is clamoring for the steering wheel- trying to drive from the back seat and take us every direction- but I don’t know what our destination is

[Challenges, “Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are.” -Arthur Golden slide]

That is an important quote. Remember earlier when I was talking about how the organization is going through a time of transition? Because of conflict, because of issues that arise, because two brave people decided to make a brave decision- it opened up a whole can of worms of issues that have been brushed aside. Now we have to face the music. Like the quote says: we’ve felt the winds of adversity and now we see who we are. We must talk about that, about who we are as a profession, who we are as the Deaf community, what’s happening with both? How can we work together? How can we reach our goals together? We need to have a deep, honest discussion about that. I will talk about how we can go about having that discussion soon, but I’m encouraging you all to think about this discussion this weekend- this important discussion must continue. This summer in August at our national conference we must continue the dialogue, at the community forum, during all the key moments, and all over the United States, at the state affiliate chapter level. We must continue discussing it at the region conferences next year and on the local level at your AC meetings, talk about this issue, about who we are. Are we talking about this issue enough? Probably not. Not talking about this issue has led to our current situation. We all have a responsibility now to commit to following through with self-introspection. Who are we? Please think about that.

[Challenges, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”-Albert Einstein slide]

It would seem that all this turmoil is an opportunity for us. This is a very important time in our professional history, and how crazy that this is all happening at the same time as our 50th anniversary. This is our moment to really show what we can do to change our future. Should we feel depressed about this? No. It is an important dialogue, an important discussion, an important moment, and I’m proud to be here with you all to help you through it. Really, this is an opportunity to think ahead to the next 25 years. Twenty-five years from now, when I look back on this time, I will want you all to be proud of the RID organization. I want to be able to say, “I’m proud of RID. I’m proud of what it stands for. I’m proud of what it’s doing. I’m proud of what the organization is doing for the community.” I understand that maybe you’re not there yet, but that’s what I want to see 25 years from now. This is an opportunity now for us to think about how we can work on making RID become that organization we want to see 25 years from now.

[Challenges, “Fractures well cured make us more strong.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson slide]

Is it too late? Is all hope lost? No… and I think you all should smile. Maybe this is a good thing. Maybe this is what we needed all along- what was supposed to happen. We’ve seen many other organizations have their moment in history: like in the 1960s with the civil rights movement which caused big changes to happen, DPN happened, all these important moments occurred and did we die as a result? No. We became better, stronger, ready for the future. That’s what is happening at RID. We’ve arrived at that point where we feel a little off, where we think that maybe it’s not there anymore, that we should give up or do something different. This is the time to work together, because once we heal and identify what we need to do to cure our fractures, we can become stronger.

[So do-do? slide]

So what do we do now? I’ll tell you!

[Advocacy Now, “Now we’re in the midst of not just advocating for change, not just calling for Change- we’re doing the grinding, sometimes frustrating work of delivering change- inch by inch, day by day.” -Barack Obama slide]

What we have to do from here on out will not be easy. We have more conflicts and challenges ahead of us. This is not the end, and not the first time this has happened- or the last- but we have to go through it because we owe it to ourselves, the profession, and to the Deaf community. I want to tell you what we have to do from here on out.

First, every decision about how the organization is run should be based on the mission; that is what should drive everything in an organization. Every time we make a decision you must ask yourself, “Is what I’m proposing to do related to the mission?” I’ve asked people if they know what the mission of RID is- do any of you? It looks like one or two of you. The mission of the organization is to promote international, national, state, and local forums for promoting the profession of the field.  Simple. Is this reflective of what you’re looking for out of the organization? No? We need to have a discussion. The board is very aware and committed to working on that, so we hope to be able to provide you with more information about that soon. But our mission should drive everything in the organization. We need to be passionate about the mission. If you look at any successful non-profit organization, what has made them successful? Everything they do is about their mission. Think about that from here on out. Everything we do must be justified by how it’s related to the mission. Also, our vision is where we hope to be someday. The board is truly aware of that and is currently committed to defining that vision as well. It may seem like we aren’t on course with your desires and what you want out of the organization, so let’s straighten out, get on course, and work together to take the necessary steps.

Another important task is to collaborate with the members. The members are what drives the organization. The members tell us what they want to get out of the organization, and that’s vital. And we must have a stronger partnership between the board, members, volunteers, committees, councils, and the staff. And our collaboration with the Deaf community must be strong; they have to see our commitment, as do other groups.

Finally, we have to involve members. We will do that- but the members also have to understand what the organization needs to look like, too. That mutual understanding is vital to working together.

[Q & A slide]

Now it’s time for the Q & A portion and I’m going to ask you to please, please, please ask nice questions!

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