Not too long ago I attended a sign-interpreted lecture by an activist I admired. Sort of a nerd-porny thrill in the middle of the day, yay!
As soon as the guy got up on the stage, an interpreter I knew of through mutual acquaintances got up there next to him and prepared to start working.
So I'm watching this thing and suddenly it occurs to me that something I knew about this interpreter did not jibe with the situation.
This, dear reader, is where I punched the guy next to me and said, "That guy's DEAF!"
"Fuck," said the guy next to me.
"Inorite?! What the hell?!"
"No, I mean, like, fuck, that hurt."
I ignored the wimp next to me and tried to get back to the lecture, which, from the video transcript I found to read later, turned out to be pretty awesome.
But I couldn't. I missed it. I got distracted by this story I'm telling you and so I MISSED THE THING I CAME TO SEE!!!
Because... in case you didn't figure out this situation yet, there is an apparent trend in the interpreting field where deaf terps are put on stage and teamed up with a hearing terp who sits in the front row and feeds the deaf terp, who then facilitates communication access to the hearing person on the stage for the other deaf people in the room.
Did that make sense? No? Let me try again:
I went to this sign-interpreted lecture not too long ago, and I watched an interpreter interpret a lecture by having the lecture interpreted for him by another interpreter so that he could then interpret for me and my peers.
So I spent the whole damn precious lecture sorta trying to figure this situation out. Which meant I was leaning over and molesting the lady in front of me so that I could see the other interpreter, and backing up when that didn't work, and generally annoying the fuck out of everyone around me...
You know, just generally looking around to see if I was the only one on acid.
It kinda looked like I was. And I felt kinda weird about it...
So I eventually just sat down and tried to watch the lecture.
There was CART, so I switched to that for a bit, hoping I could pay attention. That was a problem.
'Cause, I mean, watching a sign interpreted thing with CART is pretty bad.
For one thing, as hypocritical it sounds, there's too many choices! This world makes me go through life fighting for access, and then I get a venue that actually lets me choose how I want it. Brainmelt.
For another, CART suuuuucks in terms of human engagement. It's slow, dependent upon your CART operator's dictionary, and staring at your screen (as I did during parts of grad school) is one of the most effective ways to separate you from everyone else in the room, mark you as the freak, and make you slowly lose every last scrap of humanity.
But in this situation, where I had a terp terping after his terp terped for him -- AUGH.
Usually terps have to process words in their head before making them words in the air, so sometimes watching a hearing person talk and then seeing a terp say it ten seconds later can be like....
Watching this lecture was twice as bad. No forgiveness there.
So that's when I started getting a little pissy. I'd been so frickin' excited about this lecture!
Not to mention the entire sentences and thoughts and concepts that were going missing.
I knew right then and there I was not a fan of CDI's onstage at big events.
Whatever. Like I said, I found a transcript later.
It happened again at another event I went to.
So then I started asking around. I'm blessed to have trusted terp friends I sometimes ask my um-this-is-stupid-but-why-do-hearing-people-do-that questions, and so I was excited to ask them an actual valid question about their field.
Confession: I only asked hearing terps. I know, I know, I should have asked CDIs. I could have. I live within a half-mile radius of like, five of them. I would have. But to be honest? I was a teeny, teeny bit scared to.
Because the reaction I got from the terps I did ask was all bleeps and, "Like, I KNOW! It just DOESN'T WORK!"
Before long, I started asking my fellow deafie clients. I did manage to surprise the hell out of myself by finding one person who said she liked the deaf interpreting better, delays and gaps notwithstanding.
"WHY?!?" I practically threw up all over her with the force of my question.
"Comfort," she said with a smile.
And then she was all like,
In hindsight, probably what it was is... she, like, freaked out a bit and refused to explain much more. I mean, I was standing there, practically panting and staring her down...
I just couldn't understand in what universe it made sense to give a big, varied audience of deaf people a CDI to interpret what a hearing person was saying.
I've used a CDI before, to be sure, particularly in international situations, and God knows we all need to appreciate our CDIs as much as we can.
But one interpreter is enough distance between me and the guy I have on a pedestal. It makes it that much harder for me to be a groupie if I have to deal with getting a translation of a translation of what he's saying. And all that much more ridiculous when I'm thinking and speaking in the same freaking language he is to begin with!
So once I somehow forced myself to chill...
I found some ovaries and sent off an email to the agency that assigned the interpreting team. In it, I fell all over myself to praise the CDI, and say how good he was ('cause he really was, BTW), and then asked if they could explain to me why this was happening, 'cause I really wanted to know the rationale behind it.
And then I waited for a few weeks for my answer, during which I walked around sorta in a daze, pretending not to see these things when they happened...
And then I got my response, which read:
Due to the number of concerns and complaints raised by promoting this practice without dialogue with the community we serve, we will be temporarily suspending this practice of CDIs interpreting for English-speaking presenters in platform, general community events. This is a temporary suspension until such time as a survey or other form of community polling regarding this practice can be conducted.
And then I was all like...
I still have lots of questions about the practice itself, and I'm still violently opposed to being forced to watch a double-interpretation of something I want to access.
For example, I know a skilled CDI is a vital resource in our community -- actually, just skilled interpreters are a vital resource, period. You need look no further than emergency rooms and courtrooms for horror stories about communication access (and, by extension, the cultural mediation that sometimes, just sometimes, only a native-like terp can provide).
But for right now, I'm pretty dang happy with that response. It's decisive, responsive, AND open-ended. Not bad, definitely not bad at all.
P.S. I'd like to introduce you to my favorite time-suck lately: Terp Life.