Deaf Culture #10

When talking with a deaf person through an interpreter, always look at the interpreter?

This is false, although it is one of the hardest things for a hearing person to master.  From early childhood we are taught to give our attention to the person who is speaking.  Therefore, it is ingrained in us to look at the interpreter, since they are the ones that are speaking.  In order for the Deaf client to feel like you are listening to them, you need to give them your attention, both when listening and when speaking.  Again, because of the way we in the hearing culture are raised, we tend to direct our questions towards the interpreter.


For Example:

“Would you please ask Mrs. Smith if she has ever had an X-ray?

The correct way to address a deaf person through an interpreter is simply to say:

“Mrs. Smith, have you ever had an X-ray?”

Don’t worry, Deaf and Interpreters alike are used to this being awkward at first.  That is one reason that you will often see the interpreter standing behind and a little to the side of the hearing person.  That serves as a gentle reminder that the interpreter is not actually part of the conversation.

Deaf people tend to feel more comfortable socializing with other deaf people?

This is true.  As humans, we tend to congregate to others that are most like ourselves, in large part, due to language barriers.  Even fluent users find it mentally taxing after a while to translate to and from their native language.  Therefore, it stands to reason that if you can surround yourself with others with the same native language, you will be more comfortable.  Another reason that people of like backgrounds tend to gather is because of past experiences.  Deaf like to socialize with other Deaf because they have a lot in common.  They can talk, vent, and laugh, and know that whomever they are speaking to understands completely.  Much like the fact that people outside of your family may not find the quirkiness of Great Aunt Louisa to be quite as funny as you do.

It is easy to become a sign language interpreter?

This is very, very, false.  It takes a lot of skill and a lot of practice to become an interpreter.  A Sign Language Interpreter needs to be fluent, not only in ASL, but also in English.  In order to interpret, a person must be able to listen to the English, understand the meaning in order to convey the concept, rearrange the sentence structure and add the appropriate facial movements and body language in order to follow the linguistic rules of ASL.  And all of this must be accomplished so that the ASL is almost simultaneous to the English so that the Deaf person does not fall behind in the conversation.  They must also be able to do the opposite and change ASL to English in order to convey the thoughts of their Deaf client.  An Interpreter must also have training that allows them to, know and follow the Interpreter’s role and responsibilities under the Code of Conduct, be able to solve ethical dilemmas,  and know the laws not only governing Interpreters, but also those that involve the deaf community in order to advocate on their behalf.

As you can see, being an interpreter is much more complex than it may seem on the surface.

The term “Deaf” is appropriate?

Absolutely.  As has been previously discussed here, the term “Deaf” refers to an entire community of people and evokes feelings of pride and belonging, much like the terms “American”, “Christian”, or for those enlightened few…”U of M fan”.

All deaf people can read lips well?

This is false.  This too has been previously discussed, but cannot be reiterated enough.  Do not assume that all deaf people excel at reading lips.  One phrase that interpreters often hear is, “Oh, he doesn’t need an interpreter, he can read lips.”  True, some deaf are quite skilled at lip reading, however, it is not an effective form of communication.  No one should be forced to guess and stumble their way through the doctor’s explanation of their upcoming heart surgery, a job interview, or any other important discussion.