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Deaf Education in America: Voices of Children from Inclusion
Who the interpreter is determines how much social interaction I get. If the other kids don’t feel comfortable around her,
they aren’t going to talk to me. My interpreter is good. She’s cool, I like her personality. She’s very fluent, doesn’t wear
fancy professional clothes, just normal comfortable clothes, you know normal stuff for the adults in the building. I mean it is
still appropriate. One day she wore this annoying patterned shirt and that was funny, I thought it was funny, anyway. But
she’s very good, skilled, and fluent. She’s not the most advanced interpreter on the planet, but I think she’s very good.
My interpreter needs to have a similar personality, to kind of act like me. That’s real important. Like I enjoy teasing and
joking with my interpreter and she can dish it back to me as good as I can give it. I enjoy that.
When asked to describe the perfect interpreter, the students noted characteristics that they themselves had. Zack wanted a male interpreter because he found it embarrassing to have a woman interpreter. Kaitlyn and Zack both wanted an interpreter who was young. Julie went into much detail about the desired personality and physical appearance of an interpreter. Interestingly, she insisted that her interpreter have a “similar personality” and “kind of act like me.” This desire for an interpreter to “be like me” may suggest the extent to which the students see the interpreter as an extension of themselves—the extension theory. When asked how the interpreter affected their experience in school, several students noted that the interpreter’s physical appearance and personality directly affected the extent to which their peers included them.
The flip side of this perspective is that interpreters who are older, less enthusiastic, and do not fit into the student culture serve as a barrier to the social integration of deaf students. As one student protested, “On the first day of school I worry about who my interpreter will be. Yuk . . . if she is ugly and fat, no one will ever talk to me!”
And yet some students still recognize that it is important for the interpreter to be skilled in the interpreting process. Tyler wanted his interpreter to thoroughly interpret the message and not leave anything out. He understands that this is the only way for him to succeed academically in the classroom. Jasmine felt strongly that interpreter skill was important, as was the ability to serve as an advocate for deaf people. However, from her cultural perspective, she thought that some interpreters were stuck up—perhaps implying that they did not serve her as an ally. The unexpected finding of the deaf students’ interviews is their emphasis on the social considerations of age, clothing, and personality, rather than skill.
A normal characteristic of adolescence is the development of an enhanced awareness of self and the ability to reflect on one’s own being. Because of the many noticeable physical changes of adolescence, this self-awareness often turns into self-consciousness, with an accompanying feeling of awkwardness. Adolescent children often develop a preoccupation with physical appearance and attractiveness, with a heightened sensitivity to differences from peers (Merk, 2003) This self concept of body becomes influential in how adolescents relate to themselves and to each other. This internal representation or body image is intimately linked to the relationships that the adolescent maintains (Cordeiro, 2005).
Hearing students may notice the unattractive physical characteristics of their teachers, doctors, parents, and other adults, but they do not seem personally affected by them. Deaf students, however, have a unique relationship with their interpreters. The interpreter serves as a social representative, and, therefore, the interpreter’s image is directly tied to the deaf adolescents’ physical self image. Since the physical image of the interpreter merges with the student’s own preoccupation with his or her self-image, the student has a heightened awareness of and may be embarrassed by the interpreter’s physical appearance.
Interestingly, deaf students noticed that when they were served by less attractive interpreters, their social interactions were more limited. Therefore, it seems that hearing students also merged the identities of the student with the interpreter.
An Interpreted Education
What is it like to learn through an interpreted education? Who do you ask if you don’t understand? How does it make you feel to have an interpreter in the classroom signing to you, while everyone else is learning directly? The students shared interesting insights into these questions, which are at the core of learning in an integrated setting.