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American Annals of the Deaf

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Deaf Professionals and Designated Interpreters: A New Paradigm

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The adjustment into the role of a designated interpreter often requires avoiding the use of some techniques that worked elsewhere but that are now not applicable. For example, interpreters who have experience interpreting for deaf college students might assume that deaf professors have the same needs as students, which is far from the truth (see Campbell, Rohan, and Woodcock this volume). New designated interpreters need to learn the deaf professionalís job position, work environment, and how to behave and perform their own duties within that environment. Designated interpreters need to become fully integrated into the deaf professionalís workplace and become an efficient member of the deaf professionalís work team.

The Designated Interpreter as a Member of the Work Environment

The primary factor that differentiates a designated interpreter from a nondesignated interpreter is that the former is a member of a professional team, not an outsider. The designated interpreterís membership on the professional team is not independent of the deaf professional. The deaf professional and designated interpreter work together as a microteam within the larger macroteam of the deaf professionalís work environment. The designated interpreter has to learn how to ďtalk the talk and walk the walkĒ to blend in and to successfully facilitate communication so the deaf professional can work without any more challenges than the deaf professionalís colleagues may experience. When the deaf professionalĖdesignated interpreter team works effectively, the deaf professional is able to focus on his or her career and not worry about interpreting issues. The goal is to achieve seamlessness.

The adaptation into the work environment takes time. At first, it is a game of catching up, and then it becomes a game of constantly keeping up because workplaces evolve, new individuals are hired, and new terms and concepts are introduced. New designated interpreters need to observe the environment carefully to learn how to fit in. Optimally, new designated interpreters would first observe existing designated interpreters (with other deaf professionals if necessary) and the deaf professionalís hearing colleagues performing their duties. For example, a deaf obstetrician and gynecologist (OB/GYN) who works with a team of designated interpreters has the advantage of providing new designated interpreters observational opportunities and time for her designated interpreters to train new designated interpreters (Earhart and Hauser this volume).

Regardless of the new designated interpreterís skill or prior experience as a designated interpreter, he or she would need to learn the deaf professionalís role, othersí roles, and the purpose of the occupation. The learning of roles and occupational practices is another game of catching up and keeping up with the situation. Kurlander (this volume) explains that this effort involves understanding the corporate culture as well as how to behave, dress, and communicate within it. This task is a complicated one (see Gold Brunson, Molner, and Lerner in this volume for discussion) that requires active learning that is not typically required in nondesignated interpreting situations. The designated interpreter needs to have a good sense of the deaf professionalís role to understand the type of professional relationships that the deaf professional has with others. Goswell, Carmichael, and Gollan (this volume), describe the deaf professionalĖdesignated interpreter process and relationship in a situation where a deaf professional directs a film production. The designated interpreters needed an intuitive sense of the deaf directorís perception, goals, and role, which also required them to have a solid understanding of the roles of all of the individuals one would see in the credits of a movie. The importance of the designated interpreterís understanding of the roles of team members is discussed in a number of chapters in this volume. For example, Earhart and Hauserís chapter discusses in depth the different roles of the members of a medical team.

A new designated interpreter would need to be open to the idea of becoming a member of the professional team. This membership on the team can be a challenge for interpreters who wish to remain impartial and outside of the professional team. The designated interpreter must learn how to respect the needs of the professional team, which requires a willingness to learn the culture and organizational practices of a deaf professionalís discipline. Meanwhile, the deaf professional needs to be willing to let the designated interpreters into his or her inner circle, which often encompasses more than the deaf professionalís work circle. This level of familiarity is a challenge for any designated interpreter because the socialization has to be neutral, and neutrality can cause problems. Pouliot and Stern (this volume) explain that there is a fine line between being too involved and not being involved enough. Too much neutrality can cause tension between the deaf professional and those with whom the deaf professional interacts frequently. However, not enough neutrality could shift the spotlight off the deaf professional and onto the designated interpreter.

The designated interpreter often acts as the deaf professionalís ears when the deaf professional is not in the room or is not attending to background conversations. A lot of incidental learning is not directly available to deaf professionals but is available to their hearing peers. The designated interpreter is the holder of this information for the deaf professional and needs to share what information the designated interpreter judges to be important to the deaf professional (Cook 2004). In the case of the deaf director (Goswell, Carmichael, and Gollan this volume), her designated interpreters had to pass on seemingly incidental information such as gossip and banter floating around for her to get an ongoing sense of the mood and morale of the crew she was leading. The lack of this information could have a negative effect on her ability to direct the film production and, ultimately, on the film itself. It is difficult for the deaf professional to do the job if the designated interpreter is out of the loop of what is going on at the workplace (Goswell, Carmichael, and Gollan this volume). As a result, the deaf professional needs to keep the designated interpreter updated, and the designated interpreter needs to be involved in the work environment enough to remain in the loop. If the deaf professional has more than one designated interpreter, then the other designated interpreters need to help one another stay in the loop and share their tactics, signs, and habits (Earhart and Hauser this volume; Goswell, Carmichael, and Gollan this volume).


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