Thursday, December 15, 2016

Pro-Choice is Not Anti-ASL

True inclusion is to accept people's right to choose things for themselves.  The utopian vision for disability rights is that there wouldn't even be a debate about "right" or "wrong" in regards to ableism because people would be accepted as they are, not based on what choices they made.

Shafik Asante makes the same claim in his article about "What Is Inclusion" for the Inclusion Network:
Across this country a definition of inclusion is offered. It is generally accepted that "Inclusion" means inviting those who have been historically locked out to "come in". This well-intentioned meaning must be strengthened. A weakness of this definition is evident. Who has the authority or right to "invite" others in? And how did the "inviters" get in? Finally, who is doing the excluding? It is time we both recognize and accept that we are all born "in"! No one has the right to invite others in!
 As some of you may or may not know, there is a growing rumble of a debate taking place across the country around a legislative effort to ensure access to communication for children who are deaf or hard of hearing who have not yet reached school age.

The primary genesis of this movement was to ensure that all children are exposed to American Sign Language but out of necessity it has evolved to be somewhat more inclusive of all modes of communication.  It is my humble opinion that the narrative around Lead-K and the National Association of the Deaf's ASL-English bilingualism effort has a ways to go before it can truly be perceived as inclusive by those who are users of modes of communication and languages other than American Sign Language.

I get it.  I truly get it.  The absolute key to language acquisition is exposure to accessible, unambiguous, and fluent expressive and receptive communication.  That is probably the easiest aspect of this entire conversation for everybody to agree on.

However, there is a deep seated belief that American Sign Language is the sole birthright for deaf and hard of hearing children.  It is with a regretful sigh that I say, "it's not that simple."  American Sign Language is one point of communications access that lets individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to communicate with one another.  But Lead-K and NAD appear to act as though it's the only one.

Other languages and modes of communication are given cursory nods throughout the narrative but are largely add-ons to the critical point that advocates are making, "it must be in addition to American Sign Language."

True inclusion, as Mr. Asante expressed, is the fact that we are all "born in" to the state of being.  Our choices and those of our parents are not supposed to be engines of exclusion.

The National Cued Speech Association recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of the inception of Cued Speech.  I played a role on the planning committee and from the very beginning, we recognized that cuers are an amalgamation of many pieces.  Some of us are oral cuers, some of us are cuesigners, and many of us are a combination thereof.  We knew that we wanted to be inclusive of all stakeholders in the deaf and hard of hearing community.  As a result of that awareness, nearly half of our event budget was earmarked for accessibility accommodations, which included Cued Language Transliterators, American Sign Language Interpreters, and CART.  We checked beforehand to ensure that the rooms had good acoustics and that our auditory amplification equipment was up to the task.

That was something we at the National Cued Speech Association felt strongly about and hoped to build goodwill with.

When I read some of these proposed bills, it often begins with a line that repeats the, "American Sign Language and English" pretext.  Later, English is defined loosely as "written, oral, or English with visual supplements."  I feel like I'm being told that American Sign Language is mandatory and everything else should follow and if I don't subscribe to that, then I'm committing a sin against the American Sign Language community.

Is that really true?  Does that follow the definition of inclusion that we discussed earlier in this blog?  Shouldn't these language acquisitions bills intend from the very beginning to provide full and unambiguous access to any mode of communication that is intended to open the lines of communication between families and their children in order to grow a language base in any given language?  We know that's eminently possible.  Why are some people on all sides acting like it's not?

Please tell me in the comments, either on this post or wherever this is posted, how you think I should feel about that.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Subjective Interpretation of the Story Behind the Nelson Mandela Interpreter

A Subjective Interpretation of the story behind the Nelson Mandela Interpreter

Quality control is the responsibility of both the market and the organizers of an event.  The first thing that came to mind when this dramatic story broke about Thamsanqa Jantjie, who has been accused of being a “fake” Sign Language interpreter after being tasked with interpreting in Sign Language for the most powerful man in the world on an international stage, was that someone screwed up.  However, I don’t think it was completely Jantjie, himself, despite the expressed outrage of so many. 

Jantjie was accused of simply making up his own hand motions and repeating them over and over.  That is such an outrageous claim and combined with the enormous scale of this broadcast, helped fuel the world’s attention and subsequent outrage.  There have been various stories floating around.  He was interpreting with a “Zulu dialect”.  This was originally plausible because, despite the claims of many, Sign Language does contain significant morphology and linguistic distinctions based on geography.  However, it doesn’t excuse what happened.  A claim was made that he was way too well connected for his own good and that he’s curried favorable jobs based on his connections rather than his qualifications.  This is also plausible, but again, the responsibility of the event organizers.  A story was reported that Jantjie claimed he suffered from an ill-timed schizophrenic episode.    Mental illness is nothing to scoff at.  If that is the truth, it is extremely unfortunate and there have been many armchair diagnoses one way or another, which is not a good thing.   If this was an excuse Jantjie used to deflect blame, that is shameful.  If it is true, please make sure he gets help as a result of this event, not harm. 

With all these stories in mind, there are many sayings out there that are relevant to this situation; “fake it till you make it”, “be honest on your resume, but if you’re not, don’t let it get too far”, and so forth.  This man’s mistakes lay in the failure to realize the grand scale of this setting, the importance of the person being grieved, and the importance of the people speaking.  That is 100% his fault but the world’s anger at this man is misguided.  He most likely has no idea that the quality of his product is not up to par.  He lives in an area where I suspect the local deaf market is not as empowered as it is elsewhere and does not yet know how to demand quality control.  Jantjie may very well have been operating for a long time under the assumption that the service he provided was adequate or even superior.  In response to this story and that last claim, the South Africa Translators’ Institute has pointed out problems with Jantjie’s past performance and that is an important perspective to consider. 

This last point underscores my interpretation that the people responsible for hiring this man likely did not know Sign Language themselves and fell prey to the scourge of assumption.  I am guessing that they assumed that if they found someone local, either through a very basic search or through a reference, that person would be sufficient for the job.  They may have been extremely preoccupied with the many aspects of event organization and simply checked off, “Sign Language Interpreter” on a list and moved on without putting much further thought into the issue. 

I am making a sweeping series of guesses here and I will continue to look for confirmation one way or another that these guesses are right or wrong.  Perfect storm events like this can be avoided through appropriate quality control by event organizers and there is an opportunity for the deaf community to offer quality control services to otherwise uninformed people who find themselves in the position of needing interpreters.  That’s, in my respectful opinion, the lesson to be learned by this sad happening.