In April 2014, Communication by Hand had the honor of providing sign language interpreters for The Civil Rights Summit held at the LBJ Library in Austin TX. While this is not the first high profile assignment, I’ve had the honor of interpreting, it was by far one the most moving. We interpreters and translators are trained to keep our emotions and opinions out of the message. Some situations are easier than others to leave at the door on your way home. This one really stuck with me as the energy of the whole room was powerful. A diverse group of people, and I mean diverse… young, old, famous, poor, movers and shakers, those with disabilities, those without, Republican, Democrat, Liberal… all coming together for one purpose – how to make the world a better place for EVERYONE.
Former President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama took the stage and I was there to interpret for those Deaf in attendance. His ability to grab the energy in the room was like nothing I’d ever seen. He, literally, had everyone’s attention. How many speakers can say that in their lifetime? Did I mention we all sang together at the end of his message? My team interpreter, Lauren Forlenza-Hendricks did a fantastic job interpreting the lyrics into ASL.
As certified ASL interpreters, we are bound to adhere to the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf Code of Professional Conduct (CPC) http://rid.org/ethics/code-of-professional-conduct/ which includes declining jobs where you feel you cannot be impartial. This is vital in every job we agree to do as our opinions and even subtle emotions can ‘slip thru’ our interpretation skewing the message. While I know many interpreters who would be happy to interpret for Former President Obama, I know several that would not! They, in all their professionalism, would have declined the assignment if offered. Likewise, for our new President Trump, oh the emotions that are running high and low with this new ‘person of power’. Our Deaf community knows this is a sacred rule among sign language interpreters and hold us to ‘staying out of the message’. Could you imagine conveying a message to someone where every other word uttered from the speaker made you elated or cringe? Could you stay out of it? Could you remain neutral and keep in high regard that the person in front of you has every right to hear the message without your feelings slipping thru giving them full power to make their own decision about its intent and meaning? This is a daily decision made by every certified sign language interpreter and spoken language interpreter or translator.
By the way, one of the tenets of our CPC (ASL interpreter Code of Professional Conduct) is also strict confidentiality. If this were not a public event, I could not even mention that I was an interpreter. In no way could I ever release the names of the Deaf attendees. Confidentiality is another rule considered sacred in our profession. It’s one of the first tenets taught in Interpreter Training Programs.
Farewell, Obama! It was my utmost privilege to interpret for the leader of our country. If President Trump ever needs us so our Deaf community can have full access to his message, we are here; impartial and giving them the power to decide.