Deaf-Centered Topics

ASL Interpreters and your deaf buddies

FIND your deaf buddy
Image edited from the original by Anna Vander Stel via Unsplash

Hi.

It’s me, the deaf person you just met. We’re out, right now, at a deaf social event. You’re an aspiring interpreter, dreaming about the day you feel confident enough to go out there and interpret for a living. You’ve got passion, fire in your belly, a yearning desire to be in a field where you know without a doubt that you’re needed. You’ve got to meet me, see if we have enough in common to be friends, because when the time comes, I am the one you you would fight for. You probably won’t interpret for me, directly, because we’re going to be friends and that can be, well, complicated.

It’s another me, sitting here at another social. You’ve just come up, now feeling more confident in your skills, because you just finished your interpreter preparation program. You’re nervous still, waiting for the upcoming test that you’re going to have to take before you can be certified. You’re still coming to these socials, still meeting every version of me, the deaf person, the one that you think of when you’re out there in the trenches. We laugh, you and I, having fantastic conversations. We get to know each other, and our friendship deepens. It is me you think of when you remember why you really do this.

It’s me again. We’ve been friends for so long, we start to forget how long it has been and it amazes us. Were we ever so young? You’re a professional interpreter now, certified and oh, so qualified. You’ve been building your experience. You’ve been out there everyday, working more hours than you sometimes want to work. You’re tired because you took that late-night assignment that turned into an all-night assignment. You can’t tell me about it, really, because you protect the confidentiality of your clients. But that’s okay, because that’s not why we’re here, in this place, enjoying our coffees. We talk of old times and new times, of things that interest us, politics and TV shows, and our friendships deepen. It is me that you’re reminded of when you see a door shut, metaphorically speaking, in a deaf person’s face. It is me you think of when you see parents not being able to communicate with their own deaf child.

In these moments, you are reminded of why you choose this profession where you are essentially a bridge of communication, between the deaf and the hearing. You make a living, hopefully, as you deserve to, but that is not why you continue to do it. Perhaps it once was, when you first started out, but then you met me, your deaf friend.

There are so many of us, who share your interests, who would have a conversation about the more meaningful things in life, or who would be happy to sit back and relax on the couch binge-watching the latest TV show. We would chat, then, not before or after an assignment in which I am the client and you are the interpreter, but as peers. It doesn’t matter that in these times, really, that you hear and I do not.

And the truth is, you are richer for this friendship. It’s not that I’m any better or worse of a friend than any that you already have. I may lift you up at times, or I could be just as much of a thoughtless friend who forgot your last birthday, but our friendship is deeper than that. We go back, you and I, and I am the one who you will fight for when you’re out there, seeing other deaf individuals being discriminated against. I am the one that challenges you to always grow as an interpreter.

I am the one who keeps you connected in this community, so that the job is not a job, but a passion.

And if you’ve found that you’ve forgotten me, that a distance has been created between us as it sometimes does between interpreters and the deaf community, it’s not too late. You are always welcome back. The connection may have been severed, but we will repair it, you and I.


Note from the author: In case it’s not obvious, I don’t actually mean that I, J. Parrish Lewis, have to be that friend. Of course, I love making new friends, but so do countless deaf people worldwide. Reach out to them. Not as an interpreter to a deaf client, but as a person to a person, and you might see these rich friendships develop. I wish you success.

Oh, and yes, if you actually do meet me, let’s chat. I’m sure we have much to talk about.

 

J. Parrish Lewis was born and raised in Maryland. In his youth there, he and his brother had many adventures in the dogwood forests near his home. His nostalgia for these adventures has strongly influenced his characters, their relationships, and their perspective on the world they inhabit. He moved to California’s coast to earn his degree in communications and now lives with his family in the San Joaquin Valley. Lewis is profoundly deaf and uses American Sign Language to communicate. He enjoys hazelnut coffee, captioned movies, and walking his dog.

17 Comments

  • Logtar

    I found this to be the toughest part about the deaf community. I thought about being an interpreter years back, but I wanted to make sure that it was a passion for me and not something that I did on the side because I understand language translation and interpreting. Life went in a different direction and there is still somewhat of a hole in that area, I am hoping that I can start signing enough to be a friend and leave the whole idea of interpreting for those that have the passion to do that.

    • J. Parrish Lewis

      I believe you can! Sometimes there’s a big push to try and convince people to be interpreters, but I don’t believe in doing that. I encourage people by letting them know about the field, but the truth is we need signers in every profession and every kind of role, including friends.

  • Gail

    I thought this was great. I am becoming deaf through progressive hearing loss & I don’t know any Deaf people. Family have told me to learn ASL which does me no good if I have no one to use it with. I am an education assistant in a high school of 1500 kids & none are Deaf! I took a very basic ASL class years ago as part of my education but have lost it through lack of use. The only students we have use signed English. I am isolated.

    • Faith Carroll

      I too am late deaf. I began learning ASL 8 years ago with my daughter in a homeschool group. I am still at level one probably but I plod on with my ABC ASL books and tapes, Switched At Birth, Signing Times and now probably Dancing With the Stars. I daydream of spending a year at a Deaf commune (the old hippie in me I guess) . I use ASL in my everyday outings with everyone I meet it seems. Idk if my signs are correct and I find it much easier to sign than read others.
      I often wonder what the point is because aside from basic communication with my daughter I have nobody to sharpen swords with so to speak.
      I will continue to learn ASL as I know the day will come that I need help, likely a medical emergency and that scares me enough to push through. I am the pro-active type. I also believe that learning new things keeps us sharp. I need all the help I can there. ; )
      Gail, I encourage you to take up this beautiful language and own your deafness. We may not fit in the hearing or the Deaf worlds but then again we may just find our niche in another way.

      • Gail

        Thanks for your kind words. I think the biggest challenge of learning to sign, along with not having anyone to sign to , are that I have relied on lip reading ( trained as an Oral communication facilitator) & used subtitles for so long that when I watch videos or see people sign , I rely on watching their lips or reading subtitles! Makes it SO hard to see the signs.

  • Vanessa Urbantke

    Thank you for this awesome article; you put my thoughts into words! As an inspiring interpreter with many Deaf friends, i find so much in this article that i can relate to. I will have to check out your blog 🙂

  • Connie Godoy Perry

    So I am sitting here, putting off taking my mid-term exam in Interpreting in Educational Settings.

    I came back to college after 30 years.
    After cancer.
    Currently going through a divorce because I lived through cancer, but my 32 year marriage didn’t.
    After limiting ties with my first born who’s alcoholism is ruining her life … and giving her care to God.
    Hard for a mom.
    After respecting my Iraq Vet son’s request to keep away as I have become a trigger for his PTSD.
    Hard for a mom.
    After sharing our loss of our little family with my youngest girl who I want to be like when I grow up.
    Thank you God for us … the two still fighting for us all.

    After promising my dad, who never asked me to promise him anything in his life … until this … that I would go back to college to become the Interpreter for the Deaf.
    “Tonga, I have listened to you talk about this since you were 8 years old. Promise me you will do it now … and never quit.”

    After leaving my family, friends and a life that would have been easy and full of love.
    After driving 13 hours.
    After finding the first apartment I have ever lived in. After living alone for the first time in my life.

    So, here I am, sitting here, putting of taking my mid-term exam. I am 57.
    Who starts learning a language at 57?
    I do. I promised.
    And I often wonder why. I will never be good enough.
    But I will not quit. I promised.
    I will never be certified, because I have a tired, older, chemo drained brain.
    But I will not quit. I promised.

    But more than the promise …. Why will I not quit?
    Because of “MY” Deaf friend. Patty.
    We had cancer. I didn’t know her then.
    We have walked in each other’s shoes.
    BUT …. I had the one thing that made all the difference … women to talk with who had been there before.
    Who had walked in my shoes.

    She didn’t.

    I don’t ever want anyone to do cancer alone.

    So, here I am, ready to take my mid-term.
    I will not quit.
    No longer with a promise to fulfill, but because of your writing.
    This writing.
    I’m going to put it on a canvas. To hang near my desk.
    I’m going to read it everyday.
    Because, if this is real. If this is truly how you feel.

    Then, everything I’ve chosen to do.
    All of the “Afters” …
    matter.

    Thank you. 🙂

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