The Tension of Technology and Connections

Advice for Digital Immigrants

Doug Bowen-Bailey
CIT Webmaster
webmaster@cit-asl.org

CIT has used technology to expand our reach.  Our web site allows us to incorporate ASL as a language of discourse through video.  As well, we have reached out to become an international organization.  A recent search of our database shows that we have people from 23 different countries who are or have been connected to CIT.  Yet this expansion creates a tension as CIT’s organizational identity evolves.
The conference is frequently where these tensions surface.  How do we come together as an organization when we truly don’t share a common language?  Given our international make-up, ASL is not a shared language.  And given the number of Deaf people who are members in CIT, any spoken language is not a shared one.
This year, the CIT board wrestled with how to create a conference atmosphere that was both Deaf-friendly, and welcoming of international participants.  From the perspective of the webmaster and the conference registration co-chair, I saw how the approach evolved over time.  I don’t think it was communicated effectively (I have discussed that with the board), but I think the lessons learned from the experience are important to identify and share here.
At the conference in Portland, the board decided on having ASL as the official language of the conference.  The ratings for presentations were weighted to give added points for presenting in ASL. This was not without controversy or concern.  Some international members, who work with a signed language other than ASL, could not comply with that requirement.  Although it was not clear at first, the board determined that the best way to create access was to provide interpretation into International Sign (IS).   In addition, clarifiers were available for international attendees – to be able to ask questions about presentations if the IS interpretation was not totally clear to them.
Poster from Conference:  This is a Deaf-Friendly space.  Please Sign.  Voices OffFrom what I gleaned from conference attendees, the results were extremely successful.  Numerous people commented to me at the registration desk that it was the most people they had ever seen signing at a CIT conference – and I heard from a number of Deaf people that it felt like a very welcoming environment.  I also had an opportunity to volunteer as a clarifier and so got to check in with one of the international attendees who expressed that it turned out to be a great opportunity to build her skills in International Sign.  (I was able to volunteer later in the conference, so I actually did very little as a clarifier because the IS interpretation proved to be mostly sufficient.)
In year’s past, my sense is that part of what CIT has tried to do to be more Deaf-friendly is to utilize Deaf interpreters.  And we have had phenomenal interpreters work at our conferences.  Yet, they often have been asked to take on assignments where having a Deaf-hearing team isn’t quite a fit.  I had the experience of being on a panel discussion in which the language used was spoken English and the moderators hoping for a lively discussion between participants.  Yet the requirement of more clear turn-taking for an interpretation meant that despite the high level of skill of the interpreting team, I left feeling as a presenter that it just didn’t work.
In contrast, it was wonderful to see a  team of Certified Deaf Interpreters working into International Sign at the most recent conference.  I was particularly struck watching Nigel Howard’s plenary presentation.  As both an insightful presenter and a member of the interpreting team, Nigel was able to adjust his presentation to insure that he worked effectively with the interpreters so that the message was accessible to all present.
So, as CIT thinks about its culture and identity, using ASL as the official language and providing interpretation into International Sign seems to me to be an option worth keeping.  It allows us to be both Deaf-friendly and welcoming to international attendees.
Of course, it is not so simple.  There are many interpreter educators interested in CIT or who have expertise to share who work with spoken languages.  Ineke Creze, an educator from New Zealand who is co-editor of the International Journal of Interpreter Education is one example.  So, as an organization, we also need to figure out how to stay true to our core mission of an organization focused on ASL-English interpreting while still maintaining those connections.
My experience as a clarifier, and my advocacy of the importance of pro bono work, think that this might be a potential option for us to consider.  What if we tried developing a list of people who would volunteer to serve as a clarifier or interpreter for a workshop or two?   It would be a more low-key experience – working specifically with an attendee who does not know sign language.  In many respects, it would be an opportunity for the volunteer to connect with someone in the spoken language field and for the non-signing attendee to connect with some CIT members.
I realize that some may object because this seems to undercut the notion of having a cohesive and professional conference interpreting team.  From my perspective, however, I think it would be complementary – expanding what a team of CDIs provided like in Portland and allowing CIT to be able to provide a level of welcome and access to non-signing attendees while maintain a Deaf-friendly environment like we experienced in Portland.  All without depleting our financial resources.
I offer this as food for thought – hoping that it will spark a discussion.  Just as Betty Colonomos offered a question about how CIT selects presentations and how open it is to those of us who are not educators within an institutional structure, so I want to probe another part of our question and identity about what ways we can provide access to all.
What do you think?

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