In Interpreting

March 2019 marks the 31st year since the historic protest among the deaf community surrounding Gallaudet University’s election of a hearing person as the seventh president of the school. This memorable demonstration is one of the most well-known historical events within the deaf community, sparking turmoil within the campus and the deaf community as a whole.

Gallaudet is the world’s first university for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. The protests forever inspired the deaf population and changed Gallaudet permanently. So, what exactly happened all those years ago at Gallaudet, inspiring change?

Deaf President Now (DPN)

On March 6, 1988, the university named Elisabeth A. Zinser the seventh president of the university. She was the lone hearing candidate. This sparked outrage among the campus and surrounding community. There were three primary applicants in the running for the president role, two of whom were deaf. Members of the university and deaf community had advocated for a deaf president for many years leading up to the 1988 appointment. They truly believed the university would finally name a deaf person to lead the university as president.

When the university instead named the lone hearing candidate as the new president, it sparked a week of protests and outcry. This came to be known as the Deaf President Now (DPN) movement. After the announcement, many Gallaudet students, alumni, faculty, and staff began to protest, which eventually shut down the campus. Leaders of the movement presented the Board of Trustees with four demands:

  1. Select a deaf person as present following Elizabeth Zinser’s immediate resignation;
  2. Require Jane Spilman to step down as chairperson of the Board of Trustees;
  3. Require the board to include a 51% deaf majority; and
  4. Not inflict any repercussions towards any student or employee involved in the protest.

By the end of the week, the protest was successful. The Board met all four demands, and Dr. I. King Jordan became Gallaudet’s first deaf president.

Where Are We Now

The week of DPN encouraged change and inspired those within the deaf community to challenge anyone who thought a deaf person was lesser than a hearing person. The National Association of the Deaf (NAD), founded in 1880, continues to set priorities to ensure the deaf community is heard and represented at a national level. A few of these priorities include education, the use of American Sign Language (ASL), interpreting, employment, and early intervention.

American Sign Language, or ASL, is a language that uses signs, body movements, and facial expressions to communicate. ASL is the primary language used by deaf and hard-of-hearing people in the United States. ASL remains a core value of NAD, which encourages the acquisition, usage, and preservation of the language.

The Role of ASL Interpreters

ASL interpreters work across many environments, including medical, educational, legal, and others. ASL is not English. It is its own, rich and unique language. Thus, ASL interpreters do the same thing as spoken-language interpreters: facilitate communication between speakers of two different languages. The only difference is that one of the languages ASL interpreters use is made up of gestures and facial expressions, rather than sounds.

Challenges for ASL Interpreters

ASL interpreters face the same challenges as spoken language interpreters. Understanding the subject matter, staying current on terminology, understanding regional dialects, and having the ability to interpret emotion and tone are all key.  Neither ASL nor a spoken language can be literally translated, word-for-word, making it challenging for an interpreter to facilitate communication and mutual understanding.

Unlike spoken-language interpreters, however, ASL interpreters face a significantly higher physical fatigue. The act of signing can be an aerobic one. Especially for presentations, classes, speeches, and conferences where there are very few natural pauses (e.g., stopping to listen while the other side to the conversation speaks). Lengthy ASL interpreting encounters require two interpreters to trade off to allow their hands and wrists a break.  

The Future of ASL Interpreting

As the U.S. population becomes more and more diverse and companies continue to globalize, employment of interpreters is projected to grow 46.1% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With the growing need for interpreting services across the globe, we are all responsible for becoming educated on this topic to assist the deaf and hard-of-hearing population in understanding communication.

Here at Vocalink Global, we offer ASL interpreting along with interpretation of over 275 spoken languages. Both on-site and on-demand interpreters offer our clients access to interpreting services on an as-needed basis. For ASL, video remote interpreting allows Vocalink to connect you and the deaf or hard-of-hearing person with a live, streaming ASL interpreter, on demand, to aid in the flow of communication virtually.

If you need assistance communicating with a deaf or hard-of-hearing patient, employee, or customer, connect with us today to learn more about our ASL interpreting options.

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