I believe in the power of open communication to further and promote human dignity. I work as an interpreter. It’s not a glamorous job. Many people don’t know whether to ignore you or revere your linguistic facility. Hearing speakers are often keenly curious about American Sign Language. This beautiful kinesthetic language that resembles kung-fu dancing. “Hi-ya! It is nice, chop-chop, to meet you!” To me, my love of the language is usurped by my gratitude for the tool of language to convey and preserve human dignity. Through my work, I’ve been exposed to some of the most intimate and significant conversations of Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals. Their interview for a much needed job. The birth of their children. Their exam to obtain, for the first time in their adult life, a driver’s license. Their memorial services, wedding vows and graduations. Their mammograms, audiograms and subpoena-grams. Along my journey from novice practitioner to seasoned interpreter, I began to see a sucessful interpretation as an affirmation of the dignity of one human being to communicate directly, comfortably with another. Some days are more difficult than others. Arriving at the county jail, my client who is over 50 and multiply disabled sits weeping. Who will care for his cat now that he’s been arrested? Meeting the young mother who has had her child taken by CPS and is staring at me with stark grief, deemed incompetent to parent her own child, unable to fathom more loss. Being clung to by the immigrant mother, bewildered at her husband’s deportation, who can only gesture crudely, at 23 she has no first language. And the fellow I’ll never forget who had no discernable language at all, an existance without reasons and explanations outside the pictures in his wallet.
My day to day interactions with the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community have exposed me to a communication cnntinuum which ranges from academic conversations of native ASL users, to incomprehensible life without education or language. My contribution as a bilingual is the validation and affirmation of human dignity. The awkward pencil and paper, with unknown Englishisms is put aside. The miscommunication dependant on inconsistently understood lipreading is suspended. Time and again my client exudes a kind of peaceful joy at being able to interact freely….”You mean I’m going to have twins?!!!”
I adore my work as an interpreter. Each routine eye exam, parent-teacher conference, or Alcoholics Anonymous meeting represents the advancement of this fundamental human dignity. When an appointment concludes, and my clients have relaxed into successful dialogue, I am grateful and humbled to have been a facilitatior of the precious exchange, quietly acknowledged in two shining, listening eyes and two eloquent hands.