Most of you know what the term “ASL interpreter” means, but I doubt you realize just how important they are to the people they serve. Without well-trained interpreters, Deaf and DeafBlind individuals would lose a vital connection to the hearing and sighted world. That would be devastating enough for the many Deaf who must work and do business in a hearing and sighted world, but for the DeafBlind, it could be a step backward to total dependence and isolation. Interpreters bring the world into focus for the Deaf and bring the world as a reality for the DeafBlind.
Interpreters for the Deaf and DeafBlind use American Sign Language, Pidgen Sign Language (also known now as Contact Language), or Signed Exact English, to help the Deaf and DeafBlind understand those who speak. For the DeafBlind, they also describe the surroundings and situation details. Interpreters work in professional settings such as legal offices and court rooms, doctor’s offices and hospitals, and school classrooms. They can even work in private homes and social settings to help the Deaf and DeafBlind enjoy and be involved in parties, graduations, church services, and banquets.
Ah, you have possibly seen interpreters in another important area somewhat recently. . . Yes, you probably saw the interpreters used on national television during the FEMA and New York government reports of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. An interpreter brought the services to the media’s attention, providing the emergency update information to the Deaf in the area. Many, at first, were caught off guard by New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s American Sign Language Interpreter who wonderfully and accurately interpreted the news and emotion about the emergency situation created by Hurricane Sandy. At first, some felt her animations while interpreting were funny as they had not really seen an interpreter work before. Soon, though, many were singing her praises as they became intrigued by her work. Hurricane Sandy was a true tragedy with so many deaths and so much destruction, but maybe a little good came out of it, too, as people rallied together to help each other in time of need, and yes, a little light was shed on the benefits to the Deaf that ASL interpreters bring, especially in times of emergency.
Interpreters are like heroes to those who need them. Coming to the rescue in doctor’s offices and hospitals, school classrooms and lawyer offices every day in ways that are just as important as a fireman rushing in to lead someone from a burning fire or a policeman returning a purse to a mugger’s victim and arresting the perpetrator. Sound too dramatic? Well, I disagree.
I know the feeling I get when an interpreter explains to me how an attorney plans to help me get a doctor to follow the law and provide me with an interpreter to understand my health care plan; otherwise, not only would I not understand what medicines and doses I need, but I wouldn’t even understand what has made me sick.
I know the feeling I get when an interpreter helps to calm my nerves when she explains the results of tests my doctors have run in words that I can’t hear or see, but feel and still understand.
I know the feeling I get when I can completely understand and provide input and make competent decisions about my health and legal affairs, as well as enjoy social events.
Most importantly, I know the feeling I got when one special interpreter had to repeat the doctor’s words that we all fear and never want to hear, “You have cancer.” The interpreter did her job. She didn’t flinch or waver, but confidently flowed the words through her hands because I needed to hear them just as they were, unfiltered and unchanged, to face my fear and start the work of healing )knowing and understanding and participating in the decisions about the work that needed to be done). As the words sunk into my brain and were being processed, the doctor stepped out to give me a moment while he wrote the orders that would start the treatment plan we had discussed.
You see, I know the feeling I got when that interpreter reached out with not only her hands, but also her heart and supported me for those few moments when my mind was reeling, and my heart seemed to falter. I don’t know how much of her kind support is part of the interpreter training, but I know that if she wasn’t a hero to me before that, she was in that moment when I needed the quiet, supporting strength to gather my wits and find my faith God to sustain me.
There are all kinds of touches in the Dark Silence. Interpreter touches are the handiwork of a special kind of hero. We all need touches like that from time to time. I am glad there are people willing to be that kind of hero for me and others who are Deaf and DeafBlind.