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1.1: Engage - Interpreters in the Community - Service Learning, Citizenship, and Civic Engagement

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    The topic of community or civic engagement between interpreters and the Deaf community permeates interpreting studies from its very beginnings in the heart of the Deaf community through its emergence as a profession and up to the present moment’s intense conversations around social justice and cultural appropriation. The relationship between the Deaf and interpreting communities is complex and interdependent (Napier, 2011; Young, Oram, & Napier, 2019). It is noted that definitions and descriptors for people who experience the condition of deafness are fluid and evolving. For clarity in this introduction, the use of the word Deaf, with a capital D, indicates a person who identifies as a member of Deaf culture, as compared to the word deaf with a lower case d, which refers to the clinical condition of deafness. The use of the term DeafBlind refers to people with some degree of both hearing and vision loss and who identify as DeafBlind. The term Deaf* refers to individuals who are D/deaf and who experience an additional co-occurring disability or condition, also sometimes referred to as Deaf-plus.

    The first interpreters were the family and friends of the Deaf community (Ball, 2013; Williamson, 2015). As the field moved toward formal education and strove to professionalize, a majority of people entering the field had no relationship to the Deaf community prior to entering an ASL or interpreting studies program. Conversations regarding interpreters’ legitimacy and of interpreters being for the community or of the community persist (Friedner, 2018). Because interpreters should work equally between two languages and cultures and are rarely true bilingual-biculturals, they are most always simultaneously of and for the communities present in the discourse event. Often overlooked in the literature and professional discourse on signed language interpreting is the reality that interpreters are of/for the hearing community as much as of/for the Deaf, inclusive of DeafBlind, Deaf Plus, and hard of hearing communities, and that this relationship also has a profound effect on the Deaf community and how it is perceived (Young et al., 2019).

    Signed language interpreters work between a frequently-marginalized cultural and linguistic community and the majority culture. Navigating the relationships, roles, and responsibilities inherent in those situations is challenging (Llewellyn-Jones & Lee, 2014). Interpreting requires not only linguistic competence, but also knowledge of the cultures of the interlocutors (Witter-Merithew & Johnson, 2005). Such linguistic and cultural competence is acquired through frequent and significant interaction. Interpreting and sign language students are encouraged to seek out the Deaf community for interaction and acculturation. Scholars have examined the Deaf community’s norms for associating with each other in person. Scholars have examined how Deaf people assemble for the purposes of enacting signed language discourse and culture-appropriate behavior in a Deaf-normed environment, labeling this Deaf space (Valentine & Skelton, 2008). Exposure to, and immersion in, Deaf space provides an opportunity for students to acquire language, cultural norms, and etiquette specific to a visual/gestural language and culture. The noted decline in Deaf space (Johnston, 2004; Padden, 2008) makes it challenging for students who are working to acquire the level of fluency and familiarity necessary to successfully work between two languages and cultures. There is evidence in interpreter education of a decline in the number of in-person contact hours between interpreting students and the Deaf community, and an increase in the use of vlogs and other types of virtual exposure to Deaf persons, American Sign Language, and Deaf culture (Darden, 2013).

    Digital Citizenship

    Over the past several decades, the Deaf community has experienced a revolution in how members engage and communicate. This is true for communication and engagement within the Deaf community, as well as for inter-community engagement and communication. Advances in technology have made it possible for the Deaf community to engage more deeply and more independently with the hearing community and society in general (Valentine & Skelton, 2008, 2009; Turner, Napier, Skinner, & Wheatley, 2017). However, this also appears to have had the effect of altering patterns of association and congregation for the Deaf community. Deaf clubs and schools for the Deaf, once offering havens of unconstrained communication for people navigating a hearing-dominated world with limited opportunities to engage, to participate, to have their thoughts and opinions recognized, have declined in recent years (Johnston, 2004; Padden, 2008). Streaming video provides a means for Deaf people to communicate with each other across distances, in real time, using signed language. Deaf people no longer need to congregate in a physical space to associate or communicate, and it appears that Deaf space (Valentine & Skelton, 2008) is enacted in virtual environments more and more frequently (Darden, 2013).

    Virtual or technology-mediated forms of interaction have become common between Deaf people, between Deaf and hearing people, and between Deaf people and interpreters. Norms that have developed based on in-person interactions may not be effective in virtual settings (Keating, 2005; Keating, Edwards, & Mirus, 2008; Keating & Mirus, 2003; Napier, Skinner, & Turner, 2017; Mellenger & Hanson, 2018; Warnicke & Plejart, 2016). Technology now intersects with nearly every aspect of signed language interpreting in developed countries, from how interpreters are contacted and contracted for work, to the settings in which they perform the work in person and especially virtually, to how interpreters organize their schedules, conduct their business, and request remuneration. A recent volume on technology in interpreter education notes, “Our day-to-day interactions will no longer be separate from our digital lives; instead, we are witnessing the collision of two worlds from which we can gain great insight into how both influence our work” (Ehrlich & Napier, 2015, p. xx). Though the use of technology in interpreting and computer-mediated forms of interpreting are under-researched topics, they are being increasingly recognized in the literature (see for example, Fantinuoli, 2017; Mellenger & Hanson, 2018).

    Despite the growing encroachment of technology on the profession of interpreting, there is a limited amount of research on the intersections of these topics (Yan, Wang, & Pan, 2015). The field of interpreting has been said to be slower to adopt technological affordances than its parent field of translation (Mellenger & Hanson, 2018). Much of the literature related to technology in interpreting is limited in scope and focuses on a narrow range of elements. In literature from the field of education that focuses on digital literacy or digital citizenship, most models include a number of factors deemed important for digital citizens and their success. One of the best known and most-used models provides a definition for digital citizenship and identifies nine elements that should be addressed for full participation in society, as follows:

    Digital Citizenship: “the norms of appropriate, responsible behavior with regard to technology use” (Ribble, 2015, p. 15). The construct developed by Ribble (2015) comprises nine elements:

    • digital access, which allows users to access and participate in the digital components of society;
    • digital commerce, related to the secure buying and selling of goods and services online;
    • digital communication, knowledge of the forms of exchanging communication or information digitally, and knowledge of the appropriate use of each form in specific situations;
    • digital literacy, or knowledge and understanding of the technologies that one uses;
    • digital etiquette, being considerate of others and following appropriate standards of conduct for virtual environments;
    • digital law, knowledge of laws that govern digital behaviors and user liability;
    • digital rights and responsibilities, user legal rights and responsibilities in the digital environment;
    • digital health and wellness, awareness of the physical and psychological risks of digital environments and activities;
    • digital security, or the precautions users should take to guarantee their safety and the safety of those they interact with in the digital environment.

    Most of the research on technology focuses on just one or two elements. For example, reviews of specific hardware or software products abound, as do descriptions of techniques for using technology as a teaching tool or medium. Although a popular topic in workshops and professional discussions, there is a limited amount of research that considers the intersection of technology and behavior or ethics. Best (2017) explored digital etiquette in an international study that elicited the views of signed language interpreters on the use of social media by interpreters. Technology use and acceptance by interpreters was surveyed in one study (Mellenger & Hanson, 2018). These touch on the elements of digital access and digital literacy. There is need for comprehensive research on the breadth of digital citizenship in interpreting to build an understanding of the relationship between these topics.

    There is still much that is unknown. Big and important questions remain unasked and unanswered. The use of remote video interpreting is increasing in developed countries (Napier, Skinner, & Braun, 2018). What are the appropriate confidentiality and digital security concerns for interpreters working remotely via streaming video? Who retains the rights to a digitized interpretation such as one live-streamed on social media? What laws or regulations may govern its use? What are the potential ethical ramifications of security breaches of online accounts? Considering that interpreter education appears to be moving toward virtual, hybrid, and online methods (Darden 2013; Darden, Ott, Trine, & Hewlett, 2015; Darden & Maroney, 2018; Fantinuoli, 2017; Leeson et al., 2015; Smith, 2015), many questions arise; for example, how can dispositional elements of interpreter education be monitored online or remotely? How might interpreters and interpreter educators address their own digital citizenship in all its facets? Does digital access automatically equate to functional equivalence or true access for hearing and Deaf consumers, or for pre-service interpreting students?

    Engagement Among Communities

    Professional interpreters are expected to give back to the Deaf community. The topic of requiring a number of pro bono service hours to maintain certification is being actively discussed at the national level. Pre-service interpreters are expected to develop relationships with a Deaf community that is increasingly hard to locate, perhaps in part due to the diffusion of Deaf space (Darden, 2013; Johnston, 2004; Padden, 2008). Deaf interpreters are realizing and claiming their place in the interpreting process and community, yet opportunities for training for pre-service Deaf interpreters and for pre-service hearing interpreters who will work with them are rare (Green, 2017; Rogers, 2016; Shenneman, 2016). All of these factors complicate civic engagement by pre-service, new, and experienced interpreters. Such complications can lead to less effective interpreters, under-served consumers, and reduced trust between stakeholder communities.

    Incorporating service learning is one recommended approach for helping pre-service interpreters integrate into the Deaf/signing community, to learn norms and standards, and to allow for situated learning and reflective practice (Shaw, 2013). These types of activities help practitioners explore their own identities and their role(s) in the community, while developing their citizenship skills collaboratively with members of the community. Service learning is also a form of situated, experiential, authentic learning which has proven successful in interpreter education (Kiraly, 2016; Hughes, Bown, & Green, 2019). The benefits of service learning are not limited to students. Service learning can incorporate members from all stakeholder groups and take many forms. It has the potential to build and transform communities and partnerships. Technology allows for the possibility of innovative approaches to service learning, which in turn affords opportunities for digital citizenship skill building.


    The Deaf and interpreting communities’ paths are interwoven. The work of interpreting is complex and requires a high level of linguistic and cultural competence in each working language. Interpersonal and intercultural work is supported when trust has been established. One way to gain competence, confidence, and trust is through community engagement. Pre-service interpreters who acquired ASL as a second language are encouraged to associate with the Deaf community to enhance their abilities. This is a challenge, with the decline of Deaf space and large Deaf events. Service learning as a form of authentic experiential learning can be one approach to enhanced engagement.

    Technology has affected the Deaf and interpreting communities in many different ways, including what some describe as the diffusion of the Deaf community into a more virtual space. Technology presents a challenge, but it also presents opportunities for innovative forms of engagement by which digital citizenship can also be acquired.

    These new media and means of connecting are likewise catalysts for new approaches to civic engagement, citizenship, and opportunities for service learning.


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    This page titled 1.1: Engage - Interpreters in the Community - Service Learning, Citizenship, and Civic Engagement is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Elisa Maroney, Amanda Smith, Sarah Hewlett, Erin Trine, & Vicki Darden (OpenOregon) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform.