When My Feet Aren’t Running…My Hands Are. (What I do for a living)

July 19, 2013

My Running

“and what do you do for a living?

I’m a V.I.

“oh. That’s nice….”
“wait…what is that?”

Exactly!!

I find myself asking a similar question, almost on a weekly basis. Usually on a Monday. And usually in the form of: “what the hell am I doing here?”

I am a Sign Language Interpreter. By choice. Maybe. I grew up with a deaf sister. She was two and a half years older than me. And I also grew up with strict parents. And they didn’t really allow me to hang out with my friends, but they did let/make me go with my sister and her friends. The blessing that I didn’t see until years into my adulthood is that my sister welcomed me with her friends. She could have said no to the little sister tagging along. But she didn’t. When her friends asked her “does your sister want to come too?” My sister would ask me “do you want to come too?”

And because of that….I am a Sign Language Interpreter.

I got to tag along for sleepovers, birthday parties, graduations, roller rink nights, swim parties, etc. I got to be the “interpreter” when they wanted to talk to the hearing boyfriend. LOL! I was the honorary deafie back in those days. My sister was my worst nightmare but lifesaver at the same time. She was the older sister that picked on me and gave me lots of grief. I was scared of her. If we argued, she would close her eyes and not see a word I was saying. And if I tried that and closed my eyes….she would use her voice that no one could understand. BUT I COULD! And it would drive me nuts that she would always get the last word!!!! Grrrrrr….. She was stronger than me and always won fist fights. She had a strong punch. If I wanted to hit her and get away with it…..I would make sure the front door was wide open. I would wait until she was busy doing something and then I would sock her with everything I had…and run out the door. I had to make sure I had everything I needed outside because once I made it out the front door, it was going to be locked until Mom got home from work. And yes…getting that punch in was worth it.

She was my playmate. She was my social life. She included me in her circle. She didn’t have to. But she did. I learned more and more signs everyday. Her friends became my friends. In high school I didn’t fit in and wanted to be at school with my sister. She had “moved away” to a residential school for the deaf. (California School for the Deaf, Fremont). She would leave every Sunday and return every Friday. The whole group went away the same year. And I was left with hearing people.

Stupid hearing people.

I missed her.

She would come home on Friday nights and show me the new ASL (American Sign Language) she had learned. We used to sign “morning” with our two arms stretching out like a morning stretch. She showed me the ASL sign for “morning”. Whatever she learned, she would pass on to me. On Friday nights when she came back home I would catch her up on home life and she would catch me up on her new adventure.

I want to add right here, right now….my sister used to be embarrassed to be deaf. We would go out in public and she wouldn’t want me to sign. She didn’t want to draw attention. But after her first week at Fremont…she came back a different person. She was proud to be deaf. And she didn’t care who watched her sign.

I remember wondering what happened that first week of school. How does such a tremendous change happen in such a short amount of time?

Anyway—back to what I do for a living. I did not go to school to be an interpreter. And it showed when I first took a paid job. I lacked professionalism. I lacked grace. I lacked people skills. I lacked ethics. And I had deaf friends who had to show me what an interpreter did. Where to sit in the class. I was encouraged to take an interpreting class. But once I found out we would be “mock interpreting” in front of the class, I left and never went back.

My saving grace was my fluency. And my friendliness. My saving grace was my willingness to be taught. I got a job at the local deaf agency when I was 19 and they told me what to wear. How to act. When to sign. When to show up for assignments. How to advocate. When not to advocate. What was ok to share and what was NOT OK to share. I was taught all of it. By deaf people and by professional interpreters.

I watched the professionals when I moved here to Southern California. Watched how they worked and copied them. Watched how they sat and copied them. Watched how they signed certain phrases. Certain words. And copied them. Watched how they greeted the consumers, both deaf and hearing. And copied them. Watched how they handled outsiders that didn’t understand our role. And copied them.

I was the copycat interpreter.

I’ve been in this field for 28 years now and I am still a copycat. I still watch. I wonder what would have happened to me if I had come into the industry in this day and age–with the skill but not the certification? (I’ve been certified since 1987).

After 19+ years of doing freelance work, I resisted the VRS (video relay service) industry for a couple of years. Finally I caved and went to work in a box. I’ve been working in the VRS industry since 2004. (Has it really been 9 years already?) While the rules have changed–the callers have not.

I work in one place. I sit in a box all day long and interpret for deaf people all over the country. Thus comes the term V.I. Which stands for Video Interpreter. I am connected to a deaf person via video. I can see them; they can see me. They may be at home in their kitchen, their livingroom, their bedroom—and yeah, even their bathroom! They may be at a Starbucks. A library. At work. An airport. And they may even be driving while making a call! They may be calling their mom. Their doctor. Their children’s teacher. Or their student’s parents. Their baby’s doctor. Their boyfriend. Their wife. Or their work conference call. They may be calling from New York. Hawaii. Or from the same city I’m in. They may be a doctor. A stay at home dad. A teacher. A student. This list could go on forever. The reasons are ad infinitum!

I wear a headset. I interpret their phone call. I interpret cold calls–meaning I have NO IDEA what is going to pop up on my screen. An order for pizza delivery? A personal discussion regarding the divorce? Or will it be a 911 call because someone has been hurt??

I did a call once that hit so close to home….. after being on that call for 30 minutes–I logged out and cried. I had to put my dog down in 1993. The call brought it all back. Walking into the SPCA office. Seeing my dog for the very last time. Touching her for one last time. Laying in bed all day crying. The call broke my heart. There have been other calls that have touched me in a part of my heart where there has been hidden pain. I am human. I am not a robot. I am not immune to triggers. And I have to tap into another part of my brain to hide all of my triggers while on a call.

The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) sees me as a customer service representative. They technically label me a “communication assistant”. They don’t see me as an American Sign Language interpreter. They don’t see me as having the skill that I have. They don’t see the days I have to squint my eyes and make sense of the call I have in front of my screen. On the days when I have a signer with CP. On the days the callers are crying because someone died. On the days when the screen looks like I’m looking through a “rainy window”. On the days when I’m trying to interpret for the hearing person with a thick thick accent. On the days when I have to deal with hearing people trying to engage me in the call.

Hi I have someone on the line that uses Sign language to communicate…I’m a sign language interpreter….I’ll be interpreting this call for you…one moment while I connect you…

“Uhhhh no thank you. We don’t do sign language here”. Or…

“How can we do that? We don’t have a video”. Or…

“Can’t you just tell him that he needs to bring the paperwork before his appointment.” Or…

“Are you his mother?” Or…

“So how long have you been signing. This is so cool!” Or…

“Are you coming with them?” Etc!

And this is all just the tip of the iceberg!

I love my job. I really do. What scares me though is that the FCC is going to make so many cuts (because thats what they are doing now) that I will be forced to leave the VRS industry because I am not going to be able to afford to stay! And VRS companies will be forced to get what they pay for: New interpreters who lack the knowledge that I lacked in the beginning. New interpreters that might miss 70% of the deaf person’s side of the conversation (which I have indeed witnessed!!!). New interpreters that won’t be strong enough to not let the hearing person take over the call. .

The deaf community has been controlled by the hearing community for so long….that’s a whole other blog. And new interpreters (some) allow that to happen. Because its “easier” to just sign what is being heard rather than to voice what is being said.

Insert sad face icon here.

I have seen inexperienced interpreters not let the deaf caller state their point. Talk about feeling helpless! I have said “speak when the person is signing. Just start talking!” But it’s a skill that has to be acquired. With time. And in the meantime…who suffers. Who gets the short end of the stick. Who doesn’t get their point across. Who has to wait till the hearing person finishes before they can talk. Who loses their train of thought because they had to wait.

That’s right….the very audience that VRS was created for.

Insert a sad face (with a tear) icon here.

“Functional Equivalence” doesn’t rely solely on technology. You can have all the best technology in the world; but if you have an inexperienced non-assertive interpreter in the box—functional equivalence will not happen. And that’s the truth. The bottom line. At the end of the day—that’s it.

Thank you for choosing Purple. I’m interpreter # blah blah blah* . Let me connect you now. :-)

*for proprietary reasons I’m not allowed to share my VI #. I don’t really say “I’m Interpreter blah blah blah”!! :-) Honest!!! .


Me and Steph.

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What does it take to be a Sign Language Interpreter?

FCC’s definition of Video Relay Service

Purple Video Relay Service


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About rsouleret

I am a mother of two beautiful girls. I work full time. And I run. ILML.

View all posts by rsouleret

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4 Comments on “When My Feet Aren’t Running…My Hands Are. (What I do for a living)”

  1. Julia Says:

    I’m interested in learning ASL and it is interesting to read about all the different aspects. I had heard of VIs, but I had no idea what the job would entail; very interesting post.

    Reply

    • rsouleret Says:

      I hope you do learn ASL. I love my job and wouldn’t trade it for the world. I love the deaf community. You can check into your local community college for ASL classes. Good luck!!!!

      Reply

  2. rsouleret Says:

    Thank you for sharing my blog. It is much appreciated!!

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. When My Feet Aren’t Running…My Hands Are. (What I do for a living) | Hands Talk Too - July 24, 2013

    […] When My Feet Aren’t Running…My Hands Are. (What I do for a living). […]

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