Interpreter Q & A: If the Deaf client isn’t paying attention, should the interpreter keep signing?

By Brenda Cartwright
Thursday, November 21, 2019

This article is written by Brenda Cartwright (BC). Brenda is a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher and a well known author. BC also contributes numerous blog articles for Signing Savvy. Look for them on the “Articles” tab on our website.

This article is part of our "Dear BC, Interpreter Q & A” series, which answers questions on interpreting and Deaf culture from multiple perspectives. There isn’t always one “right” answer to every question, and different people have different opinions on how to handle different scenarios. That is why more than one perspective is provided in this series, however, more opinions always exist. These perspectives are gathered from talking with experienced interpreters and deaf consumers from across the United States and Canada and do not solely come from the author.

This article was also published in the Winter 2019 (Issue 36 Volume 1) Edition of VIEWS Magazine from RID. VIEWS is a digital publication distributed quarterly by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) and dedicated to the interpreting profession. The magazine includes RID member spotlights, announcements from the RID board, and engaging stories about issues impacting the interpreting community. See this article (on page 22) and more in the Winter 2019 Edition of VIEWS Magazine from RID.

Dear BC,

I interpret at a college and sometimes during the lectures, the Deaf student does not watch me. They may be reading something, texting, or sometimes sleeping. When this happens, I tend to shrink my signing space to conserve my energy, but I still keep interpreting the lecture. When the student looks up I bring my signing back to normal. However, when I asked other interpreters how they handle this situation, some said I must keep signing and some said I can stop. What is your opinion?

Feeling Ignored 

The video features a full interpretation of what is discussed in this article.

An Experienced Interpreter's Perspective:

Deaf students, like hearing students, have a right not to attend to the lecture without drawing attention to themselves. I would not stop signing because that would draw attention to you and therefore to the Deaf student, but I understand reducing your signing space. If the problem is ongoing, ask the Deaf student what they want you to do.

An Experienced Deaf Consumer's Perspective:

It is your job to interpret the class. Reducing your sign space to conserve energy is fine. Sometimes you may think the Deaf student is not fully paying attention when in fact they are partially attending. If this is about saving energy, maybe you could switch with your partner more often.

What's your perspective? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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About the Author

Brenda CartwrightBrenda Cartwright is a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher, well known presenter, and author of several best selling sign language and interpreting textbooks from the RID Press. For 35 years Brenda was the Chair of the Sign Language Interpreter Program at Lansing Community College in Lansing, Michigan.

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