Note From Uncle Dale: How to Live Forever.

Last night I had the opportunity to see the great Peter Cook and Kenny Lerner perform their poetry performance Flying Words.

It was fantastic. But of course it was, that almost goes without saying.

The room was packed with members of the Deaf community, interpreters, interpreting students, ASL students and their families. It was literally standing room only.

As the program began and Peter and Kenny were introduced my heart leapt to see that the interpreter was one of my former students, now graduated, certified and working as an interpreter at a local college. She was poised and confident and I could not have been more proud.

I looked around the room and saw many of my students, current and former, filling the audience. As I looked at each of them I remembered the laugher and tears I had with each one. Struggles and breakthroughs. Frustrations and insights.

But most of all I could see love. So much love. For each other, for the language, for the community. I am proud of each and everyone of them.

If I am to be remembered for anything let it be for them.

Now. Don’t think that I’m saying I made these interpreters what they are today. I just helped them to find the path and refined the edges.

There is a, possibly apocryphal, story about Michelangelo where someone asked him how he carved an angel from a block of marble and he replied:

I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free. Michelangelo

I’m not trying to aggrandize myself by saying I am comparable to one of the greatest artist in history. I am simply saying that we talk about him today because he saw the angel and set it free.

I looked at that room full of angels; those who are free and those still finding their wings and I smiled and thought, “if someday, at the end of my time here on this planet, I look back to see what I’ve left in the world for future generations and I see this room full of angels then even when I’m gone I will truly live forever in peace.”

Thank you Peter and Kenny. It was a wonderful show!

Note from Uncle Dale: What Do You Do When You Don’t Know What To Do?: Interpersonal Dynamics-Hearing Client

My original plan was to write one Note to tackle Interpersonal Dynamics: Deaf Client; Hearing Client; and, your Team. But there is a lot to unpack in all these topics! So much that I split it into three.

I get calls and emails and texts (oh my) weekly-all asking the same question:

“What would you do if…”.

The details tend to diverge at that point, but the idea is the same.

What do you do when you don’t know what to do?

I addressed ethics, micro-audism and the interpersonal dynamic that exists between the interpreter and the Deaf Client in previous Notes.

So let’s talk about the interpersonal dynamics between the interpreter and the hearing Client.

How do you, as the interpreter, relate to the other actors in the communication event?

The Hearing Client

Author Douglas Adams wrote a scene in his book Dirk Gentely’s Holistic Detective Agency wherein the reader is given insight into a horse’s opinions on its rider. The author clearly states that it is not a super-intelligent horse or magical in any way. This handsome but quite normal horse formed opinions about its rider because:

It is difficult to be sat on all day, every day, by some other creature, without forming an opinion on them.

But, the author also observes:

On the other hand, it is perfectly possible to sit all day, every day, on top of another creature and not have the slightest thought about them whatsoever.

What’s the point?

People who are Deaf tend to know a great deal about hearing people. However, most hearing people have no idea what it actually means to be Deaf in a hearing world.

That, of course, has never stopped any hearing person from expressing an opinion on the matter. I have heard hearing people expound at length on how, if they were Deaf, they would be “too self-sufficient to demand that someone else provide [them] an interpreter.” (That is an actual quote from an office manager at a medical clinic).

Against my better judgement, because you can’t fix the arrogance of privilege, I responded by quoting the first stanza of Rudyard Kipling’s poem Padgett M.P.

The toad beneath the harrow knows exactly where each tooth-point goes,

But the butterfly upon the road preaches contentment to that toad.

I don’t think she got it.

It is easy for one removed from the struggle to advise quiet acceptance to those who live the struggle every day (by the way, find the poem I quoted. It’s a fantastic exploration of watching someone who loudly expresses an opinion, on a topic about which they know nothing, becoming “educated”).

As a hearing person who has lived, worked and studied the Language and Culture of people who are Deaf, I can safely say that I don’t understand the experience of a person who is Deaf navigating a hearing world day in and day out. I never will.

But, I do know how to interpret between a person who is Deaf and a person who is hearing. I can say without fear of contradiction or false aggrandizement that I am an expert in that area. I can and will speak to hearing Clients with authority about what I, as the expert on communication in the room, need in order to do my job.

I’m not shy about advocating for the things I need in order to do my job (affording effective communication) And I am always professional about it.

It is important to clearly explain what I mean by being “professional.”

I always begin very politely, but, I am direct.

I am clear.

I am firm.

If needed I will be blunt.

But always polite, unless the situation calls on me not to be.

Make no mistake, there is a place for directness to a level that some may mistake for rudeness within the definition of professional discourse.

My measure for when it is time to move past blunt is when a lay person, who knows nothing about my job (outside their uninformed assumptions), attempts to “correct” me on how to do my job (specifically when they assume incorrectly).

I first attempt to educate, then to explain, but, if needed, I will correct their erroneous assumptions without negotiation.

Let me emphasize that again. Never forget that as an interpreter you are the expert regarding interpreting. That is why you are there; they called an expert to facilitate communication because they could not do it without your expertise.


That is the purview of the person who is Deaf.


Definitely defer to the person who is Deaf.


Anything regarding the process of interpreting is the area of expertise of the interpreter (If you are working with a CDI, and I hope you have had the benefit of that experience, it is amazing, then defer to the CDI). If (when) the hearing Client tries to insert themselves into your area of expertise handle it as the professional you are.

As I’ve said, “professional” doesn’t always mean the same thing as “polite.”

“Respectful” doesn’t always mean the same thing as being “deferential.”

On one occasion for example I had to educate a nurse who kept telling me how to do my job. I went through the steps I listed above, but to no avail. She just kept giving me orders, to the point that it was becoming impossible for me to do my job.

No one prevents me from doing my job.

My job is too important to allow that. So I finally said:

“I think see the problem here. You mistakenly believe that I work for you. Let me assure you, I do not. I’m an independent contractor that the hospital hired for my expertise. If there is an immediate medical emergency I will defer to your expertise, but, right now I have a job to do. You are interfering with my ability to do that job. That will stop.”

And it did.

In the end just keep in mind that the hearing people who hire you tend to come in two types: Those who know how to rely on experts to do the jobs they need done but don’t know how to do themselves, and those who assume that they are naturally an expert in all things and feel the need to direct the work of everyone else.

If you want to reduce problems and arguments during assignments you need to speak and act as the expert you are. Ninety percent of real problems that come up during appointments happen because we didn’t speak up when we felt like we should. The other ten percent happen because we say too much. There is a fine line between professional self-advocacy and arrogance. I find that line lies at the border of “this is what must happen to do my job” and “listen to how much I know.” Finding that line is both a science and an art. Staying on the right side of it is an imperative.

The key for me is asking myself a simple question. “Am I stating clearly to this hearing person what I need to do my job or I’m I arguing with a jerk.”

Never argue with a jerk, even if the jerk obviously wants to argue with you. You don’t have to attend every fight you are invited to.

Be clear, be direct, be professional and when in doubt remember Rule 8!

Note from Uncle Dale: The Wheel? I’m Pretty Sure That’s Already Been Invented.

Hello! It feels good to be back and typing furiously with my thumbs!

I love working with teams. I always learn something by watching how another interpreter handles tricky linguistic issues or does the simple things better.

There is no such thing as plagiarism when it comes to interpreting. No interpreter has a copyright on a great way to interpret “that” no matter what “that” is. If you see something you can use then collect it for your toolbox and use it when you need it.

Stop looking at other interpreters and wishing you had the skills that he or she has. Figure out what they are doing, that you wish you were doing, and start trying to incorporate what you observe into your own work.

“It’s that simple,” you ask?

Well, yes. And no.

It’s as simple as opening your eyes and ears and mind. But, so many things block our ability to observe and incorporate breakthrough skills we see into our own work.

Number one barrier? Petty jealousy.

As I get older I have to admit more and more that the next generation of interpreters will be better at this than I could ever have hoped to be in my lifetime.

And that is a great thing. They should be better. Their skills and abilities should pass me by. That each generation of interpreters accomplishes more than the previous is good for the Deaf community and good for the profession.

It’s also to be expected because they have something to help them develop their skills that I never had. They have me.

I don’t mean me personally (though I try to do my share in the classroom) I mean they have the wealth of understanding contained within collective experience of my generation like I had the benefit of the giants who came before me. The next generation should build from the beginning on the solid foundation of the mistakes that taught me and crafted me into the interpreter I am today. They should not need to make the same mistakes I made to learn the same lessons I learned (though that is sometimes unavoidable). They should start above the noise and confusion by standing on my shoulders. This leaves them open to learn their own lessons, deeper mysteries of language and culture that I never got to because I was dealing with the lessons this profession had for my generation.

I have grown used to being the one who dazzled by reason the ease with which I handle difficult concepts. It is sometimes hard for me to admit that this young interpreter has produced a more clear concise interpretation than I.

It’s hard to admit that I still have things to learn. And harder to admit that this kid has something to teach me.

But that is the beauty of this profession, if we are willing to learn there is always something we can learn.

Our best resource is the Deaf community. If I have one lesson to pass on to working interpreters it’s this-prosody.

Take every opportunity to observe how people who are Deaf make themselves understood. How do they indicate the beginning of a new idea? How do native ASL users show the end of an idea? I’m not talking about grammar or vocabulary, I’m talking about dynamic functional punctuation.

When we look and really see how people who are Deaf transition between ideas or indicate turn taking or emphasize a point or refer back to a past idea… any myriad of structural linguistic guides that they produce with subtle shifts and facial expressions so naturally that these markers are almost imperceptible in flow of communication, but without which there would be no flow of communication, we quickly see how ham fisted and awkward our attempts to accomplish the same thing using crass signs are.

It’s art.

It’s beautiful.

The economy of movement is inspiring. A native user can often accomplish with a nose wrinkle a meaning takes an interpreter 5-7 signs to produce in equity.

If we look and really see the structural perfection of it all we cannot help but say, “why aren’t I doing that? I should be doing that!”

And we can do “that.” We can do “that” if we are willing to see, process what we’ve seen and incorporate it into our work through applied practice.

There are always lessons to learn. There are always opportunities to be better at what we do, if we are willing to be taught.

Note From Uncle Dale: The Rhythm Trap.

This Note has become a bit of an full time job for me. I have not been able to post anything because of my obsession with it.


In the book The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy (read the books. The movies don’t do the story justice!explains that the problem with time travel is not what you would expect it to be. The Guide says:

One of the major problems encountered in time travel is not that of becoming your own father or mother. There is no problem in becoming your own father or mother that a broad-minded and well-adjusted family can’t cope with. There is no problem with changing the course of history—the course of history does not change because it all fits together like a jigsaw. All the important changes have happened before the things they were supposed to change and it all sorts itself out in the end. 

The major problem is simply one of grammar, and the main work to consult in this matter is Dr. Dan Streetmentioner’s Time Traveler’s Handbook of 1001 Tense Formations. It will tell you, for instance, how to describe something that was about to happen to you in the past before you avoided it by time-jumping forward two days in order to avoid it. The event will be descibed differently according to whether you are talking about it from the standpoint of your own natural time, from a time in the further future, or a time in the further past and is futher complicated by the possibility of conducting conversations while you are actually traveling from one time to another with the intention of becoming your own mother or father.

Most readers get as far as the Future Semiconditionally Modified Subinverted Plagal Past Subjunctive Intentional before giving up; and in fact in later aditions of the book all pages beyond this point have been left blank to save on printing costs.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy skips lightly over this tangle of academic abstraction, pausing only to note that the term “Future Perfect” has been abandoned since it was discovered not to be.

Douglas Adams

As with most things in life the Guide gives us insight into the condition of being human-in this instance that the things that are problems are often vastly different (and a little more pedestrian) than the things we assume to be problems.

So it is with interpreting. When we struggle with an interpretation we often look for a much bigger, much more catastrophic reason for our frustration than, we eventually find out, is the ACTUAL, reason for our frustration.

For example. When working from ASL to Spoken English (and almost as often Spoken English to ASL) interpreters who are struggling tend to jump on any idea that incorporates a fatally flawed lack of skill, comprehension, or ability on their own part.

While this approach carries with it metric tons of self-deprecating, unhelpful reasoning it is also infused with two “benefits” for the interpreter’s tortured soul.

First, it’s “analysis-proof.”

In law there’s a concept called being “judgment proof.” It means if you sue me for $100 million and win, but if I don’t have a bank account or a car or a house or any real property worth any value or insurance, then it really doesn’t matter if you sue me for $10, $20 or $30 million-you’re never going to see a dime; because I just don’t have it and there is no way I ever will.

The idea of being “Analysis-proof” follows similar logic. You can give me feedback or mentoring or instruction or support all you want, but if the problem is a fatal flaw inside of me, meaning my interpreter account is empty, then no amount of analysis will EVER result improved performance.

This dovetails into the second “benefit” or what I called the “why bother” mindset.

This second issue, the “why bother” mindset, logically and commonly-but not ubiquitously-follows on the heels of being “analysis-proof” (but it can exist independently as a stand alone self-defeating self-view).

It mentally flows like this:

If the issues that I have to overcome are so vast or too much or feel like they stem from a fundamental flaw inside of me, maybe I have an underdeveloped interpreter gene, then no amount of work will ever help me get better, so why should I bother putting more effort into building my skills beyond where they are right now. Perhaps I should just be happy with what I have and not try to challenge myself.

That self-view is attractive to the tired and frustrated because it can be applied to so many areas of our lives that we see as too hard to deal with.

If you are reading this and feel like it speaks directly to you (“is Uncle Dale watching me?”*) you are not alone. Every interpreter feels these frustrations at one time or another and grabs at these “answers”.

However, like time travel, when we feel like we’ve hit these walls it is often a result of looking well beyond the mark, at huge seemingly unsolvable issues (becoming your own parent) instead of stepping back and looking for the actual issue, because the actual issue seems so simple it’s almost silly (grammar).

In my experience for example what many interpreters see as an unresolvable issue turns out to be a simple Rhythm Trap.

The Rhythm Trap

Hearing interpreters, have you ever walked passed a room and heard a voice drifting from inside and thought to yourself, “that is an interpreter working from ASL to Spoken English (or if you are one of my students, “that is an interpreter working from Deaf to Hearing” Grin)?

You know the sound. Maybe you can hear it in your head right now.

Like some kind of interpreter 12 Step Program hearing interpreters all should all be able to admit in public that some version of the words, “like butter on a bald monkey” have spilled unbidden out of our mouths.

We have all, at some strange moment, realized we were humming along to a song in our heads to the beat of word-sign-word-sign-word-sign…

Deaf Community?


You know this obnoxious interpretive dance move, you’ve seen it over and over.

Why do we do that? What’s wrong with us?

It’s not about skill. It’s not about ability. Most importantly it’s not a fundamental catastrophic flaw in you.

It’s a conflict in the differential rhythms of the source and target languages.

Seriously. It’s usually just an issue of rhythm.

Think of it like this, the human brain loves patterns. It seeks them out.

I have found many different competing theories for why this is so, from it being a genetically coded survival trait requiring our brains to reduce anything deemed necessary to live to a set of simple, easily repeated steps (I was tempted to get into Necessity Breeds Simplicity here, then I remembered, I already did that!

So, your brain loves patterns. But, as with most languages, the rhythm structures of ASL and English are not even close to each other. Think of a person from India who learned English as a second language. Their use of English words are often impeccable but native English speakers may have a hard time following their speech patterns at first because they put the English words in the rhythm of their native language; to us it’s too fast and the intonation is too subtle. This is a difference between the rhythms of the two languages.

Now look at a native user of ASL:

Not even close the the rhythm of spoken English.

This is not the first time I’ve discussed this fact. It goes all the way back to the beginning. Rule 5 to be exact:

So, as a hearing interpreter your brain sees ASL, recognizes it as a language you understand, knows at a subconscious level that it’s not the rhythm of spoken English you are comfortable with-so your brain forces it into a pattern it likes; 4/4 Time with a back beat (think of the Beatles).

Voila, that weird interpreter cadence we all recognize is born. That cadence becomes the central thing upon which your brain attaches its focus. If the cadence is compromised by a concept that cannot be produced accurately within the comfortable cadence confusion ensues.

Not actual confusion as in the interpreter doesn’t understand the meaning. Confusion as in the meaning the interpreter understands does not fit in the rhythm that the interpreter’s brain has established. The rhythmic conflict causes the interpreter to second guess their understanding instead of seeing the flaw as a result their processing and production.

“Good to know,” you say. “What do I do about it?”

Ah. That’s the fun part.

Start with prosody.

Figure out how the person for whom you are interpreting “makes themselves understood.” How do they show the beginning of an idea and the end of an idea. Figure out how they separate concepts that should be separated and connect propositions that must be connected. That is ALWAYS the first step.

Once you’ve got their discourse down, summarize in your head what happens in-between the beginning of an idea and the end of that idea. Then do the same with the next and the next…

A true summary is what you’d get if you threw the concept in a pot and boiled it down for 8 days.

The essence of the concept without the frills.

If you produced nothing but this idea the Client would have the required information (but none of it will be pretty).

Got it?

Now apply Uncle Dale’s Model of Interpreting to your summary.

Understand it in language A, say it in language B.

The Uncle Dale Model of Interpreting.

If you are working from ASL to Spoken English then understand it in Deaf and say it in Hearing.

If you are working from Spoken English to ASL the understand it in Hearing and say it in Deaf.

As needed apply the tool I gave you in the Note about necessity breeding simplicity I posted above.

If you pay attention to the meaning and not the form you can escape the Rhythm Trap.

Seems so simple.

For many of us it seems too simple.

That’s the problem. Big, insurmountable issues are often mentally and emotionally easier to deal with. If they are to big to fix we don’t need to try to fix them and we can tell ourselves to just be happy where we are.


Big, insurmountable issues are rare.

Most of the time we look well beyond the actual issue because we believe the problem that has caused us so much frustration can’t be that simple.

But quite often, it is.

Let’s be honest. Simple solutions beg to be implemented. If the issue CAN be addressed we are honor bound to try to fix it. That means we have to practice. We HAVE to put the work in.


Maybe, we think, it would be better if there was just a flaw inside of us that we can’t fix because, well, that seems easier, less labor intensive.

Here is the most important part. Pay attention. Ready?

You can do this.

There is nothing “wrong” with your brain or your abilities. The issue is nothing that a well adjusted interpreter can’t work through.

It’s all just a matter of seeing the steps you need to take and then taking them.

You’ll be fine. Just work the process.


*I’m not.

Note from Uncle Dale: Dear Interpreting Student (RID Views, Fall 2019)

One of my favorite Notes!

Denver Here Comes Uncle Dale!

This weekend I will be presenting at Colorado RID

I will give two workshops on Saturday:

Leaving Literal Translation Behind; and,

Ask Me Anything: Interpreting in Civil/Criminal Legal Settings

I will present Ask Me Anything: Interpreting in Civil/Criminal Legal Settings again on Sunday

(I may even try to look in on the student conference on Thursday 😋)

I am so very excited that CRID is partnering with DOVE for this conference.

I work with a sister organization, Sego Lily Center for Abused Deaf, here in Utah as often as I can. I cannot say enough good things about these organizations. They deserve our time and treasure and I am thrilled to do anything I can to support DOVE’s great work.

Thank you for the invite CRID! Can’t wait to see you all there!

Uncle Dale at the Utah Association of the Deaf Conference.

Saturday, September 7, 2019, I was honored to be present at UAD’s annual conference in Ogden, Utah.

My workshop was an overview of Federal laws. I present it like each applicable law (the ADA, 501, 504, the ACA and IDEA) or Title thereof (ADA Titles I, II and III) are separate countries and we are all taking a tour and learning the culture and language of each.

This workshop is designed to be presented in a gym or large conference room and it takes six hours (two sessions of three hours each). I map the “laws/countries” out on the floor and the participants physically travel from one “law/country” to the next while we discuss the similarities and differences in each law/country’s history, language, culture, and customs.

It’s a big undertaking.

As you can imagine I’ve only been asked to do the full presentation a few times but each time has been amazing (I am thinking of organizing one for a Saturday in early November at the Utah Community Center for the Deaf and filming some of it so people or groups who are interested can see how it works). The first time I did it I had souvenirs from the different “laws/countries” the participants visited.

Like I said, it’s labor intensive for me to do the full tour and to do it right, but it’s worth it.

Usually I am asked to give a less involved version of it in a 2-3 hour time slot. It’s still a fantastic workshop but I sometimes feel like the participants are taking a tour by bullet-train!

In the 2-3 hour version the attendees stay in one place and I move (if you look at the top of the projector screen you can see one of our “stops” marked out.

This time I had just a little over an hour-so I really had to strip it down. Luckily, Jared Allebest’s presentation covered many of the details I had to edit out for time.

I was thrilled UAD asked me to present because the venue was a little bit of a homecoming for me. The conference room where I gave my presentation was right down the hall from my former office at The Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind.

Back in the 1990’s I was the lead mentor for all of the interpreters working within the USDB system.

By the way, Jared Allebest, the guy I mentioned before, is an attorney who is Deaf here in Utah.

Yes. Utah has two attorneys who are fluent in ASL! (I’m just kidding. Utah actually has FOUR attorneys who are fluent in ASL. Two of us who are solo practitioners, one who works the for state in the juvenile court system and one who works with a firm in southern Utah-it’s kind of an embarrassment of wealth I will admit that).

My next two scheduled presentations will be on October 12, 2019 through Zaboosh on-line trainings. You can get more info here:


The Colorado RID Conference, October 18-20, 2019, details here:

I’d love to meet you so if you see me don’t hesitate to come up to say hi!

Note from Uncle Dale: What Do You Do When You Don’t Know What To Do?: Interpersonal Dynamics-Deaf Client.

My original plan was to write one Note to tackle Interpersonal Dynamics: Deaf Client; Hearing Client; and, Team. But there is a lot to unpack in all these topics! So much that I split it into three.

I get calls and emails and texts (oh my) weekly-all asking the same question:

“What would you do if…”.

The details tend to diverge at that point, but the idea is the same.

What do you do when you don’t know what to do?

I addressed ethics and micro-audism in previous Notes. So let’s talk about interpersonal dynamics.

How do you, as the interpreter, relate to the other actors in the communication event?

The Deaf Client

There are all kinds of discussions to be had on this topic but the most interesting question I have been asked recently is:

What do I do if the Deaf Client doesn’t seem to like me?

The short answer to this is, “your job.”

Do your job and do it damn well. You are not the hearing world hospitality coordinator. There is no requirement that the Deaf Client likes you.

That thought is often WAY too much for some interpreters to handle. The idea that-gasp-someone may not like you plagues some interpreters to the point of eyes-wide-open-in-the-middle-of-the-night distraction. But here is the hard truth, nobody has to like you all the time, not your significant other, not your mother, not a stranger on the street and certainly not the Deaf Client.

The Deaf Client does not have to like you. They just have to trust your skills.

I have discussed this before so I ask you to indulge my saying this again, but it is important. There is a level of ambivalence that always exist between the Deaf Client and the interpreter. This cognitive dissonance is factory installed in the Interpreter/Deaf Client interpersonal dynamic.

Deaf Clients, no matter what relationship they may have with you as a person, tend to greet your work with both appreciation and frustration (it is entirely possible to hold two varied feelings about the same thing with no contradiction). In other words, it’s fine to feel conflicted without any conflict.

Why? Well. Think of it this way:

Imagine that, in order to breathe, you must employ the services of a person who touches the end of your nose, a person who is specifically trained and endorsed to do so-a Certified Nose Toucher.

Now, it may not be that you can’t breathe without the CNT, but in order to breathe effectively, and specifically at times of stress or when breathing effectively is vital, the services of a professional, certified “Nose Toucher” is needed (can’t do it for yourself, oh and you have horrible memories of the education system trying to teach you to touch your nose with your elbow, and everyone seems to have a suggestion of installing dubious microchips in your nose, but I digress).

So, how would you feel toward the “Nose Toucher?”

You would of course appreciate the CNT each and every time you took a clear and effective breath. But, you would also resent the fact that you had to depend on this other person for something so basic as breathing, resent that the world, as it is, forces this reality.

You would surely be angry each time someone talked to the CNT instead of you, as if you were unable to think instead of breathe.

Out of necessity you will spend a great deal of time with a CNT and so you may develop a relationship of sorts-maybe outside of the realm of “nose touching.” That relationship may even develop into a friendship (but that can lead to problems of its own. A blurry line between friend and professional can be dangerous).

Of course sometimes you will be assigned a CNT that you just do not like.  That’s a whole new level of frustration.

In the end no matter how much you appreciate the work of the professional, Certified, “Nose Toucher” and despite perhaps liking some of the CNTs, they are people you MUST be with, not people you choose to be with. Every time they do their job you are grateful for it and at the same time reminded of the fact that you are inescapably dependent on them.

Appreciation and frustration.

Sometimes the frustration wins and you want to go into the bathroom all alone-just accepting that you will choke. Sometimes you would rather just choke.

I have had newly certified former students mention in passing that a Deaf Client (don’t worry-I taught them not to mention names or details) left the appointment without saying goodbye or thank you.

“Did you get paid?” I ask.


“Then you’re fine. You can expect to get paid or get a thank you, you will sometimes get both, but you should never expect both.”

In the interests of full disclosure I did not come upon this zen attitude all at once or even overnight. I grew up with raging ADHD in an era where that was not well understood. I was tested in school over and over without conclusive results. It was finally determined that I was clinically obnoxious and they just went with it. I learned that many people were willing to remind me that I can be irritating.

But I’m not irritating or obnoxious. I’m funny, I’m excited and I’m interested in many things (often at the same time) they are irritated by me and I am under no obligation to change me-but I should change my behavior in situations where it would not be appropriate to be… well… too much like me (but again, I digress).

There are many Deaf Clients who request me but I know for a fact don’t like me. They request the skills not the person.

On the other hand I have shown up to appointments to interpret for friends who are Deaf and been told, “not you, not today.”

I know that there are a thousand possible reasons that this Deaf Client wants an interpreter other than me for this appointment, and, luckily, every single one of these reasons is none of my business.

In the end it doesn’t matter in the slightest who you and this person who is Deaf are to each other out in the world, friend or foe or neutral, in here you are the Interpreter they are the Client and the dynamic needs be no more complicated than that.

Note from Uncle Dale: What Do You Do When You Don’t Know What To Do? Micro-Audism and Advocacy.

I get calls and emails and texts (oh my) weekly-all asking the same question:

“What would you do if…”.

The details tend to diverge at that point, but the idea is the same.

What do you do when you don’t know what to do?

I addressed ethics in a previous Note. I will deal with interpersonal relationships in another Note. This Note starts with the question:

“What do I do if a business won’t pay me?”

Now. I’ve already told a story about how I handled this situation once upon a time:

That one was fun, but my decision in that situation obviously won’t apply broadly (but seriously, I highly recommend using it if you can). So let’s focus on more common frustrations.

If you are concerned that a business won’t pay you make sure you have a good enforceable contract, signed and in place, before you go. Make sure your Terms and Conditions includes a clause that you can collect all attorneys fees and costs of enforcing collection in court, and then make a friend of small claims court.

“But,” you say, “if I sue them they will never hire me again!”

They didn’t pay you. They haven’t hired you yet.

But, Ok.

If you’ve struggled to get a certain business to pay you in the past then get a deposit before taking an appointment with it, or, and hear me out, politely decline to take the appointment at all.


“Oh” is right.

If it’s going to cost you more to get paid than you would have been paid to do the job it’s not worth it. Just say no.

“But,” you say, “What about the Deaf Client? Won’t that leave the Deaf client without an interpreter?”

You are not denying the Deaf Client an interpreter by refusing to interpret if you are not paid, the business who refuses to pay you is. You are ready willing and able to interpret the moment business (who is obligated by law to provide the accommodation-you are not) is willing to pay for the service.

I know it is stressful to think about it this way, but you have to remember there is a problem at the place the Deaf client works or at the business the Deaf client wants to access. The problem is that the business is not concerned for the rights of the Deaf client-but it may be concerned about getting sued. You showing up and not getting paid does not resolve that issue, it just masks it while allowing the discrimination to continue and become entrenched. In essence if you show up, knowing you won’t be paid, you become part of the problem.

No change will occur in this business’ practices without a confrontation of its audist attitude.

That is sometimes hard to see because not paying the interpreter is not audism in the way we generally envision it. It’s more subtle, it’s audism with a level of abstraction, a form of “micro-audism.”

The business “providing” an interpreter while refusing or at least resisting paying the cost of an interpreter is really an expression of resentment toward the rights of the Deaf client without confronting the Deaf client directly; micro-audism. This micro-audism will continue and become more and more entrenched until it is exposed and resolved.

It has to be resolved. However, you showing up, knowing you may not be paid, just perpetuates the problem without requiring a resolution; what’s the problem? There was an interpreter there. The legal requirement for effective communication was satisfied.

“That’s all well and good,” you cry, “but if I don’t show up it still leaves the Deaf client without an interpreter.

That is true, today. And the Deaf client will have to deal with it. Luckily there are laws in place to do so. Laws, when it comes right down to it, are words on paper. These words are nothing without enforcement. Yes, people should follow the law because it’s the right thing to do, but if everyone did there would be no lawyers or courts.

There are lawyers and courts.

You showing up and not getting paid is not advocating for the Deaf client, it’s masking the need for advocacy. It’s fixing today at the expense of all the tomorrows.

Now. To my friends in the Deaf community. You may be asking yourselves, “wasn’t the ADA supposed to take care of this?”

Yes. But it didn’t. And it won’t without people who are Deaf pushing businesses to abide by it.

At a recent TownHall I attended a woman who is Deaf lamented, “why should we have to go through all that? Shouldn’t they just respect our request?”

Yes, of course they should. But if they won’t. Businesses will not change just because the Deaf community asks. They will only change if they are forced to. Think of businesses like Newton’s First Rule of Motion:

An object will remain at rest unless changed by an external force.

Businesses will try not to change what they have always done, because change cost money. So they will remain “at rest” unless they are subjected to an external force; that force is you.

The Deaf community must be that force. It’s tiring. It’s frustrating. It seems like it will never end, and it may not end in your life time or mine. But things will change, if we work together to change them.

Civil rights are won not gifted.

As Martin Luther King Jr. said:

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

I will be there with you. The interpreting community will be there with you. Change will happen. The moral arc will bend toward justice.

Note from Uncle Dale: What Do You Do When You Don’t Know What To Do? Ethics.

I get calls and emails and texts (oh my) weekly-all asking the same question:

“What would you do if…”.

The details tend to diverge at that point, but the idea is the same.

What do you do when you don’t know what to do?

Often it’s an ethical question.

Remember that ethics is not about right and wrong; right and wrong is about morals and a moral question is usually pretty easy to answer.

Should I steal this or not?

Easy answer. Um, no.

Should I punch that audist jerk or not?

Ok, maybe that’s not so easy to answer.

But, with right and wrong it’s usually easy to spot what you should do and then pick that over what you may even want to do.

But ethics, ethics are different. With ethics it’s never a question of right or wrong-it’s a question of wrong and wrong. Ethics helps us decide which action is most wrong and which is least wrong (and then morals kick in to help us go with that decision).

If you think about it, the old guidelines for interpreters were called The Code of Ethics, but the tenets thereof bled over into morality. The newer guidelines are called The Code of Professional Conduct and openly embraces both the moral and ethical sides.

So, what do you do when you have an ethical decision in front of you and don’t which path leads to the least wrong choice?

Well. There is no one answer that applies to every situation all the time (true! but unhelpful). So I approach most ethical dilemmas this way:

First, what does the CPC say and how closely can I adhere to it whatever I decide to do? Second, can I articulate the reason I am making the choice I make.

That second part is key.

Because, even if everything works out, if you can’t explain why you did what you did then you did not make an ethical choice-you made a lucky stumble and, because God protects fools and drunks, you got away with it. (As my sister says, “never confuse luck for skill”)

Make a choice you can explain and, even if another interpreter says they would have made a different choice, if you can explain why you chose what you chose it’s hard for anyone to argue that you made the wrong choice.

Make a choice. Articulate the reason for that choice. Own that choice. Done.

“Yes,” I hear you saying, “we all know our Demand-Control Schema, but what about issues that aren’t about ethics? The day to day stuff? Like how do I make sure I get paid or prepare for an assignment that scares me or deal with a teacher that seems to resent me being in her classroom or…”

The answer to most of these questions come down to common sense. Don’t take that to mean that the answers are somehow simple.

Common sense is never simple. It is said that sense is not, and never has been, common.

I’m not avoiding these questions, they just deserve their own Notes and so I will give them what they deserve.

Last point here though, training.

In the mythology of Star Trek there is a test given to all potential starship captains called, “The Kobayashi Maru.” It is an exercise designed to test the character of Starfleet Academy cadets in a no-win scenario.

We need to test out ethical skills in the same manner. Too often we want there to be a right answer, however, to really understand our ethical core there just can’t be. We must be able to face the no-win ethical dilemma in practice to be able to deal with the actual ethical dilemmas we will face in the field.

“A theatre troop comes to town and holds a three day workshop for the local high school drama classes. Several Deaf students attend and you are hired to interpret for them.

One of the Deaf students, who will be 18 the day after tomorrow, seems to be getting special attention from one of the directors, a man of at least 35 years.

At the end of the day you see her tell the friend she rode with to the workshop that her mom is picking her up so she doesn’t need a ride home. She then has you interpret for a call to her mom saying she is going over to that same friend’s house, the one who just left, for the night and riding back to the workshop with her in the morning.

She then asks you to interpret for a conversation with the director. The director tells her she has a special talent and he would like to work with her more closely back at his hotel room. This student has filed complaints against two other interpreters for what she felt was offering their opinions in violation of the CPC.”


(Does it change your answer if the workshop ended at 6:30 and she will be 18-year-old at midnight tonight?)