Note from Uncle Dale: The Single Best Interpretation LIKE EVER!

Uncle Dale here!  One of my students has this issue.  In the middle of a sample interpretation she will just stop. I mean everything will stop. Her hands will freeze and her face will go blank for… let’s say MORE than a few moments.  I would worry she was having a seizure-if I had not seen it before with other students.  It is a phenomenon I call “pre-second guessing.”

Before she even produces an interpretation she is picking it apart in her head.  She was not just back-checking her work, she was inspecting one moment in the process under a jewelers loop, staring at it, re-organizing it.  She stopped in that moment and up camp with plans to mull it over in her mind for just a second or two and ended up starting a little semi-permanent research colony.

As often as I see this with interpreting students, it sometimes rears its ugly mug with experienced working interpreters. They get stuck in a moment of an interpretation with which they are not happy and just… live there (why you would live where you are not happy is beyond me).

I told her I can’t give her feedback on an interpretation I never see.  She sighed and asked me, “but how do you know if you have found the, like, the VERY BEST interpretation, ya know, EVER.”

Despite her inserting the word “like” in the question in a way that was so forbidden in my home growing up that it still gives me the pee-shivers just to hear it, AND don’t even get me started on “ya know,” NO I DO NOT KNOW, THAT IS WHY WE ARE HAVING THIS DISCUSSION (Did I just become old and cranky Uncle Dale? Oh well, would all “you kids” please make a note to stay off my lawn), she asked a good question.  How do you find THE SINGLE BEST POSSIBLE INTERPRETATION… LIKE (shiver) EVER!

Short answer?

I don’t.

I don’t look for the single best interpretation. I look for 20 possible interpretations and pick the one that works.

Look, unless I am working with a Deaf consultant on a frozen text, such as a script for a play, with days to prepare and time to debate and rework deep into the night with Diet Coke flowing wild and free, I don’t have the time for absolute perfection.

In the dynamic moment of interpreting I can’t mount some safari for the elusive single best or even very best interpretation.

Anyway that search has nothing to do with what an interpreter does on a daily basis.

What an interpreter does, day in and day out, is start with all possible interpretations, narrow that to the 20 or so most possible interpretations for the concept in question, eliminate the interpretation choices that are just nonsense or, maybe it’s just me, the ones that create the obvious double entendre or innuendo, sift through what’s left, pick the one that most nearly approximates the presenter’s meaning and intent, produce that, and move on to the next interpretation.

At this point student said, and I quote, “OMG I have a hard enough time thinking of just one interpretation!” (maybe when I retire I’ll learn to speak emoji), “I don’t have time to do all that!”

Sure you do. Think of all the time you’ll have when you:

a) stop wasting all of it seeking perfection that will never be; and,

b) when you stop second, third, fourth and fifth guessing everything you produce before and after you produce it.

The problem is one of allocation of mental resources. That, and the invisible metal band around your head.

“WTF! What band around my head? I don’t understand you sometimes.”

(The reason I’m such a good mentor for her is we share so many feelings in common).

So, you have this metal band around your head, it’s been there for years, and etched in it are the words ‘no, that’s dumb.’  You strapped the ‘no, that’s dumb’ barrier on your head to keep you from dying of embarrassment in high-school.

It helped you to not yell out that wild guess in history class (strangely, if you remember, that guess turned out to be right).

It kept you from telling your best friend that her ‘crush’ wouldn’t give her the time of day because she has such a terrible personality.

Most men rely on it to remind them that their Significant Others don’t really want to know ‘how their butt looks in those jeans.’

The ‘no, that’s dumb’ band is useful, if properly applied.

However, for interpreters the ‘no, that’s dumb’ band is more of a hindrance than a help. It tells us that we should not look outside it’s confines for possible interpretations, and must only seek possible interpretations within the limited area of the ‘not dumb.’ The problem is what is or is not ‘dumb’ is often an arbitrary determination.

The ‘no, that’s dumb’ band keeps us from looking at the full spectrum of possibilities. If in the moment we’ve got nothing and we approach the border to ‘Dumblandia’ the band pushes us back and says ‘no no don’t look out here.  These ideas are silly.’

The problem with that is that the space in which you can look for “possibles” tends to shrink. More and more ideas begin to, arbitrarily, look ‘dumb.’

You stay, mentally, further and further from the edge and suddenly one day you find yourself standing in the very middle of your brain looking down at your socks… and nowhere else.

It becomes like looking for underwear in your sock drawer; look all you want, you will only find socks. The same socks. Th saaaame old socks. You have to look somewhere else but suddenly that metal band around your head is stopping you from even formulating the idea of looking elsewhere.

This is the problem with looking for the perfect interpretation and not giving the nutty possibilities any play.  Sometimes the nutty ideas are the best of the “possibles”–but more often, they may lead to the best of the “possibles” when it comes to interpretation. If nothing else they get you out of that underwear drawer.

Friend, we need to pry that band off.

“But how?” You may ask, just as my student did at that moment.

Experiment with me. Pick a text, preferably one you have used before many many times (tangent alert! interpreting students, and even some experienced interpreters, look at texts they have seen before like used… must. not. say. first. thought… AH! Tissues! Tissues work just as well for this example as condoms… they look at texts they’ve seen one time as used up and cannot think of any reason to ever touch it again. If, as a mentor, I put on a text they have seen before, they all say “I’VE DONE THIS ONE” and can not see value in it after it’s initial use.  Like a… tissue. See?

That would be a valid complaint if I was using the text to teach reactive interpreting-which I’m not.  I am teaching how to free your mind to see the possibilities contained within any single concept within this text; what is possible if you are unshackled by the ‘no, that’s Dumb’ band.  If you cannot do the exercises using a text with which you are completely familiar, there is NO POSSIBILITY you could do them cold… well not yet.  If all you use are “cold” texts then the only thing you ever practice is how you react to a cold text; everything becomes, by default, a lesson in reactionary interpreting, which, while vital, is one little part of the vast process. My Tangent is now complete.) So find a text you have used many many times and interpret it.

Now, to cut through your ‘no, that’s Dumb’ band, interpret the same text again, using half the number of signs. Done? Now, do it again using half of that number of signs.  Keep stripping it down until the only have that which you musthave to preserve meaning.  Got it?  Good.

Now do it again, but you cannot use the sign for… “have.” Stripped down version, and now work around this arbitrary rule.

Ok? Again, ‘have’ is still gone and now you have lost the sign for… “car.” No ‘have’ no ‘car’.

“But the text is about what you ‘have‘ to look for when buying a used ‘car.'”

Yes, I know that.

“I don’t see how…”


“Well, I mean I could, like… can I use classifiers?”

I have given you no restrictions but those I have given you.

“THAT’S HARD! That’s not what I thought we would be working on!”

Yes.  Life has a funny way of not working out like you expect.  No ‘have’ no ‘car,’ GO.

It’s amazing what a half hour of this will do. Each time you start again add an arbitrary change to the rules. Keep modifying the same text, over and over and suddenly the band is gone! You have (oh must) get more accepting of the creative interpretation to make the message have meaning.

By the way… its fun.

So, in the end, I don’t look for the singlebest interpretation, I think of 20 possible interpretations, pick the appropriate one from that group and  GO!

As time has gone by even my worst choice, is still pretty good, because I’m willing to be creative in my thought process and I have more experience.

Think about it this way, if you expend all your processing time and energy trying to find THE SINGLE BEST INTERPRETATION, what happens if you don’t? A whole lot of blank stares and no interpretation.

Mic Drop.

(did i use that right?)

Note from Uncle Dale: HR 620 

Hello One and All!  It’s your Uncle Dale.  This morning I was on a Radio Show discussing my concerns with HR 620 (there is actually another Bill that could be just as bad, but it has no text currently-just a name HR 1493) and I realized that I should really take a minute and send out a warning to all of you.

As you may or may not know I have strong opinions about the weakness of the ADA when it comes to protecting the rights of people who are Deaf (I believe the term I used this morning was “barely functional”). This legislation would pretty much end the ADA’s thin layer of protection for the Deaf community.

The bill proposes to change Title III to say this:

(B) BARRIERS TO ACCESS TO EXISTING PUBLIC ACCOMMODATIONS.—A civil action under section 302 or 303 based on the failure to remove an architectural barrier to access into an existing public accommodation may not be commenced by a person aggrieved by such failure unless—

“(i) that person has provided to the owner or operator of the accommodation a written notice specific enough to allow such owner or operator to identify the barrier; and

“(ii)(I) during the period beginning on the date the notice is received and ending 60 days after that date, the owner or operator fails to provide to that person a written description outlining improvements that will be made to remove the barrier; or

“(II) if the owner or operator provides the written description under subclause (I), the owner or operator fails to remove the barrier or to make substantial progress in removing the barrier during the period beginning on the date the description is provided and ending 120 days after that date.

“(C) SPECIFICATION OF DETAILS OF ALLEGED VIOLATION.—The written notice required under subparagraph (B) must also specify in detail the circumstances under which an individual was actually denied access to a public accommodation, including the address of property, the specific sections of the Americans with Disabilities Act alleged to have been violated, whether a request for assistance in removing an architectural barrier to access was made, and whether the barrier to access was a permanent or temporary barrier.”.

Understand the problems this causes.  1) Right now, often the only reason a company takes any interest in whether or not it is ADA compliant is because if it does not, it can be sued at any minute.  It therefore behooves said company to be proactive in its compliance with the ADA.  But if this Bill becomes law, no business need worry about investing one moment of thought in its complaince becuase unless and until its get a letter, it has no risk of a suit. If it recieves a letter the business has another four months to address any actual possible changes if it writes a letter back after 60 days. This will effectively end any personal responsibility by companies for their own accessibility; 2) The responsibility on enforcing compliance has, more or less, always been with the persons protected by the ADA (people with disabilities) but now they are turned into unpaid federal inspectors. Not only are they faced with a barrier but they must be able state chapter and verse the specific sections of the law that were violated and verify that they already requested the business to comply (which, if you think about it makes the letter redundant because they have already made the request); and, 3) It is not enough under this Bill for a person with a disability just to have noticed non-compliance or a barrier to access, the persons who are supposed to be protected by the law now must be able to specify in detail how they were actually denied access (this is insidious wording as it goes beyond just the idea that the business was not compliant, a person with a disability must defend that the lack of compliance actually denied them access). Think about this. What other law do you know where in the law says “businesses must X” and you see a business that has not X, but the law is not effective until the business has caused you injury personally by not X.

Think of a business that has exposed wiring but you cannot complain about it unless you get shocked and then warn the business. Or is structurally unsound but is not required to fix it unless it collapses on you. Or has rats running around in the kitchen but you can’t file a complaint unless it made you personally sick. You see a business that is not ADA compliant you can’t file a complaint unless you can show that you needed to patronize that business and couldn’t. Their defense is, “you could have just ordered it online we did not have to serve you.” Even if I see a store that sells something I will need but do not need today, I must go to the store and actually be denied access prior to beginning the process to enforce compliance.  Or lets suppose that I want to go to a resort and I can see from the pictures is not compliant, I may not be able to begin the process of enforcing compliance until I go on my vacation because:

a) I have not actually been denied access until that moment; and,

b) I have only seen pictures and my not have a complete idea of the full extent of the violations.

It takes the ability to fix an issue prospectively and relegates it to retroactive. In one way it places other disability groups in the disfavored position that persons who are Deaf have faced since the ADA became a law.  They have never had a good avenue to fix an issue before injury under the ADA. But now…

Looking specifically at the Deaf community.  If a person who is Deaf has a doctors appointment and requests an interpreter and the doctor says no (we’ll just write back and forth… it’ll be fine I do it with all my hearing impaired patient’s) the Deaf person will currently lose if they sue, because the law does not give them any authority to choose their own auxiliary aid and does not afford a right to an interpreter, only effective communtation (I know you only communicate in ASL and writing has never been effective to you at any time… but who knows this time it just might work!) So the “Futile Gesture” doctorine is all but unavalible to persons who are Deaf (yes, the irony of something called the futile “gesture” doctorine being unavalible to people who are Deaf has not escaped me!)  So, the patient who is Deaf must actually go the appointment and have communication fail.  Once that is done the person who is Deaf must, of course, request an interpreter again. If the Doctor refuses… NOW the Deaf person can sue.

If the HR 620 becomes law, the Deaf patient can write a letter to tell the Doctor the exact section of the law the doctor violated and then wait four months to see if the Doctor will or will not provide the interpreter before they can sue.  That is just as good as taking the razor thin protection the ADA somewhat affords currently and trashing it.

Please write your representative in Congress to say NO to both the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017, H.R. 620, and the ADA Lawsuit Clarification Act of 2017, H.R. 1493! Look here to download a template letter from NAD (make the changes necessary if you are an interpreter so it matches your role and you can find your Representativehere.

Do it today!

HOWARD: Hi! Some of you may have noticed the trending hashtag: #protectADA. You may wonder why the ADA needs protection. That’s right, right now, there is a threat to the ADA. Some of you may remember my AHA video last September about a House bill, the ADA Education and Reform Act, with a different bill number because it was submitted during the previous Congress term – and it failed, luckily. However, the bill has returned with the same language with a new bill number in this new Congress term. Another Representative submitted a second bill on the same issue. The ADA Education and Reform Act’s new bill number is H.R. 620. The other bill uses similar language and is known as the ADA Lawsuit Clarification Act, H.R. 1493. Both bills are similar to each other and to last year’s failed bill. These bills ask that a deaf person or a person with a disability who experiences lack of access to a business, restaurant, hospital, and other places cannot file a complaint or lawsuit right away. They must first send a letter about the lack of access to the business. The person must send the letter and wait for accommodations and changes to be made. Then if there are no accommodations or changes made the second time, the person has the right to file a complaint or sue. This does not make sense because the ADA was passed in 1990, 27 years ago, and everyone should already know how to follow the ADA after so many years. The bill failed last year yet people are trying this again. We must stop them by letting them know these two bills are not okay. Whether you send via letter, email, fax, or social media – use the template we provide and send that to your Representative. The new template is modified from last year for you to use for the two new proposed bills. Download the template, add your name and edit the text with your information, and send! We need your help to ensure these bills will fail. Congress must know why the ADA is important to us and to protect our rights. #protectADA. Thank you.

Video fades to a soft white background with several different font types showing “NAD” very quickly. Copyright video ends with the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) logo centered. Blue text below the logo appears, “A production of the National Association of the Deaf (copyright) 2017 All Rights Reserved”.