Note From Uncle Dale: Born With It!

Hello it’s Uncle Dale.

Hi.  I just guided a recently certified interpreter through a series of breathing exercises and made sure there were no sharp objects in the house.  She had just come face-to-face with one of the true boggarts of the interpreting world, and was having a hard time coping with the full reality of its exsistance.  I’ve been there.  Thus, I showed empathy and understanding, but most of all I think it helped that I confirmed that she was not out of her mind and that her frustrations were, in fact, valid.

She just had her first run in with an interpreter who is “Born With It.”

Ooooh think about it. You know at least one BWI, and on some level; gurrrrrrooohhhhwe hate them so!

Breathe CODAs, because I am not talking about CODAs (though many BWI’s are). I am talking about the interpreter that seems to come with that weird, “factory installed” blanket acceptance by the Deaf community.

Ok! The face that instantly popped into your head? Yeeeaaah, THAT ONE!

The BWI, is the interpreter for whom IT  DOES  NOT  MATTER  IN  THE  SLIGHTEST if they show up at an assignment 27 minutes late, naked, carrying a shotgun; not one Client will complain… or even blink an eye. NOT. ONE.

The BWI has some freakish magic shield that allows her to, with almost wild abandon, do stuff that would END your career or mine.

Case in point, years ago I teamed with a BWI who, I swear to you, when confronted with the word “bi-sexual” for the first time paused, kinda looked heavenward in an attitude of thoughtful contemplation, did not look at me to be fed-though I was ready to feed, and then signed with confidence,


I was… Stunned? Freaked? Ready to throw my body in front of him as a human shield?

BUT the row FULL of Deaf Activists just went:


Even now I close my eyes and imagine doing the same thing, and all I see is:

Ok! Full disclosure. I don’t know what I would have done if I was in BWI’s place. This was obviously a while ago (to say the least) and bi-sexuality had not been a common topic of public discussion at that point in the history of the profession; I know I had never had occasion to use it before.

While BWI was walking on stage I just happened to observe a discussion between attendees on the proper Sign for bi-sexual. So, truth be told, at the moment BWI might have needed it from me, I had that Sign in my toolbox for maybe 5-7 minutes; making me the expert on all Signs of the “Orientational variety.”

(What is the difference between a Professor and a student at a Community College? One chapter!)

BUT I HAD IT. I had the proper Sign, and he did… that! And… They were fine with it! WHY were they fine with it?

I didn’t want them to be fine with it!

But fine with it they were, because he was that lesser devil, a “Born With It!” (Ok. Not enough? Not convinced? So, one time I teamed with the same BWI and he showed up in a brown flannel shirt with head shaved, SHAVED! He did not do it on purpose, mind you-this was just a brown shirt “just shaved my head” period of his life- BUT, he stood on the stage just in time to interpret, “Welcome everyone to this celebration of the life of Martin Luther King JR…” in a brown shirt… with a shaved head… and no one, Deaf or hearing, winced or even seemed to notice; BWI).

Ok. I will admit, there may have been just the tensiest bit of professional jealousy (very professional, yes, but also quite a generous amount of jealousy in that mix) because… truth? He is a FANTASITC interpreter. To this day one of the best I’ve seen.  He is clear, fluid and comfortable to watch.  He has this cowboy charm, yeah, I know, weird right? Cowboy charm is not a discription you would normally associate with an interpreter-but, well… BWI!  Sigh. What I’m saying is BWI or not, you can’t help but love working with him.

Dang it.

Well, most of the time I love working with him. Except when his BWI powers blast out and scorch the earth around me… and when, that one time, I missed something, looked at him and all I got was a sparkly smile and two thumbs up-‘you’re doin’ great’-NO I’M NOT. THAT IS WHY I LOOKED AT YOU! He is not perfect-which is an oddly comforting and a little petty!

Now, (I looked at my former student) it is irritating enough when the BWI is fully competent and freakishly charming, but it’s much worse when you feel the BWI is objectively just… not… either of those things.  Like when the BWI uses weird handshapes or odd placements or their movement or rhythm is … URGH! Or they randomly initialize or flip back and forth between ASL and English or shoehorn in SEE articles or mouth everything in a wildly exaggerated way or omit like unbelieveable amounts of information! or YOU  KNOW  FOR! A!  FACT!  THEY  JUST MADE  THAT  SIGN  UP! it is NOT a real sign! It’s not! And they say “oh it’s regional” BUT ITS NOT! or “oh, well, I got it from one of the Clients and it’s the Sign they are all expecting me to use… BULL!!! ITS NOT! EVERYTHING THEY DO LOOKS LIKE AN INTERPRETIVE DANCE ABOUT CUED SPEECH WHILE ON FIRE! (Pant, Pant, pant, in through the nose and out through the mouth).

But, the Clients. The Clients j-j-just nod and smile and then ignore you when the appointment is over, but line up to pile “thank yous” on BWI!

My Mentee asked me if I was ok.


“Ok” she said, “what do I do about it?”



Did you see any violations of the CPC? I don’t just mean odd Sign choices. I mean violating the Clients’ confidentiality or suppressing the Clients’ right to speak or think or act for themselves?


Were the Clients’ happy, or at least satisfied with the work produced?

“They seemed to be.”

Anyone go to the morgue? Anyone go to jail?

“No, but…”

Stop. There is no “but” to this. You are a visitor in this world my friend. You don’t get to choose who the Deaf community likes or doesn’t like or accepts or doesn’t accept-anymore that you get to “fix” cultural rules you don’t understand. It’s not your culture, you don’t get any say at all. And if you say “that’s not fair” because you must suffer the smallest taste of the bitterness of not getting to have a say, or feel the slightest sting of the discomfort of having your views discounted-an insult that is served to your Clients in heaping amounts each and every day, just remember that they still get up everyday and navigate a world that is fundamentally unfair! I’m not talking about discrimination (we fight that!) I’m talking about a world geared toward sound as a value so that disparate access is woven into the very fabric of day-to-day life. I mean one thousand and one institutionalized, culturally embedded daily indignities that never can, nor ever will, change; it is unfair. Was. Will be. Forever. Amen.

So, this BWI is more beloved than you, but you don’t think he deserves it?

Thou art not yet as Job! 

You don’t get to choose who or what the Deaf community accepts or supports or even praises.

The world is full of BWIs. But it has just as many “Not Get Away With Its” who eventually get caught and crash and burn, as it has “Born With It’s” who are mysteriously successful.

You ready for the hard truth?


You aren’t either of them, I’m not either of them. We are working stiffs without magic or malice.  So you and I have to work twice as hard as the BWI to get half the professional respect. That sucks. It does.  But it’s worth it.  Because you get to do this every day, seriously what could be wrong with that?

I may never be known as “a natural.”  I may have to fall back on my charm, wit and my almost uncanny resemblance to Rutherford B. Hayes (you think I’m joking? I get stopped in the street!) but I am willing to ‘out practice’ and ‘out work’ the most natural of naturals and the most magic of magicals if it means they’ll pay me to do this.

So, suck it up. If I can do this -even with my hectic schedule full of requests to appear at events and sign autographs as Rutherford B. Hayes- you can do this too!  Keep working and developing and… if you see a “Born With It,” don’t let it get to you. Just put hot sauce in her Diet Coke.*

*A Uncle Dale is a comedy and satire blog, well it’s funny sometimes, and is not actually advocating the lacing of any person’s drink with ANY chemical substance at any time. Don’t actually do it. Please. Thank you. The Legal Team /rbh/.

Rule 145

Pay attention to signs on the door:

You walk into the hospital room just to tell the Client you’ve arrived, and the doctor walks in behind you – in full infection protocol.


(There was a sign. It was on the door. Read the signs on the door)