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Interpreting in VR Settings: Faces of Deaf Consumers
An infusion module for Interpreter Education Programs
The Deaf Consumer
When encountering Deaf individuals who are VR consumers, it will be helpful to think of each individuals as unique in terms of their identity, communication styles, educational background and unique characteristics. This unit addresses these topics.
The following resources can contribute to a more nuanced understanding of the consumers interpreters work with in vocational rehabilitation settings.
This topic consists of a discussion about person-centered vs. system-centered approaches. A video lecture by Thomas Holcomb on Bicultural Identity Development is provided along with a reading citation. A PowerPoint presentation, Consumer Assessment Identifying Language, Culture and Communication Style, designed by Jim Lipsky of Northeastern University discusses variables to consider when assessing language use of Deaf consumers (VR and non-VR). The final section of this topic includes information from the report from the Study Group on “Serving Individuals who are Low-Functioning Deaf”.
In Search of the Right Words
As you approach your learning about the diversity of the Deaf community and the implications for work as an interpreter in vocational rehabilitation settings, it is important to first acknowledge the limits of language. In this unit, you will be introduced to some terms that have negative connotations, such as “low functioning deaf” and “minimal language skills.” These labels attempt to identify particular challenges that people may have in communicating.
Other people, such as Roger Williams at the National Symposium on Healthcare Interpreting in July 2012, use terms such as “dysfluency” to describe these concepts. Others suggest using the phrase, “working with people who have multiple barriers.” Other terms that you may encounter include alingual to describe someone who has never been exposed to a natural language or semi-lingual for those who may have some signs but expression remains limited.
Throughout this module, we refer often to the Report on Serving Individuals who are Low-Functioning Deaf-the 25th Institute on Rehabilitation Issues as it provides depth and breadth on the topic of serving Deaf individuals with unique needs. We seek to use the terms dysfluent, alingual, semi-lingual rather than “low-functioning deaf”. Yet our reliance on this source text means that the term will appear regularly as well.
This module will not solve this issue, but wants to begin by acknowledging that it is still an open question of what language is most respectful for talking about hits topic. And so in beginning, we quote from the Report on Serving Individuals who are Low-Functioning Deaf- the 25th Institute on Rehabilitation Issues. Published in 1999, this report addressed this issue then. While years have gone by and new terms have been introduced, it is important to know this concern still needs to be addressed.
Note on Terminology
The term “low-functioning deaf” has been used since the late 1970s to describe the group of individuals to be discussed in this report. This term was used by the Commission on Education of the Deaf (COED), by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), by Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), and in legislation passed by the United States Congress. This term is used in this report to achieve consistency in terminology and is not intended to perpetuate a negative “label” for persons with a disability. When this term is used, the authors are referring to persons who are diagnosed as deaf or having a hearing loss through clinical assessment and who require adapted communication in their everyday lives. The authors of this report acknowledge that the field must develop more person-centered language to describe this group of deaf and hard-of hearing persons. This challenge, however, is beyond the scope and purpose of this document. The authors, therefore, agreed to use the terms “persons who are identified as LFD” or “individuals who are LFD” as the preferred references in this publication (Report on Serving Individuals Who are Low-Functioning Deaf).
So, as you begin your journey exploring the diversity of the Deaf community, know that as a profession we still are looking for the right words to describe the joys and challenges that are to be found.
An Overview of Deaf Education:
Any student who has had Deaf History or Deaf Culture courses should be familiar with this topic. However, it is useful to review the history and approaches used in Deaf Education while considering the diversity of Deaf VR consumers. This can illustrate for students the myriad backgrounds of VR consumers.
This presentation provides a brief overview discussion about Deaf Education. The lecture is approximately 17 minutes long and is provided in ASL. Clicking on the link will take you to a new page.
To access the lecture directly on the YouTube page, click on the link below:
Presumably, all students taking this module have already completed a Deaf History and/or Deaf Culture course. If so, this information will provide a brief overview. If, however, students have not had this exposure, this content will provide a primer into the complex options found in Deaf Education. It should be sufficient for the purposes of this module. Students are encouraged to approach their instructors to discuss other opportunities to learn more about this topic.
This discussion will focus on Deaf Education in the United States. Occasionally you will encounter Deaf individuals in VR settings who are immigrants. The availability and quality of Deaf Education differs from country to country. Developed countries often have advanced approaches that include oral and the use of signed language in the classroom. Developing countries may have only one option or, sadly, no formal educational options for deaf children. Consider this factor when encountering a Deaf individual who is from another country.
In the United States, Deaf Education can be traced to the founding of the American School for the Deaf in 1817 in Hartford, CT. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet sought out best practices in Deaf Education in Europe and found a model program in Paris, France. There he met Laurent Clerc, a Deaf educator, who agreed to accompany him to the US. Together they launched the development of multiple schools for the deaf through alumni from ASD.
In 1864, Abraham Lincoln, signed the documents establishing what is now known as Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. It remains the only liberal arts college for the Deaf in the world. Though a remarkable breakthrough in itself, it should be noted that Deaf individuals were not eligible to earn graduate degrees from Gallaudet until well into the 20th century.
While educational approaches using signed language in the US proliferated, things were different in Europe. A widespread movement that emphasized aural/oral approaches to education known as the Oral Method dominated Europe. In 1880, an international conference on Deaf Education in Milan, Italy declared that the Oral Method was preferred. Subsequently, the use of signed language for instruction diminished, not just in Europe but in the US as well.
In the US, Deaf Education was characterized by state residential schools for the Deaf where the oral method was used in the classroom and signing was permitted in residential settings. It should also be noted that there was a significant commitment by the Catholic Church to provide Deaf Education in the past. A few Catholic Schools remain, such as St. Rita’s School for the Deaf in Cincinnati, OH.
This approach persisted until the 1970s when two factors coincided to have a marked impact on Deaf Education. The first development was a tentative step to bridge the differences between the Oral Method and the use of signed language in the classroom. It should be noted that this does not mean that American Sign Language was found in the classroom but sign systems based on English. This hybrid was known as Total Communication. It caught on fairly quickly and involved the manually coding of English while speaking. It is still found in many settings.
The other development was passage of the Education of All Handicapped Children Act (PL94-142) that was landmark legislation. This law is now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Until this time, Deaf children and children who were blind had educational opportunities described above, mainly state residential schools. Children with other disabilities were often denied educational opportunities. Passage of 94-142 required that all children receive a free and appropriate education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE). This law turned Deaf Education on its head.
Many school districts interpreted the LRE to be the local public school. This placement may have been appropriate for children who could speak and hear their peers but for deaf children, the local public school setting was perhaps the most restrictive setting due to an inability to interact with peers and teachers. As large numbers of deaf children were moved into neighborhood schools from residential schools, the need for educational interpreters rose dramatically. So did the variety of educational settings.
Today there are a variety of settings where a deaf child may be educated. Those settings include: residential schools for the Deaf, Oral residential schools for the deaf (there are very few), Day Schools with only Deaf students which are mainly found in urban areas, and mainstream programs. Mainstream programs fall into two broad categories. Inclusion programs tend to include one or few deaf students directly into the classroom for all academic and non-academic subjects. Mainstream programs tend to include larger populations of Deaf students who may be integrated into classrooms for academics but more likely are taught academic subjects in a self-contained classroom with a Deaf Educator and mainstreamed into non-academic subjects. Mainstream programs rely on interpreters.
Federal law, IDEA, clearly states that a variety of communication methods must be available to suit the needs of deaf children. Commonly, the following communication approaches can be found in Deaf Education: the Oral Method which relies on residual hearing through natural hearing ability, hearing aids or cochlear implants and lipreading; Cued Speech which depicts sounds and speech patterns with manual cues; Manual Codes for English (MCE) which depicts English manually through contrived codes intended to display English manually including Signed English, Signing Exact English and others; and, MCE combined with speech which is the continuation of the Total Communication method initiated in the 1970s. It is reported that 67% of students in Deaf Education are in programs that use this approach.
In addition to Manually Coded English, another approach to Deaf Education must be noted here. The Bilingual/Bicultural approach to Deaf Education employs American Sign Language as the language of instruction in the classroom. Using ASL allows Deaf children to be exposed to a natural, visual language. English instruction is achieved through the approach of teaching the reading and writing of English as a second language. The Bi-Bi approach is found, generally, in schools for the Deaf as opposed to mainstream programs where, generally, Total Communication approaches are more prevalent. It should be noted that the Bi-Bi approach is available in some but not all schools for the Deaf.
VR: Faces of Deaf Consumers
The Deaf people that interpreters may encounter within vocational rehabilitation settings are incredibly diverse. In order to effectively provide interpreting services, an interpreter needs to be able to assess the social and linguistic fluency and interpreting needs of consumers. The following information provides some frameworks for considering this assessment with the Deaf consumer in mind. Of course, since interpretation occurs between two individuals, the hearing consumer must also be considered. However, given the focus of this module we will consider the Deaf consumer in this discussion.
To begin, it is important to recognize the balancing act of analyzing a person’s linguistic and social interactions in order to be able to more effectively work with that person – without falling into the trap of labeling and categorizing someone in a way that limits being able to actually see what they can do. We must recognize that we interact with individuals, not categories, even though people connected to a certain group or experience may give us helpful insight into the individual.
In the Report on Serving Individuals Who are Low-Functioning Deaf this distinction is described as the difference between a person-centered and system-centered approach.
Table 2.1—Person-Centered Versus System-Centered Approach (p.20)
|Values individuals||Focuses on Labels|
|Identifies capacity and gifts||Identifies deficits|
|Knows the person||Emphasizes standardization|
|Builds on the knowledge from the person||Depends on professionals and reports from family and those who know the person best|
|Sees the person as part of a community||Sees the person as part of a system|
|Brings people together||Separates by emphasizing differences|
So, in using the information presented here to assess a consumer, it is important to maintain a person-centered approach as much as possibility to not limit what we actually see and understand as interpreters about the potential and abilities of the people with whom we work.
Identity Categories in the Deaf Community:
Thomas K. Holcomb has provided a framework for understanding how a deaf person develops his or her cultural identity. He has identified seven identity categories:
- Balanced Bicultural
- deaf-dominant bicultural
- hearing-dominant bicultural
- culturally isolated
- culturally separate
- culturally marginal
- culturally captive
Dr. Holcomb has provided us with a Terp Talk on this topic. Please watch his Talk below.
Use this link to access the Talk directly on YouTube:
Holcomb, T. K. (1997). Development of deaf bicultural identity. American Annals of the Deaf, 142(2), 72-79. Retrieved from http://gupress.gallaudet.edu/annals/97volume.htm
- Prepare a journal reflection on the Holcomb reading and/or lecture.
- After reading the article and/or viewing the lecture by Dr. Holcomb, prepare a summary of the identity categories described. In this summary identify some hypothetical interpreting needs that may arise when working with such individuals in a meeting with a VR counselor.
Communication Styles in the Deaf Community:
Jim Lipsky, a lecturer at Northeastern University, in a presentation prepared for the Deaf Interpreter workgroup of the NCIEC, identified different categories of identity and communication styles found within the Deaf community – and thus with people who might be interacting with the vocational rehabilitation system. Please view the presentation slides for more information.
- ASL monolinguals
- ASL dominant bilinguals
- Balanced bilinguals
- English dominant bilinguals
- English monolinguals
- Home Signs
(Mr. Lipsky’s presentation refers to specific topics such as Development of Deaf Bicultural Identity (Cultural Identities) by Thomas K. Holcomb, Inside the Deaf Community (Communication Styles in the Deaf Community) was written by Barbara Kannapell, and Characteristics of Oppressed and Oppressor People: their Effect on the Interpreting Context on Interpreting (Oppression) by Charlotte Baker-Shenk.)
The article “Inside the Deaf Community”, by Barbara Kannapell, is available in the resources section and is reprinted with permission.
Here’s the full citation for the article on oppression:
Baker-Shenk, Charlotte. (1986). Characteristics of Oppressed and Oppressor Peoples: Their Effect on the Interpreting Context. In M. McIntire (Ed.), Interpreting: The Art of Cross-Cultural Mediation. Proceedings of the Ninth National Convention of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, pp. 43-53. Alexandria, VA: RID Publications.
- After viewing the Consumer Assessment PPT and reading the Kannapell article, create a table that lists communication styles in the Deaf community. Include topics in the table such as “written materials”, “consecutive interpretation”, “hearing interpreter team” or “Deaf Interpreter Team”. In a hypothetical meeting between a VR counselor who can hear and a Deaf person using this style, consider if each topic would assist or interfere within an interpreted interaction.What experience, if any, have you had with Deaf people who utilize some of the different communication styles identified in the Consumer Assessment PPT? Choose one communication style you have encountered and discuss strategies you could employ to communicate effectively.
“Deaf Plus” is an emerging term that refers to deaf individuals who may have a disability or other factor that may affect their communication needs. The NIEC Deaf Interpreter/Hearing Interpreter Teams* module includes some information about the characteristics of individuals who may be seen as “Deaf Plus”. The content below comes from that module:
“Deaf Plus-cognitive or physical disabilities: This category of possible consumers would include any Deaf or Hard of Hearing persons who have disabilities that impact their language expression or comprehension such as autism or Downs Syndrome. This category would also include individuals with conditions such as Cerebral Palsy or Muscular Dystrophy, which may impact their ability to produce signs and may therefore necessitate the inclusion of a Deaf Interpreter on the interpreting Team.
Certain mental illnesses may impact a Deaf persons ability to produce and comprehend typical ASL and would benefit from the inclusion of a DI/HI team. An example of this would be a Deaf person who experiences hallucinations. There may be very subtle language cues and changes that indicate whether the deaf consumer is signing to his/her hallucinations or directly to the addressee. This distinction is critical as a misinterpretation and may lead to a lead to a misdiagnosis.
In addition, people whom are Deaf-Blind have unique interpreting needs. The NIEC has developed another module, Introduction to Deaf-Blind Interpreting that is available free-of-charge. For more information, contact Trudy Schafer at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) has prepared a Standard Practice Paper on this topic and is available as a resource in this module.
Another category of Deaf individuals with unique communication needs is those who are foreign-born. Again, the DI/HI Teams module provides a definition of this group that is also referred to in the Consumer Assessment Presentation by Jim Lipsky.
The DI/HI teams module describes this group as follows:
“Some Deaf people have immigrated to the US from foreign countries and therefore may have a fluent and native sign language other than ASL as their native language. These potential consumers could be in the process of acquiring ASL or they may have no foundation in sign language whatsoever.”
*The National Interpreter Education Center commissioned a module similar to this one on the topic of Deaf Interpreter/Hearing Interpreter Teams. It is available to interpreter educators, free of charge. For more information, contact Trudy Schafer at email@example.com
- Prepare a one-page written response to this prompt:Not all VR consumers will fall into the category of Deaf Plus, alingual, semi-lingual or LFD as described above. If, however, you are asked to interpret a meeting between a VR counselor who can hear and a Deaf person who does display some of these characteristics, what strategies can you employ to provide a successful interpreting experience?
Characteristics of the Population:
Other people who have studied working with deaf individuals within the VR system have identified some potential common characteristics. The following information comes from a Report on Serving Individuals Who are Low-Functioning Deaf – the 25th Institute on Rehabilitation Issues pp. 2-3.
People who are deaf who are eventually determined to be “low functioning” are identified as such because of a diagnosed secondary disability or because of problems in behavior, academic achievement, language use, development of independent living skills, employment, or some other major life functioning with no known etiology. For some persons who are LFD, identification is based on standard assessment methods, which will diagnose a second disability, such as blindness, developmental disability, or other condition. For others, who have experienced some form of language, social, or educational deprivation, the identification may be based upon performance measures.
Since assessment involves a combination of standard tests and functional assessment and we do not have any standardized assessment methods to determine if a person is LFD, the risk is that service personnel without the necessary communication skills or credentials to make a differential diagnosis will misidentify a person who is deaf as a person who is LFD. The interactive effect of communication and performance on standardized tests of achievement must be taken into consideration at each phase of identification. The language limitations of the individual completing the assessment (English vs. American Sign Language [ASL] or other language) must not be confused with the language limitation of the individual who is deaf or hard of hearing (ASL or other language vs. English).
RSA research and demonstration projects over the past several decades (1963-1998) have agreed on six characteristics that seem to describe persons who are LFD (Hurwitz, 1989; Watson, 1997; Watson, 1998a; and Watson, 1998b):
- Inadequate communication skills due to inadequate education and limited family support. Presenting poor skills in interpersonal and social communication interactions, many of these individuals experience difficulty expressing themselves and understanding others, whether through sign language, speech and speech reading, or reading and writing.
- Vocational deficiencies due to inadequate educational training experiences during the developmental years and changes in personal and work situations during adulthood. Presenting an underdeveloped image of self as a worker, many exhibit a lack of basic work attitudes and work habits as well as a lack of job skills and/or work goals.
- Deficiencies in behavioral, emotional, and social adjustment. Presenting a poorly developed sense of autonomy, many exhibit low self-esteem, have a low frustration tolerance, and have problems of impulse control that may lead to mistrust of others and pose a danger to self and others. Because they experience difficulty in normal social interactions, many are avoided or rejected either because of socially unacceptable behaviors or because of societal attitudes and discriminatory actions toward them.
- Independent living skills deficiencies. Many of these individuals experience difficulty living independently, lack basic money management skills, lack personal hygiene skills, cannot manage use of free time, do not know how to access health care or maintain proper nutrition, and have poor parenting skills.
- Educational and transitional deficiencies. Most read at or below a fourth-grade level and have been poorly served by the educational system, are frequently misdiagnosed and misplaced, lack a supportive home environment, are often discouraged in school and drop out, and are not prepared for post-school life and work. Approximately 60% of the high school leavers who are deaf cannot read at the fourth-grade level.
- Health, mental, and physical limitations. Many have no secondary physical disabilities, but a large number have two, three, and sometimes more disabilities in addition to that of deafness. In fact, 30% of high school leavers who are deaf had an educationally significant additional disability. These secondary disabilities range from organic brain dysfunction to visual defects. These problems are further compounded in many instances by a lack of knowledge on how to access health care and/or self-care.
Prepare a one-page written response to this prompt:
Not all VR consumers will fall into the category of Deaf Plus or LFD as described above. If, however, you are asked to interpret a meeting between a VR counselor who can hear and a Deaf person who does display some of these characteristics, what strategies can you employ to provide a successful interpreting experience?
PPT for Overview of Deaf Education
Presentation on Communication Styles in the Deaf Community
“Serving Individuals Who are Low-Functioning Deaf” Report
Deaf-Blind Standard Practice Paper from RID
“Inside the Deaf Community” by Barbara Kannapel
“Characteristics of Oppressed and Oppressor Peoples: Their effect on the interpreting context” by Charlotte Baker-Shenk
Copyright © 2013-2016 by the National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers (NCIEC).
This NCIEC product was developed by the National Interpreter Education Center (NIEC) at Northeastern University. Permission is granted to copy and disseminate these materials, in whole or in part, for educational, non-commercial purposes, provided that NCIEC is credited as the source and referenced appropriately on any such copies.