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Ethics & Role:

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RID 2003 Conference Journal

by Damon Timm

August 27, 2003

View the text with images and in article-like formatting: PDF version (1.1 mb).


I woke up and was at the airport by 5:30a, happy to find a few familiar, if not all together exhausted, faces that I could smile at without fear of retaliation or strip search. I sat near a group of interpreters and prepared myself for dealing with the fact that very soon I would have to accept that I didn't already know everything there was to know about interpreting. Now: this isn't to say that I have ever thought for even a moment that I did not, do not, or will not have an insurmountable distance to travel in my journey as an interpreter. This isn't to say I thought my work was as good as it needed to be or ญญ- that - it could not get any better. No! I am well aware that I must take great strides to even sleep well at night knowing I didn't ruin yet another life. But I know this already! I don't need a conference to tell me what I already knew!

After a bit of a plane and train ride I made it to The Sheraton Towers Hotel. The Sheraton is larger than most hotels in New Hampshire; in fact, most hotels in New Hampshire could find a comfortable room at the Sheraton during a trip to Chicago. Entering the building -- trying to avoid a neck cramp from looking up -- I set about the task of finding where it was I had to "register". So: I followed the "registration" signs up an escalator and around to another large lobby-like-hallway (they were prevalent) to a desk marked "registration". I waited in line for three and a half hours (read: six minutes). When my turn in the queue came, however, I was told that I had been waiting in the line for people "registering" and that I had to go somewhere else to "register". As I left, a staff member arrived and told the gentleman behind the counter that there was some confusion about where to register. I agreed.


I went to a lot of workshop, as one can see from my "conference log". I sat through the first one in the kind of daze that you can only get from traveling over one thousand miles in a single morning. The "To Quote or No to Quote" workshop touched upon, in many different ways, a very unique idea: sign as a native signer would and speak as a native speaker would. While interpreting (and I am as guilty, I imagine, as we all are) the whole process seems to fluster us and we end up speaking as a person would sign and signing as a person would speak.

Sitting in the front row (where I always sat) I realized a few things: first, that a four-year Interpreter Training Program is wonderful at preparing one for most everything covered in a workshop; and second, that there are a plethora of insecure sign language interpreters in the world. As to the latter, I am not sure what it is that makes many interpreters so very unsure about their work, but I couldn't help thinking that many of these people were afraid of being caught by (as Jeffery Kirkwood called it) the RID Police and thrown in jail for not performing a perfect interpretation. Which is a ridiculous notion, for such a thing cannot exist. And if it did, and the RID Police were there to enforce such perfection, we would all, indubitably, be serving life sentences.

Between the mental health and recovery related workshops I gleaned that the following texts may be beneficial (or are at least recommended): "DSM IV", "Physicians Desk Reference", "Deaf & Sober" (from NAD), and "The Big Book". The latter two seem better suited for casual reading, because the DSM and the PDR seem about as much fun to browse as a dictionary. I was struck, in these workshops, by how critical the role of the interpreter is and just how much an influence we have on diagnoses and treatment. There were no specific answers or pointers or tips; it isn't something you can read about and apply. Knowing the material is helpful and remembering (especially in the case of mental health interpreting) that it is really, really, really, hard under even the best of circumstances and the best advice I can give is: "don't do it if you can't." (I also learned that a workshop housing hundreds of participants is not a place to voice individualized problems or raise specific situational concerns because no one wants to hear it - or maybe that was just me.)

The Repetitive Stress Injury workshop with Ruth Aleskovsky was awesome; I hope to have her come to NH and present a workshop on RSI for all of us who interpret too often, too much, and too long. We have to take care of ourselves, and she is a wonderful catalyst for the change needed to do so.

Finally: to answer the burning question that everyone has regarding Anna Witter-Merithew and Lynda Remmel's workshop: "Message Coherence: The Role of Prosody, Reference and Deixis in Interpretations". Deixis is pronounced: "dike-sis." That was, anyhow, my burning curiosity. Merithew's workshop on "Police Interrogations" was also very interesting if not, also, complicated. It is important to understand, she points out, that a police interrogation is probably one of the few situations in which we could interpret that the two parties involved may have very different desires as to the outcome of the investigation. Typically, we are in situations in which both parties are in congruence with desired outcomes: education, hiring a new employee, finding a job, etc. With the police, one party wants to nab a guilty perp; the other wants to prove their innocence. I had never thought of it this way.


I had to be convinced not to bail on the Region I Caucus Monday night and, in retrospect, I'm glad that I didn't. Two things convinced me to stay: one, a good friend said she would no longer continue to be my friend if I didn't go; and two, I realized that if I was going to crash any special functions as an NHRID Board Member, I should at least be familiar enough to the members to get myself through security.

The Caucus was, actually, very interesting (if not a little drawn out). Listening to reports containing a detail or two too many about states I haven't heard of can only be tolerated for so long. My report, of course, contained zero details because I didn't have any. I considered making up details, since, I was the only person from the great state of New Hampshire present, but, instead, I attempted to make people laugh and, while I might not have been successful, I was, at least, pitied.

As for Region I news: apparently a location and date must be chosen for a Region I Conference or we will be severely punished. Of course, we didn't have any time to choose a date, because we were busy going through chapter details (the favorite of which was relayed by someone representing a board that did not, at that time, have any members), but we did agree that we ought to do that sometime.

Joanne, the Region I Rep, expressed an interest in coming to NH to meet our board and members; she was, by far, the nicest person I have ever met. She was the one who secured my trip to the presidential suite where I ate my first (and only) free meal of the trip. We got along smashingly.

The Business Meeting was also wonderful and amusing for many people who spoke became emotional and pro-this or con-that and used fancy parlimentarian language that they had just learned the day prior. Of importance: a time frame has been layed out requiring candidates for RID tests to have Associates degrees and then, four years later, Bachelor's degrees in order to be certified.


By Friday I had had enough of workshops, of learning, of expanding, of accepting, of anything to do with interpreters or interpreting. Most everyone else had reached their limits, as well, and half of the conference had left. Which was good, because I'm sure my impatience by this point would have shown in a glorious display of impoliteness that would have verily secured my place outside of any rooms providing free lunches at future conferences for the rest of my tenure.

Mr. Hoza's workshop was interesting and I was sad that more people couldn't have been there to have seen it. I found his research regarding the degrees of politeness (if you can call it that) displayed in facial markers of signers to be very valuable. Our lack of understanding of these markers, I believe, is the reason that Deaf people are misperceived as being "blunt" or "direct" or "impolite".

But most of the time throughout the workshop I tried not to think of my 8:30p flight that evening. As luck would have it: 8:30p ended up being 11p because of tornadoes (yes, tornadoes -- you may not be aware of the phenomenon out here in the East, but they are, supposedly, dangerous and are the cause of many hours I have spent in a dank, stinking cellar below my first home in Illinois).

On the flight home, sitting with Jen something-or-other (MassRID co-president, forgive me), I had a concluding thought: there is always more to be learned. Every day, every assignment, every interpreter, every Deaf person, every non-signing individual I meet offers me a chance to learn. And if I could impart one thing to you that I took away from the conference it is: always be learning. Be inspired to be a better interpreter and be confident that you are.

At 3:15a, on Sunday, August 3rd, I fell asleep.

Proper Citation of this Document

Timm, Damon. "RID 2003 Conference Journal." American Sign Language Interpreting Resources, 27 August 2003.