I am going to be a little silent for the next couple of weeks. I’m on the last stretch of my MSW degree and I’m overwhelmed by school, work, and my current internship.

Next time I write here, I will be done with school! WIsh me luck!

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One of my first placements as a grad student was at Housing Works. For those of you who live outside of New York, Housing Works is a great organization that provides a healing community for individuals living with HIV/AIDS. Housing Works provides a network of health, housing, and other supportive services for those who are cross marginalized by their status. This was one of my first experiences as an ASL interpreter and it definitely provided me with a lot of experiences to think about.

As an intern, I facilitated workshops and group counseling sessions. In addition to providing educational information on harm reduction and living with HIV/AIDS, I facilitated a space where clients could talk about their day to day issues and discuss job leads.

One of the first things I noticed about clients who needed ASL interpreting was their directness in approaching their issues. They would immediately jump into what they needed, whether it was help filling out forms or needing information about emergency housing. As a product of an American upbringing, I was more used to the warming up that comes from small talk. To the outside observer, this directness might seem rude, but this is just one of the many fascinating differences between ASL and English.  The sequencing of ASL (time-object-verb-adjective) leads to a directness that is not found in spoken English. As an interpreter, you need to be aware of this difference.  Mistaking it for rudeness can lead to misunderstandings and build an uncomfortable atmosphere between clinician and client.

I do admit that at the beginning, getting used to this cultural difference was a little difficult. In a way, it reminded of the cultural differences of my own upbringing. Language is a fascinating thing, isn’t it?

Unless you or your loved ones are part of the community, it is difficult for a hearing person to understand the issues that impact the members of the deaf community.  Conversely, Deaf individuals should also have awareness of the services available to them, specially in the New York City area.

I have compiled a list of links of websites that have helped me in my understanding of the Deaf community and have improved the services I provide to my clients.

Community

  • About.com:Deafness–This website is a great introduction for individuals who want to learn more about the Deaf community. It includes a lot of historical information on deafness along with articles on conditions that lead to deafness.
  • National Association for the Deaf–The NAD is the premier organization involved in protecting the rights of the American Deaf Community. Their site has a lot of great resources for advocacy in important areas such as employment discrimination and access to education.  It also includes a lot of information for learning, teaching, or interpreting ASL.

Deaf Individuals in NYC

  • Deaf and Hard of Hearing Interpreting Services–The DHIS is the leading interpreting agency in the NYC metro area. DHIS has a strong connection to the Deaf community and definitely understand that understanding an individual’s needs is essential in facilitating the communication process.  Just read their testimonial page. It speaks for itself.
  • DeafNYC–A great website for Deaf individuals living in NYC. Includes links to news, job opportunities, and workshops (for both members and interpreters). DeafNYC also focuses on the social aspect of Deaf culture and has tons of information on community events and entertainment.

When I first started learning American Sign Language at LaGuardia Community College, I thought my experience would be similar to that of someone acquiring a second (or third) language. As someone who has spent all their life navigating the world between Spanish and English, I thought picking up another language would be a cake walk. I was not aware of the challenges that come with learning ASL.

Learning ASL extends beyond learning grammar and syntax. Despite being the standard language for interpreting in North America, ASL grammar shares no similarities to English grammar. ASL does not use articles or tenses; it is a living, 3-D language. ASL depends on body movement such as pauses and head motions to control the flow of information.

My challenges in learning ASL were not just limited to understanding the concepts. From personal experience, I know that the best way to learn a language is by becoming immersed in it. As soon as I started to master basic concepts in ASL, I started to offer my interpreting services to the deaf community. I still remember the astonishment I felt at realizing I was the only hearing person in a room full of people. As I progressed in my acquisition of ASL, I learned that there was more to interpreting than just mastering skills. To become a mindful and understanding interpreter, I had to gain a greater understanding of Deaf culture and the Deaf community.

Learning and comprehending ASL was not easy, but it has been a very rewarding experience.