Part of the Solution

Could Unionizing Be Good for Sign Language Interpreting?

stephanie jo kent
Jul 5 · 2 min read

First of all, just to establish context: we don’t know if unionizing would be good, and if so, in what ways.

There are some basic questions to explore:

  1. Historically, what is the experience of Deaf people in Unions? Were they discriminated against due to audism and pathological perspectives or did Unions protect large amounts of the Deaf working classes? Can we learn from that history and do better?
  2. In the present day, does it serve the big social justice issues of our times for interpreters to ignore the powerful leverage of our role in intercultural communication or is it time that we became serious players in the world unfolding all around us? If we want to ‘walk the talk’ of social change premised on social justice, how do we really do this?
  3. Would we unionize in order to do collective bargaining or would we unionize in order to influence the direction of the profession? Perhaps both, perhaps only the latter.
ASL interpretation paid for by the Learning Lab for Resiliency®

The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) has over 15,000 members. The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) has organizational affiliations with more than 50 other organizations serving the civil rights of Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals in the United States. Beyond the membership of these two pillar organizations for the field of professional community interpreting in the US, there are many, many more people effected every day by the need to communicate effectively with others who use and think best in a different language. To start the exploratory study process, there must be 7–12 people willing to engage the above questions and think seriously together. We also need a much broader conversation within the field. If you have questions, or want to help find the answers or even make decisions, please click through on this link and complete the brief form.

Seriously considering the prospect of unionizing presents us, potentially, with a chance to leapfrog forward in an evolutionary way. That is, to change the balance of power and privilege from the lopsided version we have now to one that is truly more level and equitable. Interpreters live, work and breath in human intersections of language, culture and social interaction — we could be powerful instruments for others to exercise empowerment if we had the kind of structural support that a union might provide. Any change means risk, so another function of the Organizing Committee is to identify actual risks, weed out exaggerated fears, and compare and contrast the risks of change with the risks of maintaining the current systems.

Find out more: Organizing Interpreters.

Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc

National Association of the Deaf, Inc

stephanie jo kent

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exploring the resilience factor in human systems