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“Deaf Centered Interpreting” webinar video

Video Description:

Tia Ivanko, a black, cis woman with long brown hair pulled to a side ponytail wears a teal dress shirt and coral colored glasses. She’s sitting in front of a black wall with geometric trim. She signs.


Hello, hello, hello, everyone. And welcome. We are ready to go ahead and begin the webinar. I am Tia Ivanko. I am one of the codirectors here at the National Deaf Center. My pronouns are she and her and hers.

My visual description, I am a Black woman, cisgender, femme, late 40s, brown hair pulled into a ponytail with a bit on the side. I have dangly earrings. And a pair of gold-rimmed glasses. My shirt is teal with sparkles/dots on them. My background is black with small strips of design.

In this webinar, we are thrilled to provide, in partnership with the Ohlone College Deaf Studies Division, it is focusing on deaf-centered interpreting. We want to welcome two amazing presenters today, Dr. Thomas King--

Thomas Holcomb.

--and Aundrea Love, Aundrea Love.

Video Description:

A slide appears titled “Land Acknowledgement.” The states of Texas and California are displayed. Under Texas, the tribe names Tonkawa, Lipan Apache, Coahuilitecan, Jumanos, and Tonkawa. Next to California, the tribe names Tamien Nation, Muwekma, and Ohlone. Text along the button of the slide sites the website these maps were taken from: “Tribal Land Map:”


Moving down, before we dive into our content today, we want to start with a land acknowledgment. We want to acknowledge that we live and work in unceded stolen land. Regardless of how our ancestors arrived here, we benefit from the colonialization and forced removal of Indigenous communities. And that will remove their suffering and their hard work to toil the land. Their experience in those communities must be honored.

So this slide shows the communities for both Texas and California that we inhabit and the proper name. These are the names identified with the Indigenous communities. Ohlone College is on Ohlone land in California. So that's-- Ohone, excuse me, land. So we want to honor those Indigenous places.

There are Indigenous lands throughout the US. So if you are interested, do please research the land that we've settled on so that you can find more about the communities and their contribution and proceed to honor those lands.

We suggest that you do this. It may not be 100% accurate. But if you notice any errors, you can let those know at to have any updates that's needed. Go ahead to the next slide.

Video Description:

The next slide appears, divided into halves. On the left, the text “Ohlone College, 50 Years of Deaf Pride.” Inside the five and zero, hands are drawn signing 5 and 0. The rest of the text is in hand-drawn cursive. Along the bottom in print are the years 1972-2022.

On the right, white text on a green background reads, “Ohlone College’s

50th Anniversary of Deaf Pride. WEBINARS ON:

Deaf Centered Approaches to Academic and Professional Success of Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing People. Deaf Centered Presenting (Feb. 15)

Deaf Centered Interpreting (March 16)

Deaf Centered Learning (April 21)

Deaf Centered Thriving (May 5)


So this is a wonderful opportunity for the college to celebrate their 50th anniversary of Deaf Pride and to partnership with the community. The college has a longstanding commitment to both education and serving deaf and hard-of-hearing people. This is just one of many events that will be taking place and celebrating that commitment and the achievement.

I'd like to go ahead and welcome Dr. Thomas Holcomb and Aundrea Love to share more about their celebration and the event for today. So please turn your cameras on to our presenters. Thank you both so much.

Video Description:

Tom Holcomb, a white man with grey hair and glasses, and Aundrea Love, a Black woman with horn rimmed glasses and black hair curled in a 1940s vintage style appear on screen with Tia.


Tom: Hi, Tia. Thanks so much for the warm welcome. Much appreciated.

Aundrea: Thank you. Thank you.

Tom: I'm Thomas K. Holcomb. I'm a professor at Ohlone College and have been for over 30 years now. Ohlone College has had a program serving the deaf and hard-of-hearing community for a very long time. It involves our Deaf Program, where classes are taught in ASL for deaf and hard-of-hearing students in a variety of areas. They may want to improve their competency in English or in math. We also have deaf culture and other deaf education classes as well, all presented in American Sign Language.

We also have our ASL and Deaf Studies Program. This is for people who are interested in learning how to sign and also to learn in more depth about deaf culture in the deaf community.

Thirdly, we have our deaf-centered interpreting preparation program which is for those individuals who would like to study interpreting in a deaf-centered way. Most of the teachers are deaf. And all of them present their classes in ASL.

We also have support staff for our deaf and hard-of-hearing students who are taking mainstream classes at a Ohlone College. We have interpreting services, note-taking services, tutoring services, the whole gamut.

Also, we have the Gallaudet University Western Regional Center housed at Ohlone College. They serve all of the western states here in the US. And they provide Gallaudet resources throughout the West.

So these are the large components that we have of our Deaf Studies Division at Ohlone College. And we are celebrating our 50th anniversary. In so doing, we've planned to host four webinars as part of our 50th anniversary celebration.

The first one was Deaf-Centered Presenting, which was held last month and cohosted with the Gallaudet University Western Regional Center. The idea is how a presenter who's presenting to a deaf audience can best accommodate the audience and get their message across in a deaf way. We have today's presentation, Deaf-Centered Interpreting, cohosted with the National Deaf Center.

And Deaf-Centered Learning will be cohosted with the CSD, California School for the Deaf, Fremont campus. The focus on that will be how to make learning more conducive to deaf students in the classroom by accommodating their learning styles.

The fourth will be Deaf-Centered Thriving, cohosted with the Bay Area Asian Deaf Association. This will deal with the mental and emotional health of deaf people. As we know, so many deaf and hard-of-hearing people struggle with mental health issues. In this webinar, we'll be focusing on how to support them into a life in which they can thrive.

They're all very exciting topics. And I'm so glad that you decided to join us today for ours. It's a thrill and an honor to have you all here with us so that we can share with you the work we've been doing. Aundrea?

Video Description:

A slide with teal designs with white text: Deaf Centered Interpreting: How did we get here? Aundrea signs.


Aundrea: OK, I'll go ahead and introduce myself before we get started. Hello, everyone. My name is Aundrea Love. I am a hearing-certified interpreter. I do currently work at the University of California, the Santa Barbara location. Prior to that, I had 23 years of working with Ohlone College.

Just to give a visual description, I'm a Black woman with black shoulder-length hair. I have silver and black glasses and a silver necklace. My background is a beige wall. The voice of the individual that you're currently hearing is a hearing interpreter by the name of Vernice Williams.

Tom: And to give a visual description of myself, I'm a white man in his early 60s. I have dirty blond hair that is rapidly graying. And I wear glasses. And also I'm wearing a blue shirt. The voice that you're hearing right now is interpreter by the name of Aaron Brace.

We should probably tell you a little bit about how we got to the point of presenting this material to you today. As Aundrea said, she worked at Ohlone College for a long time. And we have a great group of people there, with interpreters, faculty, staff. And we've been very much engaged in discussions of how to improve the interpreting field. So we each want to share with you how it is we got to this topic and to be here with you today. Let's start with Aundrea.

Video Description:

On the left of the new slide, the icon representing “interpreter” in ASL. On the right, a photo of Aundrea with the text “Aundrea’s Story.”


Aundrea: Thank you so much, Tom. I started at the age of seven where I was learning American Sign Language. I was completely fascinated with linguistics and language in general. But my primary focus was American Sign Language. I did go to a hearing school when I was in elementary, but I focused mainly on the deaf program.

For middle school, I was attending a public school. But once I graduated high school, I transferred over to Ohlone College. The purpose for that was that Ohlone had an extensive and robust interpretive preparation program I was eager to join.

And that is where I first met Dr. Thomas, who was my professor. He helped me throughout my interpreting preparation program. And then I went over to the state university.

Once I graduated with my bachelor's degree, I went into the communications field. I started working as a professional American Sign Language interpreter at age 19.

Tom: What at tender age.

Aundrea: Yeah, so very, very young. Yes. At 2017, I've been working with a very amount of students and as well partnering with faculty, staff, and the dean so that the district can become-- so I can be the district coordinator. That was my position at that time.

Since then, I loved my job. I loved working with different faculty members, professors, and other individuals within the field. Three months ago, I did, sadly, leave Ohlone College.

Tom: Very sadly.

I currently work for the University of California in Santa Barbara. I am a current staff interpreter there. And my role is to interpret for undergrad as well as grad students, just to help them obtain their degrees and their goals.

Video Description:

On the right of the new slide, the icon representing “interpreter” in ASL. On the left, a photo of Tom with the text “Tom’s Story.”

Tia appears on screen,


Tia: Hi. I'm sorry to interrupt. But we had a message come in from the audience.

So the audience has requested the interpreters be on camera so that they can see the interpreter at the same time as the presentation. Also, I'd like to recognize, it looks like the audience is struggling to view. So we want to make sure that everyone is looking at the presentation in gallery view so that you can see the slides, as well as the presenters at the same time. Thank you all for that.

Video Description: 

The interpreters, a black woman and white man, appear on screen with the presenters.


Tom: OK. We got the interpreters up. That's good. Let's proceed.

So we've learned a bit about Aundrea's unique journey, unique in many ways. I have my own unique journey to share with you. I started using interpreters at the age of eight. And this was back in 1968. Interpreting wasn't really available largely in public schools at that time. I was the first-- one of the first, at least, students to use interpreters in public education.

I later went to the School for the Deaf in Indiana. And then my family moved to California, where I went to the California School for the Deaf.

As we know, there was the rubella bubble in the '60s. There was a large number of deaf students and deaf children born. And then there was when they hit school age, there was a great need for interpreting services. For me in a hearing public school, getting my education through an interpreter was very challenging for me. But the interpreter was very supportive and helped me navigate the environment and, all in all, I would say, had a wonderful experience in that educational environment. And I'm very grateful to the interpreters that I had.

I had a very different experience in middle school because we switched-- I had to switch classes throughout the day, I had different teachers throughout the day, different interpreters throughout the day as well. And it was so disorienting that it made the experience really horrible. And I didn't want to continue. Frankly, I cried a lot.

My family moved again eastward. And I said, I don't want to go to a public school again because I don't want to start that process all over again. So I went to the School for the Deaf, the Model Secondary School for the Deaf, where communication was all in ASL. It was direct education. And I really enjoyed that.

I also wanted to go to University at Gallaudet for the same reason. And I did so. I graduated there and then got my job at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at the Rochester Institute of Technology. I pursued my MA and PhD in Rochester. Both programs were primarily hearing programs, where, again, I accessed the program through interpreting.

Sometimes I was the only deaf student. Sometimes I was fortunate to have a fellow student in the class with me. My experience was varied, but it was always challenging, always difficult to receive my education through interpreting.

Occasionally, though, I'd have a very good friend of mine there as my interpreter. And for some reason, I enjoyed that experience so much better. It made a world of difference. Partially it's because this person was my friend, they felt a little free with their understanding of professional interpreting. Other interpreters weren't, didn't have that flexibility that I really appreciated getting from my friend.

I've been a professor at different institutions of higher learning. Of course, that comes along with administrative responsibilities, attending meetings, always having an interpreter there. I couldn't zone out at these meetings because they affected my professional opportunities, my working towards tenure and everything. I would have an impact on people's understanding of my or, for better or for worse, they would interpret my intellectual ability based on the performance of the interpreters.

As I've had these experiences and I've talked with other deaf professionals who have had similar experiences, we tried to get at why it is that these environments have often felt hostile. It's not the interpreter's fault usually because the interpreters want to know what they can do better. But we haven't had answers for them.

The interpreters haven't been happy. They know that there's something missing. And they want to know how to do it better. All I can tell them is how good an experience I had when the interpreter was my friend at that previous job.

So these questions pop up regularly in my discussion with fellow deaf professionals and with interpreters. And what it has come down to is a need to reframe the work of interpreting. Ironically, interpreting can result in more obstacles than fewer. And that's led to the discussions I've had with Aundrea and our development of this webinar.

Video Description:

New slide with text: “Examining the role of interpreters in providing Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing people with optimal access.”  Three green squares under text , each square is numbered in white text from left to right 1, 2, 3. White text at bottom inside of squares: “Providing Access, Improving Quality, Increasing Engagement.”


And one thing I believe that's normally frustrating within the field is the interpreters continue to work rigorously. However, it seems like the deaf individual is disengaged. Obviously, there are gaps that need to be filled here. And we need to find an underlying reasoning behind this. The course of dialogue is very important.

When I was in Ohlone, Tom and myself had worked together to try to figure out where those gaps are and what are the underlying issues. But we are here for you to actually get a little piece of what we've been talking about.

The key theme here is providing optimal access. And we're going to discuss today what optimal might mean. The presence of an interpreter itself does not guarantee access, let alone optimal access. Even having very skilled, committed, credentialed interpreters who are active in the community won't guarantee optimal access. Even then, there's a missing piece of the puzzle.

The third level that we'd like to address is having deaf people feel truly engaged in interpreted environments. This has led us to consider a new model of interpreting.

Video Description:

New text on left half of slide: “The DEAM Approach, text below: (Deaf Dream Team).” Text on the right side of the slide: “With DEAM, the focus is on solutions that are Deaf-centerd, Deaf-friendly, and Deaf-focused.” Text in bold: “and at the same time.” Text not in bold: “are respectful and mindful of the challenges that come with the work of interpreters.”


It's represented by the acronym D-E-A-M, or DEAM, which is a portmanteau of Deaf Dream Team. It's an arrangement of interpreting services that is most conducive to deaf participation, deaf friendly, while at the same time recognizing and respecting the challenges that interpreters face in doing their job.

The goal is to have a model that provides a win-win situation so that interpreters can feel good about their work and deaf people can get the access that they desire. What do you think, Aundrea?

Definitely. With the introduction to DEAM approaches, my work has been transformed with a new renewed focus on commitment to make sure deaf people are supported appropriately. Tom and I have spent countless hours discussing, exploring, experimenting, and adjusting to various DEAM approaches and ideas.

And I can safely say, I feel that my work has since become more effective. I've observed how deaf students and professionals are empowered to be more engaged in the classroom and meetings because I've adjusted how I do my work. Yet the challenge remains that most deaf people are not aware of the alternatives to the best practices. Most interpreters I've worked with are not familiar with these alternatives as well. That's where the challenge lies.

That's absolutely true. Aundrea and other interpreters at the college where I've worked have asked me how they can improve. But I didn't have a model ready at hand to give them.

And it took some time. And it took the collaboration with interpreters, like Aundrea and others, who I've really appreciated working together, brainstorming what seems to work and what doesn't. People who are willing to think more carefully and more in-depth about the work. And it seems that has gotten all of us more invested in the interpreting process by hashing out what a DEAM approach really would look like.

Video Description:

Slide Text: “Shifting to Deaf Centered Interpreting Experiences.” One line below: “(DEAM)”. Text on right side of slide. “1. Applying the Designated Interpreter and CDI work. 2. Shifting from Hearing-centric approaches to Deaf-centric approaches. A. Spoken English Discourse structure vs. ASL Discourse structure.  B. Academic English vs. Academic ASL. 3. Optimal utilization of team interpreters. A. Interpreter centered vs. Deaf centered.”


There are many facets to the DEAM approach. Today we're going to focus on three components, the three that we feel might be the most impactful or the most meaningful for today's webinar. The first is applying concepts from the work of the designated interpreter and from CDIs. There's something about their work that is different from what most interpreters are able to provide. And we think that it's educational for us to look at their work and see how we might import some of the aspects of their work to the work of hearing interpreters in general.

Secondly, we want to talk about shifting from a hearing-centric approach to a deaf-centric approach and what that might look like, how it would impact on the work of the interpreter.

Thirdly, we'd like to discuss the optimal use of team interpreters. Interpreters often work in pairs or even in trios or more. And we want to see if we might be able to improve that work for the benefit of all. 

Video Description:

Text on left side of the slide: “Designated Interpreters.” Text on right side of slide: “A designated interpreter is an interpreter who works regularly with the same Deaf professional over a period of time.”


Relating to Tom's comment, after reviewing the designated interpreter model, it seems like their work has been to be with the deaf individual consistently for a long period of time. It's not a one-and-done assignment, but it is an ongoing assignment with their deaf individual.

Video Description:

Text on left side of the slide: “Designated Interpreters.” Text on right side of slide: “The designated interpreter model is one step toward creating an environment that is fully inclusive of deaf. Text in bold and all caps: “PROFESSIONAL”. Text not in bold: “to the benefit of the whole” Text in bold and all caps:  “INSTITUTION.”  Text not in bold” The designated interpreter model is one step toward creating an environment that is fully inclusive of deaf.” Text in bold and all caps: “STUDENT.” Text not in bold: ”to the benefit of the whole” Text in bold and all caps: “CLASSROOM.”


What that means is as a designated interpreter, we need to be familiar with the student and their progression, their style, and preferences, as well as the content that's being presented within the classroom, whether it's the topic or just how peers and cohorts tend to work with each other. So you set a rapport with your deaf participant or student. And that will grow over time. It's not just a one-and-done short situation.

For the designated interpreter model, that is just a first step to creating a conducive environment, but it's to make sure we include the deaf professionals and deaf students. Although this does benefit our client, it also benefits the entire classroom environment.

Historically, we've talked about designated interpreters as being appropriate in professional settings. But they're also appropriate in the classroom. Think about the benefits of a deaf student having the same interpreter throughout a 16-week course or throughout their entire program of study. The models that we've seen worthy of professionals, I think, should be considered in the classroom as well. Don't you agree, Aundrea?

I definitely concur. The reality is that if you're with a student for a whole semester, or maybe it can be the full year or maybe for a two-year program, but during that time, you should be able to know more of their preferences, their tendency, their style. That way, you can cater your work to fit your clients. And it's the same thing when we're working as a designated interpreter.

The challenge remains, though, that deaf students often don't know what to ask for, just like I didn't.


In the remainder of this webinar, we're going to talk about some possibilities for how the settings were interpreting is provided can be improved. When looking at the work of deaf interpreters, by that, in comparison with that of hearing interpreters, we do find some distinct differences. And they're differences in focus

Video Description:

Text on left side of the slide: “Applying the CDI/DI model.” Text on right side of slide: “Differing foci between Hearing Interpreters and Deaf Interpreters: 1. Message Equivalency, 2. Message Comprehension, 3. Access Equivalency.” Tom continues in ASL:


Hearing interpreters have primarily been trained to focus on message equivalency, meaning that what comes off their hands should be equivalent in meaning to the English that they heard. And vice versa if they're interpreting from ASL into English.

That is, almost to the exclusion of all other considerations, the focus of hearing interpreters. It doesn't really address whether this equivalent message is understood by the deaf person. Why is that, Aundrea? Why do you think? Why do you think that for so many interpreters, it seems to be carved in stone and it's a badge of honor that they achieve message equivalency at the expense of all else, even though the deaf person may appear to be disengaged?

To be 100% honest with you, it wasn't until our discussion that it came to my realization because now, as I continue to look back at my interpreter preparation program, it was pretty much drilled into us that message equivalency was the optimal goal, that what you hear is what you put out. What you see is what you voice at 100%.

But during our interpretation preparation program, they never once mentioned what the deaf individual's experience was. Can they actually comprehend the message? Or were we only focused on equivalency? That is the reason why I feel that DEAM is a mind set and to help me completely understand that, oh, it was definitely an aha moment for me.

I think part of it does come from the history of interpreter preparation. In the classroom, you do drills primarily in front of a computer screen, not a real deaf person. You don't have someone actually responding to your work. And so your focus is solely on your output without getting a sense of how it impacts the people who might be watching you.

Correct. There is no fact checking. There's no one that's-- it's just, we just continue on and continue to do drills and backchanneling without really trying to figure out if the deaf individual is comprehending our message. It's all about content and message equivalency. However, it is not really rooted on access and accessibility, just message equivalency.

Right. So a message equivalency is not to be minimized. It is an important consideration. But it's only part of the story.

The next part is whether the person watching you actually understands you. That's one thing that is paramount to the work of a CDI. They are there to make sure the deaf person understands everything, to expand on concepts when needed, to alter the pace of what's going on.

And also now there's a third component here, which I'd like to discuss, that being access equivalency, the ease with which a deaf participant feels they can participate in this otherwise hearing environment. What is it that interpreters can do differently in the classroom to make that experience optimal for the deaf participant, the deaf student, to know that they are getting an experience on par with that of their hearing peers? Because that's the goal, to give an equivalent experience more so than just message equivalency, more so than just delivering the words or the signs that are being expressed.

Deaf students want the same opportunities as their hearing peers to engage, to discuss, to learn. And to do that, they have to be able to process the information. And so what can we take from the work of CDIs to influence how hearing interpreters in general do their work on a daily basis? That leads us to the next point.

Video Description:

Toms turns if over to Aundrea. The slide title reads “Shifting from Hearing-centric approaches to

Deaf-centric approaches.” On the right of the slide, a bulleted list:
“What is a GOOD/RESPECTFUL listener/participant?

in Hearing space?

In Deaf space??

What is the FOCUS of interpreted work?

Message Equivalency vs.

Message Comprehension

English Discourse structure vs. ASL Discourse structure

Academic English vs. Academic ASL”


Thank you. So when deaf individuals are in a hearing space compared to a deaf space, Tom, would you mind explaining a little bit more how-- if you have a narrative about how they both can actually be separate?

Absolutely. This has been really fascinating to me, having had the experience I've had in the School for the Deaf and a mainstream program at Gallaudet, having taught classes for all deaf students and teaching mainstream classes. We see that the rules of engagement are very different. In hearing spaces, being polite and respectful means being passive, listening and taking copious notes.

Questions are held until the appropriate time. And you indicate your need for a question by raising your hand. It's a very particular way of attending and participating.

When you're in a deaf space, it's very different. It's much more engaged. People are much more engaged, more interactive. There's much more backchanneling. There's much more comprehension checking going on amongst the deaf audience. It's very different compared to that of a hearing space.

I look back on my days at Gallaudet. My major was psychology. There was one professor who was hearing who was very strict about talking in class, just to say conversing amongst ourselves in class, even though that's what came naturally to us to do our comprehension checks, as one does in a deaf space.

This was a hearing professor who was insisting on applying hearing norms in their classroom because they felt that by asking our fellow student if we understood correctly that we were impinging on that student's educational opportunity or ability to learn in the class. That, I feel, was misguided. This professor who was imposing hearing rules in what should have been a deaf space.

The deaf community is a collectivist community. Apparently in the hearing world, individualism rules the day. In the deaf community, we do comprehension checks with each other. Is this what you're understanding? No? Here's what I got. And we all benefit more as a result.

Let's see how that would apply to an interpreted situation. If I'm the only deaf person and there's just the one interpreter, how might we employ some of that?

Very true. Yes. So after interpreting many different settings, the deaf person is the only one there that should be included. What's interesting enough, what I've recognized, in deaf spaces compared to hearing spaces, there's more of a sense of politeness. And the air of respect is vastly different.

I've been lucky enough when I worked at Ohlone College, I've been with many different faculty members, staff members, just different baskets of people. And when we were involved in deaf spaces, I did see the main difference. And how I can actually work with my work, it seems like they're two different people.

When we're in a deaf-run meeting and everyone's discussing topics, et cetera, amongst themselves, I was able to see how amazing that they were able to converse with each other and still get the message across and have comprehension, especially Tom specifically. However, in hearing situations, I noticed Tom actually was a little set back.

And that was perplexed to me. I felt like he had just two personalities. As articulate and intelligent as it is in a deaf space, when he's in a hearing space, it's a completely different individual. And that is what I feel needs to change. A deaf individual should be able to be comfortable, no matter where they are.

Absolutely. Unfortunately, the norm is that deaf people just come to accept that in a hearing environment, they won't be engaged. Even with great interpreters, not deriding the interpreters, but interpreter working in a more traditional way, doing their best job, will still result in a stream of information that's not engaging to the deaf participant. And if I'm the only deaf person there, I'm not allowed to engage in my collectivist comprehension checks that would help. I just check out.

I told you that some of my friends, sometimes my interpretation was provided by a friend. And that was better for me because that friend allowed in that collectivist experience. I could react to something and ask them if that's what they understood. And they could react in kind. It was more interactive, even though the communication flow was still basically one direction. It made the space more like a deaf space.

My friend was able to use their understanding of deaf norms in a way that made me more engaged and help me to learn better. In discussion with Aundrea and others, we decided that we really need the interpreters to be accessible to us, to be present with us, to not just be in your process, but to understand that our learning process needs more of you. It's just we're not talking about adding information or anything along those lines, but making it more interactive. Would you agree, Aundrea?

Absolutely. And my experience working with faculty and staff members that definitely agree, they have to get involved with the deaf individual. Very similar to the designated interpreter model, you can't make it seem as if you can't be involved in the process. For everything to actually improve, it's important to allow deaf individuals to be involved in the space and the process. And that way, the other individuals can benefit from the wisdom of a deaf individual being involved. Overall, it's a beneficial experience for both parties.

So, as Aundrea and other interpreters that I've worked with, I feel like I'm part of the team. And that allows me to be part of the meetings or whatever other events I'm part of. Instead of feeling like I'm just there to be present while you hearing people conduct business, I'm part of it. And that works for me by my being part of the interpreting team as well.

We'd also like to turn to what the focus is of the interpreting work. We've talked about message equivalency. But we also need to talk about discourse structure. They're very different in English versus ASL.

I know that interpreters have a very difficult job. But often what happens is the interpretation results in signing that is still more along the lines of English discourse structure. And I'm basically screwed at that point because what I'm getting is still, even though it's ASL but the discourse structure is consistent with English, not with the way deaf people would convey the information. And it's left up to me to try to interpret that myself into ASL discourse structure.

I'd just like us to consider that when we're looking at the experience of deaf people in an otherwise hearing academic environment. Hearing academics speak a mile a minute. And their words are 10 feet long.

I empathize with interpreters trying to keep up with all that. But if that's what you're doing, is trying to keep up, the deaf person is going to give up. Or at least that's often what happens. It's just too much. It's an onslaught of signing.

Sometimes the professor will check in with the interpreter to see if they need to do anything differently. But it's a point of pride for many interpreters to say no, I can keep up. And keep up they do, signing very, very fast.

But what I get is basically a blur of hands. Maybe the signs are all correct, but they're coming at me so fast and furious that I'm not engaged. I don't actually register what's coming at me. So how can I then process it to then participate?

It is interpreting, the interpreting profession that has chosen that model of keeping up. Why don't we instead choose a model that incorporates academic ASL and ASL discourse structure that would require the interpreter to hear more, wait longer, and then generate a message that is in pace and discourse structure more consistent with ASL? And that will foster comprehension on the part of the deaf person. The deaf person will feel more engaged.

I know that interpreters worry about missing information if they do that. And I know that that's a big challenge. But let's say if the interpreter maybe misses 25% of the details that they would like to include, they feel bad about that. And they feel like they're doing a disservice to the deaf person.

But if you're signing 100% of the details at a pace that I can't follow, that I maybe get 50% or less of in the end, would you feel as bad then? Which is better, if I miss 25% or I miss 50%? Perhaps the interpreter letting go of that 25% will result in my comprehending more.

One way to address this would be to check in with the deaf person. Does the deaf person want to take responsibility for handling that rapid delivery of signing? Or do they want the interpreter to interpret in a way that is more consistent with ASL discourse structure?

And if you're able to discuss that openly with the deaf person, that empowers the deaf person to make the decision and I think will result in a more deaf-centric approach to interpreting. Aundrea, do you have some experiences to share with that?

I think your explanation is very similar to what we were discussing prior that really blew my mind. It was mind blowing for me. When you explained that content, it gave me more of a visualization of what your experience looks like. It gave me that empathy that I needed.

How do I go about tailoring my work so that I can actually match what you need? That way, we can have maximum capacity of comprehension and continue to apply it to my work moving forward with other students in the classroom to help them better understand and comprehend the content instead of trying so hard to just keep up.

If the interpreters continue this way, their deaf individuals will be disengaged. But if you take the time, they will respond. American Sign Language is more of a discourse. When the student has an opportunity to comprehend that discourse, then they have an opportunity to be more engaged. Instead of only suck on your pride to keep up, thinking you're doing the best job possible, it's important that you continue to match the profession as well as the student.

Again, we're talking about a hearing space where the interpreter can sort of create a deaf space between them and the deaf person. And you do that by allowing interaction. We know that that's not the way hearing spaces often conduct themselves. But when the interpreter is able to do that with me, I'm much more engaged in what's going on. And I do achieve closer to access equivalency.

If that's the goal we have, of giving deaf people an equivalent experience in a way that engages them rather than thinking of message equivalence, that will result in a better experience for everyone. And it takes everyone's involvement in the process.

That takes me to the next discussion for our webinar today. And that is how team interpreting works and what roles there are within team interpreting. I'll show you a slide. And then we will talk about this. We'll talk about whether the traditional way of team interpreting is deaf centered or not and how it actually may impair deaf people's access. Aundrea?

Video Description:

The new slide has the title, “Optimal use of team interpreters” followed by the bulleted list:

“What is the PURPOSE of the rotation/switches?

Breaks for interpreters?

Impact on Deaf participants  

Who is the PRIMARY target for the feed?

Working Interpreter?

         Deaf person?”


Tom: Aundrea?

Aundrea: So our Interpreter Preparation Program has always taught us that they have to be intentional reasoning for your switches. As an interpreter, we typically switch every 20 minutes. The purpose of that is mental fatigue. After 20 minutes, it's typical to have mental fatigue, as well as physical fatigue. Therefore, interpreters decide to continue to switch every 20 minutes.

And that seems to be written in stone now. Wherever I go, interpreters swap off at 20-minute timed intervals, right on the dot. And I've had interpreters say that they feel bad if they let their team go on 30 minutes. Or if they go on for too long, they feel that their processing will degrade and that their work will then suffer.

And I understand that argument. But rarely do people talk about the impact of timed rotation on the deaf participant. It can be really tough on the deaf person because that results in switches happening at inopportune times, the illogical times.

Another issue is that if you have a number of different hearing people presenting and the interpreters switch off on every 20 minutes, they'll be switching in the middle of one person's comment rather than switching between speakers, which would be more ideal.

When the interpreters switch in the middle of one person's comments, it's like a whole different person is speaking. It always takes time to adjust when interpreters switch. And that's processing time that we can't really spare. It's really rare that interpreters are willing to switch according to a different model. We need to understand how any model that interpreters employee impact the deaf people who watch them.

Well, number two, who is the primary target for a feed? Is it generally for the interpreter or the deaf person?

From what I've seen, the support interpreter focuses exclusively on the interpreter who is signing at that moment, giving them backchanneling, confirmation that what they're doing is going well. And I get kind of jealous. I'd like some of that attention. I wish sometimes that there would be somebody who could provide me a feed.

If there are two or three deaf people present, we do that for each other. But when I'm the only deaf person, that support interpreter isn't available to us. They see their job as being exclusively in support of the working interpreter. I wouldn't call that consistent with the DEAM approach. What would you think, Aundrea?

That is a very good point. I think what is key is for us to try to remember, the deaf person has to be part of the team. They shouldn't feel outcast from the situation.

If two interpreters are discussing how they're going to team together, how can you truly have that discourse without the deaf person involved? Have the mindset that the deaf individual is part of your team. And the primary goal is to provide an equivalent message to the deaf individual. And they can give you the appropriate feedback to make sure the teams work as effectively as possible.

Right. But then the question arises, what input can deaf people give interpreters? It took me years to get a handle on that. And that takes us to the next slide.

Video Description:

The slide changes and title reads, “Roation/Feed: Thinking Out of the Box.” There are 5 numbered points:

“1. Typical switch arrangement

2. Modified switch arrangement

3. Deaf focused arrangement

4. Double arrangement

5. Deaf centered arrangement”

followed by the citing in small text: Source:  Holcomb, T. & Mindess, A. (2021). A Sign of Respect:  Strategies for Effective Deaf/Hearing Interactions.


Tom: We need to think outside the box, the box being the switching every 20 minutes, come what may. We've come up with, I think, eight or nine different alternatives, different ways the team interpreters could do their work. Today we're just going to share with you five. Some may be a little radical to you. The point is to open the conversation, to try to think outside the box in terms of what might provide an optimal experience for both the deaf participant and the interpreters. That's really our bottom line.

Number one in this slide is the typical switching arrangement that we've been talking about. Now, it can make sense if you're in a situation where there's one presenter talking for an hour or for a whole half a day or whatever it is, switching off according to a timed rotation makes sense. It's not a problem at all.

But often that's not the situation you find yourself in. It's in a meeting or a class that's more interactive. More than one person's going-- more than one hearing person, that is, is going to be speaking. It could be two, three, four, or however many people are in the room that take their turn having their say.

And if you're only switching on the 20s throughout the time, that makes it very difficult for me as a deaf person to be engaged because, again, I'll see one, quote unquote, voice that is the one interpreter for every single hearing person that speaks. And what I'm getting looks the same.

So the second model here that we suggest is a modified switch or arrangement. This is whenever presenter hearing speakers switch, switch the interpreters so that I'll get a break. As hearing people get an auditory break with a different voice, I'll get a break seeing different signing style rather than seeing the one interpreter drone on, which, again, is disengaging to me.

Now, it may be that one person only speaks for five minutes, the emcee who does the introduction, and the next person comes up. Go ahead and switch. Maybe the next person goes for 25 or 30 minutes. Let that same interpreter stay on until the next which happens. So in this arrangement, you switch according to how the hearing participants switch.

Now, of course, if one goes on for 50 minutes, you might need to switch in the middle. Totally understand that. But if each hearing person speaks for a doable amount of time, let the same interpreter finish that section. And that will make me as a deaf person feel more connected to what's going on and feel more engaged.

Number three is what we're calling a deaf-focused arrangement. We talked about how the feed interpreter traditionally focuses solely on the signing interpreter. In this arrangement, that feed interpreter would be feeding me as the deaf person.

This would be really valuable for me, say, if I'm in a training session. I've got a manual in front of me that the speaker is referring to, I've got PowerPoints, a lot of visual distraction, all of which I need to be able to attend to. When the teacher says, look at page 33 or illustration number 44, instead of me looking away from the interpreter in order to find that, which is kind of overstimulation on my part.

If the hearing team interpreter is focusing solely on their team, why can't they focus in my direction? And they can help me find the page number, for example. Maybe if they have access to the printed materials, they can point specifically to what's being referred to at any given time so I don't have to go looking for it. I can keep more of my visual attention on the signing interpreter. And then when they switch, the person who was on or up on the chair will then become my support. This is just another example of how interpreters could function differently.

The fourth item here is what we call the double arrangement.

Video Description:

The female interpreter leaves the screen as Tom continues.


This is where both interpreters are sitting in the visual field of the deaf person. And they switch back and forth, according to who's speaking. But they're both visible to the deaf person.

Let's say if it's in a classroom that has a lot of discussion going on, like in my graduate studies, there was a lot of lively discussion, whereas other classes, where there's mostly one person droning on. But in a situation where there's interaction, if there's one primary speaker, have one interpreter stay with that speaker. Maybe if it's a meeting where there's a chairperson or someone else leading the meeting, one interpreter stays on that person's comments.

Then the second interpreter can interpret the other comments made by other participants, be it in a meeting or in a class. It's going to work in either setting. In that way, I have a clear delineation between the comments of the leader of the meeting or the professor and my peers. And it's made very clear to me because different interpreters sign them. And you can also be very deliberate about saying who's speaking rather than thinking you could only just represent it by the way that you sign. That's a way that gets me much more actively engaged.

Again, you would have one interpreter primarily interpreting for whoever is leading the class or the meeting and the other interpreter interpreting the comments of others. Hearing people hear different voices. And I'd like to see different signing styles.

Another aspect of this is have one interpreter stay on me so that whenever I have a comment, the same interpreter will speak so that I'll have a consistent voice. Again, this is-- we're thinking about ways that interpreters can reduce the barriers to engagement that deaf people have with traditional models of interpreting.

Fifth is the deaf-centered arrangement. In this situation, you may have two interpreters. And one simply may be stronger than the other. It may not have that huge an impact. But in some situations, the difference is stark, the difference in skill level.

What I've seen is that all the person gets is an apology, that they get 20 minutes of real participation and then 20 minutes of pain and agony, looking for the next 20-minutes switch to happen so that they can be engaged again because when there's such a stark difference in skill level, it's very awkward for the deaf person and very disengaging. When interpreters don't have any other model to turn to, all they can offer is an apology. Is that the best we can do?

So I'm suggesting something that, again, may be controversial to you. But if you have one interpreter who has a markedly higher level of skill, let that be the lead interpreter, with the other interpreter serving in the feed role throughout. Let that higher-level interpreter continue past the 20-minute mark until they truly need a break. And then let the other interpreter come in as a sub for a shorter shift so the other interpreter who was just up can get some water, get rested up, get mentally back in the game. And then come back in as soon as they can.

I don't know if this is a good analogy, but when we look at pro sports teams, they don't tell the star member of the team to come out every 20 minutes and swap with the rookie. In an elementary school playground or in PE, yeah, everyone has to have a chance. And you might see that would happen.

But that's not what the pros do. The pros keep their best players in as long as they're doing good work. And when they need a break, they get one. For me, that's my dream, is to always have the best interpreting available providing service to me. But I know how difficult this is for interpreters. Aundrea even has had a hard time processing this because there's a real paradigm shift.

I have. And we have gone back and forth about this because from my perspective as an interpreter, I-- OK, well, let me play devil's advocate for a moment, OK? The interpreter will say, wait a minute. We're getting paid equally, but I'm carrying the lion's share of the work while this other interpreter gets away with minimal work? It is not fair.

Also, interpreters may say they get to the job. They're there with the colleague, with their equal. But they may have the other interpreter say, hey, you take the lead role because you're-- or I'm going to take the lead role because I am the primary interpreter. I'm the more skilled interpreter.

And that can really hurt the feelings and the thoughts of that interpreter and make them feel less than. Maybe they didn't realize or maybe they don't agree that they're less than skilled with the other. So how would you answer that, again, playing devil's advocate here?

My response is that that whole discussion is very interpreter centric. How do we make this a deaf-centric discussion? How do we make it about deaf person's ability to participate, to engage, to comprehend? All of what you just shared are all about the interpreters' needs.

The concept of DEAM means incorporate-- taking both discussions seriously. It's not just about fairness to the interpreter in terms of workload and pay or what have you. It's also about fairness to the deaf person and equity as well. I would say that the deaf-centric part of the conversation maybe is equal or more important than the other.

Again, we're giving you some examples of ways to think outside the box. Think of interpreting models that aren't rigidly timed in terms of rotation. We want to provide the optimal experience, both for deaf participants and hearing interpreters, as well as the hearing people.

That's right. And I think it's difficult when we work with interpreters who aren't familiar to explain these concepts and to think about these approaches. As I've said before, there are many interpreters who are not familiar with these concepts because they're so used to the 20/20 model-- 20 minutes on, 20 minutes supporting. And so we have to do some convincing for them to really shift their mindset. And that's an important part of this. And I think that's why it's important we're here talking about it right now.

And that's a good summation of what we've been talking about. I don't want to give you the impression that we're here delivering the answers. We're just opening the conversation.

How can we go about creating the DEAM in more settings than not? How can deaf people be more involved and more invested in the interpreting process? And how can interpreters be more enthusiastic about making the process more engaging for the deaf participants? How can we better understand access equivalency rather than just message equivalency? How can we focus on comprehension rather than just delivery of an equivalent message?

Thank you all so much for your kind attention. I'm now going to turn it back over to Tia.

Yes, thank you.

Video Description:

As Aundrea signs “thank you,” the slide changes to an icon with a person’s profile where an eye in place of the brain space. Tia comes on screen and begins to sign. As she does, Tom, Aundrea, and the male interpreter turn off their cameras and the slide disappears, leaving Tia alone on screen.


All right, this is Tia. Thank you so much. Really, Tom and Aundrea, you've given us so much to think about. You've challenged our thoughts and helped us really think differently, giving the deaf person the best possible experience. I look forward to more opportunities to engage in this discussion and the dialogue on this topic.

Now we will start the Q&A portion. We have received a lot of fantastic questions. If we haven't answered everything yet, we're going to try to do that. So I want to introduce Latoya, who will come up and read some of the questions we've received from the audience.

Video Description:

Latoya, a black woman with small locs piled atop her head. She’s sitting in front of a wall with a sign reading, “Welcome.” Latoya signs.


Hi there. This is Latoya. We have some questions coming from the audience. Maybe they weren't covered in the presentation. Or maybe you missed it. One question for you, Tom, is what does DEAM stand for, that acronym, D-E-A-M.

The D is for deaf, also for dream, and then team. Put them all together and you get DEAM, Deaf Dream Team. It's not the typical kind of acronym where one letter stands for a single word. It's more of a portmanteau of three words put together to create a new term, DEAM.

Very good. Thank you. For the next question, how does the concept of code switching play a role in hearing and deaf spaces? Do you, Dr. Holcomb, feel that is necessary in order to be involved in hearing spaces?

Hmm, code switching, I'd say it's more about doing work that's accessible, where the interpreter is hearing one language. Of course, interpreting means bringing it into another language, in this case, ASL. But if they're actually achieving that, it's not code switching so much. It has to do, though, with the nature of that ASL and how the information is provided. That involves things like pace, discourse, structure, and the like.

Video Description:

The slide disappears as Tom appears on screen to answer questions.

Aundrea appears on screen with Tom and Latoya.


Interpreters are already doing part of that work into ASL. But maybe there's more to it. Aundrea, what do you think?

Well, really, again, the priority is ensuring that the message itself is accessible, to do whatever is required to make that happen. I think whatever is required to make it happen is what is acceptable.

I think it's not as much code switching as it is meeting that person where their needs, their styles, and their preferences are. We can meet that person where they are, so to speak.


And this is Latoya. Anything more to add on that one? OK, seeing nothing else to add, we'll go to the next question.

Unfortunately, in my area, mainstream classroom interpreters are paid as interpreters but actually tasked with teaching the students. If the focus is on message comprehension, where is the line drawn between interpreting and teaching?

So this is Aundrea. In my experience-- I'm assuming the question is from the K-12 perspective. And I admit, I don't have experience as a K-12 interpreter. I've worked in postsecondary classrooms. And that's been my primary focus.

Therefore, for me, my job has been as an interpreter, period. So there is no line to draw. Maybe there's someone with some experience in K-12 who could advise about that. But as interpreters, my gut reaction is we aren't teachers, period. We interpret. We make the language that is happening as accessible as possible, meeting that student where they are. Tom, do you have anything to add to that?

Well, the first thing I like to say is how tough a job in educational interpreting is. Particularly if we have a deaf student who for various reasons is behind academically and linguistically, often the interpreter is tasked with becoming a teacher's aide, with becoming a tutor, with becoming any number of other roles. That's very controversial in the field. And there are strong opinions on many different fronts about whether that should happen or not. The definition of an interpreter's role is always controversial.

All I can say right now is from based on my own experience from when I was mainstream for the first time. My academic skills were on par with my hearing peers. So I didn't need the interpreter to become my teacher. What I did need was for the interpreter to create the classroom environment to make it as accessible as possible to me.

And that was where the goal was access equivalency. It's making the environment available to me. So, again, not just message equivalency. It has to do with the logistics of how the room is set up, not just what the interpreter does, but every aspect of my experience, the goal of which is to make me as a student engaged.

I don't want just access to the message. I want access to the environment. And my interpreter did that. I love them for that. I know this discussion is full of controversies. Discussion of K-12 work in general is controversial because the focus is on very young children.

This is Latoya. Thank you for that. The next question says, if my college wants to start using this approach, how do we get started?

Aundrea, you've worked as a staff interpreter dealing with other interpreters. What might your perspective be on this?

Yes, so when I meet new interpreters and I can see potential of them thinking outside the box of the 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off model, when they start the job, instead of just asking, who's going to start and who-- are you going to do 15s or 20s? Those are the typical questions interpreters ask when they enter a job and start talking to their team.

So during that predialogue, I will make some suggestions. I will say, hey, it might be easier and it might work out best if we use this model because this person is leading the meeting. And since I know them, I'm happy to do all the voicing for that person. And then you can interpret the English to ASL whenever hearing people are asking questions or take questions from the audience.

So I will bring it up as a proposal. I don't take for granted that we are going to follow a 20-minute or 15-minute model. I encourage my team or these new interpreters that come in to think more deeply about the dynamics that are happening in the room and how we can best ensure that our interpreting work will be successful.

At the same time, we include the deaf person in that prep discussion so that we're not throwing them off with whatever it is that we're planning to do to get our interpreting work done. And that's part of that D-E-A-M, the DEAM model, is that working collaboratively as interpreters with the deaf participants so that we can have a top-notch communication experience for the deaf person.

Let me add to that. Whenever I've been talking with interpreters or other deaf people who function in a mainstream environment, often it is an aha moment for them. They're almost afraid to ask if we actually can do this.

It's true that most deaf people have resigned themselves to being disengaged in interpreted environments. And I'm guilty of that myself. I've gone to classes with hearing peers where I already had a bad attitude. I'd expected to suffer through the three-hour class or whatever it is. Maybe the interpreter had the same attitude. I don't know.

And that's what adds to it feeling like a hostile environment. And this comes from when hearing interpreters feel that their job is to sign everything that they hear as fast as they can. And even though there may be some effort to prep ahead of time, if the interpreters don't have another model to offer, I still remain just as disengaged.

DEAM involves thinking outside the box. And I found a lot of interpreters who are thrilled to be given permission to think outside the box, to be given some tools that may work better for them, that they intuitively know will work better. Often interpreters feel like they're so rule governed that they can't actually stay engaged with the deaf person in a way that creates a little bit more of a deaf-like space for the deaf participant. It can be life changing.

It seems that interpreters, many interpreters and deaf people are really eager for some sort of a transformation to the interpreting process. And the goal is to improve the experience for both interpreters and deaf people. We want to create an optimal environment for both sides of the equation here.

We hear interpreters saying that they're suffering with the models of interpreting that they've been taught to use. And then deaf people are also suffering. We have to be willing to discuss different ways of approaching this in order to make it a win-win situation for all.

This is Latoya. Thank you so much, Tom and Aundrea. I will stop with the Q&A for now. But I do want to welcome Tia back to wrap up our session for the day.

And just, again, so I'm so grateful to all of you for your inquisitive questions. And I look forward to more discussion.

Yes. This is Aundrea. Thank you so much for inviting us. We certainly appreciate it.

Video Description: Tia appears on screen with Tom and Aundrea.


This is Tia. Thank you both. We do appreciate the opportunity to partner with Ohlone College, with Tom and Aundrea. So thank you for giving us a lot to think about, centering that deaf person in our programs, services, and keeping that at the forefront of our mind for thriving, for deaf people thriving and for the best of their future.

We could continue this discussion for a long time to come. But it is time to wrap up. Before we wrap up for the day, we do want to let you know there are two other opportunities coming up soon.

One is a listening session we are hosting on the topic of the interpreter shortage we are noticing across the country. We had a listening session last February, but it was capped at a specific number of participants. Because of that, we are offering another listening session.

And then in April, we are hosting a panel on the topic of work-based learning experiences for deaf students. So please check out our website. The Events page will have all of the information, as well as a link to register.

If you have any more questions or would like more information, please, I want to let you know that we will be sending information. This video will be available to everyone about a month from now. And you can refer back to this recording.

So thank you so much for making the time for us, for being at this webinar today. I want to, again, thank Tom and Aundrea for being here and giving us a lot to think about for us to continue this dialogue with our colleagues. Well, that is it for today. Thank you again. And we look forward to the next activity here at NDC.

Video Description:

NDC Logo appears above text, black lettering on a white background:

“This video was developed under a jointly-funded grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) #HD326D160001. However, the contents do not necessarily represent the positions or policies of the federal government.”

Next to it, three logos appear. The first reads “IDEAs that Work” with an arrow drawing a circle from “IDEAs” to “Work” and the words “U.S. Office of Special Education Programs”. The second logo shows a red-and-blue star with text next to it that reads “TA&D”. The third logo shows a blue circle around a tree. In the blue circle are the words “U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION.”

End of Accessibility Document


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