On Deafhood Space

by Steve Emery


[English version]

Last week, I went to Paddy Ladd’s lecture. He was talking about “Deafhood – A Pedagogy”, which was about theories of teaching Deaf children.

It was really interesting, but there was one part of his lecture that really got me thinking,  when he was talking about  “Wounded Space”, which means “damaged space”…Well, what does he actually mean by that? This concept relates to the experiences of Deaf children through their development into adults and how the effects of oppression through oralism. The overwhelming and stifling experience of this has damaged Deaf children emotionally as individuals and subsequently as a community of adults. There’s a need to rebuild the community, to begin again.

During his lecture, Paddy Ladd explained what he meant by “Deafhood – A Pedagogy” and as he was doing this, it gave me a lot of ideas , and I was thinking about the process of change, how do we move forward and go through a transition from a Wounded Space to Deafhood?  To a place where we can become healthy, where we can improve, develop and build? I began to consider what we would need to do to be able to achieve this aim.

Paddy Ladd’s lecture focussed upon how the use of appropriate teaching methods is the way to achieve Deafhood. In my view, that is one part of it, to be able to advance and move forward, however, there are a number of other factors that need to be taken into account for us to attain this.

It’s very important for Deaf people to be a part of a collective group, this is essential. Yes we are all individuals, we have our own lives, but we need to be connected to each other as a collective, this is really important for us all,  it’s been recognised that we need to be a part of society.

The next thing that came to me, concerning the need to rebuild and develop a Deafhood Space, is that we need to have an input and participation from the wider community, not just from academics. Yes, academics are important individuals who have a place, but ordinary members of the community should not be excluded as the wider community of Deaf people need to participate and be involved in this process of development.

The third point I’d like to make is, that hearing people must be thinking, “Where do I fit in, into this Deafhood Space?”  This is really important , to be able to build a new space, Deaf and hearing people have to work together, as allies, to be involved in making and developing this new space.

My fourth and last point is about spirituality. Paddy Ladd talked about this in his lecture. Spirituality can mean many things, it can relate to religious beliefs for example. He gave his perspective that we Deaf people are of the Earth and that we are here for a reason. Our understanding and development of what that spiritual aspect of being Deaf means is a part of the development of Deafhood Space.

His lecture gave me a lot to ponder over especially this concept of Deafhood Space. Its very important for us to reflect and recognise the idea of Damaged Space, in ourselves and in others and how we can change this and make a transition by moving to and developing a positive space.  These are a few of the suggestions that I think are important for us to take into account when we are discussing moving towards Deafhood.

Viral Signs

by Graham Turner

We’ve had the ‘fake interpreter’ at Nelson Mandela’s funeral in Johannesburg. We’ve had successive mayors of New York (Bloomberg and de Blasio) and the Premier of Queensland supposedly being upstaged by their interpreters while making announcements about a hurricane, an epidemic and a cyclone. You might be forgiven for wondering if a sign language interpreter will ever hit the headlines for the right reasons.

Well, the Spring of 2015 has seen not one, but two interpreters go at least a little bit viral – and both for undertaking the same kind of assignment. No death or crisis this time. This time they were, erm, well, could we call it ‘singing’?

In Sweden, an interpreter delivered an exuberant performance as part of the country’s Eurovision Song Contest selection process. And in the United States, it was a particularly dramatic version of a number by the rapper Eminem – not broadcast on television, just uploaded as a personal project to YouTube – that caught the attention of millions online.

Thank goodness, I hear you say! Some harmless, artistic fun from a little light-hearted signing. But not so fast…

Something about the interpretations of these songs has fired up the twitterati all over again. So what’s the fuss about?

One of the primary objections seems to be that interpreters shouldn’t be ‘glory-seekers’. In the US, the Registry of Interpreting for the Deaf writes in its Standard Practice Paper on Interpreting for the Performing Arts that performance interpreting “is not a vehicle for interpreters to become performers but rather a vehicle for the target audience members to enjoy the performance event.” But if the function of the event is performative, isn’t the interpreter expect to, erm, perform? Entertain? Convey the intent of the source message?

In any case, in one of these two instances, the interpretation was created as a personal exercise – is that an illegitimate thing to do? The interpreter didn’t make it go viral. Blogs like this one (http://www.slate.com/blogs/lexicon_valley/2015/06/10/sign_language_let_s_talk_or_sign_about_the_deaf_not_hearing_interpreters.html?wpsrc=sh_all_dt_tw_top) have argued that, when people are busy talking about interpreters, they’re not talking about more important issues around sign language recognition or advancing Deaf causes. That may be so, but it’s the individual decisions of millions of people that create the viral effect in such cases, not a deliberate propaganda campaign by anyone trying to distract the world from weightier matters.

The chances are, of course, that most of the ‘favourites’ and ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ for these videos are perpetrated by hearing people, many of them almost certainly non-signers. They just think it looks good or fun. Are they, in fact, harming the prospects of Deaf people because their actions are somehow ‘inappropriate’? This is certainly a complex question: is it possible to find signing attractive for the wrong reasons?

What is not being discussed much is whether these performances embody ‘good’ translations. But, then, if the issue is about ethical and unethical behaviour, does it actually matter whether the interpretation would score a 57% or an 83% as a graded course assignment? If it’s only okay to post video-recordings of yourself on YouTube if you perform well, the internet just got an awful lot roomier.

One of the reasons some give for disliking it when interpreters become prominent is that they may be achieving significant financial gain from their actions. In an economy where every interpreter should be well aware that Deaf people tend to be under-employed, it is argued that lucrative personal enrichment, secured in this way, is immoral.

Some interpreters are said to slide from prominent performances to a willingness to ‘represent’ Deaf people’s interests in the media. Intuitively, this may seem straightforwardly wrong. Is it? Are there any instances where people would see this differently – where are the boundaries? Can we always find a clean line between representing Deaf interests and representing interpreters’ interests?

But back to the music. Is the problem simply that Deaf people don’t actually enjoy song interpretation? (Would it surprise us if the answer were that some do, and some don’t?) Or is the frustration that these are instances of hearing interpreters occupying the limelight when, actually, some Deaf people enjoy producing signed songs, too?

Or could this be flipped on its head? Is the concern fundamentally that signing to music isn’t culturally Deaf? As artistic as these performances may or may not be, perhaps they represent a form of cultural appropriation – re-purposing an aspect of Deaf heritage in a way that is not rooted in Deaf ethnicity, and therefore stands as an ill-informed and ill-judged act of exploitation.

In under 800 words, we’ve found our way from the throwaway hilarity of Eurovision to the knottier end of intercultural politics. No-one said that LifeinLINCS would be an easy ride!