11' di lettura
- "Find your ability in your disability."
Marshall Harris, 30 years old. Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia and has gone to school there his entire life as well. Bachelors in Sociology from Virginia Commonwealth University, Associates Degrees in Deaf Studies and American Sign Language Interpretation from Reynolds Community College. He is an American Sign Language interpreter for Spotsylvania Schools and he freelances as well. He has been in the Deaf community for 11 years, interpreting professionally since 2016, so 5 years now.
How did you become interested in sign language and the world of deaf people?
Coming from a hearing family, I didn’t have any exposure to it until college. At that time, I was in another class which had a student that was Deaf in it. That was my first interaction both with someone Deaf (I think) and an interpreter and I was interested from that moment on. The first sentence I learned in ASL was simple, “Have a good break, see you in the Spring”.
What kind of difficulties, if any, did you encounter while learning ASL?
I am left handed, and most if not all of my professors were right handed, so I had to flip everything they were doing. I fingerspelled backwards for a while. I fingerspelled from the shoulder in, so that I could read it instead of the proper way so that the other person could read it.
What type of studies/training have you chosen in order to qualify as an ASL interpreter?
Interpreter Training Program (ITP) as well as other workshops and classes along the way.
How would you describe your experience at Reynolds Community College?
I had a great time, it was just very long! I started the program itself in 2011, and graduated in 2015. During that time I learned a lot of different things both about interpreting itself (Including being taught by a Certified Deaf Interpreter CDI) and about the Deaf community in its entirety. The ITP was intense. Once I finished the first 6 levels of ASL the interpreting part really was a different beast. TONS of analysis, watching myself back (horrid...still hate it), research, etc. but I wouldn’t take it back because it really made me well rounded and gave me a lot to go off of in the field as torturous as it felt like in the moment.
What is the structure of the exams?
Most exams have a written portion and then signed portion. English to ASL, then ASL to English. The National test has an interview part as well. That’s as detailed as I can get.
How long does it take to become a certified ASL interpreter?
I suppose it is different for everyone. I have heard of people becoming certified right out of the gate when they graduate from the program, others (like myself) are taking a bit longer. It really depends on how comfortable someone is with their interpreting skills. I still feel like I have some work to do before I can sit down for that performance test (Written test I passed last year, which also wasn’t a picnic). A CODA interpreter obviously will feel more prepared than someone else who doesn’t have ASL as their first language, but I have also heard of interpreters with ASL as their L2 that have passed it on the first try… so no real answer on that, but the ITP I went through was 4 years, so I’ll just say 6. Depends on the area you live in and the kind of experience you can get. Some areas are easier to move up in than others. Example, California and central Virginia. More opportunity in California than in central Virginia because of how busy it is. That kind of thing.
Do you mostly work as a self-employed professional or also as an employee?
I have done both, but most of the time I am self employed. Contract work means I do all the tax information and things like that myself. In 2017 I worked for Charlottesville City Schools where they worked with me directly through an agency as a staff interpreter and I believe they were able to help with taxes once that time came around. Most freelance interpreters are at the mercy of availability.
Which is your preferred field of work?
Medical!! I love it. I really find it interesting to learn about people and the human body. My approach to interpreting is to build a report with the consumer. If I can’t get to know them, then for me personally the interaction is a bit more difficult. Not that I can’t do my job, but it helps me to know the consumer past their communication preferences. Medical is challenging and sometimes emotionally taxing, but I feel like I learn a lot while interpreting because I get the information in two languages. I take it in while hearing it, then signing it, and then again seeing it to voice.
Educational interpreting as a whole has been a great experience. The best part for me has been watching kids learn, and seeing the lightbulb go off. Seeing the kids grow emotionally as well as academically throughout the year is the best part for me. As I have said, establishing a report or a connection with the person I am working with is really important for me to be able to do my job effectively. Working with students definitely allows me to do that on a daily basis and I love it. It’s very easy to grow attached to kids as well which I have to admit has happened in the past. I saw them again last year after like 3 years of not working with them and I swear it’s like a breath of fresh air seeing a kid you enjoyed working with thrive. I know I said medical was my favorite, but educational is a close second.
Does this sole occupation earn you a living?
At the moment, yes. Educational interpreting or any kind of staff position is what an interpreter needs most often for a steady paycheck to support themselves. Many times over the summer I do worry about paying rent because I don’t get paid year round, so I have to make absolute sure when I work for a new company that they have hours for me all the time that I can pick up. If not, it can get tricky financially. I had to take a retail job at one point for a regular paycheck because interpreting wasn’t paying the bills much at the time. It can get very tough. So if you want to be an interpreter and you don’t have NIC yet, be prepared to have to jump through hoops sometimes.
Do you ever have the chance to work along with deaf interpreters?
Not yet, but maybe one day!
Are there, in your opinion, common aspects in both Deaf and LGBTQ communities?
Definitely! Both communities have been oppressed by the majority. You can really do a side by side comparison… Stonewall 1968 was the first riot that made way for the LGBTQ movement. DPN (Deaf President Now) was monumental in the Deaf community for the same reason. Hearing people that think that Deaf people need to be “cured”, and straight people that think that “it’s a phase”... really very similar playing fields. The Deaf community has fought for everything from the beginning. Audism plays a huge role in the reason why Deaf people have had to fight their way through life to be seen as equal to hearing people. Fight for their language, their culture, etc. There are still people that don’t see sign language as a legitimate language. They see that Deaf people need to be cured, fixed, because they’re broken in some way which you and I both know is no where near true. The Deaf community is still fighting for people to see them as equal. It has been a privilege for me to support that fight throughout the years.
The LGBTQ community as well has straight people telling them all the time that it’s a phase, that we need to be fixed, that our love and experiences aren’t real, because of one thing or another. Straight people at times don’t see us as people in their eyes. Homophobia is still a huge problem in a lot of places because of different reasons, upbringing, religion, etc. So when I came into the Deaf community, I noticed that parallel that, hey… these people just want to be accepted for who they are, who they’ve been, and who they’ll become. I really identified with that not only as a gay male, but as a person who also has a disability. The experience of being ostracized is something that both communities unfortunately are all too familiar with. Realistically, will that change? I believe it can over time, but will never go away completely.
12. What could your motto be?
Don’t settle for less than your best. Even once you find your best, continue to let that only be a starting point.