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A journey worth doing is worth doing well

By Bev Sloan

I started my journey into a working life as a clerk for over a decade. I then developed an injury, which saw me unable to continue working and I stayed home for eight years doing nothing. I decided then if I didn’t use my brain I might as well call it quits, so I decide to study a language. Serendipitously my Mum saw a small advert in a community paper promoting a one night a week course ‘Introduction to Auslan’, and so I started a new exciting journey.

Almost immediately I fell in love with this amazing language and my hunger to know more was ravenous. There was no formal course offered at that time and if not for the enthusiasm of a few Deaf people the language probably wouldn’t have been taught in Perth. I joined every class that was offered.

After I completed all of the certificates, I still wanted to know more about Auslan and the next step up in my education was the interpreters course. However, I wasn’t ready to attempt it so I went to the Perth Deaf Club on Friday nights to observe and mix with the Deaf community. This journey into the Deaf society was one of great trepidation for me.

My fear was almost overwhelming but Auslan was like a drug and I needed more. I would go to the Deaf Club and sit in a corner on my own with a Diet Coke (these were two signs I knew so could order this drink.) After a few weeks sitting in a corner, a group of ladies took pity on me and invited me to sit with them.

The next important part of my journey commenced, getting to know the Deaf community and culture, and watching native signers conversing. I will always be grateful to those tolerant ladies who withheld laughter at my many faux pas such as ‘My couch has a vagina (diamond) pattern’, or my confusion regarding the signs ‘ask and explain’ so I ended up signing ‘I will vomit more later’.

It took me quite a while to realise that allowing a ‘hearing’ person into Deaf people’s private lives and trust them not to scam or abuse them in some way was a huge thing. I feel privileged to be seen as a friend and ally to the Deaf community as well as having the honour of providing a service for them as an interpreter and occasional transliterator. The next step in my journey was to become a qualified interpreter and to work in the Deaf community.

Fortunately I passed the Western Australia Central TAFE Diploma of Interpreting Course and went out on my journey into the unsuspecting community. I remember my first job well as a NAATI paraprofessional accredited interpreter, it was a medical appointment.

The client signed they had recently been ‘discharged’ from hospital and then finger spelled a word… and my ‘fear of finger spelling’ shutters came down. What did they say? Please repeat the word? Finally I spelled the word out loud, letter by letter and it was ‘discharged’, which was what I had already voiced to the doctor, oh cringe! Another lesson in my journey learnt, Deaf people would often sign and fingerspell the same word for emphasis.

Throughout my career as an interpreter there have been many opportunities for me to learn lessons and improve my skills. I am so very grateful to all the wonderful, and some less wonderful clients I’ve had worked with in the past 20 years. They have all taught me so much and given me opportunities to work in amazing places and bear witness to even more remarkable things. Some of the jobs I undertook were as a tandem or in a team with both hearing and Deaf interpreters. These opportunities provided more experiential steps along my journey.

Each time I’ve worked with other interpreters I learnt something new, either from them or through self- reflection. I’ve had work with, or observing some truly outstanding interpreters but I have rarely seen any who can take a concept and reform it into something so blindingly clear and comprehendible as that done by a skilled Deaf Interpreter (DI).

I almost groan with envy when observing a DI interpretation. To work with them and know that they are there for the benefit of all of us in the room is a privilege. DI’s have supported me as a colleague and they made challenging jobs immeasurably easier. I thank them for these working opportunities and I am so grateful to have worked with them during my journey.

ASLIA has provided me with an opportunity on ‘my journey’ to be of service to my community and I strongly believe it is a vital part of Interpreters’ responsibilities to contemplate about how they can support others on their journeys through our fascinating field of employment. Reciprocity is a wonderful thing! Our association has also provided extremely valuable professional development opportunities locally and at the winter schools and ASLIA National Conferences. These have made my journey all the more knowledgeable and enjoyable.

Now I’ve been working for 20 years and have been so fortunate to include the Macquarie University Graduate Diploma and NAATI professional level accreditation in my journey. I cherish those who taught me and those with whom I studied. One of many epiphanies for me was in ‘The 5 P’s’ namely preparation. The 5 P’s are sometimes quoted as ‘purpose, people, place, procedures and potential outcomes’ but I remember them as being people, place, purpose, point and perspective. I tried to use this simple but effective tool at every booking.

Sadly my journey within the Deaf and interpreting communities will be coming to an end all too soon. Unfortunately I’m losing my eyesight and I doubt there would be much call for a blind sign language interpreter! I reflect on my journey with so much pleasure and gratitude to everyone who I’ve met, socialised with, worked for or with and the many, many opportunities I was given to be useful.

I’ve enjoyed being of service to the community and I hope others will see this act of service gives back so much in return I am rich in memories, skills and appreciation. So I implore you all to embrace your individual journeys with all the enthusiasm and desire to succeed that you can muster. My journey, which I hope I’ve done well, will live with me forever.

Bev Sloan is a NAATI accredited Auslan/English interpreter. She achieved her first accreditation in 1997. This article was originally published in the ASLIA e-update and is reproduced with permission.