Sunday, April 28, 2013 – Atlanta, GA
During the Street Leverage LIVE conference this morning, Shane Feldman, Executive Director of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc. (RID), shifted the topic of his scheduled presentation titled, “Where Does Advocacy Fit in the Sign Language Interpreting Profession?” to address some of the concerns being raised on social media forums regarding the recent resignations of Lewis Merkin as Board Member at Large and Naomi Sheneman as Board Deaf Member at Large, as well as the Interpreters with Deaf Parents (IDP) Member at Large Bylaws amendment. In light of recent events, he took the opportunity to discuss current affairs with attendees at the conference.
“Today, I’m supposed to talk to you about individual advocacy, but we have a lot going on in the organization and the profession that deserves our attention. If I were to stand up here and go on with my prepared presentation without acknowledging what is going on, then it would be disingenuous to the state of the organization and would further our divide as we move to address the challenges at hand. The issues are all on our minds, and we have a forum today to discuss them together. The tag-line for this conference is ‘Permission to reframe success.’ Let’s begin an open, positive dialogue today that will reframe success for our future,” said Feldman.
During his morning session, Feldman addressed some of the questions that have been posed in various social media forums over the last few weeks. He created an open discussion and dialogue about issues such as Deaf heart, transparency and confidentiality, and active involvement of RID members through volunteer leadership and participation.
The following are some of the frequently asked questions that Feldman provided answers to during his morning talk.
- Does RID have a Deaf heart?
- With the resignations of Lewis Merkin and Naomi Sheneman from the RID Board of Directors. What is going on?
- Will the positions be filled/appointed before the conference?
- In both Lewis’ and Naomi’s responses to their resignation they said something happened. What are they talking about?
- Why does it always come down to a “Deaf vs. Hearing” argument?
- What does the future hold for RID?
1. Does RID have a Deaf heart?
There has been a lot of dialogue about Deaf heart and what that means for RID. These discussions are important to the profession and to the Deaf community because they reinforce the shared goals and partnership between interpreters and the Deaf community. However, it is important that as we have these abstract discussions about what Deaf heart means, we do not lose sight of the Deaf student in a rural elementary school with an “interpreter” who sits with an ASL dictionary on her lap to look up the signs she doesn’t yet know. Or the patient talking to her doctor about serious health problems through a recent uncertified interpreter training program graduate. How do instances like these reflect on the profession? How do they support the linguistic and human rights of the Deaf community? We must work together to right these wrongs.
So how do we balance the need to move forward while taking an honest look at our present and our past? This is not an easy task, but it is one we stand ready to meet. Our conference program for our 50th celebration is focused on reconnecting with our roots. We are extremely excited that our opening ceremonies will focus on the importance of the Deaf and interpreter communities working as partners to create a better future. The celebration will leave us feeling inspired, united, and empowered to move forward in supporting one another by providing concrete ideas and proposing solutions that allow participants to experience a paradigm shift and gain a new perspective of the communities in which they live and work.
Also, at this summer’s conference, we have arranged for the Community Forum to be held at a time with no competing workshops. We recognize that an important part of the discussions surrounding Deaf heart is getting back to partnering with and understanding what the community needs from interpreters. The ideas, concepts, and values raised during the Community Forum will initiate a dialogue that has gone stagnate. This will allow us to begin our work united by our shared goals.
We know these few examples are insufficient to fully address the ongoing issues and concerns about the culture of the organization, and we want feedback from RID members on how we can come together as an organization on these matters that can and are tearing us apart. This is just a start, but we hope that RID members will see that it is a start with thoughtful consideration to accepting that the next 50 years must include the Deaf community, Deaf perspective, and Deaf heart within RID.
2. With the resignations of Lewis Merkin and Naomi Sheneman from the RID Board of Directors, what is going on?
Many organizations go through change and transition to grow and become stronger. Each stage of an organization’s growth cycle presents a unique set of challenges. Right now, RID is experiencing this, and we are managing our way through a time in our organizational life cycle in which we must analyze and respond to the growth the profession has had over the last 50 years. Since our association’s inception, changes in laws and technology, among other things, have completely changed the profession. How can RID keep up with these changes with interpreters and the Deaf community?
As we grow, we all recognize that there has been a disconnect between the founding purpose of our organization and where we stand today. RID is at a point where we need to regroup and refocus on our mission of excellence in interpreting. “Excellence in Interpreting” is not just a quick, off the cuff phrase. It promotes the professional needs of interpreters while supporting the linguistic needs of the Deaf community. It acknowledges the symbiotic relationship between interpreters and the Deaf community. To divorce one from the other is both disingenuous and damaging. So yes, collectively, just as they did in 1964 in the founding of RID, the Deaf community and interpreter community need to come together to move us forward.
So with that in mind, what does that mean for leadership within RID? This question brings up several areas of concern. For example, how can we involve the Deaf community in the redirection of RID? We have had some success in this area, but our work is not done. The creation of the Deaf Advisory Council a few years ago and the addition of the Deaf Member at Large on the Board of Directors are efforts to increase the involvement of the Deaf community in RID. Additionally, the board is revising the strategic plan to re-establish Deaf heart back in the structure, policies, and procedures of the organization. There have there been a few bumps in this process and in this period of growth, yes. We must reframe these challenges as opportunities and take advantage of our ability to revitalize the organization.
Another area of concern is representation on the board. From the IDP vote to the recent resignations, many have asked what this means for the future of RID. There are currently openings on the RID Board of Directors for nominations for the positions of Treasurer, Secretary, and Deaf Member at Large. We challenge those that want to effect change and have their unique perspectives included in important decisions about the future of RID to step up and become a part of the organization at the governance level.
So, to answer what is going on? RID is working to find its footing during this time of transition and change. While it may be a rocky road, it is positive because we have RID members’ full attention and participation in what they want the organization to represent for the field and the consumers interpreters serve. And that is a good start to get through this period of growth and transition.
3. Will the positions be filled/appointed before the conference?
The RID Board of Directors is currently working with the Bylaws Committee on the proper procedures for filling the two positions vacated by Lewis Merkin and Naomi Sheneman: the Member at Large and Deaf Member at Large. The Bylaws Committee is currently developing information for RID members on the steps that must be taken to fill these current vacancies. The Bylaws Committee will also address questions about the board positions which did not have qualified nominations: Secretary, Treasurer, and Deaf Member at Large. We appreciate your patience as we ensure that RID is taking the proper steps and following the organization’s guiding documents including the Bylaws and Policies & Procedures Manual.
4. In both Lewis’ and Naomi’s responses to their resignation they said something happened. What are they talking about?
Transparency is an important attribute that the RID Board of Directors and RID Headquarters is striving to achieve. However, we need to set realistic expectations on what exactly transparency means. Legally, RID cannot be an open book. It would put our organization at risk. However, there are areas in which we can work to improve transparency by defining what can be shared with RID members.
In matters such as this one, regarding Lewis’ and Naomi’s resignations from the RID Board of Directors that occur within an organization at the board, governance and/or operational levels, information cannot be publically shared due to confidentiality and policies and procedures in place to safeguard the organization. These are not in place so that the board can withhold information from RID members, and they are not in place to protect individual interests. It is crucial that these are in place to safeguard and protect your professional association, RID.
While you may be unsatisfied with this answer, please understand that we must always do what is best for the organization and its members. Part of this is keeping sensitive information confidential; however the board has shared the following in its recent announcement about Lewis Merkin’s and Naomi Sheneman’s resignations, “RID members have called for transparency in regards to recent events and decisions occurring within the RID Board of Directors, and the board agrees that such transparency is important for a healthy nonprofit organization. The board also recognizes that there is a delicate balance between what can be shared and what must be held confidential.”
5. Why does it always come down to a “Deaf vs. Hearing” argument?
These issues are not something that we can or even should summarize into a “deaf vs. hearing” argument because that question itself contributes to this ongoing “us vs. them” sentiment that continues to divide the organization. This issue raises concerns about the values at the core of this organization. If we truly do intend to pursue a mission to achieve excellence in interpreting, then we must also value the inherent place the Deaf community has in this organization. But simply acknowledging that the Deaf community has a place is insufficient; we must foster an environment that cultivates a partnership that values the Deaf community’s perspective as part of the ongoing dialogue and includes them in the organization’s decision-making process.
We must work on this together. Creating the Deaf Member at Large position and the Deaf Advisory Council was a start but does not go far enough to help us realize our mission. How can we utilize these successes to dig deeper and effect transformational change in the organization? How can we build on them? What other opportunities can we capitalize on?
Another step is to strengthen our partnership with the National Association of the Deaf (NAD). Our Memorandum of Understanding with the NAD reflects our commitment to continuing our collaborative partnership, and we are committed to deepening this vital relationship.
We cannot add further division in this organization by perpetuating the “deaf vs. hearing” argument. We must focus on how we can work with the Deaf community to achieve excellence in interpreting. Doing so will support professional interpreters while promoting the linguistic rights of the Deaf community.
6. What does the future hold for RID?
Conflict does not always mean an end is drawing near. RID is comprised of passionate members with a strong commitment to our organization, thus, we can use this time of adversity to shift the direction of RID so that the organization can thrive. By learning from each challenge, creating opportunities to rebuild a strong foundation, and assessing policies and procedures to ensure an inclusive and safe environment that welcomes all perspectives, RID is better positioned to focus on achieving our mission.
There are many positive things that are happening that point to a bright future. I know that it can feel like a time of despair, but Lewis and Naomi’s resignations brought the issue of Deaf heart front and center. We cannot address it superficially any longer. It needs to be woven into all that we are and all that we do. The failed IDP vote also brings the Deaf heart dialogue to the surface, but also raises another: with 15,000 active members, approximately 1,100 voted on the amendment. We need RID members who are invested in the organization as a whole. We need to open this dialogue among RID members to identify our shared values, including Deaf heart, to promote our mission.
These are very emotional times. So I understand that many of you may feel frustrated, concerned, maybe even saddened or angry. While this is an emotional time, we must continue to foster a positive dialogue that proactively identifies obstacles that obstruct our path toward our goals and proposes solutions. We must maintain professional discourse that challenges ideas without attacking individuals. We must acknowledge the reality of our situation and take the opportunity to understand and determine what we can do to change RID – for the better. We must not allow feelings to thwart our progress but rather, spur us into action for our shared future.
To achieve our mutual goals, we must:
- Define our mission and vision, and goals
- Foster and include the continued passion of RID members in fulfilling them
- Develop a collective partnership among board, volunteers, members, and staff
- Collaborate with the Deaf community and all our governance committees, councils, member sections; and
- Involve RID members at the board, member, and both the state and national levels.
So where do we begin? Since the first interpreter certification was awarded in 1972, the profession has changed dramatically. The impetus is on us to work together to ensure that RID continues to meet the professional needs of interpreters and the linguistic needs of the Deaf community. The time for apathy has passed. Let’s get to work.