Thinking about holding our first big grant meeting for the DeafBlind Interpreting National Training & Resource Center over three days in Seattle with a majority of the meeting participants being DeafBlind community leaders and key stakeholders was exciting. Simultaneously, I imagined potential challenges could arise, but having been a part of this community for over two decades, I knew it would also present intangible –and literally tangible—rewards that regularly remind me why I got into studying interpreting and Deaf/DeafBlind Culture.
Sure, it was a lot of advance work to coordinate all the travel, lodging, meeting location details, SSP and interpreter logistics. Yet once everyone comes together and there is ProTactile ASL as far as you can touch, it makes all those pesky details melt. It’s what we aspire to create in this grant: a PTASL-accessible environment for everyone. It was an education for all involved—learning about our grant goals and activities over the five years, and learning how to give in-the-moment information and feedback that affirms our inclusive environment and an autonomous one for all. It was a long three-days, but the immersive environment was a great refresher for those more experienced in PTASL and opened up a whole new world and created a lot of “aha!” moments for those who were touching it for the first time.
I can’t wait to see how many more folks, DeafBlind, hearing/sighted, hard of hearing, are all more PTASL-savvy at the end of this grant. I hope we feel a little closer to one another and validate the DeafBlind community’s language in the process.
Touch you later,
CM Hall, Ed.M., NIC Advanced, EIPA K-12, is the DBI Project Manager. CM has volunteered in the DeafBlind community since 1992 and created an academic service-learning project for ASL-fluent students to engage with the DeafBlind community, partnering with the Washington State DeafBlind Citizens organization and the annual Seabeck DeafBlind Retreat.
A few weeks ago we had our first meeting with our Core Team in Seattle, Washington, and it was my first foray into DeafBlind culture. The meeting included 4 DBI staff (all hearing/sighted), 4 individuals who are DeafBlind, and one hearing/sighted VR counselor with a DeafBlind caseload (an RCDB). Of the four DeafBlind individuals, two were the developers of ProTactile (and contractors on the project), one was a VR Counselor, and one teaches in an interpreter training program educating students about working with individuals who are DeafBlind. There were also six interpreters working with three of the DeafBlind individuals (three hearing and three deaf). The meeting was conducted in ASL. Hearing/sighted norms had no place here.
First, spending the time to get to know who was there and to get to know each other was important. In this situation, we all lined up in two rows facing each other. We each chatted a few minutes with the person across from us, and then switched partners. It was a very intentional way of leveling the playing field. It wasn’t just the hearing/sighted people who knew who was there and who could get a feel for the different personalities in the room.
Once we had all talked with each other, we were ready to join the circle; no rows of chairs and tables for this group. For one thing, people aren’t likely to be taking a lot of notes on computers if they are relying on some type of tactile sign language. And there are often lighting challenges for people with low vision. Going from room lighting to looking at the computer lighting may be very tiring for their eyes, which are already taxed in a 3.5 day meeting. Thus, having a designated notetaker (a talented team member who could watch the language and take notes at the same time) was important for everyone, but not so with tables.
Tables also get in the way. DeafBlind culture is a culture of touch. When you are sitting next to someone, you always stay in physical contact, whether through your leg or foot up against theirs, or having your hand on their thigh. This is so they know you are still there, and it allows them to know if you are agreeing or disagreeing with a speaker (for example, by patting their leg) without interrupting the interpretation. (If you are talking, they will also have a hand on your thigh indicating they are following you). The interpreters all needed to be able to see who was signing so that they could interpret in PTASL, and tables definitely get in the way of the flexibility that is needed.
As someone who currently knows very little about the features of PTASL, it was fascinating to me to watch and try and figure out what was being done differently and why. For example, I noticed that when a speaker is setting up a sequence (e.g., 1st, 2nd, 3rd), she indicated the sequence on the other person’s fingers, not her own. I saw this happen several times before I figured out that indicating it on your own hand is a sighted way of doing it. Touch is the DeafBlind way.
As time goes on, we’ll have more contributors to the blog explaining other features of PTASL and their experiences. We are excited and honored to be a part of this growing movement and looking forward to seeing the impact it will have on the autonomy of DeafBlind individuals everywhere.
Cheryl Davis is the DBI Project Director. Her role is administrative and evaluative, ensuring the project activities are completed on schedule and within budget, and adhere to the values and mission of the project.
At 8:45 on a Tuesday morning, I walked up the ramp at the Seattle DeafBlind Center ready to meet the colleagues who would help spearhead the national DeafBlind Interpreting project over the next 5 years. Many of us stood in the hallway waiting for the room to be unlocked and had an opportunity to get to know one another. A hand on my shoulder, a tap on my arm, and other indications that we entered a tactile space left me excited and ready to be part of this team. I thought I had some idea of what to expect, but by 9:01 when we walked into the meeting space, I realized I was entering a whole new world and was witnessing history in the making.
ProTactile American Sign Language (PTASL) is a promising practice that is changing the way DeafBlind people interface with one another and the community around them. Fueled by the desire for autonomy, DeafBlind leaders are rising up to provide training and resources to other DeafBlind individuals with the goal of changing their community. Now, as part of this federally funded grant project, DeafBlind leaders will train interpreters on the use of PTASL with DeafBlind consumers. Over the course of the next 5 years, a total of 30 DeafBlind mentors, 60 novice interpreters, 45 experienced interpreters, and 10 DeafBlind ProTactile Educators will receive extensive training on the use of PTASL. The goal of this grant is to increase the quality and quantity of interpreters who provide PTASL interpretation to DeafBlind individuals, and to increase autonomy and the use of PTASL in the DeafBlind community.
Curious about what comes next? Check back often to learn more about the ways DeafBlind leaders are shaping the face of the DeafBlind community and the field of interpreting one training at a time!
Heather is the DBI Resource Manager. Her responsibilities include development of online materials and courses, management of a national online resource repository, and provision of technical assistance to stakeholders across the country.