Interpreting in the Political Arena
When Bethel College Staff Interpreter and Adjunct Professor Jenny Carroll ’06 received a message asking if she would be interested in interpreting for President Barack Obama’s visit to Elkhart, Ind., in May, she jumped at the chance.
“I’ve never responded to a text message so fast!” she says.
Carroll is one of 19 interpreters who contract with Community Services with All Deaf (CSAD), part of United Health Services, the organization that arranged interpreting services for the event. Of that group of interpreters, 15 are graduates of Bethel’s Sign Language Interpreting program, including CSAD Director Shanna Montavon ’05 and Assistant Director Christie Maurer ’13.
Through CSAD, Montavon advocates for providing equal communication access and interpreting services for the deaf in a variety of settings, including the political arena. She initiated and arranged for interpreting services for the president’s visit, corresponding first with Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly’s office, and eventually with the agency that coordinates interpreting services for the White House.
Montavon found out just days before the event that interpreting was approved, and contacted Carroll, who was selected because she is nationally certified, highly skilled and had expressed interest in interpreting for political events.
“From there,” says Montavon, “It was just giving them [the White House] the name of the interpreter … along with her [information] for a background check. It was all pretty smooth.”
Carroll prepared for the high-profile job by studying the speech the president made in Wakarusa in 2009, as well as researching what media outlets predicted he would speak about. Her years of experience interpreting for large audiences, including for Bethel theatre productions and chapel services, as well as her solid preparation at Bethel, gave her the confidence to deliver the message with ease.
“It was a little surreal,” she says. “I typically don’t get nervous, but I was a little nervous. When he was actually speaking, I was trying to convey his message as accurately as possible.”
Carroll also had the experience of interpreting alongside Department Chair and Associate Professor of Sign Language Interpreting Angela Myers for the Bernie Sanders rally, held at the Century Center in South Bend in early May. And Myers, with Staff Interpreter/Lab Coordinator Amy Constable ’02, interpreted for the Donald Trump rally, also held at the Century Center. All of this was coordinated through Montavon and the CSAD.
Though interpreting for political figures can present challenges – like use of campaign-specific jargon, having to interpret in confined spaces or presenting ideals that may not align with one’s own beliefs – all of the interpreters, as well as CSAD, expressed the importance of providing communication access to the deaf.
“The passion for the work for most interpreters I know is providing the opportunity for Deaf people to stand on equal ground as hearing people,” says Myers. “In our community, most public events are not interpreted … This means [deaf people] do not get to participate in a community experience in their own town and sometimes, as in this case, national events. Shanna Montavon, Director of CSAD, has done an excellent job of being proactive about providing services and trying to get more public events accessible.”
Carroll agrees. “People see someone interpreting for the president because it’s up front; it’s visible. But I think it’s even more important to provide visibility [of the need for interpreters] so that deaf people can have equal access to communication,” she says. She is quick to add that interpreting benefits the hearing community as well. “The interpreter provides a bridge which allows the hearing community to benefit from all the deaf world has to offer. It is mutually enriching by design.”
CSAD provides interpreting services to the deaf community for a variety of settings – from educational (K-12 through post-secondary), medical and mental health, to legal, business meetings, job interviews, theatre, political rallies and more. And over the years, they have formed a great working relationship with Bethel College, providing opportunities for students to observe interpreting situations and gain real world experience, while interacting with and becoming a part of the deaf community.
“When our students are open and willing to communicate, the deaf community in our area is very open and [they] embrace our students,” Carroll says. “They [the deaf community] are a huge part of why I was able to stand up and interpret for the president,” Carroll says. “They invested in me.”
Learn more about Bethel’s Sign Language Interpreting program at http://www.bethelcollege.edu/academics/academic-programs/signlanguage/