by Austin Kocher

I was reminded last night of an important reason why I believe this Deaf geography group is important.

I went to a Deaf mingle last night here in Columbus, Ohio for the first time in a few months. It was satisfying to catch up with old friends and to be social again. I am always amazed by the ability of such a simple event to create a Deaf space on a Friday night in the middle of an otherwise hearing pub. Beginning signers huddled together at tables hoping someone would come by ask them their name. (YOUR NAME, WHAT?) Eager interpreting students flock to fluent signers for a much-needed immersion experience. Deaf teachers and professionals enjoy a beer and full-on conversation after a week of working in hearing offices. Many people will live their whole lives in Columbus and overlook the rich spaces of Deaf cultural that coalesce and dissolve rhythmically each week across the city.

At the mingle, I met an interpreting student who was both excited and concerned about becoming an interpreter. She was excited about learning a specialized, socially relevant, cognitively demanding skill that provided communication access to Deaf and hearing relationships. But she was understandably concerned about being in a position where, as a communication facilitator, she would always be re-presenting other people's ideas and not her own. Being an interpreter entails both empowering others through communication and losing one's own ability to be recognized as a full and valued participant. It is a contradiction that interpreters regularly acknowledge and do their best to mitigate in their careers. Some interpreters move on to coordinator positions or find opportunities to teach or present workshops, while others mix interpreting with another hobby or professional skill. It can even be the source of vicarious trauma when interpreting in crisis-oriented environments or when witnessing repeated discrimination. Some leave the field completely and never look back.

Brenda Brueggemann at The Ohio State University writes about "inbetweenity" as a way of navigating the boundaries of identity which are practically fraught with everyday feelings of un-belonging. This can also happen to geography graduate students - like several of us on this site - who regularly have to give an account to our peers that, yes, sign language is a real language and, no, we are not spending our time 'volunteering for the disabled'. On the other hand, we must also give an account to fellow interpreters, Deaf friends and family members, and former workmates about what geography is, the relevance of geography to Deaf studies, and to somehow argue for ourselves that what we do is valuable for interpreting and the Deaf community.

When I was at the AAG in Seattle with the presenters (listed here), I was enormously pleased - as indeed we all were - to not have to start from scratch with each other. We mostly all knew sign language and had years of experience with the Deaf community, albeit in different capacities. We were, therefore, able to make real progress in thinking through the concept of Deaf/DEAF/deaf space and Deaf geographies. One reason (among many) that makes this project important to me, is that it provides us with a community of colleagues who can engage in real discussion about important questions. For me, it gives me an opportunity that I don't have as an interpreter: to make a contribution to the fields of interpreting and Deaf studies through my own signs/voice.

As this grows, there will always be a need to carefully and respectfully articulate the diverse experience of people who are deaf, Deaf, DEAF, or any other identity we wish to claim for ourselves. We must be willing to address the basic misconceptions that people have about geography and about what it means to be Deaf - just as many of us once held those misconceptions, too. It is nonetheless important to have a place where we can do the work we seek to do in a community of colleagues. I hope that we can create such a place through this project, and that more will join us and challenge us through meaningful discussion in coming years.
5/9/2011

I remember the first time we organised something on DEAF space... or Deaf space as it was then (another post to cover that one)... that we had a presentation the spaces that interpreters produce/inhabit/consume etc. as they work... it was fascinating to compare the views of a hearing ASL-English interpreter and the views of a Deaf ASL-JSL (Japanese Sign) interpreter...

Nice post... cheers Austin

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