Linda G. Hill

Life in progress

Interpreters – #AtoZ Challenge


I remember the first time someone called me using TTY plus Telephone Relay Service. The way it works is, the telephone company has a hearing interpreter with a TTY (teletype) device between the hearing person and the Deaf person. On the Deaf person’s end, they are either watching the interpreter sign on screen, or reading on the device. In between, the interpreter is listening and signing or typing, and on the hearing person’s end, he or she must speak and then say, “Go ahead,” when finished. It’s a complicated, and at first awkward, but effective method of communicating.

I also remember the first time I spoke to a Deaf person through an interpreter face-to-face. Again, awkward. First, I wasn’t sure where to look. When the Deaf person signed to me, I was able to watch and listen to the interpreter at the same time. But when I spoke, the Deaf person watched the interpreter. I wasn’t sure who I should be looking at. I’ve since gotten a bit more used to it. Second, I never know how fast to talk. I get caught up in watching the signs, and when I catch one I know, I realize how far behind the interpreter is, so I slow down. …or is he/she behind? There’s the backwards grammar to take into consideration too.

I didn’t have to deal with any of this until we moved to Ontario and Alex was enrolled in a Deaf school. Appalling anecdote, that was part of what actually led me to move:

It took about a year to finally have a speech and language pathologist visit Alex at school. It was a regular, English-speaking public school in the Province of Quebec. He had a wonderful EA working with him there, by the name of Lise. She was with him all the time. She spent her lunches tube feeding him and playing with him, and she actually came out of town to visit the Deaf school with me before we moved. Lise is hearing, however, and was at about the same level of American Sign Language I. We both knew it wasn’t enough for him to grow, so enter the speech therapist to advise on whether or not the school should fund an interpreter for him. The pathologist’s final assessment, after watching him in class a couple of times was that he couldn’t benefit from an interpreter, because at his current level of ASL, he wouldn’t understand the interpreter.

It’s like saying adults shouldn’t speak to hearing toddlers because they won’t understand anyway. How does one learn a language unless they are taught by someone who knows more, and is able to expand their vocabulary by example? And this from a woman whose job it was to teach language!

So we moved.

Since then, I’ve been muddling along, learning from what Alex brings home from school more than anything. We learned together, him by being exposed to ASL daily, and me from being exposed to my son. But we’re slowly getting back to needing an interpreter, and I don’t think it will be long before I have to have one at doctor’s appointments. He can now understand most things that are said in the adult world. At fifteen years of age he is still quite far behind mentally, but he’s a teenager. One of the most difficult things for me is knowing where his actual level of understanding lies. I have to rely on teachers for that. It’s like hosting a foreign student who I gave birth to, sometimes.

Alex balloon

My A to Z theme concerns the joys and challenges of being the hearing mother of my Deaf son, Alex. To learn more about his beginnings in life, click here to go to my first A to Z entry.

Author: LindaGHill

There's a writer in here, clawing her way out.

17 thoughts on “Interpreters – #AtoZ Challenge

  1. Your experience with signing do remind me of my attempts to understand other languages. When I hear a word I understand, I’m liable to lose the next words/sentences because I’m so struck by that understanding.


    • Yep, that’s exactly how I am too, when I’m trying to understand a conversation in Japanese or French. It takes being able to think in the language to understand it all. πŸ™‚


  2. I wish I could say that I don’t believe the attitude of he pathologist, but sadly, I do. Fighting for your son’s needs is something I understand all too well, even though mine is somewhat older and, this past year or two, has taken back the control of his health and therapy needs.


  3. As hard as it is for you Linda, it is much harder for him for sure. I am flabbergasted that Quebec ruled “no interpreter” That is nuts. It is basically saying that he will not progress beyond his current point – ever – and so they will remove all possibility of improvement. By that logic there should be no school system at all. Regardless of your limitations (in ASL, etc) Linda, your love and effort will produce the best results for Alex.


    • Nothing the Quebec educational system does surprises me. When you consider the hoops you have to jump through just to get a kid into an English school… I had to show them my own school records to prove I was educated in English. It’s all ridiculous.
      I have love for him in abundance, but my capacity for effort some days is another story. πŸ˜› πŸ˜‰ Thanks, Paul. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  4. That does sound appalling – someone professional supposed to be sensitive and knowledgeable turns out the opposite.

    Best wishes for finding the interpreter you need.

    Ninja Minion, A-Z 2016


  5. I recall the time I picked up the phone and heard someone say, “I have a TTY call for you.” I thought it was a porn call or something, until the operator explained that it was from a pet rescue group I had spoken with about adopting one of their dogs! The lady who ran the group was deaf, and since I didn’t have email at that time, the only option was to call me using the TTY system.


  6. My daughter once worked at the TTY Relay place here in town. She said it was interesting, but took some time to learn how to work the TTY system. By the time she moved on to other jobs, she was pretty good at signing. Very interesting.


  7. Never knew of that one. Thanks for sharing!


  8. Of course you will need one, but to be honest, you have your own version of Sign that you both must use together, which gives you a good indication as to what he understands in Life!


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