While I was knee-deep in the Deaf World, I was also taking ASL classes. While I don't credit those classes for my language fluency, they did play a crucial role in my learning about the grammar and structure of ASL. I was aslo beyond blessed to have had an amazing instructor and mentor. Those classes would prove even more valuable when I began studying interpreting. More than the classes themselves, my instructor, Linda Dyer, was another sort of "gatekeeper" in my life. She was a non-native signer like me who had been in the Deaf World for many years. (I used to tease her about just how many years.) It was a God-ordained blessing on my life to have her as my instructor and mentor for those 3 years.
My story thus far only takes me through ASL II class. My experience was so rich and language fluency came quickly because I took the advice of gate-keeper Janice, got involved, had Deaf heart, and didn't try to "help" nor take advantage of people in the Deaf community. There was no where else I wanted to be. I truly and simply loved them and it obviously showed.
I realize my experience is truly unique for a non-native signer, especially these days. I'm worried for the up-and-coming interpreter. I can't begin to get into all the causes behind it, but the Deaf World is changing. I don't see students approaching the gates any more. I love how beautifully Molly put it when she said that interpreting students simply pull over off the bypass and look down at the "scenic view" below. They show up at Deaf coffee or Deaf bowling, watch for a while, and communicate just enough to get a paper signed for their observation hours, but then they leave. Bypass. And both communities are suffering for it.
There is more to my story, but for now, I want to share with ASL students and interpreters-in-training the advice I got, plus a couple other things that you should seriously consider about yourself:
1. Are you willing to humble yourself to the Deaf community in your area and admit you know nothing?
2. Are you willing to ask for help?
3. Do you see yourself as someone who is going in to "help" the less fortunate? How do you respond when people say, "Oh, you're an interpreter? I have a cousin who works with special needs kids in a group home. Bless your heart for helping them out."? Your answer to this question will determine if the gate will ever even open for you.
4. Find something you can do that is mutually beneficial so that you can spend real life in the Deaf World.
5. The older the Deaf person, the more rich the experience you'll have. That's just my opinion because I adore the Deaf seniors I've had the honor the meet and wonder in their stories. And no, I'm not hating on the young 'uns. During college, most of my Deaf friends were around my age.
In my next Deaf World entry, I'm going to talk about what I think some Deaf members of communities can do to enrich their World and their experience with interpreters. It also ties in to why I think I'm often mistaken for a Deaf person.