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The Rise of Popularity of American 
Sign Language 
and its Effects on the Interpreting 
Profession 
Elizabeth Rajchart
The purpose of this research project is to 
discover the different ways American Sign 
Language is portrayed in the media,...
In the past few years there has been a 
sudden uprising in popularity of American 
Sign Language. Through different media ...
Lydia Callis, interpreter for former New York City Mayor Michael 
Bloomberg, attracted a lot of attention for her interpre...
Travis Painter, an interpreter located in Washington DC, was featured 
in a Wall Street Journal article, though the journa...
Another area that is becoming more and more saturated 
with ASL is the website YouTube. A search for “Sign 
Language Lesso...
As written on the website “IMPACT Mind”, where they went 
wrong was when 
“They decided to keep the limelight on themselve...
How does the popularity of American Sign 
Language translate to the interpreting 
profession? To fully understand, we have...
The concept of an interpreter training program 
began in 1964, with the creation of the Registry of 
Interpreters for the ...
Since then, the popularity of American Sign Language classes has 
grown tremendously. 
Enrollment in American Sign Languag...
One certified interpreter had this to say: 
“The increased interest in American Sign Language has its good and bad 
points...
It’s very clear that the portrayal of American Sign Language by the 
media is at the very least a gross oversimplification...
YouTube Videos that incorrectly teach American Sign Language are 
destructive in another way—they reduce the important of ...
However, he was met with comments like 
● “Who cares if it’s a little wrong, at least they’re 
learning.” 
● “I can unders...
So how do these misconceptions 
affect interpreters? One certified 
interpreter commented: 
“There’s such a divide still b...
Caroline Solomon and Jeffrey Archer Miller 
of the Baltimore Sun elaborate: 
“If the media approach American Sign Language...
So how do these events affect the interpreting 
profession? More than anything, it gives interpreters 
much more responsib...
Works Cited 
Coscarelli, Joe. "Meet Lydia Callis, Bloomberg's Star 
Interpreter." New York Magazine. N.p., 29 Oct. 2012. W...
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ITP 2200 Research Project: Popularity of ASL and its Effects on Interpreters

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ITP 2200 Research Project: Popularity of ASL and its Effects on Interpreters

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ITP 2200 Research Project: Popularity of ASL and its Effects on Interpreters

  1. 1. The Rise of Popularity of American Sign Language and its Effects on the Interpreting Profession Elizabeth Rajchart
  2. 2. The purpose of this research project is to discover the different ways American Sign Language is portrayed in the media, through various outlets such as movies, TV shows, and the internet, and the impact of the popularity on the interpreting profession. Research was done using newspaper and internet articles, as well as commentary on internet videos and interviews with certified interpreters.
  3. 3. In the past few years there has been a sudden uprising in popularity of American Sign Language. Through different media outlets like the TV show Switched at Birth, or the popularity of ASL videos on youtube, or the “celebrity interpreter” trend, the hearing population has a lot more exposure to ASL.
  4. 4. Lydia Callis, interpreter for former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, attracted a lot of attention for her interpretations during the “superstorm” Sandy, in 2012. Countless tweets, YouTube videos, and even entire webpages of photos were published, calling Callis a “Sign Language Star”, saying she gives “New Yorkers a legitimate reason to smile”. None of the articles found mentioned the Deaf people she serves. “Mayor Bloomberg's new sign language interpreter...America's new sweetheart with swagger.” “Can't stop watching Lydia Callis.”
  5. 5. Travis Painter, an interpreter located in Washington DC, was featured in a Wall Street Journal article, though the journalist failed to interview any Deaf clients. A simple search for “Holly Maniatty” brings page after page of articles about “that awesome Wu-Tang Clan ASL interpreter from Bonnaroo, yet another article that doesn't specifically mention her Deaf clients.
  6. 6. Another area that is becoming more and more saturated with ASL is the website YouTube. A search for “Sign Language Lessons” brings over 100,000 hits, and according to certified ASL teacher Rob Nielson, many are taught by untrained individuals who teach the language incorrectly. One of the biggest controversies in regards to ASL on YouTube was about a couple named Paul and Tina, who gained a small amount of fame from YouTube videos they made of themselves signing popular songs.
  7. 7. As written on the website “IMPACT Mind”, where they went wrong was when “They decided to keep the limelight on themselves – instead, they should have looked up Deaf and hard of hearing entertainers who are trying to do this for a living, and turned the spotlight onto themselves”. Not only this, but they began to profit off of their videos that prominently feature a person who doesn't even have training in ASL. Many in the Deaf community have called this “appropriation”
  8. 8. How does the popularity of American Sign Language translate to the interpreting profession? To fully understand, we have to look to what many consider the official beginning of the profession.
  9. 9. The concept of an interpreter training program began in 1964, with the creation of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. RID was founded after a workshop to bring a structured foundation to the education of interpreters. In 1970, RID began using a system to test sign language interpreters.
  10. 10. Since then, the popularity of American Sign Language classes has grown tremendously. Enrollment in American Sign Language classes has grown over 16% from 2006 to 2009 (New York Times) 40 universities offer a bachelor’s degree in American Sign Language interpreting, and 78 offer an associate’s degree. Since 1995 student enrollment in American Sign Language classes has grown over 2000% The field is expected to grow 42% from 2010 to 2020, making it one of the fastest growing professions in the country. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,)
  11. 11. One certified interpreter had this to say: “The increased interest in American Sign Language has its good and bad points. It’s great that people want to learn more about the language and culture, and hopefully it means more much needed interpreters for the Deaf community. But there always seems to be an idea that it’s a simple language, or not a true language at all. That not only does a disservice to interpreters, but it really affects the Deaf community negatively. There’s already such a struggle to preserve their culture and to fight audism, portraying their language as simply gestures only makes it harder for everyone, not to mention the lack of respect it shows from people who say they want to learn about their culture.”
  12. 12. It’s very clear that the portrayal of American Sign Language by the media is at the very least a gross oversimplification. Caroline Solomon and Jeffrey Archer Miller of the Baltimore Sun elaborate: “One major misconception is that American Sign Language is not a real language, but rather a combination of gestures, pantomime and exaggerated facial expressions. Although linguists have recognized for decades that signed languages are every bit as grammatically complex and linguistically rich as spoken languages, this insight has not reached the masses — even the more educated masses.“
  13. 13. YouTube Videos that incorrectly teach American Sign Language are destructive in another way—they reduce the important of credentials. Rob Neilson posted his own video speaking against “teaching” videos, saying: “ASL is being mangled and abused by "teachers" who don't fully understand the language and by "students" who don't make the effort to learn all the important little details (or aren't aware that there are a lot of those "little details"). So is it any wonder that so many Deaf people (myself included) are very unhappy with how our language is being warped?”
  14. 14. However, he was met with comments like ● “Who cares if it’s a little wrong, at least they’re learning.” ● “I can understand the frustration of having to compete for business with people who post videos of the same thing you charge for…” ● “They may be teaching vocabulary without grammar... they may even be teaching incorrect vocabulary, but is it really doing any harm?” ● “It’s not like people care if you have a degree anyway”.
  15. 15. So how do these misconceptions affect interpreters? One certified interpreter commented: “There’s such a divide still between the Deaf and hearing worlds. When people have these misconceptions of the language, it does nothing but build barriers.”
  16. 16. Caroline Solomon and Jeffrey Archer Miller of the Baltimore Sun elaborate: “If the media approach American Sign Language as entertaining performance art, they are perpetuating a fallacy. And if the media believe that interviewing celebrity sign language interpreters obviates the need to communicate with deaf individuals, then this new trend is not just surprising; it's distressing.”
  17. 17. So how do these events affect the interpreting profession? More than anything, it gives interpreters much more responsibility. As interpreters it is our responsibility to stop this trend. We need to stop allowing the media to believe that the word of an interpreter trumps the word of a Deaf person. We need to learn to once again become that “invisible bridge”, and step back out of the spotlight.
  18. 18. Works Cited Coscarelli, Joe. "Meet Lydia Callis, Bloomberg's Star Interpreter." New York Magazine. N.p., 29 Oct. 2012. Web. Neilson, Rob.. "To all ASL students creating videos to teach ASL...” Youtube.com. October, 28, 2009 Web. Elise. “Appropriate Method of Appropriation” IMPACT Mind, 06 September 2014. Web. Lewin, Tamar. “Colleges See 16% Increase in Study of Sign Language. www.nytimes.com The New York Times, 10 Dec. 2010 Solomon, Caroline, and Miller, Jeffery A. “Sign Language Is Not Performance Art”. The Baltimore Sun 2 April 2014

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