From Consciousness to Aligned Action
Breana Hall, CI and CT, CTACC
The field of sign language interpreting is undergoing a time of change, in which more and more hearing interpreters are waking up to the audist system in which we operate.
The field of sign language interpreting is undergoing a time of change, in which more and more hearing interpreters are waking up to the audist system in which we operate. Deaf people have been telling us for many years, and now the message is hitting critical mass and we are beginning to see the water in which we swim. As Jonathan Webb, President of RID, so articulately states, “This system pays my bills and allows me to survive in a larger system of capitalism. This system also requires Deaf people to live beneath hearing people, exist as second-hand citizens, have their language appropriated and changed, have their values and beliefs dismissed, and a list of other atrocities that undoubtedly encourage assimilation” (Webb, 2019).
As we wake up to these atrocities, become conscious of the part we play and the power and privilege we possess, may we cultivate the space within for self-care. Not the self-care that indulges a sense of helplessness, but the self-care that expands and deepens our courage, compassion, and capacity to make space for Deaf people.
Making space for others
Making space is a term I first learned from Jonathan Webb in a workshop on unpacking power and privilege. He described how the most helpful use of our privilege is in making and holding space for Deaf people and marginalized groups to step in, make decisions, and exert their own influence. In social justice terms, he encouraged interpreters to find and make opportunities to be accomplices in furthering the goals and work of the Deaf community (Webb, 2017).
The field of sign language interpreting is undergoing a time of change, in which more and more hearing interpreters are waking up to the audist system in which we operate. Deaf people have been telling us for many years…
In order to do this work successfully, we must be engaged in practices that expand our consciousness.
Make space for consciousness, so that we may make space for others
Consciousness, as defined by Webb, is not merely a cognitive process that happens in the mind. He says, “Courageously choosing consciousness means reconnecting my mind (mental awareness) with my heart (emotional center) and my body (physical and physiological awareness). When I attempt to reconnect myself in this way, I step into a fuller state of being and wholeness. I garner more information, information that isn’t always accessible via the eyes, hands, or ears.” (Webb, 2019).
Making space for consciousness means awareness on several levels:
Mentally, noticing my own filters and biases. For myself, as a white, hearing, able-bodied, American interpreter, this means exploring and accepting the ways that my audist, racist, heteronormative, ableist, transphobic society has shaped me, and the ways I continue to enact those beliefs.
Emotionally, recognizing the feelings and emotions that arise within me, developing the capacity to be with these emotions, and honing the skills to process them.
Physically, identifying the ways I carry myself in the world, the spaces I have access to, the treatment I receive, and also the ways that my thoughts and feelings impact my body—manifesting as physical pain, tightness, headaches, digestive issues, or other health issues.
Listening deeply to others is the next part of our journey toward making space. Webb gives some helpful suggestions for starting this journey of listening by reading—anything from scholarly articles to personal narratives to Deaf vlogs on YouTube (Webb, 2017). Trudy Suggs’ Street Leverage presentation titled, Deaf Disempowerment and Today’s Interpreter is a fantastic example (Suggs, 2012).
As you take in experiences and perspectives that are outside your own, be aware of any fear or guilt that may arise by being told (directly or indirectly) that you have said or done something problematic. This can help hearing interpreters develop our tolerance for hearing fragility—to borrow on the concept of white fragility from antiracist education (DiAngelo, 2018).
From consciousness to action
Consider the following questions as a guide to support you in moving through holistic consciousness to aligned action. This is a never-ending process of self-discovery and greater self-awareness that leads to living in alignment with your values.
What important roles do you play in your life? Pick the roles that are most important to you and define who you are.
Why is each role important to you? Example: As a Self-Care Coach, I feel such joy supporting interpreters in taking better care of themselves. This lights me up inside! I feel aligned with my purpose and a sense of ease in my work, while also challenging my limiting beliefs and helping me stretch to better express my truest self.
Celebrate the “aha!” moments, celebrate uncovering your motivations and rooting out the colonization you discover.
What emotions or sensations do you want to feel in each role? Example: As a mother, I want to feel peaceful and connected.
What supports, habits, and beliefs do you need to have in place in order to carry out each role to the best of your ability? Example: As a Self-Care Coach, I need consistent spiritual practice and alone time, and attention to my weekly schedule to keep my cup full and available for those I support.
What do you need to do, believe, or remember so that you can use your privilege in service of the liberation of the marginalized communities you work within? Example: As an interpreter, I need regular self-care, consciousness practice, and time dedicated to processing my own emotions so that I can show up to my work operating from a full cup. This allows me to better respect and serve the needs of others as a communication facilitator, without my ego hindering the process. I also need to see and know Deaf people as people—to understand Deaf culture, Deaf history, and the current concerns of the Deaf community, so that I, as a hearing person with hearing privilege, may be better equipped to act in ways that are truly supportive.
What gets in the way of your ability to carry out the things you outlined above? Example: As an interpreter, when stressed or triggered I operate from a constricted and reactive place. I notice that I am more easily frustrated and offended by feedback, and I default to taking more control of the interpreted interaction rather than allowing the consumers to clarify with each other or maintain ownership of the flow of their conversation.
Taking into consideration all of the wisdom and inner-knowing you have outlined here, what is one thing you will commit to doing this week that will enhance your consciousness and help you be better able to make space for others? Example: I will sit quietly for at least 5 minutes every morning to get grounded, centered, aligned with my heart, and to process anything internal that needs my attention.
As you engage in this dance of self-discovery, listening, consciousness, and aligned action, remember to celebrate and share with others along the way. Celebrate the “aha!” moments, celebrate uncovering your motivations and rooting out the colonization you discover. Celebrate any effort that moves you closer to operating consciously and making space for others. As you share these intentions, realizations, and actions, you strengthen bonds, deepen trust, and inspire others to do the work of self-reflection that leads to aligned action.
DiAngelo, Robin. (2018, June 26). White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People to Talk About Racism. Beacon Press.
Suggs, Trudy. (2012, December 11). Deaf Disempowerment and Today’s Interpreter. Street Leverage.
Webb, Jonathan & Arthur, Brandon. (2017, October 18). The Field of Sign Language Interpreting Needs an Accomplice, Not an Ally. Street Leverage.
Webb, Jonathan. (2019, April 3). Conscious Practice: A Courageous Choice for Sign Language Interpreters. Street Leverage. https://streetleverage.com/live_presentations/conscious-practice-a-courageous-choice-for-sign-language-interpreters/
Breana Hall, BS, CI and CT, holds her CI/CT from RID, B.S. in Interpretation from Western Oregon University and is a Certified Life Coach. She has led thousands of interpreters in preventing burnout and finding the passion again in their lives through developing habits of self-care. You can find her on Instagram @brighterfocus.