Encore August 2015

Page 36

ARTS encore

The Art of Sign Language

Interpreter’s skills put deaf and hearing ‘on equal footing’ Kit Almy

Brian Powers



Rix knows she’s doing a good job when the people she’s works for hardly notice she’s there. Rix is an American Sign Language interpreter. She says that although she’s obviously present when interpreting between two parties, “really it should be about their access to each other. You (should be able to) look at your deaf patient or your deaf client and feel like you’re having a one-onone conversation, even though it is going through an interpreter.” Rix’s talents are called upon for a wide range of situations. She has worked with students in Kalamazoo Public Schools for 12 years, and, as a freelancer, she is mostly hired for official business like doctor’s

36 | Encore AUGUST 2015

appointments, court cases and financial advising. Her job has also taken her to such diverse events as poetry readings and golf tournaments and “anywhere a deaf person needs to interface with hearing people,” she says. Understanding the importance of sign language interpretation involves a paradigm shift for many of the hearing people she encounters in her work. “A lot of people think I am an interpreter for the deaf, but I’m actually an interpreter for the hearing, too,” she says. When she goes into a doctor’s office and says, “I’m here to interpret for Dr. Smith,” she’s often met with the response that the doctor doesn’t need an interpreter, but Rix

Western Michigan University student Delon Dixon practices sign language in a class taught by Jamie Rix.

then asks if the doctor knows sign language. “Unless you can sign, you need an interpreter just as much as your deaf patient needs it," she says. "You need access to their information, they need access to you.” Rix, who teaches ASL at Western Michigan University’s College of Health and Human Services, says ASL is a language like any other, with its own grammar, syntax, idioms and regional dialects. It takes years for adults to gain fluency in ASL, but young children who are immersed in it acquire it naturally. Rix taught her daughter sign language, and the child didn’t speak until age 3. But when she did, she leap-