“The amount of ‘screen fatigue’ that Deaf people have been experiencing is higher than that of hearing people. Hearing people have the luxury of looking away from the screen to give their eyes a break and still get the information that is being presented. Deaf people don’t.” Joe Rivera

At KUDO, we pride ourselves on having an incredibly talented network of professional interpreters. While being a crucial part of every single KUDO meeting, they are often behind-the-scenes players that are heard and not seen. In this series of blogs, we are bringing our interpreters to the main stage and highlighting them and their stories.

September 23rd is International Day of Sign Language. To celebrate, this week we are highlighting in the KUDO community. The first, Joe Rivera, is a conference interpreter with over 6 years of experience in sign language interpretation. Joe shares his start in the field, one of his most memorable moments in the industry, and what he hopes the future of technology holds for sign language interpretation.

How did you get into sign language interpretation?

I became interested in American Sign Language (ASL) during high school. A couple of friends sitting at opposite ends of the school bus were giggling, but they were communicating without their voices. They were using ASL, and quite frankly, I was mind blown. I wanted to learn, and they offered ASL classes at my school, but I had already devoted two and a half years to French, so I refused to formally switch to another language. Instead, I went to the local library and rented out the ‘I Can Sign’ with the Bravo family VHS series. I watched all three of those 2-hour videos several times and learned enough vocabulary to get me started. Fast forward a year of self-teaching, and I found myself occasionally trying to interpret for a Deaf friend during class. When I was getting ready to go to college, I wasn’t sure what career I wanted to pursue, but that same friend suggested I major in Deaf Studies considering how well I was doing on my own. I told her it’d be a good option, and here I am 14 years later!

Why do you love what you do?

I love interpreting because I have the opportunity to meet awesome people in a variety of settings. One day I’m interpreting a job training at a theme park, and the next I find myself in the middle of one of the most intimate moments of my client’s lives interpreting a loved one’s funeral. Whatever the circumstance, I’m just grateful that I can provide access for my clients.

What is your most memorable experience in the industry?

I mentioned that I occasionally interpret funerals. At the end of a particular funeral, the client I was interpreting for approached me and expressed that he could not thank me enough for interpreting his uncle’s burial ceremony. He told me that his uncle was the one person in their family who made an effort to communicate with him and that it meant the world to him that he was able to fully participate in saying goodbye to him. I left that funeral really understanding the work I was doing.

Have you seen an uptick in remote sign language interpretation recently?

I have seen a spike in remote sign language interpreting requests since the pandemic started. While it’s convenient, the amount of ‘screen fatigue’ that Deaf people have been experiencing is higher than that of hearing people. Hearing people have the luxury of looking away from the screen to give their eyes a break and still get the information that is being presented. Deaf people don’t.

Do you have any best practices for those who use sign language interpreters in their meetings or events?

As I mentioned in the previous question, screen fatigue is real, particularly for anybody using a visual language. Consider shorter sessions with frequent breaks as a courtesy to your Deaf participants.

When reading a text, such as a prepared speech, slow down. This doesn’t mean you need to alter your normal speaking pace, just your reading pace. Sign language interpreters are able to keep up with even the fastest talkers, it’s just the prepared readings, which typically include more complex sentences, that can sometimes be a bit of a challenge when the presenter is speeding through them. Giving a copy of your speech/questions/etc. is also always a good idea.

What technology do you hope to see developed for sign language interpretation in the future?

I would love to be able to see my boothmate while hiding them from the general public. This would give us an opportunity to give each other feedback while interpreting without disrupting the speaker/audience. We currently do this using two devices, but it would be nice if it was all streamlined on a single platform.

Joe Rivera is an Angeleno with a background in Deaf Studies and Linguistics who currently lives in Mexico City. He began his career as a teacher for the Deaf but transitioned into interpreting after serving as a Language and Culture Ambassador in Torre del Mar, Spain. Joe now splits his time between interpreting and tour directing, but when he’s not doing either of those, he’s exploring whatever city he’s in on bike.

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