Brian Rasmussen is the staff signed language interpreter at Central New Mexico Community College in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and recently became an adjunct faculty member in the Modern Languages Department. They provide English-ASL interpreting for students and faculty as well as mentoring for novice signed language interpreters. Additionally, Brian is the staff advisor for the CNM Queer-Cats student group and they serve on the CNM LGBTQIA2S+ Advisory Committee. Brian believes in the possibility of creating equity and social justice through individual and community transformation. To that end, they hope to create generative conversations and a community of practice where diversity and uniqueness are valued. Brian obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in signed language interpreting from the University of New Mexico in 2007, their NIC Master credential from the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf in 2009, and a Master’s degree in Interpreting Studies and Communication Equity from St. Catherine Univeristy in 2021.
List three adjectives that define you.
Empathetic, silly, radical.
How did you become interested in sign language and the world of deaf people?
My first exposure to signed language was in elementary school, where one of the kids in my class was hard of hearing. He and his family taught me some English-based signs and the manual alphabet. Later on, during my undergraduate education, I developed a crush on a Deaf friend, who inspired me to take an ASL class at the University of New Mexico. I loved it! My instructor encouraged me to continue taking ASL classes and eventually I became an interpreting major. During my time in the interpreter education program and later on while working in the community as a freelance interpreter, I started to meet more members of the Deaf community. In particular, a group of Deaf gay guys took me under their collective wing. Eventually these guys became one of my primary friend groups. It is thanks to their mentorship, camaraderie and support that I am who I am today as an interpreter.
What kind of difficulties, if any, did you encounter while learning ASL?
ASL is not the easiest language to learn. Most people can acquire a basic vocabulary and even string together simple statements. However, to truly learn the language and to be welcomed into the community as a trusted ally and friend —to become an interpreter— it takes more than just a desire to learn the language. A person has to develop and maintain a relationship with the people around them who use ASL in their daily lives. Learning about my privilege as a hearing person has been one of the most personally transformative and enriching consequences of learning ASL. Interrogating my privilege has definitely been difficult. I’m also not done… the work continues. I am learning how to take what I have learned during self-reflection and turn it into anti-oppressive action and social organizing.
How did you become an American Sign Language interpreter?
I graduated from an interpreter education program at the University of New Mexico and then was accepted to a internship program with the Community Outreach Program for the Deaf in Albuquerque, NM. These two experiences set the stage for becoming a signed language interpreter. However, the process has never actually ended. I became nationally certified with the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf and licensed to interpret professionally in 2009. It took another 3-5 years for me to feel like I was truly grounded and competent as a practitioner. During that time, I was contracted with about 8 agencies around New Mexico, engaging in professional development activities and learning how to be a self-employed person via the school of hard knocks. Eventually I became a staff interpreter at the community college where I now work. The next phase of my career is probably going to be devoted to supporting newer interpreters — and especially those who hail from multiply marginalized backgrounds, while also engaging in social justice efforts with my Deaf friends and colleagues.
How would you describe your experience at Central New Mexico Community College?
The first place that I established a contract after graduating from my IEP was at Central New Mexico Community College. I am still employed at CNM and I love being a part of this institution! The administration and executive leadership are very progressive. For the most part, we walk our talk as an institution, and in the areas where we have some room to grow, there are teams of people actively engaged with creating change. I was a contract interpreter for almost a decade (until 2016), at which time I accepted the full-time staff position that I currently hold. At the time of this interview I am also beginning to teach ASL classes as an adjunct faculty member in the Modern Language Department. The number of deaf and hard of hearing students that we serve at CNM has averaged around 15-20 students per term, and as of 2019 we also have 7 Deaf faculty members teaching ASL. In my time at CNM I have witnessed tremendous growth and transformation, and I greatly look forward to working here for many more years!
Let's talk about your experience as a novice interpreter practitioner. What resources and barriers did you encounter along the way?
Those of us who grew up in mono-lingual environments can sometimes find the nuances of interpreting hard to grok. This is even more pronounced when we have membership in one or more dominant social groups. For me, this was definitely true. I am white, (en)abled, hearing and cis-passing with male privilege. I am an educated English speaker from a middle-class background. These factors meant that it was incumbent on me to analyze how I, as a facilitator of language and culture, could so easily perpetuate or worsen oppressive power dynamics. Interpreter education programs generally teach students about ethical decision-making from a deontological framework. We are taught that interpreters should not do certain things because it is a violation to our code of ethics. This approach creates clear boundaries for novice practitioners who are still learning the ropes, but it also fails to account for the impact that our decisions have on consumers. Without being exposed to the frank conversations that occured with my Deaf friends, e.g. without having relationships with Deaf people, I wouldn’t have learned about the ways interpreting impacts Deaf people’s lives.
What did you need to succeed?
I needed comrades and mentors, people who could show me the ropes and model ethical problem solving. I also needed people who would hold space for me where I could vent and emote. Ongoing language models have also been essential for me. It’s not enough to just show up and do my job. I also have to continually engage with the language as it evolves. I need to know what is going on amongst American and international deaf communities. I also have to stay abreast of professional discourses that are happening in the interpreting world and how they impact my work. I also have to show up in allyship with Deaf people, their interests, and their efforts.
How long does it take to become a certified interpreter?
This is a hot question for sure. I would say, based on my own experience as a practitioner and the research that I did for my graduate degree, that 3-5 years is an average amount of time needed to become certified. However, this time frame assumes a lot of things. It assumes that a person has access to all the resources that they need to become certified. These include time, money, mentors, job opportunites, adequate training in how to engage in self-reflection and deliberate practice. There is a lot to learn after graduating from an interpreter education program and no one can do it alone.
Is it mandatory in your country to register with a relevant professional association?
In the United States requirements differ from state to state. For example, some states might require licensure while others might require certification; some states might require both. It only gets more complicated from there… For example, is a state-required certificate recognized nationally or just by the state? Which certificates are considered valid and do they have reciprocity in other states? If a person has one type of certificate, does that qualify them for all types of interpreting work?
For New Mexico, which is the state where I reside, we require interpreters to be licensed. In order to obtain an interpreting license one must be a member of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, and depending on the type of license being applied for, one must also have at least one certificate from the following: the Center for the Assessment of Sign Language Interpretation (CASLI), the Board for Evaluation of Interpreters (BEI) and/or a rating of 4.0 or higher from the Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment (EIPA). In addition to this, if a person is working as a freelance interpreter, they are required to also have a business license to render services in the state.
Do you mostly work as a self-employed professional or also as an employee?
For the first several years I was entirely self-employed. Now I am employed full-time for the community college and I do a little bit of freelancing on the side.
Which is your preferred field of work?
My passion is in education. The work is continuously stimulating and there is little that I find more gratifying than watching people grow, change and better themselves. I also enjoy working in the community, including medical and mental health interpreting. I hope to add legal interpreting to the mix one day as well, but for now my plate is full.
Do you engage in PC or tablet video interpretation?
Since the pandemic began a majority of my work has been conducted over video. I have also worked in VRS as well. I strongly prefer face-to-face interpreting.
Which interpreting services do your country guarantees to deaf people (i.e. in hospitals, local administration offices, schools, universities, TV)?
According to titles 1, 2 & 3 of the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990), discrimination is prohibited in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public.
Does this sole occupation earn you a living?
I have been quite lucky as an interpreter. I was accepted to a paid internship program right after receiving my undergraduate degree. I was also able to set up contracts and earn a little extra income on the side as a freelance interpreter while doing the internship program. After completing the internship program I became nationally certified and things took off from there. Now that I am a full-time employee of Central New Mexico Community College, I am earning a living wage.
If you could do another job for just one day, what would it be?
A hobby that I could have easily turned into a career was wildlife rehabilitation. I have my basic wildlife rehabilitation certificate from the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council (IWRC) and for almost 15 years I was a volunteer clinic manager, community educator and raptor rehabilitator with Wildlife Rescue Inc., of New Mexico.
Do you ever have the chance to work along with deaf interpreters?
I do not have many opportunities to work with DI’s. I have had several wonderful experiences working with DI’s in the past and I look forward to seeing the interpreting profession standardize DI presence and increase the number of DI’s working in the field. I’ve learned SO MUCH from my Deaf colleagues.
Are there, in your opinion, common aspects in both deaf and LGBTQ communities?
I see parallels between the experience of being LGBTQIA2S+ and being deaf or hard of hearing. In both communities there is an experience of oppression and marginalization. We also represent a subsection of every other community in the world. There are LGBTQIA2S+ people in every community and there are deaf / hard of hearing people in every community. When our respective communities come together we often have diverse representation from many other groups present. I also think that both communities have an on-going need to engage in anti-oppressive work that centers itself from an intersectional lens. Ableism, audism, distantism and vidism, sexism, misogyny, classism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and the like are all present in both communities.
How is it working with gender and sexual minorities?
This is an area where I pride myself on excellence. As a person with a gender identity and sexual orientation that are not in alignment with the majority culture, it is my intention that all of the interpreting work I do is informed by and affirming of diversity. This in turn has lead me to be actively anti-racist, anti-ableist, anti-colonial, feminist, body-affirming and culture celebrating in my work. I love working with people who have been historically marginalized and/or oppressed because that’s where the juice of life is most abundant. People on the edge of society see things differently and that difference is the catalyst for change and growth. Until there is true liberation, justice and equity for all, the crux of my work will continue to focus on minority communities.
What book did you read last?
Two books that I just finished reading and absolutely loved were:
Abram, D. (2017). The spell of the sensuous: Perception and language in a more-than-human world. Vintage Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.
A., V. der K. B. (2015). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind and body in the healing of trauma. Penguin Books.
Two others that I highly recommend are:
Kendi, I. X. (2021). How to be an antiracist. Vintage.
Saad, L. F., & DiAngelo, R. (2020). Me and white supremacy: Combat racism, change the world, and become a good ancestor. Thorndike Press, a part of Gale, a Cengage Company.
What could your motto be?
“Find truth within.”
In questo articolo si parla di cultura, università, istruzione, USA, didattica, asl, Stati Uniti, sordità, video, diritti, comunità, lgbt, interprete, accessibilità, sordi, articolo, inclusione, Michele Peretti, udenti, Lingua dei Segni Americana, espressioni
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