The interpreting profession is at a crossroads... Video Remote Interpreting, (VRI) has and will continue to boom as agencies look to expand their markets and clients search for lower interpreting rates. As a result of the expanding VRI industry, the interpreting model is shifting and moving forward, with or without the support of local Deaf and interpreting communities. Many see this growing industry as progress while others are resistant but one thing is true, VRI has become a feasible option in serving the communication needs of Deaf consumers. Like it or not, VRI is here to stay.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, (ADA) requires medical facilities to provide, "effective communication" for all of their patients, and many do so willingly by hiring local sign language interpreters for their Deaf patients. Of course this communication is crucial for both doctors and patients but the question has always been, "What is effective communication?" According to the revised ADA requirements, VRI is considered an acceptable form of communication in some medical settings so long as, "specific performance standards are met," such as clear video and audio connection. It seems that VRI works in some settings and it will continue to be an asset for the Deaf community. Advancing technology in video conferencing platforms are helping us to reach the goal of equal communication access for all.
The growth of VRI services will have an evolving impact on the Deaf consumers, clients, interpreters, and interpreting agencies that utilize the VRI platform. The perspectives are all different but equally important to understand as we all move forward together. The challenge is to address the various concerns of all perspectives, in hopes of navigating through these unknown waters. Where will VRI take us, and are we all ready to make that leap?
The Deaf Perspective
First, I do not claim to speak for, "The Deaf" but through my interactions and feedback within the community, I have a general sense of mixed acceptance and resistance. Of course there are some who LOVE having access to the service and they stand in full support of VRI. Why wouldn't they?! The concept is amazing and something that few could envision 10 years ago. Having instant access to interpreters changes the playing field. Gone are the days of waiting hours in the ER for an interpreter to arrive. No longer will a Deaf patient have to sit in the waiting room only to learn someone forgot to schedule an interpreter. The change from "in-person interpreting" to VRI could be as impactful as the change from the old TTY to Video Relay Services. That might be too bold a statement but as technology frees us from wires and faster Internet speeds, (such as Google & AT&T 1GB expanding Internet service) grow exponentially, the Deaf will have access to an interpreter 24/7 and in any location. That was inconceivable not to long ago...
There is so much to look forward to that you almost forget some of the drawbacks. VRI is and will be an awesome tool for the Deaf but it comes at a cost. Many would still prefer a live interpreter for their medical appointments. Its easier to communicate in person and there is never a worry about technical difficulties. Some find it harder to view the interpreter on a mobile device, (such as an iPad or monitor) and others just aren't comfortable with the technology. As the case with some of the larger national agencies, there tends to be a "Quantity over Quality" approach as many Deaf have recognized in parts of the VRS industry. The demand becomes too high and the overhead costs too much for these agencies to retain the best interpreters. The result is a, "warm body" in the seat approach to interpreting which dilutes the overall quality of service. In short, accepting VRI over a live interpreter could be subtraction by addition, especially if agencies use the same business model as some VRS companies.
The Client Perspective
The clients are those who pay for the interpreting services. I haven't met a client yet that loved the cost of interpreting services and just like any good business, most are trying to find quality services at a lower price. VRI will be intriguing because it seems to be a great deal. The concept is to pay for what you use and since there isn't any travel time then in theory, it will cost less. Clients are quoted prices ranging from $1.25 - $4.00/per minute, (admittedly higher or lower as I don't know everyone's rates) and if we used a $2.00/min average, an appointment lasting 15 minutes should cost $30. Granted, most agencies have a minimum of 15-30 mins per request but even paying for VRI for 30 mins is considerably less expensive than paying for a live interpreter. Depending on your city, live interpreting rates vary considerably. If we look at Austin, TX as an example, live interpreting rates range between $75-$140 for a 1 hour appointment, (M-F 8-7pm) and those rates depend on the agency. It is clear that the cost of VRI is less so it is attractive to any medical facility trying to lower costs. So long as the client is in compliance with ADA laws and a certified VRI interpreter is used, they have met their legal obligation to provide a solution for effective communication, (in most cases.) At the end of the day, that should be enough reason for clients to examine VRI services to see if its a good fit for their needs.
There are some concerns about VRI that the client would want to consider before making the switch. The first concern would be the ability to adhere to the ADA requirements of VRI by providing a clear video and audio connection. The Internet connection and the staff's ability to troubleshoot any problems is first on the list. If a connection fails for whatever reason, will the doctor be responsible and willing to be trained to find a solution? Although many agencies provide a simple platform to host the VRI appointments, the overall success will depend on the client's ability to maintain proper internet connection speeds and on the spot diagnostics. Another concern is the check-in and discharge of Deaf patients. Does the clock start the moment the doctor enters the room and ends when they leave? The appointment starts when the Deaf patient checks in at the front desk and continues into the waiting room when their name is called and it carries into the initial nurse vitals check. At that point, it is normal to wait on the doctor for a few minutes before the patient is seen. After the visit, there are often nurse instructions and the patient scheduling future appointments then check out. Estimating the total appointment time with the meter running can make the cost about the same, if not more. So again, the client must weigh the pros and cons to see if VRI is the right solution for their office.
The Agency Perspective
As the owner of 3 Bridges SLS here in Austin, I can only share my perspective and in no way do I claim to know the right answers. Each agency has their own business model that works for them and I strongly support the work and effort they all put in to provide great services for their clients and consumers. A majority of agencies provide some kind of VRI service and that number is growing. The traditional business model of agencies has worked for decades with recruiting interpreters, scheduling assignments and invoicing for services. In business, to adapt is to survive and as technology becomes more prevalent in our profession, we have to embrace the changes and work for the interests of our clients, consumers AND the interpreters.
I believe we will see VRI implemented on a large scale in the coming years. The profession is changing and as a result, agencies are adapting to catch up with the demand. This means agencies have and or will be developing new business models that focuses on VRI as primary and live interpreting as secondary sources of assignments, (revenue.) The larger national agencies have an advantage due to their marketing resources and larger pool of interpreters, while an advantage for smaller local agencies is that VRI costs should be lower due to the difference in overhead. In this respect, both national and local agencies can and should co-exist but the role of the interpreter will change.
The Interpreter Perspective
Near and dear to my heart, the interpreter perspective… Where will VRI take the interpreting profession? As interpreting agencies and medical providers set the new standards and rates for VRI services, is the interpreter the "loser" in the deal? Its ugly to pose the question because VRI is a great tool for the Deaf, affordable for clients, and profitable for agencies but it comes at a real cost. As agencies rush to develop contracts for VRI services with large medical facilities, they are trading the traditional live interpreting jobs into less expensive VRI assignments. Its almost the same concept of outsourcing jobs overseas. Interpreters will lose these jobs to other interpreters who will accept less. This is the savings and profit, passed on to the client and agency while the earning capacity of interpreters drops significantly. For example, if 1,000 assignments are switched from live interpreting to VRI, what would be the financial impact for just one interpreter? The agencies have found a way to maintain profit, provide a savings to the client, and comply with ADA laws all while convincing interpreters that this pay cut is a good thing.
How is VRI a “good thing” for interpreters? Some LOVE doing VRI work because they can stay home and not have to travel all over town. They are compensated at a set rate and it works well for them, usually so long as they have another source of income, (community, educational or VRS work.) VRI is considered a secondary income for some interpreters in the industry. My question is not necessary concerning the immediate impact that VRI will have on the industry but rather the long-term consequences. Older, experienced interpreters could see a drastic reduction of their yearly earnings if VRI replaces live interpreting. Whereas an interpreting veteran might have an earning capacity of $60k+ under the current pay structure, how many VRI assignments must be completed to reach the same pay rate? Is it possible that these interpreting experts will be “weeded out” and replaced with more affordable options? Then the question remains, what will happen to the quality of our service if we lose our best interpreters? If VRI is not able to sustain the higher-level professionals, our industry might have a bleak future.
A Final Word
As a business owner, I understand the need to find services at a lower cost. I manage an interpreting agency so I can appreciate the pressure to provide cost effective solutions to our clients. My family is Deaf so I have great respect for maintaining the highest quality of interpreting services. Also, I am an interpreter with concerns about the future of our profession.
The common goals of the above 4 perspectives are somewhat different, and as we embrace this newer model of interpreting, I hope we all take a moment to look before we leap.
3 Bridges Sign Language Services, LLC
I was 19 and I had just been accepted into the University as a freshman for the upcoming school year. I had already taken a couple of years off after high school to pursue some other dream and now I was focused on getting my degree. I made the long trip north and found a place to live close to the school but it was March and I had a few months until the start of the fall semester. So I did what any college student would do and began searching for some employment. I thought of interpreting, as my sister had done throughout her college years, so I contacted the deaf services office and arranged a meeting. The rest was a collection of learning experience and humility as I painfully endured the hardest 2 months of my professional career.
I will always remember Mary being so hopeful that I was a diamond in the rough. She had a tough job in providing quality interpreters for the University's growing deaf population as there were few interpreters in the remote area. She was thrilled to meet me and immediately put me on the schedule to partner with the two overworked staff interpreters. Beth and Pam were outstanding and had been educational interpreters for over 20 years. They were both working a full time schedule without partners in classes that were exhausting. Those two ladies would become my mentors and help me on the path to becoming an interpreter.
My first day of class started with Russian Literature and in my naiveness, I thought it was going to be a simple class of reading and writing..... WRONG!! The class was halfway through reading "War and Peace" by Leo Tolstoy and before class, Beth decided that I would start first. It took no longer than a minute for me to be dripping with sweat as I tried to comprehend who the heck, (Rostova, Nikolayevich Bolkonsky, Bezukhov, Rostov, Bolkonskaya, Vasilyevich) these folks were and more importantly, how to properly spell their names. After about 5 minutes of wild goose flapping hands, I just stood there, frozen like a seized engine. My face dripped with embarrassment, frustration and anguish.
On to the next class and though it was no Tolstoy in the park, "German Culture: Folk Literature" proved to be my 2nd most challenging class of the day! I was of no use to my partner and if anything, I caused more work for her... The Deaf student was a genius and thankfully he was only mildly annoyed at my inability to interpret a spoken language. It must have been amusing to watch a young buck "interpreter" get broken on the first day. I was shocked at how different this type of interpreting was. I had no concept of lag time or expanding concepts, let alone the use of classifiers. I was stuck signing english and fingerspelling every word I didn't know. Sigh, I wish there was a video of this embarrassing moment so I could share my pain and we could laugh together. That day, a young man's bubble burst and all ego and pride was deflated then I realized that I was not an interpreter...
I went home that evening distraught and with shattered confidence. The thought of quitting came up several times because I wondered how could I face such emotional trauma again? In a 24 hour period, I went from being an awesome signer to an embarrassing interpreter. I felt horrible for the Deaf students and my partners for having to suffer through my learning period. It was one of the handful of "gut checks" we all go through in life and I had a strong feeling that this choice would impact the rest of my life.
I made a decision to go back but this time I would work, study, take notes, read the books, and become a student. The more I learned about what I was interpreting, the better interpreter I became. It took a few weeks for me to catch up to a point where I was serviceable enough and I didn't have panic attacks before each class. Through hard work and a deep respect for the profession, I restored just enough of my confidence to continue this job into a career.
From the very start, I learned that ego and pride have no place in the interpreting field. We are servants to our clients, hearing and deaf alike and none more important than the other. I learned that an interpreter must grow thick skin to withstand the eventual errors, the courage to improve upon those errors and above all else, a Q-Tip!
I have been humbled many times in this profession but I've learned from some of the best. Jim, Byron, Kizzie, Mary, Pam, Beth, Virginia, Jeff, Amanda, you all are awesome! We can always improve our signing skills but without the right heart and a service mentality, we will always be lacking as interpreters.
I am a Coda, I am an interpreter and I'm still learning. That said, I'm still never interpreting another Russian Lit class, EVER...
3 Bridges Sign Language Services, LLC
Ever since I was a young boy and people found out I had deaf parents, I would usually get the same response. "Oh, I've always wanted to learn sign language!" There is just something innately compelling about communicating with your hands. We are all attracted to sign language for some reason and there has been at least one occasion in every person's life where knowing how to sign would have been a big help!
If you've ever wanted to learn ASL but you never knew where to get started, I have the perfect solution. There is a new sign language online learning website that hosts 10 video lessons designed to get you signing today! It is taught by an ASL expert, Dr. Byron Bridges, who has taught thousands of students and interpreters how to sign. These videos are high quality and better than anything else on the internet. Point blank... If you want to learn Sign Language, check out www.signlanguage101.com and take a look at the free trials. At the very least, learn your ABC's for free on their website.
If you don't have time to learn at a college and books are not doing the trick, try a subscription and you will be signing after the first lesson. Now when people ask me about where they can learn how to sign, I tell them about Sign Language 101.
Learn How to Sign
The days of paper invoicing, big calendar books and fax machines are quickly coming to an end. Interpreters have been given a wide new range of tools to quickly and efficiently document signatures, medical information and track time. Apps that are easily downloaded to our phones are changing the interpreting industry while protecting our client’s information.
Some interpreters prefer to carry around a calendar book filled with timesheets. After an assignment, (in theory) they head home and fax or scan the document back to their agency for processing. The interpreter stores the timesheet for a period of time in case of verification and then the document is destroyed. It is a model that has worked for many years. The more agencies an interpreter works for, the more organization is required to keep up with various timesheets.
Other interpreters have downloaded apps such as “Genius Scan” that converts pictures into a PDF. When the interpreter is finished with an assignment, they can take a picture of the timesheet using their phone. Genius Scan will convert that picture into a PDF and it will email the timesheet to your agency within seconds. The interpreter has an email copy and the agency gets the timesheet minutes after an assignment. This method is wonderful and it saves a bunch of time BUT you still are using a paper timesheet.
THE best app that I’ve found so far is “PDF Expert.” We use a fillable timesheet form that can be uploaded to Google Drive and accessed by using PDF Expert or other similar apps. The interpreter types in the assignment details on their phone or tablet and when the job is completed, the authorized representative can sign the document using your touch screen. With a touch of the finger, the interpreter emails the agency a digital timesheet and they can move on to their next assignment.
The days of paper invoicing, big calendar books and fax machines are quickly coming to an end. It has been a good run…
Of course all of this will be replaced shortly as more agencies turn to secure online scheduling software systems, (say that 3 times fast!!) What do you use? What is the best, most secure system of tracking timesheets for an interpreter and the agency’s perspective?
3 Bridges Sign Language Services, LLC
Summer is almost upon us and schools will be letting out soon. This means more time for community freelancing!! 3 Bridges is looking to add some more QUALITY folks who are also certified interpreters. We have a wide range of cliental so your skills and talents can be used in different ways.
The most important requirement for working with 3 Bridges is having the right attitude. We work as a team and we are successful together. You will notice our positive approach and respect for you as a professional. Come see for yourself!!
Join us as we continue to grow in service of Austin's expanding Deaf community. It is going to be a good summer!!!
Jim Scoggins, Noted Architect and Renaissance Man, Passes Away
Jimmie “Jim” James Harvey Scoggins, age 83, noted Texan architect, commercial realtor, private pilot, artist and staunch advocate for Deaf rights passed away peacefully on February, 15, 2013, surrounded by his loved ones. Born November 24, 1929 in Stephens, Arkansas, Jim’s family moved to Texas when he was one week old. He graduated in 1947 from David Crockett High School in Conroe, Texas and went on to study Fine Arts at Mary Hardin-Baylor University in Belton, Texas. In 1948, he enlisted with the U.S. Air Force, became a chaplain and then served in the Korean War, where he served until 1952.
After his honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force as a staff sergeant with bronze star honors, Jim enrolled at the School of Architecture, University of Texas in Austin, fulfilling his lifelong dream to become an architect. While there, he saw a job posting for a part-time resident advisor at the Texas School for the Deaf in Austin, where he added a new dimension to his life by acquiring American Sign Language skills, also honed while teaching football to 40 deaf middle school students. This led to his later commitment to advocacy on behalf of the Deaf community on the local, state, national and international levels.
He received his Bachelor’s degree in Architecture from the University of Texas in 1957, then passed the architectural exam for the state in 1960 and moved to Irving, Texas in the same year. He continued his pursuit of excellence by taking up architectural design studies at the Instituto Tecnológico de Monterrey in Mexico.
Jim ran a very successful architectural firm in Irving, Texas with partner Doug Reid Grogan, who passed away recently. Among the many commissions of Grogan and Scoggins from 1965 to 1985 were the current Irving City Hall, numerous churches, commercial buildings, public schools, personal residences, shopping centers and projects across North Texas. From 1985 to 1993, he practiced as Jim Scoggins, & Partners, Architects. While the bulk of his work was in North Texas, Jim also worked in California. In 1993, he retired and continued to work as an architectural consultant. At the time of his death, he served on a committee for the construction of a new police facility in Jonestown, Texas.
Certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Board, Jim received Architect Emeritus designation by the Texas Board of Architectural Examiners in 2002; he was also a member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and its Dallas and Inland California chapters, and the Texas Society of Architects.
Among Jim’s many architectural honors included merit and design awards from the AIA, Texas Society of Architects, the Dallas Chapter of AIA, the International Hotel and Restaurant Association, the American Association of School Boards and the American Association of School Administrators. He was also recognized by the Texas Association of School Boards and the Texas Association of School Administrators.
While in Irving, Jim served on the Chamber of Commerce Junior Advisory Board and Local Affairs Committee, the Traffic Safety Commission and the Downtown Preservation Committee. His many roles included service as chair of the Joint Planning Group and the Fire Zone Study Committee. He was also chair of the Society of Irving Architects, vice president of Irving Aid, Creator of the Safety Town for children, and Honorary Chief of Police.
Jim was also elected official to the Dallas County Community College District Board of Trustees for seven years, during which time five out of seven colleges were built. He served as president of the Texas Association of Junior College Board Members and Administrators, as state chair of the American Association of Community College Trustees and as a member of the Dallas Baptist College Board of Trustees.
While advancing his professional career, Jim was a fierce defender of the human and educational rights of Deaf persons and worked in partnership with Deaf community leaders and members. He attained national certification as an American Sign Language interpreter and went on to serve as elected president of the Texas Society of Interpreters for the Deaf, affiliated with the national Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. He was instrumental in legislation that led to the creation of the Texas Commission for the Deaf in 1971, now known as the Office of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services within the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services. Subsequently he served on the state commission and received recognition by the Texas Association of the Deaf. Jim also served as interpreter and state coordinator for a seven-state Billy Graham Crusade tour, formed the Baptist Center for the Deaf, and chaired several international fundraising efforts to benefit Deaflympics athletes through his involvement with the Kiwanis Club of Irving, Texas.
Beyond his formal roles working in partnership with the Deaf community, Jim was beloved for his community building efforts through coordination of deaf social activities, e.g., softball teams, captioned movies and venison cookouts. He gave generously of his time and resources to those in need. For example, he helped create special memories for deaf children and adults by offering rides on his Harley Davidson motorcycle; he also invited families to his house on July 20, 1969 to watch the famous “man on the moon” moment on television - Jim interpreted so that they, too, could share in the historic excitement.
Jim was an architect, in more ways than one. He was an exceptional person of many talents and interests - the consummate lifelong learner, always including others with a twinkle in his eyes and a welcoming aura, generating smiles all around. His visionary prowess was evident throughout his many life endeavors - he was a source of inspiration, always ready to engage, nurture and mentor others in converting dreams to reality. He was quick to respond to requests for help, with no questions asked - to strangers and friends alike. Always quick to thank people, he showed genuine appreciation to all who contributed to the success of joint endeavors. Deeply proud of his two sons, Jim is remembered as a father and man who gave generously to them and to everyone so that all would have a better existence and for inspiring ethical, clear decision making in their lives.
An aficionado of the arts and architectural history and a classic car enthusiast, Jim took pride in his 1958 Corvette convertible, toured the U.S. with family and friends on his 1949 Panhead Harley Davidson and many cycles he owned during his lifetime, shared his love of flying as a private Cessna pilot, sold commercial real estate, and rooted for the Dallas Cowboys.
Well-loved by many for his kind soul and gentle nature, Jim doted on Bobbie Beth Bridges, who he married in 1978, and their shared love story of over 35 years is one that bridged families, languages, communities and countries. Jim was deeply engaged with his extended family, professional and civic colleagues and a wide circle of friends including those with whom he was involved in church-related endeavors. At the time of his death, he was immersed in research to identify sign language in medieval and renaissance works of art and structural adornments across the globe.
Jim was preceded in death by his father and mother, Wisdom Young Scoggins, Sr. and Viva Elizabeth Carpenter Scoggins, one brother and two sisters. He is survived by his wife of 34 years, Bobbie Beth Scoggins of Jonestown; his son, Marrk Wisdom Scoggins and wife, Patricia Scoggins of Euless; his son, Michael Eugene Scoggins and wife, Danita Wallace Scoggins of Middletown, Ohio. With his wife, Jim is also survived by their daughter Kizzie Bridges Pomilio and husband, Nicola Pomilio of Rome, Italy, and their son Brandon Bridges and wife Sonia Bridges of Austin. His extended family includes eight grandchildren and a great grandson: Whitney Marie Scoggins, William Wallace Scoggins, James Michael Scoggins, Wayne Pomilio, Kyle Pomilio, Ariana Olivia Bridges, Finnley Lloyd Bridges, Ruby Ann Beth Bridges and Cayden Wisdom Scoggins. He is also survived by his sister, Annette Vincent of Sulphur Springs, Louisiana and his nephew, Stan Stover of College Station; and his mother in law Margie Lee Bridges of Jonestown.
The family requests in lieu of flowers, that donations be made to the “Jim Scoggins Deaf Education Advocacy Memorial Fund” and sent to Bobbie Beth Scoggins, 8504 Tip Top Drive, Jonestown, TX 78645. The purpose of this fund is to further public policy issues on the international, national, state and local levels related to Deaf education. In recent years, Jim supported educational advocacy efforts by the National Association of the Deaf and the Knowledge Center on Deafness, so the memorial fund in his honor has been created with these groups in mind.
A memorial service celebrating the life of Jim Scoggins will be held at 10:00 am on Saturday, April 6, 2013 followed by a light reception, at the First Baptist Church, 403 South Main Street, Irving, Texas. To inquire further, call 512-815-7476 (v).
I never envisioned becoming a sign language interpreter. It takes a certain kind of patience and an abstract approach to language. Some folks are born with that natural ability to visualize language and "drawing concepts" with their hands seems like second nature. Others go to school to learn how to create these visual expressions as if they were sculpting clay on a wheel. If you are not born into it than I understand why so many choose to learn this "signed language." Even though I'm an interpreter, I still find the beauty and intrigue from expressing thoughts and feelings with my hands.
Having learned the language from an early age, it now seems reasonable that I became a sign language interpreter. Although learning how to sign does very little in preparing a person to become a professional interpreter. It was the natural progression of my signing and receptive abilities that spurred the encouragement to pursue this career. I was not the best signer out of my parents children and I was not born with the natural ability. My path was learned through trial and error, tips and tricks, and through self analysis. I was taught never to be too confident so you are impervious to new suggestions and never be too willing so you lose yourself in other's suggestions. The trick has been finding that right balance.
Sign language interpreters do not have to know everything but we should at least have an idea. For me, the worst part of interpreting is when I don't understand the concepts being discussed. Put me in any engineering interpreting scenario and you will see my flaws shine through. Of course learning of one's own deficiency at an assignment is always stressful but it serves as a healthy reminder to continue striving for more knowledge. I have little interest in engineering but I have made it a point to learn some basic concepts. That might make all the difference next time.
I ask myself 100 times a day, "What does it mean?" when I come across a word that doesn't really have a sign. "Expand, what else does it mean?" Many times I get caught up in the interpretation of a single word that I miss relaying the concept. Sign language does not have equal parts to every English word and much to the chagrin of linguists who might argue that sign language is inadequate, that is the interpreter's task. We must find the word. "What does it mean?" a question that always runs through my mind. Skilled interpreters make it flow like moving water and the dialogue continues downstream without any interruption. The best are never really noticed because their interpreting is done so well. We should all strive for such unrecognition in our field.
I did not start out as an interpreter but it has been incredibly fulfilling and equally challenging. I don't know of another profession that changes so much on a daily basis. A Cardiology appointment is followed by a photovoltaic array training which concludes with a culinary lesson and tomorrow the day begins anew. It is an honor bestowed upon all interpreters and a great responsibility. We anticipate but never predict and all the while moving at the speed of communication. Interpreters of all levels have my respect and support. I did not start out as an interpreter but I learned how to become one.
3 Bridges Sign Language Services
I don't know why these kind of things always seem to happen to me. I was sitting at home and getting ready to watch a baseball game and my wife walks in the house with a couple of friends, all carrying bags. I didn't think much of it because Sonia, my wife is an avid thrift shopper. What worried me was her sweet demeanor, as if she was going to ask a favor.
I thought to myself, "Now she KNOWS I have a cold beer and I'm in my favorite chair and she KNOWS the Rangers are playing tonight" and then I hear it...
You see, the trick to get your husband to do anything is to ask him in front of the girlfriends. I mean, no guy wants to be "That Guy" who says no. Right?
"Brrrrandon?? Can you come out back real quick?" Sigh... I leave my chair but bring my beer.
This is my tale of the very first – and last – Brazilian "Deaf" Wax.
On my back porch stood 3 ladies all in their ratty "art-making" clothes, looking at me as if I were the canvas.
"Wait a minute!" I explained, "I don't know what you ladies got going on, but my plans are set for the night."
Indeed they were. To my left a tub of Vaseline, to my right a mound of plaster gauze. Shaking my head, I knew this was about to get messy.
The project was simple, just come up with some kind of theme for Sonia's art sculpture class. Somehow the image of Brandon, a body cast and sign language came to Sonia's mind. Knowing it was going to be a hard sell, she requested the help of some lovely assistants to swab me down with Vaseline.
If you've never experienced a Vaseline rub down, it can only be described as... Pfffphhhtttt, exactly as it feels. The necessity of the Vaseline became apparent as the ladies realized they hadn't bought enough to cover my manly frame. So they huddled and came to the scientific conclusion that "x" amount of Vaseline multiplied by "y" surface area was sufficient for the job. It was a fool-proof plan.
The theme was "Deaf Pride" and the pose required me to stand still, while covered in Vaseline, with swarms of mosquitoes chewing on bits of exposed skin. It was a joyous 4 hours of being wrapped in a body cast, one wet, cold, slimy piece of gauze at a time. Holes had to be poked around my nose so I could breathe and when my face was covered I could only see blackness. It was as if I was being buried alive and unable to move. The 3 ladies rushed as fast as they could to finish the cast while I moaned in my body casket, squishing the thick Vaseline with every breath.
Then I heard the words I was yearning for: "We're done!" said Sonia. Then my heart sank, "We need to let it dry for an hour."
Frozen in a body cast while locked in the signing pose of "Deaf Pride" really gets a person thinking.... "How in the heck are they going get this off me?" and "This Vaseline better wash out of my hair or someone is gonna pay!"
At last, after an hour of listening to the lady and her lovely assistants sip on their celebratory glasses of wine while laughing at how funny I look, they snipped away the cast that bound me.
"OUUUCH! HEY, take it easy!" I yelled while the cast ripped away every bit of hair on my arm.
As I mentioned, these lovely scientists had calculated that there was enough Vaseline to cover my body and for some reason, I believed them. It was then discovered that my body mass to Vaseline ratio was way off, (a sentence that I might never use again in this lifetime) and my arms were going to suffer.
A few days later, I went out with a buddy of mine and he looked at me puzzled, "Brandon, do you shave your arms?" With a straight face I shook my head and replied, "No, I wax them."
Just like Dolly the sheep, there will be a day in the future when humans are cloned for whatever reason and I take comfort in knowing that my body cast will be a prime specimen for extracting hair DNA. Really, the inside of the cast looked like the nesting grounds of an ancient wooly mammoth.
Our neighbors came by to check on us as they had heard the screaming sounds of the extinct hairy beast. Armed with spears and rocks, they instead discovered a man in a body cast, unable to move and dripping with Vaseline.
"There goes the neighborhood!" I'm sure they uttered under their breath.
At that point, there was nothing more that could have been done. The cast had to be pulled off. The laughing pains turned into moans and the moan became annoyed yelps, then from yelps it quickly escalated to yells and then it became a series of unfortunate words directed at the lovely ladies who had every reason to worry for their safety. At last, my hair was removed along with the cast.
Was I upset about my new Brazilian "Deaf" Wax? You betcha! It was a solid week before my hair was able to blow in the wind. I had to wrap a garbage bag around my pillow because Sonia was upset at me for leaving grease stains. Image that!
The cast turned out very well and Sonia received an "A" for her project. My body double was then donated to the Kentucky Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and displayed in their office.
"Wow, it looks just like you" a KCDHH staff member jokingly said to me as I positioned the masterpiece on the wall.
"Brandon, do you shave your arms?
3 Bridges Sign Language Services
Love you Mom... Thumbs up Dad
It never dawned on me that having deaf parents was anything special. I never hid the fact that my parents couldn't hear but I didn't openly discuss it with my friends. In fact, most of my classmates growing up had no idea I used another language when I went home. My teachers would be cast into the awkward position of meeting my folks for the first time, not knowing how to communicate with a deaf person. Then they would always seem to apologize for the awkwardness and they would sit shocked, watching me or my sister interpret the meeting. Parent/Teacher night always proved to be entertaining.
The other day, I was listening to the radio while driving to an assignment and I heard a comedian introduced as a funny guy who had deaf parents. He was a CODA, (Child of Deaf Adults) and the announcer went on with a hint of curiosity and mild excitement as he questioned the guy about this odd concept. "Wow, what was that like?", and "So you know sign language, cool" It got me thinking, maybe it is pretty cool after all. Frankly, I am so used to the concept of having deaf parents that it has always been normal but its easy to forgot that my normal is miles away from average.
It was GREAT having deaf parents! Really, I would recommend it to anyone "shopping" the idea around. Not only do you get to learn a cool language with your hands or be apart of some fascinating culture, you get to be as loud as you want! Granted, the luster of being loud diminishes as we get older. At 16, the last thing I wanted was to draw attention to myself but at age 7, I was yelling, "THUNDER CATS, THUNDER CATS, HOOOOOO!!!" at any and every public outing. I never got in trouble, my father never told me to be quiet, and in my mind I was free to be a Thunder Cat! It makes sense now looking back, my sister never liked being seen with me in public... Sigh, hearing people.
I was in 8th grade when that new Snoop Dogg album came out! I was so excited and had my Mother take me to the mall to buy the new cassette tape, (folks born in the 90's, Cassettes was pre CD and post 8-Track). Let me tell you, I was the coolest kid on the planet. The whole school could hear us coming a block away, my Mom driving me to school blasting some S-N-OO-P, D-O-GG-Y, D-O-GG, you see! Windows rolled down in that 1985 Chrysler 5th Avenue and she would drop me off right at the front steps! Some days, I would just leave the music on and let her drive away. I always wondered about the looks she would get in that small Texas town. My friends would come up to me and say, "Man, your mom is awesome!!" I know, she was pretty cool and she didn't even know it. Sorry Mom
Although I never really identified myself as a CODA, they actually have meetings at local, state, and national levels for gatherings to discuss all things pertaining to children of deaf adults. It really is a special group of folks that by birth are thrust into two cultures and at a young age are required to interpret between them. What is normal? I didn't think it was odd when my father required us to watch television without sound for a couple of hours a day. We weren't allowed to use our voice at dinner and all family discussions were by hands only! Punishments usually included reading some kind of deaf history book from my father's massive library and then writing a book report before all was forgiven. Needless to say, I quickly became an expert on Laurent Clerc, (If you don't know of him, you didn't have deaf parents). Am I normal? No. Are my parents methods of punishment normal? No. But it has given me a deep respect for the culture and language that I share with my family, deaf Americans, and other CODAs.
When I look back at my upbringing, I have come to the conclusion that being different has taught me to be more understanding. I was raised in two worlds, one hearing and one deaf. They both gave me perspective and an appreciation for what I have and who I am. So I might not have realized it before but yeah, being a CODA is pretty cool... But as I learned from the Johnny Cash song, "A Boy Named Sue" down the road when my son gets in trouble, I think I'll have him read.... A FICTION, A BIOGRAPHY, A SELF HELP! Anything but Laurent Clerc!!
3 Bridges Sign Language Services
I would like to welcome every one to please check out our new website at www.3bridgesaustin.com. There is also a very informative PAGE that goes into great detail about the legacy of my Grandfather, Lloyd Bridges and my Uncle, Jim Scoggins. It is the history of the establishment of the Texas Commission for the Deaf and the roles that Lloyd and Jim played in the creation. If you have the time, give it a read.
We are very excited about our new website and Facebook page so please give us a like and give us a boost! You will also find information about an upcoming workshop in Austin, Texas on November 17, 2012. Dr. Byron Bridges will be presenting, "ASL Deconstructed" for those that are wanting to improve their signing skills. You can register HERE and come join us as we Deconstruct ASL.
Thank you all for your support as we continue to grow and serve Central Texas. It has been our honor to work with our Deaf Community in providing outstanding interpreting! Please contact us with any questions or comments that you may have. This will be the first of many "BLOGS" so follow if you have the time and I will do my best to keep it interesting!
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